Monthly Archives: June 2014
What’s in a name?

I never really thought about my name and didn’t know that anyone did until I was about 11 or 12. It was simply the word that meant someone was addressing me. I neither liked it nor disliked it. So it surprised me the first time a friend shared that she hated her name. I think I would have understood if her name could be easily ridiculed but it wasn’t because of that, it was just a regular name. In university I was friendly with a girl who had legally changed her name from Janet to Diana (pronounced Dee-aana). Knowing this girl quite well, I understood that her name change was less about her hate of the name and much more about her hate of herself and her life. My understanding of the connection between names and emotions grew enormously when my husband and I had to name our first child. Names were immediately discarded if they were existing names of someone we weren’t crazy about, if they were “old-fashioned,” had any potential for being teased or sounded strange with our last name. The task was much greater that I had ever anticipated! After doing this four times I gained some respect for why someone would name her child “Orange.”

What I find more fascinating, are those who would prefer no name. “The artist formally known as Prince” doesn’t count. His name is simply longer now and a pain to get through. However, I recently heard of a girl who has chosen to have no name and is comfortable being referred to as “They,” which, as nameless as that sounds, is now her new name. There seems to be no escape – the need to name and be named.

“Mommy,” “Mom,” or in my daughter’s case, “Mama,” introduced another layer to my name. Despite the universality of these names, when I first heard them, I felt like it was the first time they had ever been spoken. The emotional connection to these names far outweighed any other connections they might have.

When other family babies were born, including my three grandchildren, I was interested in their names but not vested, understanding that I would love whatever name they were given because I would love them. I thought I was done with the whole name thing but I was still to experience one of my most beautiful name events.

When my beloved oldest grandson was born, my son and daughter-in-law asked me what I wanted to be called. I gave it some careful thought because I knew that this would be my name for all my grandchildren, present and future. I settled on “Granny,” and waited. My grandson, now 2 said “Mama,” “Dada,” “Jenky,” (the dog) and even “Grandpa.” I think I drove him crazy asking constantly, “who’s this?” – pointing to myself. I repeated “Granny,” an abnormal number of times, until finally he said, with great clarity – “Gwa-Gwa.” I realized in that moment that the love I had for my grandson meant that he could call me anything as long as he called me something. Gwa-Gwa is my new favourite name.

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Confessions of an anxious parent

I remember when my oldest son fell for the first time, bruising his head. I remember it well because it was my first gut-wrenching, hyperventilation-inducing moment of realization that I couldn’t always protect him from harm. My crazy obsessive love for this little boy was not enough to do this. I have spent a huge chunk of my parenting journey feeling anxious, either about something that has happened or about something that might. Some moments were worse than others and born from these times the word “frappachino” was created, to describe the mixture between fright and c**p! In a family like ours, where anxiety is higher than average, it is a word we use frequently. Less “frappachino” but more guilt inducing was when my second son, seven at the time, fell on the soccer field. He wasn’t crazy about the game so when he came crying that his arm hurt and he didn’t want to play, I told him that he would be fine and he had to finish the game. I felt like a good mother actually because I was teaching him perseverance. An x-ray and broken arm later, I felt the opposite.

Three of my four children are grown up now, two with babies of their own. You’d think it would make a difference but it doesn’t. I now fully get my mother’s words “you never stop worrying.”  Both older “boys” bought scooters a couple of years back, raising my “what if” anxiety to new levels. I tried everything – even pulled out the guilt card. Ilan, my oldest, who had gone through hell a few years ago, having two back surgeries, said this to me: “Mom, I hear your concerns but this is my decision. After what I’ve been through, I want to live and this makes me happy. Whatever happens, remember that I have chosen to do this, being fully aware of the risks.”

So here’s what I have learned because that’s what parenting does – it teaches you; it changes you. I have learned the obvious; that I have no control over many aspects of my children’s lives no matter how closely I stand behind them. I have learned that I shouldn’t stand too close because it will make them feel smothered and unable to trust in themselves. I have also learned the hardest lesson of all – that my anxiety belongs to me alone and I have no right to give it to my kids or expect that they will feel the same as I do. Deep in my heart, I want my children to feel free and feel able to take risks so that they can reach their full potential in all areas of their lives. I know that my anxiety can be the shackles to this freedom so I consciously choose every day to give my children the gift of my trust, in the hope that they will trust those around them and believe that the universe will always conspire in their favour and not against them, because really what is the point of believing anything else.

Will I continue to worry about my children? Yes, but if I had my time again, would I immediately rush my son off the field to hospital and check for a broken arm? My answer would have to be no because that would mean that I was standing too close. Yes, I have and will continue to miss some things that I would definitely rather not (like broken arms) but the alternative is to create lives for my children that are restrictive and not fully joyful. Knowing this, I will continue to fight my own demons and try my best to keep them off my children’s heads and on my own.

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My amazing daughter

Anxiety runs in our family and my youngest, Gabi, was not exempt from it. She had the advantage of being a fourth child and therefore receiving the wisdom gained from our experience with the others. I had learned that the most important way to react to her anxiety was to let her know that we really heard her and that how she felt was important to her and us. So from the get go, I would allow her to experience her feelings and just let her be with them. When the time felt right, we would think about different strategies and work on them together. At six she was well schooled in relaxation techniques and beyond her years in understanding how she processed the world. We talked – a lot.

A common theme in our discussions would springboard from questions like: “I want to be like…” or “Why can’t I be happy like…?” or some variation of these. I approached these desires and questions by explaining that people are not like smorgasbords, using of course, age appropriate language. I told her that if she wanted to be like one of her friends then she had to take all of them. I focused on what she did like about herself and would say “I wonder if — can sing or if they’re good at math?” or I would help her pay attention to things in her life that she appreciated so I would ask “Do you think she has kind siblings like your brothers?” I hoped to help her understand that we all have something that we don’t want or like and comparing yourself to others is futile and worthless. A few years ago, these particular conversations stopped.

Gabi is now fourteen and in her first year of high school. Driving to school the other morning she said to me “Mom, the best thing you ever taught me was that if I was going to compare myself to anyone, I must look at everything that they are.”

From my pre-coffee brain I managed a “What?”

“I mean, I think I am better at knowing who I am because you taught me that. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people I’ve met don’t know who they are.” She said.

“I’m so happy to hear that sweetheart,” I replied.

My expression must have looked a little too pleased because she shot at me with an impish smile, “Okay, that’s the last compliment you’re getting for a while!” We had arrived at school and with teenage swagger she climbed out the car with a parting “And don’t smile at any of my friends. It’s embarrassing.”

I didn’t smile at any of her friends but I absolutely smiled all the way home.

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