My boy with the crooked smile – Part II

It’s hard to believe my beautiful J Boy is five today. But here he is, all long limbed and boisterous, about to head off to school next year. I’ve learnt that’s it inevitable that I get a bit emotional and reflective around this time of year, as it also marks the anniversary of my birth as a mother.

This first born boy of mine has taught me so much – lessons too many to list. I’ve been thinking about my boy with the crooked smile post a lot lately and thinking it was time for an update. Reading it still makes me cry as I remember the raw emotion of what I felt then, and all the hundreds of comments from around the world that helped me feel less alone, but my feelings and emotions have stretched and molded with time.

Lately, J has become aware of his different smile. I talk to him about being different and that everyone is different in their own way. I tell him he has facial palsy and that his smile makes him unique and special. Usually he wouldn’t say much during these chats, but one night when we were talking about how special his smile was he piped up and said ‘not anymore’ and he was smiling a closed-lip straight smile and pulling up the corner of the right-side of his lip to make it even straighter. I felt that pang in my heart, the one I felt back then.

Keen not to overreact, I told him that I love his smile but I understand that he also just wants to be like everyone else too. All the while worrying that someone had made him feel self-conscious about his smile, or that I’ve talked about it too much and given him a complex. He doesn’t give anything away, but I realise that it’s inevitable that he’ll try and perfect a more symmetrical smile and that just like anyone, he’ll often hate the thing that makes him different. The thing that I most love about him.

As much as the past five years have had their difficulties, that I’ve sat in waiting rooms I never imagined sitting, doing therapy I never knew existed and googled names of conditions I had never heard of, there’s not much I would change.

My boy with the crooked smile has taught me to look past the physical, to persist when I would normally give up, to feel the true joy and heartbreak of unconditional love and the honour of being gifted such a life to guide. Our love is one of fierce protectiveness – and just as I would go into battle for him, I know he’d do the same for me. We’ve each made each other stronger just by being and that’s a pretty hard bond to break.

I wrote then that I knew we’d be okay, my boy with the crooked smile and me. I felt it then, even when I was not okay, when I worried so much about how he’d fit in, if he’d grow confident in his skin and if he’d find love and support from his peers. This year I’ve watched him blossom and form strong friendships, develop his own interests and a love of learning, show tenacity in therapy and now I really believe he will be okay. And I’m okay with letting him go as I watch him take that big step into school, even though it scares me half to death some days.

I’m scared that the world will make him want to change his smile, the smile we all adore, the joy that erupts from just one corner of his mouth. But something tells me deep in my heart that he will change the world with that smile, just like he’s changed mine.

Happy Birthday J Boy! xx

Photograph: Alicia Summer Photography

Advertisements

Motherhood moments: the second son

second sonWe have called him Hugo Bear since he was a baby, but he’s lately started to retort ‘I’m a boy’ when he hears it with a two-year old attitude and precociousness that astounds me most days.

He’s taken to telling me to ‘go away’ as his bottom lip drops to indicate displeasure that is gone as quickly as it came and he is soon tugging at my hand once more to lead me onto his next adventure, of which I must be a participant (willing, or otherwise). ‘Come’ he cries as he pulls me towards the sandpit, where he instructs to me to sit forcing a miniature garden fork into my hand. The Hugo-getter was my other nickname for him as a baby, as his happy-go-lucky nature belied a hefty determination to reach his next milestone as soon as he possibly could.

He is still like that now, a cuddly, strong, bull-at-a-gate with a mop of blonde hair that is getting darker just like his brother’s, cherubic cheeks and a cheeky smile that charms everyone. He sings a lot, mastering words to nursery rhymes and if he hears music he particularly likes, he’ll grab the small electric guitar in the corner and rock out.

I can already feel the closeness between him and his brother and love to watch them playing and chatting to each other, especially when they don’t know I’m there. They are both fiercely protective of each other and I feel my heart expand in my chest every time they hug and kiss each other goodbye and goodnight. I hope they continue to be the closest of friends as they grow.

On the weekends when his father is home, I can’t even do up his seat belt without him yelling ‘No! Daddy Do it!’ … like he relishes the time with his dad so much that he wants to milk every moment, but then by Monday it’s back to ‘Mummy do it’ and I’m secretly pleased to still be needed by this independent little guy.

Mondays and Tuesdays are Hugo and Mummy days after we drop Jarvis at kindy and he loves this one-on-one attention and as the weeks go by I realise how quickly he’s growing up. When we talk about J going to school next year, he pipes up ‘me too’ and I can half imagine him in his toddler bravado walking through the gates and wanting to stay. I have to whisper to him, don’t grow up too quickly my son, and he just smiles and laughs and it feels like in that moment that if I blink my eyes, he’ll have grown too big for my arms.

And so, I linger a little longer when he’s fallen asleep with his chubby hand up to his face, his breath deep and slow. These days, though long, are short. He is growing right before my eyes, so I try and go slow and enjoy each crazy toddler moment with this precious second son of mine.

A conversation on being different

what's wrong with being differentAs Jarvis gets older, I look for ways to inject references to being different into our conversations. He doesn’t know he’s different yet, or if he does he hasn’t mentioned it to me. However, I’m adamant that I don’t want the first mention of his smile being different coming from a kid in the playground who is either innocently inquiring about it or, even worse, teasing him about it. I tell him that he has facial palsy, and that this gives him a unique smile and that being different is a good thing. As he also has a motor speech disorder, he hasn’t given me any indication that he understands this but I think if I repeat it often enough, along with a message of total acceptance and love, that he will come to accept and own it and hopefully be proud of who he is.

However, in navigating this space of difference for the last four-and-a-half years, and trying to form our family plan of attack, I started to think that talking about difference is important for every child and parent, even those not living with a difference. I can attempt to arm my son with ways to respond, to help him build his self worth and inner confidence, but my fear is that he’ll get into the big wide world of school and find a place where being visibly different is something that isn’t received as well as I’ve been telling him.

So, how can we make being different more acceptable? I truly believe it starts with us!

Be truly yourself

To arm our children with the strength to be themselves, however that is for them, is to gather the strength to be our own true selves. This is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt through parenting Jarvis – my words have to match my actions and by accepting myself unconditionally with all my flaws, I’m showing him how to do it too. In all areas of parenting, our words mean nothing if we’re not living by them, so I try and accept myself for who I am and I aim to live my life to the best of my ability. We can’t control the world we live in and what people will say about us, but we can control what we say about ourselves and I choose to change my negative self-talk into positive (or at least neutral!). The best advice I’ve heard on this is to start treating yourself as tenderly as you would your child or a good friend, and watch how your self-talk changes.

Be open and shameless

I try and be as open as I can about things both here on my blog and in real life. Again, hopefully I’m modelling a way for my boys to be open with me if they’re having difficulties in life. I want them to know that life isn’t always perfect, but within imperfection are incredible lessons to move you forward towards a happier time.

Talk about differences in a positive way

I’ve become hyper aware of how people talk about anything that’s different (particularly appearance-wise) since Jarvis was born, and it’s truly shocked me how often people comment about differences in other people – be that in the way they dress, act, or their beliefs. I know most of the time this is only to make conversation, but often times it sounds really ugly. ‘That old adage of if you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all’ still applies! We are all different, which is something that should be celebrated rather than condemned.

Talk about feelings

I come from a long line of feeling bottlers, so talking about feelings is not something that comes naturally to me and something I really have to work on. So, instead of bottling all my feelings up like I once did I try and name them and then deal with them accordingly. I tell my kids if I’m feeling a bit sad or frustrated and angry and why I’m feeling that way and encourage them to do the same. Feelings don’t have to be big scary things we feel we have no control over (which is how I once felt). My friend Kate bought the boys Tracey Moroney‘s ‘When I’m Feeling’ box set of books and they’re just terrific. Talking about that it’s OK to feel a certain way is a great way to build resilience and hopefully give them a way to communicate difficult feelings, rather than bottling them up, as they grow.

Do what you can to change the culture

While it’s true we can’t control the world we live in, we can do our little bit to change it. There’s always a lot of hand-wringing about bullying in the press, but then we have magazines that pinpoint people’s flaws for entertainment and endless dissecting of people’s choices and actions. So, I do my little bit by saying no to negative, sexist and trashy media. I say no to products that I feel are being advertised in a way that’s sexist, demeaning or just plain homogenised. I say no to unnecessary gender-stereotyping of children. I say yes to letting my sons be themselves. I say yes to supporting each other rather than cutting each other down. I say yes to more diversity in our world. I say yes to more music, more crazy dancing and more joy. I want to model that for my children. I want to tell them that there’s no one way to be successful. I want my beautiful eldest child to accept himself, crooked smile and all and have the world do the same. Oh, if the world could do the same.

Please share if you agree with me and add your thoughts below in the comments! 

These boys are growing up

It didn’t seem so long ago that I was blogging about my toddler boy and my newborn, but that was over a year ago. I looked at my boys playing together the other day and I realised I really can’t say I have a toddler and a baby anymore. My baby has become my toddler and my toddler boy is now a fully fledged preschooler and it reminds me how quickly life rolls on, stages upon stages until I imagine a house full of teenage boys and a gigantic grocery bill.

The toddler boy relishes getting his own back now, but is just as likely to give his big brother a sloppy kiss as a bop to the head. The big brother is prone to acts of defiance with a swinging arm, but can be heard saying ‘sorry bubba Hugo’ when the crying starts. They are loud, cheeky and some days it feels like I’m constantly breaking up fights, sharing out toys and saying ‘leave your brother alone’ while silently counting down the hours until bed time. Continue reading

My baby boy turns one

Just over a week ago my baby boy celebrated his first birthday. It was a bright and sunny morning, just like the boy himself, and we had a lovely little garden party surrounded by family and close friends.

Usually gatherings of this nature stress me out, but this time, knowing my natural inclination to take on too much, I unashamedly outsourced the cake to my sister-in-law who is a bit of a cake decorating pro and shared the food efforts with my parents and a good friend. Mr P also did the pre-party grocery shop. It might not seem like much, but the small act of accepting help really made a difference to how I felt in the lead up to the day. And it all went off perfectly, there were yard games, relaxed chatting, mingling of friends new and old and some happy, sugared up kids at the end!

Here are a few of my favourite photos of the day (all taken by my lovely friend Leonie Clark):

IMG_4203

 

 

Why Santa photos and facial palsy don't mix

On Friday I had just written a post for A Little Bird about my dilemma on whether to get Santa photos taken this year.  Go over and read it, I’ll wait right here, OK?

So then Friday night we decided to take an impromptu trip to the city to see our friend’s cabaret troop Betty & the Betties perform and look at the Christmas windows and take a visit to Santa Land at Myer.

It was lovely being in the city and soaking up the festive atmosphere. Jarvis was enjoying the sights and the lights and we went up to the top level of Myer to Santa Land, as I’d heard there was a ‘Santa Train’ up there. Jarvis got quite excited about the train ride and lined up and I stood near the fence to wait for his ride. As the ride ahead of his took off, I noticed a photographer work his way along the train taking individual photos of the children onboard.

Not a big deal to most parents who probably felt pretty excited by the prospect of a festive train picture to share with the Grandparents. But for me, that uncomfortable knot nestled itself in the pit of my stomach and I sent a silent wish that the photo would be taken sensitively. Continue reading

The day my big boy turned 3

My first born baby turned three today. I’m sitting here feeling so full … full of cake most certainly, but my heart feels even fuller than that.

All week I’d been stressing. About work, about the fact I hadn’t bought all his present yet, attempting to make cupcakes to take to kindy before realising I had no eggs, that I never seem to have enough time. The critical voice was kicking into over drive. Bad mum, bad friend, bad worker. Tsk, Tsk!

But as I sit here, all that seems so meaningless. My boy got his presents, the cupcakes got made, my work got done, we spent Saturday night making him a rocket cake. The lead up wasn’t perfect, things had to be cast aside, stripped back until only the important parts remained. Continue reading