Figure out the length of the pause. That was my main challenge in the first couple of months. The pause between the moment somebody asked my son a question and the second I began to answer it for him. Wait too long and it could mean risking him unnecessary embarrassment (as well as putting the asker in an awkward position). Respond too soon and it might deny him the possibility to answer for himself, narrowing the chance that at some point I might hear his voice in social situations.
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He went on that ride with his Dad. At first I was sure he wouldn’t go. I stood behind the fence and watched them get seated and strapped in, watched the guard lower the safety restraint on them for extra security.
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I don’t limit screen time. I don’t give out stickers for good screen time habits or take them away for bad ones. I don’t impose rules like you must do 10 push-ups, 25 minutes of physical activity, 15 minutes of creative work, and 20 minutes of educational activities before using any digital devices. My son, at 7, uses his tablet on his own terms and on his own schedule.
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I wake up to a steady and dull thump-thump-thump outside. I look out of the window: grey sky and a heavy wall of rain. It’s Saturday morning. I breath a sigh of relief.
I put my head back on the pillow, close my eyes and take in the comforting sound of pouring rain for a few more minutes. Saturday indoors? No pressure to get dressed, get organized, and go “do” things? The complete guilt-free permission to stay inside and let the day spontaneously unfold, guided only by our minute to minute desires? What could be better than that? I know, just as I lay there listening, that somebody else in my house is relieved too. Martin, my 7-year-old son, like me, is delighted at an opportunity to spend a weekend indoors.
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“One… two… thrrr…” — He slams his tablet cover closed before I finish saying “three” and throws himself onto the floor, screaming. I sigh with exhaustion. We’re in the midst of another battle over screen time. This scenario repeats itself daily for many months: My 6-year-old son Martin reaches the end of his allotted screen time for the day but has trouble switching his tablet off, and after several attempts to get him off the device in a nicer way, I resort to angry counting.
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I’m watching Martin’s weekly private swimming lesson from the viewing area of the local pool. A girl of about the same age as him is swimming widths nearby, accompanied by her teacher. There is nothing unusual about the girl, but her presence suddenly disrupts the sense of normal that I’ve gotten used to. Every time she answers her teacher out loud, her voice rings like a bell standing out from the background noises of the pool, and I stare at the source of the sound in sheer amazement. I’m so used to Martin’s silent ways that I forgot what is “normal,” and this girl seems to me nothing short of a miracle. Will I ever hear Martin’s voice like this too?
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“Please — draw me a Spinosaurus!”
I turn away from the kitchen counter and see a little person, my son, handing me a piece of paper and a pencil. I quickly wipe my hands off on my apron and take the paper and pencil. But then I remember what happened the last time, after a similar request, and try to cop out by telling the little guy that I don’t know how to draw dinosaurs.
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Martin stands at the edge of a swimming pool, nervously shifting from one foot to the other, his whimpering becoming full blown crying the longer he stands there. I am waiting for him in the water, my arms invitingly outstretched, ready to help him in whenever he’s ready. I’m not pressuring him to go in, but the whole situation is: most of the other 4 year olds at this birthday party have been splashing happily in the water for a quite a while now, their happy babbling at stark contrast with his nervous wails. Some are already out of the water, getting ready to go upstairs to the birthday boy’s apartment for birthday cake and more fun. Continue reading
“Mom! You’re not listening!!!” My six-year-old pulls at my sleeve in frustration. He is right. I tuned out mid sentence, when he was telling me something about his new favourite dinosaur. It’s not that I’m not interested, I really am, but we’ve spent the last several hours together, and I just need some personal space. Some personal space to think. Now that he is bigger, I require more frequent breaks from him than I did when he was a baby (or than I do from his baby sister now). Not only that, but the typical challenges of parenting a six year old—setting boundaries, discipline, and so on—are much more of a struggle for me than any of the physical responsibilities tied to parenting an infant.
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