Fire-Breathing Dragons

Sometimes I have a few moments to myself in the morning, between getting things ready for the day and prying my children off their bed.

This morning, I scored a few such moments to myself, so I sat down on my couch, coffee in hand. Our free-standing oscillating fan was already on for the day because, even at 6:30 in the morning, our apartment retains heat better than hell itself. The ribbons that my partner tied on the front grate for our daughter’s benefit were already waving merrily in the breeze, and they will likely wave merrily every day until the heat of the season turns to cold, and it’s time to put the fan away for another year.

It will be around about the time that my daughter will have just started to accept the presence of the fan, and the fact that it’s on and moving side to side. It may even be around about that time that she starts allowing herself to get close to it- perhaps to feel the breeze coming from it, or to feel those ribbons gently slap against her face. It will come after months of patiently working with her, to get her to the point where she can at least pass by the fan without shrinking away from it.

She’s afraid of it, you see. She’s afraid of the fan the way she’s afraid of toilets that don’t flush right, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders, and the way she used to be afraid of threads, feathers, and long grasses.

My partner and I, after almost 5 years of these unreasoning fears, still have absolutely no idea what goes on in her head when she comes up against these things. We can reason that these fears are related to her tactile sensitivity, or her noise sensitivity, or maybe that they just don’t behave in what she figures is a “normal” way, and that in itself upsets her inner sense of balance; the fact is, we don’t know, and it’s likely we won’t know until she is old enough to explain it.

On some days, I see our daughter as a mighty lioness- capable of tearing down barriers, and leaping over obstacles with a kind of grace and a sort of stubborn defiance. Then, she’s the child that needs no hand up, no helping-out. She leads the way, with a sense of pride and confidence that says she will defy the odds.

On other days, she is small and delicate, and it seems like the world is filled with fans, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders. It seems as though, at every turn, there is something to scream and cry about- something that threatens to gobble up her spirit and crush her will. She seems to shrink on those days, clasping tightly to a loving hand for emotional support and guidance.

My partner and I, for our part, give her a gentle but steady push forward. We speak to her words of love and support, and arm her with a metaphorical sword and shield; these are, after all, her fire-breathing dragons.

My Little Lioness

lion_cubWhen you get down to it, there isn’t much in the world that can put out the fire in little Jill’s heart. She has a smile that would melt the frozen tundra, and somehow she manages to be both delicate and strong. Within her tiny frame, all 3 and a half feet of her, is the spirit of a lioness.

Jill has a love of horses.

Although she already spends her days at a farm, she would stay there all night, too, if she could. She would probably curl up in some clean corner of a stall, not far away from one of her four legged friends, if we but turned our back on her for long enough.

Last year, a few months after she started attending therapy at the farm, she made friends with a pretty little white pony, named Crystal.

Crystal has a love for her human friends that shines as bright as Jill’s smile. She is a “hog” for attention, and is just the right size for little Jill. With her therapist walking at her side one day, Jill rode Crystal around the field of tall grasses, and around the old cottage at the foot of the driveway, and around the decrepit old shed that is overgrown with ivy and other vines.

Jill’s father and I were chatting with the mom of another little boy who attended therapy there, talking animatedly about how we were going to haul the family away right after Jill’s therapy session, for a blissful weekend of camping at French Beach. Jill and her little brother Jack were excited to go, too. They were looking forward to playing with their glowsticks in a darkened tent, and getting filthy and not having to shower for a whole three days.

So, the smile that we had on our faces as we turned toward the sound belied the intensity of the bloodcurdling shriek that came from the direction of the ivy-covered shed. We looked in that direction, naturally concerned, but stayed where we were. It sounded for all the world like a typical meltdown, and we knew full well the therapist could handle it.

Call us callous, but we’re used to the meltdowns, and we know when we can let others deal with it. Before long, however, we saw the therapist walking back up the driveway with Jill in her arms, still in the middle of a full on screaming meltdown.

We had to shout to be heard over Jill. Still, we managed to ferret out the gist of what had happened- as she was riding along on Crystal, a fern wrapped itself around Jill’s arm, setting off her sensory issues. She started screaming and crying, and launched herself off the pony and onto the unsuspecting therapist, who wasn’t prepared to catch her. Although we didn’t know it then, Jill had broken her arm by landing on her therapist.

Since we had all our worldly goods stowed in the back of our van, in preparation for a weekend away, we also had some children’s Tylenol. Without really knowing why, but figuring it would take away the inevitable headache that results from your run of the mill Epic Meltdown, we laced her thoroughly with it. Also figuring it would sort itself out before long, we ended the session, carefully bundled the kids into the car, and headed to French Beach anyway.

Alas, we got there to find out our reservation hadn’t “stuck”… our spot had been given away, and so had all the others. So, as we turned back home, we had two kids melting down in the back of the van. Jack was new to the whole thing, but he knew he was missing out. As for Jill, there wasn’t much that could tear her away from the idea of camping for a whole weekend. Having to turn around when she could see the trees and the other kids playing was as close to the Apocalypse as you could get.

It wasn’t until the next day, when we realized Jill couldn’t lift her arm without screaming bloody murder, that we knew something was actually wrong. After spending half a day in the hospital to get the verdict, my partner and I were ready to throw in the towel.

“I guess we’ll have to stay home this weekend,” I said, heaving a sigh.

Jill, her arm already in a sling, issued an emphatic “no”, in her own way; to wit, crying and wailing about how she still wanted to go camping.

We did go, after all. It wasn’t to French Beach, but rather to Saltspring Island- the only place we could find a spot, but also the best place we could have ever landed. Throughout that weekend, I watched my little girl play, almost as if nothing was wrong. She couldn’t lift her arm, or put weight on it, however, which meant she couldn’t climb or help us carry things. She did get good and dirty, though. I don’t think there was a single spot on her that was still clean by the end of the weekend. She gloried in all the dirt, and did her level best to take most of it home with her by wearing it.

When we came home, all exhausted and sunburned but oddly happy in spite of all things, I fully expected our little city-bred farm girl to tell me she wanted nothing to do with horses anymore. After all, she did break her arm jumping off of one. Between the three of us, her therapist and my partner and I, we hoped we could at least talk her into attending her sessions at the farm, even if she didn’t want to be near the horses. There was even mention of letting her choose which horse or pony she wanted to ride, out of all of them.

Now, Crystal doesn’t stand very tall. On my 5’8” frame, her head might come to my shoulders. She is not the smallest on the farm by a long shot, but neither is she the biggest. The biggest horse there, in fact, is a Percheron gelding by the name of Viktor. His withers are just about level with the top of my head; he is perhaps twice as tall as Crystal, and at least three times as big, overall…

And my daughter wanted to ride him.

The very next Friday she sat astride the huge horse, looking not much bigger than a Lego figurine on his back. She sported her bright pink riding helmet, a dark blue arm sling, and a proud smile to put the sun to shame.

I’m Mad, and You’re in Trouble

e19Every morning, as I head to the library after dropping the kids off at school, I listen to the music on my cellphone. I have a rather eclectic mix- it ranges from metal to pop, to folk. The only unifying feature, really, is that the songs I pick have to have some value or meaning. They need to be either uplifting, motivating, or relaxing. Or, they can be angry. Not the kind of angry that has the artist screaming about killing everybody, but the kind of angry that says “I’ve had enough, and you’re in trouble.”

It’s a gross understatement to say that life in my little family can be difficult. Lately, with me working my tail off at my new job as an editor of science research papers, my man confined to his bed and recliner with double pneumonia , my two kids being seriously attitude-y (except I can’t get too mad, because the little buggers are being…well…exactly like me when I was their age)… I am starting to feel like I want to scream.

So, I’ve been listening to the angry “I’ve had enough” music a lot.

This morning, it was Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take it”. Cliché, I know. Still… it gets the job done. It helps me gird myself, pull up my big girl britches, and bulldoze my way through whatever particular crap I’m dealing with.

It also reminds me of my early high school years; grades nine and ten, to be exact. I thought it might be good for me to join the school’s intramural girls’ volleyball team. Although I’ve never been much one for team sports, I loved being part of that team. We were a bunch of awesome girls who just loved playing the game and being active. We were (almost) always hospitable, when we hosted other teams for a game.

I say “almost”, because there was one team we had a less-than-friendly rivalry with.

There was a good reason, too. I went to a public high school. Not only that, but it didn’t exactly have a fantastic reputation as a quality establishment. The other team belonged to an upper-class private school and they, unfortunately, had the hoity-toity “holier than thou” attitude to match. They put on a thin veneer of hospitality whenever they hosted another team at their school, but everyone knew exactly how thin it was. Since our schools were vastly different, in terms of their reputation and overall attitude, students at that school tended to look down at those attending the school I went to. The fact that they won more games than they lost (in all sports, and in both genders), and had won the intramural finals in girls’ volleyball every year for 10 years running didn’t exactly help.

Our team, on the other hand… we won some, we lost some. To the best of my knowledge, it had been a long time since my high school even made it to the semi-finals. So, we were the underdog.

In my grade ten year, the team was basically made up of the same players, and we had the same coach. We had a good year, and made it into the finals. All that year, we’d been getting trash-talked by our rivals. It was the usual… they were better than us… we’d never win against them… we should just kneel down and worship them…

It was getting annoying.

A week before the game, we found out were going to play against our rival team, and that the loser would be knocked out of the race. My coach decided to try something different. She started playing deafeningly loud music at every practice. She started telling us to put on a confident attitude, a “We’re going to win” attitude… even if it was fake… because it would come across in our game.

The finals that year were hosted by our school. Not only did we have the usual spectators, but we had teams and spectators from 20 other schools watching. During the pre-game practice, the coach put on Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It”- loud.

The moment I remember the best was when, just before the game started and we were all in our positions, the rival coach yelled over to our coach: “What’s it feel like, knowing your team is going to lose in front of all these people?”

My coach, bless her soul, simply extended her middle finger at the other woman, and smiled sweetly.

The first point was theirs. We had to give them something, after all.

The game went on for a good 45 minutes, but we thrashed them. I can’t remember what the final score was, but they never got any further than that one point.

When the final point was made, the stands erupted- not because it was our team that won, but because we humbled that holier-than-thou group of hoity-toity snobs, and made it possible for some other team to win the finals. I was right behind our coach, when we started going down the line to shake hands with the (sullen) other team. I distinctly heard her say to the other coach:

“What does it feel like to know that your team just got spanked by the underdog, in front of all these people?”

Although our team didn’t win the finals, it was O.K- we made a few points:

Don’t be too high and mighty, because someone might just knock you off your horse.

When people step all over you… straighten up and throw them off.