Posts Tagged ‘children’

Hyla is quite happy playing by herself.

Hyla is an only child and, as such, she spends a lot of time on her own. Sure, she has lots of friends but when she comes home at the end of a very long school day (7am – 3pm) she can sometimes be alone for a few hours.

As would be the case with many 10 year-olds, Hyla has developed a rich and fully featured fantasy world. Sometimes she is Witch Hyla, her mischievous alter ego. Sometimes she is Good Hyla and, of course, sometimes she is Bad Hyla. But whoever she is on any given day, it’s all her and it’s all in her mind.

I love to watch her play by herself, immersed in a world of make-believe and oblivious to the fact the she is playing on her own. Blocks, dolls, beads, you name it, they all become characters in her narrative and she just loves to bring them out to play.

At first I used to feel guilty that she was playing on her own and I used to jump in every chance I got. But that’s me projecting my own biases on to her. Every time I check in with her as to whether she’s ok, she always looks up with a bemused smile on her face and says, “Of course, Daddy. Why wouldn’t I be?”

I grew up in a house with 2 sisters and 2 parents which meant that I was never alone for long. As I grew up I noticed that I was much happier in the company of others than by myself and tried to limit the amount of time I spent on my own. That’s because it’s what I knew, what I was used to.

As an adult I became a serial monogamist, moving from one relationship to another. As soon as someone was no longer to be a presence in my life I would go out and meet someone new because the alternative, being alone, felt uncomfortable to me. And these relationships would last anywhere from months to years but I always felt as though that I needed that other person to complete me, to make me whole.

About 10 years ago I had occasion to meet someone who told me that until I spent a significant amount of time on my own – which she defined as 2-3 years – I would never be able to have a whole and healthy relationship. I told her that I couldn’t imagine spending that much time by myself and wondered why anybody would ever want to do that willingly.

I then proceeded to jump into a relationship that lasted 6 years and when it ended a funny thing happened. I didn’t jump in with someone new. I just started to hang out with myself. Over the past 4 years I have had one relationship that lasted about 6 months but that’s been it and I began to notice that a wonderful thing was happening. I was starting to become comfortable with my own company and I was starting to get to know who I actually was.

For so very long I would make my choices based on me being the person that I wanted to be. I would do this or that because it suited my self-image. But when you spend a lot of time on your own you start to notice things, like what you like and don’t like. Your good qualities shine a little more brightly because they’re not diffused by another’s energy and the bad ones also stood out more because there was no one there to dilute their effects.

Suddenly, I was being true to myself. I was no longer making choices based on who I wanted to be but, rather, based on who I actually was. And it was exhilarating. Last year when I met the person that I ended up dating for about 6 months I couldn’t help but notice that I was a different man in this relationship than I had ever previously experienced. Because I knew who I was, I knew what I had to offer and I knew whether it would be a good fit for me. I knew what I was willing to change and what I wasn’t. I kept catching myself saying things to her that I had never said to anyone ever before because it was all coming from a place of self-knowledge.

Now, I never chose willingly to be alone for those 3 years. It just worked out that way. But when I started to date this new person I remembered what that person had told me all those years back about being on your own. I couldn’t see it at the time but it certainly turned out to be both prophetic and true.

Did I not want to be alone because that’s what I was used to growing up? I don’t know. But I do know that Hyla has no trouble at all being by herself and for that I admire her greatly. I think that all the time she spend playing on her own will serve her well and it is my hope that in the coming years that very same quality will help her to know herself better – and thus, to know what she really wants.

Today I both know myself and like myself and that has been an immeasurable gift. How freeing it is to be able to make choices based on self-knowledge and how comforting it is to be true to one’s self. I used to look for my next relationship with a kind of hunger, never really feeling whole with one. Now I’m ok either way. Today I enjoy my own company and have come to really like the various traits that comprise my character.

Hyla may spend a lot of time playing by herself but I’m feeling pretty sure that this will serve her well in life. By spending time with yourself you get to know yourself and once that happens, there’s pretty much nothing that you can’t do.

Stand tall, be true, and be honest with yourself about what makes you tick and playing alone will never seem quite so empty again…

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Hyla makes friends in an instant. And not just friends. Best friends. Apparently all that’s needed is age proximity, a willingness to play and somewhat of a joyous spirit and with those things intact she proceeds to bond at a level that has previously taken me years to achieve.

We’ve been down at a resort in the past few weeks and I’ve seen Hyla bond instantly with two sets of friends. One group she met in the pool and then proceeded to play with them morning, noon and night and the other she met over a game of chess on a life size chess board. Within minutes there was laughing squealing and the sharing of the kind of private jokes that you need to be 9 year-old to understand.

I love watching this and I love the joy on her face as she explores these new relationships, discovers new intimacies and forms new bonds.

Hyla is an only child. And, as such, she has learned very well how to entertain herself. Her world is filled with all kind of solitary activities that seems to bring her hours of fun. I really admire her ability to find fun in some of the most mundane things imaginable. A couple of dolls that turn into a coterie of friends, her dog, who becomes an imaginary person and a book that she will lose herself in for hours. It’s a remarkable skill and I hope it will serve her well as an adult.

I really envy her ability to find such joy in these instant unions. As an adult I don’t really make many new friends. Most of my closest friends are people I’ve known for years and those bonds were formed earlier in my life. Occasionally someone comes along who joins my inner circle but it doesn’t happen very often. Most often they become acquaintances or become part of my business network. And I have noticed a new phenomenon where I am making new “Facebook friends” who I share these kinds of intimacies with but whom I’ve never met.

So often when we meet new people we have an agenda. Can they help me in my business affairs? Is there a romantic interest or do we have something else in common that holds our link together? But not Hyla. With her, the friendship is both the means and the end all rolled into one and I find that I’m envying her knack for forming these apparently deep and lasting friendships that seem to bring her so much joy and pleasure.

When did attaching ourselves become so complicated and difficult? How did we lose that ease of playground bonding?

I have many, many acquaintances, even more business contacts but only a very few really close friends. These are the few people who I know I can count on when the straits seem dire and I love them dearly and would do anything for them myself.

When I ended up in the hospital two years ago – in the ICU and literally on life support for several days – there were my two closest friends who stood watch in my room, taking rotating shifts and keeping the rest of my world apprised of my developing condition. They would do anything for me and I, for them, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such friends who would drop their lives to be there for mine.

Those friendships took years to cultivate and the equity that I built in those friendships took many years to grow. But Hyla has such a pure spirit and such a lack of agenda and in her world you can be her friend if you meet the most basic of criteria.

Now, one may think that these kind of connections do not run deep or may be fairly disposable but the laughter, the whispered intimacies and the pure joy that flows from these links are very real and they make me almost as happy as they seem to make her. I love to watch her play and to explore the boundaries of these new BFF’s and inside I wish I could do the same. I used to be able to do this but as I’ve grown up that ability has faded and has been replaced with a kind of self-protectiveness. I now protect my heart and it takes a fair bit to get me to drop my guard to the point where I let someone into my innermost circle.

But why shouldn’t we have the joy that these unions seem to bring? Why do we deny ourselves that kind of laughter and those same whispered secrets? I think that, once again, I’m going to find myself taking a cue from my 9 year-old sweetie and to try and be more open to the joy that a good friend can bring.

I love my friends dearly and I know they love me and I love the comfort that comes from knowing that they’re there. I would consider myself very lucky to have more of those bonds in my life. It just doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it and Hyla has reminds me of that on a regular basis. Sure, it does take some trust and sometimes that needs to be earned, but when the reward is great the risk often needs to be great, too.

Not too long ago I had a reunion with one of my best friends from my earlier times. We hadn’t seen each other in 25 years and, of course, we just picked up right where we left off. There was such comfort in that bond and I consider myself lucky to have those connections in my life and as I move forward I resolve to not only cherish those kinds of connections but to seek out new ones because they make my life so rich.

Hyla makes instant friends and I’m going to try to expand my world, too. Because at the end of the day the things that matter the most to me are not the things that I own. They are the people who love me and the joy they bring me and I will now measure my wealth not by the balance in the bank but by the number of people who care about me and those that I can now call my friends. Thank you, all of you. You know who you are.

Hyla never walks in a straight line.

I’ve taken to calling her “Gravel Girl” because when we walk on the sidewalks here she always walks on the gravel that lines the side of the paths here. And not just the gravel. She also walks on the grates, the hills, steps on every post and kicks every stone. Never a straight line. Never.

She is also fond of looking under every rock, examines everything that falls from the trees and finds endless fascination with the tropical wonders of every seed and coconut that comes from above.

I remember my mother telling me that I used to do the same. I would make sure I stepped on every crack in the sidewalk, climbed every hill, stepped in every puddle and explored every snow bank.

When I ask her why she does this she looks at me with a bemused look on her face and says, “Because it’s fun Daddy”. And she’s right. It looks like fun. So, I’ve started to wonder why I always walk in a straight line.

As an adult I always seem to have a destination. If I’m moving it’s usually because I’m going somewhere. And when I’m going somewhere, that’s where I’m going. But for Hyla it’s not about the destination. The fun is in the journey. Every time we have some place to go she turns it into an endless exploration of all that surrounds her. Every bit of stimuli piques her attention and requires further examination.

We live in such a fast paced world. Email. Faxes. Text messages. Phone calls and voice mail. We always seem to have someplace to go and never seem to have enough time to get there. But not Hyla. She delights in the mundane, finds pleasure in every treasure and collects stones, shells and seeds like prizes.

And, of course, I used to do the same. I used to have quite a collection of childhood treasures that others might call junk but to me were as cherished as the material things that I’ve accumulated as an adult. When did all that change? Somewhere along the line I became focussed on the destination and lost sight of the fun of the journey. And that’s why I’m so impressed with her meandering.

Who knows what might be under that rock, in that snow bank or under that puddle? I know it sound mundane but not to her. To her, the world is her oyster and these shells are her pearls.

About three years ago a friend of mine observed that I always seemed to be rushing places, that I moved too fast and that it was exhausting watching me move through life. She suggested that I make a big sign that said, “Slow Down” and that I put it up in my house. And I actually did it. For about four months every time I came downstairs there it was in big bold letters on a big piece of bristle board. “Slow Down”.

They say that you should you be careful what you wish for because you might get it and sure enough, after four months of looking at “Slow Down” I was in a serious accident that cost me most of the use of my left leg. I spent three months in a hospital bed and then another six months in rehab learning how to walk again. During those months, as I moved about in a wheelchair, I sure moved a lot slower and over the next few years as I gradually reclaimed the use of that leg I noticed that not only had this physically slowed me down but that I was calmer, more focussed, and more patient with life’s little annoyances.

Slowly, I came to like the new me. I liked the calm, enjoyed the slower pace and started to notice that I was much more focussed on the journey as getting places began to consume much of my time. In the past six months I’ve shed my cane and crutches and now walk almost normally. I still limp when I’m tired and my running days are behind me but I’m now very mobile and thrilled with my progress.

I thought that my new Zen-like state was complete until I noticed Hyla walking in the gravel and then I realized that even though I’m moving and living more slowly, I’m still about the destination and not the journey. And I think that’s about to change.

Yesterday I walked with Hyla on the gravel and joined her as she walked sideways on the hills and explored every nook and cranny and you know what? I had a ball. We found a salamander under a rock that we played with for about 15 minutes and then we planted a seed that we found, resolving to come back in a year to see if it became a tree. We even found a penny that we also planted because Hyla wanted to see if a money tree would grow. Apparently tonight we’re going to plant a piece of spaghetti to see… well, you know.

I no longer have a sign in my living room and I’ve become much more mobile but Hyla has reminded me that if I do slow down there might be a salamander under that rock and that is a very cool thing, indeed. Today we’re going to walk on the beach and I’ve decided that we’re going to kick at the waves and stop for lots of sandcastles. I’m going try to move even more slowly and to enjoy the journey because life shouldn’t really be about the destination. I’m no longer going to walk in a straight line because now, the journey is going to be much more fun.

And I can’t wait for next year’s spaghetti harvest!

She will only eat white food.

Pancakes, French toast, cereal, pasta, bread, rice, chicken, potatoes. You name it. If it’s white, she’ll eat it. And it’s making me crazy. We’re at a place with a buffet so big that it borders on wasteful and up she goes, plate in hand, searching for sustenance, and back she comes – all white, all the time. From breakfast till dinner it’s a festival of starch.

I’m not actually sure what the appeal is of all this whiteness but it’s as certain as the one exception – chocolate. She will also eat anything chocolate and looks for every opportunity to indulge herself. French toast with chocolate chips, pancakes with chocolate syrup and, of course, chocolate cake.

I’ve tried to explain about the different food groups and why they’re important. I’ve shown her the “food pyramid” and explained why you need this variety. But, no. White and chocolate.

So, I’ve tried to make a rule. First, I set down that at every meal she must eat something with some colour. And let the negotiating begin. “Have a glass of fruit juice”, I suggest, knowing that they have all kinds of fresh fruit juices here. Up she goes and come back with what is, basically, Tang. “Try the watermelon juice”, I offer helpfully. The nose wrinkles. “How about some chopped pineapple and papaya in yogurt?” I try, knowing that if you hide the nutrition in something she likes (and is also white) then she might just eat it.

It’s like when we had to give our dog a pill and hid it in a piece of cheese. Up she goes and comes back with a bowl of yogurt. “Where’s the fruit?” “It’s in there Daddy.” So I take my spoon, and begin the search. I find three pieces of diced melon so small that they almost escaped notice. “It’s got colour”, she announces triumphantly!

At dinner she goes up to the salad bar and comes back with a single piece of lettuce with dressing on it (white ranch dressing, of course). After a while the constant cajoling and negotiating wears me down and I relent to my fallback position – one glass of fresh juice and one item of colour every day. You’d think I was asking her to drink vinegar. And yesterday after the Tang and the piece of lettuce I didn’t even try anymore. She actually wore me down to the point of surrender.

Frankly, what is really making me crazy is that she literally lives in a banana republic. I mean, they have more fresh and cheap fruit here than anywhere I’ve ever been. Most of it was picked in the past 24 hours and is so delicious that I have fruit with every meal and bring back a plate to the room for a late night snack. I love fruit and eat it here every chance I get. It’s one of my favourite things about coming to Panama. The bananas literally grow on the trees outside our room. The papayas are as big as my arm and the melon is so sweet that it could give you a cavity. And don’t get me started on the maracuya. What an amazing flavour.

But Hyla will have none of it. “I don’t like fruit”. How can she not like fruit? Is she really my daughter? I feel like I’ve eaten so much fruit that it’s now in my DNA but it’s clearly not in hers. Bananas – $0.10/pound, papaya – $0.75 and oranges – $2.50 for a 10 pound bag. Fruit heaven. “You don’t know how lucky you are to live in a place that has fruit like this. How can you not like all of this?” She tries to explain that it’s the texture that she doesn’t like but I still don’t understand how she can turn down these amazing flavours. It makes me want to scream.

But, I have gained something from this constant tug war. Hyla, and other children her age, are all about hedonism. If it feels good, they want it. They do everything they can to fill their day with the indulgence of every whim with no regard to balance or consequence. They avoid the unpleasant and constantly seek pleasure and there is a lesson in that for me.

As adults we’ve learned that sometimes things that are good for you aren’t always nice, fun or easy. But we soldier on. Knowing that being responsible means that sometimes it doesn’t always feel good. We do it because that’s just the way it is. But not her. She will go to the most extraordinary lengths to avoid anything that doesn’t make her happy. And secretly, I wish that I could do the same. If white food makes me happy then why not? Who needs all that “yuck” any ways?

Well, we all do and I’m trying to teach her about balance – an important lesson for us all. But when I see the smile that comes with yet another piece of chocolate food I just melt and she knows that she’ll get her way because I have such a hard time being the mean Daddy. I want to be the fun Daddy, the cool Daddy and she knows it and she works it. Yesterday she explained for almost three minutes why white food is actually full of colour because, as I just taught her a few days ago white is a combination of all the colours, she almost got to me to buy into it.

Great. Another lawyer in the family.

So, now, I’m trying a new rationalization – we’re on holiday and who needs all those rules on a holiday? I did promise her mother that I would try to promote the fruit and vegetable thing but this is just making me weary. And I think that the main reason that I just can’t bring myself to enforce these rules is that in my heart, I’m a hedonist, too, and I feel like a giant hypocrite trying to make her do what I wouldn’t want to do myself.

So, we’re off to lunch – spaghetti with alfredo sauce (of course) and I’ll be having the fruit plate. I keep telling her that when she gets older she’ll regret not eating all the fruit that I’m sure she’ll come to love but, for now, it’s all white all the time. And when she looks at me with those big blue eyes and smiles that smile that melts my heart it’s pretty clear that dinner will be fish and rice. And chocolate cake. And I know that she’ll win and I almost don’t care. Because I was her age once and then I only wanted mashed potatoes with every meal.

White is all the colours. Who could say no to that?

I can’t help but admire her because if I was her, I would have tried the exact same argument. She’s got me and she knows it, and for that, I love her all the more.