Around this time last year, I handed over our newsletter to our Director of Operations,  Sarah Morkin, who wrote of her Grandmother, an Opera Singer who was helped tremendously by her community during hard times. It quickly became one of our most popular features ever.  I’m pleased to invite Sarah back again this July to share another story from her own family on the impact that a community organization has had on their lives during the last year.  Enjoy!
-Ryan

This time last year, I wrote about the wisdom of my grandmother and importance of community in hard times. This month, I wish to share with you the wisdom of my toddlers and how a playground squabble unexpectedly led to a moment of gratitude and clarity.

As we all know, we have spent the last year stuck indoors in isolation, and most of us have been slowly forgetting how to effectively communicate. Eventually, when we are able to once again safely gather, I think we will have a new found appreciation for easy and carefree face-to-face communication.

I’m the mother of soon-to-be 3-year-old twins: Alexandra is my sharp-witted, creative, social butterfly with a tenacious and caring soul. Henry is my gentle giant, quiet but very sweet, intelligent, and analytical in his approach to most things… aside from physical coordination. In that department, our little man’s talent for clumsiness can have us painfully restraining bursts of laughter. These two kids could not be more different and yet they are similar in such beautiful ways. They are the yin and yang, chaos and order of my world and it is my life’s privilege to experience each day through their eyes.

Last month I received a call from our pre-school regarding a dispute on the playground with my gentle giant and another little boy. Each had been vying for the same toy and, apparently, they both lost out. Henry came home that day with an incident report and a blue-looking “tattoo” of an upper and lower set of teeth on his arm. I imagined it to be similar to those old-fashioned DIY prison tattoos that young men would don to advertise “street cred” with their fellow inmates. It was clear that whoever was responsible for this epidermal artistry wasn’t new to the craft, but I knew my kid wasn’t innocent either. Henry is built like a rock and quite tall for a boy for his age, but like his father before him, it’ll take time for him to realize his own strength, build coordination and adjust to his environment accordingly.

On our drive home, I led a conversation with both my kids on the importance of communication, patience and sharing. As I broke down the logic of sharing, I realized everything I was saying was in direct conflict with the safety precautions I’ve been asking of them over the past year. We’ve been in countless situations where the kiddos have wanted to play with others, share toys and give hugs… and in those particular circumstances it wasn’t safe. As an extroverted hugger with a European family that gives kisses on the cheek as a conventional greeting, it was heartbreaking and contradictory to my natural reflexes. Switching hats and looking at the issue as a parent, I had to respect public health directives and the comfort levels of all the parents we crossed paths with. We’d constantly been in-and-out of these social grey areas — it was exhausting to always know for certain what was appropriate. I’m quite sure we’re not the only ones feeling the same way. Whether you’re at a community park, walking along nature trails, or even going down the sidewalk, parents and kids alike take on a conflicted expression as we cross paths with each other.

Learning to Communicate

That night, I had a conversation with my fiancé Andre about how we should approach the incident at school in a way that was clear to understand for a toddler. As we scratched our heads in search of the right words, my mind drifted back to a time when he and I were learning how to handle these types of situations. For context, when a very kind ultrasound technician broke the news that we were expecting twins, my brain quickly shifted into a slight panic-stricken research mode, seeking out any resource we could find to prepare for the big changes ahead.

It was early spring in 2018, I was very pregnant, and we’d registered for several workshops at a local organization called ChildREACH. We were sitting in a room with other couples, discussing important things like de-escalation strategies and overcoming barriers to communication. I remember sitting in that room with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness to have my partner there learning with me, in a safe space that was led by educated specialists. Each of those courses were made available to families at almost no cost, during a time when we were counting every penny. We were provided with more than just abstract theories but concrete examples of how to be mindful parents, as well as mindful partners. With each passing class we eagerly took notes, shared insights with other parents and often caught ourselves giggling uncontrollably at all the madness that lay ahead.

In that moment, we could never have envisioned Henry’s playground incident and the resulting difficult conversation about sharing in the midst of a pandemic, and yet, the skills we learned in that workshop 3 years ago continues to pay dividends to our family.

I can honestly tell you that my love for Andre grew deeper with each class because we were connecting in ways we had never before. I grew increasingly more confident in our ability to navigate through challenges and we both developed a deeper sense of empathy for one another. I very much attribute the strength of our relationship to those workshops and I often feel compelled to return this deep gratitude to those organizations that offered accessible services during such a crucial time in our lives.

I wager that the average person might not understand the full scale of essential services that non-profits and charitable organizations provide. It isn’t until an urgent shift in our personal lives brings us to their doorstep that we truly appreciate how important these organizations are to our society.

There are countless networks of interconnected services that are staffed with professionals driven by the purpose of their work far beyond than the price of their time. They operate around the clock to provide life changing resources, with limited provisions and often-unpredictable funding from year to year. Despite these hurdles, their work plants a seed in the lives of many in our communities. And, as the case with our family, sometimes the full beauty of the impact provided isn’t noticed until years later. In my eyes, this magnificent expression of generosity is an integral part of what it means to be human. To take what you are good at and use it to improve the well-being of others is perhaps the most divine act we can achieve in this life. It is because of people and services like we found at ChildREACH that I have a deeper sense of purpose my professional work, as well as in my day-to-day activities.

Passing skills to the next generation

As we fell asleep that night, neither one of us was sure of the answer to the issue at hand, but we rested easier knowing we had the skills to tackle the problem, thanks to our time at ChildREACH. We’re confident that with consistent reminders and some pre-planned games at home that the concept of sharing will grow more and more second nature with our children, until it becomes part of their daily lives.

One afternoon, while on a routine walk with the kiddos, we passed a neighbor out in her yard tending to her flower beds. Although we hadn’t taken the chance to get to know her yet, we’d usually say hello and compliment her garden as we passed by. This time, however, Henry had different plans. He immediately ditched his tricycle and began running towards her with arms wide open and a big smile. She got down on her knees and welcomed his embrace with the most genuine sigh of relief. Every one of us had a smile that stretched from ear to ear. At the end of that visit, we all had a chance to introduce ourselves, and both kiddos walked away with a new friend and a handful of flowers she’d picked from her garden. We were all quietly beaming with joy, and it was all thanks to Henry’s innocent sense of generosity. I walked home knowing that despite all these short-term social barriers, that the value of connection with one another has not been lost to our youngest generation, and perhaps it could grow to be stronger than it ever was before.

I hope that as the pandemic wanes, we will see a new era where we value the connection with one another in deeper and more meaningful ways, just as we learned at that ChildREACH workshop all those years ago. Here’s to hoping that our days of easy and carefree communication are right around the corner!

Sincerely

Sarah

P.S. Not long after the first reported incident in the playground, Henry returned home from pre-school, seemingly unbothered, with an extra set of marks on his arm and second incident report. Through the eyes of a two-year-old, it would appear that sharing one’s dental records can be interpreted as a form of generosity too. We’re classifying this lesson’s status as “ongoing”.

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