They DO grow up, eh?

by Alicia on March 18, 2015

I mean, that’s why we had kids, right? So we could watch them grow up? Participate actively in their development into functioning adults who hopefully contribute to society as a whole?

So why the long faces when they do something that their entire life has been propelled toward?

When my girls each started walking, I was thrilled for them. Hell, I was thrilled for me! Mobile daughters was a lovely milestone in my life, it brought lots of independence and some amusing moments that only can belong to a newly toddling, somewhat pudgy, babyfaced kid. I didn’t “want to push them down” or “sob at their baby phase going away”. Yes, it’s bittersweet, realizing that I am seeing a lot of these milestones for the last time. I have no more babies, they won’t happen again. But then, Bella only ever took her first steps once too. And Nik only got one first day of school. Maë had one first word, just like every other kid on the planet. So I’m technically an old pro at watching milestones come and go quickly and, by that logic, so is every parent.

May2013-March2015 All three girlsI read this article the other day, the message of which resonated very much with my view on parenting and my own constant growing up. My struggle doesn’t lie in the act of them growing and doing new things, but rather in the guilt that I don’t get attached to those things. I’m usually really excited about them. Signing each of my kids up for Kindergarten was thrilling! I worried a little that they’d have a period of struggle, but I was already prepared to feel secondary victory when they found their way through. I don’t stress about first nights spent away from home (to be fair here, our families have been the recipients of each of our kids’ first sleepovers, so that helps ease my mind), I had the start of the menstrual discussion with Bella in the hallway between my front door and my kitchen without much fanfare, they’ve each had their ears pierced and that didn’t affect me at all other than I thought they looked super cute. But then I look around at  my social network and 3 out of every 4 moms is having an emotional crisis at their kid reaching some milestone in their life like first days of school or bus rides or report cards or whatever. And it affects me, because I feel like maybe I’m broken, or that my kids are missing some important facet of the parent-child relationship and they’ll require therapy for the fact that their mom didn’t seem to give a fuck about their first school concert. (I didn’t, by the way. I laughed through it and didn’t even think to invite a grandparent because it didn’t seem like a big enough deal to travel for. It was cute, but they do cute shit all the time at home and I don’t invite anyone there either.)

I want to see my kids grown up. I was never comfortable in the baby stage, I find my groove in each real conversation I get to have with my girls. I grow as a mother in the moments I can really feel them trust me. And, to learn what trust means and how it looks and how it changes, they have to grow up. They have to have experiences they can’t really share, to learn where their threshold is for opening up. I struggle with the term “lean on me” because it implies they need me in order to succeed. They don’t. They need my guidance, but they needed it before that moment. In that moment I’m not there. My lessons are, hopefully, if I’ve done my job. But that moment of jump? They can’t lean on me, they are all alone. And that doesn’t scare me at all. It gives me those little tingles of excitement because it means I get to glimpse who they are, who they’re turning into, how they deal with struggle, how they express pride and joy and defeat.

I got into parenting for the end game. And I’m ok with that, but am I missing something? Genetically or emotionally am I missing a piece that I’ll regret later? (Can you regret your personality?) Am I trying to justify the plain fact that I don’t actually feel very emotionally attached to the moments they have? Prove I’m a good parent? Profess to the ether that I provide them stability and confidence in other ways? (And who even cares? I guess I care if my daughters care, but by the time they can tell me that they do, I’ll have screwed them up already, soooooo…::saves for therapy times three::)

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“Oh. Maëlle has taken on her sister’s sense of style, I see…” was the genuinely good-natured comment offered by Annika’s teacher on a pick up one evening with two other Ladies in tow.

My daughters’ choices of attire are sometimes usually always just left of traditional and would really never be found in a magazine or Pinterest spread. But they do have their own infrequent hashtags on Instagram. They have full and easy access to all pieces of clothing that may or may not currently fit them. They are instructed each morning to “eat breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth and hair”. Unless the parents are whine-asked to help, they come down the stairs in whatever getup they’ve pulled together. We have two rules:

    1. Cover all your bits. (both weather & modesty dictated)

    2. No rips or stains.

That is it.

The thing is, it’s helpful in more ways than just a time saver. Ryan and I don’t have to fuss & argue about clothes in the already crazy morning routine of getting three littles ready for school. (Sidebar: whyyyy is it always a shock to them, every day? ‘I have to brush my teeth?!’ YES. Nine years running now, child. So slow on the uptake.) We don’t fight with them about their decision to wear 7 shirts and a slightly too short pair of pants with a long pair of socks pulled over the bare skin. We wouldn’t wear it, but that’s ok because they never asked us to wear it. We teach our daughters that they need to be respectful of their bodies by covering the parts that are private and obeying school dress code rules. We respect them enough to let them reveal a part of who they are in how they dress. To represent themselves in a way they are proud of, or just plain like. They can change their minds. They can mismatch, they can choose two different socks on purpose, they can put a dress over a long sleeve and a short sleeve shirt. I.Do.Not.Care.

I dress the way I like. It’s maybe too out-there for some, and that’s ok. I like my body and I want the girls to see that confidence.




Do they look ridiculous? Yes, sometimes.

Is it what I would have picked out? Very rarely.

Does it embarrass me? It used to, but not at all anymore. I used to think it made us look like we weren’t able to take care of our kids. They have clothing, I’m taking care of them just fine.

Do I ever pick their clothes out for them? For very special occasions (family photos, funerals, fancy parties) I will offer them two or three choices. Because they are used to options, they will often mix & match from the pieces, and I keep that in mind.

Do I worry they’ll get picked on or made fun of at school? A little, yes. But this goes back to the confidence in themselves thing. Bella takes a little more care in what she wears, I don’t know if that’s older age or personality, or both. I definitely don’t want them to think they’re going to get picked on about clothes. So I’d rather not instill in them right now something that might not ever happen or matter to them. If they get bullied over their look and it affects them, we’ll talk about it and make some changes that work for us.

Do friends and family make comments? Not to my face:) And it wouldn’t matter if they did, unless it mattered to my kid. I’m not uncomfortable with an adverse opinion.


I don’t care how they dress, I only care how they feel. I want them to be brave and confident, and sometimes that means they stand out a little in style. Good for them. Rock on, girls, you do you.

Maëlle's trip to the grocery store, March 2015


My twitter feed is varied with every type of account from family, to Moms and Dads, to local breweries, to bird & carrot & bear parody accounts (not kidding), and a smattering of educational tweeters. My Life, represented by social media. This popped into my stream this morning and, well yes I was intrigued.

9 Reasons Finland’s Schools Are So Much Better Than America’s by Libby Nelson.

Goodness, that headline is a wonderful example of the term clickbait. However, I have a different angle/reason for clicking- I lived in Finland and went to high school there for a year as an exchange student. So many versions of this article are floating around about Finland’s educational dominance and…they’re all true. I would argue that changes toward the Finnish model can happen in North America, but we need patience. There needs to be an entire cultural shift. Putting aside the elevated professional development tools we need to equip our teachers with, the money for the increased salaries we need to pay them, the supports we need to give them in real time so they can focus on teaching and not on proving they should keep their jobs…we need our students to care about school as much as Finnish kids care about school. Meaning, our children need it modelled to them that an education is an incredible privilege, and they need to value the marks they earn…and only receive the mark they actually earn.

_38122957_sweden_finland_map300I lived in Tornio, Finland between 1999 and 2000. My friends were 16 and 17 years old. I’m not gonna lie, I took a year off school. I was required to go to class, but I was not graded. (They taught in Finnish. Except in English class, which I sometimes taught. Which was so fun at 16!) I had nothing to lose and nothing to gain, so I just hung out for free hot lunch every day and the chance to socialize. After school, I spent countless hours lounging on the beds of my girlfriends reading or watching Friends episodes from two years back with my headphones on…while they studied. They took their school work so seriously. I decry the claim in this otherwise well-written article that 15 yr olds do less than 30 minutes of homework a night. Please. Perhaps they are assigned less than 30 minutes…the idea is they choose to do more. At least my friends all did.

University is free. But it is so damn hard to get in. And you aren’t let in just because your high school transcript looks impeccable, you have to prove you earned those marks and can keep up in University. You have to write essays and specific testing to be extended an offer of acceptance. This reality was never far from the minds of my friends. So few of them had jobs, because they were too busy with school. By choice. Their marks were fantastic, they were dedicated and brilliant and respected. My second host mom was the principal, headmistress actually, at the high school. I never once got the impression that she was superior to her teachers.

Going back even younger, I lived with two 7yr old twins for 7 months in my first host family. I never saw them do a stitch of homework, they played and played and played. But smart? Wow. My little host sister learned to tell me the time in English, even though she hadn’t learned any English in school yet. Learning was a tool for them, not a burden forced on them. They looked for lessons even on road trips we took. I taught English at a polytechnical school for a few months. (I know, right?! Sometimes even I forget all the life lessons I gleaned in that tiny spot of a year.) It was basically the equivalent to our colleges here, the students got a lot of hands-on training and developed so many skills in a short amount of time. And they started at 17. By choice. Not because their marks weren’t good enough to get them into a University. It was a marked difference from the way I’d grown up looking at the College vs University divide here in Canada.

All of this to say: it’s much different in Finland than it is here. It’s not just good educational policy that determines their success. It’s good educational policy which accurately reflects cultural influences. The students I was friends with never complained about school…they’d lament a teacher being too strict, they’d get stressed about a lesson they didn’t understand or couldn’t quite get, but they never skipped a class, I can’t remember anyone being late, and so very rarely was their anyone misbehaving in class, I gathered the tolerance level for it was below zero. Much like the temperature every day for 5 straight months.

Haparanda i Tornio

Overall, I would define the Finnish school system in one word: respected. And I mean that from every and all angles. The teachers are respected, the administration is respected, the students are respected, and the parents are respected. Everyone is regarded as being an integral part of the system. You are not granted a diploma as the child of a tax paying citizen. You earn an education through highly skilled professionals and a lot of personal hard work. And rarely are there any complaints. Which is pretty Finnish, I’ll concede. I am so proud to be able to say I lived there. It’s as wonderful as they say it is. (I mean, the winters are horrific, but no one claims they’re not, so it does what it says on the box.) So for us to climb the ranks up to the Finnish school model? I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to where that starts: whether it’s a top down push from government officials and a massive overhaul of educational policy (so so pricey, the effects of which wouldn’t be truly felt for likely a decade or more, but necessary). Or maybe we start with our students, modelling the behaviour that school isn’t a right just because I pay taxes and live in a developed country. That it’s an incredible tool gifted to them that they can and must use to become something fulfilling in their own way. You are not a special snowflake, but you can become one all on your own if you study and earn it from educators you respect. Wait…back it up. All that starts with parents.


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