02 November 2010

Things I'm Learning - In My Wake

I've had a pretty intense month or so (see yesterday's October Tried To Kill Me post). Had the Cold Virus of Doom That Would No Go Away Ever continued to affect me so strongly, I might've had to arrange to have this entry posthumously titled At My Wake, rather than In My Wake. But when you're feeling a little bruised and battered by the vagaries of life, a long-overdue conversation with a great friend can be such a tonic. I've been lucky enough to have two such conversations this morning, and am feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, and ready to tackle my endless list of things to do and knock a few items off it, as a result.

This morning's experience ties in to a post that's been nibbling at the edge of my writing brain for the last week or so, about what we as parents, as citizens, as humans do while we're here, and what we leave behind. And not the big question what-will-I-leave-behind-when-I-die (although certainly that too) but a more quotidian concern: what do we leave in our wake as we go about our daily lives? This busy-ness that fills our work, and our getting from here to there, and our parenting, and our innumerable chores, and trials, and joys. What impact do we have in our daily interactions with our surroundings and the people who populate our environments as we go about the business of living?

A shot of the wake of a BC Ferry that I took in September.

I've had reason to give it a lot of thought in the last month or so. The Imp's almost two and a half now, and very verbal, and incredibly social. He's reached the stage in his development where he interacts with other people on his own terms - he can make himself understood when he speaks, and he knows his own mind. He doesn't need me to guide or interpret anymore in his conversations with other people. I am mostly delighted by this - it's fascinating to watch him work out his own relationships with our family and friends, but like every parenting milestone, it's bittersweet. Letting him find his own way also makes it harder for me to protect him from people who, consciously or otherwise, may be teaching him things I don't agree with, or doing him harm, even if only slightly.

Parenting is one long process of letting go; I know this. But watching him interact with his grandparents, with long-standing friends of the family, with new arrivals in our social circle, I've been struck by what is left in the wake of these interactions. How even a short time with a negative person can have such a strong impact on The Imp's belief in his own abilities, and how happy and how much more extroverted, curious, and affectionate he is after just an evening with someone who approaches life in a generally positive way. I've seen it in my own communication with him - since I had that blinding insight about the anger I was experiencing and changed my parenting approach, we've had a much more peaceful and gentle relationship with each other; a lot more fun than Shouty Mommy and Naughty Corner Imp.

The Imp is a pretty happy, easygoing little dude most of the time. He's got a low threshold for joy, and a ready smile. As we go about our day, walking hand in hand along the sidewalk, popping into shops to pick up groceries, stopping in at the library, The Imp leaves a smattering of smiles in his wake. Even in a busy urban neighbourhood, people notice his grin and grin back. At the beach, total strangers join us as we kick the soccer ball around: the sixty year old Italian man, the eighteen year old Brazilian guy, me, and The Imp running around in the sand, putting on our own little neighbourhood version of the World Cup. It gives me great happiness to watch The Imp, just by being himself, adding a little joy to someone's busy day.

The Imp spreading smiles around the neighbourhood

Which makes me wonder: what do I leave behind me when I walk out of a room - any room? I've seen the impact a small change in my behaviour has had on The Imp. What ripples exist after my passing through the greater "out there"? Are people relieved to see me go? Do they feel invigorated? Called to action? Do they dread having to see me again? Do they wish they could see me more often?

I can't control what people think when I walk in or out of a room. And to think that they think anything at all is a special kind of arrogance, I suppose. Nor am I fishing for compliments, or looking for reassurance that I'm! awesome! I lead a pretty self-examined life - just look at how many of my posts are tagged with "navel gazing" - so I'm pretty confident I'm not a horrible person to be around. I wouldn't have such great luck in friends if I was. But we all have bad days, we all sometimes snap at people for no real reason; we're all guilty of being less-than-awesome-all-the-time.

I do know what I would like people to feel after spending time with me - I'd like them to feel good. I'd like shopkeepers to greet me with pleasure when I return to their store. I'd like friends to feel like we talked about things that mattered, we discovered new things about ourselves and each other, and we had a few laughs. Or tears, if that's what's appropriate. And I'd like them to look forward to doing it again.

In other words, I'd like them to feel the way I do right now.

Thank you Richard. Thank you Heather. Let's do it again soon.


  1. I get such joy in the fact that other people enjoy my kids...I hope that that in turn reflects how people MAYBE view me too...

    It is a funny feeling to watch our kids through other peoples eyes and know they reflect us..we had a hand in them as they now explore the world

  2. My little dude and I have gone through a long hot summer of the terrible twos and have emerged on the other side, with seldom a trip to the naughty chair, and more sunshine in both our attitudes despite the cold. We're both growing up and I see myself in him every day and I want to do better.

  3. I love this post!

    I make a difference in my job, and that's what I love about it, but I think I've spent too much of my life trying NOT to leave a wake at all when it comes to social situations. Somehow leaving no impression at all seemed better than leaving a bad one. But I've realized that this can totally backfire. So I'm trying to break out of this social paralysis. Being a parent means that I have to work on this, whether I like it ornot!

  4. This is a good question. What DO I leave behind me.

    Hmmm ... I must think about this more.