Valentines for 5-Year-Olds


“Great job writing your friends’ names, buddy. Whose do you want to do next?”

“I want to do mine.”

“Well, let’s pick one for someone in your class and then you can have the ones that are left over.”

He does two or three more, and the conversation repeats.

“Should we do Jackson’s?”

“I want to do mine.”

“…Okay, but you don’t normally give a valentine to yourself. We do have to do one for everyone in your class.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’m your mother and I’m smart.” He looks unconvinced. “I’ve done valentines before. Who’s next?”

“I’m going to do mine.”

“All right, fine. Do one for yourself and then we’ll keep going on the list.”

He does one for himself.

To: Connor

From: Connor

Momentarily satisfied, he writes a few more classmates’ names, and then we move from the cards with the gel things to the ones with the button things. “You’re wild!” says the card with the monkey picture.

“I want one of these too,” he says, and addresses another one to himself.

To: Connor

From: Connor

I don’t even argue this time. It occurs to me that one of us doesn’t get it, and I’m not sure it’s me.

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LEGO vs. the Flood

We sat on the floor in Connor’s room for a while this afternoon. I sorted mounds of LEGO while Connor built things and Ethan chewed on the body of a T-Rex.

Earlier, we had gone down to a community devastated by floods to hand out food and bottles of water.

“What did you think about that?” I asked Connor as we sat in his clean, dry room. “All the mud? All the ruined houses and the people throwing out all their stuff?”

“It was pretty cool,” he said, in his five-year-old way.

Ok, I think. So he wasn’t scared by it.

“What did you think was cool about it?”

“I dunno. It was just cool. And it was sad.”

So there’s that, at least.


Today marks five days since the river banks broke and the floods destroyed so many parts of Calgary. 100,000 people—10% of the city’s population—were evacuated; some of them are home again, many are not. But it’s not like any of them can simply unlock their front doors and walk in as though they had been on vacation.

In the worst areas, there is mud everywhere – contaminated mud that drips from the couches and lamps and appliances that sit on front lawns. People have had to rip flooring and carpet and drywall from their homes. The streets are now full. There are huge trucks blocking streets as they pump water from basements. They are loud. The people doing the clearing are wearing rubber boots, gloves, and masks. They are covered in mud.


Having two small kids, one of whom is still breastfeeding, makes it difficult to help as much as I feel I should. As much as I want to. I feel as though I should don old jeans and put on my boots and take some gloves and a shovel and just start digging people out. And not stop until all the mud and guck and crap is gone.

But I can’t really do that, so I have done other things. I’ve dropped off supplies in three different parts of the city. I’ve tweeted out information trying to connect people who can help with people who need help. I’ve donated money.

But I needed to do more, and I wanted Connor to help. So this morning we went over to an affected community not far from where we live and walked the muddy streets where homeowners and neighbours and volunteers are trying to clean up.

We went with my friend Erin and her two kids, who had loaded up their wagon with fruit and water and granola bars. Connor and I baked muffins and took those along with apples, bottles of water, and protein bars. We stopped every person we saw to ask if they needed something.


It’s hard to help a five-year-old understand what has happened and what it means for the people affected. A big pile of soggy drywall is meaningless to Connor. We’ve told him people have had their houses ruined and have to throw out most of their things, including their toys. He knows that, even if he doesn’t entirely understand it. In one breath he’s talking about how wet things are and in the next he’s asking to go to the toy store to browse the LEGO aisle. To him, “going without” means not getting the new set he has his eye on.

I don’t expect (or even really want) him to understand the level of devastation we’ve seen here. But I did want him to be involved in helping. So we went.

He was entirely nonchalant, no matter what we saw. He insisted on being the one to give people the bottles of water and he wanted to hand out the muffins. But he was unfazed by the mud and the piles of rubble. Such is your perspective on natural disasters when you’re five, I guess.


LEGO sorted by color

At bedtime, after we brushed teeth and read stories and turned out the light, I looked over at the bins of sorted LEGO. They looked bright and clean and perfect, unlike the muddy dollhouse I saw this morning sitting atop of a pile of rubble. Clean LEGO, dirty dollhouse. What a world of difference a few kilometres makes.

“How was your day?” I asked Connor, beginning the nighttime ritual.

“Good!” he said. I could tell he was deeply satisfied, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from being a helper or because I (finally) sat with him to sort LEGO.

“What was your favourite part?”

He thought hard.

“That we got to stay home this afternoon.”

Ah, I thought. It was the LEGO.

“That was your favourite part?”

“Well, no. I just said that to make sure you knew. My favourite part was giving people water.”

He looked almost embarrassed. He likes praise, but often shies away from it.

“That was my favourite part too,” I told him. “I’m really glad you came with me. I was really proud of you today.”

He rolled over and then over again, burying his face between the bed and his wall. This is his way – hiding and playing rather than acknowledging.

“Were you proud of yourself today?” I prompted.

“Yes,” he admitted with a smile.

So there’s that.

The pride, the knowing – it’s there. He has taken it in, in his five-year-old way. The carefully sorted LEGO will be scattered again, but this—the feeling of being there and knowing he helped—will remain.



Conversations with the Steam Cleaner

Last night I decided to be a big girl and take the new medication I was nervous about taking (one reason being that it has a sedating effect so I wasn’t sure how the night wakings were going to go). The first time I got up I felt drunk, exactly as if I’d had a little too much to drink. I’m not a big fan of that, but I’m hoping it either goes away or Ethan sleeps long enough that I sleep through that phase.

Around 3:30 I came back into our room after feeding Ethan. Then Rich got up to blow his nose and I had a lovely conversation with the steam cleaner thinking it was Connor.

“Hi buddy. What’s wrong?”

The steam cleaner/Connor didn’t answer.

“Are you okay?”

Still no answer.

I sat in bed trying to remember what colour t-shirt Connor had on when he went to bed. I was sure it was a dark one.

“Connor, love? Are you there?”

Connor the Steam Cleaner was silent.

At that point Rich came out of the bathroom.

“What’s that?” I asked him. “Is that Connor?”

“No, that was me blowing my nose.”

Apparently he’s not terribly good at following along with insane conversations in the middle of the night.

“No, that. In the corner. Is that Connor?”

Rich did an impression of a dog chasing his tail as he turned around and around to see what the hell I was talking about.

“What?! Who’s there?!”

Understanding dawned.

“That thing in the corner? That’s the steam cleaner,” he explained.

“Oh. I thought it was Connor.”

“You scared the crap out of me.”

I shrugged and went back to my drunken sleep. At least we didn’t have another kid to put back to bed.

PS Don’t ask why we have a steam cleaner camped out in the corner of our bedroom.

PPS He was wearing a light-coloured t-shirt.


When I Grow Up

“When I grow up I’m going to be a police officer. But you won’t have to come and visit me because I’ll come home when it’s time for dinner.”

He pauses.

“But how will I know when dinner is ready?”

There’s only one clear answer here, and it has nothing to do with whether or not he will still live with us when he’s old enough to be a police officer.

“You could phone us…” I offer.

But no.

“Police officers don’t have phones!” he admonishes. (Moms are so silly.) “I’m not going to live at the police station.”

I get a glimpse of what he imagines for his grown-up life – the excitement of a career based on what he’s gleaned from LEGO videos and the hint of his small-boy brain imagining himself always living with mom and dad.

I suggest an alternative: “You could have a mobile phone like mine and like Daddy’s that you could take with you.”

I could explain about growing up and moving out, but I don’t want to burst the protective bubble of his imaginary adulthood. I don’t want to push away the world in which I get to be the mama to this little boy.

A mobile phone sounds like an acceptable option. He mumbles in agreement, but he’s not done thinking it through.

“Actually, I guess I’m going to have to live at the police station.”

He’s sitting behind me as I drive out to my parents’ place, where he’s going for a sleepover. I catch pieces of him in the rearview mirror – pensive eyes as he’s thinking, his hair framed by the top of his booster seat. Only pieces, but in this moment I see him clearly.

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“How else am I going to know when there are bad guys to catch?”

I follow his train of thought and picture him in a police uniform sitting by a phone waiting for the call.

Officer Connor, there’s a bad guy out there. You need to go get him.

“Is that how you’ll know there are bad guys out there? Someone will phone and tell you?”

Of course it is. He doesn’t question this as proper protocol; he has no reason to see my question as an indication that perhaps that might not be how it works.

I let it be, of course. He lives in a world where things will be as he imagines them, and I live in a world where I get to see beauty and innocence by not suggesting otherwise.


Yes, four is a very special age. It’s in-your-face hard and great at inducing mama guilt. But it’s also precious, funny, and so worth remembering.

I’ve had several very earnest thank-yous from Connor since Ethan was born. Many, in fact. He waited a long time for this baby, and he loves his little brother more than I could have anticipated.

“Thank you for laying a baby,” he told me one day. (If only it were that easy.)

“Mama, I love you,” he said on another. “I love you too, buddy,” I said, but he was not to be outdone. “I love you MORE, because you made me a baby.”

What can you do but laugh? And hug him, of course.


He’s not lacking in confidence. Not about most things anyway.

“I know all about babies and you don’t.” (All righty, then.)

“I’m going to keep working on [his LEGO creation] because big boys like me NEVER give up.” (It’s true – he doesn’t.)

He did not get his skill with LEGO from me. He can play with it for HOURS, and he’s putting together things way beyond what he should be able to do at his age. And if you give him the LEGO he wants for Christmas, you’ll be rewarded with this.


Pure joy.

But, oh, he’s a mischief maker too. You can see it in his four-year-old face, can’t you?


If we nail him for something and he doesn’t like it, the admonishment will ring throughout the house: “Bad parenting!” he’ll say, sounding very much like he means it. (Again, we laugh. But not where he can see us.)

His sass comes through in his language and the requests we can’t refuse.

“Can I get a little help here?”

At times he seems much older than he is.

At others, he’s very much a little boy.

“Mama, can I have some time with you?”


These polar bears are a Christmas art installation at a local mall. Except Connor calls them, “snowlar bears.”
I think that makes more sense, don’t you?

And he likes to wear his clothes backwards.


Because he’s four.