Monday, 19 March 2007

Being under the microscope

Last week Colin and I participated in a study on infant stress by the University of Toronto. Two researchers visited our home to observe us in our natural habitat, taking saliva samples every half hour or so, for about two hours. I volunteered for the study because I feel it is important to support developing research. We would never have all the advantages we have today if not for the pioneering men and women pursuing their ideas.

I hadn't given the process much thought - they made it sound very casual during their presentation. However, as soon as they arrived and pulled out their note-filled books and began furiously scratching away in them, I suddenly felt a little nervous. They had already visited hundreds of homes and seen many mothers interacting with their children. How do my own parenting skills stack up? Should I devote every minute of the two hours to playing with Colin? This, of course, is unrealistic of our daily schedule, as I'm also in charge of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, mending, not to mention preparing for the classes I teach and other obligations. After half an hour of reading and playing (which, to be fair, Colin and I do a lot of during the day), I realized that if I didn't start to plan next week's menu, I wouldn't be ready to do the grocery shopping. So I reluctantly pulled out my cookbooks and set myself up next to Colin.

At one point I needed to grab a piece of paper to make the shopping list. Normally I would just grab it from the next room. We're in a two bedroom apartment - I'm never far from Colin. But as I ducked out for the 4 seconds it took to get the paper, a wave of guilt passed over me. Do the researchers think I just leave him by himself all the time?

Of course, many of these feelings were a) natural for the situation and b) not ones to be worried over. But the experience did open my eyes to how I do spend each minute of the day. How much time do I give to Colin? How do I organize my priorities? How important is it that the floor gets swept every day, or the laundry is kept up with, or the toys are always tidied?

Each time I smother Colin with hugs and kisses, I remember that in not too many years he'll start to resist such blatant expressions of love, but that he needs to know he is loved. Each time he picks up a book to read to himself, I think of the habits he is already developing. Each time he stops to study some ordinary object in the house and spends time trying to figure out how it works, I realize I need to feed this curiosity. And each time he 'interrupts' my piano practice I consider his emerging creativity.

All in all, being under the microscope wasn't so bad. I've only been a mother for 15 months and I can't expect to be perfect at it yet. We are given weaknesses so that we can become strong. These opportunities help me to examine myself and improve every day. I've got a long way to go, but as the saying goes, I'll get there one step at a time.

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