Heart Strings

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I just finished an Attack on Titan marathon. A show I never would have watched left to my own devices but a young person in my life said “mom will you watch just one episode to see if you like it?” Cuddled under the blankets side by side in my bed I knew  I would watch every last episode.

“I’m so glad someone in our family will understand my references.”

“Who’s your favorite character?”

“What do you think that means?” all poured out of him as we played “one more episode” after just one more until we were finished.

He’d seen it all before and knew exactly what was coming. He wouldn’t share the tiniest clue with me. Even when I guessed what would happen next he was straight faced. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”His enthusiasm grew with each cliff hanger. Diligently removing my phone from my hand so I wouldn’t miss a single detail.

It’s easy for me to get lost in the doing of laundry, making of meals sort of tasks for the ones I love. But truly all that is ever required is for me to show up with my full attention to the things that pull their heart strings.

 

Catching the passing time

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As I type this the house is completely still and quiet. I can hear the song birds outside. And it is 10:48 am. When my boys were younger for many years I could not imagine this moment, where I was the first awake with a stretch of time before me to do with as I please. Things have changed quickly over the past months. I have time. I have the ability to leave the house alone for short periods. My response is not what I imagined it would be back in those baby, toddler, little boys tending years. I sort of want to wake them up to play with me. The tables of turned.

I do remember how un-useful it was for me in those early years to hear someone offer up the sort of advice that said exactly what I am feeling to be true now. I wound’t listen in fact I tuned them out. And I try to remember that now when I encounter a sleep deprived mama who feels so caught  up in giving to little people that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Cause really what we are all looking for is someone to simply sit by our side and hear our story to shorten the space between you and I.

So this is my story right now. In the blink of an eye I have two children in double digits and I am not sure my heart can handle the idea that from this moment forward all they are going to do is move farther and farther away from me. It’s put a lot of stuff in to perspective. It’s why the blog may be a little dusty. Cause I am longing to soak up every request for cuddles, snacks and games played together. I am researching super cool things to do that might appeal to young boys, I am steeping myself in game language and culture so that I might have something to add to the conversation and YES I am seeking out youtube videos that might have not been seen yet to add to the mix. While simultaneously standing in the background of people wanting to try being in the world with a bit less mom.

It’s understanding how to be needed in an I am available even when you are not interacting with me sort of thing. I am present and ready to kick in to high gear, even when you are fully okay on your own. It’s such a different availability to the hands on physicalness of the younger children. And I will admit that I likely drop what ever I am doing to engage with my older children now faster then I did when they were little. The endlessness of the days back then made it possible for me to know there would likely be another moment to play hockey outside, just around the corner. But now with endings happening faster then I can catch my breath at, I know that this actually might be the last invitation into the particular activity.

I forgot to notice some endings and I am hoping to catch a few more. Cause if I knew it was the last time he would jump in to the shower with me, I would have paid more attention to the intimacy of that moment. To the space between us. If I had known it would be his last hockey game, I would have taken more photos, documented what he looked like, what we said and in some way marked that ending with some flair instead of letting it pass unnoticed.

So in my quiet morning moments, while I fight the urge to wake them to play with me, I am gathering steam to be present in this new dynamic so that I may mark, if only in my heart space, the preciousness of this time passing now that the days feel shorter.

Renee’s story

 

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I met Renee’s family and admired them from afar before I took up the courage to swing by on a road trip and have a sleepover. We were instant forever friends all of us. I adore what she has to say here and so left it all just the way she answered it. 

 

 

 

1) What lead you down the path of gentle, connected parenting ?

My ears. The first time I heard my babies cry it touched something primal in me. Suddenly all I wanted was to protect and care for these little creatures and all my ideas, opinions, and plans flew out the window.
Even now, 13 years later, listening more and talking less is a big part of how I stay connected.

2) Why have you stayed committed to the process? And what strategies do you have that pull you back to the centre when life or stress creeps in?

I’m stubborn.
I wanted the kinds of relationships I saw other unschooling parents having with their kids.
What I’ve done to stay connected is : pause, breathe, listen, laugh, find community.
Pause physically sometimes but also mentally. Check my thoughts- are they helpful? Rational? Am I using “have to”? Is this life or death?
Breathe- this literally slows my heart rate down and relaxes my thinking.
Listen- if we have conflict I try to shut up and really hear them. If I can understand their perspective I am better at coming up with useful solutions that work for them. Or often listening allows them the space they need to work out their own solutions.
I also go to therapy. Most of my fears and issues are just that: MINE.
I laugh at myself often.
And I found a great group of people who parent like I do so when I’m having trouble I can call on them to help me get perspective. Also reading daily at Sandra Dodd’s Always Learning yahoo group. (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/AlwaysLearning/info)

3) What is one piece of encouragement you would offer to a parent first starting on the journey toward a more gentle, peaceful relationship with their child(ren)

Do it. It’s so worth it. I have the most amazing relationships with my kids, they are my best friends along with my spouse. Speaking of, parenting this way has spilled over into my marriage, improving it in ways I never could have imagined.

4) What do you dream of for your child(ren)?

My hope for them is that they create a peaceful fulfilling life. I hope they find other people to build their passions with who are as compassionate, connected, interesting and interested as they are.
I hope they find as much joy doing whatever they choose in their lives as I have found in being their parent.

 

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“We were laying on the beach at sunset. Xander had this idea that we could watch the sunset twice by first watching it laying flat on our bellies and then jumping up to watch it again while standing.”

Making memories not punishments

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He was only just four and so very proud of his ability to write his name. So he had taken a sharpie and sprawled his name across the front hood of our gold saturn wagon. I walked out on the front porch and my jaw dropped. Immediately racing to places like “I just lost any resale I had on this car” followed by bubbling anger.

“Hey dude did you write your name on the front of the car?”

“I think that was Kinny,” sensing my disapproval perhaps.

There were many directions the next steps could have gone in.  First up I needed to get to a calmer place. I needed to be able to see my child and remember his intent. It is easy in this world we live in to quickly slip into the place where my child has done something to me. That he stepped toward the car marker in hand to maliciously deface our car branding it forever to ensure we never were able to sell it. However,  when I remembered he was four and fully unaware that some markers were permanent I could reframe my next step.

“Buddy, we don’t write on the car. ” Keeping it simple so he understands. And I took responsibility to gather up all permanent markers and put them up high.

Now we had the issue of the marker on my car. So I looked up ways to remove marker from various surfaces and low and behold I found toothpaste was exactly what we needed. So together we squirted toothpaste on the car grabbed some toothbrushes and within no time and with tons of laughter we had removed his name from the hood of the car.

There was no shame. No guilt. No anger thrown his way.  It was a chance to learn a few new things while keeping our relationship 100 percent in tact.  Seven years later and he can still tell you toothpaste removes permanent marker from most surfaces, handy tip to have.

Heather’s Story

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Before Austin was born Heather had little idea about the parent she wanted to be. Her heart knew there were things, like spanking, that she hoped to avoid but that alone was not enough to sustain a consistent journey toward peaceful parenting. In the beginning, Austin’s cries landed him solidly in Heather’s arms. It made sense that he sleep close to her, that he be held instead of left alone. It was intuitive in the beginning. As independence increased and Austin found a voice and pushed to find his own edges, it became more challenging. So timeouts and punishment were used before new information arrived to help them find their way back together.

When Austin was eight Heather heard Sandra Dodd present a talk titled Partnerships in the Family and this was the beginning. Heart split open, Heather knew she had wandered shortly on a dangerous pathway. She knew as these words fell upon her that she had found the missing piece, that way back to the connection she had with Austin, in those early years. The road to healing their relationship and repairing their self esteem began to unfold. Seeking out connections with others, parenting from this place of peace and connection, built on what she had heard and gave her the courage to continue moving forward.

It’s the commitment to continually improve herself and remain connected with Austin that keeps Heather committed to the path of peacefulness.  Seeing their relationship unfolding as happiness prevails and healing blossoms is enough evidence to make sure turning back is never an option. Stepping back and jeopardizing what they have been committed to building with one another, simply does not make sense. There are of course days where things are challenging, where rhythms are a bit off beat and where arguments unfold. But listening more and talking less is what guides Heather’s interactions to a place where she can really see the human being in front of her.  She opens her heart to see Austin’s point of view, just as valid as her own so that they may come to a mutually respectful resolution.

To those stepping on this path, Heather knows that support was huge for her. To find people who are walking this peaceful path, as examples for yourself. Seek out others who see their children as deserving of the very same respect they would offer their adult peers. This may involve walking away from existing support systems in order to embrace new people more aligned with your thinking as a parent. It can be heartbreaking to reach out for support from others who are disrespecting and punishing their children. You may have to be the one in the group that stands us and says, actually I’m doing this differently. Even in the face of shame, once Heather had the trust and respect of her son, nothing, especially not fitting into a group, was more important. Be strong in your conviction that this is the path to a peaceful home.

There is a story, that sums up the hard work and it’s worth and remains an anchor for the why of peaceful parenting in Heather’s life.  In her words : “Monty, Austin and I were at a panel of unschooled teens where a parent in the back was having a hard time understanding the importance of laying the ground work with young children for a connected relationship through the teen years. Austin – who was about 9 at the time – spoke up and talked about how much more connected he felt to us since we stopped being authoritarian parents. He talked about the connection between us, and how much better he feels as a person because of the changes we made as parents. He was articulate and concise, and held the rooms attention while he talked. I was blown away. I think *everyone* in the room was blown away. It’s a moment I go back to if I’m feeling shaky because hearing him talk about his experience and how much happier he is now is why I want to keep going down this path.”

Heather dreams of Austin coming into adulthood as happy, healthy and confident  in his ability to do whatever he chooses. And knowing in the moments when his confidence is shaky he has both mom and dad to fall back on.

 

Heather lives in the Bay Area with her son, husband, two dogs, and a cat where she enjoys writing, adventuring, and power watching TV series on Netflix. You can find her adventures at www.todaywasamazing,com.

 

My Story

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When I was pregnant I built the most delicious nest for my first born child. It was a jungle room complete with vines covering the entire ceiling. His Gramps bought him a top of the line crib and I placed it right next to the window. I imagined he would spend hours peaking out at the world from under the matching blanket covers. And then I met my son.

From the beginning he was my guide. He slept next to me because it was warmer and cozier and much much safer then a crib in the next room. I felt this when I placed him there and he looked to me with a tear stricken face. He napped snuggled up in a sling close to my body. And he nursed when he wanted, not on the schedule well meaning folks encouraged me to put him on. My heart knew then, that I would need to break some rules that I had always known, in order to be the mom he needed. He was the first, his brother confirmed and strengthened this truth.

This path, of attachment, of peacefulness has stayed mine for the simple reason that nothing else made sense. There was never a time, when imposing rules or applying discipline appeared more important than, loving and nurturing what was unfolding in front of me. Yes, there have been moments and times where a path might of looked greener then my own, but always I could find my way back. For me, having a foundation of intention and a tool box of breath deeply, listen more and talk less is how I have regained my footing, on those rougher days.

When I meet others starting or curious about throwing caution to the wind, embracing more love and less discipline, I say, trust, in your heart and what it knows to be true for your children, for you. Be patient with all the parts of you and of them, that need healing and find  that one person who can hold your hand along the way. In real life, virtually, through a phone, at least one person, who knows the pitfalls and can see you there and simply lift you up, back to where you were headed.

Now, as tweens and tees are upon us, I see these same fresh to the world faces, looking to me to be there. To be that anchor they need, as they stretch out further and confirm who they know they are and this anchor tethers us no matter the distance. It’s this, this evidence of intact relationship that is my most treasured part of the journey so far.

And as I gather my own wishes, for my children, it’s simple, that they, for all the ages and stages, may love exactly who they are.

Staying close

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Every challenge we face with our child is a chance to move closer together or farther apart.

My son had a rough evening. For his privacy I won’t be sharing the details. It was a hard thing to witness as his mother. He is far to big for me to contain him like I used to when the world got rough around him. And he’s independent enough to not necessarily want me to try and contain him.

Emerging from child to teenager is a most challenging process. To see the world through these eyes of understanding that show just have close and far away pure independence is.  To see how little control you have over the bigger elements of life, the money you have access to, the location of where you live, your ability to get to the places you long to visit.

Their understanding of how the world works is maturing at an accelerated rate, while their emotional maturity is desperate to be in the same place. It’s a torture really. I remember.

Not to mention there are all those new hormones that are showing up on unpredictable days at rates and doses 100 percent outside of their control!

When all of these things arrive with a side of sleeplessness or life emotions that on a regular day are challenging the world can feel like a most unfair and dismal place to be in.

I know this as an adult and have created a long list of coping mechanisms over the years to help myself out. While also failing miserably at moving past these days with any sense of grace or composure. So it makes sense that my child, first experiencing all of this would need some time, some space and an overflowing bucket of patience.

It is natural as his mom that I want to fix it, make it go away. Truth be told that is simply because I don’t want to feel this uncomfortable anymore so if he could just speed things along so I can return to calmer ground, I would prefer that. Reality though, it’s his process and I need to step aside and deal with my own shit on my own time.

When I take away my child’s power to express his emotions, I push myself out of his world. I send the message that there is something wrong with him. That he is in need of fixing or at the very least that he is getting in the way of my life.

When I step back and create a safe space for his process to unfold, I remain in his inner circle. The trusting place where he is free to show up exactly how he is and express the most frightening of thoughts that are inevitably going to pass through his mind.

When I listen without judgement, I embrace all the parts of his emerging self.  I believe in him all of him. I witness, without words, the unfolding of the pieces he struggles with. I send the message, with my silence and compassion, that he is surrounded with love. Especially, in the scary places. This opens the door for all of these emotions to MOVE. To find their way out. There is no shame. Only emotions, feelings of the hugest sort finding their way through to a place that eventually makes sense (or simple calms down enough to be manageable).

It’s not easy. I write this after two glasses of wine, 8 hours of sleep and recovered cuddles with a boy who thanked me for loving him “even when I make it hard.” But there truly is no other option because with each challenge, I want our relationship to strengthen not weaken. And that can only happen, if I listen more, talk less and embrace every part of this complex human being unfolding in front of me.

Flo Gascon and her journey

I loved so much what Flo had to say that I simply left it all here, interview style. I know her words will both touch and inspire you on your own journey.

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1) What lead you down the path of gentle, connected parenting?

Falling in love with my newborn led the way. Biology proved stronger than any other influence, any preconceived ideas, any parenting book. The endorphins that enveloped me as I bonded with my baby banished the possibility of any other way from my mind. I couldn’t envision ever hurting this sweet, amazing gift and wanted to prepare myself to ensure a joy-filled relationship. As I listened to her, she needed a lot of physical touch, to know that I was there for her, with her. Our physical bond grew alongside our emotional bond and the more time we spent together led to a deeper connection and encouraged me that I was on the right path. Once I saw what a good thing I had with gentleness, compassion, flexibility and partnership, a more conventional approach held no appeal. I’ve remained committed to connection as my primary parenting approach.

2) Why have you stayed committed to the process? And what strategies do you have that pull you back to the centre when life or stress creeps in?

I see my children blossoming. They are bright, enthusiastic, friendly, caring, helpful, and confident. We aren’t perfect but I can see how grounded and happy my daughters are, convincing me that this process works. I feel relaxed and content which is a significant touchstone for me. When I’m feeling doubtful or worried, then I know it’s time to analyze that a bit and discover what I’m missing. Usually I’m over-reacting or being influenced by a stress outside of parenting. Yes, life creeps in and yes, I worry sometimes if one day I’ll wonder where I went wrong or that my kids will wish I had done something differently. (That will happen anyway, I believe, because it’s what we all do.)

Two opposing strategies help me gain clarity: I slow down or I distract myself. Slowing down looks like clearing the calendar, committing to two or more days at home with nothing planned. Scheduling no more than one activity a day so I’m not juggling too much. Doing one thing at a time instead of trying to multi-task. I wash my dishes in soapy water instead of using the dishwasher so I am forced to stand still and focus. It’s easy to spin out of control, especially if I am busy or frantic or worried. Stopping and giving myself space and time to regain my footing can typically clear away my doubts and fears.

When I find myself in angst I want to figure out the problem, stat. Hyper-focusing on an issue and problem solving can be a rabbit-hole and lead to more concern. Analysis can be paralysis and this is when I know distraction is important. As a parent, I sometimes want to fix everything or make it all better but that’s not possible. By turning my attention away, I can let it go. In those moments, I finish a project or begin a new one. I grab my camera and am amazed at how much time passes while the issue slides away. I queue up movies. I cook meals with many ingredients that require time and attention. When my mind is re-calibrated, I can see that my kids are okay and I am, too.

3) What is one piece of encouragement you would offer to a parent first starting on the journey toward a more gentle, peaceful relationship with their child(ren)

Don’t get ahead of yourself. We like to believe that we can prepare for tomorrow but it’s more important to permit today to happen. Life is how you spend each moment, it’s not a destination. Each little thing piles one upon another as one day rolls into the next, the years into decades. If you want a happy, connected relationship, you’ll find it in the happy, connected things you do with and for your child right now. It isn’t something at which you arrive or twist into being through tough love. A solid future for your child isn’t developed through imagination and unwarranted concern.

This morning I was lying next to my sleeping twelve-year-old, remembering how little she once was. Then I tried to imagine what she would look like, be like in five years and I started to worry. Was I doing a good job here? What if this, what if that? I couldn’t imagine what she might look like taller, more developed, with her life more her own. So I reminded myself that I shouldn’t try to know that because it’s futile. I can’t know anymore than I could have looked at her toddler face and seen her as she is today. Time changes us all and when it brings us to five years from now, that’s where we’ll be. But for today, I have a girl by my side and all is well.

Don’t borrow worry from the future. Invest in happiness today. It compounds with interest.

5) What do you dream of for your child(ren)?

My dream for my children is that they know themselves so well that they live out their own dreams. In a world where possibilities are expanding as quickly as our technology, I want space and time for my children to explore the options that excite them the most. The path of a well-lived life is carved and worn by the deepest expressions of our spirits, our talents and our loves. I dream that my daughters eschew the expectations of others so they can fully and deeply encounter themselves as they grow and reach out into the world around them. Being oneself is the greatest satisfaction I could ever hope they have.

Flo Gascon is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. Among and in-between, she’s authored Keep Your Cool: How to Stop Yelling, Spanking & Punishing, is a family portrait photographer and creator of the Wide Sky Days family events. Alongside romping with her girls on sandy beaches and wrangling reproducing sticky notes, she takes notice, drinks tea and makes dreamy plans as if she has many lifetimes yet to live. Because there is so much life to love that once surely won’t be enough. She blogs at http://flogascon.com. Her book Keep Your Cool: How to Stop Yelling, Spanking & Punishing: What to do instead is available on Amazon

 

Kristal’s Story

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Please meet a treasured member of my tribe, Kristal! I have been blessed to call her a friend for seven years now and it has been my honor to witness her in relationship with her boys, husband and each member of her extended tribe.

Kristal met Rob early on in life. And it wasn’t long before their love multiplied in to their first child. Being young themselves most of what they knew about parenting was strands pulled from their own families of origin. This advice included what one can expect to hear from a more tradition approach to parenting.  Kristal’s eyes tear up at the memory of the ferber method, the bottle feeding and the advice to spank her child. With the birth of their second child they started to seek out advice from other sources on how to support this growing family. And with the home birth of their third child a new connection and energy was growing for this family. This welcoming was drawing the family toward a softer, gentler way of being together.

Kristal’s third born son, was a super sensitive soul who expressed himself in a sometime explosive manner, this sent her in search of a more connected, softer way of easing him and his brothers into the world around them. She wanted to be with all her boys in a non-coercive, respectful and loving way. As soon as the shift began, the domino effect hit and Kristal could see all of her relationships deepening and becoming more connected.

Early on this path,  Kristal had an experience, that helped her move toward her children and away from others ideas about who she should be with them.  Her youngest son was 4 at the time. They were having a most joyful day lakeside with friends. Of course her son was fully happy in the sand, the lake and following his own rhythm. When everyone was tired and ready to head home, they packed up. Her youngest son was not on board with this at all. The others made their way back toward the car and Kristal stayed to help her son out. His four year old self stood, in the lake and asserted “NO!” more then once. He ignored her outstretched arms. With the eyes of every other parent on the beach beating down on her, Kristal felt the panic set in. Thankfully it passed quickly and she was able to stay present with her son. To see him, who he was, what his needs were. And eventually from this place, he agreed to meet the others at the car and return home, peacefully by Kristal’s side. From this experience forward Kristal has had the courage to let the judgement of others fall off her back in order to meet the needs of her own children each and every time.

The evidence was fast and benefits immediate, Kristal never looked back once she walked down the peaceful parenting path.  The relationship with the boys grew stronger everyday.  This proved to both Kristal and Rob that there was no other way to be in relationship with their children and so from that day forth, they  have continued with gentle parenting at the heart of their relationship.

Life still gets chaotic because well that is the nature of living together with others. But Kristal has a few simply tricks in her tool box that help keep it all on track.  The first step is always taking a deep breath, a pause. From there she tries to see each conflict or situation from the perspective of everyone that is involved. This wider view helps to come up with solutions, suggestions, or just a little compassion. Finally, she reminds herself that this to shall pass, that in a minute, hour, tomorrow, a week, a month or even a year things will be better. And Kristal has this beautiful gem to offer to anyone first stepping off the path of punishment onto the path of gentle, peaceful parenting “Have patience. Trust yourself and trust your child(ren). Kids are awesome when you step back and observe what they are learning instead of getting in their way and deciding what is best for them. Be there for all the support they need. You will be pleasantly surprised by how confident, secure and amazing they become on their own.”

To sum it all up, Kristal and Rob chose this path, because they saw so quickly how it could benefit all the relationships and human beings learning and growing in their home.  I leave you with what Kristal hopes for her boys. Kristal dreams of her boys, confident in their own ability to do whatever their heart desires and that they challenge themselves to do it!.

Kristal and Rob live in Duncan, B.C alongside their three boys 17,14 and 11. Each one following their own desires. 

 

 

 

Future peeking

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When it comes to this job of parenting, I so know the importance of being present. Being present in the hey I see you and hear you way. But also being present in the oh my goodness time is passing so quickly where did my babies go way. There are however times when I see value in peeking just a little bit into the future.

Olympic hockey has taken over in our household, for three out of the four of us anyway. The games are on earlier then my son would wake on his own. He has asked to be woken up each morning the Canadian team has been playing. Since he was born I always applied the “never wake a sleeping baby” rule cause bodies know best when they are tired and ready to be awake. As he so wisely explained though ” umm mom we are hockey fans and we need to support our country.”

Now with the gold cup game on the horizon at 4:00 am, I am looking to the future. The future story about all of us waking up  or staying up until 4:00 am to watch a hockey game together. Perhaps the results of the game will make their way into the story, mostly though it will be a story of that time when.

It can be easy to get caught in the details of living together. The routines that hold it all in place. The systems that make it possible to keep the flow moving throughout the house. This though is also where I think it most important to take that sneak peek into the future. Where I can glimpse my children recounting their childhoods to their children, or friends or heck just back to us as their aging parents. And I imagine what I want to hear replayed.

No one is going to be going on about how well I washed the dishes, or how many loads of laundry I picked up off of every floor in the house. Or heck even how much they slept or ate in the passing days. They will be recounting the moments that stood out. The journeys we went on. The times they were supported and surrounded with happiness. None of that rolls out of rules and punishment. The magic making of a childhood rolls out of the ordinary moments made extraordinary by the YES that surrounds them. And from the little extra bits of comfort that show up when the heart breaking, that is inevitable, unfolds.

In these future peeking moments, I am reminded that this journey of living alongside childhoods is setting a future. A future of stories handed from person to person. That tell the tales of how they came to be the adults they are. And my role, is to be the constant yes saying, laugh making, tear catching, soft landing, arms wide open, joy seeing, behind the scenes, I got your back character.