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Back-to-School Chaos: a study in vulnerability

August 27, 2014

I have back-to-school teaching nightmares every summer.  Even the summers I wasn’t going back to work.

Today, one of them came true.

I was 2 hours late to our first professional day:  a day of meetings and information and reconnecting with colleagues and information.

Not because of traffic, or car trouble, or sudden illness.

Because I wrote down the wrong date in my calendar.

The Really Awesome Office Manager called me to wonder if I was okay.  As soon as I got the voicemail, I burst into tears and started running around trying to gather anything I thought I needed.

Audrey and Jamie came to give me a hug before I bolted out the door and cried most of the way to school.

It was really embarrassing.  I mean, I am a professional.  I like to at least keep up appearances that I have my sh*t together.  Last year’s hoopla, getting hired after school started and meeting my students in Week 2, at least gave me the excuse for being barely organized.  This year, not so much.

Thankfully, I have very kind colleagues and administrators.  True to what I’ve been working on with my kids, they told me, “It’s okay.  We forgive you.”

My back-to-school experience started with an explosion of chaos, and throughout the day, the chaos–and consequent vulnerability–only mushroomed.

Every year this happens.  Every year, I think that I will be better prepared, that things like technology and physical spaces will be ready, that I just need to focus on my teaching.

Why should this year be any different?  Today, these are some of the things that appeared on my To-Do list:

  • integrate Common Core standards into my instructional practice
  • figure out how to hook up my new laptop to my new classroom’s projector and sound, or if the correct cables are even in the room
  • revise and copy syllabus and other first-day materials
  • find a phone, a trash can, and office chair for my office
  • move the rest of my belongings from old office to new office
  • get more than a 5×5-inch whiteboard for my gigantic new classroom
  • move old stained-glass workshop materials (like mirrors and other sharp objects) out of my classroom
  • take online quizzes for safety issues in education
  • get various forms filled out and back to the right people

Some really nice things did happen today.  I get my own classroom instead of running to three different rooms and an office spread out over three wings.  Another teacher showed me my classroom and offered to help move things off the walls.  My new office mate is super nice and already painted our tiny space.  I saw a couple of former students and chatted with them about their summer.

But the best two things that happened are these:

  1. Alan listened and empathized and offered to get take-out and go grocery shopping because I was about to, you know, replenish our household’s stash of food when I got the voicemail, and
  2. Alan’s aunt, a retired teacher who is really also my aunt and really also my soul sister and really also our kids’ honorary grandmother, texted me in the middle of the day to say:  Just thinking about you and your meetings tomorrow and Friday. [Ha! I even convinced her that they were NOT TODAY.]  I know you’re going to have a wonderful year!  Just like Audrey, Theresa, and Jamie, your students are going to know how much you love them and how much you want them to succeed!  You are an amazing mom, wife, niece, friend, and teacher!

Which made me cry again, but for a different reason.  The same lesson in grace that I give my kids:  that you are a good person who sometimes makes not-good choices.  And you are always, always loved.

Every year at this time is the same craziness.  In my last year at my old school, before I got pregnant, I announced that it was the year of Zen Michelle.  New technology didn’t work correctly.  We were integrating hundreds of new students into our newly renovated school.  I let it all go.

The universe wants to teach me the same lessons, over and over again.  This time, due to my own oversight, I feel like I’ve been airdropped into some sort of marathon swim race and I’m trying to get my bearings and breathe above the waves, and other swimmers, and obstacles, and lack of proper equipment.  Zen Michelle did not anticipate the shock of vulnerability.

The more chaos, the more opportunity to find the center.  The calm in the storm.  The ability to breathe, and swim, and mess up and find grace where it is.

Always, always

August 25, 2014

My babies have reached some interesting behaviors this year.  Hitting.  Contradicting.  Long-distance taking-of-things (another instance of logic not applying to toddlers).  Antagonizing.  And yes, I taught them what that word means–Audrey once even said plaintively to her sister:  “Theresa, you’re agonizing me.”

One of my kiddos recently had some consecutive meltdowns, and another three-year-old whom we had been playing with came to me to say, “[Child X] is not nice because [Child X] yells.”

I fought my Mama Bear instinct and used the phrase that our wonderful music teacher, Mary Anne, taught me about a challenging kid in our class: “[Child X] is a nice kid who is learning not to yell.”

Which came in handy last week when a two-year-old at the Aquarium bopped Theresa on the head.  Not hard.  Not enough to hurt or elicit tears.  Enough to make the dad fall over himself with apologies and embarrassment.

Audrey:  Why did that kid hit Theresa?
Me:  He’s a good boy who’s learning not to hit.

This is the reaction I wish other people will have for my children when they mess up.  Because they will.  We all do.  I am constantly asking for forgiveness for yelling, for hurting feelings, for blaming.  I am a good person who is learning to respond instead of react, learning to breathe before the cuss words come in front of my kids, learning to cultivate stillness in the chaos.

All three of them have had instances where they have said, “I’m not a good person because I [hit, bite, push, take people’s things, etc.].”  One even said, “I don’t love myself.”

The first of these moments happened a little while ago on Day 3 of Solo Parenting.  There had been many reprimands for this kid.  Many explanations of why it’s not okay to do [x].  One of those days where I felt like all my interactions with my kids were “Don’t” and “No” and Removal from Situation to Have Quiet Time.

By 9 pm, I was tucking this kid in for the fourth final time, and I said:  “You are a really good kid.  You are kind and thoughtful, and you are gentle with animals, and are really caring to others, and you make people laugh, and you are strong and brave at trying new things.”

Kid:  I make people laugh. [giggles]

Me:  Yep, you like singing silly songs and telling funny stories.  And you’re a really good person.

Kid:  But sometimes I am not a good person.  Sometimes I take people’s animals and hit and push or…take their stuff…or bite.

Me:  Can I tell you two things?  One, sometimes we all make not-good choices.  But you are ALWAYS, ALWAYS a good person.  Sometimes I make not-good choices.  Sometimes I yell.  But I’m still a good person.  And you are a good person who sometimes makes not-good choices.  Two, you always get a second chance.  Tomorrow you get another chance to make a good choice when you’re feeling sad or mad.  What other things can you do if you’re feeling sad or mad?

Kid:  I can shake the calming jar.

Me:  Right!  Good idea!  Or you can ask a grown-up for help, or you can go to your zebra and have some quiet time.

Kid:  Sometimes I make not-good choices.

Me:  But you are ALWAYS, ALWAYS a good person.  And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS love you.

These are the words I have latched on to, have repeated to the two other kids whenever they have had similar experiences of feeling like “not a good person.”

I cherish these moments, holding my baby and telling him or her what he or she must understand.  This is what my mom told us over and over, so much that I still hear her voice when I think the words:  I may not always love what you do, but I always love you.

My kids will have experiences in their lives that will cause them to question, at their core, if they are worthy, or enough, or a good person.  I am so grateful for the gift of being the first and most constant conveyer of that message:  not only always, but always always.

You are always, always a good person.

And I always, always love you.

In Summer

August 21, 2014

I have not been in writer mode for the past month.  I’ve been, instead, in vacation mode:  hooray!  Some highlights:

  • “special Mommy-kid day”:  each kid got to choose an outing with just me one morning before my parents arrived.  Audrey got her first haircut and then chose the Children’s Museum, where she loved shopping with a cart at the pretend grocery store.  Theresa got her first haircut and chose the Museum of Flight, where she sat in fighter jet cockpits and pushed buttons until I was ready to pass out from hunger.  Jamie went for a run with me and then chose the Great Wheel and Aquarium, spending almost the entire time (including lunch) watching the ferris wheel spin.  We almost never get that kid-focused one-on-one time, and I spent chunks of time just staring at these kids, in awe of who they are.
  • Potty Training:  begun in early July when my parents arrived, has been very successful.  One kid essentially could wear underwear all the time, even overnight (we still use Pull-Ups at night).  One kid is very close to kicking the Pull-Ups at naptime, and is working on pooping on the potty instead of asking for a diaper.  These two kids have now peed in a plane bathroom, in a port-a-potty, and in the woods on a travel potty.  One kid is still learning–but it will be so much easier to help that kid one-on-one when it’s time.  Overall the experience went much more smoothly than I had feared anticipated.
  • surprising my parents for their 40th anniversary with a family-and-close-friends party at our rental house in Chatham, MA.  My brother, sister-in-law, Alan, and I actually managed to keep it a surprise until the parents came home and saw the cars in the driveway.  Watching my dad get choked up as he tried to make a speech before cutting the cake:  priceless.
  • deciding this was my Vacation of Selfies.
  • collecting shells with my five-year-old niece:  getting to relive one of my favorite beach pastimes of childhood, and getting to do it with my only (and favorite!) niece.  We shared our discoveries of “pretty shells” and cool rocks, and collected them all in her bucket to show her parents when we returned.  It was worth the sunburn I got.
  • watching my kids play in the water with their cousins.  Audrey ran right in; Theresa borrowed Cody’s frog floatie device and floated to her heart’s delight.  Jamie started the first day on a boogie board at the water’s edge, with no part of him touching the sand.  By the end of the week, he was running into the water waist-deep, climbing onto the boogie board, falling off, and getting back on.
  • many firsts at the Cape:  their first time at the tramplines; their first mini-golf experience; their first ice cream at Short’n’Sweet (which everyone in my family just calls The Schoolhouse), our first Cousins’ Night Out with the girls I used to babysit for, first ladies’ night out wine tasting in Truro.
  • going into vacation with the intent to relax:  not bringing my laptop, checking e-mail and Facebook less often, making time for me (like beach yoga).  This helped avoid the Relentless Fun spiral that my prior summers have developed.
  • Aunt AJ found one of her favorite Disney story compilations, which coincided with us playing some Disney music from some old anthology cds I gave my mom probably 20 years ago.  This has resulted in the kids asking for “Mary Poppins” which means playing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” on repeat.  They are starting to know other Mary Poppins songs, though, which is great, and they also ask for The Jungle Book classic, “The Bear Nesesames.”
  • the immense blessing of getting to see three of my dearest college friends, thanks to my parents watching the kids for most of a day.  I love these and other friends for whom time and distance matter little.
  • the other immense blessing of visiting my Grandma and going to lunch with her and our family.  I feel so grateful to witness her joy in her great-grandchildren.

 

Trusting My Kids

August 18, 2014

So potty training has been mostly successful.  More than 50%.  I’ll take it.

It has also introduced or reintroduced some anxieties in my kids.  Anxieties that I won’t share because that part of the story is theirs, not mine, and they don’t need a digital record of such things.  This part of the story is mine:  their anxieties produce anxiety in me.

I have all kinds of anxiety for my kids.  Worry about how they will fit in with each other, whether one will consistently feel left out.  Worry about their social development:  will they be able to make friends?  Worry about others mistreating them someday.  Worry about their fears, or more specifically, if I will mess up helping them approach their fears and thus make them worse.  That I will somehow contribute inadvertently to the problem, when my goal is to heal and guide.

Tonight I was worried about one kids’ anxiety, and unsure of how to talk to that kid about it.  Wandering in the parental dark.  I made Alan take over and sat on the stairs in a vaguely meditative position, closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing.

Audrey sat next to me.  She tried talking with me, and I told her that I was confused and trying to think things through, and that she could sit with me if she wanted but that I needed quiet space.

She did this to me:

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Tucked the blanket neatly around my legs, making sure my arms were covered.  Draping the other blanket over my head like a shawl.  Later she brought me a toy airplane and placed it in my lap.  Comforting me.  Taking care of me.

Reminding me that sometimes what they need is not help or guidance but someone to sit with.

I used to worry when they skipped meals.  Now I know that they won’t demand food 20 minutes after a meal; they are legitimately not hungry and will just eat when they’re ready.

I used to worry about them at the playground.  I still have the occasional heart-in-mouth moments, but largely I can trust them to negotiate risks and challenge their comfort zones as they are ready.

So often I have gnawed over perceived problems, grinding my teeth against the lack of control (which everything always comes back to, right?).  So often my anxiety has done nothing to solve a situation.

Obviously, sometimes they need guidance:  like how to say, “I need space” instead of biting their sibling.  Mostly though, I try to remember to trust my kids to know themselves, to figure out their own journey and arrive at the right place at the right time.

Books We Love: for ages 2-3

July 23, 2014
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It has been over a year since I published our last list of favorite books.  I am always looking for good new books for our kids, or as gifts for friends’ kids; this is also a way to help me remember what our kids (and we) have loved.  In no particular order:

Potty Books:

Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi

Going to the Potty, by Fred Rogers

Danny Is Done with Diapers:  a Potty ABC, by Rebecca O’Connell

Where’s the Poop? by Julie Markes

Potty Time! (Sesame Beginnings), by Parker Sawyer

Regular Books:

Oy, Feh, So? and Mr. Zinger’s Hat, by Cary Fagan

The Little Yellow Leaf, by Carin Berger

Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola

Madeline, Madeline’s Rescue, and Madeline and the Cats of Rome, by Ludwig Bemelmans

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

Little Chimp’s Big Day,by Lisa Schroeder

The Construction Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotta

Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban

What Pete Ate from A to Z, by Maira Kalman

Jamberry, by Bruce Degen

Calm-Down Time, Clean-Up Time, and Sharing Time, by Elizabeth Verdick

God’s Dream, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

Go! Go! Go! Stop!, by Charise Mericle Harper

Eating the Alphabet, Planting a Rainbow, and Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Ehlert

Harold and the Purple Crayon and Harold’s Trip to the Sky, by Crockett Johnson

Corduroy, by Don Freeman

You’re All My Favorites, by Sam McBratney

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Numeroff

The Diggingest Dog, by Al Perkins

Skippyjon Jones, Skippyjon Jones…Lost in Spice, and Skippyjon Jones, Class Action, by Judy Schachner

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train, by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries; Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Three Kittens, and Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Red Shoes, by Maj Lindman

How to Train a Train, by Jason Carter Eaton

Down by the Cool of the Pool, by Tony Mitton

Big Dog…Little Dog, by P.D. Eastman

Knuffle Bunny Too, by Mo Willems

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, by Don and Audrey Wood

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

Ernie Gets Lost, by Liza Alexander

All in a Day and Mama, Is It Summer Yet? by Nikki McClure

Henry Builds a Cabin and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, by D.B. Johnson

Make Way for Ducklings, Time of Wonder, and Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey

Toot and Puddle, by Holly Hobbie

A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead

The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Maybelle the Cable Car, and Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton

Baby Bear, by Kadir Nelson

Bears on Chairs, by Shirley Parenteau

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen

Angus and the Ducks, by Marjorie Flack

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

Lost in the Woods and Stranger in the Woods, by Carl R. Sams

Octopus Alone, by Divya Srinivasan

Duck and Goose Go to the Beach, by Tad Hills

Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henckes

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf

Angelina and Henry, by Katharine Holabird

The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Yanai Pery

A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara

Pig Kahuna, by Jennifer Sattler

Tanka Tanka Skunk! by Steve Webb

It’s Mine!, A Color of His Own, Matthew’s Dream, Swimmy, by Leo Lionni

Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You, What Do People Do All Day? and Great Big Air Book

Dr. Seuss’s I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, The Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, The Sneetches and Other Stories, Fox in Socks, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who

Finishing the Course

July 20, 2014

This morning, my parents helped me get the kids to Alan’s Olympic triathlon.  We arrived in time to:

  • witness several near-misses and one actual fall from a bike due to wet pavement,
  • clap and “WOOOO!” as the woman got up, a National Guard volunteer and another athlete checked to see if she was okay, and she walked her bike into the transition area to continue the race,
  • watch Alan’s transition from bike to run,
  • high-five him on the first loop of the 10K, and
  • cheer him on at the finish.

The finish line of a race is one of my favorite places to be.

The athletes, exhausted and exerted, summoning their reserves of physical and mental energy to sustain one last burst before the end.

The spectators, who know how long and how hard the athletes have trained, who have witnessed how much sacrifice and courage have gone into preparing for this event, cheering and screaming and clapping and cowbell-ringing and sign-waving.

Support and love, surging through the air in the form of noise:  joyful, thumping, energetic noise.

We’re all in this journey:  race, walk, swim, whatever your element.  We’re all pushing.  We’re all simultaneously in training and in the final event, sweating and stumbling and speeding up and slowing down and wondering how many more miles to go.

We can be each other’s spectators, too.  Shouting encouragements:  Keep going!  Looking good!  Way to go!  WOOOOOO!

No matter what your race looked like today, well done, warrior.

 

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Three for Three: Kid updates

July 17, 2014

So our three turned three.  Holy cow.  They are into being Big Kids.  They:

  • sleep at night in big kid beds (naptimes are in pack’n’plays in separate rooms, for sanity–theirs and ours)
  • can put on and take off their own clothes and shoes (when they feel like it)
  • like buckling their own booster seats for eating and trying to buckle their own car seat belt
  • drink from big kid cups
  • wear helmets when riding scooters and trikes
  • try out the neighbor kids’ bigger scooters and balance bike
  • like big kid swings (though sometimes the baby swing still has some appeal)
  • ride the escalator holding on to an adult’s hand

Here are some individual updates:

Audrey:

  • has physical confidence, strength, dexterity, and coordination that amaze us.  She spontaneously climbed the rock wall over the foam pit at gymnastics class.  She taught herself how to pedal her trike and pump on a big kid swing.
  • loves being a helper and “big kid.”  She likes pretending to be Mommy, like “going for a run” with her stroller.  She imitates us in trying to help her siblings, either by reminding them verbally of something or trying to help them physically (like pushing them on a swing).
  • loves the “why?” question, and comes up with very creative answers when we ask her, “Why do you think so?”  Why is that kid wearing a bandaid?  “Because he scraped his knee and now he has a scab.”

Theresa:

  • is a storyteller:  creates imaginary scenarios and worlds with her animals and pretending toys like dress-up doctor set or veterinarian tools.  She narrates her own story:  “‘Mini digger!’ I called out loudly” and “‘Where’s my other sock?’ I wailed.”
  • is our champion “noticer” (and rarely moves linearly from Point A to Point B).  She also asks a gazillion questions about pictures in books, or the storyline, or new words, or anything described, often with the phrase: “I want to see the [insert word].”  She likes figuring out puzzles.
  • physically: likes playing catch, buckling her own seatbelt, putting on her own shoes.  Gymnastics class and Coach Elaine have given her much more confidence to try new athletic skills.  She loves cuddling and uses her cuddliness to her advantage at bedtime:  “Mommy, I need a hug and a snuggle.”

Jamie:

  • has a memory that is off the charts:  songs, books, numbers, letters.  He can count to 29 (after that, he says, is “Twenty-ten”).  He knows almost every book in our library, and “reads” happily to himself if he doesn’t fall asleep at naptime.  He loves especially fast songs.
  • loves figuring out how things work:  train set, fire truck, ride-on green car.  He sometimes plays the ukelele by “drumming” on the strings.  He also loves figuring out how language works:  he plays goofy word games with us and his sisters.
  • physically:  has lots of stamina–he rode his scooter without assistance from us uphill to the park, partway around the track, and back home again; loves to walk-jog while holding a grown-up’s hand, or run ahead…and back…and ahead; can hang upside-down from the bar at gymnastics; has a mean swing at the wiffle ball tee.

All three have made huge strides in the taking-turns department, in the using-our-words department, and in the following-directions department.

In moments where I am able to fully focus on them, individually and collectively, they make me laugh and wonder and breathe gratitude.  Heart Full.

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Quiche

July 16, 2014

What do you do with those odds and ends of vegetables, meats, and cheeses about to go bad in your refrigerator?

There are several possibilities:  pasta casserole.  Pizza.  And quiche.

My kids will only eat quiche if each bite-sized piece is turned upside-down on their tray so the crust faces them.  As long as they believe they are primarily eating crust, they will devour it.  Egg-side-up, no dice.

You can make your own crust, of course, but it may come out looking like a map of Pangaea:

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I use Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust:  defrost one crust, split in two, and roll out as two crusts.

Favorite combinations:

  • goat cheese, Swiss chard, dill
  • goat cheese, broccoli, roasted red pepper
  • emmentaler, ham or bacon, caramelized onion, thyme
  • cheddar, spinach, roasted garlic

Basic Quiche

adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie crust (a good basic recipe is here)
  • 4-6 oz cheese (Swiss, emmentaler, gruyere, goat cheese, cheddar…)
  • filling
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk, or a 1 cup mixture of non-dairy milk, regular milk, yogurt, half-and-half, or whipping cream)
  • herbs (options:  dill, thyme, basil…)

Directions:

  1. Prepare filling (saute or steam veggies; cook meat).
  2. Roll out pie crust and place in pie pan.
  3. Spread cheese evenly over crust (this helps keep the crust from getting soggy).
  4. Spread filling evenly over cheese.
  5. Whisk eggs, milk or milk mixture, and any herbs you want to include.
  6. Pour custard over filling.  If you’re worried about overflow, put baking sheet under the pie pan.
  7. Bake at 375 F for 35-40 minutes.

 

The stories we tell

July 12, 2014

The stories we tell ourselves are old.  Their grooved ruts run through our memories, often told in the voice of the Critic.

I wrote recently about how I was a perfectionist, not resilient.  About wanting my kids to have better coping mechanisms than I had in certain areas.  About wanting to control how far along the journey of personal growth my kids are, so they don’t have to struggle with my struggles.

My best friend e-mailed me about my posts.  Resiliency, she reminded me, is not only one’s response to failure, but also being faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, and discovering grit and courage and perseverance that you didn’t know you had.

You ARE resilient, she said.  You LIVE resiliency.  In other words:  look at yourself more clearly.

Sometimes the story I tell myself is only part of the picture.  Lamenting about my kids, framing my own less-than-ideal reactions as a parent as failures, focusing on the flaws, the cracks, the messes.

This is just another, subtle way the Critic whispers to us:  “You are not enough.”

Another blogger Julie wrote recently about Choosing Joy.

There is a difference between being happy and choosing joy.  One is passive.  Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

But choosing joy, like Julie describes, involves consciously choosing to focus on gratitude, presence, learning and growth in the face of both happiness and sadness.

This is how I want to write my story.  Not in the mundane scratches and imperfections and wistfulness of How I Might Have Been.  But in the glorious, sacred-and-scarred Truth of Who I Am and Who My Kids Are.  Present tense.  Or Who I Am and My Kids Are Becoming.  Present continuous.

And my kids get to write their own stories.  They will figure out how to use their innate awesomeness to talk back to the Critic, how to Own the Good, how to live resiliency.  How to love and be loved and know they are worthy of love.

The glorious and beautiful truth that I have learned and forget and learn again is that we are always writing the stories we tell.  Even if they go deep, even if they have been told the same way over and over again, we get to choose where to focus, how to frame our experiences, how we define ourselves.  It is never too late.

We can look at ourselves more clearly, not from the funhouse mirror distorted perspective of those old, old stories.  We can tell ourselves the truth without the censoring of the Critic:  that we are brave, and strong, and resilient, and worthy.

We can stand in our own light.

Things I Cannot Fix, or Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

July 10, 2014

Things I can fix:

  • splinters
  • torn blankets
  • stuck zippers
  • tangled car seat straps
  • grass/food/blood stains

Things I cannot fix:

  • crayons with tip broken off
  • my sliced fingertip (damn concave sweet potatoes)
  • broken water bottles
  • fear of accidents
  • traits inherited from me or just earned by the cosmic dice roll, that simultaneously drive me crazy and make me want to solve that problem STAT to prevent familial and individual strife

I have already confessed to being a recovering perfectionist.  But “recovering” doesn’t mean “recovered.”  Not past tense.  Present continuous tense.

I recognize signs of struggle-with-struggle in my kids, particularly one who tries, say, to put a shoe on one foot, and when it does not magically slide itself on over the heel, reacts thus:  kicks it off and/or throws it, screams, and walks or runs away.

Repeat.  However many times it takes to get said shoe on.

While I am trying to simultaneously get four other feet in shoes (ideally by the foot owner), find my keys, etc.  I need to remind myself of my mantra, “We have enough time.”

Then we played our first board game:  a truly innovative game called Robot Turtles, which is designed to teach kids the principles of computer programming.

The kids each had arrow cards, and could play any direction they wanted on their turn.  They had to move their turtle piece from the starting point to their “jewel” in the center of the board.

My kids do not really understand “right” vs. “left,” so I tried to coach them while offering choices.  If they used the wrong card, they would be pointed off the board.  My husband, the software engineer, reminded me to let them learn by doing:  if their turtle didn’t move, then they were learning just as much or more than by listening to my “guidance.”

I don’t want to be a parent who hovers, who micromanages choices.  I know better.

As a teacher, I used to commiserate with my colleagues about parent meetings.  We all had stories of the “crazy” parents who helicoptered or ranted at their kids or acted in whatever way we thought was not helpful to their child’s learning.

I have a lot more empathy for parents of my students now.  I try not to be the helicopter parent, but I so understand the impulse behind such behavior.  We are all just drawing the map as we go, hoping that our early paths will help our kids find success rather than create more obstacles.

Just like when one of our kids when through a hitting phase six months ago:  I obsessed.  I researched every other night:  How to stop toddlers from hitting.  Gentle discipline.  I agonized, envisioning this kid as that kid in preschool, or at the playground.  We had one of those kids in our music class, and I watched that kid like a hawk whenever he neared one of mine.

After a few weeks and consistent, (mostly) patient and kind responses from us, this kid grew out of the phase.

This is what I see in myself recently:  the need to “help.”  To fix.  To streamline and make efficient.  To just do it myself because I am hungry, or we have already spent 50 minutes getting ready to go to the park (true story), or I can’t stomach the discomfort of waiting more minutes for my kid to struggle with buckling a stuffed animal into the car seat so it will be safe.

Or, this week, not for my kids to succeed at potty training, but for them to feel positive about the learning experience.  That if I mess it up, they will end up less resilient, less confident, less independent.  Like I can dictate how they feel.  Like I can control their reactions.

I want my kids to be more resilient than I was.  The tricky thing is, part of me still wants that One-Easy-Step process.  My perfectionism kicks in and wants to know the quickest and most efficient way to make sure my kids don’t get frustrated when they struggle.

Oh, the irony.

Like my sliced finger (which is now bandage-free, and which has received many kisses from many small beings, including stuffed beings), this takes time to heal.  Maybe it will always be with me.  The urgency to just move on to the next thing.  To show them the Right Way.

I need to remind myself:  Wait.  Trust.  Be open to possibility.  Love is always the Right Way.

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