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Real Parenting: Less Judgy McJudgerson, More Love –My Messy Beautiful

April 12, 2014

On my (very short) run this morning, I saw a mom cross the street in front of me with her double jogger.  As I passed them, I noticed that the girls in the stroller looked about similar size.

“Are they twins?” I asked, slowing down.

The mom looked apprehensive and didn’t quite get the answer out smoothly.  “No, they’re a year apart.”

“I have multiples,” I explained, in case she got that question all the time.  “So my multiples-radar is on high alert.”

She was visibly relieved.  “I thought you were going to comment on that,” and she gestured to the ice cream bars her girls were eating.  At 9:45 am.

“Oh, no!”  (I hadn’t even noticed they were eating ice cream.  But as I did, I kind of wanted one too.)  “Did you think I was going to be all judgy?”

She confirmed.  As we walked together for a block or so, we discussed judgy people and how she was worried that everyone would think poorly of her when they saw her kids with their ice cream.  I told her how we had been kicked out of libraries and gotten nasty glares, and she said, “That makes me feel so much better!”

My parting shot to her was that I try to keep in mind that if people are mean, it’s their problem and not my problem.

The part that really is my problem, though, is the fear.

The fear of potential judgment.

That’s the fear that has restricted my own choices for my whole life.  Not the actual mean comments, or nasty looks, or snide mutterings.  The fear that people might act that way.

I have known people who seem to think it is their purpose and duty to point out others’ failings or flaws.  Even if they don’t know the whole story.  Even if they do.

That judgment does hurt.  It makes me want to mask my woundedness and sneer right back:  “Sorry.  I don’t speak Rude” or something worse.  This reaction is only likely to confirm the person’s already low opinion of me.

Or it makes me want to cry.  In an attempt to make the person feel bad, I guess, which is also unlikely to happen.

One of the hardest lessons I will have to teach my children is that there are people who are kind of jerks.  The Judgy McJudgersons.  They deserve our love and forgiveness, and maybe our sympathy, if their attitude stems from their own feelings of inadequacy.  But we don’t have to hang around them and absorb their toxicity.

But really, I have received far fewer actual judgments than the perceived and potential judgments I fear.

And what am I afraid of?

That I will be found to be not enough.  Not organic enough.  Not attached enough.  Not letting-them-be-independent enough.  Not crafty enough.

By whom?

The Gods of Perfect Parents Who Don’t Exist. The EXPERTS. Because they’re out there, man. Telling us like it is.

Attachment parentingRespectful parentingFrench parentingChinese parentingNatural parenting.  (Because most of us are unnatural parents?)  Dr. MedinaDr. GottmanDr. SearsDr. WeisbluthFerberGerber.

Good glory.

At one point, my husband told me he thought I probably shouldn’t read any more articles about parenting.

Some of the things I’ve learned are truly helpful.  How the baby brain develops.  How the brain and emotions are connected.  Mostly what I look for are strategies:  when I’m researching, it’s likely because I’m stressed and frustrated at a particular behavior from my child(ren), and I don’t need someone to describe how other parents are doing something so much more successfully than me.  I want answers, people.

And then the messy, beautiful truth hits me again and again.  There aren’t any.  There are philosophies and opinions and research and some strategies, but ultimately there is you (the parent) and your kid, who is not like any other kid who has ever been born.  So it’s all trial and error.  What do I value?  What makes sense for me and my family?  What will work with this kid?  What will work with this kid on this day?  Or this minute?

So I have named my own parenting philosophy.  I call it Hail Mary parenting.

  • Sometimes it’s a muttered prayer under angry breath, for the help not to throttle my children.  I liken these moments to my fourth grade teacher Sister Waltrude’s stress management tactic:  stride dramatically to the side of the room, grab the statue of St. Joseph in both hands, shake it, and proclaim, “St. Joseph, grant me patience!”
  • Sometimes it’s a long-shot pass to the endzone, hoping for a touchdown.  The final seconds in which my husband and I strategize how to fix a broken situation before it drives both of us insane.  Like the “naptime” which was no longer a naptime but a two-hour trampolining yelling and singing session with three exhausted children who refused to sleep.  We tried putting them down for nap one at a time, ten minutes apart.  This week:  solid naps again, and fewer afternoons of super-crabby toddlers.  Win!
  • Sometimes it’s full of grace.  The moments where I remember to let them be independent, and they surprise me by what they can do.  Of snuggling on the couch with a good book.  Of conversation or made-up songs in which I get a tiny glimpse into their capacity for imagination and connection.

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Hail Mary parenting is not about lecturing or research or judgment. Some of our kids eat ice cream for breakfast. Some have never let non-organic produce cross their lips. Some Most of us yell. Some of us co-sleep. Some of us cry it out. All of us struggle and doubt ourselves and worry that we’re royally screwing up our children.

Hail Mary parenting is about the sisterhood and brotherhood. It’s about offering empathy instead of advice. It’s about walking side by side and shoring up each other against the Judgy McJudgersons of the world, real and imagined.

So name your own parenting strategy.  Maybe it’s Middle Way parenting.  Or Holy Shit parenting.  Or Babies First parenting.  Or Parent-and-Child-Can-Take-Turns-Being-First parenting.

When we can reach beyond labels and superiority and connect with each other’s imperfections, that’s Real Parenting.

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I am not usually into advertising for other people, but I have found other parents’ blogs to be healing and comforting, knowing I am not alone.  This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

On writing and vulnerability

March 31, 2014

A few weeks ago, I took a deep breath and dove into the writing void.

A writing competition.  Hosted by a writer and parent and person whom I have never met but admire greatly.

(Note:  I don’t dive.  Ever.  Ask my mom, who tried bribing me with all manner of things to get me to pass the last swim class skill, going off the diving board headfirst.  I could not get past my fear.)

And then I got an e-mail that said I won honorable mention.

Reaction, not necessarily in this order:

  1. Thrilled and honored.  (Oh my God!  Other people might read my blog!)
  2. Panic.  (Holy crap!  People might read my blog!)

Brene Brown (also one of my new favorite people) talks about having a “vulnerability hangover.”  I have one.  It’s from a weird cocktail of adrenaline-induced excitement and terror.  (Because I come by this sensation naturally, I have never felt the need to go on roller coasters.)

Anyway.  I dove, and went under for about 24 hours of panic that Beth and the judges would think I was a total sham and a poser and all manner of other things.  Then I surfaced.

And it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

So here’s to diving into the void.  To uncertainty.  To vulnerability.

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It’s too high!

COME TO THE EDGE!

And they came,

And he pushed,

And they flew.

–Christopher Logue

 

Everybody’s a Comedian

March 29, 2014

The more verbal and imaginative the kids get, the funnier they sound.  Here are some (relatively) recent gems:

  • T, after throwing her bunny:  “Mommy, I kaboomski-ed her on the couch.”
  • all three play the “Fetch” game, in which one kid throws a ball, and another kid runs after it, picks it up, and carries it back to the “owner” in his/her mouth.  Roles switch.
  • Jamie got his hair cut and screamed for the entire 25 minutes (and if you don’t think that seems like a long time, please come take him for his next appointment).  We said it was probably that he didn’t like having his head touched.  Audrey:  “Scott can cut my hair.  I like people touching my face.”

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  • A & J singing:  “I’m far away right HERE!”  Me:  “Who says that?”  A:  “We do!”
  • Jamie and I went to the playground together while our neighbor Kathy took the girls to her house.  We went down slides together and played the “Elevator” game, in which we climb the play structure and pretend to be in elevators.  It was awesome.
  • Daddy, (referring to my work on student papers): “Boom goes the grade-amite.”  Jamie:  “Boom goes the Grampy-mite!”  Audrey:  “Boom goes the Nana-mite!”
  • Daddy, explaining President’s Day:  “We live in a country called America, and we elect someone to be in charge.”  Jamie:  “I’m in charge!”

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  • Me:  “What did you see at the zoo?”  Audrey:  “There was a bear.  And he was sleepin’.  But he didn’t kiss me!”
  • Me, reading the BabyLit Pride and Prejudice: “One…”  (prompting for the response of “English village”).  Jamie:  “…English muffin!”
  • Kathy, our neighbor, on the front steps with the kids:  “Do you want help going down the stairs?”  T:  “I’m okay.  Thank you for asking.”
  • T, our biggest sports fan:  “I’m the 12th man of the Olympics!”
  • T:  “It’s Bunny’s birthday so she gets a blue Kermit cake and she’s going to go to Boston.”

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  • Jamie sometimes has a hard time making up his mind–and often he appears to be hardwired to say “No!”  Ask him if he wants something (usually food), and his response:  “Nnnnn…ye…neh…yehhh…nn…yeah.”
  • Me, trying to explain lightning (after being on a run with the girls and experiencing two unexpected and super-loud thunderclaps):  “You know how you get a zap from a slide or from getting off the couch?  Lightning is the biggest zap there is.  When clouds touch, they give each other a big zap.”  A:  “Or a hug!  I could give the cloud a hug.”
  • T, pointing to kanji on a bowl:  “What’s that?”  Me:  “It’s Japanese writing.”  T:  “Is Japanese a nice girl?”  (I’m not sure how I tried to explain that “Japanese” refers to a group of people, not one person’s name…)

Conversation:

T:  “I see dat yellow fing drivin’.”

A:  “What, Theresa?  What is dat yellow fing?”  (repeats about five times)

Me:  “Theresa, Audrey is asking you what the yellow thing is that you see.”

T:  (long pause)  “It’s the [indeterminate sound].”

A:  “Oh.  It’s the sun.  It’s not drivin’.”

Another conversation:

T:  “Where are Sienna and Cody?”

Me:  “They’re at their house.”

J:  “They’re at Bruin’s house!”

A:  “Bruin is not coming to my house, because he might chew on me, and I would break.”

Breathing, in Baby Steps

March 28, 2014

A woman in our music class has a tattoo across her foot, where a flip-flop strap would go:

just-breathe-my-photo

Photo credit M. Tartakovsky, MS, at Weightless, a blog at PsychCentral.com

I have been told variations of that phrase since I was a kid whose emotions steamrolled me.

When my kids have those visceral, caveman reactions of pushing people or throwing things or inarticulate yelling, I get it.  I have also experienced that sensation of being suffocated by the avalanche of my anger or frustration or disappointment.

It was terrifying.  To feel that out of control.

My mom used to tell me to “take a deep breath,” or “punch a pillow.”  I never even wanted to try those tactics.  My emotions were so strong, I needed to do something physical to get them out.  If it couldn’t be physical, verbal destruction would have to suffice.

I have said many things in my lifetime that I wish I could take back.

When I was first teaching, one of the veteran teachers–an infinitely calm art instructor who also trained students in peer mediation–talked to us about coping with stress.  “In a stressful situation,” she told us, “take a step back and breathe.”

Yeah, right, I thought.

When I get agitated, due to hormones or constant stress or whatever, what comes out of my mouth completely bypasses my conscious ability to control it.  The toxic words emerge even as the small rational voice in my head tells me, “Don’t say it.”  I could not ever make the “take a breath” part happen before I acted on my emotions.

I spent almost my whole life believing that this behavior is just me sometimes, that I can’t control it no matter how hard I try.

Then a few years ago, I took a mindfulness meditation class.  And recently I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly during my commute (have you read it? you should).

In it, she talks about the need to build shame-resilience in order to allow us to be fully vulnerable, and vulnerability is what enables us to be most connected, to live what she calls a “wholehearted life.”  She describes shame as that negative self-narrative, the inner voice that tells you (me):  “You’re no good.  You’re not ___ enough.  You don’t deserve anything.”

She also talks about this instinctual need to lash out when confronted with shame.  That others have talked to her during her research interviews about feeling so bad about themselves that they wanted to make someone else feel worse.

It’s not just me?

Photo credit my-beautiful-words.blogspot.com.

Photo credit my-beautiful-words.blogspot.com.

Then, I discovered that the door to the basement was locked.  This lock has been getting stuck periodically since the construction ended, but we just avoided locking the door…until Jamie figured out how to jiggle the doorknob on this very old door just enough to open it whenever he wanted.  So, lockdown it was for us.

And tonight, the lock was stuck.

I had laundry in the basement I wanted to get folded.  I had three kids, two of whom hadn’t napped, who desperately needed a change of venue but a) the weather wasn’t good enough to be worth the fight to get outside, and b) it was too close to dinnertime to go anywhere.

I wiggled the lock’s knob.  I lifted the door up and down and pushed and pulled.  No go.

Audrey and Theresa stood watching me.

I grumbled aloud that the lock was stuck, that it wouldn’t open, that somebody (I carefully avoided naming blame) had locked it earlier that day.  Interior monologue:  Stupid door; I TOLD Alan to fix it but he must have locked it this morning even though I told him not to and now my hands hurt from this stupid knob and I can’t believe Alan did that to me.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket to text Alan some accusatory sarcasm.

Somehow, as my phone sat in my hand, I put the brakes on the raging-emotion train.

I took a deep breath.  Put the phone back in my pocket.  Audrey and Theresa asked what I was doing.

“You know how sometimes you get frustrated when you’re trying to get something to work and you can’t do it?  I was trying to unlock the door, and it wasn’t working, and I was getting frustrated.  So I’m going to step back and take some deep breaths and then try again.”

I took some deep breaths.  I felt my heartrate slow down a bit.  I tried again.

Still stuck.

But the intensity had passed.  It still didn’t work, but I wasn’t angry about it anymore–and, more importantly, I had not sent an angry text or said snarky things about doors or people in front of my kids.

It’s not the first time I’ve ever caught myself before yelling or getting sarcastic or slamming doors.  But it is a good reminder that breathing is possible

 

Things Change: a Prayer in Spring (apologies to Frost)

March 22, 2014

I went running a few weeks ago with Audrey in the single jogging stroller.

(Incidentally, it takes me as long to get myself and two kids to go for a run as it does to actually run.  Getting one kid ready to go?  Five minutes.)

We turned a corner that continued a slight hill climb, and as I huffed and tried not to concentrate on my quads burning, I noticed the front yards.

Two months before, we looked for Christmas lights and candy canes and small reindeer statues.

This day, we smelled early spring-ish grass growing and saw tiny buds sprouting from the tips of branches.

It reminded me of this:  things change.

Spring and rebirth and growth and symbolism and yadda yadda yadda.

But really.  They do.

It struck me because so many times in the past three years I have felt like I was living the movie Groundhog Day.  The same routine.  The same interactions.  Over and over.  The never-ending cycle made me feel like our only pet growing up:  a hamster named Hobbes, spinning and spinning on his wheel but permanently stuck in his cage.

Recently, part of the stuckness involved six weeks of sponge baths because Child X’s terror of peeing in the bathtub was beyond my ability to calm.

After the novelty disappeared, even those resulted in crying:  sponge baths in February are cold.  I wondered when this would ever shift.

And suddenly, Alan offered this kid a new choice.  Child X chose the bathtub.  We are back into bath routine for a week now, and the worst of that particular phase seems over.

Day by day, even if it feels to me like we’re doing the same things, going through the same routines, washing the same trays and picking up the same toys and mediating the same fights over the same toys, things change.

Like chlorophyll moving under the bark that we can’t see.  Like the warming of the earth as the rain softens it.  Like the mulching of dead leaves to feed new gardens.  Shifts and growth happen at a micro-level, so slowly and imperceptibly that we wonder if spring will ever come.

And then the macro happens.  Crocuses bloom.  Daffodils bust out, and Theresa wants to call her giraffe puppet “Daffodil” (Daffodil the Giraffodil!).  Underneath where we can’t see, we are all growing and changing and learning, and all of a sudden, we notice that we have stopped getting up 2-5 times in the middle of the night as we have for months on end for the same crying child.  The number of interventions for hitting or throwing as a reaction to anger or sadness decreases abruptly.  The kid who always wanted to be carried down the stairs suddenly wants to walk down by herself.

It is a good reminder to myself, when I get mired in the mud of post-winter snotty noses and resistance to naptime and the constant need for “Mama-Mama-Mama”:  This is why spring is about hope.  Beneath the humdrum of our days, our blood pulses and our spirits grow and glow, until we manifest our change.

A Prayer in Spring

–Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

“The final form of love which is forgiveness”

March 14, 2014

Two things you need to know about this post:

1.  It’s Lent.

2.  I was mean yesterday.

Before I had kids, Lent meant fasting on Fridays and no chocolate.  Now that I have kids, Lent means doing alternative penances, like this brilliant de-cluttering idea.  Always, Lent means introspection.  Soul examination.  Confession.

Confession:  yesterday Jamie fell over the side of the couch because he was leaning too far, and landed head-first on the hardwood.  My first words upon retrieving him were to the person who had been nearest.  “You were watching him, weren’t you?”

Blame.  Guilt-tripping of the highest Catholic degree.

This has been a flaw my whole life:  if something goes wrong, assign blameSomeone must be responsible, held accountable for sin or thoughtlessness or not paying attention.

As Alan says, sometimes when something goes wrong, my reaction is this:

Step 1:  Panic.

Step 2:  Blame Alan.

In the case of Jamie and the couch, this statement was wholly unfair.  His fall was no one’s fault but his own.  It was not “the real me” but the Mama Bear Me who lashed out, assigned blame for my child in pain.

I apologized to the person I wounded with my words.  I told him it was unfair and unkind, and that I didn’t really mean it.  He said it was okay–in other words, that he forgave me.

But I did not forgive myself.

If Lent is about confession, it is also about forgiveness.  I used to go to confession as a kid in Catholic school, and usually emerged from the confessional (having told my priest all my sins:  lying, being mean to my brother, disobeying my parents) feeling lighter, happier.  Forgiven.

As I got older, the weight of wrongdoing never lifted, even after confession.  Even if God forgave me, I could not forgive myself.  My focus was on the penance, the hairshirted need to carry the burden of mistakes with me at all times.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Forgiveness.  The final form of love.  The Catholic version of the Middle Way.  The blessing and gift after confession:  “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins.”

Confession is not a one-time deal.  We screw up again and again, and again and again ask for forgiveness.  We promise to try not to screw up again.  But God knows I will.  And still He says, “I forgive you.  I cleanse you.  I love you not because you’re perfect but because you’re you.”

I can’t rewind my words and take them back.  I can’t undo my mistakes.  I can only apologize and ask the person for forgiveness.

And then forgive myself.  Not just say I do.  But really believe in the possibility of soul-cleansing.  That who I am is not the dust and dirt of words said in anger or inconsiderate actions, but the spirit of Light.

Say the prayers of penance.  Let them go like the smoke of Lenten incense, like the silence offered up as Mass ends.  Forgive and heal.

Until next time.  Then do it all again.

Potty Training: Our March into Madness

March 5, 2014

Before I became a parent, I had no idea what potty training entailed.

I still don’t.

This is the blind leading the blind here.  No amount of research or reading I have done has prepared me for this journey of three thousand steps that it feels like we have barely started.

Rule #1 of potty preparedness seems to be body awareness.  In other words, your kid figures out that it feels yucky when they pee or poop in their diaper and wants it changed right away.

My kids are not exactly there yet.

We instituted a sticker chart with two columns:  one for telling us right away that they’ve pooped, and one for sitting and trying on the potty.  The stickers were high motivation for about a week.  Now, we ask whomever is odoriferous at the moment, “Did you poop?”

“No.”

And then, after we carry them protesting to the changing table, they announce, “Mommy, I pooped!  I get a sticker!”

Oh, kid.  That is not the way it works.

Pre-stickers

Pre-stickers

How do you teach your kids that their bodily waste is not supposed to be up against their skin, when it has been their “normal” their whole lives?

How do you teach your kids what “the pee feeling” feels like on the inside?

How do you do any of this with three children at the same time without going batty?

I’ve heard all the strategies.  The potty boot camp that guarantees toilet-trained children in three days.  The M&M reward system.  The new toy reward system.  The underwear reward system.

I have nothing against bribery (I prefer to call it incentivizing).  But I feel like bribing will only start working once we “get it”–once they understand the correlation between feeling like you have to pee and peeing.

This morning one kid sat on the potty (by invitation, not self-initiated) and pooped there.  Huzzah!  We did the potty dance, displayed the poop for the siblings, and flushed it.  The successful kid got to wear underwear as a reward (in addition to a much-coveted Hello Kitty sticker).

Then I shuffled between helping a kid who was still eating breakfast, reminding another kid that I couldn’t read a story just yet, and brushing successful kid’s hair in the bathroom.  During all the shuffling, that kid peed in the underwear.  Which a sibling, newly released from breakfast, tried to inspect and nearly walked in.

This is why the potty boot camp–the naked-from-the-waist-down method–might work but also might march me into madness also.

Because that strategy is great if you can focus on one kid.  One kid’s cues.  One kid’s accident that can maybe still make it to the potty if you catch it in time.  For us, this strategy might require six agile adults and warmer weather.

Then, even after they start to “get it,” Rule #2 of potty preparedness seems to be that the announcement of “I want to sit on the potty” is equivalent to the following:

HOLY SHIT!  STOP THE PRESSES!  CODE RED!  AAWOOOOOGA!  AAWOOOOOOGA!  Drop that kid you’re holding; let that food catch on fire; just GET THAT KID ON THE POTTY STAT!

Then, for us, one of the following usually happens:

  • the kid is “all done” after thirty seconds of trying, or
  • the kid wants to stay on the potty ad infinitum because they really, desperately want the Hello Kitty sticker, so one of us is stuck next to the potty for the foreseeable future.

In either case, 95% of the time, nothing comes out.

The other night, a kid announced they wanted to sit on the potty mid-bathing, and wound up naked on the potty with a head full of shampoo.

We invite potty time a lot.  We do not get a lot of success.  We suspect that one of our children has the bladder control to sit on the potty for ten minutes, ask for a diaper, and then immediately go in it.  (This is tied up with all kinds of anxiety about accidents that is taking its toll on bathtime too…6 weeks of sponge baths and counting…).

I know this has to happen on their timetables, not mine.  I can’t force them to do something only they have control over.

It is hard to be patient.  Not because I want to be done with diapers, or I’m ready for my kids to be “big kids,” but because now I know that “potty training” is this weird misnomer that makes it sound like “basic training”:  tough but finite.

Potty training encompasses the following stages:

  • learning to pee in a toilet
  • learning to poop in a toilet
  • holding it during nap
  • holding it all night, or waking up if you have to go

This takes years.  And we are only just beginning.  Oy.

The Upside of the Plague

February 11, 2014

We have been sick for approximately 80% of 2014.

In my previous post, I said I could handle sick kids: snot, crabbitude, etc.  The past two days made me retract that statement.  I railed against my powerlessness, the fact that I (again? still?) cannot find things in my own house, that I am sick of being sick.  Sick of kids who have limited patience or coping skills.  Sick of my own limited patience.  Sick of not being in control of All the Things.

So the upside of the plague followed by another virus is this:  I have been in survival mode.  Not worrying about anything other than meeting minimum requirements: keeping my family fed and clothed in (mostly) clean attire.

Not doing massive projects.  Like, you know, folding laundry and putting it away.  Or bringing food to friends with newborns, or finishing those baby albums, or whatever.

Surviving was the only thing I could muster when Theresa was so sick, all she could do was curl up on my chest and wheeze, eyes closed and body limp.  Surviving was the most we could handle through a week-long hitting phase and a strong resurgence of the anti-diaper-off anxiety.  The to-do list was minimized, a blip at the bottom of my screen.

And it occurred to me that this maybe was not a bad thing.

We got better for a week.  Alan traveled for work, and I became a cleaning-and-organizing dervish.  I accomplished tasks that had been on the back burner for years.  It felt so good.

And then we were back to survival mode with another cold, and I was so frustrated.

Because I want to be in control.  I want to be the pigeon driving the bus.  I want to be productive and efficient and task-accomplishing.

But being those things don’t make me me.  The love and nurturing and patience I have shown to my children and my students do.  And those have nothing to do with being in control, and everything to do with surrender.  Not in a weak, white-flag-waving, quitter sort of way, but in a real, true, I-need-to-let-You-be-in-charge sort of way.

Tonight I finally found our baby nail clipper (after buying a new substandard one because I needed to trim kids’ nails and couldn’t turn my house any more upside down to find it), and was telling Alan about how I hate losing things, etc. etc.

Audrey put her hand on my leg and said, “Don’t be frustrated, Mama.”

I stopped cold in my rant.

“Don’t talk,” she said.  I knelt down to listen to her.  She stared at me with those green eyes that mirror mine.  “Just be quiet,” she said.

And turned to continue sweeping up around her baby’s “car seat” with her toy broom.

Just be quiet.  Don’t talk.  Just listen to the stillness, the shard of the greater Stillness and Peace.

My daughter, with her old soul of gentleness and generosity and ability to respond to others’ emotions, told me exactly what this experience of the plague has been trying to.

That lesson the universe keeps trying to teach me, and that I, like some of my well-intentioned students, keep saying, “Yep, got that. Ready to move on to the next thing” but really I need to learn it over and over and over.

Slow down.  Take your time.  Be quiet.

More Little Victories: Fighting the Plague

January 17, 2014

Sick kids, I can handle.  Snot rockets, the grump factor when they don’t understand why they’re sick and refuse most soothing remedies (warm liquids, honey, etc.).  I can do colds.

The illness that has been living with us for almost two weeks is a shade of pure misery.

So much so that I threw myself a pity party (read:  posted a status on Facebook whining about coughing, snotty kids who can’t sleep and who therefore make me sleepless and did I mention I barely got over a bad bout of laryngitis only to come down with another cold?).

Thus, tonight:  some little victories to compensate for the “just survive” mode we’ve been operating under.

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1.  One of our children, who is anxious by nature, got super-freaked-out by a sibling pooping in the tub incident in mid-December.  Alan and I did not get upset, but there was some rush to get the bathing kids out of the tub in order to sanitize it and get them, shivering, back in.  Child X has had bath / potty anxiety for the past month–previously loving bathtime, suddenly refusing to go in at all, or even refusing to take the diaper off in fear (I presume) that an accident might happen.

Where did Child X get fear of mistakes or accidents?  Fear of not doing things the Right Way?  I have no idea…(and poor child, I am so sorry for whatever genetic code I passed on to you in that regard).

Yesterday, after a triple screamy, whiny morning of much hitting and pushing, we went to the library, and Miss Claire helped me find a potty book.  An ABC potty book which starts, “A is for Accident.  Adam had an accident.  It’s all right, Adam.”

Child X requested this book several times this afternoon, and we read it in the bathroom while contented siblings splashed in the tub.  And then:

Child X got the diaper off.  Stood by the tub watching a sibling get clean.

And got in.  And loved it.

Thank goodness for getting rid of bathtime trauma.

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2.  Library related:  A couple of months ago, we went to the library this afternoon.

The four of us.

We read together.  Audrey played on the computers and with blocks.  They (mostly) used their quiet voices.

We did not get kicked out or receive dirty looks of any kind.

We checked out three books (including two beloved ones:  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Oy, Feh, So?).

We all held hands crossing the parking lot to and from the van.

It was a minor miracle.

Theresa leans out the window of the cabin, "just like Miss Lydia" (from Henry Builds a Cabin).

Theresa leans out the window of the cabin, “just like Miss Lydia” (from Henry Builds a Cabin).

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3.  Jamie refuses most new things, and certainly most suggested things (he has an independent spirit–again, no idea where he got that from…).

We had to give him some anti-inflammatory prescription medication for his croup this week.  The pharmacist recommended crushing it in some food.

This for the kid who has refused quesadilla because they used the wrong kind of tortilla, or spit out all manner of other usually enjoyed food because the texture was off.

I made their favorite ravioli, cut it in quarters, and mashed bits of tablet into each quarter.  He devoured it.  Mama for the win.

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Jamie relishes outside time after being cooped up for more than a week.

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4.  I had a mini-meltdown yesterday after reaching my limit of patient, “Hands are not for hurting,” and “You sound sad; can you tell me why?” and “Use your words.”

The Should Mama spoke up.  I called Alan and vented.

The Should Mama shut up.

That’s right, sister.  I’m human.  I have limits.  I don’t have to wallow in guilt or self-flagellate or moan.  I can just move on.

Audrey models her favorite-color hat made by Aunt Karen.

Audrey models her favorite-color hat made by Aunt Karen.

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These remind me that things change.  They get better.  Eventually.

Owning the good

January 8, 2014

I spend a lot of time hearing the Should Mama’s voice.

However, these past few weeks have seen a mini victory of sorts.

We had the rush to get work completed before Christmas break, and an unexpected snow day that prevented me from finishing things at school.  The basement is (finally, finally, oh happy day!) finished, so we spent that weekend assessing and moving and organizing a tiny fraction of what will go in there.  There were a couple of days to prepare for Christmas and our Christmas Eve open house.  The day after Christmas we flew to Boston,

Audrey and Theresa look for pictures of animals or diggers in the in-flight magazine.

Audrey and Theresa look for pictures of animals or diggers in the in-flight magazine.

then drove to Connecticut for Jen’s annual Christmakkah celebration,

Four college friends, two spouses, five kids under five = one awesome Christmakkah.

Four college friends, two spouses, five kids under five = one awesome Christmakkah.

then visited with family and friends,

then drove to Maine to visit with the cousins, and awesome aunt and uncle,

Cousins, west and east coast

Cousins, west and east coast

then experienced the snowpocalypse that initiated the New Year (please note:  Audrey wishes to be a snow plow driver when she grows up),

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Audrey and Theresa watching Daddy throw snowballs into the ocean.

then dealt with two cancelled flights–one discovered at the airport after schlepping all our gear there, rescheduling for a flight that might or might not make it out of Logan (but hey, we met Elizabeth Warren, who was so nice to our kids), racing to barely make our connection in DC, dealing with at least one kid always awake on the cross-country flight, one puker (thank God we bring extra clothes in the carry-on), and exhaustion reminiscent of newborn parenting,

Senator Warren discusses the financial crisis with our kids.

Senator Warren discusses the financial crisis with our kids.

and my nasty cold combined with laryngitis, which passed to Theresa as croup.  I sat for three steamy bathroom sessions in nine hours, took her to the pediatrician’s, gave her the prescription, and rocked and whispered and tried to convince the other two that they did NOT want to be sick too.

And I did not lose it with my kids.

Not once.

I got frustrated, sure.  For the ten days of our trip, there was usually one extra adult around to help distract or calm or entertain, but even during the mealtime fights, the non-naps, the throwing of objects…I didn’t lose it.

And I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but here is one I can try to keep:

  • limiting my consumption of digital media, inspired by the Hands-Free Mama.

My friends share all kinds of interesting parenting articles on Facebook.  I subscribe to a couple of parenting blogs.  I read these because I want to be better, to learn new strategies or hear different perspectives on how to raise compassionate, resilient, independent, confident children.

Although these articles have good ideas, often I end up feeling inadequate.  The Should Mama gears up again:  are you letting your kids be bored enough?  are you developing their right brain enough?  are you letting them eat too much bread?  are you setting enough boundaries?  are you setting too many boundaries?

These two-plus weeks have made me realize two things:

1.  I can cultivate more patience with my kids, and

2.  When I lose my patience, I am given the opportunity to show them how to make amends.  Not a reason to berate myself for always doing it wrong.

My kids don’t care what Korean or French or attachment mamas do.

They want me.  Me, with my imperfections and humanity.  As another imperfect mama said, “heroic and horrible, and magical and messy, and beautiful and bumbling, with love and laughter and light, and grace and gratitude and grime.”

Of course I want to improve as a parent.  This learning curve is steep and the Stuff To Be Learned is always shifting.

I also want to own the good.  It’s mine, all of it:  the little victories, the mistakes.  The moments of holding my daughter as she wheezes and curls against my torso, of helping my son have “calm down time,” of watching my daughter imitate me as she cares for her baby doll:  “It’s all right.  I help you feel better.”

Own it, mamas.  Own the good.  You have so much of it to build on.

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