Wednesday, November 26, 2008

living up north

It's winter here. I've been meaning to say that. It snowed every day last week and was wonderful. Today is a bit warmer and the world has turned to slush. While it's kind of a pain on school days to have Frances's mesh bag of snow pants, snow boots, mittens, fleece, and hat, it's just one of the things you do, like dishes I suppose. Frances loves to play outside, or go for a "walk" which is really a hop, because she insists we both jump our way down the sidewalk. Clark likes it too--not the jumping, but the hanging out in the backpack. He screams and hollers while I put on his snowsuit and buckle him into the pack, but as soon as I lift it he's quiet and content. I can't understand why he doesn't see that something he likes is coming, why he isn't pleased about the snowsuit...

Frances is so sweet to him. Sometimes when she doesn't know I'm looking she kisses him very softly on the top of the head. When he's fussy she not only brings him a paci in a hurry, but she gently touches his head with her fingertips. It's lovely.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

job description

Sometimes I forget why I'm here. I forget that the reason we're on this planet is to love each other, to give our love, to connect. I become confused and think my job is not love, but management. I manage tantrums, hunger, naps, trips to the grocery, amount of tv watching, sharing of toys, the rationing of candy. I manage laundry, and dinner, and preschool drop off. I manage babysitters, baths, bedtime, tylenol for teething, and night feedings. I'm always on alert to what might drive the ship aground. I am always prepared to act, and I forget to just be. I forget that in the middle of baths and bedtime, even in the middle of tantrums, I can relax. I can get done what needs to get done and be relaxed about it. I can look fully at my children and give them love while we're doing these other things. What happens instead is that I turn my focus inside and lose sight of what's going on around me, save the necessary. I forget that while these busy things do help the ship run more quietly and smoothly, they are not what's important. They are not actually my job. My job is to give love so that these children grow up feeling safe and valued and protected, so they don't struggle with the same anxiety and fear and uncertainty that plagues me.

I think this is what that woman at church last year was talking about when she said her "third was her blessing". She said it was after the third was born that she realized what was important, and that she could no longer hold everything together, so stopped trying. As long as everyone was fed and clean, that's all that mattered. At the time I thought she was nuts, but I think I understand now. It would be a blessing if I could let this go--I would feel blessed to see what's truly important, essential.

This isn't just about me. I notice that when I'm most distracted by trying to get things done, Frances slowly becomes a crazy person. But when I slow down and look straight at her without my agenda, she calms down. She feels safer. I don't just want her to feel safe in this house or community, I want her to feel safe in an existential way: safe on the planet, safe in her skin. Is that too much to hope?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

imperfect parenting

My counselor wants me this week to think about imperfect parenting because, he pointed out, no one is a perfect parent. We all do it wrong, we all screw up. I've never before had a 2-year-old so how can I know how to perfectly parent one? I of course understand this idea, but I'm having trouble applying it. It's hard to have a toddler. Sometimes it's really hard. Frances is--I don't know--something strange is going on with her. At first I thought she was getting sick and wasn't feeling well but now I think it's a stage, and not a fun one. She's very clingy and whiny and needy, and everything upsets her. Tiny things that go wrong are terrible traumas, complete with flinging herself on the floor, shrieking, throwing toys, and sometimes it all just puts me over the edge. On the way home from preschool today I dug out some tissue from the glove compartment and used it as ear plugs to dampen the intensity of the crying. This was after pulling over and climbing into the back seat twice to try to comfort her and get her to tell me if something was wrong past the tiny bump she got on her knee while climbing into the van.

Oh, I remember. She was asking for her juice but I hadn't brought it with me; I'd only brought milk. So maybe she was crying not only because she couldn't have something she wanted, but perhaps because I hadn't provided for her as well as she would have liked. (Or as well as usual, because usually I have her juice with me as well as a peanut butter sandwich when I pick her up from school.) Hm. Going to have to think more on that.

As I type this she is screaming at the top of her lungs in her crib, screaming in her outside voice simply because I told her not to. My approach this minute is to ignore it because I frankly don't know what else to do. At least her brother isn't napping right now and, really, the sound doesn't travel too well through these plaster walls. I know she's testing limits, which is what toddlers do. Sometimes she'll accidentally hit Clark with a toy or something and when I say, "be careful, Honey. Don't hit Clark," she'll look at me out the corner of her eye, pause, clock him very deliberately, then gleefully hold up her arms for me to carry her into time out. What to do? Just the same thing I've been doing? Just repeat myself? Over and over tell her, "no hitting," then put her in time out? When I tell her no and she laughs it makes me completely crazy.

The other thing my counselor and I talked about is the difference between being authoritative and being harsh. I'm not sure I know the difference in practice, frankly. And sometimes when I want to be authoritative I have trouble reigning myself in, keeping down my own anger. When I keep it down well I don't know if I'm authoritative enough. Isn't there someone who can come and tell me how to do this???

A few minutes ago the shrieking upstairs turned to crying so I thought I'd investigate. And when I opened the door Frances was sitting in her crib naked from the waist down, holding out her hands to me, hands that were completely and totally covered in poop. "Mommy, I need a wipe," was what she said. And that was true. So I ran a bath, took the rest of her (poop covered) clothes off, and carried her wrapped in an old towel to the tub. The poop was even in her hair. After washing her I left her to play in the bath while I stripped the bed of its sheets, blankets (security and regular), pillow, babydolls, stuffed animals, books, pacis (multiple), and finger puppets. About the time I came back upstairs from running all that to the laundry room, I heard Frances saying "Mommy this is hot." I thought maybe she'd turned the water on but when I went in I found she wasn't saying it was "hot" but "hard", meaning it was hard to squeeze the bottle of baby wash into the water. The reason it was hard was because she had already squeezed it ALL out. At least she was clean. *sigh* While this was happening, by the way, Clark was happily entertaining himself in her bedroom by chewing on the cord (unplugged) to the fan. It's comical this is my life. I do prefer the comedy to the drama of earlier.

Monday, November 17, 2008

pooping for candy

For awhile Frances was all about sitting on the potty. I think it was the novelty of it--being like mommy and daddy, the pull-ups, the good times. She was particularly excited about the full-size toilet and preferred that to the little potty in the family room. Then a few weeks ago she suddenly decided she was done with that. She no longer wanted to sit on the toilet, didn't fall pray to any suggestion that it would make her a big girl.

Until we resorted to candy.

I'm not above a bribe, and a candy reward, it turns out, is very effective with the girl. At first it was M&Ms, and when we ran out of those I dug out some jellybeans, and now we've moved on to gummy bears. She's not picky. She's so excited about getting candy that she sits on her little potty several times a day. She now can pull off her pants and diaper by herself which is particularly helpful since I often have my hands full feeding or changing or carting around the baby. She'll sit on the potty even when she doesn't have to go, and she's pretty persistent about her success. Even when there's no action at all she'll sit and sit and sit, saying "I poop! I poop--then candy." She gets up, bends over to peer in the potty, then sits back down again. I say, "Are you finished?" and she says, "No. No. Poop, then candy!" She's very optimistic. It's a good trait to have, I suppose.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

who likes Music Doug?

I've got tennis elbow. Not that I play tennis. I'm going to physical therapy and doing what I'm supposed to do but it does make typing on the blog kind of difficult, which is why I've been a little absent here lately. Just to let you know.

Frances goes to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Thursdays Music Doug comes to their class and sings and plays the guitar. One day a few weeks ago Frances's teachers talked to me after class about how anxious Frances gets when Music Doug comes to play. Apparently as soon as they say, "let's clean up because Music Doug is coming," she cries and ask for her paci and says she wants to go outside. So we started talking about it at home. She doesn't have the language yet to tell me why she doesn't like the man. I still don't know why. The teachers thought that maybe it's the guitar but that's not it; the teacher in our Music Together class plays the guitar and Frances actually goes up and strums it at the end of class. Her teachers insist that he's a very nice fella and I'm sure he is.

Last week on Wednesday night as I put her to bed I said, "you have school tomorrow," and she said, "Music Doug?" "Yes, Music Doug will be there tomorrow," I said. "Cece read books?" she asked. I thought at first she was asking to read more books at that moment, but what she was saying was that she wanted to read books while Music Doug was there. The previous Thursday, I'd been told, one of the teachers with her sat at a table across the room from the music circle and did puzzles and read books. At first she wouldn't even look over to where the kids were; since then she does watch the singing and sometimes sings quietly to herself--a lot of progress from their perspective.

This morning on the way to school she asked if Music Doug would be there and I said yes. "No like Music Doug," she said. I asked why (yet again) but all she could tell me was, "Carson like Music Doug. Sophia like Music Doug. Cece no like Music Doug." She's always had strong opinions. Always. I still have no idea what this one is about, but it's interesting to see her reveal some of her inner life, some of what she experiences away from me. It's also interesting that she recognizes that other kids in the class like him fine; that she's allowed her own opinions separate from theirs. And watching a two year old develop language and social skills and personality is kind of like getting to know someone new; although I've known her for a long time now, I feel like she's a new friend and I'm learning who she is and what she's like. It's rather a good time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

they are their own

Just moments ago Frances was playing with the dog rough and loud, stealing his toy and making him chase her, pouncing, yipping, everyone having a good time. It was fun to watch, with Frances laughing from her belly. At one point she wrestled his toy away and turned running for him to chase her, but when she whipped around she ran smack into the post that separates our family room and kitchen. A look of complete shock proceeded the necessary wail, a look so funny somehow that Mitch and I had trouble not laughing while we soothed her and kissed her head.

She doesn't do that kind of thing very often; she's a careful kid. Ever since she started moving around she's been that way. If she fell flat on her face climbing the stairs without the rail, well, she didn't do that again. Not Clark. He's so much more physical, and he'll pull the laundry basket over on himself trying to pull up on it, then he'll right himself and do it again. Mitch joked yesterday that maybe he's not the sharpest knife, but I suppose the reward for making his body learn and reach and move is much greater than the pain of having the edge of the laundry basket whack him on the cheek.

She hasn't climbed out of her crib again, for instance. It's funny how different kids are, straight from the womb, no doing of ours. That's a major reason I had more than one--to make this very clear to myself. I didn't want to be confused about my role in my kids' lives. I don't want to over estimate my influence, good or bad. As large as I loom right now, overall I will be just one of many influences that shape them. And much of who they are is imprinted before they even come to me.

Friday, November 7, 2008

posting while waiting for the sitter

It's been a big week for the boy. Just two days shy of 8 months old and he's crawling. Also--a tooth! Oh, the excitement. Clark The Amazing; he stands! he crawls! he sprays his strained peas! He's also (still) the jolliest little gumdrop ever. It's a lot of fun to watch the development of the 2nd one. With the first one you're so shell shocked and fearful that anything they try will result in injury. With Frances I also felt guilty anytime she played by herself. I knew in my head that this kind of solitary focused attention was good for her, was her way of learning, but I couldn't stop feeling that I should be interacting with her, helping her learn, teaching her. Clark, by contrast, has all kinds of opportunity to play uninterrupted, to pull himself up on Frances's toy box (a lidless wicker crate) and fish things out to put in his mouth or to bang together. When he's entertained like that I feel no guilt at all--what I feel is relief for the moment of peace, as well as excitement that he's learning. It's very clear to me that my presence would only interrupt.

I have a load of laundry in the wash, one in the dryer, five more separated out on the floor of the laundry room, plus a load of diapers to wash. Do you think the logic holds that if we had less clothes we'd have less laundry? Maybe I'll throw out half of everyone's wardrobe. I have a friend with 4 boys under 6 (crazy!) and she recently told me she has eight (eight!) loads of clean laundry in her dining room that she can't find the time to fold.

The sitter should be here any minute. This morning I was reminded that the anxiety hasn't left the building, though for now it's mostly backstage. It's a really nice day here (really nice for Nov), the last of the warm days probably until spring, and I had this mini breakdown because I have a sitter coming and shouldn't I be out playing in the sun w/ Frances this afternoon rather than have a sitter here with her? While the sitter is here I will run a couple of quick errands and then I am going walking w/ a neighbor. I don't know why I feel I shouldn't enjoy the sunshine myself--on a walk with an adult--rather than with the kids. Anyway, I got over it and am now excited I get to experience the lovely sunshine without being distracted by general kid chaos. Yippee!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

american democracy

While this post has nothing at all to do with mothering, I have to put it here. It's my blog, after all...

I am overjoyed (overjoyed!) about the election. Last night I couldn't stay up to watch the results because I thought I might die if I didn't get to bed, so I missed the acceptance speech (as well as the concession speech). This morning first thing I watched them both (in the correct order) online, and I just wept. McCain's speech was the classiest thing I've ever heard, and Obama is so amazing and inspirational--he makes me believe we can be better people, truly. I feel a kind of warm relief that spills over from politics into my personal experience of the world; I actually feel safer on the earth than I did yesterday.

Fall has let up for a moment and summer is bleeding back in, and the warmth is lovely.

Monday, November 3, 2008

no no no perspective

People keep telling me that it all gets easier (having two tots ridiculously close in age) after the first 2 years. What I can't tell is whether the difficulties I'm having staying home w/ them are difficulties anyone would have (well, anyone in their right mind...), or if there's something wrong w/ me that I'm not relishing it more, or if it's just the ppd, or all the crazy amounts of changes I've been through in the last year and once I settle in things will be better, or if I should simply go back to work. I have no perspective.

It's not that I don't enjoy it. I do. But it also completely exhausts me. It exasperates me. I don't want to be exasperated w/ my kids. It's exasperating and it's wonderful and it's tiring and it's hilarious and maybe I just see the glass as half empty rather than half full. Maybe it's all about perspective, of which I have none, as we've already covered.

I'm trying to decide what to do about childcare next fall. It's a little early for these thoughts, you might be thinking, but the school where Frances goes needs to hold places now for any siblings next year. Clark can't go to their half day program (the one Frances is in now) because he won't be two yet. But they have the option for full days. And it can be any number of full days--can be only two days, for instance. Oh, the idea of having two FULL days to myself, without kids, quiet in the house, where I can quilt or make jewelry or cook or garden or write on my blog or listen to my music really really loud. But would it screw up their naps? I have full control right now of their naps and so am able to keep a regular schedule (I'm very big on the schedule). I don't know. Anyone with thoughts about this, plusses or minuses, please post here!

p.s. Halloween was fab. Will post adorable picture of dragon-girl only, as boy went as himself and slept in the backpack. Next year will be his year!