Thursday, December 31, 2009

year of old, year of new

I have a wire basket on the kitchen counter holding the materials for two art projects--corn starch, food coloring, wax paper, crayons, paper--plus the iron and ironing board set up, and a note reminding me to go on a nature walk through our enchanted forest and see what it looks like in the snow. I've been reading the blog The Artful Parent, specifically the Getting Started page which has ideas for very young ones, and I'm all fired up. It's a new year! (and a new decade, which does seem particularly weighty). Yay me! I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm specifically eager for the kids to get a tiny bit older so they can actually do these projects rather than just smear their torsos w/ cornstarch paste as I'm sure Clark will. That, of course, has its merits also, but is much less fun for me. I'm on some line these days, a sort of balancing between two places: round-sweet-warm babydom, with which I'm very familiar; and the-next-thing, which I can hear up ahead but isn't yet in focus. Because I tend to fear change in general and mourn things passing I've been sort of wallowing in the babyness. Then I get glimpses of what having a four and five year old (for example) will be like, which strikes me as less round-and-warmness, but oh the shimmer.

Sweet Old Year! Happy New Year! Moving forward.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

merry christmas!

I am truly overwhelmed by christmas. The moral weight of simplicity is something I feel in my core, yet I just don't know how to implement it and have christmas too. My kids have three sets of grandparents plus two parents who try to control themselves and sometimes fail. I could ask the grandparents to limit themselves to one gift or to a certain dollar amount, but I feel that asking this would be an affront to simplicity also... to unnecessarily complicate the act of gift giving.

We have enough toys. We had enough for seven kids before wrapping paper starting flying this morning, and now we have enough for a small village. But we are Americans after all, and we have The Means. The joy on the child's face when you get the gift right is priceless, and so we try. We try to pick the right thing so we can experience their joy too, as it spills out of them and onto all of us nearby.

As far as my values go, I feel it would have been plenty if my kids had stopped with their stockings this year. Really. But we soldiered on, gift after gift, some things really hitting the mark, my son ignoring everything else to push his Little People Tractor across the kitchen floor, my daughter fishing aquatic puzzle pieces with a magnetic fishing pole.

It was a great morning. Two sets of grandparents are here at once and I love it, love having more people in the house. I wish I had this kind of community always, people who are linked by history in each other's space. But I don't. It's somehow hard for me to just accept what my life is, accept it as fact without judgement.

Now there's a pile of unwrapped presents under the tree because where else are we going to put them? And there are two bags more... some from the 3rd set of grandparents, some from aunts and uncles and cousins. We saved them for later because there were so many in the first shift that the kids started to melt. When the question Here, Clark, you want to open another present? produces wailing, you know they've reached sensory overload.

More presents to open? It feels wrong to me, feels so excessive as to be immoral. (I realize I may be making more out of this than there is.) And the thought of trying to find places for all these presents in the house makes me hyperventilate a little in my mind.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the next stage

Things have gotten hard again lately. I don't know exactly what's changed; perhaps several things all slammed together. Clark has certainly turned into a toddler full on. He'll be two in March and my goodness. He just screams and screams and screams and wants things and doesn't get his way and screams. It makes me nutso. He also wants to be carried all the time, all 30 pounds of him, and when my back is bothering me and I tell him he has to walk or I have a basket of laundry in my arms he just falls to pieces. Dire. So that's one thing.

The other major thing is Frances. She's really really testing limits now, trying to figure out where she has control and where she doesn't. She'll just say no. NO.


When she throws a toy across the room and I ask her to pick it up. When I try to get her to use the bathroom before nap. When it's time to get on her shoes or coat. When I ask her to give me the screwdriver. When it's time to come to the table for dinner. When it's time to take a nap or go to bed or get in the car or the bath or the bed. Okay, maybe it's not quite as bad as all that, but it's bad. What's different about this from the two-year-old NOs (which I'm experiencing at the exact same time w/ Clark) is that the things he says no to are things he doesn't have a choice about: changing his diaper, getting his hands wiped after he's plunged them in his yogurt, those types of things. The things she says no to are things I can't possibly physically make her do if she really doesn't want to.

Which makes the battle we're having very interesting.

It also means I have to think through what I want to get out of this and how to go about it. I mean, I could break her will. I could lock her in her room when she won't go to bed. But that's no good. That's not the kind of parent I want to be, not the kind of relationship I want to have with her. I don't want her to think of me as the line in the sand, the rule enforcer, the thing against which she has to push in order to be her own self. Sometimes I have the energy or wherewithall and I get creative and step out of the battle. Night before last at bedtime when she wanted to go downstairs with her armful of babies I suggested that we make a bed for them in her closet so they could get some rest for tomorrow too. She actually turned around in the hallway and came back for that one. It was that same night that, when she got out of bed to start in on her list of delay tactics, I just sort of ignored her. I knew a battle would be painful and certain, so I continued putting sheets on the guest bed, folding laundry, cleaning up the kitchen. I refused to fight her, but I also refused to entertain her. She followed me around and wanted to help but I wouldn't let her... told her it was not time for her to help with the laundry because she was supposed to be in bed. The goal was to bore her to bed. At one point when I was doing the laundry and watching tv she said, 'I'm going to go bother Daddy" which I thought was a fine idea. He was going through bills and was certain to not let her slow him as well. I wouldn't let her take out any of her toys (again because she was supposed to be asleep, not playing w/ toys) but she did pull things out of her dress up bin and decorate herself when I wasn't looking. Of course, she didn't actually go to bed until after 9pm. What to do?

This is what parents mean when they say you have to pick your battles. I could fight with her all day long, about nearly everything. One thing I'm wrestling with is time out. She won't stay in time out anymore. So I've been holding her. I don't know how I feel about physically restraining her this way, but I can't see the other option. I just sit with her, calm, and I wait until the time is up.

Right now she thinks that I'm against her. (Which I sometimes am.) It's made me wonder recently if I say no to her too often, if she feels like I say it to her all day long. No, you can't play with that, no don't put barrettes on the dog's ears that hurts him, please put the yowling cat down, no let's not get out the paints right now while Clark is awake, no don't touch the christmas tree ornaments, no standing on the kitchen table, on and on. Also, she still wants me to dress her and help her go to the toilet and sometimes feed her, all of which she can do very well on her own, if a little more slowly. So two things: perhaps I can find ways to stop saying no so often, and rather than respond in the negative as a reflex, I can think up (before hand) things that she can do that she'll find fun and suggest those instead. Or I can just stop being so anal and let her do some of them. And second, I want to encourage her to do more by herself, want her to feel independent. Perhaps then she won't need to fight me so often to prove how independent she is.

Then I wonder, as I always do, how much of this is just a necessary stage that will occur and then pass no matter now I respond?

ALSO! I'm going to start doing more crafts with them. I know I've said this before, but this time I mean it. Crafts can solve all kinds of problems.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

snow is so much fun

Was going to go to the gym this morning but decided the kids needed some time with me rather than the sweet college girls at Kidtown, and besides, we hadn't been out to play in the snow much since the wind turned arctic. Got everyone (including myself) dressed for the long haul: turtlenecks, fleece pants, fleece jackets, snow pants, snow boots, mittens, coats, hats. Outside, Clark immediately fell. Since he was completely decked in snow gear he didn't get wet at all, and didn't even get his face in it, but somehow the fall set him off and from then on he didn't stop crying. I tried to jolly him out of it and show him how much fun the snow is but he didn't want jollying. I pulled them each once around the yard in the sled and then Frances's glove fell off and she started crying. I got them both little shovels to help me shovel the walk and for about 30 seconds that was distracting. Then the crying started up again. I wondered what my elderly childless neighbor M was thinking, hearing all this wailing commotion (and it was seriously loud wailing...). Finally I just did a quick shovel while everyone keened, then I took one in each hand and hustled them back inside. The crying continued while I pulled their snow gear off, until finally I hollered at them to STOP CRYING, which I'm sure you can imagine was very effective. Sigh. Now I'm back to a pep talk with myself about good-enough-mothering, the mothering that is not perfect and does not protect my kids from all pain and woe, but provides enough shelter and support for them to grow into emotionally well people.

I'm glad Mitch is coming home tonight.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

solo again

Mitch left Saturday and is gone until Thursday evening and I'm here all alone with my sweet energetic and sometimes maddening children. Before he left the thing I was most anxious about was the mornings. Mitch is the one who always gets up with them, sweet husband that he is, and he lets me sleep until 7 or so, and then I lie in bed a few minutes adjusting back to this waking world. I'm no good first thing in the a.m. and I don't even have the luxury of coffee, due to my headaches. So.

Things are actually going pretty well but that's entirely due to the kids' sleeping in until 7:30, all 3 days so far. Yesterday Frances slept until 8:15 and I suppose I should have taken that as a sign but just saw it as my fabulous luck. Then preschool called later in the morning to say she looked pretty horrible and was complaining her stomach hurt. When I got her home she had diarrhea and a temp of 102 and immediately asked if she could take her nap. Last night I hoped aloud that she just wouldn't throw up. So far my luck has held. Today she says her head hurts but her fever is gone which is good. Hopefully Clark will hold off getting it until Mitch gets back.

Overall I'm feeling mostly good and capable. I do have my wonderful sitter who is practically part of our family now... and I'm sure I wouldn't be feeing this good about things if it weren't for her. The first day and a half I was thinking I was superwoman and that I might even tell her not to come, but then my better sense rose to the surface. Yesterday afternoon she took the kids to her folks' house where Frances sat on the big comfy chair with her blankie while Katie's dad wrestled the lights onto the christmas tree. She's coming again this afternoon but they'll all probably stay here while I disappear into the attic for some exciting spackling and sanding, the real break in the form of my nano on my head.

Sometimes it's funny to me how completely consuming and emotionally exhausting it is to care for children all the time. I am again reminded of the ppd coordinator in Durham who points out that society acknowledges that caretaking of an elderly parent is draining, but not children. And his point is that taking care of another human is the same, whether she is ninety or two.

So my committed approach is to take it easy this week. For example, it's 11:20 am and we're still in our pajamas. In fact, we're getting ready to go for a walk in the stroller, and we're just putting winter coats on over pjs. Then there might be some sitting on the floor with legos until lunch time. Woohoo!

Only two more bedtimes! Only two more mornings!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

to have or have not?

Several days ago I announced on facebook that I am struggling (torturing myself was the actual phrase) over whether or not to have kid number three. The comments from my friends were interesting and many, and they started another whirlwind in me, thinking this thing from all angles. I have a whole list of reasons not to, and my neighbor pointed out that none of those matter; they are rational reasons, and this is an emotional decision. Mitch's take on it is that 1) I'm thinking about it because I don't have anything else to think about, and 2) I'm a grass-is-greener sort of person. He also pointed out that it's a sort of defense--a way for me to not be fully present with my current situation. The last hit a nerve with me and I think maybe he's right. I really like where we are right now, where I am with the kids and where they are in their respective stages. I like our dynamic. Why not embrace and enjoy it? Do I really not want to BE HERE?

Everyone keeps saying that if I'm torturing myself about it then it must be something I want in my gut and therefore should go for it. But it's not that simple, especially as I'm 38 already and sleep deprivation is not pretty on me. I'm 38 already and it's going to be hard on my body. I'm 38 already and there are dangers. I'm just now seeing the clearing w/ my kids and I'm happy, having fun. This is part of the reason i want to do it again... now it's fun, and I think more would be more fun. Also, and I'm serious, I feel like I need more insurance... What if one becomes a drug addict or turns out to hate me? I need another in reserve. I know that sounds nuts.

Now, after agonizing over it for many hours, I am for the moment settled. Today i feel completely satisfied with my two kid family. I think Mitch is right that by thinking about it I sort of escape the present. I love the stage we're in right now and if one more person tells me "it goes really fast!" I'm going to sock them. Because when I think about how fast it goes it makes me panic and it makes me want to find a way to keep it, which is having another kid. But I can't keep it, and I might as well be present and celebrate it rather than panic that it's going to be gone. It IS going to be gone and there's nothing to be done and no reason to think about that. Settled. Content. I wonder how long it will last?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

google can solve any domestic quandary.

In case you have stayed up nights wondering whether zinc oxide, the white stuff in diaper rash cream, comes out of clothes, I can tell you that it's yet inconclusive. I've washed the clothes in the machine which did literally nothing to the cream, soaked them overnight in cold water, scrubbed them with dish detergent, and am now soaking them in hot water and vinegar in the sink. Will let you know the eventual outcome.

How did this happen, you wonder? My children and I are just getting used to this kids-playing-by-themselves thing. I know the dangers of quiet play... quiet means something's happening that shouldn't be. But yesterday when they were upstairs playing by themselves it was not quiet. There was laughing, squealing, general rowdiness. Then Frances appeared at the bottom of the stairs saying, "Look what we did, Mommy!", her neck and chest and arms completely white. And. Then down the stairs came Clark, and Frances had done a very nice job on him, face nearly completely covered. Oh my. We only had a little time before Frances needed to leave for gymnastics but there was enough time to put them both in the tub and scrub scrub scrub. It's not easy to wash that crap off and Clark was rather upset with the process. I should have taken pictures. And now I'm dealing with the laundry.

I did not respond well. I didn't respond horribly, but I should have just seen it as one of those things kids do rather than getting so irritated. Had it been hand cream I wouldn't have been so irritated, and how were they to know that diaper cream would cause that much more of a mess? Ah, well. Another day I'll respond as I'd like.

Two hours later: I can't believe it. Seriously--40% of her chocolate brown pants where covered in white, and now there's only a little spot. Vinegar. I looked it up online.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

mothering is what i do.

I wrote this last week after we got home from Florida but sort of forgot to post it. So here it is:

We got back from Florida last night and the flight (two) plus the 2-hour layover in Baltimore an hour past their bedtime are stories in and of themselves, but that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about mothering as a job.

Florida was great--and it was vacation in the truest sense. Grandparents to entertain and cajole and carry and periodically change a diaper, plus two girl cousins between 8 and 11 who think my two kids (and kids in general) are so cute in the puppy kind of way which is GREAT and means they help the kids get dressed, read books to them, hold their hands at the carnival, let them hang out while watching Hannah Montana in their room. A vacation. And today I'm back at work.

This vacation crystalized for me what my job is in this specific kid-stage. It all goes in stages, as any parent knows, and my job differs from stage to stage. I find that in the little baby months it doesn't feel like a job, but is my life. But now, maybe for the first time, I'm able to separate it out as a job. And today, without a doubt, I was back at work.

I wiped up spilled compost off the kitchen floor and wall, I wrestled with Clark through every single diaper change, I chased and grabbed and carried little people back so I could wrestle their socks and shoes on, and then their socks and shoes again as they pulled them off. I argued and reasoned and bribed with cookies. I used to think the phrase "A mother's work is never done" was meant theoretically, but now I know they mean it quite literally: there's always more to be done. More laundry, more cooking, more faces to wipe, more diapers to change.

Today I'm tired and it definitely feels like work, but I'm glad this is my job and not another. And I'm glad I can see it as a job and not as my life in full, though it sort of is.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

in florida

Oh, we are in Florida. And oh, it is lovely and warm. Today at the beach my father-in-law caught a baby octopus who was rolling around in the surf, put it in the sand pail, and Clark carried it around for an hour saying "pus" and trying to feed it his crackers.

We flew down here rather than drove. Clark hadn't been on a plane since we moved to Rochester when he was two months old. I was a very teensy bit anxious about how he was going to do since he is now a furiously active twenty-month-old. Generally speaking he was great. During the descent of the first leg of the flight Frances said, "I don't like this, Mommy." "Like what?" I asked. "The plane. I don't like this plane." Which I thought was weird since she'd been having a fine time. Then she burped a little and I realized what was happening, and I yanked the puke bag out of the seat pocket just in time. After that she liked the plane again and talked about how brave she was not to even cry when she threw up.

We were late getting on the next plane and in a big rush. Mitch had tossed Clark's blankie and Frances' puppy on the top of the stroller and I didn't notice them there before folding it up to check plane-side. Once we were in our seats in the very last row of the plane (the only windowless row--fabulous. At least the kids got to watch out the window on the first flight), Frances asked where her puppy was. I realized that it and Clark's blankie were most likely lying abandoned just outside the plane door, or on the dirty tarmac where they fell out of the folded stroller. I made Mitch run up and ask the flight attendant if we could get it still but they'd already closed the plane door. We'd never see them again. Somehow this undid me. I had already fallen down on the snack job and left in the refridgerator at home the bag I'd packed full of sandwiches, granola bars, goldfish, banana bread I made just for the trip, and apples. It was hard for me to let that one go, but I did. Then the missing blankie. Mitch said, "Cali, it's just a THING, and it's GONE. There's nothing we can do about it," which was true, but not any less upsetting. I realize both of these things were simple accidents and mistakes most anyone make if they'd also woken at 4:30 in the morning. Still, together they made me feel incompetent, like a crappy mom, like I wasn't providing well for my children. And, in fact, Clark couldn't fall asleep on the plane though he was clearly exhausted, and between shrieks he sadly whimpered gigi, gigi, which is his name for his blankie.

When we were getting ready to leave the beach today we told Clark that the octopus needed to go back to his home, that we needed to put him in the water and say bye bye. He was not moved by that idea and rather loudly protested letting go of his bucket. Then my mother-in-law said, "Clark, the octopus needs to go see his mommy. He needs to go find his mommy." And Clark immediately turned and headed for the water with his bucket of octopus. That idea he understood. Made me happy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

we are animals

In searching for insight about my nutty and difficult daughter I had some thoughts about Clark. The gist of The Happiest Toddler on the Block is that toddlers are actually cave people (I'm not kidding) with primitive ways of interacting and expressing themselves. They haven't yet developed the more advanced forms of communication that they will as they get older, and the best way to reach them is to speak their language, which means behaving like a cave person yourself. If a child is throwing a fit, for example, you mirror what you assume are her thoughts and you say, "Frances angry! ANGRY! ANGRY! You WANT another cookie! You WANT!" I've tried this a little bit and not only do I feel like a dope but it seems to make no difference at all. The other thing the book suggests is, when scolding them (and this is for the littlest ones I'm pretty sure), to growl at them. Growl.

So I have.

Clark doesn't respond much to "No, Clark. No hitting. That's not okay." It sort of floats past him. But it turns out that growling is very very effective. I've done it a few times now and each time he immediately dissolved into tears. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's not a loud growl, just a baring of my teeth, sort of like I assume a vampire might, and a throaty grrr. I find it very amusing that he responds so immediately, especially when he's been for the previous 30 seconds acting as if I haven't spoken. I switch from "No, no," to "grr" and everything changes. But his response is so distressed that I don't know if it's traumatizing in addition to effective. In any case he understands that I'm upset.

Something I'd been waiting for: Clark has learned to hit Frances when she's in his way or takes a toy or generally bothers him. The funny thing is that he doesn't just hit her; he keeps on hitting her even after she's stopped doing whatever she was doing. He kind of gets on a roll. But the growling stops him. Mitch says he tried growling at him last week and it didn't do anything. But he also said he didn't bare his teeth--I wonder if that has to be a part of it...

Friday, November 13, 2009

because the car belongs in the garage

I'm trying to figure out what is a stage and what is some abnormal behavior that I need to address specifically. This is why the 2nd kid has it so much easier... you realize it's just a stage and just shrug it off rather than drag yourself over the coals of guilt about your parenting and fear that you've screwed up the kid perminently.

The books say that three is hard b/c the kid realizes she is not a baby anymore and is excited about being grown, but is also afraid of being grown. I suppose it does involve much unknown, and the unknown is nearly always scary. One of the books mentions that toddlers are "small, slow, and clumsy" which is the genesis of much frustration with themselves and the world. I can see that. Also, they feed on structure and predictibility. It's the way they feel safe in the world. Hence our meltdown yesterday, which involved my pulling the car out of the garage before trying to load in kids. She absolutely freaked out. Turns out the car must be in the garage in order to climb in and fasten one's carseat. Who knew? Seriously, a complete meltdown.

It's hard to know how to respond. Sometimes what she's asking for seems so small and irrelevant that why not give it to her? If she feels out of control in the big big world and pulling the car back in the garage will help, then why not? But there are other times when I feel like she's trying to test me and see how far she can push, in which case the best approach is simply to hold the line. And then there are the times when I just don't want to.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Now I know why I'm not supposed to sleep with my daughter. It's because she comes in our room at TWO AM and wants to get in bed with us. It's because at TWO AM when I tell her that she must sleep in her own bed, she has a meltdown. It's because when I finally bribe her with music to stay in her own bed, she returns AN HOUR LATER to tell me she doesn't want Hickory Dickory Dock on the CD. It's because I'm tired. We had a little chat yesterday about how much fun it is to sleep together in the afternoon and how much I love snuggling with her, but if she keeps coming in our room in the night then we're going to have to stop sleeping together in the afternoon. I hope she can see the logic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

love like the sky

Wow. I've heard that the thrashing threes are harder than the terrible twos and now I know what they're talking about. I mean, really. And it's so odd, a major see-saw: not only is she impossible when she's difficult, but when she's calm she's really loving and wonderful, more affectionate toward me than she's ever been, in fact.

Today when we were leaving Kidtown everyone was in a good mood and I said, "Okay, let's all hold hands!" Clark held my hand right away and Frances wanted to hold his other hand but he was holding his blanket and didn't want to let go, and then we were in the middle of the parking lot and there was a car behind us so I sort of grabbed Frances's hand and hustled her along, and that was it. From then it was all over. Apparently she wanted to walk on the curb where in her mind she wouldn't have to hold my hand and in the end I had to physically force her into the car, which is so much fun. She's so big now too, and much harder to just pick up and carry to the car like I used to. She got so mad at me and wanted "Daddy, Daddy! I want Daddy!" but when he got on the phone he could only talk for a minute and she erupted in a fresh fury because she wanted to "talk for a while." She truly lost control, everything in the world wrong, and I tried my best to help her but I need a new tactic or something. Finally it was listening to her music in her room that calmed her, thank goodness.

A while back I was reading The Happiest Toddler on the Block but I stopped a third of the way through. I'm going to go back to it and maybe find something that will help. I'll let you know if I discover anything.

And then, an hour later she was hugging me around the middle while she stood on a stool in the kitchen and watched me fix lunch, and over and over she'd gaze up into my face and say, "I love you Mommy." When Mitch got out of his meeting and called back she didn't want to talk to him at all.

One major thing that's changed between us is that I've started napping with her. I've always wondered about folks who nap or sleep with their kids and it was not something I wanted to try. I felt very clear about wanting my own space and wanting them to entertain themselves in theirs. Then one day Frances wouldn't nap so I lay down with her. And she was asleep within five minutes. It was amazing. I kept doing that for a bit, getting her to fall asleep and then sneaking away, and then we morphed into napping together on my bed. It's so cozy and sweet and snuggly and I think it's changed some of the dynamics with us. I think she feels closer to me now as a result. Often before she falls asleep she traces my face with her fingers and sighs, "I love you as big as the house and the road and the sky."

Oh, and a halloween picture, because how can I resist?

Friday, October 30, 2009

i am two different moms.

Unacceptable amount of time between posts. I haven't been wanting to write lately, have been sort of coasting along rather than examining my life and mothering--which is a good thing.

I've recently realized that I've been a better mother to Clark than I have to Frances. Clark is easier to mother--that's the biggest reason. Yesterday I had trouble at the end of a play date wrangling two kids into socks and shoes and coats, and we got home late for Clark's nap. If this had been 18 months ago and Frances was the one late for a nap I would have been so anxious, a mess of rushing and panic and irritability, and with good reason: it would have meant a looming tornado and possibly no nap at all (the result of which, as you know, is an entire afternoon and evening of tornados, one after the other). But with Clark it only means a little grumpiness and then immediate sleep. (When I got him out of the car he put his blanket down on the filthy floor of the garage and lay on it...) It was/is in those/these anxious moments that I parent badly--that White Trash Mama appears and tosses the Little Tykes slide down the basement stairs (just as an example). These moments come when I feel out of control--not of the kids, but of schedules, or meals, or other things I believe I should be able to control if only I pay enough attention. I know I'm a little fanatical about things like nap schedules, but now I realize that it's not just me--I had to be because Frances required it if she were to remain collected. Clark glides along much better, and I can relax about these things. And when I relax I yell less, I rush less, I like life more, I parent better.

But it's also timing. Clark and I went to the mall earlier this week while Frances was in school and it was so much fun. I kept thinking how Frances wasn't so jolly and agreeable and fun at this age. Then I talked to my mom on my cell while Clark climbed on and off a bench and squinched his eyes at me, and she pointed out that when Frances was Clark's age I had a two month old and had just moved half way across the country. Oh right. I guess we weren't hanging out at the mall. My mom said Frances was indeed this much fun, I just missed it. Yup, I did.

Today, though, Clark and I were at Home Depot and it's christmas there, all the inflatable yard art displayed. It reminded me that I used to take Frances there when it was too gross to go to the park--to get out of the house and look at the yard art and christmas trees. (Ah, the simple pleasures.) As Clark and I were leaving he stepped into a little shed they had displayed and stomped around inside. I leaned in the door and said "boo" and he laughed and laughed. We had a great time. And that reminded me of being at Costco with Frances--another regular outing of ours--when I was pregnant with Clark. They had some very similar sheds displayed and we played the same game for all kinds of time, in no hurry at all. This must have been during those few weeks after I stopped working but before Clark was born. She was fun. And every bit as charming.

I used to worry about this discrepancy in my mothering, worry that perhaps Frances is difficult because of my anxiety and Clark is easy because of my lack, but I think that's backwards. No, they are different kids tempermentally, and I can't help but react to them differently. Truth is that my temperment is more in harmony with Clark's. And that's just something that is, just part of my story and each of theirs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

pacifier love

She's three years old, there are sores around her mouth, and her bite has a gap she can stick her finger in. It's time. A couple of weeks ago I tried to change the rule so that she only used it upstairs in the house--anywhere upstairs--but she was so distraught and anxious that I told her we could wait to set that rule. Turns out she was getting sick. But for a few days I talked to her about how we were going to have to change the rule soon, told her about her teeth and about the sores and how the paci was causing these problems. I told her how sorry I am that she can't have the paci forever. I also told her big girls don't use them. I don't like playing the big girl card--I believe it often backfires and encourages them to just act like and decide to be babies. Also, it's so much pressure--to be big and grown perhaps before they're ready. But it's also the truth. She's three now, she's getting to be a big girl, and the truth is that big girls don't use them.

So I waited a few days, talked about it, and got her sort of on board. The doctor says we should just have the paci disappear one day, just get lost. He says there will be a few rough nights after that (yeah, I'd say!) but I don't know. I don't know that I like that approach. It seems heartless, for one thing. She's having to adjust to many new things, to new skills and the idea of being big, which is scary to children. And just then to take away the thing that gives her the most comfort...? I don't know.

She doesn't ever need it at school, or at the kid area at the gym, or at her sitter's house, so clearly it's just a habit. But the anxiety of not having it at bedtime or when she's really really upset is very real to her. Just because I think it's not necessary does not diminish her very real feelings about it. It seems to me that having it just vanish is disrespectful to her, and also doesn't give her very much credit for being able to do this on her own. It is her paci, after all. And I think she's capable of understanding the problems it causes. My next step is to get her to the dentist and let the dentist tell her about how she's going to have to let it go. Maybe an authority figure that isn't me will help things along.

She's definitely got an oral fixation. Downstairs, now that the paci's not allowed, there's much gum chewing. I'm fine with that. But if we can break the habit down here, and when she's watching tv, and when she's in the car, it will be great progress. Then maybe we can restrict it just to bedtime. Mitch says it's kind of like quitting smoking by cutting down to fewer and fewer cigarettes and the feeling I got from that was that he thought it was a bogus approach, but come to think of it I quit smoking that way. Funny.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I quit working about five weeks before Clark was born. During that time I couldn't carry Frances because I was so hugely pregnant and uncomfortable, which meant that everywhere we went we walked at her 16-month-old pace. I had a great time with her then. Going to the park, the grocery, the museum, just climbing up and down the front steps. I didn't want it to end. In fact, when Clark was born I mourned the loss of my alone time with Frances, something I blogged a little about here. That blog post doesn't really describe the sorrow I felt. Loss, sadness, something gone from me forever. My relationship with Frances changed, irrecoverable.

But! Something interesting is transpiring. Clark is now about the age Frances was when he was born. (This is hard for me to believe... I CAN NOT imagine having a newborn right now omg.) And now with Frances in school in the mornings, Clark and I have some time to ourselves. Today I trimmed one of the trees out front and he helped me drag the limbs to the curb. He was adorable--so excited to be helping, pulling a leafy branch behind him and then heaving it onto the pile. He'd stand there and look at his success and grin, then turn and toddle to get another. Today it occurred to me for the first time that I'm getting time with him in this 18 month old stage, at just the age when I had to give up time with her. It's redeeming. I'm remembering why I so loved being with her--how much fun this age is. He's still a baby, still so cute in that baby way, but he's also able to point to the doll's ears and then his own, to say "blue" and point out everything blue in the room, to tell me through gestures that he wants pretzels and not yogurt. He has opinions, but he also finds everything so exciting that I can take his mind off trying to follow the cat across the street by suggesting he help me pull the limbs to the curb. It's not distraction with which I succeed (oh no--there's no distracting), but with suggestion of something else enticing. And there's so much in the world to see and discover!

Most of last summer, when Clark was tiny and Frances was not yet two, is for me a blur. I have a picture of them on the front steps of our new house together, but I don't remember what it was like. I don't remember what SHE was like. I was so entangled in taking care of a newborn, so sleep deprived and overwhelmed and drained. That, combined with the loneliness and sheer effort of the move, and I feel like I lost nearly a year of her life, missed it all together. I'm glad to have his.

Friday, September 25, 2009

indian summer

It's been 80 degrees here the past few days. A nice little kick before the cold sets in. The trees are already turning, a sharp bright orange against the blue blue sky.

Our favorite activity is popsicles. Really. After naps (sometimes before depending on how things are deteriorating, but generally after) I give them each a popsicle and we go outside. They sit in their little chairs or cram together in the little tikes car or we draw with sidewalk chalk while they eat their popsicles. I can even leave them out there by themselves a bit if I need to organize things for dinner. The rule is that they can't go down the driveway past the dogwood. Frances is very good about hollering to me if Clark tries to test this rule. She likes being a big sister.

Anyway, popsicle time takes up something like 45 minutes and makes everyone happy. They can be after-nap-crabby crabby crabby but when I say the word popsicles, everything improves. We go out into the sunshine, get some fresh air and vitamin D, eat a festive popsicle. I mean, really. What can be more festive than a popsicle? I bought these little molds at the grocery at the beginning of the summer and just fill them with fruit juice-- I don't ever feel bad about giving them a popsicle because no cane sugar (and certainly no hfcs!). Since we always water down the juice in the kids' cups, full strength juice is something yummy.

What will we do when it's cold and popsicles are not an option? I've loved this little ritual of ours.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

not much

I know I've been posting infrequently these days. I think it's because things are going well. Ha! The trap of good times. I mean, when everything's skipping right along there's not so much to wrestle with here in writing, you know? I'm feeling good, I seem to have an extra parcel of patience, I find the kids interesting rather than exasperating.

There was an interesting incident yesterday morning. I was on the phone trying to place an order of cupcakes to take to Frances's school on Friday for her birthday, and at the same time was slapping together grilled cheese for the little people. Clark was having a general meltdown in the background because he was hungry and tired. And Frances wanted me to find her a balloon to try to blow up. I asked her to wait until I was off the phone. She cried. I explained that I didn't know where one was but I could help her after I was done on the phone. She wailed. She whined. I finally told the bakery I'd have to call them back. Clark was still melting down and I was hurrying with the grilled cheese and Frances was still whining. And I snapped. I turned and hollered, "Frances, I am trying to get lunch together and I can't help you find a balloon right now! I told you I would help you later. If you want to cry about it you'll have to go upstairs." And she said, "You're yelling at me." Which was the most perfect response. I sighed. "Yes, you're right. I was yelling. I shouldn't yell," I said. As I was putting grilled cheese on plates she brought it up again. "Why did you yell?" she asked. "I was frustrated," I said. "I was trying to order cupcakes for your birthday, and you were yelling at me, which made me upset." She nodded. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she said. "I shouldn't have yelled." The look on her face said she'd had some sort of realization, but who knows.

She's been hollering at Clark a lot these days. She yells in his face, "Give me that back!" and he puts his hands over his face and sobs. Poor guy. Mitch thinks she's learning it at school (she can't possibly be learning it around here...) and maybe she is. In any case, I need to point it out to her, need to help her hear herself. There have been a couple of times when I've asked her not to yell at him and she's said, "I didn't." And she really didn't hear that she did. Habits, habits.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

free to be three

Well, the birthday was a success. We had the party early because her grandparents were in town, and organizing the party left me a little torn. Last year we invited everyone--neighbors, friends, Mitch's collegues with kids her age--and it was a big fun cookout with hotdogs and baked beans and watermelon and beer and cake. This year I was considering the same thing, but when I asked her if she wanted lots of people here or only a small group, she said small. Then she said the same thing when I asked her again the next day. And the next. She gave me a list of four friends of hers that she wanted here and she stuck to it. I suggested the kids of some of our favorite people, people I would want for my own sake to have at the party, and she said no. So asked again (children are fickle, right?), and again no. She really knew her mind. I considered ignoring her and planning the party I wanted for her--I mean, she is only three, but then it was her birthday. So little it was.

I try to let her be herself. I try to let her have her own opinions. Mitch lets her be herself so much that whenever he dresses her he insists she pick out her own clothes. I can't let go of control that much yet. She has some mighty cute outfits that I don't want to go unworn, for one thing, and I do have to look at what she's wearing all day.

So in the spirit of letting her be herself: night before last she asked to have her hair cut. Her hair that's never even been trimmed, her baby hair hanging now long down her back. She'd asked a few days before and I said that we'd see how she felt in a day or two to be sure it was what she wanted. In the morning it was still what she wanted. And the next day. So Monday night when she asked again I said, "You sure?" and she said, "Yup! I want it too look like Sophia's." Sophia is her favorite friend and has a little bob and bangs. I said, "You want me to cut it right now?" She brightened up and said, "Yes I do!" I felt a pang. "Your long hair is so pretty!" I said. "You might not be able to wear it in braids anymore, and I love your braids." From the next room Mitch called out, "You can do whatever you want, Frances." Sigh.

But I do want her to be herself. Theoretically. She wants to be someone else, like Sophia or one of the girls on Barney. "Just like Sophia's," she said. So I sat her up on a stool, got the sissors and a comb, and I cut her hair. Short little 1950s bangs, the rest up to her shoulders, which is still pretty long. "Does it look like Sophia's?" she asked. "It looks a little like Sophia's," I said. "The bangs are shorter, but they will grow." I saw a stray hair I'd missed and asked her to sit still again and she said, "Does it look like Sophia's now?" She insisted we call her Sophia for the rest of the night. Later she asked again if it looked like Sophia's and I said, "It will never look just like Sophia's, honey, because Sophia has wavy hair." "I have wavy hair," she said. "No, your hair is straight," I told her. "I have wavy hair and curly hair," she said. "No, it really is straight, Frances," I said. "Sophia!" she said. I said, "Right. I forgot. Sophia. You have straight hair, Sophia."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

my time

Okay, I'm doing it. I'm sitting beside the pool at the gym eating a tuna sandwich, the kids in Kidtown. I did not work out. I came in, dropped the kids off, showered (!), then stretched out on a lounge chair and opened my laptop. They even have music out here, something I've never noticed before, what with the shrieking and splashing that usually accompanies my time here with kids.

I am not without guilt, but now that I'm sitting here--sunshine, light breeze, blue water, crisp pickle on the side--my guilt is thinning. This is just lovely. We took a 40 minute walk in the stroller this morning so I'm alleviated the specific guilt of not exercising. Any other guilt I have is born solely of not being with my kids, not doing more, playing more, being more.

Sometimes I think that the guilt that mothers feel is just part of the job description. Sometimes I think that rather than fight it, try to free myself from it, I should just accept that it's going to be there and then ignore it. Which is what I'm going to do this minute as I close my eyes and listen to the cicadas behind the music.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

monetary cost of sanity

We took a babysitter with us to a 5-year-old's b-day party a couple weekends ago. The issue was that we had two parties that night... the 5-year-old's at 5:30 and then the second at 7, an adults only party on a boat so we couldn't be late (lest me miss the debarquement). Which meant we didn't have time to take the kids home in order to leave them with a sitter, so we had the sitter come to the first party and then she took them home from there while we went on to the 2nd party. Following?

Anyhoo, afterwards I swore that I'm never going anywhere without a sitter again. Oh my it was fabulous. I got to talk to people. And eat food. Seriously. There were crafts at the party and Frances requested that the sitter come do them with her instead of us, and later when Clark was crazy crazy crazy I was able to just ask the sitter to fetch him or make sure he wasn't flinging himself from the porch railing while I continued my conversation with a friend.

Then last weekend we went to a big picnic and I forgot about my previous assertion and I spent the entire time either entertaining one child or chasing the other. Every conversation I had was no more than 3 sentences long. I only ate half my piece of cake. I told Mitch we should have brought a sitter and he just shook his head at me.

The issue is -- what kind of people does it make us if we bring a sitter to a social gathering? Honestly, I think I would look a little sideways my friends if they did it. I would think of it as excessive, as luxurious, and maybe ridiculous. On the other hand, maybe I don't care. Maybe it's worth $20 to be able to enjoy myself socially.

It won't be like this forever. One day, probably sooner than I realize, the kids will be old enough to entertain themselves running around the field with the other kids while I chat with a friend about the chickens she's keeping in her urban backyard.

Does the fact that it won't be like this forever mean I should bring a sitter with me or that I shouldn't? Hm.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Frances: Why is Milo barking?

me: He's barking at those other dogs.

Frances: Why is he barking at those other dogs?

me: Because he wants to play with them.

Frances: Why does he want to play with them?

me: Because he likes playing with other dogs.

Frances: Why does he like playing with other dogs?

me: I'm going to stop answering questions now, Frances.

Frances: Why you going to stop answering questions?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a good day

Took the kids BY MYSELF this morning to the pool. And I was successful! Which basically means no one, including me, vomited or turned into a screaming lunatic. I've discovered that things in general go so much more smoothly when I prep Frances--tell her how long (or how little) we're going to stay, explain why we won't have more time, and ask if she'll be a big helper and come when I ask and help us get into the shower when I ask and help us all get dressed. Sometimes I have to promise big rewards like yesterday when we went to Michaels and I told her on the way that we weren't going to buy any toys or any candy but if she was a helper and minded well she could have some bubble gum at the end. Which I was more than happy to provide considering that things had gone surprisingly well. So I have a new tactic. Yay me!

I just a few minutes ago waved to the kids as they rode off in their sitter's car. She's great--our sitter. She's been with us nearly a year now, two afternoons or so a week. She works a regular full time job until 4pm so gets here around 4:15. Some days she plays with the kids at home while I run errands or whatever, but more often she takes them to her folks' house. They play and sometimes swim in the pool and she feeds them dinner and gives them baths and then brings them home in their pjs. She's got two sisters also, one still in high school, so the kids get to be a part of another family, have their world grow a little, see the dynamics of how a different family works. Her parents have apparently gotten really attached to the kids and see them as a regular part of their lives. All of which is fabulous fabulous fabulous. I don't have any plans today for what I'm going to do with my sitter time (past this blog post, anyway) and as they were driving off I thought about that. Usually I would have a lot of anxiety around wasting my sitter time--I would feel pressure to accomplish things, errands, stuff--but when they go to her parents' house I don't. I think it's because I don't feel like this time is for me (though of course it is...), but is for them. I feel it's so important to them--they just love it--especially since we don't have any family around here. So even if I accomplish nothing it's worth the money.

Now off to accomplish something.

Monday, August 24, 2009

baby life

Mitch's brother and family came to visit and we all went up to Niagara. We did the Maid of the Mist boat ride which gets you right up to the falls and is supposed to be wonderful, but I wouldn't know because it turns out that big loud waterfalls are not spectacular but frightening to little kids. Frances was crying before we even got on the boat and Clark didn't start until the spray hit us. They furnish you with lovely blue ponchos that are the weight and texture of saran wrap and that was the first thing Clark felt strongly against. And he wouldn't even go to Mitch so I could take a look at the waterfalls--just clung to me screaming mommymommymommy! Ah well. And it turns out the rest of Niagara is Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach all crammed into two blocks. I wasn't expecting that.

And! Clark is a crazy man. Crazy. Nearly 18 months and knows what he wants. I think he's on some developmental cusp right now; he wants to screw the top on his sippy cup or pour milk from his bowl into a plastic jug but he CAN'T--doesn't have the manual dexterity. Then he gets frustrated, puckers his lips, snorts out his nose, and hits something with a big wide swat. If there's nothing nearby to hit, he walks across the room and hits me. And the screaming! Oh my he screams in frustration.

Clark's also trying to talk. He has a few words reliably in his vocabulary and the rest are whole paragraphs of babble. Very cute. The top words are Elmo, Mommy, Daddy, Down, and No, and Mine. The way he says my name melts me into a puddle (Mom-MEE) but interestingly does not always refer to me alone. Sometimes he calls his dad this, or recently his Uncle Kent. It think for him it's not a name so much as a feeling--of comfort, safety, love. Furthermore, he doesn't want me to leave the room. Yes, we've gotten to that stage. He climbs up me, hugs my head, presses his lips against my cheek. It's sweet, but it's also a little overwhelming, though not as overwhelming as it was when Frances did it. (did Frances ever really do it??)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

back to timeout

Again with the lull in posting... Been busy over here, family in town, Mitch's brother and wife and daughters, which was great big amounts of fun and energy and no time for posting. They're gone now, back to our routine.

I've reinstituted timeout. I'd been having so many problems with responding to Frances when she shoves Clark--I become a screaming lunatic. I was really struggling, hating the way I was so enraged but unable to control it. So we've gone back to timeout. I've done it not for Frances--I don't really think it helps her or teaches her not to do whatever she's doing--but for me. And so far it works! Rather than having to come up with a response to each situation, I have something I can turn to; I can send her to timeout. I don't have to question myself because the consequence of her action is already built in.

When I decided to try this route I told her about it and how it would work. She agreed to this, but the first 2 times she did have a bit of a fit. I allow her to have her blanket and paci in timeout (after all, it's supposed to be a time to calm down for her, and what better way?) but no toys. Now that she understands the rules it runs pretty smoothly. Thank goodness.

In other news, Clark is down to one nap a day! He made the transition practically over night--it's amazing how flexible he is--and can go down for his nap anywhere within a 2 hour window. If I pushed F's nap back that much at his age she would fall into a hundred pieces, bless her heart. But not Clark! I'm so relieved to have an easy one. If I knew the 3rd might be as relaxed I think I'd consider it more seriously. But I'm not considering it.

Now and then I come up with yet another reason we should not have another baby and I announce it to Mitch, which he finds funny because he's already decided we're done. I guess somewhere inside I still wonder, or long, or something, but I do have quite a long list of reasons it would be better for us to stop with two. I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Mitch has been gone--did I parade this before? Tonight is my 3rd full day and night on my own with the kids. Finally they're in bed omigod and now time is all mine for a couple of hours. Mitch gets home at midnight so by morning we will back to tolerable amounts of exhaustion and exasperation.

How do single parents do this? I've asked this question before, if I remember, while trying to catch 2-year-old puke in a bowl and simultaniously strip the bed as Mitch dealt with the screeching baby. Maybe they've all lost their minds. A whole segment of the population walking around without any marbles.

not that kind

I've been thinking about all this (see prev post) pretty much constantly the last few days and trying it all out with my kids. Here's where I've landed:

1) I think my friend Erynn is right (ebp from the comments section) that this kind of constant play and attention gives children a deep sense of security.

2) What I want to be able to do (and what I think Wendy does) is incorporate my children into all my activities rather than compartmentalize and see playing with them as one thing and my housework as another, etc.

3) It's possible that temperamentally I will not be able to do this.

The only thing I've ever aspired to be (when I'm honest with myself) is a mom. The only thing I deeply want for my children is a sense of security. I've been taught to believe that if you want something badly enough you can work for it and get it. But this--maybe not. Parenting pushes me sometimes to my edges, and then I'm not the parent I want to be. It's possible I'm not acknowledging my limitations, not looking realistically at who I am and of what I'm capable. My husband is convinced that I would be happier if I were working part time, and maybe he's right. It makes me sad, frankly, because I so badly want to be successful at this. But perhaps being successful at mothering, for me, means being with them only part time.

Acknowledging my limitations.

Today is the third day I've been alone with them, Mitch in Chicago for a conference. I'm stretched, I'm tired, I'm frazzled. I have a feeling that the post nap activities might involve a good bit of the idiot box. And right now I feel great about that decision, certain that it's the healthiest thing for me and for the group in general.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

what kind of parent am I?

My friend Wendy and her kids came over this morning to play. Her son is about 2 months older than Frances and her daughter is a week older than Clark, which is fabulous for us (though if the genders matched that would be even better!). She and I are both only children and have both struggled with now to navigate having two, how to split our attention, how to deal with the lack of alone time, etc. She's been somewhat of a lifesaver for me.

But today she completely blew my mind. I know she's going to read this and have no idea what I'm talking about... I don't even know how it came up exactly, but we were talking about space in the house and where we hang out and about getting things done (like emptying the dishwasher) and that she doesn't get anything done at all when the kids are awake, which is now all day. Then she said it's hard for her as an only child because her only model is one on one, full attention, and she doesn't really know how to do that with two. And she somehow came around to telling me that all she does is play with the kids, face to face, conversation style. All day. "I don't think all kids need that," she said, "but these do."


Wendy's kids are the calmest kids you've ever seen. And one's a boy. They're agreeable and they listen to her and they are gentle with each other. I asked her today about this, about how much she thought was their temperments and how much was her mothering. She said a little of both. "They're so calm," I said. "Yeah, my mother-in-law says our house is peaceful." I also asked if she had problems with her older being aggressive with her younger and she said she didn't, and hadn't. I watched as her son nearly sat on top of her daughter in a chair and Wendy quietly said, "Ayvin, sit next to her," and he gently shifted over.

It definitely doesn't seem to me that her kids need that kind of attention any more than other children do. What seemed obvious to me when she said it is that all children need it, really. Some are just better at making do with less. So where does that leave me and my kids?

It's never occurred to me that my job might be to play with my kids. It might seem like an obvious thing I'm missing here. I've thought of my job as "taking care" of them. Playing some, yeah, here and there, in between doing dishes and loading the dryer, in tickling moments just after a diaper change or teasing while we eat lunch.

All day?

Maybe I did think this way when F was a baby, but then Clark was born and my time was spent nursing and changing diapers and just trying to get through the day. What do I do with my time now? I feel mostly like I change diapers and help the other on the potty and change clothes when there's an accident and organize snacks for the car and fix food and feed and clean up and pull Frances off Clark and reprimand and admonish and try to work in fixing dinner or paying a bill. Periodically I help set up Little People or push someone in the swing but then there's the arguing and I turn into a referee rather than a teammate. Hm.

Years ago I had a dog I loved. I spent all kinds of time with her, talking to her, petting her, throwing the ball or taking walks or snuggling with her on the bed. She was the best. She was calm and agreeable, and people commented on how pleasant she was to be around. I'd see other dogs at my friends' houses, nutty dogs who were needy and hyper and jumped on you, and my friends would marvel at the difference between our dogs. And I'd think "You don't spend time with your dog; you don't give her your attention. What do you expect?"

I'm having a revelation here and I'm kind of embarrassed how elementary it seems.

Could I DO that? Could I just play with my kids? It makes me think of that book--Playful Parenting--that I talked so much about awhile ago. That book is about specific kinds of play but what's stuck with me mostly from that book is the chapter on roughhousing. And his point is about using play to allow children to work out their anxieties specifically. I get that. But this--this is so much larger, so much more. I don't know.

And what about the skills they learn from playing on their own? It's true that much of their own play time turns onto push-Clark-into-furniture time, which is a problem. This might be the place for me to say, "a-ha. My kids need more face time with me to learn how to interact."

But the truth is that I think of playing with my kids as boring, and is one of the reasons I believe I should go back to work. But maybe I've been thinking of the wrong kind of play; maybe I thought I was required to do the boring kind. Or something. Don't I periodically have these realizations that if I simply sit on the floor with the kids for an hour it does them heaps and heaps of good? Interaction, not play, is what is needed.

I will pause here in what feels like an incoherent ramble to acknowledge that Wendy intends to homeschool, or unschool, or whatever, and perhaps she's just more cut out for this temperamentally than I am. I have all kinds of internal conflict about activities, as you know, and I also have internal conflict about preschool--how many days, is it helpful or hurtful, should we do it at all, etc. Also, Wendy does admit that because of the constant attention and interaction, she is completely burnt by 4pm.

I'd love for this post to open up conversation if anyone wants to weigh in. I could ramble on for much much longer--this clearly sounded the gong on some issues I haven't resolved, or maybe even acknowledged. What percentage of your kids' awake time do you spend interacting with them directly, face to face, conversation style?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Clark is turning into a toddler. Willful. The other day the cashier at the ice cream shop asked Frances what her brother's name was and she said, "Maniac." Perhaps we should stop referring to him as that so often.

Last summer when we did this nutty 2-week all-over-the-place vacation I swore we wouldn't do it again, but here we are. It wasn't so bad this time though. Last year I had a 4 month-old and a toddler not yet 2, and this year things were much easier to handle. For those of you wondering, we were at a family reunion (Mitch's) in West Virginia for 2 nights, then my dad's in Virginia for 2 nights, then 4 nights in Winston-Salem while Mitch flew to California and back for a conference and we took day trips to Durham to see friends, then a week at the lovely beach in NC.

Then a hell drive home, which was hell mostly because the kids were done done done with traveling (Clark trying to physically bust his way out of the carseat), I was very premenstrual, and I95 was a traffic jam. A stop at Ikea in Virginia, since we were practically sitting still on the highway and we thought we'd get some meatballs and let the kids run around the showroom, turned into a 3-hour rest stop (during which we did acquire a very nice easel for F for her b-day. and the meatballs were yummy). Mitch wouldn't let me look at the textiles.

But the beach! Oh the beach is a wonderful place. It was still tiring, schleping both kids (my cousin and her husband were also there with their kids: 4,2, and newborn) to and from the beach. I kept fantasizing about how much fun the beach is going to be 3, 4, 5 years from now. Fun! We'll be able to play with them in the water rather than being on constant watch, build sand castles rather than constantly trying to keep them from eating sand (or throwing it on her brother), go to the water slides, the ice cream shop, the surf shop without having to worry about naptimes. At the beginning of the week someone would stay at the house in the morning while Clark napped, but by the end of the week we let him sleep in the stroller on the beach which was nice as we could play while he snoozed, but sleeping in his wet swim diaper gave him a yeast rash that was unbelievable. The kids all got along really well and we reserved a much bigger house for next year that's even closer to the beach. Yay!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

i got nothin but pictures

I've been thinking lots about writing on the blog but can't find the emotional space. It's rather crowded here in this beach house, a thing that is good and fun but doesn't allow much time for reflection. Plus, there are so many little kids that every adult has to have their eyes on someone at nearly all times. Two years from now this trip will be much much easier, or at least less tiring.

I will say that being here with a 4-week-old (my cousin's 3rd baby) has reminded me how very sweet tiny babies are. It's also turned out to be great birth control--a reminder of why two is a good number for us. I don't have the patience plus I need intellectual stimulation that just doesn't come with parenting little kids. (I note that as F gets older it's becoming more and more interesting to me...) I told M that he should go ahead and get a vasectomy--quick!--before I change my mind.

Anyway, we leave here day after tomorrow and then I think it's going to be a 2-day drive home. It will probably be next week before I'm able to post in full. For now, enjoy the pictures!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I know I just fell off the virtual earth without any heads up... I plain forgot that my mom's house not only is without wireless, but without a computer all together. We did 1500 miles in 5 days and stayed in 3 different abodes and the bugs alone are reason enough not to come back to the southland, welts the size of a half dollar on both my kids' legs. In any case, having fun, seeing friends, lots to tell, off to the beach on Saturday for a week where there will be 1) wireless, 2) sun and water and sand 3) six adults and 5 kids age 4,3,2,1, and 4 weeks (!), but two of those adults will be 4) grandparents to help jolly the kids out of tantrums. I'm hoping to find space to type out some of my recent parenting thoughts, of which there are many.

Cheers until then!

Monday, July 13, 2009

more of that happy stuff

It's 2:00 and everyone's asleep but me (and I plan to be when I finish this post). Just before naptime we were outside playing in the water table. Frances kept dumping water on Clark's head and I kept telling her to stop that but she didn't and eventually I made her come inside. I was surprised that she didn't throw a fit about coming in but merrily went along and let me strip the wet clothes off her before she sat on her little potty. Then I cajoled Clark to come inside so I could herd everyone in a napperly direction. Frances was still naked as I got Clark's bottle ready and pulled off his clothes and changed his diaper, and the next thing I knew Frances was crouched over a big picture book saying, "Mommy, I pooped." What? But sure enough, there was a tiny poop on the wild animal page.

But the real excitement is that I was feeding Clark his bottle and she was being pesty and squeezing his hand and arm and leg and would not stop bothering him and my patience was starting to wear thin, and just then she asked if it would be all right if she went upstairs to lie down on her bed. Really, she did! She requested that I bring up her snack after I was done with Clark. Oh my. When I went up her eyes were squeezed tight and she was smiling behind her paci.

It's better--see?

And it's 88 wonderful warm degrees here today, a real summer day finally in mid July, and Clark is still in the most adorable baby stage. Mitch tells me Clark's not a baby anymore but I disagree--he still sleeps on his chest with his butt in the air, he still feels soft and pudgy and baby wonderful, he still lies back in my arms and drinks his bottle. He's in the pointing and having you name things stage, not talking yet. Today when I came to get them from the gym kid room, I picked him up and he hugged me and patted my back with his little hand. My baby. I wonder how I'll feel when it is clear he is not a baby anymore.

This too shall pass. But oh it's lovely now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Frances is upstairs in her big girl bed. It's naptime and she's been asking lately to sleep in the big girl bed rather than the crib but we've been resisting because of the Last Time disaster. I thought I'd try it today since naptime has been going so well in general: I give her a little bowl of pretzels or cereal or something, plus a small cup of water (okay, watered down juice), plus a couple of books, plus her baby, and blanket, and paci, and 2 Little People (if you don't know what Little People are just play along). And she's perfectly content. I know she's content because I finally got a second monitor so now I can hear her sing Old MacDonald (as she is doing this minute) and tell her baby all about gymnastics before she goes to sleep. She likes getting in her bed for nap now and asks me to cover her and her baby up, tuck them in. So I thought it might be a good time. Before I heaved the crib mattress from the crib to the toddler bed I talked to her about how she would have to stay in her bed and put her head on the pillow and close her little eyes and go to sleep, and she said she would. It will be a major victory if that is indeed what happens. So far I'm very hopeful.

In fact, I'm hopeful in general these past few days. After that last post I've been feeling pretty good and even before that post I'd noticed that although Frances and I were sometimes going head to head, we are also upping the frequency of good harmonious times between us. I'm getting in the rhythm of being home with them both and am almost feeling like maybe I don't want to send her to preschool this next year. Which I'm pretty sure is an insane thought. My friend Melissa reminded me that right now we can play outside and go places and do things with them and yes, it's fun, but that the winter here is very very different. A good point.

I won't make any drastic changes or new decisions. I finally did sign her up for the new preschool... something that I obsessed and obsessed over but don't think I wrote much about on the blog. For some reason I got completely stuck in the decision and just couldn't see my way out. I think it's because both choices (where she was last year and where I was considering moving her) were both fine options... neither was bad, and so how to go about making the decision? It didn't really matter which I chose--neither would radically affect the person she becomes, neither would be a failure. But it seemed so HUGE when I was trying to decide, as if ultimately it DID matter, as if one school would lead her down one life path and the other a different path, and how was I to choose when I could not yet see either? Anyway, made the decision now. Feel fine about it.

Just so you know: she's asleep. Didn't get out of the bed once. Yippee!

Friday, July 3, 2009

no maternal dean's list for me

I get a C-. Today and yesterday, though today we still have after-nap-before-dinner to go and perhaps I can do some last minute cramming and pull my grade up. Again I think of my friend who works in labor & delivery who always looks perplexed when I chastise myself for my parenting skills in her presence. Yes, I know she regularly witnesses truly bad parenting, births of unwanted children, neglect I wish she hadn't told me about. There are moments when I realize that simply providing my children with basic things makes me a good parent: food, clothing, nap schedules, stability, lack of screaming in the house, attention, and love. Those last two are crucial--there are many many children who don't get any attention. At all. From anyone.

Generally, however, I'm not grading on a curve. Or maybe I am, and the student body only includes the moms who are, in fact, providing all the basics. But now you want to know what I've done, don't you? Sigh.

Sometimes I just cannot keep my cool. Sometimes White Trash Mama (as my friend Alison calls her) comes out and does stupid things like this morning when Frances swung to hit me at the kitchen table and I jerked her breakfast away. (If you're gonna hit mama then you don't get to eat. So there.) Or yesterday when she hit Clark with a plastic block and I yanked her paci out of her mouth and stormed off with it. Writing this, these things seem pretty minor but when it's happening they come from a place of internal rage, something out of my control--not the way I want to parent. These responses are not helpful. They are in no way effective. If anything, they teach her just the opposite of what I want--they teach her to react physically in negative ways. It's VERY hard right now for me to keep in mind that many of the things she does she simply cannot help. She has so little impulse control... we're not born with it. She has to learn it, and she needs my help. Yesterday I wanted so badly to spank her and nearly called Mitch to come home and relieve me, but instead I turned on the television which turned out to be a very very good idea. (It's not infrequently that I think of the TV as a great tool for things like calming tempers, getting dishes done, eating dinner with my husband in peace. Yes yes it can quickly become a liability and there's a fine line to walk, but still.)

I beat myself up a lot about it all. Don't know how to stop doing that either.

One thing that interests me endlessly about this dynamic with Frances is that I never never never have felt this kind of impatience and frustration with Clark. Why is that? Is it because he's a second child and I've gotten more relaxed about things? Do I just have more patience now? I don't think that's it. I think he simply doesn't do the things that push my buttons. But, I mean, they're both children; they've both gone through the same developmental stages. You'd think he'd do the same irritating things she did. Or you might think it's just her age and I only have to wait and he'll drive me nuts too. But my frustrations with Frances didn't start with the terrible twos--no no. She's been able to push my buttons since she was about 6 months old. I have no idea what on earth she could have been doing then to irritate me, but it's the truth.

My only conclusion is that they have different temperaments and that Clark just isn't as impatient, as demanding, doesn't insist on control as much as Frances. Oh she's going to be a difficult teenager. No reason to worry about that now... Instead, I need to find an exorcist to rid me of this other woman who takes over my body. I wonder if I should give her a name?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

boys and trucks

What is UP with the gender-specific desires for toys? Clark has out of the blue fallen in love with trucks. And construction vehicles. And tractors. When Frances was little we had some truck books and she never showed even a second of patience for or interest in them. These same books are still floating around our house and Clark has recently discovered them. HOW can his fascination be something simply ingrained? And what did cave boys obsess about? It all completely confounds me.

Recently the county did a bunch of construction on our sewer pipes and for weeks there were bulldozers and dump trucks and fellas in hardhats on our street: breaking up concrete, digging, moving loads of dirt, making lots of noise. Oh the joy. All I had to do was put small people in the wagon and take them out to the road. I'd pull the wagon into the shade under a tree and sit on the sidewalk beside them. We could pass all kinds of time this way.

Meanwhile, it's summer here; a different summer than I'm used to, but summer nonetheless. All Frances wants to do is wear her bathing suit because it shows her belly button, and all Clark wants to do it play in the sandbox. Both are problematic. For the former, it's often only 65 degrees, and for the latter, he gets sand in his hair and in his ears and in his mouth and down his diaper, and he's gritty and uncomfortable until he has a bath. Plus, his poop has been strange and grainy lately, and I only yesterday realized it's all the sand he's eating. You know how it's hard to wipe sand off your body when it's wet? Yeah, like that.

hard stuff

It's hard to know what's a stage and what's the perminant personality of the child, the result of my less-than-perfect parenting. I know that's a lot of pressure to put on myself, but seriously. Or maybe they're all stages and they will run right up against each other, one after another, until they finally give way to adulthood when the kid is long gone. Then he'll look back and think how grateful he is for all the things mom did for him although he didn't appreciate them at the time. (I use the masculine for that theoretical statement because I really only assume that might happen with my son, simply because daughters are eternally ungrateful. Aren't they?)

Sigh. Frances is difficult these days. We recently had a meeting with one of her preschool teachers to ask her how to get Frances to stop shoving Clark into furniture, and ended up talking a lot about this stage and independence and the changes that are going on in her life like Clark's asserting himself more. The things she said were really helpful and I felt very encouraged and prepared to go back to Frances with a new focus and approach. Then we got home and within 20 minutes I was hollering. Sigh.

One thing the teacher said that could possibly be really helpful if I can remember it at the appropriate moments is that I don't have to react RIGHT AWAY when she does something. I can take a breath and think about how I want to react. This is true: although Frances is doing things that hurt Clark or at least irritate him enough to make him scream (like dragging him by the arm over to where she wants him to play), she isn't putting his life in danger. I can probably afford to pause for a beat just to keep myself from leaping and reacting in ways that aren't helpful. But it's so hard to do! Some other creature takes over my body and I vault over furniture to separate them. I'll try, though.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

busy busy

It's the baby boomers who did this to us. They are the ones who took on as their responsibility the fulfillment their children's every potential, who micromanaged them, who hustled them from violin to scouts to karate, who supervised homework and television watching and friends. I taught the first wave of these kids at Elon and it's not pretty. They have never made a decision in their lives, have never had time to be bored, have never found success on their own. They've always been supervised. What this means as far as college is that once away from their parents, they go C-R-A-Z-Y.

So now generation x is parenting and having all these activities is not our parenting style, but they've been implemented and it's difficult to fight. I mean, I could just keep my kids home rather than doing toddler preschool and music class and gymnastics, but it's not like Frances can just go out and play with the neighbors because none of them are home; they're all at soccer and piano and swimming lessons. Trying to schedule a playdate is just absurd. Everyone looks at the calendar and finally we find 2 hours two weeks from next Friday. And both our kids are under 3!

I have this other issue, which is naps. The downside of having two kids under three is that eighteen hours out of 24 someone is asleep. (well, that's also an upside, but not what this post is about.) Clark still naps twice a day though he'll no longer do it on the go, and Frances has a long afternoon nap as well. What this means is that we don't have much time to leave the house, very little time for groceries or gym or playdates. Wanna guess what falls by the wayside? Playdates, which is my social time. It's a sad situation and today I nearly forfeited my zumba class at the gym (SO much fun as far as exercise goes) to go to a friend's to play (kids) and visit (grownups). Sometimes I feel like I'm making a mistake being so rigid with their schedules, but other times it's very clear to me why I do this. It does keep everything running smoothly. I keep reminding myself that soon Clark will outgrow the two naps and an entire morning will open up before us. BUT even when it does open up, am I going to be obligated to fill those mornings with activities??? I want to fight this deluge of busyness, but so far I don't know how.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

a trip alone

The trip. A quick overview: we drove Wednesday from NY to Michigan, eight and a half hours in the car with a dog and 2 kids under 3; one stop to halt the screaming, one for dinner and running around, one for Frances to sit in the back of the open van on her potty. Clark refused to sleep in the car though it was hours past his bedtime, finally dropping off about 10 minutes before we arrived at Mitch's parents', and woke as soon as the car stopped. Thursday we left the kids with their grandparents and Mitch and I drove to Detroit where I got on an airplane for Boise and he drove to Ann Arbor for a conference. Boise was amazing, as wonderful and lovely and close to my heart as I remembered.

It was a true break for me, a time that was only mine, and kind of surreal because of that. I'd gotten rather used to having my life be someone else's. I cried often while I was there, sometimes out of nostalgia but sometimes for no reason at all. My friend Sylvia suggested it was the relaxing--it was probably the first time I'd truly relaxed in almost three years.

Being away from my kids--it was like I reverted to some former self, felt like a person I used to be and that I'd forgotten. My friend Tamara compared having little babies to war, and I don't mean to make light of war or say parenting is anything as tragic or life threatening, but it probably feels something akin to being in the trenches: constant anxiety, on constant alert for any sound, any movement; ready to jump and fight, snatch someone from danger, perform CPR or rush to the emergency room. Maybe it was the absence of all this tension that made me feel like someone I was before. I don't know how to parent without this tension. I just don't know how.

In the airport I felt contained--I didn't have to worry about anyone outside of myself. I didn't have to watch, to reach out and collect some little person; to cajole or entertain or chase; to worry about anyone's hunger or grumpiness or tiredness. (I also didn't have to respond to other folks when they commented on cuteness or asked how old...) I was relaxed. And something strange: I saw parents with babies, toddlers, and I no longer saw their tension. At home when I see these fellow parents I imagine what's happening internally, and it's the same thing that's happening to me. (Chatty conversation usually proves me right.) But while I was away and alone, these parents seemed calm. It makes me remember what I, at age 20 or 25 or maybe even 30, thought having kids would be like. I don't know if I can explain--but I thought I'd just be myself, with some extra company. I didn't realize I'd lose myself for a time, give myself over, become someone new for the sake of my children. I thought of taking care of babies as something I'd do rather than something I'd be.

I have a childless friend who has said to me over and over, ever since Frances was born, "You're an amazing mother--you're so relaxed!" She says she doesn't think she will be as relaxed with babies and I keep trying to tell her--even if I don't show it externally (and do I really not??) there is rumbling, there is constant anxiety.

I wondered how long I would be away from my kids before I longed for them, and I don't really want to admit it, but I didn't get there. All I felt was relief. Relief relief relief to be alone with myself, to relax, to not have to worry or do or be. It made me a little ashamed, as if there might not be a limit... as if maybe I wouldn't ever miss them. But that's probably not true. I was only away 4 days; maybe a full week would make me ache. I did respond differently to the crying babies I witnessed. I used to be one of the people who was particularly annoyed by a crying baby on a plane, but this time I only felt sympathy--mostly for the baby, but also for the parents doing the best they could. It seemed odd to me that anyone would feel annoyance about the crying.

Maybe my nostalgia for Boise is nostalgia for myself--it's hard to say. While I was there I kept trying to imagine having Frances and Clark in the back of the car, but it was hard to envision. And though being in Boise made me ache and want to stay there forever, I also missed Rochester--a surprise. I'm not sure I'll ever fall in love with Rochester the way I was and still am with Boise, but it's my home these days.

Monday, June 8, 2009

coming soon....

I've been AWAY all weekend, in Boise for a wedding ALL BY MYSELF. I have all kinds of new thoughts about parenting that the separation provided me and I want to write about them. But right now we're in Michigan, driving back to Rochester tomorrow. I'll post soon!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

welcome to 3!

We have a screaming defiant lunatic for a daughter. She won't be three until September but I believe this is what people are talking about when they say three is way worse than two. We're on our way!

Yesterday Frances was pushing Clark in our plastic Fisher Price swing in the backyard while I lugged things in from the car, and then there was screaming. When I got outside the entire swing structure was on its side, Clark still in it. He wasn't hurt thank god, but when I turned to ask her what happened (as if that were unclear), she ran off down the driveway. We've taught her well to stop at the sidewalk and she did stop there to see if I was coming after her, but then she turned and ran down the street. I had to sprint to catch her. She wasn't in any danger since she was running on the sidewalk (and our little one-block street has almost no traffic) but she completely ignored me when I called to her to come back. It's the first time in a while that I've wanted to spank her.

She's been pushing Clark a lot more lately. The hitting has stopped almost completely, but she will just randomly reach out and shove him into a doorframe, into the toy box, into the dining room table where he falls back and whacks his head. I can't wait for him to be big enough to turn around and clock her.

She has some cute traits in this new developmental stage too, but at this very moment of typing I can't recall what they are.

ALSO! I did a little experiment about eating and letting them self-regulate, as the book I posted about previously suggests. It was just this morning and perhaps is not enough data to make a sweeping judgement, but so far I'd say it's a failure. I give Frances a snack mid-morning and usually try to make it something with protein like cheese or these peanut balls I make. Today, however, she found a mini bag of cookies and I told her she could have them. We went to the park a bit later and when it was time to go she completely fell apart. Now maybe the tantrum was just coincidence and maybe it had more to do with her dad's being there and her not wanting their time together to end. (Poor guy is at the end of his term plus is presenting at a conference next week and is crazy busy and often not here...) But I suspect it also had to do with the sugar rush/crash that accompanied her mid-morning snack. Maybe the other things would have upset her also, but I wonder if she wouldn't have been able to handle it better if she'd eaten something else. THIS is why I try to limit her sugar intake. Still, I'll keep an open mind about it for a bit. Besides, I need to actually read the book and not just the article about the book before I judge, dontcha think?