Friday, February 20, 2009

he walks!

Wow. After his nap today he just decided, it seems. He's been able to do it for a while but has prefered not to, but now! Now he walks all on his own, for fun, for transportation, for a big growing boy. These changes are just as amazing the 2nd time around, maybe even more so because you're not distracted by the shell shock. I think I've said that before. It's still true.

AND I'm here in the office posting this while the kids play in the dining room, can you believe? It's fabulous to be able to do something for my own self during waking kid hours. A new thing, a new place, great pleasure.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

applying theory

I have tendinitis in my right elbow (tennis elbow without the tennis) and it makes typing hard. I think I've mentioned that before. It's been bothering me more lately which is why I haven't been posting. That's most of why I haven't been posting as often, anyway. The rest is because sometimes it's easier to just observe my life rather than process it. I think I've been observing, a thing that has its own merits.

The kids have started to play together, something that is satisfying on so many different levels. It's like a little cup of bright sunshine just under my ribs. Recently I took them to the childcare room at the gym and when I came to pick them up they were sitting facing each other with a toy between them, Frances explaining to Clark how to push the buttons. The room was teaming with children and Frances chose to play with her brother. She's started to call him "my brother" rather than by his name. Sometimes she says "my baby," or "MY baby." And he turns into pure lit joy when she talks to him.

Remember the book I was reading that was against timeouts? I found another. I haven't gotten very far into the 2nd so can't comment on it overall yet but the ever so strong railings against timeout got me thinking about it and its purpose. So I pulled back on it. Instead, I've been just talking to F, telling her it's not nice to pull the dog's ears, no you can't push Clark, don't climb on top of him, what's he saying to you when he screams. I also had been creating more of a democracy here in this house, letting her decide sometimes if she'd rather we go to the grocery or the kidtown at the gym, go to the library or stay home and play.

Then a few days ago Mitch and I were commiserating that she'd been pretty needy sort of suddenly, had been whiny and clingy and also acting out, and it wasn't until the next morning that it occurred to me it might be connected to these new changes. I knew already that she needs the limits to be very clearly stated. She feels insecure without them, doesn't know where she stands, and I suspect she feels frightened of her own power, exposed in the big world. A couple of days ago I started putting her in timeout again. It only happens probably once a day. Reading about timeout and considering its purpose has changed the way I approach it, however. I'm much more detached about it: "Welp, you hit Clark so I guess you have to go in timeout... that's the rule." This feels better to me, feels less aggressive, more right for my style and her needs.

Also, yesterday afternoon I decided we needed to get out of the house (Clark was having some serious cabin fever plus teething and was screeching non-stop) plus I needed some exercise so I settled on a walk in the stroller. Frances said she wanted to go on a walk, but when she realized there was a stroller involved she got pretty riled. "I walk on my own feet!" was what she said. Recently I might have thought that just getting out of the house was the point, so if she wanted to walk rather than ride that would be okay. But since I suspected my giving her too much power was a problem, I didn't let her choose. "Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to," I said (oh the triteness, the oversimplification, the pitiful voice of the parent...) and I strapped her into the stroller screaming at the top of her lungs. I did try to help her by letting her bring her blanket and her baby and the baby's blanket. In the end I also allowed a pacifier but insisted that it's only for the stroller and not when she gets out. We had a great time. In fact, she didn't want to come back at the end of the walk. We pointed out the fire hydrants, the flags in people's yards, the small mountains of snow. I told her about evergreens and deciduous trees and daylight savings. Clark sat completely contented, just looked around.

Her insecurity and whinyness have gone. Quite suddenly she's happier again, less needy. I believe these two changes (reinstituting timeout and limiting her power in choice) are the difference. One thing it makes clear is that you can't apply a child-raising theory across the board. Every child is different and some things work for some children and not for others. And for Frances, she needs the limits to be very clearly drawn, at least at this age. Will have to wait and see what she needs later on. It's hard to remember to be so flexible; we adults work so hard to be staid, steady. But the truth is that the kid is always changing and so we should be too.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

breathing room

We've had a hard time putting Clark down for sleep--both for bedtime and naps. He doesn't want to give in, give out, and he fights it and squirms and fusses and we sometimes have to go in several times before he calms down. But it's the funniest thing--recently he's started putting himself to sleep. It came all at once, it seems. Now I read him a story and rock him for a moment then put him in his crib. He stands up and holds the rail and jumps up and down and I kiss him and wave and tell him goodnight, then leave the room. Through the monitor I hear him jumping awhile and sometimes he'll cry for about 8 seconds, and then lies down and goes to sleep. It's rather stunning, and I don't know how we got here.

Sometimes I feel like my life is like that; something finally comes together and I think "how did I get here?" What would I have to do to find my way again if I wandered away? For the moment I feel this way about parenting. Finally I'm relaxed. Finally I'm sane. Finally I feel like I know how to handle my kids and fill them up and find a little square of sunlight for myself. Most of it, I'm sure, is that Clark is also--in addition to going to sleep on his own--now sleeping 3 of 4 nights through the night. I had recently been unable to have perspective about this lack of sleep though I suspected the toll it was taking on me. But now! Now my waking hours are much less fraught, much less anxious, much less desperate. I'm able to sit on the floor with my kids all day some days and just play with them without feeling like it's sucking the life out of me. I actually straighten up the kitchen and the toys in the middle of the day instead of waiting until they are in bed to do any kind of maintenance. I still wish I had more emotional space to be creative with them, to organize art projects or different kinds of play, but I don't yet. Hopefully that will come as they get older and even more pockets of time open up for me.

Clark's not walking on his own yet for transportation but he takes some steps now and then. Crawling is still much more efficient for him. But soon he will walk. Soon he'll be a toddler and will pull away from me a bit. I've started him on the bottle for his last feeding before bed and for the one during the night if he wakes, which means we only nurse a few times during the day. Sometimes I want to ween him all together but other times I want to hang onto that contact between us. Soon he'll be busy on his own, will be able to get around by himself rather than have me carry him. Soon he'll be independent in very physical ways and the baby will start to fade. I feel sorrow for this. But I also feel relief for myself and my own independence.

As an only child I really need my time and space to myself or I feel like I'm wilting. M is teaching an evening class this term and I've found I really love it--isn't that funny? I have a sitter come and help me get the kids in bed and then I have this whole evening stretched out before me just for me. Sometimes I take a bath. Sometimes I read. Always I relish it. It's funny that I've gotten to be this old and am still learning things about myself. How can that be?

Monday, February 9, 2009

independent play

Just read a great article about overparenting, a subject I could write and write about. One of the smaller points it makes is that letting children play on their own actually helps the brain make more connections and grow more than if you always play with them and facilitate their play. This, in fact, "causes their nervous systems to literally shrink." Whew! Finally support for not feeling guilty for cleaning the kitchen rather than getting down on the floor with the duplos. My instinct has been that playing on their own is good for them but I so often override my instinct with the social pressures and other voices in my head, a thing that makes me nuts.

It's good to have support.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

new world

I feel like I'm in the middle of big changes. A sort of paradigm shift, a change of the lens through which I view my life and my children and the world in general. I've been reading this book--Playful Parenting--and at first I didn't think it was saying anything so radical. Its premise is to help children work out their fears and anxieties and conflicts through play rather than through talking to them (which generally falls on deaf ears), but it's also about discipline. The author makes the case against timeout as a concept, which has got me thinking. He argues that misbehavior is simply the result of a child's feeling a lack of connection and then acting out, and that timeout only further isolates the child, so it actually is harmful. In addition, if you just send the kid to timeout, you give up the chance to really teach, which is ultimately what we want to do anyway. It's not all quite as simple as that...

What has happened is that I've started playing with F differently. We now play games that are connected to our conflicts. For ex, we have one game where I hold the babydoll and she hits her. The doll cries big racking sobs and Frances has to go into timeout until the bell rings (which is about 3 seconds), then she comes over and hugs the baby and kisses her and tells her she's sorry, and then she hits her again. There's another where I crawl around on the floor pretending to be Clark. She pushes me over and I cry, and when I cry I sort of fall on her and grab her in a big hug and roll around on the floor with her while I sob. She thinks both these games are hilarious. At first I didn't know what I thought about them, about whether they would help her work through the problems we have with her hitting or pushing Clark, but the book is rather insistent that you should follow the child's lead in the game and play it however she wants to. (which means let the child overtly direct play by telling you what to do, or do whatever makes the child giggle which is the sign you are at the right place.) He says not to worry about what actually happens in the game, that the child is able to differentiate play from real life and that the play allows her to let off steam about a real situation that gives her anxiety.

The other thing that's changed with her is the way I respond to her "NO!" I used to just say as calmly as I could, "yes, it is time for your nap" or "yes, you've already had your vitamin today and can't have 10 more." Of course, we'd just go back and forth, her will against mine. A few times now, instead, I've sort of mimicked her in an over-exaggerated way. I act like a toddler and stamp my foot and holler as loudly as she does. Sometimes I'll say, "NO!" taking the same side, or sometimes I'll say, "YES!" and sometimes I switch back and forth without reason. She really laughs at this. It must be funny to see Mom acting this way. It breaks the tension and makes our interaction that of play rather than that of Mom against Kid. And we just move on from whatever conflict we had.

The result of these is that Frances is noticeably more agreeable. She's happier. She's less clingy, less needy, more willing to go to bed without bargaining for another story, another kiss from Dad, some water, to be held. Maybe some of this change is just developmental and would have happened anyway, but I don't think so. For awhile she was having tantrums at least once a day, sometimes ten a day. I can't actually tell you the last time she had a tantrum. Not yesterday; not all weekend; I don't think last week even.

And I feel closer to her. That's the best part. I think this approach of play has somehow allowed me to open to her in a very literal way. The book suggests that we as humans want to connect, need to connect, and that play helps us do that with our children because we are meeting them at their level, coming into their world to join them. What's odd about it is that it appears so far to simply be a side effect of changing my actions toward her. If only all our problems took as little emotional energy to solve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Frances is a perfectionist. It's a common first child trait, from what I understand. She throws the duplo blocks if she has a hard time putting them together, freaks out if she falls down (even if she doesn't hurt herself), says "no it NOT all right!" when she spills something and I tell her it's okay. I know that the best way to teach her that mistakes are okay is to model that, but Mitch points out that it's hard to model when one is in fact a perfectionist. Ah.

So I've started falling down. I do it mostly when we're outside, just plop myself down when she's not looking and say "Oh, Mommy fell down!" or do a slapstick slipping on the ice that ends with my butt on the ground. It has seemed to help, actually. Sometimes when she falls in the snow (which she does a lot) I fall at the same time and then she'll laugh a little and say "Mommy and Frances fell! Both!" When I slip and spill of my own accord she says "I help you Mommy. I hold your hand." It seems as if it's taken the edge off her criticism of herself overall, a great accomplishment.