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?

Friday, May 29, 2009

new relaxed mama

I'm turning over a new leaf. I'm going to become a relaxed mama rather than a stressed and obsessive mama. I am!

I read this article recently--an interview with a stay-at-home dad who just wrote a feeding-your-baby cookbook--that made me shift the way I go about things, at least for the moment. In the article he mentions parenting magazines and that from them he has mostly learned that moms feel guilty about everything. Well, of course we do! The pressure we have to be perfect parents, to attend to our children's every need, is enormous. I have to keep reminding myself (and letting my therapist remind me) that situations where my children look to other people for comfort (when I have sitters, or when I leave them in the childcare room at the gym, for example) are GOOD for them. It's healthy for them to learn they can get comfort from people other than me. It's healthy for them to recognize that they can be away from me and be okay. It's good for them to be away from me and know I'll come back again. Still, these are things my brain has to tell my gut over and over. There in my gut I just feel cramping.

There's one stay-at-home dad I run into fairly often at the gym, both of us dropping our kids off at Kidtown at the same time. Our gym recently opened a fancy outdoor pool and the other day when I saw him he was heading out there to sit in a chaise lounge with his laptop. "It's the best thing Rochester has going!" he said. "You're not going to work out?" I asked. "No," he said, "I did that yesterday." I asked him how he liked being at home with the kids (a 3 year old and a 4 month old) and he said he loves it. He didn't say, "It's really freaking hard and thank god for Kidtown and the pool." No, he said he loves it and that he was excited to have some alone time. There was no guilt. There was no justification. There didn't seem to be any angst. He seemed to see getting his own time as natural and necessary and nothing to feel bad about.

My guess is that these dads don't feel the same pressure moms feel; parenting is not part of their identity in the same way. They can make their own decisions about what kind of parent to be based on their own ideas of parenting, rather than on the pressures to be perfect.

So back to my new take on my own parenting.... It started the other night after I'd read the article and then talked to the fella at the gym and then Mitch called to say he wasn't going to be home until after the kids were in bed. I was tired. I was tired of working so hard. And the thing I stress about most is food. I hate feeding the kids. It happens so often! Three times a day plus snacks, and I feel like I'm bullying them every time. So that night I just quit. I decided we were going to have snacks for dinner and I didn't care if all they ate was crackers. Soooo, rather than cajoling Frances into eating, I simply asked her if she wanted a banana, or some cheese, or some yogurt, or whatever, and if she said no I said, "okay," with no pressure or frustration. A simple question. I fixed myself a little plate and sat beside her on the sofa, and I let her have tastes if she asked for them. I swear she ate twice the amount of food she usually does--I think it was because she wasn't busy resisting me.

All of THAT made me think about my parenting in general and that perhaps I should just chill and let her be who she is--picky eater or whatever--and not try to control things so much. For the last 2 days I'd say I'm at about 50%, and I'm choosing to think of that as success.

Monday, May 25, 2009

above average cuteness and candy

Frances spent the ENTIRE Memorial Day parade today with her hands over her ears. I wish I had a picture.

This morning before we went she told me she didn't want to go to a parade. This, after so much parade discussion and youtube parade watching and general parade excitement. I suppose the parade at the Lilac Festival demonstrated that the ones on the street in person aren't as exciting as the Rose Bowl on TV. "We're going to go with Ruby and Henry, isn't that exciting?" Ruby (4) and Henry (almost 3) are my friend Carrie's kids and Frances literally follows Ruby around mimicking her. I thought Ruby's presence would be a sure thing but it didn't sway her. "You know what, Frances?" I said, "I think there's going to be candy." I had heard that they throw out candy at this parade, unlike the Lilac Festival which is just a regular ole parade. I'm not a fan of the candy thing--it's not mardi gras. But! I was right. "Candy!" she said. "I LOVE CANDY!"

This conversation happened while Mitch showered and got ready. It was my job to convince her to go to the parade. I also thought I would coach her on the holiday in general. "Do you know what the parade is celebrating? Memorial Day," I said. "Do you know what Memorial Day is?" Then I wondered if I should continue. I went the easy route: "Soldiers," I said. "Do you know what a soldier is?" It occurred to me she might not know, and she didn't. How to answer that question? I wondered what I was getting myself into. I went with: "It's someone who protects our country." Among other things. Anyway.

When we were in the car I thought I'd show her off a bit for Mitch so I asked, "What is the parade celebrating, Frances?" And she said, "CANDY!"

Maybe they give out candy so parents can convince their kids to come.

Turns out they did in fact have candy. They also had loud marching bands and loud gunfire and loud police motorcycles tooting their loud high-pitched horns. Someone told us they might fire canons and I'm very thankful we missed that part. I thought Ruby's presence would carry more weight once we actually got there but no--. In fact, most of the time Frances was on Mitch's shoulders way way back from the road. She felt safer there. Once in awhile she would get down and sit on the curb (hands still on her ears) in hopes of candy, but as soon as some tootsie rolls came spinning her way she was up again asking to "go away from here." Poor girl.

Clark, on the other hand, had a ball, though it had very little to do with the parade. I spent most of my time following him around, pulling him out of the paths of double jogging strollers on the sidewalk and making sure he didn't walk into the street in front of the marching band. He's in a painfully cute stage, mostly steady on his feet and marching all over the earth to see what's what. One woman on a bike going by said, "Above average cuteness." Yes, yes it is.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I've been struggling again with whether or not to have another baby. I have all these lists in my brain--the pro lists and the con lists, the things we can't do as easily with 3 and the ways we can get on with it with only 2--and the reasons sort of jumble up together and come out like tangled brambles of a pitiful unkempt shrub. I feel like the decision to have another--or not--sort of drives the rest of my life, like the way my life will go will depend on how many kids I eventually have, which I suppose to some degree is true.

But something occurred to me recently about this decision, and that is that rather than the number of kids driving my life, my life will probably drive the number of kids. What I mean is that I don't know how things are going to go with my life, whether I'll eventually fully settle in here in western NY, whether Mitch will stay in this new job, whether we'll move back out west instead. I do know that right this minute, with two kids that are still very small and no family nearby, having another baby is not what I want from my life, is not the best thing for me or for my family. But it might be the case that I get to a place where it turns out to be the best thing, where I feel settled and emotionally supported and grounded in my mothering, and another baby is the decision we make.

All of this is to say that I don't have to make a decision. What a relief! I've felt so pressured to figure this out, to cut away all the dead stuff from the shrub and see what's really going on under there. (I've been working in the yard, can you tell?) It turns out, like a heck of a lot of life, all I have to do is calm down and wait and listen.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

pooping in nature

A few Saturday mornings ago Mitch and I went hiking with the kids. As we were loading kids into kid backpacks Frances announced she needed to go to the bathroom. There was, of course, not a toilet in sight, but there were lots of trees, so I taught her how to squat and pee. She couldn't do it by herself--she would have wet her pants around her ankles, but I was able to sort of hold/prop her while she went about her business. She thought it was grand. There was another time not long after that when we were out in nature and she needed to use the bathroom, so we did it again. Potty training coming right along.

Last weekend my mom was here for a visit and it happened to be the first weekend of the Lilac Festival. We rode a pony, listened to a high school band in the band shelter, then spread out a blanket in the shade and ate some ice cream. After that the kids were romping around in the grass when Frances came over and said, "Mommy, I need to swat." "You need to swat?" "I need to swat." Ah, yes--squat. She needed to pee. I didn't even try to locate a port-a-john; they were far far away and we never would have made it before an accident. "I need to poop," she said. Well. What to do? Okay, I thought. Here we go. Nearby were some scrubby crepe myrtles surrounded by pachysandra--a ground cover that looks a bit like ivy. I walked her over to the pachysandra, pulled down her skirt and helped her balance. I hoped the few people nearby wouldn't be offended by the half naked child, and really hoped none of them would realize she was doing more than peeing. After a moment or two I said, "You done?" "No," she said. "I have to poop more." I waited. "You done?" "No. I have to poop more." More? Really.

Thank goodness my mom was there to keep her eyeballs on Clark because Frances and I were occupied in the pachysandra for much longer than one would think necessary. Afterward I used a plastic bag I keep in the stroller for walks with the dog and tried to clean up as much as I could but it was kind of hopeless. I just hoped no children would come tromping through the greenery. Again: what to do?

A few days ago during Clark's nap Frances was playing in the yard while I gardened a bit. While I yanked dead limbs off the shrubs in back she came over and said she needed to squat. "You need to use the potty?" I asked. "Let's go inside and use it there." "No, I wanna swat," she said. "I have to poop." I tried to explain that we only squat when there isn't a potty around, that it's much better to poop in the potty because poop is dirty and then we can flush it down the toilet etc etc. She was insistent. I ran inside and brought her little potty into the yard. "Here, Frances, If you want to poop in the yard you can do it here on your potty." I actually got her pants and undies around her ankles and was gesturing to the potty when she completely fell to pieces. "I WANT TO SWAT I WANT TO SWAT! SWAT SWAT SWAT!" Screaming, flinging herself on the grass. My retired widow neighbor came around the fence, gardening gloves on, a distressed look on her face. "What's wrong?" "Being two is hard," I said. Frances was still screaming, still on the grass, her butt still naked. "I've never seen her behave like that," my neighbor said. "That's because it usually happens inside," I told her. My neighbor never had children and really doesn't know what to do with them, how to interact with them. I think she believed Frances never threw tantrums. I could see her adjust her opinion of what kind of kid Frances is. You know, the troublesome tantrum throwing kind.

Just so you know, she pooped in nature again yesterday just as we finished a hike. Again, not a toilet in sight. I wonder if she holds it until just the right time?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

mother's day postpartum awareness

Katherine Stone--of the ever helpful Postpartum Progress website--solicited 24 writers who know a thing or three about being mothers with mental illnesses. She posted a letter per hour to new moms on Mother's Day, and they all are wonderful. Read them here.

And Happy Mother's Day to all of you, all of us, in all the complications and ambivalence and joy and angst motherhood brings.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


A couple of days ago Mitch sat in on a class from 6-9 pm so the kids and I went over to school at 5 to see him before class. We bought sandwiches and vitamin water from the student center and sat outside on benches in the courtyard and ate. It's funny to have little kids on a college campus--they are such a rare sight that everyone looks and smiles and coos.

Clark spent much of his time climbing up and down the three steps into the building. One side of the courtyard was bordered by a little landscaped hill covered in rich dark mulch, and after he'd tired of the steps he walked up the hill. The first time he turned around to come back down the hill I realized his unfortunate lack of caution, and I was able to grab his hands and help him down. The second time I wasn't standing as close. I saw him turn and take a step down the hill, and then I was reaching out, moving toward him, long leaping steps, when he tumbled over and landed on his face. Turns out it's experience that teaches us to close our eyes and mouth when we fall into a pile of dirt. Dirt up his nose, all in his mouth, in his ears, in his eye, down his shirt. Later I even found dirt in his diaper. He wailed. I tried to wipe the dirt off as best I could but I wasn't very successful. Finally I gave him a drink of water so he could at least swallow the stuff in his mouth. The dirt in his eye had to just flush out on its own after a bit. Oh it was pitiful. His wails echoed off the building walls there in the courtyard, such an odd sound against the foot traffic and voices of college students.

Later we went up to Mitch's office where things deteriorated into my taking one thing and then another out of Clark's hands and/or mouth while Mitch tried to keep Frances from drawing on his student roster. I was too busy maintaining to even distract... After we got home and I'd put the kids to bed by myself I thought about how parts of being out in public were easier than they were even a few months ago, but how still it's exhausting. Now that Frances is getting older, though, I have hope. I can see that it won't be like this forever...

It seems to me that the parent's primary role with the babies is simply to keep them from killing themselves. I've been wanting to get a gate at the top of our stairs so I can change a bed without having to run out into the hall every three seconds to be sure Clark hasn't flung himself down the stairs. A few weeks ago I spent a good amount of time teaching him how to go down the stairs backwards and he's pretty good about it, but still. I don't have to worry about this kind of thing with Frances anymore. Now I just have to call on my patience and creativity when she throws herself screaming on the floor. A different challenge. I think I'm better at the latter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

bubblegum is more than bubblegum

For months now gum has been Frances's shining symbol of what it means to be a Big Girl. "When I get to be BIG I can have bubblegum." It's like a mantra. Anytime we see anyone chewing gum she stares, and from her sitters she demands repeated bubble blowing. I told her she wasn't old enough because, of course, I was worried she would swallow it.

Then last week she found some gum in the house and asked me for it. And asked me for it. And asked me for it. She wanted me to chew it, wanted me to give it to her, wanted to unwrap it and look at it. Finally I thought that perhaps she could indeed chew it without swallowing it, and if she did swallow it then I would simply know not to give her any more. So I told her she could have some.

You'd think I would have learned something from the Big Girl Bed Incident. (She's still in her crib, by the way.) She really needs emotional preparations for these changes in her life. I just wasn't thinking, didn't consider that gum has been THE symbol for her of what it means to be Big. And I don't think it was simply being allowed the gum that was so traumatizing, but also that I simply decided--just like that--to give her some.

There was an abundance of excitement. Oh, the joy. It was great to see that kind of joy.

"Mommy, I have bubblegum."

"Want to see my bubblegum?"

"I'm bigger so I have bubblegum."

"I can show you my bubblegum."

"Do you have bubblegum?"

"Big girls have bubblegum, and I'm a big girl."

"I like my bubblegum."

Not only did I not prepare her for it, tell her that soon she could have gum, have her look forward to it, explain that she's gotten much bigger and can now do things she couldn't before so maybe she's big enough for gum, but I also didn't explain any of the gum rules, which I of course hadn't yet figured out. So that night as we were getting ready for bed she wanted another piece. Just before teeth brushing. We told her no, it was too late for gum.

And there was a meltdown.


I'm pretty sure it lasted more than 45 minutes. At first we tried to explain. We tried to talk with her. We told her we'd be over here when she was done shrieking and we'd be happy to hold her then. She was naked, by the way--we were just getting pajamas on when it started--and twice I tried to get her dressed but man she's gotten big and strong. So I checked my email, checked facebook, read a blog or two. I began to think that we'd just have to put her in her bed naked and crying and let her scream until she passed out. Later I could come in and dress her sleeping. Mitch is great and he sat her on his lap and talked about being a big girl and waiting until tomorrow for more, and he tried to explain the rules for gum. He said that we only got 2 pieces per day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Mitch and I hadn't talked about this, the rules. The next day I stuck to the rules but things were tragic. Bubblegum, bubblegum, oh how she wanted more bubblegum. I was really torn and began to take a poll of my friends--who thought I should have a rule like this, or who thought I should give her 3 packs (or something) and let her chew as much as she wanted until it was gone. In the end I did the latter. I couldn't figure out what holding to the rule would accomplish--it's sugarless gum, and I can't see what it hurts if she wants to chew it all damn day long. By doling it out, did we think we were teaching her temperance? Patience? Delayed gratification? It felt controlling to me--like we were asking her to be someone she's not. That's a bit dramatic, I know--it has to do with the crossroads I'm in with my parenting philosophy in general. I mean, what is my role anyway? In what ways am I trying to guide her? And while I of course want to guide her, I also want to accept who she is--bubblegum obsession and all.

We're near the end of her last pack. I keep it out of reach so Clark won't get into it, which means Frances does have to ask for it even though I give it to her pretty much whenever. This morning when she threw out a piece she'd had in for 5 minutes and wanted another, I pointed out that she only had 2 pieces left. "Okay. I won't cry, Mommy," she said. We'll see. I think she won't, actually. I think she's (finally) prepared.