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!