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!