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?