Thursday, December 31, 2009

year of old, year of new

I have a wire basket on the kitchen counter holding the materials for two art projects--corn starch, food coloring, wax paper, crayons, paper--plus the iron and ironing board set up, and a note reminding me to go on a nature walk through our enchanted forest and see what it looks like in the snow. I've been reading the blog The Artful Parent, specifically the Getting Started page which has ideas for very young ones, and I'm all fired up. It's a new year! (and a new decade, which does seem particularly weighty). Yay me! I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm specifically eager for the kids to get a tiny bit older so they can actually do these projects rather than just smear their torsos w/ cornstarch paste as I'm sure Clark will. That, of course, has its merits also, but is much less fun for me. I'm on some line these days, a sort of balancing between two places: round-sweet-warm babydom, with which I'm very familiar; and the-next-thing, which I can hear up ahead but isn't yet in focus. Because I tend to fear change in general and mourn things passing I've been sort of wallowing in the babyness. Then I get glimpses of what having a four and five year old (for example) will be like, which strikes me as less round-and-warmness, but oh the shimmer.

Sweet Old Year! Happy New Year! Moving forward.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

merry christmas!

I am truly overwhelmed by christmas. The moral weight of simplicity is something I feel in my core, yet I just don't know how to implement it and have christmas too. My kids have three sets of grandparents plus two parents who try to control themselves and sometimes fail. I could ask the grandparents to limit themselves to one gift or to a certain dollar amount, but I feel that asking this would be an affront to simplicity also... to unnecessarily complicate the act of gift giving.

We have enough toys. We had enough for seven kids before wrapping paper starting flying this morning, and now we have enough for a small village. But we are Americans after all, and we have The Means. The joy on the child's face when you get the gift right is priceless, and so we try. We try to pick the right thing so we can experience their joy too, as it spills out of them and onto all of us nearby.

As far as my values go, I feel it would have been plenty if my kids had stopped with their stockings this year. Really. But we soldiered on, gift after gift, some things really hitting the mark, my son ignoring everything else to push his Little People Tractor across the kitchen floor, my daughter fishing aquatic puzzle pieces with a magnetic fishing pole.

It was a great morning. Two sets of grandparents are here at once and I love it, love having more people in the house. I wish I had this kind of community always, people who are linked by history in each other's space. But I don't. It's somehow hard for me to just accept what my life is, accept it as fact without judgement.

Now there's a pile of unwrapped presents under the tree because where else are we going to put them? And there are two bags more... some from the 3rd set of grandparents, some from aunts and uncles and cousins. We saved them for later because there were so many in the first shift that the kids started to melt. When the question Here, Clark, you want to open another present? produces wailing, you know they've reached sensory overload.

More presents to open? It feels wrong to me, feels so excessive as to be immoral. (I realize I may be making more out of this than there is.) And the thought of trying to find places for all these presents in the house makes me hyperventilate a little in my mind.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the next stage

Things have gotten hard again lately. I don't know exactly what's changed; perhaps several things all slammed together. Clark has certainly turned into a toddler full on. He'll be two in March and my goodness. He just screams and screams and screams and wants things and doesn't get his way and screams. It makes me nutso. He also wants to be carried all the time, all 30 pounds of him, and when my back is bothering me and I tell him he has to walk or I have a basket of laundry in my arms he just falls to pieces. Dire. So that's one thing.

The other major thing is Frances. She's really really testing limits now, trying to figure out where she has control and where she doesn't. She'll just say no. NO.


When she throws a toy across the room and I ask her to pick it up. When I try to get her to use the bathroom before nap. When it's time to get on her shoes or coat. When I ask her to give me the screwdriver. When it's time to come to the table for dinner. When it's time to take a nap or go to bed or get in the car or the bath or the bed. Okay, maybe it's not quite as bad as all that, but it's bad. What's different about this from the two-year-old NOs (which I'm experiencing at the exact same time w/ Clark) is that the things he says no to are things he doesn't have a choice about: changing his diaper, getting his hands wiped after he's plunged them in his yogurt, those types of things. The things she says no to are things I can't possibly physically make her do if she really doesn't want to.

Which makes the battle we're having very interesting.

It also means I have to think through what I want to get out of this and how to go about it. I mean, I could break her will. I could lock her in her room when she won't go to bed. But that's no good. That's not the kind of parent I want to be, not the kind of relationship I want to have with her. I don't want her to think of me as the line in the sand, the rule enforcer, the thing against which she has to push in order to be her own self. Sometimes I have the energy or wherewithall and I get creative and step out of the battle. Night before last at bedtime when she wanted to go downstairs with her armful of babies I suggested that we make a bed for them in her closet so they could get some rest for tomorrow too. She actually turned around in the hallway and came back for that one. It was that same night that, when she got out of bed to start in on her list of delay tactics, I just sort of ignored her. I knew a battle would be painful and certain, so I continued putting sheets on the guest bed, folding laundry, cleaning up the kitchen. I refused to fight her, but I also refused to entertain her. She followed me around and wanted to help but I wouldn't let her... told her it was not time for her to help with the laundry because she was supposed to be in bed. The goal was to bore her to bed. At one point when I was doing the laundry and watching tv she said, 'I'm going to go bother Daddy" which I thought was a fine idea. He was going through bills and was certain to not let her slow him as well. I wouldn't let her take out any of her toys (again because she was supposed to be asleep, not playing w/ toys) but she did pull things out of her dress up bin and decorate herself when I wasn't looking. Of course, she didn't actually go to bed until after 9pm. What to do?

This is what parents mean when they say you have to pick your battles. I could fight with her all day long, about nearly everything. One thing I'm wrestling with is time out. She won't stay in time out anymore. So I've been holding her. I don't know how I feel about physically restraining her this way, but I can't see the other option. I just sit with her, calm, and I wait until the time is up.

Right now she thinks that I'm against her. (Which I sometimes am.) It's made me wonder recently if I say no to her too often, if she feels like I say it to her all day long. No, you can't play with that, no don't put barrettes on the dog's ears that hurts him, please put the yowling cat down, no let's not get out the paints right now while Clark is awake, no don't touch the christmas tree ornaments, no standing on the kitchen table, on and on. Also, she still wants me to dress her and help her go to the toilet and sometimes feed her, all of which she can do very well on her own, if a little more slowly. So two things: perhaps I can find ways to stop saying no so often, and rather than respond in the negative as a reflex, I can think up (before hand) things that she can do that she'll find fun and suggest those instead. Or I can just stop being so anal and let her do some of them. And second, I want to encourage her to do more by herself, want her to feel independent. Perhaps then she won't need to fight me so often to prove how independent she is.

Then I wonder, as I always do, how much of this is just a necessary stage that will occur and then pass no matter now I respond?

ALSO! I'm going to start doing more crafts with them. I know I've said this before, but this time I mean it. Crafts can solve all kinds of problems.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

snow is so much fun

Was going to go to the gym this morning but decided the kids needed some time with me rather than the sweet college girls at Kidtown, and besides, we hadn't been out to play in the snow much since the wind turned arctic. Got everyone (including myself) dressed for the long haul: turtlenecks, fleece pants, fleece jackets, snow pants, snow boots, mittens, coats, hats. Outside, Clark immediately fell. Since he was completely decked in snow gear he didn't get wet at all, and didn't even get his face in it, but somehow the fall set him off and from then on he didn't stop crying. I tried to jolly him out of it and show him how much fun the snow is but he didn't want jollying. I pulled them each once around the yard in the sled and then Frances's glove fell off and she started crying. I got them both little shovels to help me shovel the walk and for about 30 seconds that was distracting. Then the crying started up again. I wondered what my elderly childless neighbor M was thinking, hearing all this wailing commotion (and it was seriously loud wailing...). Finally I just did a quick shovel while everyone keened, then I took one in each hand and hustled them back inside. The crying continued while I pulled their snow gear off, until finally I hollered at them to STOP CRYING, which I'm sure you can imagine was very effective. Sigh. Now I'm back to a pep talk with myself about good-enough-mothering, the mothering that is not perfect and does not protect my kids from all pain and woe, but provides enough shelter and support for them to grow into emotionally well people.

I'm glad Mitch is coming home tonight.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

solo again

Mitch left Saturday and is gone until Thursday evening and I'm here all alone with my sweet energetic and sometimes maddening children. Before he left the thing I was most anxious about was the mornings. Mitch is the one who always gets up with them, sweet husband that he is, and he lets me sleep until 7 or so, and then I lie in bed a few minutes adjusting back to this waking world. I'm no good first thing in the a.m. and I don't even have the luxury of coffee, due to my headaches. So.

Things are actually going pretty well but that's entirely due to the kids' sleeping in until 7:30, all 3 days so far. Yesterday Frances slept until 8:15 and I suppose I should have taken that as a sign but just saw it as my fabulous luck. Then preschool called later in the morning to say she looked pretty horrible and was complaining her stomach hurt. When I got her home she had diarrhea and a temp of 102 and immediately asked if she could take her nap. Last night I hoped aloud that she just wouldn't throw up. So far my luck has held. Today she says her head hurts but her fever is gone which is good. Hopefully Clark will hold off getting it until Mitch gets back.

Overall I'm feeling mostly good and capable. I do have my wonderful sitter who is practically part of our family now... and I'm sure I wouldn't be feeing this good about things if it weren't for her. The first day and a half I was thinking I was superwoman and that I might even tell her not to come, but then my better sense rose to the surface. Yesterday afternoon she took the kids to her folks' house where Frances sat on the big comfy chair with her blankie while Katie's dad wrestled the lights onto the christmas tree. She's coming again this afternoon but they'll all probably stay here while I disappear into the attic for some exciting spackling and sanding, the real break in the form of my nano on my head.

Sometimes it's funny to me how completely consuming and emotionally exhausting it is to care for children all the time. I am again reminded of the ppd coordinator in Durham who points out that society acknowledges that caretaking of an elderly parent is draining, but not children. And his point is that taking care of another human is the same, whether she is ninety or two.

So my committed approach is to take it easy this week. For example, it's 11:20 am and we're still in our pajamas. In fact, we're getting ready to go for a walk in the stroller, and we're just putting winter coats on over pjs. Then there might be some sitting on the floor with legos until lunch time. Woohoo!

Only two more bedtimes! Only two more mornings!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

to have or have not?

Several days ago I announced on facebook that I am struggling (torturing myself was the actual phrase) over whether or not to have kid number three. The comments from my friends were interesting and many, and they started another whirlwind in me, thinking this thing from all angles. I have a whole list of reasons not to, and my neighbor pointed out that none of those matter; they are rational reasons, and this is an emotional decision. Mitch's take on it is that 1) I'm thinking about it because I don't have anything else to think about, and 2) I'm a grass-is-greener sort of person. He also pointed out that it's a sort of defense--a way for me to not be fully present with my current situation. The last hit a nerve with me and I think maybe he's right. I really like where we are right now, where I am with the kids and where they are in their respective stages. I like our dynamic. Why not embrace and enjoy it? Do I really not want to BE HERE?

Everyone keeps saying that if I'm torturing myself about it then it must be something I want in my gut and therefore should go for it. But it's not that simple, especially as I'm 38 already and sleep deprivation is not pretty on me. I'm 38 already and it's going to be hard on my body. I'm 38 already and there are dangers. I'm just now seeing the clearing w/ my kids and I'm happy, having fun. This is part of the reason i want to do it again... now it's fun, and I think more would be more fun. Also, and I'm serious, I feel like I need more insurance... What if one becomes a drug addict or turns out to hate me? I need another in reserve. I know that sounds nuts.

Now, after agonizing over it for many hours, I am for the moment settled. Today i feel completely satisfied with my two kid family. I think Mitch is right that by thinking about it I sort of escape the present. I love the stage we're in right now and if one more person tells me "it goes really fast!" I'm going to sock them. Because when I think about how fast it goes it makes me panic and it makes me want to find a way to keep it, which is having another kid. But I can't keep it, and I might as well be present and celebrate it rather than panic that it's going to be gone. It IS going to be gone and there's nothing to be done and no reason to think about that. Settled. Content. I wonder how long it will last?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

google can solve any domestic quandary.

In case you have stayed up nights wondering whether zinc oxide, the white stuff in diaper rash cream, comes out of clothes, I can tell you that it's yet inconclusive. I've washed the clothes in the machine which did literally nothing to the cream, soaked them overnight in cold water, scrubbed them with dish detergent, and am now soaking them in hot water and vinegar in the sink. Will let you know the eventual outcome.

How did this happen, you wonder? My children and I are just getting used to this kids-playing-by-themselves thing. I know the dangers of quiet play... quiet means something's happening that shouldn't be. But yesterday when they were upstairs playing by themselves it was not quiet. There was laughing, squealing, general rowdiness. Then Frances appeared at the bottom of the stairs saying, "Look what we did, Mommy!", her neck and chest and arms completely white. And. Then down the stairs came Clark, and Frances had done a very nice job on him, face nearly completely covered. Oh my. We only had a little time before Frances needed to leave for gymnastics but there was enough time to put them both in the tub and scrub scrub scrub. It's not easy to wash that crap off and Clark was rather upset with the process. I should have taken pictures. And now I'm dealing with the laundry.

I did not respond well. I didn't respond horribly, but I should have just seen it as one of those things kids do rather than getting so irritated. Had it been hand cream I wouldn't have been so irritated, and how were they to know that diaper cream would cause that much more of a mess? Ah, well. Another day I'll respond as I'd like.

Two hours later: I can't believe it. Seriously--40% of her chocolate brown pants where covered in white, and now there's only a little spot. Vinegar. I looked it up online.