Tuesday, April 27, 2010

to school or not to school

Yesterday was the first day back at school since spring break. We got dressed and ready without much problem, and our neighbor came over for a ride to school with us. All three kids were playing nicely, and then it was time to go and Frances resisted. At first she wanted to play school here at the house rather than go, then she didn't want to wear those shoes, then she wanted to ride in the very back of the van where there's no car seat, then she needed me to go back in and get her Dora, then everything was tragic and horrible. I asked her if she wanted to stay home rather than go to school and she said no--she wanted to go, but she still couldn't get it together. I finally just buckled her in and backed out of the driveway. She probably would have wailed all the way to school, but Clark held out his hand for her to hold and that quieted her. So sweet. They held hands all the way to school, and Clark said, "Better." He was so happy that he could help her.

When we got to school she pouted and sulked and clung to me, but didn't cry. I had a feeling the moment I left she'd be just fine, and from emailing with her teacher later that was indeed the case. But when she came home she melted again... complete fall out. She has a hard time with transitions and she had been home with me for what seemed like a month. I've thought before that it would be easier for her to go to preschool several days in a row, and then have several at home rather than go every other day, adjusting back and forth, back and forth. Anyway.

My most recent conviction about preschool next year is that I want to keep her home all together, while Clark goes two mornings. This is a complete turn around from the beginning of last week when I decided that I was totally and conclusively onboard with her going all five days. (I even emailed the school and told them to go ahead and put the payment through, and then emailed again and asked them to wait... I'm sure they love dealing with me.) So the fact I've made this decision means very little, I have to admit. I could come to another radically different place tomorrow.

I've been obsessing about this so much for the past week that I've been suffering from one ongoing migraine.

The truth of the matter is that things are more pleasant around here when there's no school. Frances is calmer. She and I get along better. There's no getting dressed and hustling little people along in order to rush out the door. We have the morning to explore the yard or the neighborhood or the attic. We go to the post office, the grocery, the library, music class. We cook and paint and build things. I don't know precisely why it's different, why she's easier to get along with, but I have some guesses.

One is what I mentioned before--that she can't deal with transitions, and transitioning from me to school and back to me is stressful for her (even though she's in love with school), and I simply get the worst of her. Another, similar to the first, is that the more we're around each other the more we sort of settle into each others' company. It's also a teensy bit possible that I just enjoy the day more when we can go at our own pace and I am therefore easier to get along with. Yesterday morning I didn't slow down enough to realize that the reason she was delaying was because she was anxious. If I had realized, I could have talked to her about what to expect from school, about who she was going to see there and what songs she'd sing. I hate when I miss the cues.

On one hand I think she would do fabulously in school five days a week. I think she would get into a rhythm of the every day and it would be easier for her than what she's got now. I think she would absolutely love it. I know that I can't teach her as much as school does, can't provide that kind of stimulation, and I certainly can't offer her the same social interaction. But is that what she needs? At three and a half? She'll get all that the following year... Would it be better for her to be home with me, to focus inward to the house and the quiet and her mom? Is sending her to school five days just reiterating what society already tells us: that we have to always be busy, stimulated, entertained?

Although this may seem dramatic, I see next year as my only opportunity to really be with her. I was with her full time for the four weeks before Clark was born, and I loved it. But before that I was working, and since she was 17 months old I've been taking care of a baby (and then a screaming maniac of a toddler), only focusing on her for small bits of time. Mitch says I can be with her plenty, even with preschool. Which is true. But the morning is the best time for these little people, and I don't want someone else to have it. She and I have a hard enough time already.

I don't know don't know don't know. But I think I've stopped stressing about it so much. Right now I'm sort of letting it stew. I know the questions, the issues, and I'm waiting to see what floats to the top.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

my big little girl

I keep forgetting how little Frances is. She's three and a half and she seems so big to me, but really she's still a baby person. Isn't this misperception the burden of all first born and only children? It's the reason all the oldest kids are so type A--because our parents mistook us for being more mature than we were capable. In my defense, she is bigger than she was a year ago, even six months ago. She's bigger than Clark, which is unconsciously and unavoidably my general comparison, and so seems so grown. She can do so much more--can get her cup from the cabinet and the milk from the fridge, and can pour it for herself and for her brother. She can install and pull her brother in the wagon, maneuver her way through our complicated tv remote, both buckle and unbuckle her own car seat, and mostly she can argue with me. That's when I forget--when she's arguing, and I think I'm arguing with someone mentally grown. I forget.

I've been practicing lately seeing her as the small person she is. Part of the reason it's hard, I think, is that she acts so independent; she doesn't like to cuddle, she doesn't want my comfort when she hurts herself--she's been known to actually push me away when I try to hug her after she's banged her head. And my comparison is Clark, who lets me hold and rock him, who takes my face between his little hands and presses our noses together, who says "Mommy. Come. Wiss. Me." about nearly everything. At this very minute Frances is in the living room with her brother and the boy across the street and I just heard her say, "Okay. Here's what we're going to do,"with more than a little conviction. She's a bit bossy and quite certain about most things.

Also: sometimes I wonder, though she's not even four, about the hormonal balance in her little body. Many many of my friends agree that girls are harder, and it's seriously like she's thirteen. It's hard. Hard to be sympathetic, hard to remember that she doesn't know much about the world, that it must often be frightening to her. I'm trying to remember. She needs my help, not my frustration.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

job titles

Okay, back to the waiting discussion of what it is I do. Beware: this post includes social history and criticism and, long as it is, is still incomplete.

As you well know, I'm a stay-at-home-mom  (sahm in web speak). I am also a solid card carrying member of My Generation and therefore wrestle with this choice of profession while at the same time believing deeply that it is of such importance that I will put aside all kinds of personal comfort and goals while my kids are babies. (What I'll do after that is a discussion for a different post and not up for examination at the moment.)

But what if I'd been born two generations ago? As a matter of fact, I wouldn't have been a sahm at all, because sahms didn't exist; housewives did. This is not just a matter of semantics, my friend. The difference is in focus. Sahms are committed to the children; housewives were committed to the house and the husband

The housewife took care of the house: she made sure it was straight and everyone's clothes were folded and put away. She cooked meals and cleaned up dishes, wiped counters, shopped for groceries, organized shelves. She changed sheets and vacuumed floors and washed the curtains in the spring. This was the housewife's work. She did this work so that others living in the house could do their work, so that her husband need only climb out of bed, shower, dress himself, eat (the food she's prepared), and go to the office. He needed the house to be taken care of by someone else (who else? the housewife.) so that he could focus his attention on making money to cover the mortgage and the groceries and the clothes, lest another depression wipe out the entire country. Making money and worrying about finances was his work. And the children had the work of being children: exploring and experimenting and running and falling and doing homework. The housewife did a whole lot of little things that added up (ideally) to one big thing: a serene home environment. 

I've been thinking that there's something noble in providing a space for others in which to move. It's an act of love to make one's work about creating an energy that will sustain, for the benefit of those you love. This is why I'm able to think of being the maid (see previous post) as a positive thing rather than slave labor. It's why I'm able to be present and thoughtful when folding laundry or doing dishes. (It's also connected to my attempts to implement Zen in my daily life, but again not what this post is about.)

How did the children fare in this housewife/breadwinner environment? We could banter about that for a good while, but there seems to me to be something healthy about viewing the children as a part of your work, one department of a larger company--and this is a significant difference between the sahm and the housewife.

The housewife: the primary relationship was the marriage (wasn't it? I mean, we're talking about the average and the ideal both, not the crazy exceptions...) and the children were seen as a product of the marriage. But all of this only lasted until Betty Friedan looked around and noticed that this set up turned many women into stepford automatons and perhaps it would be okay for women to find other things to do with their time.

Women rather liked this new idea and hollered that they weren't maids, after all, and why on earth couldn't the men wash their own damn dishes? They glanced up from Guiding Light and declared that they, as women, need not serve men, that they could be the providers if they wanted, and housewives everywhere put sneakers over their pantyhose and flocked to the office. (The eventual inheritance of this includes the present stay-at-home-dads and breadwinner moms, which is a wonderful option.)

These days the housewife has gone by the wayside. My generation of women has accumulated upper level degrees just like the boys, and their husbands, if not staying home with the kids (2.7% of all stay at home parents are dads), not only take turns doing the dishes and changing diapers but also see the fairness in this arrangement. And generally women only stay home when they start having kids, hence the term stay-at-home-mom.

We know that babies can die from lack of physical contact. We know that children's brains do not develop without stimulation. When these statistics first appeared, the general population concluded that if some attention and stimulation was good, then a lot was even better. However, studies show that the average american home environment offers enough stimulation to maximize the child's potential intelligence. Some of us are starting to suspect that an overstimulating environment, rather than furthering the child's potential, simply overwhelms it.

Gen X (and Y) is becoming frustrated with the amount of constant attention we're guilted into showering on our children, frustrated with the media driven culture of fear when it comes to being a parent. In response to the over management of kids by the Boomers, some parents now are adopting ideas from the free range parenting movement, (led by the book Free Range Kids), that encourage us to stop being panicked and obsessive, and tell us it's okay to let our kids play by themselves in their fenced suburban backyard for ten minutes without immediate parental supervision. (or to let your nine year old ride the subway unsupervised, as the author did, which started a verbal war about the nature of parenthood.)

Stay at home mom. The truth of the matter is that most of my working day is indeed taken up by the kids, by my attention to them, and not by my keeping of the house. But I certainly don't have to spend all my daylight hours keeping them entertained and stimulated--playdates and museums and music classes and gymnastics classes and on and on. That's the pressure, you know. I sure felt that when Frances was a baby--if I left her to stare at the light out the window I felt great guilt, certain that I should be interacting with her, reading to her, at least shaking a rattle in her face. Now that I have two I feel much less of this because they entertain each other. But even if they didn't... It's as if no one sees the benefit of quietness, of alone time. It seems to me that neglecting to teach our children about the benefits of quiet does them a great disservice.

ALSO! Something interesting: all moms know that the kids want your attention desperately the moment you look at the computer or pick up the phone, but when I do housework--especially ironing--the kids get quiet, they play near me, play nicely, don't clammer for my attention. I can still talk with them if they ask me questions, so maybe that's why they don't feel they have to fight for my attention. Still, it doesn't seem to bother them that my hands are busy. My theory is that what they see is me 'doing my work', and that is actually a thing that makes sense to them. Their play is their work, and we can do our work side by side.

I see my work as more than just being their mom. Perhaps I can come up with a new term for my job, one that includes keeping the house, providing a space, for them and for their dad and for me: the creation of a family. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

crazy little people

Oy. We went to Wegmans for dinner, because Wegmans is no ordinary grocery. And as we were making our way through the bakery section to the hot food bar, Frances asked for a cookie. I said, "After dinner we can have cookies, but we need to eat first," and she stamped her foot and hollered, "NO! Then I won't live with you anymore." How not to laugh at that? I did laugh, couldn't help it, while thinking that perhaps I should be holding it in.

At that very same moment Clark was quiet, but that's unusual for him these days. I feel like all he does is scream at the absolute top of his lungs, "NO! NONONONO! NO!" Good grief. I can't wait until we're past this. I was going to put him down early for his nap yesterday (he was asking for his blankie at 10am) but Frances's ride home from school fell through so I kept him up until 1 when I went to get her. I needed to get some things from the bulk food bins in the grocery so we went over there to pass time. He refused to ride in the cart (NO! NO NO NO! AAAGGGHH! NO!) so I let him walk. Then we were in the bulk food section (bins of chocolate raisins, sesame sticks, licorice,  gum drops....) and he was a complete maniac. Over-tired 2-year-old loose in the bulk foods. Clearly I didn't think it through. People stared. Some laughed or sympathized, one let me know that his hands were in the M&Ms again. It was horrible.

One of the things he screams the loudest about is not holding hands in parking lots. Screams. I find myself grabbing whatever part of his jacket I can get my hands on and pulling him back, which makes him furious. Today at the library he and Mitch were standing on the sidewalk and Mitch was attempting to explain to him why holding hands was important. Frances and I had trailed behind inside, and as we came out Clark was shrieking a long high pitch, and a woman walking by--who didn't realize Frances and I were with them--raised her eyebrows at me like, "Can you believe this guy? He must be a terrible parent to let his kid behave this way." Yes, that's us.

He's still pretty cute, even when he's hollering.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

you've got a friend in me

We are in a rock and roll stage all of a sudden, partly due to the glorious weather I'm sure. It's been in the 70s and the kids have been playing outside together. All the time. Barefoot. (Who wouldn't be in a great mood?) Finally I'm reaping the benefits of having them so close together. Have I said that before? I have a feeling I'll keep saying it, because when I'm around other children and other siblings the difference is striking. My kids' dynamic is completely different from most siblings I've witnessed, not just recently, but from my friends as a kid too.

Oh they love each other. And though they're in very different stages (Frances in the sometimes-I'm-a-complete-pain-in-the-ass-and-testing-all-my-limits stage, and Clark in the I-am-two-watch-me-say-NO stage) they enjoy the same dvds, the same kinds of pretend play, the same flipping backward over the couch. I don't have to entertain with two different activities! It's fabulous. Right now they're playing so well together than I sometimes can get the entire sink of dishes done without interruption. 

I have this daydream about their relationship--Randy Newman playing as a soundtrack to their cuteness together--that they will stay close, will be there for each other always. If you've got troubles, I've got 'em too. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you. We stick together and can see it through, cause you've got a friend in me.... And as the years go by, our friendship will never die. You're gonna see it's our destiny. You've got a friend in me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

naps naps no naps

Frances is three and a half and most kids have given up naps by now. Both kids have been great sleepers--I've been fortunate that way--and until just recently her nap was consistently two hours and Clark's was three. (He'd sleep from 1-4 and she'd sleep from 2-4 without fail.) But now she's thinking about giving up her nap and it's not going fabulously.

Most days I can convince her to lie down with me. She says she's not tired, does not want a nap, but once we lie down she's out right away: her open eyes blinking for longer and longer, then opening halfway, drowsing, until they close and her breathing lengthens. It takes all of three minutes. Last night, though, she kept coming downstairs and at 9:20 was still asking for bubblegum, asking why bugs bite, asking to play a game.

So today I didn't have her nap. Mostly the day went well, until bathtime. She hates baths, hates water in her face, hates to have her hair washed, thinks getting any scab or sore or bandaid wet is going to cause her tremendous intolerable pain. Mitch and I, in fact, talked last week about how we shouldn't do baths on days she hasn't napped. Forgot about that.

I don't know how long she's going to be in this middle stage--napping maybe four of five days--but I hear giving up the nap can be pretty excruciating for everyone. Sigh.

At the same time Clark has cut his nap from three to two hours. That's no big deal, though. It doesn't seem to affect his disposition, only means a little less Clark-free time for me, which is okay. I am behind on the ironing, however.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

me the maid.

I've starting thinking of myself as a maid. I read this book--The Help, set in 1960s Jackson Mississippi and told through the eyes of white women and the black women who kept their homes (a very nicely done novel, btw)--and I started thinking about the work of 'keeping a home.' Of managing laundry and clutter and nurishment for the sake of other people (and yourself...). Funny thing is--I suddenly found myself enjoying housework. The laundry. The dishes. Straightening up. Picking up toys. Cleaning out closets and cabinets. Ironing. Really. You should see how straight the linen closet is. If I keep this up even the attic is going to look like a retail store.

I think the difference is that I usually hurry through housework so I can be done, get on with the next (and more important) thing, which makes it a frustrating and anxious experience. But if it's my work, if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, then there's no hurry, and there's nothing to get on with afterwards. It's all a matter of perspective. (but isn't it always?) If I don't get around to finishing everything today, well, I'm still the maid tomorrow and can get to it then.

Of course, I'm not always the maid. With the kids so little, many days I simply don't have time to do much of anything but fix the food and clean up the kitchen. (and change diapers and referee and kiss boo-boos and supervise sidewalk tricycle riding and play my tambourine in the marching band.) Some days I want to be the maid but can't get around to it. I've comically found myself daydreaming about the day the kids are both in school and I have time to organize the house without interruption.

It's possible this is only a phase and before long I'll go back to thinking of ironing Mitch's shirts as drudgery.

The larger issue it's raised is my job title, and the difference between being a housewife (which no one is any more) and a stay-at-home-mom (which I think of myself currently). I've written a couple of failed (and unpublished) posts about this already... and right now don't have the time to start another. But these thoughts are forthcoming. Stay tuned.