Monday, June 28, 2010

tv siren song

All right. Over tired why is daddy not home yet meltdowns. Oh the tv called to me, sang sweetly from its little corner. I will help you, it said. I can make it better, quieter. I can soothe them, wind them down for bed, even make the transition to bedtime easier. I can, I can. I resisted, I did. But it was not easy, let me tell you. But then, now that I think about it, it's not as if these dire moments didn't exist before we turned the tv off, its just that I had a tool to quiet them that I no longer have. A crescent wrench removed from the toolbox. Can you make a regular wrench work? Maybe, but your wrist might seize up in the process.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

no tv update

Last night there was a meltdown born of exhaustion that with 100% certainty would have been avoided by a little Winnie the Pooh DVD time. But it didn't last long, and it's not such a bad thing for Clark to learn how to deal with these stresses without resorting to passive entertainment.

And I want to say that though I am trying this no tv thing, I judge no one for using it with their own kids. I know how very very helpful it can be in quieting the masses so that the rioting does not begin, or even just so you can hear yourself think. Sometimes you just have to get things done, things like bills or dishes or laundry or simply sitting on your ass for a moment to collect yourself, and the tv does indeed help. You do what you've got to do. Just for me, now, we've gotten to a place where I wanted to try it out, wanted to see what our lives would feel like without the pockets of reprieve the tv offers. It does indeed feel different.

Clark has been asking for it a lot now. I think he uses it as a way to regroup, to settle himself when he's tired and sort of strung out. I'm reading more books to them, that's for sure. I like that time on the sofa, one of them on each side of me. It soothes me too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

i got rid of the tv

And the upshot of it is that the kids are actually requiring LESS interference from me. The true role of the tv, of course, is to allow you a specified amount of quiet in order to cook dinner w/out having to referee or field questions come play with me play with me why can't put the cat in the dishwasher Clark hit me took my toy stepped on my hair please don't carry the cat by his neck please use your inside voice who is crying for godsake no climbing on the bookshelf. My friend E thought it would take about 2 weeks, then they would settle in. And I was pumped up; I was ready to muck through the requisite hollering to see what was on the other side. We just got back from a very refreshing vacation and it was a good time for me to be feeling optimistic about how much I could take.

We usually watch George when we eat our breakfast. The first morning when I said "Oatmeal's ready!" Clark said, "George! George!" I said, "You know what? We're going to do something new, and we're not going to watch tv anymore. But you know what else? Later today we can have popsicles! Yay!" (Gotta give em something to hang onto you know.) They looked at me for a moment, a sort of kid version of a shrug, and Frances said, "That's why there's a dishcloth covering the tv," as if she knew already. There was no mention of the tv again that day. The next day around lunch, when Clark was very ready for his nap but fighting it and trying to figure out a way to stay awake while being immobile, he asked for tv. Frances piped up, "Clark, we don't watch tv anymore." She knows most things these days. "Do you know what Daddy told me on the phone two seconds ago? That he'll be home early enough for us all to go to the playground!" I ask, and she says, "I know, Mom." She's not even four. 

But today, despite a couple more requests from Clark for the tv (interestingly, he's the one that loves it less. I guess he's also the one who is two and therefore less on board with reasons and rules), they are playing better. And better. It's like the practice of it is making them more interested in it. Hurray! I suppose I shouldn't celebrate yet; it's only been a few days. But seriously--I'm refereeing less. Their play is calmer, fuller, more content. How about that?

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that summer here is amazing and would keep anyone in a good mood despite that their tv had been snatched away without warning. Will see what happens in the winter when we're stuck inside for weeks at a stretch lest the arctic wind freeze the moisture in your eyeballs. The winter could loosen my resolve. As well as the kids' ability to play well without my interference. Cabin fever does strange things to people.

But for now, not hearing the Dora map song is a wonderful thing. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

the boy talks

Still not the language explosion from Clark. Boys are later, I know, and people are always commenting on his language ability, saying he's advanced (his diction is rather amazing, and now he pronounces his Rs strongly too: no change die-purr, he says) but by this time Frances was talking in paragraphs, in monologues. Her word explosion happened at 20 months. I'm not worried or anything, just surprised and fascinated.

He's talking in sentences now, some of the time. But it's like he's memorized several key ones rather than able to construct them from his available words.

Where we going? (nearly every time we get in the car, even if he knows where we're going.)

Look at dis! (inflection: surprise.)

I do it. (determined, proud)

Watch dis MommyDaddy. (the latter being one word.)

Come wis me. (always, always.)

No can. (can't open the illustrated door on the house in the book, for example; said with the tone of "oh well.")

Yes it doooo. (one of my favorites)

Yes I can. (oh so helpful)

Somesing. ("I have something in my shoe.")

Found you. (sweetly said when I return after being out, or when he comes home from a venture with the sitter.) And if he cried while I was gone: I call for you.

The one i hear the most frequently, sometimes said as a statement and sometimes yelled in fury: No like dat! NO LIKE DAT! 

He's definitely got more thoughts than words, and sometimes when I ask him a question he makes a noise in the back of his throat, starts to speak and stops, doesn't know how to say it. It frustrates him. And when he tries to put words together he gets jumbled. The other day he said, after some stammering, "put on the feet this," which meant "put your feet on the footstool." He also speaks slowly, saying things very deliberately. Now he not only has to tell his sister he's sorry, but has to say what for: Sorry for hitting. Sorry for knocking legos over. which comes out more like: sorry for. knocking. legos. o. ver. sis. ter. You have to be a patient person to get to the end of the sentence. Then she says, hug? and lifts him off the floor.

(Today I told him we were going to take the van in tomorrow to get fixed and he said, "And the birds!" but I think that was a different issue. I have no idea what he meant at all. And he said it with such conviction!)

I'm interested to see if he just keeps progressing at this steady pace, or if he takes a sudden leap. That leap surprised me so with Frances.

Okay, so I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago and didn't get around to posting it until now. And things have in fact progressed, as evidenced this morning when we tried to pull into the honda dealership for service. The moron car in front of me was acting generally moronic and I was patient for a few moments, and then my patience ran out. And from the back seat, Clark said, "Why you say fuck, Mommy? Why you say fuck, Mommy? Why you laughing, Mommy? Why you laughing, Mommy?" So he does seem more able to put a sentence together. Cute thing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

second guessing

Yesterday Mitch gave a talk at Michigan State and I went with him. While he was at the university I spent all kinds of money at Urban Outfitters and then walked around looking at things. Michigan State was one of the schools that made Mitch an offer at the end of his PhD, but we decided on Rochester instead.

As I was walking around this time I was struck with an overwhelming and profound feeling that we made a mistake; that we should have moved to East Lansing instead of upstate NY. Mitch's parents are an hour and a half from there and would that have saved me? The house that we looked at to buy and loved was one block off campus and the kids and I would have had all of campus as our playground. We could have walked to the little college shopping strip and could have gone to Mitch's parents' when things got overwhelming. I cried and cried, and then cried more when Mitch was done and I told him my thoughts. I cried for my deep sadness in Rochester that first year; I cried for the whole year of Frances's toddlerdom I feel I missed. I cried that she didn't have me that year, and that she didn't have a grandparent or her old sitter Carol, didn't have someone who loved her then like I couldn't. 

The truth is, of course, I have no idea if it would have been better. It could have been worse; who knows. And it doesn't matter, because Rochester is where we went, Rochester is where I am now, where my life is now, where I am now happy living. It's kind of a silly exercise, thinking about what it would have been like to have made a different choice. I just didn't know. I didn't know how to make the choice at the time. I was pregnant with Clark then and scared to death, and I didn't know how much help I would need. We knew being closer to his parents would help, but I didn't realize I would need it so badly. I've got to forgive myself for it: for being depressed, for not being present for Frances then.

Besides, I wouldn't have had Wegmans. I'd have had to cook! Oh my. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


We're in Michigan now, staying with Mitch's parents. Mitch is going to Germany for a conference and so we scheduled for him to fly out of Detroit and the kids and I are staying here while he's gone, which means in all we'll be here almost two weeks.

And! I packed without a list. I made a list, interestingly, and then I forgot to use it. I see it as a good thing, a kind of relaxed that I'm usually not. So far the only things I've forgotten are the broadcasting end of the monitor (though I brought the receiving end...!) and tampons, neither of which were on the list in the first place. I bought both at Walmart, as that's pretty much the only store within a hundred miles. It's a quiet place in the country (on a lake!). I feel like I'm at camp. How great is that?

Friday, June 11, 2010

nightmares and Clark the Menace

Something's up with my girl, and I don't know what it is. Nightmares? Fear of being alone? Simple anxiety about independence? Her terrible hay fever? Here's what she does: goes to sleep just fine, then an hour/ two hours/ the middle of the night later she wakes up whining. I want a drink, or I wanna have a sleepover, or ahlsimfiemthtnelfiibktyy. She seems like a thinking wakeful person, which generally leads me to ask, "What is it you want, honey?" But that is the wrong approach. This much I've learned. Asking her how I can help her only ratchets up the whining until it turns into screaming (4 am screaming is really not pleasant) and then, full tantrumming. Honestly, I don't think she's even awake.

What does work is picking her up and putting her on the toilet (with a guess that having to pee is perhaps what woke her in the first place), then carrying her back to bed. I cannot, as I have learned, tell her to climb on the toilet seat herself, or pull up her own pants, or walk back to her room even though I am right beside her holding her hand. Verbal communication only escalates everything.

Mitch thinks it's her brother. Clark hits her all the time, randomly, not just out of irritation but also out of boredom. I don't know why it doesn't occur to her to turn around and hit him back, but it doesn't. Instead she just gets this pitiful exhausted helpless look on her face and whines, "Mommy, Clarky hit me again."

I try my best to get him to quit this shit but am obviously not being effective. I get down in his face and make him look at me and I tell him that we can't act like that etc etc. (the frown he gives me during this is quite theatrical). Anyway, I do that when I have enough wherewithall not to simply shriek, "Clark, no hitting!" He generally goes into time out which is not such a bad place in the pack-n-play with toys and sometimes even his blanket. Two minutes, until the dinger dings. Then he very willingly (and adorably) says he's sorry, everyone hugs, and five minutes later he's hit her again.

This morning Mitch noticed her tone of voice and facial expressions when she's upset in the night are just the ones she uses when Clark hits her and she feels powerless and frustrated. Hm. What to do?

I've been focusing on trying to get Clark to quit it dammit already, but it occurs to me this minute as I write (a-ha! the intended result of blogging about the stress of being a mom!) that maybe I need to give her some other skills. I've been trying to tell her to tell him how it makes her feel, but maybe I should teach her how to say that if he's going to hit her she's not going to play with him, or going to go into the other room, or whatever. That would be a much more thorny consequence to him (oh he loves playing with her. To him the hitting is just part of that play somehow) than listening to me or going into timeout.

Oh yay! I'm going to talk to her about it tomorrow. I hope it works. Or something works.

Monday, June 7, 2010

grouchy #2

I'm so grumpy I can hardly stand myself. At this very minute both kids are in super needy mommy stages and no one else seems to be able to do anything for them. Things like wash their hair or read bedtime books or hand them their sippy cups off the counter although dad is standing right beside the cups and I am all the way across the room.

Today when Frances was trying to get me to play with her and I was being a stickinthemud about it, I said, "You'll be glad when Katie (her sitter) gets here, won't you? She's a better player than I am."

"No, you're a better player, Mommy."

"Why?" I asked. "How am I a better player?"

"Because I love you, Mommy," she said.


But still.

And we've seriously got to get Clark's screaming thing under control. I am that parent in the grocery store parking lot, the one you shake your head at, whether from disdain or sympathy it's hard to say. He's old enough now (2 plus 3 months) that he can understand it's not okay (though I say that very thing a hundred times a day... apparently I need a different approach). The screaming really gets to me and contributes heavily to the grumpiness. It feels so invasive, almost as intrusive as when he climbs me like a jungle gym (which is often). Plus, he's getting really willful. Mitch pointed out that Frances used to say NO a lot, to which you can at least respond, "yes you will". But Clark just acts like I haven't spoken, doesn't turn his head when I call his name, walks off doing the thing I'm hollering for him to stop. To which you can only say, "dammit Clark!"

I'm touched out. I just want to sit by myself in our little woods in back of the yard and have no one touch me. Multiple times a day I find myself carrying them both because neither one agreed it was enough to just hold my hand. "Hold hold!" Clark says. "Uppy!" Sometimes I've got Clark on my hip and Frances in a piggy back and I just hope I don't slip as I'm coming down the stairs.

PLUS, as I mentioned before, Clark's climbing out of his bed and staying up until all hours of the night. It won't be like this forever. One day I'll have time to myself again. This is my mantra.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

oh how our lives change overnight

One day last week Clark woke from his nap as he always does and he called for me. Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY!!!! When I got up to his room he was relaxing in his armchair, the reading light on. Instead of in his crib.

Hi Clark, I said.

I get down. Down from bed, he said. (I love that he uses first person rather than referring to himself as Clarky now...)

I see that. And you didn't fall.

No. Hold on railing. Hand. 

Bedtime that night was the first diddy in the musical that is to comprise, with certainty, our evenings for a good while. 

First he climbed out of the crib, turned on the light, gathered books from his bookshelf, climbed up the changing table, and threw them one by one over the table. Then he made a nest for himself on the backside of the changing table and hung there a while. At one point I had to rescue his foot from the crib rungs as he tried to climb back in to get his blankie. It took him longer than I expected to figure out he could leave the room. And then he was on the stairs saying, "Come downstairs!" with no little bit of wonder.

So we've been spending our evenings putting him back in bed. And then doing it again. And again. Then sitting outside his door or even in his room until he finally gives in and lies down. This is time I used to spend doing dishes, or blogging, or watching mindless tv, or having an actual conversation with my husband. Sometimes we just give in and let him stay up with us. It's a good thing he's so cute. 

Friday, June 4, 2010


Okay, so when I have a headache I'm a more complaisant mom, but when I'm on prednisone, the steroid they eventually give me to break the headache chain, my irritation and the quickness with which I holler cycles out of proportion. My body's got to find a middle way. 

Plus, I was certain we were moving forward regarding Frances' agreeableness and her tantrums, but now we're definitely going in a non-forward direction. Sigh. I suppose sometimes you have to go back a few steps before continuing on. Today she woke after only 30 minutes of nap, actually woke already in full tantrum. Perhaps she's tantrumming in her dreams?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

babies abound

I have four friends with new babies. Four baby girls, soft and snuggly and warm, now smiling and cooing, though not fully holding their heads up yet. All of them born within four weeks of each other. Oh they are sweet. Which has of course got me thinking about having another.

And it's a funny thing. With Frances nearly 4 (in September) and Clark now two plus a couple of months, it occurs to me that I could actually have another without losing my mind. Not that I want to. But before, (and this is why we decided to stop at two) I thought that my struggles with having an infant were particular to the infantness, that I was just one of those people not cut out for it. (And maybe I'm not remembering just what that particular struggle feels like. Possible.) But it strikes me now that my depression had more to do with the move than anything else. Now that we're settled finally (finally! It took me two full years to feel like I belong in this house and town and I still don't have anything hanging on the walls, a stack of frames in the corner of the living room) I believe it wouldn't be as taxing as I thought to add a baby to the mix.

I was depressed with the first one, but that's not surprising. The first baby is so hard because it's such a shock, such a complete change of your life, and it happens overnight. The second for me was hard because Frances was only 17 months and a baby herself, but I think I would have handled it with much more grace had we not moved two months after Clark was born. That wasn't the plan: we had in fact planned for the baby to be born after we'd been here several months, but it didn't work out that way. The stress of two babies close together is a lot, but the move--the emotional energy you have to expend when you don't know how to get to the grocery, or your way around once inside, when you don't already have your go-to spots for coffee or pizza or takeout or a good walk, or friends. No wonder I had such a hard time with the babies. If Mitch hadn't been working 14 hour days, perhaps he could have helped me figure out some of these things, or at least held the baby while I did.

I feel like Frances was the one who suffered for it. I think back on it and feel so sad for her--I just had no patience then for a toddler. But I've got to let it go. I feel now like we are mending, Frances and I. In general she is entering a much more comfortable place. She feels everything so strongly, with such passion, and when I was struggling just to make it through a day (lonely, baby-up-at-night unrested, anxious about newness of the town, depressed), her overwrought sensibilities just undid me. They seemed so excessive (and, frankly, intrusive) and for a long time I was irritated with and maybe resentful of her.

We're healing because I'm healing, because I'm happier; because she's getting older and can control herself more (most of the time, anyway); and also, interestingly, because she copies Clark. He is different from her: so affectionate and open (as, I hear, boys tend to be). Now, instead of a disinterested "hi" when she's with a sitter and I come home, she does what Clark does and hollers Mommy!, runs and hurls herself at me, arms around my legs. In general I kiss her more, she snuggles more. It's good for us.

So maybe now I could handle a baby. Still, I don't want one, am happy with the decision we've made to stop at two. When I hold one of those new baby girls--adorable as they are--so many things return that I've forgotten: the smell of spit up, cradle cap, diaper rash, milk spots on your shirt, all the other stuff that vanishes so quickly from your brain. I tend not to hold her for long, except when she's sleeping. Then she's a lovely warm hot water bottle.