Thursday, March 31, 2011

here comes sibling rivalry

My children don't like each other right now. They still play together well - for a while. But the love they had, the glowing affection, spontaneous compliments, hand holding and hugging: all gone, at least for this moment. And there was a lot of it.

They are 17 months apart. Most of my friends' kids are a larger spread, and they seem to argue from the beginning. I wondered if their closeness in age had something to do with their emotional closeness. But maybe their age spread has something to do with this now too...

I've been watching them and thinking about what's happening. Clark is in a very very contrary stage. If you suggest anything, anything at all, his response is a loud and resounding NO. Even if he means yes, he'll say no first, then revise. And Frances - she wants everything to go her way. She's very bossy, wants to be in charge, wants to decide the 'game' ("Okay. You be the baby and I'll be the mommy.") Used to be that Clark always went along with her, always said okay to whatever she suggested.

No more.

He's got some theories and opinions now too; he's not a baby anymore. Plus, he's so damn contrary. Whenever he says no to her, she gets her feelings hurt. When her feelings are hurt, she lashes out at him, which hurts his feelings. Then they're just mad at each other.

The other night at bedtime I said, "You're such a sweet boy, Clark. I know you argue with your sister, but I know you love her too." "I do NOT love sissy," he said. Well. He used to.

This is what I want to know: is this normal and expected and something I just have to put up with? Is it healthy? Was the previous love they had for each other just an anomaly, destined to crumble into the settling dust of the unavoidable twister?

It breaks my heart. It made me so happy that they loved each other. I didn't know how it had come to be, but I loved that it was. I thought they would grow up loving each other in that same way. I thought we had been spared what everyone else has to tolerate. It pains me to admit, but I felt a little superior about it, felt we'd done something right, even if I didn't know what it was.

Probably serves me right.

This morning at breakfast we each named something we like about each other. They were able to come up with things fairly easily. Perhaps if I can, in tiny increments, remind them of their affection, they might eventually come back to each other. You think?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

lockers and swim clothes; fear and pride

So, perhaps my last post was a wee bit aggressive. Perhaps I'm feeling a little stressed. Perhaps we're not in the most pleasant of stages. Clark sure isn't. He's three this month, and I feel like we should have turned some sun-warmed corner, but then - I remember now - three is actually harder than two. Ah yes.

We will move on, shall we? 

Yesterday afternoon Frances closed herself in a locker in the hallway outside her ballet class. Clark does it all the time, finds it pretty entertaining, but when Frances did it, the locker jammed. Poor girl. She had a bit of a panic attack, sobbing hysteria. Eventually I had to ask one of the teachers to find someone to help us, someone who came with a crowbar. In the meantime, I could pull the locker open at the top just a little, just enough to see her, and I got her to take some deep breaths with me. I was so proud of her; usually she resists my attempts at deep breathing, but this time she did it, and she was able to calm down some. When the locker was finally opened and she stepped out, she wailed, "It felt like I was going to be in there forever!" 

Last night I was on my own for bedtime, which means some jockeying between bedrooms at the critical lying down time. Frances agreed to lie quietly and wait for me to come back and sing her a song while I put Clark down. (Oh that she is old enough to do this now. Getting them both to bed by myself was really a challenge when neither could understand the concept of patience.) When I left Clark's room I waited outside and listened for him to get up, and sure enough... He went into the bathroom and pushed the stool to the sink and ran himself some water in a cup (how big he's getting!), then he sat down in front of the space heater we have in his room (it's absolutely freezing in there; the coldest room in the house) like it was a campfire. He was so cute smiling at the heater, holding out his hands to warm them. After only a short while he stood up and dragged his blankie to his bed, where they both climbed in and pulled up the covers. I was enormously pleased with this turn of events, and off I went to Frances's room, where it turned out she was already asleep. 

But my celebration was premature. Downstairs, after another 20 minutes or so, Clark silently appeared. He was wearing his swim trunks and his rash guard shirt - backward - (need I remind anyone that it's March in the snowbelt, a high today of 31, a windchill of perhaps 4?). He must have dug them out of the box of summer clothes in his closet, a feat that requires a chair and a good bit of balance. Not only that, but he'd found and donned a swim diaper too. In case you're not in the know, swim diapers do not hold liquid, only solid. He was so pleased with himself for getting off his old diaper and putting the swim one on. He climbed up beside me for some TV watching, and I didn't worry much since we were sitting on a leather couch; in the end we had no accidents. It was so sweet to have him snuggle up against me, thumb and blankie sleepy, and I didn't take him back up to bed for a long time. He loved the commercials best. After one of them, he turned to me and said, with some astonishment, "Mama, he said 'don't get mad, get glad'!"

He slept in his swim clothes, need I say it? This morning he dug around some more and came up with last year's too small crocs. Oh the joy. I think he felt the outfit was complete. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

a new mom at 35

A friend asked me today what motivated me to start the blog, and I talked about the early days as a mom, about feeling that no one had warned me how difficult being a parent is, and how moms don't talk about it; it's some kind of forbidden topic. At that time, when I talked to other moms of small babies, everyone pretended they were okay and not sleep deprived, that having a baby was just jolly all the time. I found that when I told the truth, when I said that actually, I have no idea what I'm doing, am holding it together only by sheer hope, and one more exploding diaper might send me over the edge completely, all the other moms widened their eyes and said, "Oh, you feel that way too? You seem so together, I was afraid to admit how I really feel."

So I started talking about it outloud. 

My friend, though, was interesting: she didn't find the first baby very hard. It was when the others (three total) came along that it started to look impossible to her. 

And here's what I think is the difference - she was twenty three when she had the first one, and I was thirty five. I could see how taking care of a baby at twenty three could be viewed as fun. But at thirty five, the reality is that a baby is a freedom-sucking-anxiety-producing upheaval. At thirty five what you've had is your own life, planned (possibly) and cultivated (hopefully); you've maybe had a career, the freedom to go from relationship to relationship, possibly city to city, and at least apartment to apartment. Freedom. Freedom to go to the movies, or not. To choose to go to work, or not. To eat in restaurants and travel and take hour long baths. At twenty-three, you don't have as much life or history to give up. 

The reason becoming a parent is so hard at thirty five is the resentment. Though the baby is amazing and you love it with every cell of your body, you also resent the little fucker for completely destroying the life you knew and replacing it with one covered in exploding diapers and clogged milk ducts and vomit. Plus, sleep deprivation is much more taxing on a thirty-something body and mind. The twenty-three year old rarely has solid regular sleep in the first place. I was probably more sleep deprived when I was 23 than I was with an infant. Okay, not quite. But it's close. 

I've taken to the ipod lately. One earbud in, my low music the soundtrack to this movie. It creates a little bit of distance for me, a little bit of space all my own, a little elbow room. Being an only child, I think, makes me less used to sharing my personal space, and makes me feel the resentment even more keenly. I've been lately feeling smothered, and just the ipod can bring me back to myself, make me remember that I still have my own internal life, even though I give and give and give. Though it sometimes feels like it, we never give it all away. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

babydoll house

Frances thinks they need miniature toothbrushes next. 

The can by the foot of the bed has a sign that says "hats and scarves."

Toilet and bathtub to the left. Couldn't get a picture of the table set with cups and plates, or the closet. Frances is insistent about buying hangers for the clothes they don't yet have. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

the cake

Clark was disturbed by the Diego on the cake. He thought the cake was nifty, but those toys, his toys, did not belong on the cake. He saw it before the party and didn't like it then, and I thought about going out and getting another Diego somewhere, but then I didn't. I wondered if maybe he'd be more okay with it when the cake arrived at the party itself, all lit and exciting. But no. As we were singing happy birthday he was raising his voice to be heard, to say "Mommy? Dat my toy!" "Okay, honey," I said, and took the Diego and Baby Jaguar off and put them by his plate. Then he was mad at me because of the toys, and he hmphed and didn't want to blow out the candles. Frances and I blew them out. He's a hoot.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Frances at 4 1/2.

Frances is rearranging the house.

She's in a completely new place, a place where she's big enough to reach things, to push up chairs and open cabinits and pour juice and put valves in sippy cups and even change Clark's diaper. She gets down paper and crayons and sissors whenever she wants, puts tortilla chips in cups for herself and Clark, adds bendy straws to her beverage. She can dress herself in the morning, can put on all her snow stuff and be out the door while I'm still wrestling Clark into the first leg of his snowpants.

I think it's all this capability that has made her so much more at home in herself. She now goes for two hours off in her own world: rehearsing her own play, making a book complete with story and pirate/dinosaur pictures for Clark, building a babydoll apartment. Rearranging the furniture. It's crazy to me.

When I pick her up from school she moans and groans about how she wants a playdate playdate playdate, and Bridget and Maia get to have a playdate and she wants one. Then we get home and she's through the door and she doesn't speak one word to me for two hours, off in her own world. Sometimes she comes to ask me how she can make a divingboard for her pollypocket's loaf pan swimming pool. But other than that, she's on her own. FINALLY my no-tv-on-school-days rule is paying off. Damn did it take a while, but she doesn't even ask for it anymore. She's learned how to entertain herself very well.

All of this makes me think I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Often (as is the case with many educated, careered, american, slightly older moms such as myself) I put so much pressure on myself to always be doing enriching things with the kids, to be organizing craft activities, or .... or .... or I don't know what all. Things. That I'm supposed to be doing. But Frances's recent creations are completely without my input. I don't even suggest them to her. The other day I found her in the kitchen cutting out people she'd drawn on paper. They were paperdolls, she told me. She'd already created a house (brick) out of paper with a door that opened and closed. She made them shirts and pants and pillows and blankets and beds, and I seriously don't know where any of it came from.

But the house rearranging... I don't know about all that. Rugs from upstairs and suddenly decorating the kitchen, armchairs and lamps and sidetables crowded together on the other side of the room to create some new little space with some specific purpose, a purpose that is abandoned when I call for dinner. Then I'm the one who eventually moves the furniture back. That part needs to change.

Anyway, it's a new place for her. It's a much more settled place for her, and I like it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

siblings and cakes and stuff

I'm feeling kind of lost on this sibling rivalry thing. As an only child, I just don't get it. I don't know when it's healthy, how to steer it, when the flags of warning have been raised. It all sounds like blaring horns of warning to me, signs that my children are headed down some path to antisocialism or sociopathy or eventual addiction and homelessness. Okay, maybe not that bad, but still.

I have no examples to give right now. Or at least no energy for the tedium of the examples I do have.

Moving on.

Clark's third birthday party is tomorrow. I was going to order a cake, since it's been winter here for decades and we're just now entering into Rochester's most unpleasant season: gray sky and mud. (We have six seasons here; bet you didn't know that. They are: Summer - Fall - Winter - Ungodly Amounts of Snow - Gross Mud - Spring. Winter through Gross Mud takes up 9 months of the year.)

Then my helpful husband, teasing me, said something about how Clark is getting the cake shaft after the castle cake I made for Frances. Dammit. Now I had to go and make something ridiculously time consuming for Clark too. At first I was going to make a Rocket cake (it looked like the party was going in a Space/pirates/Diego combo theme direction) but it has turned out to be a Diego cake. Party theme simplified. I'm quite pleased with it, and it was lots of fun. Will post a picture here soon.

At first I hassled myself for putting on so much pressure to make a fancy shmansy cake. I thought about how we overdo things, buy too many toys, spend ridiculous amounts of energy on parties they won't remember. But, really, the cake is for me; it's a creative outlet, fills a space that I so desperately need to fill with regularity in my life. For now, it's the cakes. At least their birthdays aren't close together.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I'm well! Everyone's well at the same time! (knock knock knock on wood) School started back up this week after February break! Things can return to some semblance of normal routine! Oh the excitement! AND the sun is shining!

Really, how much more can you ask? I do have this fantasy about my whole house being clutter free and organized all at once. I also realize this is indeed fantasy and nowhere near the realm of possibility. I'm okay with that.

Right now the kids are both at school and I'm getting ready to sew. I've got a bunch of sewing projects stacked on the table, have had them stacked there for some time now. I keep thinking I'll sew in the middle of the day during down time, quiet time for the kids, while Frances draws beside me. (She draws all the time right now, digs the crayons or pencils out by herself.) I haven't been able to figure out why it isn't happening. I think I'm just so mentally wiped at 3pm that I can't think about creative things. Instead, I think about getting dinner together, I lie on the couch, I straighten up from the tornado that's run through in the morning. Or maybe it's just because I've been sick, and I certainly didn't have the energy then.

But I'm going to quit this post and go sew, get some creating done. I'm doing some placemats and napkins for the kids, and I'm going to do a bunting banner like this one. Plus the zillion things I need to mend.

Off I go!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

picky picky picky

My son. My son is a lunatic. An adorable lunatic, but the screaming really undoes me. He'll be three in a week and I know it's typical for this to be an awful age, but - really. Come on.

He won't wear pajamas. Which is fine. He wears to bed whatever he's been wearing all day, which does make bedtime a little sideways because we don't have the ritual of putting on the pjs any more. But whatever.

He agrees to wear a grand total of two pairs of shorts. Shorts. They are long shorts, the longest I could find in the bottom of the box of summer stuff in his closet. When we go outside I require snowboots and socks that he allows me to pull up under the legs of the shorts, and that he pushes down the instant his butt hits the carseat. He does, however, pull them up of his own accord before we get out of the van. As you can imagine, there being only two pairs, the shorts are often dirty. Today I washed one of the pairs out in the sink and dried them on the heater, and then the last bit with the hairdryer (oh what a sweet mama I am), so they'd be ready for bedtime.

And he found a pair of his now-too-small shoes in a stack of things I've been meaning to ebay, and he insists on wearing them all the time. Even to bed. (I've actually finally won that battle. Score one for mom! No shoes in bed anymore, but he does put them right beside the bed so they'll be there in the morning, or, I assume, if he wakes in the night and needs to glance down to reassure himself of the steadiness of the universe.) Although he wears his snowboots outside (spiderman, light up when walking, bought in desperation at Target months ago when he was refusing to wear his perfectly acceptable blue ones), I often have to carry the too small old shoes with me in my bag so he can change into them when he gets where we're going, like our friend Sophia's house or the kid area at the gym. And if dad's home, he can skip the snowboots all together, because he convinces dad to carry him to and from the car. Which his dad agrees to do. Again, whatever.

His puppy eyes are indeed convincing. He's not even three and he's already mastered throwing the sugary bone. Today he hollered "TV! TV!" while shrieking and flailing in my arms on the way to the car from Frances's ballet class. I told him absolutely not; boys who behave like this don't get to watch tv in the car. He stopped immediately and quietly said, "I not screaming any more." A little too late for that, little man. Five minutes later I said that no, boys who hit mom certainly don't get candy. He looked at me so sweetly and said, "I'm sorry I acted like that, Mama," in the most adorable little voice you've ever heard. "Why, thank you, Clark. I appreciate that apology," I said. "Now we can watch TV?" he asked with just as much sugar. Heh. His girlfriends are going to be in trouble.

Have I mentioned how stinkin cute he is?

I can't figure it out, really. I've tried several different approaches. My latest is to pretend he isn't screaming at all. I dig my earplugs out of my jeans pocket, where they are the minute I get up in the morning, and I just go about my dish-doing, my straightening, my sweet potato slicing for Yam Spinach Bacon soup. He follows me around the kitchen screaming, and screaming, and screaming, and after about three full screaming minutes, he swats me on the legs. I say, "You may not hit me, Clark," and I pick him up and carry him to the time out chair in the dining room. He continues to scream, which I ignore, and then he screams for his blankie blankie, which I scoop from under the kitchen table or up off the family room floor and throw to him. When the blankie hits his hands he quiets immediately, and spends the rest of time out lounging sideways in the chair and sucking his thumb.

(The blankie is fascinating, isn't it? Its like a drug, a deep inhale, the world's edges suddenly softer, life not such a strain, one foot at a time into a steaming hot bath. Ah. I could use a blankie, come to think of it.)

I have to keep reminding myself, keep reminding myself that this is a stage. One day he'll stop all this madness. He won't still be throwing fits like this when he's sixteen (they'll be a different variety of fit then...) I'll even be able to keep a crayon within his reach without fearing consequences.

But as a stay at home mom, dealing with this all day long, every day, several times a day, ad nauseum, it's hard to keep it in perspective. I feel like I'm forever going to live in a house with someone who screams for extended periods at a time. I really do think the noise level is what throws me off. I didn't realize I was noise sensitive, but on the extremely rare and random day when he doesn't scream, I'm a much happier and calmer and better parent.  Cheers to that.