Month

February 2015

My Child Is A Lot

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My oldest is a lot. A lot of energy. A lot of bouncing and running and jumping and swinging. A lot of questions. A lot of talking and yelling and singing and noise-making. A lot of toys all over the floor. A lot of water all over the bathroom. A lot of big feelings. A lot of “Can I have a snack?” and “Can I watch a show?” and “Can you play with me?”

She is a lot of creativity, used for both good an evil. She is a lot of challenges. A lot of sass. A lot of defiance. A lot of strength and fire and spirit and independence. Yes, she is a kid. And. She. Is. A. Lot.

There are days where I just can’t. The steady stream of noise and energy wears me out. By the time she goes to bed, I’m exhausted.

I see it in other people, too. At first they are enamored with her charm and intensity and passion. She is well spoken and her opinions are often comically adorable, so she can be very entertaining.

But the intensity can quickly become overwhelming. You can only answer so many questions about bees before you feel like you’re going off the deep end just a little.

As a parent, what’s the most important thing here? This entire blog is centered around the idea of parenting her without putting out that fire. And yet, people are collaborative animals. Our survival depends upon finding a place in the herd to “belong”.  We teach our children manners and social norms to ensure they will be accepted into the pack, increasing their chances of survival. So my maternal instinct impulse is to bring the raging prairie fire down to a controlled burn.

Is that the best thing I can do for her? I don’t know. Parenting strategies of the past would say yes. But today? Maybe the world needs a little more fire.

Can we teach our kids “how” to be without controlling “what” to be? She can be fiery and fierce and passionate, but how can she be those things in a way that is safe and kind and respectful of others?

Because I don’t want to teach her to change who she is just so others will accept her. But i do want to teach her how to be herself in a way that is kind and respectful to others. I want to teach her awareness, so that she can use her fire, but not without understanding the consequences. Not without being aware how fire can affect those around you. 

Perhaps, then, it is about teaching her self awareness. Rather than telling her how she should be, I teach her to be aware of how she is and how it affects others. In that way, I teach her how to make choices for herself. Isn’t that what authenticity is all about?

In the end, I want her to find her tribe. The people who appreciate that fire and intensity. I want her to figure out how to use that fire to change the world. I want her to know that she is perfect the way she is, and that even on the days where she wears me out, that I will always be grateful for how she challenges me to grow.

My Time, Her Time

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(Viewpoint of a spying mama)

There are days where I feel guilty for not spending enough time with her.

Actually, there are a lot of days I feel that way. I sit and pour through Pinterest trying to find new ideas for activities to do together, making big plans for things I want to teach her and experiences I want to give her.

And it’s not just because I feel the pressure to be one of those moms, the kind who is never caught browsing Facebook when they could be spending quality time with their kids or hiding in the bathroom just to get to read a few pages of a book other than Dora. There’s no shortage of reading material out there on the vast Internet machine designed to shame parents into spending more intentional time with their children. And to be honest, I’m a huge advocate for grownups slowing down and paying attention to their little people. Children are magic and they have a gift for teaching us things we most need to learn: patience, authenticity, courage, love.

But that doesn’t mean I should never touch my smartphone or read my own book or just say, “Mommy needs some me-time.”

The truth is, I WANT to spend time with her. She grows older every day and I will never get this exact version of her back again. The things she says and does make me laugh until I cry and blow my mind and leave me in awe. She sees the world in such a unique way and it’s a privilege to catch a glimpse of.

But I’m a human. I don’t always have the energy to devote myself completely to another human for every waking hour. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be the best thing for her.

Parenting changes with each passing generation. I don’t remember my parents down on the floor entertaining us every moment. And I guarantee my parents’ parents weren’t constantly searching for new and unique ways to keep their children occupied.

Children are vibrant and creative little brings. To constantly provide entertainment for them robs them of the opportunity to utilize that creativity.

I miss her when I send her to her dad’s for the weekend. But I know that is what’s best for her. I will miss her every time I send her out into the world without me, but I know she needs to go. In the same way, I hate passing up any opportunity to spend time playing and creating with her. But for both my sake and hers, she needs to be left alone sometimes.

She needs to go outside and play out whatever fantasy she wants, however she wants it. She needs to disappear into a pile of My Little Ponies and learn how to play all of the characters herself. She needs to learn how to be alone. She needs to learn how to be bored. She needs to learn how to be something other than the center of attention. In fact, she needs to learn how to have no attention at all. She needs to learn how to make choices for herself, especially when no one is watching.

In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to believe that the lessons she will learn from being alone are just as important as the ones I will teach her.

So perhaps, rather than feel guilty about not spending time with her, rather than wear myself thin trying to have a Pinterest activity for every day, I just need to shift my perspective and remember that giving her space IS a valuable activity. In fact, perhaps I shouldn’t be waiting until I’ve reached the end of my patience and need a break to implement alone time… Perhaps it should be a planned learning activity just like all the others.

Kids need our attention and our love and our support. They need to be heard and held and helped. But they also need to explore the world without us so that when they’re grown they’re ready to explore the world without us.

The Doing

I’m a list person. I always have been. I love the visual feedback of accomplishment when I make a list and cross everything off. I always have a “to do” list. Always.

Now that I am in sleep-deprived mom-of-an-infant (when do they stop being considered a “newborn”?), I am even more dependent on my lists, both for the validation that I am doing something with the days at home in yoga pants and for the help they offer my distracted brain.

One of the things I do is write down lists of things to blog about. The days are busy and a thought will come to me and I’ll write it down for later.

The problem is, later never comes. I keep going with the endless chores and lists and another idea comes along and I add it to the pile and just keep pushing it aside. I have thousands of blog posts waiting to be written. Hundreds of moments that have now passed… What it was like to worry about becoming a mom of a second child in the midst of a blended family, what transitioning from work to staying at home was like. All moments passed. All thoughts unwritten.

I have plenty of excused, sure. But how valid are they really? Sure there’s plenty of stuff to get done and there always will be. But it only takes a few minutes to push pause and write. And this blog isn’t intended to be a perfect specimen of writing. It’s intended to be real. Scattered thoughts from the middle of the night because the baby is awake, typos because I’m writing this from my phone during a gymnastics class kind of real.

So I’m working on doing rather than just planning to do. I had the idea for this post and went to write it in my journal but stopped. The four year old is playing alone in her room happily. The baby is sleeping. The laundry is running and the crockpot is cooking supper. Now is exactly the kind of “later” I have been waiting for.

The Beautiful Ugly Truth

 

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A sink full of glitter residue is a hard thing for a photo to capture.

Why is my sink full of glitter, you ask? Because the truth is, even as much as you want to believe change is easy, it just isn’t.

I just wrote in a post about how well my four year old has handled the transition out of only childhood. And she has. She adores her baby sister and I hear her say daily how she is “exactly the baby she wanted.” It’s adorable.

And it’s not entirely true. Because by the fourth week, the novelty is wearing off and sh*t is getting real. Don’t get me wrong, she still loves having a baby around. But after so many times of being told to “quiet down” or having to be patient while mommy pumps or when evening routine gets changed up because baby is crying from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. then it starts to get old. And her four year old self demands a rebalancing of the attention the only way she knows how: by being naughty.

Now, I’m not an unreasonable person. Nothing we have encountered has been unmanageable. A little mouthiness here and there, a lot of bouncing off the walls and not following instructions, and the more creative ones like hiding food and wrappers under all the furniture in the living room. No major pieces of the household have been ruined, no major expenses incurred, no one injured or even truly put in danger. When this stage passes, the few incidences we even remember will be remembered with humor.

But I’m tired. Going on three to five hours of sleep per night for four weeks now, in addition to adjusting our entire lives, juggling visitors, and having my needs come last every day takes its toll, no matter how much I wish I could be super mom. So today when I came out from putting the littlest down for a nap and found a living room full of toys covered in glitter glue (as well as carpet, pajamas, and hands), I lost it.

I yelled. I stomped. I ranted. I confiscated toys and not-so-quietly deposited them in the sink to be washed. And I kept ranting, my anger growing, as I washed the glittery preschooler in the tub and then stood over her as she cleaned up her room and then went to time out. For a while. Like an hour, moving rooms with me wherever I went, jumping from one time out spot to the next because, as I explained to her, I could no longer trust her to be alone.

I washed the toys and finally sat down in the living room to supervise her still ongoing timeout. She sassed. She cried. She went through the whole lineup. And try as I might, I couldn’t stop being mad.

I know it is a cry for attention. I know it is. And it was a mess, but it was cleaned up. No permanent damage was done. But I just couldn’t stop being mad. This isn’t a two year old learning right and wrong: she knows we only do glitter glue at the table and not to put food or wrappers anywhere but the trash, etc. These are all established rules that she normally follows. How could I not be mad? As I sat there, trying to reason my way back to reason, I wondered for the millionth time what the right thing to do is.

Somehow in my life I have come to the belief that if a consequence isn’t severe enough, the lesson won’t stick. I can see the reason behind the theory. But human behavior rarely follows predictable equations. So I find myself wondering if it is true. Isn’t the very nature of a negative consequence to inflict discomfort, thereby dissuading the same behavior in the future? If it’s not uncomfortable, there’s no reason not the repeat the behavior.

I don’t know the answer. Theorizing aside, having to enforce consequences sucks.

But I believe it’s necessary. When you do something that impacts other people or their things in a negative way, you should experience discomfort. I hate being the parent that’s constantly nagging my kid to be polite, respect people’s space, and so on and so on. But I also know that I don’t want her to grow up thinking it is ok to be disrespectful and rude to others. Because then people will never see the amazing human she is, they will only see the bad behavior. And I would hate that even more. She is incredible and she deserves to be seen.

So I sit and I wonder: how long, how severe, how uncomfortable do I have to make this for her to remember? How can I make this an effective learning experience and not just a crappy afternoon?

She crawls in my lap and I look into her big brown eyes and ask, “What should I do? How do I teach you that this isn’t ok so that you will remember?”

She looks back at me and says simply, “You could always just use hugs.”

And my heart breaks and melts and I love what a beautiful little human she is and I hate that this is so hard. Because I would love to just use hugs. But it doesn’t always work like that.

And then her dad comes to get her. It hurts to let her go on the good days. It hurts worse to let her go in the distracted days. It hurts the most to let her go on the mad days. I spent the afternoon being mad at her and now I have to send her away.

Everything. About. This. Sucks.

But I help her put her shoes on. And I fake it so she doesn’t know how much I hate this. And I hug her and tell her for the millionth time that I love her even when I’m mad. Always. No matter what. And she brushes me off because she already knows that and she’s excited to go.

And when she walks out the door, the sleeping baby wakes up and is ready to eat. Life doesn’t slow down long enough for you to wonder if you should have done it all differently.

And maybe next time I will. Or maybe I won’t. The truth is, raising a human is one of the most beautiful things you will ever do, but sometimes things can get ugly and hard and uncomfortable. No matter what you do, there will be hard parts and consequences and anger and frustration.

But there will also be hugs. And even though it can’t always be only hugs, there will still be hugs.