My hubby brought me a grande half-caf, 2-pump, nonfat vanilla latte. He proudly showed me all the little boxes ticked off on the side. Just the way I like 'em. (Ok, I prefer all-fat to non-fat but the NF does foam better, so why disabuse him of that?) This happens frequently but today while driving home, I thought about how when he shows me those boxes he's really telling me he loves me, like "see? look how well I know you, I can order your favorite without asking."
We had a great orientation for Griff today, and on our way out, a friend caught me and looked SO excited to see me there, said she's heard through another friend that we were moving to town and that she's SO happy! Can I just say how cool it is not only to see and hug my friend, but that we "belong" here enough now that I have a big enough social network to generate happy buzz? It is so cool to have people who are genuinely excited about your news. (Also turns out she and her family looked at the house we're buying - they're home shopping, too - and she thinks it has a really great vibe. The home inspector I met today thought so, too. Glee.)
9 reasons that I am really, really psyched that Mary Munford said Griff can start the school year in their kindergarten!!**
1. No changing schools mid-year 2. At least three kids he knows and likes will be in kindergarten there 3. Streamlining preschool and kindergarten drop-off times means more sleep and less stress for everybody 4. Munford's faboo reputation for both academics and community among liberal Richmonders 5. Coolest playground EVAH 6. Teachers and PTA who provide a ton of excellent, reassuring, sensible materials to new families 7. NO SENSE OF DREAD (which I cannot say for Shady Grove) 8. Finally being able to tell Griff for sure where he'll be going, and build excitement, after having to introduce the idea that *maybe* he wouldn't be going to the original school, and not being able to really talk up or dismiss either place. 9. A minimum of 4 moms that I know and love will be picking up kids when I do - playground companionship, hooray!
**After getting the contract, we called Munford on Monday and they let me come in and register him the same day. Orientation tomorrow, wuwu!
Griffin is very excited about our upcoming move to the Kensington house and initially seemed to expect that it would happen immediately. I explained that we won't be moving for a couple of months, not until after Halloween. Moments later, he produced this:
It's me, dressed as a witch, going trick-or-treating. I'm carrying a blue treat bag. Not sure what the green item in the bag is, I will have to ask him about that. On my feet are "light-up" shoes. You've probably seen kids wearing these things - little lights in the soles flash with every step. Griff has coveted them in the past and recently acquired his first pair. Apparently they are so cool that all of us will be wearing them soon.
Since this drawing was made I answer questions daily about when we will move and how many more days until Halloween. He's dutifully ticking off the days on his calendar. I'm hoping once November comes we have a better idea of when we'll fully move in - at present all I can tell him is "somewhere in here" while vaguely gesturing at the last two weeks of November. During the first couple of weeks we're hoping to tear down wallpaper and some built-ins (buh-bye, formica hall shelf and matching desk upstairs), patch plaster, paint, and refinish some floors so that everything is neat and shiny.
Griff is looking forward to Halloween so that the move can start. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, when hopefully it will be over!
The scene: Reese and I are sitting on my bed. He picks up an envelope that contains various tax forms and pay stubs that Dan had pulled together last week to fax to our bank.
Reese: What's in there? Jess: Stuff for Daddy. He's asking the bank for money to buy a house. Reese: There's papers in there. Jess: Yes. They say "Daddy would like to borrow some money for a house, please." Reese: I want to borrow some money for a house! Jess: Well, if anything happens to both of us, the debt's all yours. Reese: YAY!!
Think he'll be that happy about it when he's settling our estate 50 years from now?
First off, let's just get this out in the open: in this post, I will compare one of my children to a troll. Lest somebody get upset at how this comparison contradicts my usual dislike of words like "misbehavior" and "hellbeast" and my preference to see all behaviors as communicative...it's a metaphor. Ok?
Hardy Boy #2, in the highly coveted and esteemed middle child position, has a behavior or two that are, shall we say...rather annoying. Ok, that's putting it mildly. Infuriating or enraging, maybe. Pestilential, even. Thing is, they're also pretty normal behaviors for a spirited three year old. He's big on exploring what his body can do and what effects he can have on other people. If you're his parent, it can be difficult to see the big picture and let go, but it's even more difficult to handle if you're his five year old brother and not really aware that there is a big picture. An adult can think, "oh my goodness, that's annoying," but school their expression, find a creative distraction, and move on. A five-year-old, not so much. Five-year-olds are masters of escalation. You bump accidentally into me, I glare at you, then you shriek at me, so I scream at you, and you hit me, so I get in your face...you get the picture.
It's nearly impossible to explain to your kindergartener that your preschooler isn't purposefully trying to piss him off. Or that he did similar things at that age and eventually grew out of them. And so, the bickering goes on, and on, and on. We have sidestepped endless tattling by asking Griffin not to report on his brother's actions, but rather to ask for specific assistance when it's needed, or express specific safety concerns for Reese. Works like a charm. I'm considering implementing a "finding family kindness" strategy suggested by my friend Patience on the nifty new PBS blog, Supersisters, that she shares with two of her siblings. Still, when you're in the moment, and somebody is totally tweaking your last nerve, and you lack the emotional reserves (or maturity) to get creative or kill 'em with kindness...how do you respond? What's a 21st century mom to do?
Why, do what a 21st century mom does best, of course. Use the power of the internets. And what the internets teach you early in your cyberlife is this: don't feed the trolls.
Some of you are nodding in recognition, and some of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell the internet has to do with the nutritional needs of mystical creatures. Nodders, skip to the next paragraph. Scratchers, one of the basic truths of any public internet community - such as a message board or open comments forum for a blog or news site - is that, just as in offline life, there are some real, shall we say, pieces of work out there on the web. I'm referring not to ordinary people having ordinary differences of opinion, but people who are either socially inept enough or malicious enough that they make comments that are inflammatory or rude and
appear to be posted purely for the purpose of getting a rise out of people and stirring up big fat internet trouble. Like a fisherman trailing a line in the water, waiting for a bite, these people are said to be trolling for a reaction. Which makes them...trolls. Yeah, it's a jump, thus goeth linguistic change, roll with it. So, the conventional wisdom is that when somebody is clearly a troll, the best way to handle them is to ignore their nettlesome comments. The assumption is that if you ignore them, they will go away.
Ok, now we're all back together again. Some of you nodders peeked at the last paragraph, and hopefully you think I did a decent job of explaining the troll thing. Some of you from both camps are wondering why the Aldort Lover is recommending ignoring a child and some are aghast at the comparison of Reese to a malicious, vexatious beast. Who is this person blogging, where did Jess go? It's a metaphor, and a coping strategy. MOST of the time, I'm 100% in favor of seeing the need behind the behavior and finding creative, mutually-agreeable solutions. This is not an end solution, nor is it something to apply to every situation. We're still emphasizing compassion and patience and helping Reese to mature little by little in the ways he interacts with us. BUT. Griff gets annoyed, and glares, and it escalates, and the escalation makes life a lot harder for everybody. Explaining what Reese is doing and what Reese is and is not capable of means very little to Griff. More glares, more escalation. Until the troll story.
Sometimes Reese is like a troll. He is loud and violent and the humans are annoyed or frustrated by him. Thing is, a troll loves dirty looks and angry words. They are like food to him. When you feed him, he gets bigger, and Bigger, and BIGGER. Don't feed the troll. Show him how patient you can be. Don't feed the troll. He will stop doing the annoying things. Eventually.
It's working. I'm amazed. We have much less escalation, which means that the annoying situations are less annoying. And what's even better is that it's a great empathy tool for Griffin and myself. As I remind him not to feed the troll, I rub his back and say "gosh, it will be nice when he's older and doesn't do that" or "you're being so patient right now, you're working hard to show kindness." Reese is starting to ping his brother a little less, and Griffin is starting to understand that the way he reacts contributes to the overall peacefulness or stressfulness of the situation.
"My mother was born before women could vote. But in this election my daughter got to vote for her mother for President." - Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Convention, August 26, 2008 link to video, text
This reminded me of a Sesame Street song that was my mom's and my anthem in the late '70s:
Women can fly way up high on trapezes
Women can be rollerskaters
Women can help to find cures for diseases
Women can hunt alligators
Pilots and poets, policewomen too
Look at the things that we women can do
We can be clowns
We can be cooks
We can be bus drivers
We can write books
Just look around you, it's easy to see
There's nothing we women can't be
Sing it like it is, Teresa.
I used to be good with a needle and thread
I'd sew dainty dresses of blue
Then I got an urgin' to be a great surgeon
And now I sew people up, too!
Then she got an urgin' to be a great surgeon
And now she sews people up, too!
Margaret, tell 'em about the cat.
Once I had a cat that I'd try to teach tricks
A quiet and sweet little thing
But the tricks I was tryin' required a lion ...
(A lion ...! )
... and that's why I'm here in this ring!
The tricks she was tryin' required a lion
And that's why she's here in this ring!
I used to go bicycling far from my home
My mother would say "come back soon" (come back soon)
I travelled so fast off the earth in a blast-off ...
... now I'm on my way to the moon!
She travelled so fast off the earth in a blast-off ...
5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
Now she's on her way to the moon!
(To the moon ...!)
Women can ride up inside of a rocket
Women can be office clerkers
Women can sew things like pillows and pockets
Women can be soda jerkers
Pilots and poets, policewomen too
Look at the things that we women can do ...
We can be clowns
We can be cooks
We can be bus drivers
We can write books
We can catch fish
We can train dogs
We can climb mountains
And we can chop logs!
Just look around you, it's easy to see ...
There's nothing we women can't be!
During the past few years, our family has had several occasions on which death was discussed, usually due to the end of a family member's life. On one such occasion, I related my discussions with Griffin to a group of friends, several of which were horrified to hear that he had been present at a wake and funeral and that we had discussed such graphic details as decomposition, which, at the time, Caitlin and Griffin likened to composting. The prevailing attitude among the horrified is that I must be a heartless beast, purposefully snatching my child's innocence from him and needlessly subjecting him gorey, nightmare-inducing mental images. It is hard to reassure such a person that my child is not traumatized, that I am, of course, showing compassion to him, taking my cues from him, and discussing things in terms which he can understand and handle. They really and truly seem to believe that I have painted a hopeless, meaningless picture of life and death for my child. I may not be able to offer heavenly fables, but to think that no afterlife equals no hope, no joy, no comfort is a pretty limited view. Give a listen to Aaron Freeman's "You want a physicist to speak at your funeral", or read it while listening to Joni Mitchell singing that we are stardust, billion year old carbon. I have many real, earthly beauties to offer my children. I have no evidence of what happens after we die, why pass along guesses and wishes as fact when there are so many other approaches?
Dale McGowan touched on this yesterday, describing what he calls "Finks" - FNCs, Fictional Narrative Cartoons. This is a description of one person's experience that another person, to whom that experience is foreign, constructs. It is based on a few correct assumptions and a lot of incorrect filler. He contrasts real and finkily imagined discussions of death with children. Dale has a sensible and compassionate approach, and I wish that people like "Makarios" would read his essays and the associated message board (note: entire forum devoted to thoughtful discussion of death and loss), rather than making up their own, uninformed versions of how an atheist parent relates the truths of life to his or her child.
Needed a reminder of this today. Griff spun around on the coffee table and before I could jump, my half-full coffee mug had been emptied all over the table and carpet. Again. I did a lot of snarling and "you know you shouldn't do that" and "get a towel, now!" and other mean-mom stuff. Sure, he knows not to do that, but so do I, and I have a good 27 years' jump on him in terms of maturity and judgment, and I still knock my own coffee over sometimes in really klutzy and preventable ways. Did yelling undo the spill and make the carpet less soggy? Did feeling angry make anything better? I apologized to Griff for choosing that particular reaction.
"Thanks for saying that, mom. Sometimes friends are mean to each other."
"Yeah, sometimes we forget to be nice. I wish I had chosen a nicer way of talking to you. Thanks for understanding."
Dan is working the weekend and boy, has it been a doozy of a day. Griff and Reese keep bickering, Xander won't take a nap, everybody seems overtired - I know I am, and the older two both had a feverish virus last week, so maybe they're still down from that. Two great things salvaged the day: 1. Dan made it home for dinner and bedtime 2. He came upstairs carrying an unexpected package that had been sitting on the doorstep.
I opened it up (I didn't place a Lush order, what gives?) and found this beaut, sent to me by my friend Angela as a thank-you for being her Virginia Beach guide:
Somebody needs to bring back Smell-O-Vision or create a scratch-n-sniff blog technology or something. This box is amazing. It's too pretty to open just yet, but I know it contains two bath bombs and two bubble bars, and their combined honeysuckle, lavender, rose, and citrus cents are absolutely wonderful. I might just wait a few days to open it and enjoy the anticipation. Right now my office is beautifully perfumed. This is like a mail-order hug from a sister.
Ang is the reason I have a Lush addiction to start with, so she knew how much I would love this. What she had no way of knowing was that I would so badly need this pick-me-up today. Thank you, babe!
It's been a while since I checked in on the cowgoddess; I remembered her today and discovered that artist Heather Cushman-Dowdee, frustrated one time too many over dismal lactation statistics, has stripped and trampled her mask and entered into a new era: Mama is...
I can relate. What's with all the quitting? Just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance on a playground about our families. I remarked that around this time (6-12 months post partum) the sleep deprivation catches up to me, the constant nursing feels more draining, and I feel just a tad touched-out. The other woman responded that yeah, that's when she weaned. I think she thought she was supporting me - poor mama, so tired with an infant, the good news is you can wean! I wasn't sure what to say. Quit nursing because sometimes it's a little inconvenient to me? Quit so I can "get my body back"? News flash: kids have needs, my job is to fill them, and sometimes that might not be convenient. Second news flash: I can enjoy something even if/while it exhausts me. Life's complex like that. I love nursing my babies and it is sometimes hard work. I know that 2+ years of breastfeeding is normal and benefits both the mom and the child. I can hack being tired!
I'm so frustrated with a society in which it's considered shameful to reveal one's breasts to use them for their biological purpose, to the point where many women won't do it at all, and many others consider tent-sized coverups to be a necessity. I'm annoyed that woman are told that inferior alternatives are "just as good" and often actively discouraged from nursing their newborns by family members, friends, and even medical caregivers. It's baffling to me that women would choose perceived convenience over the biological norm, reduced responsibility over caring for their children. I don't get it.
I can't imagine how a lactivist as outspoken as Heather has dealt with that frustration for so long. Looking forward to what she has to say as just plain Mama.
A gentle chiming sound rouses me from light sleep. The room is dim, it's the hours between pitch black night and dawn. Xander is nursing. Was that my cell phone? Dan moves in the bed next to me. I feel very awake and excited in a Christmas morning sort of way.
"Obama's announced his VP," I say. Of course. Who else texts you in the wee hours?
Dan gets the phone, fumbles it, hands it to me. 1 new message in the inbox:
Message from: 62262 Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word! 08/23 4:27A
Who else got the text in the early hours this morning? It hadn't occurred to me that it would come in the middle of the night, or I might have made sure my cell was turned off or in another room. As it is, I'm glad I reset the ringtone last week to a chime rather than the shrill alarm I had before.
(I have to admit, a big part of me dislikes the airy hope/change language of the Obama campaign and imagines that there's a chance I'll still wake up to find Clinton receiving the democratic nom...)
I remember being three and cutting holes in my mother's thermal blanket. I was supposed to be taking a nap, assigned to my mother's bed so that my younger brother could sleep undisturbed in the room he and I shared, but I wasn't tired. In my mother's room, dimly lit by the midday sun through closed curtains, I could barely see the top of her tall chest of drawers, and was tempted by the way the light glinted off a paid of nail scissors - such tiny silver scissors, made of such thin metal, and with small handles that fit my little fingers perfectly. Some quiet voice in the back of my mind cautioned, only once, that my mother would probably not want me to touch them, but they were already in my hands, cool and smooth. They opened and shut in a satisfying firm yet fluid pivoting way. I pointed them downward, sharp tips barely grazing the mustard-colored velour, and made them snip, snip, snip. Oh! Tiny peaked half-moon slits appeared where I moved the tips. Snip, snip, snip. Oh, amazing. What a beautiful shape they made. How nice they felt. What treasure.
To say that my mother did not share my delight would be an understatement. She was angry, terribly angry. Angry that I was not napping. Angry that I had ruined her blanket. Angry that I had touched something that did not belong to me. Angry that I had used scissors without permission. I understood that she was very angry, and that she would have preferred that I had not cut her blanket, but I only understood this as a fact told to me, not on a gut level. I could not understand how she could not see the miracle of the tiny half-moons. I could not understand how any possibility other than cutting the blanket could exist.
Did I cut it purposefully? Yes, I suppose. Did I have a choice? I'm not sure that I did. There was an impulse, and it could not be ignored. I simply did it, not out of defiance, not out of any sense of willful disobedience or destructiveness. The scissors gleamed, and I had to pick them up. I had to work them with my fingers. I had to see what they could do. There was no active choice. I was three, and I had only the faintest glimmerings of the beginnings of moral development, little to no empathy, and a powerful drive to explore. I still can remember those moments in vivid, almost magical detail, and I still cannot see how I could have taken any other action other than to experiment with the nail scissors.
***** Two years ago, Dan and I had our first taste of the other side of that experience. He knew it was wrong and he did it anyway, we thought. He did it on purpose. He must be punished.He has to learn. But at the same time, we were learning about other ways of parenting. Does punishment actually teach what we assume it is teaching? Are children willfully disobeying? Are there other ways to teach these lessons? Am I really certain that I understand my child's motivations, abilities, and limitations, and am I really certain what the effects of my parenting choices will be?
What would have happened if my mother had recognized that I had meant no harm, that I had followed a drive to learn, and if she had focused on the glory of my discovery rather than the damage to her (slightly snipped but not at all destroyed) bedding? What would have happened if instead of punishing me, she had showed that she understood my interest, had explained why the blanket was not her top choice for practicing my new skill, and had redirected me to some paper?
What would my childhood have been like, and how would my own parenting impulses be different, if the focus had been on assuming benign intent, identifying the need, and helping to fill the need in an acceptable way, rather than viewing childish actions as misdeeds demanding instant correction, and attempting to "nip them in the bud" via punitive action? What if the focus had been on guiding the learning of a neophyte human rather than on causing sufficient suffering to rehabilitate a miscreant?
***** I wish that I could say that I practiced perfect patience with Griffin, that I never gave him a time-out or treated him roughly. Instead, as is usually the way with us humans, I learned by trial and error. Now that I have a second three-year-old (it is such a hard age, harder than two, and nobody tells you this until you're in the thick of it), I am having more trials and making more errors, and slowly remembering the things we learned the first time. I am trying to find time to read Naomi Aldort's book, which I would have rejected as silly touchy-feely garbage five years ago, back when I was still convinced that being a parent meant being in absolute control, that when I say now, it means now. Naomi discusses "old scripts" - the things that pop into our heads about making kids stop this and forcing them to do that. For their own good, teach them a lesson, nip it in the bud, they have to learn. What if they never learn, what if they get hurt, what if they disturb those people, what if they think I'm a horrible parent. Things we have been programmed to think, unquestioningly, by our upbringing and by a society that encourages us to fear. We fear that our children will turn out to be dysfunctional and socially inappropriate. We fear that other people will think poorly of us. We fear a loss of control.
What if I stopped fearing the "what ifs" and simply trusted that my children are good people who need a good role model, not a drill seargeant?
I am trying to remind myself to ask, does it have to be done? And if my answer is that yes, I do choose to make this thing mandatory, does it have to be done right now? When I choose to do something (virtually nothing ever has to be done, really, we choose it), can we find another way to do it?
The first time around, we often coerced certain things because of
"safety", but now we're trying to take the time to ask ourselves, is it really unsafe? and what am I afraid will happen? and what are the chances that it really will happen? and how horrible would it really be if it did happen?
With Griffin, we learned to identify the "adult agenda," as I called it, and we're trying to remind ourselves that maybe kids deserve to have an agenda, too. With Reese, I'm attempting to fully realize that when he gets a certain gleam in his eye and does something that my old scripts tell me is just to get attention, that I need to remember that it's ok for humans to want and get attention, and that he is learning what his body can do, and that I can guide him gently, and that he is only three and is not being willfully disobedient or malicious.
I am trying to remember to look for the need behind the behavior, and to figure out how to meet those needs. I am trying to remember to anticipate pitfalls and make choices that set all of us up for success. I am trying to remember that I can (and should) take responsibility for my own choices when I gamble and lose. Did I expect too much of the kids? Did I put them in a situation that required more than they were able to provide? Can I admit when I'm angry with myself, not just with them?
A while back, I was musing on a few particularly trying days with Reese and realized that even for the parenting gurus, surely sometimes things just suck. Zen parenting or not, stuff that sucks is still stuff that sucks. It's ok to be disappointed in a day that didn't go as planned, or to feel upset about holes in a blanket. It's ok to be tired and grumpy. It's ok to show honest emotion, and it can be done in a way that is respectful of ourselves and our children.
Dan reminded me this afternoon that our children seem to take the same amount of time to
recover from a tantrum whether we're strict and disapproving or
concerned and nurturing. They seem to take the same amount of time to learn new skills and reach the next developmental stage, regardless of whether we punish and scold or redirect and wait it out. Would we rather spend the journey in struggle and conflict, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, trusting that they'll grow, and fostering as much harmony as possible? All those lessons they have to learn? It seems as though cognitive maturity does the job - plain ol' nature - 95% of the time or more. The rest is role modeling, patience, facilitation. Would I rather my children view me as a fearful dictator or as an approachable mentor?
When Griffin was younger, we had a lot of fear. What if (insert behavior unacceptable to adults here) wasn't just part of a phase? What if it wouldn't pass? What if we were screwing him up for good? Ah, but every single time it did pass, and it was a phase. And every single time we saw conflict behaviors recede, we saw a surge in emotional, social, and moral development. Knowing that helps me to believe that when we meet difficult times in the present or future, that those will also pass, and that the good traits we see growing in him point toward a loving, considerate, socially well-adjusted future for him. Ditto for Reese. And, I'm sure, for Xander. None of them are adults.None of them can be expected to show adult empathy or responsibility. They are not making "bad" choices - they are making the choices that are available to them in their current state of emotional, social, and moral development. They don't really foul that up any more frequently than I do, and really, when you correct for developmental maturity, most adults I know screw up far more often than children do, and we expect far more tolerance from each other than we typically give our kids.
I need a reminder again that these things do pass, that my job as a parent is to be a guide, not a tyrant, and that my children will best be served by a flexible and patient role model who sees the miracle in the half-moon slits, mourns the mangled blanket gently, and (politely) shows them ways to maximize the miracles while minimizing the mangling.