Category Archives: parenting

Kids are people

One of the things that I took with me from childhood (and that landed me in therapy) was feeling invisible. I distinctly remember feeling like I had Important things to offer–and I did not measure them against the fact that I was a kid. To me, they weren’t a kid’s thoughts. They were just Important thoughts. So why were the adults around me treating me like a kid, when what I felt like was a human being with important things to say and observations to share?

What got me thinking about this today was the fact that I caught myself in a moment of gross adulthood. That is, behaving in a way that, as a kid, I swore I never would.

My kids and I were meeting my husband outside my doctor’s office so he could drive them (in the van) home while I had my appointment.  And I would then take his truck home. So the kids were in the van, and Justin and I were standing outside the van, talking about schedules and the agenda for the evening.  Then Justin got in to take the kids home. I said goodbye to him and walked away from the van.

As he was driving away, I realized I had not said goodbye to my kids. This might not seem like a big deal. Kids are often in their own world. And a three year old and an eleven month old might not notice their mom not saying goodbye. But honestly, I know kids do remember things just like that.  Because I remember being a kid and wondering why adults acted like I wasn’t in the van, or in the room or wherever I found myself being passively ignored.

I felt bad. I’m usually pretty good at including them as small people in my world, and offering them the same courtesies as I would an adult.  But I slipped.

OK, that’s part of parenting. But it got me thinking about sharing the test I have that keeps me in check.

Here it is: In any moment involving common courtesy (saying hello, goodbye, please, or thank you; apologizing if I’m wrong or rude), I pretend the kid is an adult. It’s a litmus test to see if I’m treating my kids like people.

In the case today, if I had been saying goodbye to Justin and two of my friends were in the backseat, and I had walked away without saying goodbye to them, it would have been rude. The fact that the two people in the back seat were little people doesn’t make a lick of difference. I should have taken a second to say goodbye. Kids are people too.

Baby, We Were Born to Run

Last year in my mama support facebook group, I posted these words, “I’ve got a runner.” I was referring to my then two year old who had taken to sprinting away from me as soon as he saw an opening. “Can’t catch me!”  he would shout. And I would think, “You are right! I am eight months pregnant with what must be a fifteen pound baby and I can barely waddle fast enough to catch a caterpillar!”

He thought running away was fun, hilarious, a game. I was panicked. I could not stop him from running and, being a slow-moving planet, I could not catch him.  In my mind, as happens often in parenting, my sense of time collapsed and the phase we were in became an always/never situation. He will never stop when I ask him to. We will never be able to walk down a sidewalk together. I will always have this panic that he will run into the street.

He didn’t have a sense of danger at all: traffic, bikes, losing sight of each other in public places. These were all amusing to him- they had no consequences that he could see other than the consequences I created for him which mattered little to him.

Perceiving danger was my job. And I’m damn good at it because I tend to be an anxious person when it comes to my kids safety.  (I cut blueberries not just in half, but into quarters for the baby, just to be safe.)  But during this phase, unless I had him strapped into a stroller, shopping cart, or car seat, I could not keep him safe.  He would almost always hit the ground running.

Below you will see pics of B in action during this phase:

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Throwing down his best juke moves on Justin to get past him.

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Justin is foiled again!

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At last Braden listens to reason and comes back when we call him.

The advice given to me by my facebook group was outstanding, as usual. They recommended having consistent consequences and rules, and saying things like this:

You must hold my hand in the parking lot.

If you don’t stay where I can see you and you can see me, we are leaving.

But what I learned in this phase was that, despite our consistent warnings and consequences, there was no way to keep him safe other than strapping him into something. I wanted him to have the freedom to learn, but I couldn’t keep him out of danger if we did.  So anytime we left the house, it was like we were flying through turbulence- because he was always buckled.  He went directly from the car seat to the stroller and stayed locked in until we were done with our errand and I could put him back in the car seat. Same for shopping carts. I could not let him try and walk next to me on the sidewalk holding my hand because he could never resist the temptation to run, no matter what consequence I could offer. And given that I would not be able to catch him, I really had no choice.

This lasted for a few months. I would see other toddlers walking across a parking lot holding their mom’s hand and I would then want to cry. (Time collapses: We will never be able to hold hands in the parking lot.) But I am happy to report that we do now.  He still really loves running, but usually not away from me.  He listens when I ask him to stop (usually.) He even turns around to check in.  “Is this too far?” he will yell if he’s run ahead of me on a path.  And I am so glad to shout back, “That’s far enough! Just wait there for mama!” And he does.

Bubble Boys

The other day, my 3 year old was invited to watch a video with some other little ones while the grown-ups talked. My husband and I usually let him watch TV or play ipod learning apps pretty regularly- almost every day- but his exposure to different shows has been pretty limited up to this point. He’s watched things like: Baby Einstein, Sid the Science Kid, Mary Poppins and the most PG-ish of the bunch, Cars.  We don’t watch adult shows when he is around or have the TV on as background noise. We feel like we want to protect him from the media saturation that can happen if we don’t keep a close eye on when screens are on and what he’s viewing.

On this day, he had been watching the selected movie with the other kids for about a half an hour before coming to find me to let me know he didn’t want to watch anymore.

His reason? The movie was “too scary.”

What they were watching?  “Winnie the Pooh.”

This made me so, so happy.  Some parents might worry that this was an indicator that their child is too sensitive.  For me, preserving his sensitivity is a good thing.  I want him to have a lengthy, sparkling childhood where he sees examples of kindness, cooperation, and curiosity in the characters he observes.

Consequently, I can be extremely protective of what he’s exposed to.  This will be the same for my 10 month old, too.  My bubble boys.  Like every parent, I try to protect them from concepts they don’t need to know about.

I used to have a book called The Hidden Messages in Water, that described how the crystallization of frozen water can be affected by the presence of either positive or negative words.  Words like harmony, peace, and love created symmetry, radiance, and beauty.  Words like hate and war had the opposite effect. It’s kind of a cool concept and the pictures of the water crystals from this book really stuck with me.

So when I think about what I want my boys exposed to, it’s the words that created symmetrical, radiant crystals- those that contribute to a harmonious inner life and don’t bring up questions they have no need to answer yet.

Here are some words I don’t want them to even have in their airspace until absolutely necessary.

hate, war, guns, fight, ugly, combat, war, poor, horror, battle, terror, first place, last place, loser, winner, bad, extinction,

Ok, the list goes on and on. As of right now, he lives in a world where people are kind to each other, take care of each other, are gentle, mindful, musical, and fun. I hope that we can keep the media he’s exposed to be reflective of this gentle world for as long as we can.  Hopefully he’ll learn that TV and movies aren’t just about entertainment, but also about learning and really great stories. They’re such a powerful tools…I hope we can teach him how to use them wisely.

 

 

 

Camping Success!!

In June, my family set out for our first camping experiment as a family of four.  We went to PJ Hoffmaster, or HR Pufnstuf as I liked to call it, a campground on the Lake Michigan shoreline of southwestern Michigan.  The campground looked significantly thinned out since our last visit just two years ago, due to the removal of trees that had been affected with oak wilt, emerald ash borer, Asian longhorn beetle, and beech bark disease.*  Though even with the removals, PJ Hoffmaster had retained its overall beauty and family friendly atmosphere.

It’s kind of an ideal campground.  Beauty, smiling faces, roomy sites, a beach within walking distance, and (let’s get down to brass tacks) clean hot showers and fully functioning flush toilets.  It was a great place to try out our massive virgin REI six person tent.

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The campsites are a short walk to the Lake Michigan shoreline on a path through a forest of beech, maple, and pine trees stretching skyward. The removal of those threatened trees on our site resulted in it being a bit more exposed than we would have liked.  That is, if you like shade on 90 degree days.  Here is a picture of the lone shade tree on our site.  (Just ignore the other tree you see in the background…that is the forest a ways off- and the shade did not reach our site.)

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At least once a day, we made our way to the beach by walking the ¼ mile path through the woods.  Pushing my kids in the double stroller is a cinch on most surfaces, but on sand things can get tricky.  Even with our moderately deluxe (the best that money can buy at Target) off-road stroller, when the gravel path started becoming less like gravel and more like beach, the wheels stopped moving.  Now pushing the stroller became more like pushing a 90 pound rock through sand.  I had to lean comically hard into it- my body at a 45 degree angle in order to get it to budge.  I used my brute strength.  My husband encouraged me. “Put your legs into it.”  Because the alternative was carrying at least one child, the beach shelter, and the three bags of beach paraphernalia up a hill, down the dunes and to the beach.

What we really needed was a sled with all our stuff on it and some dogs to pull it. My once a week tennis game was not enough training to carry me through the physical challenge of getting our children and our stuff to the beach.  We abandoned the stroller (after taking the children out, don’t worry) along with the other strollers and bikes on the side of the path.

Our three year old could walk the remaining 1/8 mile.  Though it would take an hour to walk it because once the forest gave way completely to sky-high sand dunes, he would want to run up and down them twenty times. Especially the one with the big dead log with all the pointy deadly sticks jutting out of it.   He also took off his shoes at the very top of the 50 foot dune and left them there (“You can get them, Mommy.”)

Our eight month old would have to be carried, though.  He is a big boy- 25 lbs at his six month check up.  While being carried, he doesn’t hold on or offer any assistance with his legs or arms.  They just dangle no matter how many times you try and encourage him to wrap them around you.  Justin says that carrying him is like carrying 25 pounds of water in a loose bag.  It’s just not a tight operation and makes carrying anything else, in addition to him, more than cumbersome.

Lake Michigan was gorgeous – just clean and sort of a bluish-green that day.  Looking across the water, we got to see one of my favorite sights: the absence of land on the horizon.  This was the camping beach, so it wasn’t too crowded.  Just mostly families scattered around near the shoreline and around a little inlet or pond of water that had formed just in front of the lake.

Our kids are easily identified on any beach because they are the ones wearing the most clothing.  My three year old has no fear of water and is therefore required to wear a life jacket at all times.  My eight month has a hat with a brim the size of a basketball hoop.

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Swimming was totally refreshing and quite perfect, actually.  When it was time to go back to the campsite, the sun was starting to set.  It took us what seemed like hours to get back to our stroller but once we made it there, we could strap both kids in and walk leisurely back to our site, have a little grub, and get ready for bed.

I’m not gonna lie, some chaos ensued in trying to get the kids dressed and ready for bed.  But, honestly, that’s not unusual even when we’re not camping.  We stayed two nights at PJ Hoffmaster.  First-time family of four camping……Success!!

*Recently, the emerald ash borer was found in Mirror Lake State Park which basically means it will be coming to Madison too.  We will be saying goodbye to all of our ash trees just like every other area that has been infected with these critters.

I yelled at my kid today.

My 3 year old is brilliant, stubborn, strong-willed, highly active, and fiercely independent.  Every day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he does something unsafe, or he blatantly disobeys me, I work hard internally to censor myself and calm my voice before it leaves my body.  I am usually quite good at monitoring what I say so that I appear levelheaded and peaceful.  I want a peaceful house.  But inside, after a long day of self-censorship, I am worn down.  Sometimes I wonder about the discrepancy between the impulsive frustration I feel and the calm but firm words that come out of my mouth.  Am I growing an ulcer or something with all the frustration that goes unexpressed?  The things I say out loud vs the things I say in my mind often go something like this:

Out loud: Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?  Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?  Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?
In my mind: Get over here and sit the fuck down and put on your fucking shoes!!

Out loud: If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away. If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away.
In my mind: I am so sick of telling you not to throw your fucking toys!

Out loud: Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie.
In my mind: What the hell?!! Sit still and EAT!! Eat your fucking food!

Throughout the day, I make it a point to not raise my voice to him because it doesn’t do anything except frustrate me and make me feel guilty.  His behavior usually doesn’t change whether I raise my voice or not if he’s doing something naughty.  And, though it doesn’t make him cry or seem sad, I think it makes him a little more…sensitive.  And curious. He’s way tougher than I am.  If someone were yelling at me and ordering me around, I would be furious and definitely crying. When he’s having a day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he seems unaffected by my frustration.

Today was the first day in 3 years that I lost my self control and not only raised my voice, but was really commanding him around.  He had been pushing me all day.  It’s starting to wear on me- this not wanting to do anything I suggest and not wanting to follow directions.

Me (holding 2 crayons): “Would you like the red crayon or the green?”
Him: “Black.”

Me: “I want you to pick up your toy before we leave.”
Him: “No, I don’t want to.”

Me; “Can you please help me out by handing me that napkin right next to you?”
Him: Silence.
Me: “Can you hand me that napkin, please?”
Him: Silence.
Me: “BRADEN! Can you hand me that napkin?”
Him: “No.”

It doesn’t sound so bad, except it is- when everything becomes an argument, a power struggle, or so repetitive that I want to bite something.

So today I had low patience going into the day and it wore off as the day went on.  By late afternoon I was mentally exhausted. I let him splash around in some puddles outside in the rain, even though it was 50 degrees- I was desperate.  I showed him the boundaries I wanted him to stay in so that he wasn’t running into the main area of the street.  When, after 5 minutes of splashing, he ran beyond the boundaries, I freaked.  (As I usually do when his safety is a concern.)

These were the words I said:

“Get over here NOW!”

“What are you DOING? I said get in the HOUSE!”

“I will count to 3 and if you are not in the house by 3…”  (then, what exactly?  I never actually finished this sentence)

Once I started using this awful commanding voice, I couldn’t seem to stop because it didn’t actually get him to do what I was asking him to do and it didn’t get him moving any faster.  I kept thinking, “surely he will respond to this much anger in my voice” and I got more and more serious and loud.  But it didn’t make him obey me.  He still dawdled. He still tested and pushed me.  When I put him in a time out he just got up and walked toward me. (Short of restraining him in a car seat, I’m out of ideas for time outs.) I felt horrible and weak.  Like not only could I not control my kid’s behavior, but I was too weak to control my own behavior.

We talked about it afterward and I apologized for raising my voice and being so stressed out.  We hugged.  I told him I loved him even when his listening ears aren’t on. And that I love him even when I am really stressed out.  He then continued to misbehave for the rest of the day.

Now, of course, I fell guilty.  I hope what he takes away from the day and remembers in his little spirit is that his mom fessed up when she acted less than stellar.  That people are human and they aren’t perfect.  And that when we don’t treat our loved ones in a way we feel really good about, it’s important to say sorry and forgive ourselves and each other.

Totally worth it.

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A few people have commented to me after reading my last few posts that our trip to Florida sounded more crazy than fun.  Truth be told, it was both crazy and fun.  Rewarding in the way that only travel can be. Especially travel from the Midwest during an ungodly long cold spell.  Snow.  In April.  Really.

But pretty much no matter how much hardship or stress is involved, I love to travel.  I particularly loved this last trip because it was our first road trip since having our 2nd boy.  It was sort of an experiment- to see if we could travel well with a toddler and an infant. I consider it to be a grand success because we had a fantastic time in Florida, even if parts of the getting there and back were dicey.  And even as I was changing the poopy diapers or listening to Old MacfuckingDonald for the 100th time, in the back of my mind and more importantly in my heart, were these words: Yes. Thank God I’m on the Road.  Totally Worth It.

This trip was a huge success.  My 3 year old got to play in the sand and the ocean.  He is so incredibly active that it is a relief to have such a wide, massive playground for him where we can just strap on his lifejacket, toss some buckets and shovels in the sand and listen to him giggle ecstatically for hours over the crashing waves.  My 6 month old touched the sea for the first time, which, in my world, is pretty much a rite of passage. And Justin and I got to paddleboard.  Stand up paddleboarding is incredibly fun and nothing compares to doing it on the crystal blue waters of the ocean. It was perfect bliss.

So was it crazy?  Yes.  And blissful.  Beautiful.  Fun.  Totally worth it.

Kids make you busy.

Two adults, a 3 year old and a 6 month old get into a mini-van to drive 20 hours to Florida and 20 hours back.  That right there is the setup and the punchline, folks.

Yesterday I wrote about lawn mower races and poop anomalies.  Today I am thinking about grander things.  Namely, my worth as a parent.  Taking this road trip validated me at my deepest level and here is why: it showed me why I should no longer feel bad about not being able to get shit done in my day to day life.

The only tasks we really needed to accomplish as a family, while driving in this mini-van were:

1. Eat

2. Drive

3. Take potty breaks

4. Sleep

That’s it. There was no laundry to fold, no dishes to do, no calendars to keep, checkbooks to balance, rooms to clean, toys to put away, showers to take…you get the idea.  The tasks required of us on this trip were the absolute purest, barest minimum.  And yet (here is where the validating part comes in) the overall mood inside that van was absolute chaos.  Leaky diapers, bunny crackers out of reach, poop blowouts, toys dropped, baby needs to nurse, sunglasses missing, cd not working, gps comes unplugged, water spilled, straw dropped, baby crying, baby wailing, 3 year old mumbling as quietly as possible and over and over again something neither of us can hear, ridiculously annoying toddler-song cd filling the van with modified kids’ voices.

With 2 adults, we were scrambling to maintain calm.  With both of us hustling we managed to create some extended times of quiet where one of us could drive and one of us could sleep or read.  But, this was short-lived.  It made the idea of doing this at home by myself and actually trying to get stuff done seem….heroic.  Here we were driving in a 10×5 foot box with literally nothing that needed to be done except eat, sleep, drive and take potty breaks.  With 2 of us working at it, we were just barely able to take care of these things and find time to rest.  No wonder I feel too tired to make dinner most nights.

No matter how mellow you are, kids make you busy.  They bring it.  So tonight, I’m raising my glass to those parents who raise their kids and find time to do stuff like make dinner, clean the kitchen floor, and fold pants.  I will be thinking of you while we eat take-out food while wearing our pajamas (the only clothes that were clean.)