Anatomy talk, always and forever

July 22, 2005. Cinder, age 3.2: “Mommy? When you were a little girl, where you a little boy like me?”

June 22, 2012. Ender, age 2.8: “Mommy? Where your penis go? You lose it outside? I go find it…”*

and hey, while we’re talking anatomy:

January 2005. Cinder, age 2.5, witnessing Flora’s first diaper change: “Mama! Help! Flora has two bums!”

and as proof that things never change:

June 26, 2012. Ender, age 2.8: “Flora, why put Cinder’s hat on your penis?”

Flora: “For the last time, Ender, I don’t have a penis.”

Ender: “Why?”

And I leave it up to your imagination how Cinder’s hat fits into all this…

*Yes, this was a blatant attempt to sabotage bedtime. It was, after all, still light out in the Northern Northern hemisphere at 10 p.m….

Flora

Flora (Photo credit: CaptSpaulding)

I’m  in the wilds of Manitoba, and generally unplugged. I’ve got a few posts auto-scheduled for your enjoyment, but I won’t be able to respond to comments until July 15th.

Unconditional love: yes, I love you more than the Kobo

Cinder: Mom? You really, really love us, right?

Jane: More than anything in the world.

Cinder: More than anything?

Jane: Anything. You are my everything. I love you so much–so, so, so much…

Cinder: So… like… you love us more than your Kobo, right?

[Interlude for American readers: it’s like a Kindle. But Canadian. Except now owned by the Japanese. E-reader. I love my Kobo. The ability to transport effectively an entire library with me in my purse is earth-shatteringly amazing. It’s still a fairly fresh addition to my life and it goes with me everywhere. To the bathroom. To the kitchen. To the playground. Oh, god. That’s it, isn’t it? I’m reading everywhere. I’m ignoring my children. I’m emotionally scarring them…]

Jane: Oh, sweetness. Of course I love you more than my Kobo. Have I been reading it too much? Do you want me to go do something with you? We can have a water gun right, or we can watch iCarly together or…”

Cinder: No, no–but… I just need to establish: you love us more than the Kobo, right?

Jane: Of course.

Cinder: So… like… if something bad happened to your Kobo, you’d still love us, right?

The Kobo’s fine. There’s a crack in the screen, but whatever, it still works. It’s a bit of a mystery of how the crack got there. It might have been when Ender chucked it off the landing and it struck the metal thread on the stairs. Or when Cinder wrested it out of his hands and whacked it against the doorknob in the process. Or when Flora took it away from him and put it “someplace safe” … and then forgot it was under all those books when she used them to reach for the trapeze bar. Or… anyway. It doesn’t matter. I interrupt the attempt to assign blame or figure out how the screen got cracked. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a thing, and they came to me as soon as they saw it was damaged. Introduced the subject rather artfully–I give Cinder a speculative look. God, I love the little buggers, but sometimes, I think it might be easier having dumb children. I kiss him. Hug Flora. Ender’s oblivious, wrecking destruction on something else.

Jane: I love you more than anything, anything, anything, including the Kobo.

Cinder: I know.

Pause.

Cinder: But are you pissed about the crack?

Jane: Pissed is a strong word.

Cinder: Annoyed?

Jane: Yeah.

Cinder: Well. At least it matches your Mac Book now.

Sigh.

Kobo Vox disassembly

Kobo Vox disassembly (Photo credit: syamastro)

For one of the Mac Book stories, see Why they don’t ask for permission.

The Myth of the Frazzled Modern Mother

Today’s mothers are frazzled. Falling apart. Utterly incompetent, overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of daily life. At least that’s the impression you’re going to get from pretty much any day’s sample blogs, “lifestyle” newspaper articles, or just about any column in the ever-proliferating parenting magazines and advice sites.

I disagree. Vehemently. I’m surrounded by extremely competent and on-top-of-it mothers. Heck, 9 out of 10 days, 9 out of 10 hours, I’m that extremely competent mother myself. And you know what? So are you. And that whiney blogger over there? And that friend of yours who posts nothing but negative status updates on Facebook? She’s a competent mother and human being too. Really.

She’s just making herself look bad—frazzled—incompetent—by putting what used to be private moments of despair and downtime out there in the public sphere, for everyone to see… everyone to comment on.

For everyone to remember. Hyper-focus on. But that’s one moment. One hour. One crappy day. OK, maybe a string of crappy days—in what’s actually a pretty good life.

I live a pretty good life. And yeah, I have moments of panic, frustration and utter madness. At times stretches of arduous tough days: those first weeks (months) post-partum. Never-ending flus. Life-altering illness and events. Confluxes of life events when everything piles on top of me and I want to throw myself a big pity party or crawl under my comforter and never come out.

But those are exceptions in a full, fulfilling, fun life. Exceptions (on topic: my friend Marie had a great post recently about her mantra “There are no bad days, just bad moments” and how it works on “one of those days”; have a peek). Most of the time, I’m pretty on top of it. Damn-right competent. And baby, so are you.

 So here’s the big question of the day for you: is it good to broadcast those moments of despair? To post “So tired!” “If only they would sleep!” “Could anything else go wrong on this shitty, shitty day?” as your Facebook status? To blog about “the worst day ever?”

I’m not sure. I can see how you can build a cogent argument for each side. Sharing them crappy moments is the first step to getting support, a “I’ve been there too!” from a friend—which is sometimes all you need to shake off the blues and move on—or an offer of child care or food delivery—which you desperately need to get through that day or moment. But because you’ve shared them in the public space… well, they’re there, reminding all and sundry, including yourself, of that bad moment, bad day. Contributing to the Myth of the Frazzled Modern Mother.

Long after you’ve moved on.

What do you think? Are you a frazzled mother? Is it a myth? Do you inadvertently contribute to it? What can we do to combat it? Or, is it real?

A few days after I wrote the first draft of this post, I stumbled across this lovely post by Amy at Small World at Home, “What I don’t show you,” which isn’t precisely on this topic–but fits into the larger discussion of presenting in public space. More food for thought…

B0007445 Postnatal blues

Postnatal blues (Photo credit: wellcome images)

It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony

Ever since Cinder arrived and completely changed our universe, I envisioned life post-children as… family life. Not adult-centred. Not child-centred.

Family-centred.

I was lucky here, as I had had a pretty good model. My parents lived full lives, with us in them, part of them, along for the entire exhilarating ride. Among the legacies they’ve left me that I cherish is the belief that “parenting” isn’t a part of life, isn’t a job, isn’t a stage—it’s, simply, life.

Just life. Life with children, life as a family. We all struggle through this in the early days of the journey. We talk about the need for balance. Balance. I don’t really like that word in the context of family life. Because it’s not about balance, it’s not about give and take. It’s about… what? Harmony? Fulfillment?

It’s about every member of the family getting the nourishment he or she needs.

I want my children to be happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected—and me too, I want those things for myself as well. Both my children and I—and my partner, their father—deserve to be happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected. And we are happy, fulfilled, love, and respected… most of the time. (There are always bad days or, more precisely, bad moments. I think that’s another secret we learn on the journey: that bad moments can be just that, moments. Well, unless they become patterns. But that, again, is another story.)

In a family, when one member of the family isn’t feeling happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected—there are repercussions on everyone. It’s a situation that must be addressed.

Parents’ needs and children’s needs are often talked about in combative language, and words like compromise, sacrifice, trade-off etc. often make an appearance. It’s unfortunate—very Western—very unnecessary. Because it’s all just, well, life. Figuring out how to best get along, live, thrive—sometimes just barely survive!—as a family, in whatever the universe is throwing at you at the moment.

What does this mean for me as a mother of young children, for me as a person? Simply this: I did not stop being a person—with needs, wants, ideas, passions, biological rhythms and all that—when I had children. I added another layer of complexity—amazing complexity—loving complexity—complexity and experience I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. I am pursuing my life path, my life journey still.

My children are part of my journey, and they have their own, and I’m part of theirs… but their journey is not mine, just as my journey is not theirs. I am not putting my life on hold while I give them a dream childhood. I am still living my life, time is still flowing, stuff is happening. I’m just living it with my children. Different pace, different priorities than before, of course.

Balance? Life with young children is inevitably unbalanced. So I don’t seek balance. I seek harmony.

Sometimes I even find it.

In the end, this is the biggest secret power of women, of mothers–and of fathers, of parents–in the middle of the utmost chaos, conflicting pressures, we find a solution, we create our harmony. And it’s our harmony, our unique blend, formula, solution, to address the unique needs and challenges of the quirky individuals that make up our individual quirky families. No one else can create it for us; no one else can copy ours.

What do you aim for? Balance? Harmony? Something else altogether?

From Life’s Archives, Feb 21, 2008, Harmony, not Balance. It’s not often I pull out something I wrote about the parenting journey in the first years that still fully resounds with me… but this is one of those pieces. If I were writing it today, it would still be essentially the same. Well, more polished and more cohesive. I’m getting much more sleep these days.

Every Cathedral Should Have Stained Glass

“Is it a long and boring story?”

I.

Ender: Ma-ma! Ma-ma! Come to the tub!

Jane: Sweetness, in a few minutes, I’m finishing cleaning the sink… What is this gunk?

Ender: No! Mama come in tub now!

Jane: Dude, what’s the rush?

Ender: I need to pee… and I want to pee on YOU!

Sale fail. 

II.

Flora: Mom? Why is the oregano in the tin that’s labeled red lentils?

Jane: It’s a long and boring story. The important thing is you found it.

Flora: Where are the red lentils?

Jane: In the ziploc bag labeled brown rice.

Flora: Is that a long and boring story too?

Jane: No, that one’s actually pretty exciting. Want to hear it?

Flora: No, not really.

Thwarted.

III.

Flora: Mom? Why is there a flat poop floating in the toilet?

Jane: Um… I guess I forgot to flush the toilet when I last changed Ender.

Flora: But why is the poop flat?

Jane: It’s a long and boring story.

Flora: Oh, I’m not in a rush. Why don’t you tell it to me while I poop?

Jane: Seriously? That’s the story you want to hear?

Flora: You can tell me the rice and lentil tin stories too if you really want to.

Why is she humouring me? What is she plotting?

To discourage seed predators, pulses contain t...

I love them bums terribly.

Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training

I.

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...

II.

Cinder: Mom! I taught Ender a new word!

Jane: Oh, dear God. Do I want to hear this?

Cinder: Ender! What do you say?

Ender: Butt sack! Butt sack!

Jane: Butt sack?

Cinder: It’s a euphemism. Do you want to know for what?

Jane: No.

III.

Jane: Ender, beloved, the potty is right there. Why did you pee on the floor? Again?

Ender: I hate potty. I never pee in potty again.

Jane: Why?

Ender: Potty evil.

Jane: Cinder!

Cinder: What? Why are you assuming I told him the potty was evil?

Silence.

Cinder: Well, it’s not like he was using it much anyway.

IV.

Flora: Moooom! Maggie’s drinking pee!

Jane: What? Oh… no, that’s okay, that’s water.

Flora: You… gave… Maggie… water… in… Ender’s POTTY?

Jane: Well… it’s not like he’s using it these days.

Honouring the private lives of children

The insight comes at this moment: My children, 5.95 and 3.4 at the time, are on the floor in my living room/office, playing a rather odd game that involves some plastic dinosaur figures, a couple of Lego Exoforce structures, and a plot line that combines some kind of intergalatic battle with a game of hide and seek and a trip to Banff. They’ve just come down from upstairs, where they were hanging out in Sean’s “workshop,” which has numerous breakable things in it. I was not in there, hovering over them, to ensure they didn’t break the printer, put magnets on the hard drives, or brought the pile of intricately arranged video tapes on top
of the bureau crashing down on their heads.

I didn’t have to hover―not because they are “better” or more “obedient” children than the child who would do all that, but because they’re in a different developmental cycle. I have Sharpie marker traces on our (trashed) leather couch, basement floor and several stuffed toys from a different phase, after the onset of which the Sharpies were put away in a high, unreachable, unseeable place. There was a DVD destroying incident, after which Sean’s workshop was off limits for a long while.

The Sharpies are still away. The door to the workshop is once again perpetually open.

 That’s by the way (another by the way: the game on the floor below me, by the way, now includes a ghost haunting, and I’m trying to figure out how this fits into the previous going to Banff via intergalatic battle bit, but that’s probably just as irrelevant). We all figure out how to deal with the “in the moment” issues thrown at us by our children with ways that address the “in the moment” needs and fit into our big picture philosophy of life, more or less adequately.

Today, I want to put another issue on the table, the issue of 
privacy and the inner life of the child.

Now, my partner and I spend a lot of time with our children. Oodles. We both work from home. We homeschool. We could be together 24/7. And one of the breakthroughs for me on the parenting journey―it happened, as always, later than it should have–was that as they’ve gotten older, my children need more space, more privacy, more alone time. Not to the exclusion of time with each other and time with their parents and time with other people in their lives–but alone time, uninterrupted time to just be by themselves, to do their own thing without being watched (however unobtrusively), without being questioned about it, without having to account for that time.



Sometimes, when Cinder has a crazy day(s), one of the things that’s been missing from his rhythm is this alone time. He’s been with me and his sister 24/7 and frankly, he just wants us to go away, but that’s a hard thing to say to people you love, so he acts like a bum instead to make us go away. I’m working on giving him the words to say it, and helping him recognize that it’s ok
to say, “I just want to be by myself for a while.”

His sister recognizes this about herself much more intuitively. She will take a basket of toys into the bathroom and close the door on herself, announcing that she “needs some privacy.” And she’ll stay there for a long stretch of time, 30 minutes, an hour–until someone desperately has to pee because we only have one bathroom–playing by herself, being by herself, enjoying her privacy.

Children need a private inner life. This need manifests in different ways and is fulfilled in different ways, but I do think it’s pretty much universal–everyone needs some space in which to just be themselves, by themselves, without an audience, however loving or unobtrusive.

Filling this need, safely, as a parent, involves a whole lot of judgement calls. Cinder just wandered past my desk carrying a pair of scissors. I followed him onto the balcony, saw that he had a pile of construction paper on the table there, and retreated. Had he been three, instead of almost six, and heading towards his sister’s precious dolls (or head!), I probably would have stayed. Had be been heading somewhere with a box of matches―or for a box of matches―I would have offered rather obtrusive supervision. Judgement calls.

Cinder and Flora wrap up their focused (unsupervised) together time. They call me away from my own alone, private time and time of reflection, and we all three embark on a very complicated craft that requires my participation and very active supervision (“No! Melted wax is hot! Gah!”). And then they’re tired of each other, and of me. Flora takes a basket of toys to the bathroom. Cinder heads outside to run laps around the Common. When they come back to me, I resolve not to ask them what they were doing, what they were thinking.

Maybe they’ll tell me. Maybe they won’t. Either outcome’s okay.

Children have private lives and they need privacy. (Based on an April 2008 day and previously published list post).

What are your thoughts on the private lives of children? How do your children take their private time? How did you come to recognize this need?

sharpies!

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

Love letter discipline

Love Letter Discipline

When my kids are having “one of those days”—you know which ones I mean, the ones where nothing works right, and you’re wondering how wrong is it, really, to post your child on Kijiji… or Freecycle—I have two fool-proof strategies.

Strategy 1: I take them out for ice cream. (That’s yesterday’s post).

Strategy 2: I write them love letters.

Seriously. Sometimes in my head, sometimes—on the really, really “those” days—physically. Here is an example of Flora’s:

To My Flora,

You are my most beautiful, brilliant little daughter. And you will grow and grow into my most beautiful, brilliant big daughter. And I will love you every minute and every second and every nano-second of your amazing life. I will love you when you laugh and when you cry, when you’re angry and when you’re happy, when you’re celebrating the world and when you’re fighting it, when you need me to hold you and when you need to be alone. I will love you, every part of you, forever and ever and for always. Because you are Flora, because you are you.

And here is one for Cinder:

To My Cinder,

You are my most beautiful, brilliant not-so-little son. And you will grow and grown into my ever-bigger beautiful, brilliant son. And I will love you every minute and every second and every nano-second of your amazing life. I will love you when you’re full of joy and when you’re full of sadness. I will love you when you do what I ask you to do and when you march off listening to the beat of your own drummer. I will love you when you’re strong and when you’re weak, when you’re creating and when you’re deconstructing, when you’re wild and when you’re calm. I will love you when we are together and understand each other, and I will love you when we are apart and don’t. I will love you, every part of you, every thought of you and every moment of you, for ever and ever and for always. Because you are Cinder, because you are you.

By the time I finish writing or thinking one of these—or simply re-reading one I wrote during a previous crisis—I’m usually regrounded and recharged. Able to put the current moment’s craziness in perspective. Reminded of how much I love the little beasts, no matter how beastly they seem in this particular moment.

Got a moment? Write your own love letters to the munchkins. Don’t wait until you want to freecycle the little dudes. Do it now—and then when one of those days come, pull them out and read them.

And then take the kids out for ice cream.

I’ve recently shared a very long love letter to Cinder with you on occasion of his birthday, and you’ll find a very long love letter to Flora here. These longer letters were not written or composed in the heat of an “everyone’s evil!” moment, but I do refer to them in the heat of the moment quite often.

If you’ve written a love letter to your beasts… er, I mean beloved munchkins, please share it.

Love heart

Ice cream discipline

“Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.”
― Don Kardong

When I want to throttle my kids, I take them out for ice cream. They’re screaming, beating on each other, whining, complaining―you name the most undesired behaviour, the thing that makes you understand why parents batter their children―and I’m about to turn into evil monster mommy who’ll out-scream and out-whine them―when they’re so bad―and I use that weighty word advisedly, because they’re so bad not even the most Pollyanist attachment parent guru could put a positive spin on what they are doing―when they’re so bad I want to freecycle all three of them, and maybe throw in my partner for good measure cause, you know, he contributed half the genetic material that gave rise to those monsters―when I’m completely at the end of my rope and about to start screaming, my absolutely full-proof, never-fail strategy is to take the kids out for ice cream.

The nearest ice cream place near our house is a 15-20 minute walk away, over a couple of bridges and through a lovely park. It gets us out of the house and into the outdoors, which is often enough to reset the entire day, to give us a clean start.

The weather where we live sucks much of the time, so we’re not always up for the walk. ‘s okay. The nearest drive-through ice cream place is a 15-20 minute drive away. “Ice cream” as a rallying call makes getting three kids into the car a piece of cake (especially if the alternative is staying in the house with Psycho Mom). They’re restrained in car seats. I pop in a book on tape. And there is 20 minutes of silence and looking forward to ice cream―followed by devouring of ice cream, and thank yous, and appreciation of each other.

To make ice cream, we need to walk to the grocery store―about a 25 minute walk at kid pace, or 5 minutes in the car or by bike. Gets us out too. Then back. Then working together to create a treat. (We make lazy Vitamix ice cream that’s ready in 1 minute. Yum.)

Ice cream discipline works―without fail―because it creates a disruption in the negative behaviour pattern we’ve all gotten into. It’s the reset button. And it’s, you know, ice cream.

Worried that it rewards bad behaviour? It doesn’t. It stops it. On my part, as well as theirs. And lets enjoy each other again―and have a pretty good rest of the day.

“Have you ever spent days and days and days making up flavors of ice cream that no one’s ever eaten before? Like chicken and telepone ice cream? Green mouse ice cream was the worst. I didn’t like that at all.” 
― Neil Gaiman , The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives

For more ice cream quotes, go visit this page of Good Reads.

Now, I know you can’t always get out for ice cream in the middle of a disaster of a day. Ice Cream Discipline’s sister strategy is coming tomorrow.

It's the picture of Italian ice-cream in a sho...

What’s your fool-proof “the kids get to live!”/”reset” strategy?

A love letter to the boy who’ll set the world on fire

Cinder turns 10 today. 10. Double digits. Join me in celebrating the boy by re-reading the love letter I wrote him when he was still nine… and in a very liminal phase.

August, 2011. Yesterday, I accidentally slipped my feet into my 9-year-old son’s shoes. And they fit well enough that I took a few steps in them before realizing my mistake. This first-born baby of mine, seven pounds eleven ounces nine years ago―the size of a grain of rice ten years ago, just part of cosmic dust before then―is now so long, so tall, so strong. Stronger than me. No longer in a sling, no longer kept safe and satisfied only in my arms―the journey has been gradual, but this year, this day, this moment, it strikes me, smacks me in the face.

I love him. When he was that babe in arms and I looked at him and fell in love with him for the first time―and then every day, every hour, all over again―I didn’t think it was possible to love anything, any creature, any person this much. And then I loved him more and more every single day, and today, when I look at his tousled, tangled head, his lanky, long legs, the eyelashes that half-cover those sometimes mischievous, sometimes sad eyes, I fall in love all over again and again, and I can’t believe it is possible to love anything, any person this much. But now I know that tomorrow, and the day after and the year after, I will love him even more.

He isn’t bliss everyday. Being a nine year old boy in 2011’s North America isn’t easy. Sure, you can dismiss this as a First World Whine―hey, he isn’t toting guns in Sierra Leone, living in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro, starving in East Africa. Over-privileged middle class white boy of over-educated parents, what are your woes? Lusting after an X-box game, having to eat roast asparagus for dinner again? Our world dismisses his … heck, call it was it is, existential angst. But it’s there, and it’s real.

My nine year old boy, my love, is searching for his purpose in life. A little child no longer, yet a long way from man, he is on a journey. He wants to be useful. He wants to work. To grow. To contribute. And it is so hard, in 2011. Were he growing up in any other historical era―1000 years ago, 500, even 50 years ago―this angst would not exist. He would help on the farm, in the fields. Chop wood. Practice hunting. Fighting.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t romanticize. We live longer, healthier, safer now than ever before in human history, for all our fears and complaints. But with this life comes the existential angst of our children. Especially such children as my son. See, he is the boy that you’d take on the hunt with you as soon as he could keep up with the men, because he’s got a strong arm and a good eye, and never gets tired. He’s the son who’d chop a cord of wood for you, then tame a colt or two, all before breakfast. He’d see the enemy coming before anyone else because he’d be up in the highest tree. You’d never lack for food―or protection―with him in your tribe.

What do you expect of this boy wonder in 2011? Well, you’d like him to sit quietly at a table and colour a pretty picture. Then cut up some cardboard and glue it, and maybe some dried up pasta too―look, we’ve got googly eyes, isn’t that cool?―to a piece of paper. Sit and listen to a story. Sit and read a book. Walk, don’t run. Write about this. Tell us about your feelings. Don’t be too noisy, don’t be too active, don’t be too disruptive.

But for goodness’ sake, don’t play too many video games, because that’s just not good for your brain. (Stop. I must digress. Video games invade my love letter, but ever wonder why today’s eight year old, nine year old, 12 year old boys love video games so much? Can you see it? Can you see the hunt, the fight, the chase? Those little buttons, those dudes on the screen―they’re speaking to their genes. They’re channeling the Caveman inside. Come full circle, video games back to love letter. I love my son. My son loves video games. I know why.)

My little love, growing so tall, so lanky, so strong. Searching. He wants to become a man, a useful, productive, important part of his tribe. What tribe? Where is it? When he was four, he decided he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: the man who starts the fire at his community’s firepit. That’s who he’s going to be. But the path is long, and it’s tough, and not very obvious. So he’s struggling, searching, misstepping. And there I am, watching―he is my heart outside of me, exposed, and I want to protect him, help him, ease things for him, but there is so little I can do. So much of this he must struggle through alone, my love, and all I can do is be there―present, supportive, unconditional. There when he needs me, in the background when he thinks he doesn’t. Loving him, celebrating him, feeling blessed and grateful that he is my son… making sure he knows that I love him, celebrate him, and feel blessed and grateful that I am his mother.

It is another day, another night, and he is silent, falling asleep. He talked a lot today, about his game, the smell of rain, the trajectory of a roundhouse kick, the peskiness of little sisters. Then silent, perturbed. The eyes close, I see the brain, spirit, soul still working. Searching. What will he be? Fully himself, fully wonderful.

I write this to remind myself―to hold myself steady during the moments when he is not bliss. To remind myself of what matters and what doesn’t. To remind myself that the work we started, the bonds we weaved when he was a babe at breast, a toddler on hip, that work isn’t over. It continues, every day. Every choice, every word, said and unsaid, builds that bond and builds that relationship. Or harms it.

I don’t like to think of parenthood, motherhood as work. It’s not. It’s life, part of life, a definition of my life, as much a part of it as eating, sleeping, breathing. But the work metaphor creeps in, because in 2011 North America, everything that requires any effort at all is work. So―this love letter is my work. Put explicit into words, to exist outside of me as affirmation and expression and reminder. I love you, my beautiful son, unconditionally, perfectly, fully, in all your moods and moments. What will you be? What you are. Fully yourself, fully full of wonder. Cosmic dust transformed into a gift, to me, to the world.

The cinder path

The cinder path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Five is hard: can you attachment parent the older child?

It happens to the most attached parents among us. We’ve breastfed, co-slept, and slung our babes happily. It was easy—or, it became easy, once we got into the groove and shook off Aunt Maud’s disapproving glare. We saw our children grown and flourish, loved, connected, happy. But then, at some point, the demons of self-doubt return. Our child goes through a phase we see as difficult and challenging. Almost inevitably, this happens when we’re not at our best—pregnant, tired, stressed. And we wonder—is it possible to AP the older child?

Five seems to be the milestone when these demons attack most ferociously. Makes sense: it’s such a milestone age in our culture. The preschooler becomes a kindergartener. The stroller’s abandoned; first loose teeth come. The search for self becomes super-pronounced, and our five-year-old is frighteningly selfish. (I write about that aspect of five in Ferocious Five.)

It hit one of my friends very hard when her eldest daughter turned five. She asked our playgroup community for help, and she framed her struggles under this big question: “Is it possible the attachment parent the older child? This five year-old who’s driving me utterly, completely crazy every moment of every single day? Is it time to bring out the conventional discipline–punishment–toolbox?”

This was my response. I had seen Cinder through five pretty successfully. Not yet Flora. Bear that in mind as you read. Check out Ferocious Five for the lessons Flora taught me.

Five is hard. But so is two, three, four, six, sixteen–all in their different ways. Part of the trouble is that our children move onward and forward through the different ages and stages, while we, their imperfect parents, have just figured out how to cope with the preceding one.

Is it possible to attachment parent the older child? Possible, necessary, critical. And here is where the difference between AP “things we do”–co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing–and the AP “things we are” plays large. We don’t carry our five year olds, the majority of us don’t breastfeed them any more, we’re not necessarily co-sleeping with them. The “do” stuff is gone. The “be” stuff is all that remains.

And how do we “be” with the older children? I think this is one of the points at which our paths can diverge quite dramatically. And I don’t know that there is one *right* answer. For what it is worth, based on my sample of one five-year-old shepherded through some challenging stuff to date, these are the principles that helped us:

1. Make their world larger.

At five, Cinder’s world got larger. We’re homeschooling, so the massive change that is five day a week kindergarten wasn’t part of it–but think of what a huge change that is for the average five-year-old, and how hard it must be sort out, everything so new. Still, even minus kindergarten, it was so clear to us that a five-year-old was very different from a four-year-old. And absolutely, we butted heads because while he had moved on, I was still mothering a four-year-old.

A huge breakthrough for me was to make his world larger–ride his bike on (safe!) streets, cross the street on his own, go into stores on his own, play a bigger role in everything. I can’t quite remember all the different changes we did, but they’re pretty much irrelevant–they wouldn’t necessarily work for your child. Talk with her. What would she like to do now that she couldn’t (or wasn’t interested) in doing a year or six months ago?

2. The only person whose behaviour I can control is myself.

The other thing I always come back when we run into “downs”: the only person whose behaviour I can control is myself. And if I am unhappy with how my child is acting, the first step is not to look for a way to change my child, but to look at myself, within myself, and ask myself what can I do to change how I am reacting and communicating with my children? What am I doing–reflexively, thoughtlessly–that I can change. Start with me. When I’m okay, when I’m balanced, when I’m grounded–well, very often, the problem goes away, because it was in me in the first place. My children mirror me.

And, if the problem really is in the other–if it is all my Cinder being crazy or my Flora being whiney–when I’m taking care of myself, reflecting on my behaviour, and acting from a place within me that’s grounded, well, then I can cope and talk and help them sort through whatever craziness they are going through at the time without losing it.

3. Re-connect, re-attach.

I strongly, strongly believe that any punishment–be it a time out, a withdrawal of privileges, or the most innocuous manufactured consequence–does not help these situations but serves to drive a tiny, but ever growing, wedge between the attached parent and child. The absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about discipline was in Gordon Neufeld’s *Hold On To Your Kids*–absolutely aimed at parents of older children, through to teens. We’ve talked about this before, but this is the essence of what I take away from Neufeld’s chapter on “Discipline that Does Not Divide”: “Is [whatever action you were going to take] going to further your connection to your child? Or is it going to estrange you?”

So what do I do when I kind of want to throttle Cinder? I work at re-connecting. I call them re-attachment days. Have a bath together. Wrestle (I’m not advising it for pregnant mamas 🙂 ). Go for coffee (for me) and cookie (for him) at Heartland Cafe, just the two of us. Really focus on him and try to enjoy him. So often, that’s what he’s asking for by being obnoxious–really focused attention from me.

Now if I could only ensure I always give it to him so that we wouldn’t go through the head-butting phase in the first place!

4. Remind myself of what I want to say and how I want to act.

What do I do in the moment? That’s way harder in practice, no question. When I’m really frazzled, I leave notes to myself in conspicuous places with “when Cinder does x–do not say/do this–say/do this instead.” (Fridge and front door best places. Also, bathroom door.) And I tell my children what they are–“Those are reminders to me of how I want to treat you and talk to you, even when what you are doing makes me very, very angry.”

5. Sing.

Sometimes, I sing, “I want to holler really loud, but I’m trying really hard not to, someone help me figure something else to do, I think I’m going to stand on my head to distract myself…” (This works really, really well with two and three year olds too, by the way.)

6. Forgive. Move on.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself in time and do all the things I don’t want to do: yell, threaten (if there is an “if” and a “then” in a sentence, it’s almost always a threat)… and then I apologize, try to rewind, move forward.

7. Put it all in perspective.

And always, always, I remind myself that 1) the worst behaviours usually occur just before huge developmental/emotional milestones, changes and breakthroughs, 2) my child is acting in the best way he knows at this moment, and if that way is not acceptable to me, I need to help him find another one, and 3) I love the little bugger more than life or the universe, no matter how obnoxious he is. (This is a good exercise too: after a hard, hard day, sit down and make a list of all the things you love about your little one. From the shadow her eyelash make on her cheeks when she sleeps to the way she kisses you goodnight… everything you can think of.)

And, finally, if I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect. No matter how angry or tired I am.

Lots of love and support, 

“Jane”

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Damn right he’s cool

Jane: Ender, dude, where do you think you’re going?

Ender: Outside. Play with the guys.

(“The guys” are Cinder and his friends, currently bouncing like mad on the trampoline. And I pause and wonder how to explain to the little dude that 1) he’s two-and-a-half, so I can’t just send him out into the wild that is our Common unsupervised and I can’t supervise him because I need to make supper and, perhaps just as pertinently 2) I’m pretty sure “the guys,” 9, 10 and 12 years old, don’t want him on the trampoline with them. Finally, I say:)

Jane: I think the guys can’t play with you right now; they’re doing something pretty tricky.

Ender: Guys play with me. I’m cool.

(And I pause again, loving the confidence and dreading the meltdown that will follow the rejection that I’m sure is inevitable the second he shows up on the trampoline. But we’re talking on the balcony that overhangs the trampoline, and “the guys” here us.)

And one of them says: For sure you’re cool Ender. Come on down.

(And as he toddles off, brimming with joy, I take a moment to feel thoroughly ashamed. For yet again underestimating children: my children, their good friends that I know so very well. For underestimating their goodness and kindness. And I get all sappy and mellow and happy and reflective, and then a voice brings me back.)

Cinder: But Mom? Can you make sure he’s wearing pants?

A youth bouncing on a trampoline

“What do you mean you don’t punish your kids, you permissive freak?”

Well. “The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby” just set a record here for reader stats, as the result of making its way onto a couple of wider attachment parenting fora. Cool. But from the feedback I’ve gotten what’s causing the furore isn’t the heart of the post, but my throw-away comment about punishment.

So―two requests. First, if all you took away from that post was “We don’t punish our children,” could you take the time to read it again? Or at least read this, the heart of the post: The real secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. You’ll do just fine. It’s an important point.

Second, I get that punishment is a hot-button issue. Let me now highlight, purposefully, the paragraph that’s causing the furore:

… we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour―but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc.

This is how I define punishment: “You did something I did not like, so I’m going to do something you don’t like to you.” Or, to make it even more naked, “You did something bad. So I’m going to do something bad to you.” That’s punishment to me. And I don’t do it. I don’t punish my children. I don’t punish my husband. I try really hard not to punish myself when I’m unhappy with something I’ve done.

Is punishment the same thing as discipline? Do I not discipline my children? That probably depends on who you ask. I purposefully do not have a “discipline” category on this blog because I try not to think of discipline as a separate category. It’s just part of life. I apply a lot of self-discipline in my life… I work very actively with my very challenging, in their different ways, children to teach them to develop their own self-discipline. I absolutely correct undesirable behaviour―and teach and model and even (gasp!) nag (at length) about desirable ones. So depending on how you define discipline, I either discipline the bejeezus out of my children… or I don’t.

So if I don’t “punish,” what do I do instead? Because do not misunderstand: I am no saint, and my children are no angels. They engage in behaviours that tick me off. They’re freaking annoying at times. No automatically obedient drones here. Highly physical. Highly emotional. If I do not punish the behaviours I do not like, what do I do instead?

Lots of things. I’ve got a trio of posts in the pipe for release later this month that together explore a few of the possible strategies and approaches (Five is hard, or is it possible to AP an older child, my personal favourite: Ice cream discipline, and Love letter discipline). In the meantime, let’s play this game: you name the transgression. I’ll tell you if my kids have done it, and what my ideal response would be.*

And if you define punishment and discipline in a way to similar to mine―share your example. What do you do instead of falling back on “punishment”? And why?

In the Corner. From A Home (26 watercolours)

In the Corner. From A Home (26 watercolours) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Advice unbacked by experience is worthless, so I plead the right to say, “My kids haven’t done that (yet?).” And keep it real, eh? The eldest is 10. He’s not mugging old ladies or dealing crack.

The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby

A friend expecting his first baby actually asked me for parenting advice. After I picked myself up off the floor (most of us, before we have children, know everything about parenting. Everything. Sigh. I miss that time), I gave him a big email smooch and hug. Even when childless, he thought our kids were super-cool and all the whacky stuff we were doing with them made total sense for him. He wanted me to spell it out for him in anticipation of his own journey. Here’s what I wrote. (Language warning for the sensitive of eye and ear: we’re university friends, he and I, and the way we talked about politics, education and philosophy back in the day contained a lot of four letter words. When it came to talking to babies and being a parent… well, old habits and all that.)

2008… As for baby advice, one day I plan to write a book, and in the meantime, my short-hand advice is this: no child should be raised by the book (not even my book). We’ve consciously parented off the beaten path, centering our practices and behaviours around the self-evident truth that children are human beings and should be treated and respected as such. Many of the things we’ve done are “attachment parenting” (watered down mainstream guru of approach is one Dr. William Sears, widely published) principles—baby wearing, sleep sharing, extended breastfeeding—but really it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s who you are as a parent. As a person, really. Now that our kids are older, I absolutely think the most critical part of the parenting journey is maintaining that focus on fostering attachment and bonding between parents and children and siblings, and casting anything other people call “discipline” within that context.

That means, among other things, that we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour—but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc. But I’m jumping ahead: we can talk about all that when you have a toddler or preschooler.

First, you’re going to have a baby, and that means your focus for the next year is going to be all about keeping that teeny weeny creature alive, healthy and happy, and you’ll find a way to do it. You want to know what the real secret of parenting is? Ready? Here it is: humans have done it for fucking millennia. It’s not that hard. Actually, it’s not hard at all. One of the things that makes it hardest is the legion of self-proclaimed experts preying on the insecurities on new parents in order to sell books of dubious value.

What makes it hard, also, is that so many of the structures and rhythms of life today don’t fit children or families. That’s the biggest adjustment, I think, of post-baby life. We don’t socialize or live as families—we do so as age-segregated units of peers. Why are parents so focused on getting babies to sleep through the night? Two reasons: 1) because the parents need a good night’s sleep wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning and go to work for 10 hours. But even before that, 2) because they want “their life”—time to do adult only things.

Well, surprise: once you have a child, you transform from a couple into a family, and the predominant mode of life should be family life. I believe that’s one of the self-inflicted stresses of post-partum, people wailing “When do I get my life back?” You don’t. You’ve got a brand new life now, with a brand new person in it—and you can move forward and create patterns that work for the three of you, or wail and rant and make all three of you unhappy and estranged.

Everyone wails a little bit.

When that adjustment stage gets tough for you, meditate on this secret: humans have had families and found a way to make things work for fucking millennia. You’ll find a way. (Ours is dramatically different from that of our peers—we’re both working from home, for example, and we take our children with us to virtually everything. Flora’s thrown up on many a Bay Street suit, and there is Cinder pee on the carpet of most of my editors/clients. But I don’t advocate that as the only way—it’s our way and right for us, right? You’ll find your own—but do think in terms of creating new patterns and rhythms, instead of biding time until you can go back to the old ones.)

When revisiting the past, it’s always interesting to see how one’s perspective has changed. I cringed throughout my re-read of that infamous “Why isn’t it natural” post. In this case, no cringing. I would still give the same advice again. The secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. Addendum: no child should be raised by the book.

A Nepalese woman and her infant child.

“What’s Bedtime?”

Or, why you should probably never listen to anything I say about bedtime routines and sleep

Flora to me, after reading Madeline and the Gypsies: “Mom, did you know that some children have to go to bed at the same time every single night? How weird is that?”

Madeline and the Gypsies

Madeline and the Gypsies (Photo credit: brianfling)

From Life’s Archives, September 18, 2009… but it could have been said yesterday

Searching for Strategies for Sensitive Seven

I’m sitting on the chaise beside my Sensitive Seven. She’s watching Minecraft videos because she needs to chill; I’m trying to crack Twitter.The brothers are still sleeping, and we are alone. Enjoying this rare moment, because even though each of us is, on the surface engaged in something else, we are also together.

I reach out and squeeze a little hand; she leans over and gives me a little kiss. She is at peace and happy, and that makes me ecstatic, because that hasn’t been happening very often lately.

Seven has been a huge milestone age for both of my children who’ve crossed it; if you’ve got a seven year-old, or a child teetering on the edge of that seventh birthday, you’ll have seen it too—I am yet to meet a parent who hasn’t been amazed by the change of seven. But if the seven change with my eldest suddenly gave him a transfusion of self-awareness, world-awareness, an incredible increase in impulse control, and a blooming in social skills and brought with it almost no negatives, the seven change with this already sensitive girl has me, more often than I’d like to admit, longing for the selfishness of Ferocious Five.

Flora is my EQ-intense child, the relationship and network builder. The one who after 15 minutes in a room with people, at age three, knew everyone’s name—and one fact about them that “made them just like me,” no matter how different or strange they might appear. This is a gift, an incredible gift: but, oh, it’s a hard one. That ability to make such immediate and strong connections comes at a price. This beautiful child of mine is so vulnerable to, well, everything. Bad moods of others. Unintentionally hurtful words. Her own thoughts.

With my physical, intense Cinder, I’ve had to work to give him words and awareness of his feelings and emotions, to help him find expression. With my sensitive, effusive Flora, I find myself having to do the opposite: to help her build boundaries, limits, separations. With Cinder, I still have to remind him, often, that other people’s feelings and thoughts matter, that he has to pay attention to them—and he has to make a concentrated effort to do so. Flora enters into all of these intuitively and immediately. Too much so. And I find myself saying to get, too often, “It doesn’t matter what X thinks.” Or, “Jeezus, Flora, why are you crying over that? It doesn’t matter: it’s not important.”

But of course it does. It matters to my Sensitive Seven very, very much, and when I say “It doesn’t matter,” she hears, “I don’t matter to you” or “It doesn’t matter what I think,” or, at best, “You don’t understand me.”

So I sit beside her on the chaise, and squeeze her little hand. Send her a series of quiet messages. “I love you.” “You matter to me more than anything.” And look for ways to hold her close and offer her comfort and safety when she needs it as she struggles through this phase. Practices to help her find self-discipline over her intense emotions without denying them. Coping strategies that recognize the value and the gift of her intense golden heart… but also help that golden heart navigate tough emotional situations without falling apart.

This is not a “Seven Strategies for Sensitive Seven” Post. We’re still exploring, searching. But if it were, it would go like this:

1. Take every opportunity to say (and imply) “I love you.” “You matter to me.” “Your feelings matter to me.”

I think I do this a lot–but for Sensitive Seven, I don’t do this enough. I must do this more often.

2. When you see your Sensitive Seven heading down the breakdown path, attempt to insert a pause. I find distraction does not work so well with the Flora, but then it never did. Still, a combination of mental and physical removal, even temporary, is possible and provides the space for some reflection and regrouping. “Hey, babe, come here, I need to talk to you.” “About what?” No, not the impending crisis. “Our trip to Banff next week—have you thought about what you’re going to pack?” “Oh… no… is my striped dress clean?” “Crap, no. I’ll have to pop in a load of laundry tomorrow. What are you and M up to over there?” “Oh, we’re playing Secret Super Agents, and she’s being really bossy—she just said…” “Yeah? You feeling angry?” “Yes!” “Come inside with me and help me get a snack together?”

And maybe she says OK and comes inside, and gets grounded, and returns to the play. Or maybe she gets grounded and makes the rational decision to stop the play before she disintegrates. Or, she goes back out to play and disintegrates.

I don’t have a fool-proof system or strategy, did I mention that?

3. When the crisis and emotional maelstorm hits, just hold her and ride it out. If I didn’t head it off, I’ve got to let it happen. Distraction won’t work, yelling won’t work, bribery won’t work. The tears must come, and she must find her own peace. I can hold her if she lets me, or let her be alone if she rejects my presence.

And I can’t take it personally.

4. Talk about what happened, and explore strategies for how it could have unfolded differently—after. Long after. Like, not five minutes after she calms down. But next day—or five days later. When there’s distance, and the capacity for distances reflection—by both of you.

This is the time to explore strategies and techniques for creating pause and regrouping when Sensitive Seven is heading for a breakdown. Not when she’s already in the middle of one.

5. Take her out for ice cream. A Value Village browsing trip. Hang. Let her talk without judgement, interruption, redirection. Listen. Learn. Be interested. Be together.

I don’t understand my Flora. There. I’ve said it. She is so different from me. How she thinks, how she feels: she is not me at seven. Nor her brother at seven. She is herself, and right now she is her own, full Sensitive Seven. My assumptions about how she feels, thinks and should react are often totally off-base. I need to pause, and just be with her. In a non-crisis, loving situation.

NB I have a great post from Life’s Archives about “Ice Cream Discipline.” I’ll have to dig it up for you soon.

6. Give her plenty of “alone” time for recharging and regrouping. Flora comes across as an intensely outgoing, social child who thrives on play with her friends. And this is indeed a true aspect of her character. But it has a price—or a complement. Because she is so empathetic and so emotionally involved and out-there with her friends, social play burns her out. Intense social play needs to be balanced with solitary time. Much of the time, Sensitive Seven will do that herself. Sometimes, she forgets. And then, I need to create that time and gently enforce it.

7. Forgive myself and move on when I do it all wrong. If I were keeping score, I “get” Sensitive Seven one in three times on a good day, and one in a dozen on an average day. So be it. Perfection is not the goal: being the mother I am—who mucks up, but reflects, and tries again—is good enough.

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gordon Neufeld on peer orientation, parent-child attachment and the universe

If you’ve been following my writing, you know that at one point in my parenting journey, I stopped reading parenting books. But I do go back to this part and that of Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On to Your Kids. If you haven’t read the book, but are a curious what draws me to him–here is a 100 minute video of Dr. Neufeld’s presentation at TVO Parents, Kids Need Us More Than They Need Their Friends. It’s a time commitment, so bookmark for when you have a few loads of laundry to fold and a quiet house.

If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they talk about attachment parenting older kids–what that means–what the challenges are–this presentation is an excellent primer.

The lighter side of hitting toddlers

…or, Shoehorns are for whacking

Ender’s two-and-a-half, and as per the When toddlers hit post, I’ve had an active-active-active two-and-a-half year-old before, so top of my list of to-do things today was to put away the house shoehorn. Here’s why:

Actors: five-year-old Doberman with the patience of a medieval Catholic saint, three-years plus four-months old Cinder, two-foot long shoe horn (Cinder’s daddy is such a dandy), frazzled mother with nine-month-old strapped to back.

Setting: Kitchen. Mother at stove stir-frying slop (incidentally, it was slop—terrible, one of the worst things I’ve ever cooked; we had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for supper instead). Mother turns around from kitchen disaster to discover three- year-old whacking dog with shoehorn.
Jane: Cinder!
Cinder[drops shoe horn]: Waaaaah! [collapses on floor in fetal position]
J [kneels down beside him]: Why are you crying?
C: Waaaaah! Because waaaah you waaaaah yelled yaaaaaaaah at me waaaaah…
J: Why did I yell at you?
C: Because I was hitting waaaaah Anya.
J: You know better than that. We never, ever hit Anya. We take care of Anya, we pet her, we feed her, we love her… It’s a terrible, terrible thing to do to hit her [bla bla bla].
C: Waaaaaah!
J: Why are you crying now?
C: Because I was having so much fun hitting Anya…

From Life’s Archives, September 24, 2005—Shoehorn are bad

What’s the weapon of choice, confiscated or otherwise, at your house?

A female Doberman Pinscher.

When toddlers attack

Toddlers hit. Not all toddlers. But a lot of toddlers. Like, almost all toddlers, at least some of the time. And some of them—not a few, either, a lot—go through phases when they hit all the time. Attachment parented toddlers hit. Breastfed toddlers hit. Bottle-fed toddlers hit. Babyworn toddlers hit. Toddlers of parents who never raise their voices hit. Really. It’s not just your little guy.

When my first little guy when through this hitting phase, I felt incredibly isolated. Alone. And judged up the wazoo. Here’s our story.

From Life’s Archives. “That Hitting Thing,” March 8, 2006. Cinder’s not quite four; Flora’s one and change.

2006. It happened today, in the playroom, and my head is still whirring. “Flora!” Cinder yells. “You wrecked my tower. That bothers me! Bothers me! I am so angry I want to hit you! But I don’t want to hit you! Grrr!” I poke my head in from the hallway. Cinder is standing closing and opening his fists and breathing. He sees me looking, looks at me. “I didn’t hit Flora,” he announces. “But I’m not proud of you!” he yells at her. She gurgles and hands him a Lego block. They start building the tower together.

I’ve been waiting for this day for… what, two years? Two years to the day, I think. And I know today isn’t the cure. It’s not the turn around, the end. He will hit his little sister again, probably later today. He will push her, pinch her. But he’s working through it—we’re muddling through it, he’s “getting” it. And the fact that this huge emotional break through—this discovery by himself that just because he wants to hit he doesn’t have to hit—has come on the heels of eight nights of peeing the bed puts all sorts of things into perspective for me. Makes me feel not quite so resentful as I wash the sheets and covers for the ninth day in a row…

I’ve been delaying posting this “hitting thing” exposition until I felt I could clearly articulate where we were, why, and how we got there. I don’t think that’s going to happen in the next few weeks or even months. But based on some conversations I’ve had with other mothers of closely spaced siblings—particularly when the older is a boy!—I think this is a story that must be told, in all of its messiness.

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