A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #7

A conversation:

Cinder: Dad will come to the phone in a minute, Mom. He’s just washing his hands–he was cleaning up the blood in the bathroom.

September 16, 2011

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Lawrence Block’s The Liar’s Bible. It’s a collection of columns on writing fiction Block wrote for Writer’s Digest in the 1980s. And it’s down-to-earth brilliant. READ IT.

 

A writing exercise to do just before making supper:

A garlic and tomato are having a fight. And go.

(No, seriously. Go. It can’t possibly be a good piece. It’s just play. It’s just fun. PLAY, dammit.)

 

An explanation:

This is the seventh week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

When Toddlers Attack / That Hitting Thing

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.

Continue reading

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise guru, and a re-run #6

A conversation:

I walk into the living room to see Ender and Cinder sitting around my old non-functioning Mac Book, its keyboard in pieces, and Cinder wedging one of the panels on the body open.

Cinder: Hi Mom.
Jane: What are you doing?
Cinder: Ender and I wanted to see what the inside of a computer looked like. Don’t worry–this is the broken old one. … Um… was this one of those things I should have asked permission for?
Jane: Um… yeah, probably.
Cinder: Would you have said yes?
Jane: Um… well…
Cinder: See, when I think you might say no, I don’t want to ask permission.

May 27, 2012

 A reading assignment that will change your life:

Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnets. Especially Sonnet XII.

Full woman, fleshly apple, hot moon
thick smell of seaweed, crushed mud and light,
what obscure brilliance opens between your columns?
What ancient night does a man touch with his senses?

Loving is a journey with water and with stars,
with smothered air and abrupt storms of flour:
loving is a clash of lightning-bolts
and two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

Kiss by kiss I move across your small infinity,
your borders, your rivers, your tiny villages
and the genital fire transformed into delight

runs through the narrow pathways of the blood
until it plunges down, like a dark carnation,
until it is and is no more than a flash in the night.

Delicious… Now… is he talking about a woman… or Chile?  And does it matter?

A writing exercise (guru):

I want to introduce you to Sarah Selecky and her writing exercises at SarahSelecky.com. One of the favourite prompts of hers was “write four scenes involving walnuts.” So. Do that today, right now: four scenes involving walnuts. And then, check out Sarah’s various offerings—maybe sign up for her daily writing prompts?

P.S. You’re still doing Morning Pages, right? Right?

An explanation:

This is the sixth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

A re-run:

Ferocious Five

For all the mothers of five-year-old girls, current and coming-up-on-five, in my life.

From Life’s Archives, January 27, 2007

Flora is five years and three weeks old today—the three weeks is important, as important as the “half” was when she was four and a half. She’s just come off a very long—for our healthy, active girl—illness, almost two weeks of intermittent fever, sore throat and cough, sniffles and overall body aches, with two days of puking thrown in at the start just for fun. She’s physically well now, but weak. And fragile. Each of her nerves and emotions is exposed to the harsh air of every day life, and the smallest of life’s trials rub her raw and send her spiraling into misery.

It’s driving us mad.

We’ve been here before with her. She celebrated turning two by being sad for three weeks, non-stop. (Funny thing about time: at the time, we thought it was months. Perhaps an entire year. Fortunately, I keep records. It was three weeks on the dot, 21 days of almost incessant crying, over everything.) Between three and four—and especially on either side of three and a half—life thwarted her at every step and she barely survived (us too). At four and a half there was a brief—six days, but oh dear god what a six days—reprisal.

So this is Take Four of Flora being uber-fragile, and I’m trying very hard to approach it as a yet another opportunity handed to me by the universe to crack the Flora code. (We successfully cracked the Cinder code when he was two [this post is coming to the blog Archives soon!] and haven’t been significantly challenged in our interpretation of it since then; Flora is proving to be more complex. Perhaps we women really are.) However hard, each take has offered amazing insights and lessons. The first time around, when she was two and in tears, the lesson to us was simple. Happiness comes from within. We cannot make her happy or peaceful—it is not, indeed, our responsibility to make her happy. The best we can do is provide a certain type of environment, some coping tools—but the only one who can make Flora happy (or not) is Flora.

The lesson of Take Two was more nebulous, and it wasn’t really about Flora. It was about me and you (yes, you, the reading you, the you walking past my yard, the you I pass on the park path, the you paying a visit to my house while she’s having a meltdown). In a nutshell, it was: you don’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your reaction to Flora or to my reaction to Flora or to anything else that’s happening right now in Flora’s world doesn’t matter. Sorry. You don’t want to hear that, but I need to remind myself of it, throw you out of my mind, and focus on me and Flora. Then, I need to put me to the side—I’ll come back to me later, recharge, re-examine, ponder exactly why I was feeling the way I was and wanting to react the way I was, I’ll do all that, but later.

Right now, with you and me out of the way, I need to focus on Flora, I need to help her cope, work out some tools that she can use to help find herself, work through whatever inner turmoil she’s experiencing right now, and come back to a place of balance. This moment is all about her, and I need to surrender to that first. Only then can I help her… and maybe helping her just means being there while she can’t help herself. And then, when there is a moment when she wants and needs and is open to help—then, I step in. Without my baggage, without making this about me—much less you—but just her.

This lesson is much harder than calculus and I’m still studying it, reviewing it, intermittently failing it, because, at least some of the time, I want you to approve of my and my child and my parenting.

Flora—the current, five year old Flora—is stirring on the couch beside me now making whimpering unhappy noises as she wakes up from a quasi-nap, and I’m revisiting the second part of the lesson. Not about me. About her. What does she need? (Part of me says, a kick in the head.) Apparently, she says, her whole self covered with the blanket. Translation: control over her surroundings.

Take Three’s lesson was simple, so long as Take Two’s lesson was mastered. Repeat: it’s not about you or me. It’s about her. In capital letters: It’s about HER. Between three and five, children are as purely and completely selfish as selfish can be. They’re not psychotic, unsocialized, undisciplined: they just are. Purely, beautifully selfish. The world is all about them, and that’s all that matters to them.

This can suck to the rest of us having to live in the world alongside them. Until, that is, we realize that developmentally speaking, this is normal and inevitable… and it is possible to “work” with it. Asking a child in that stage to do something—or stop doing something, or, ha!, feeling something—because of the effect it has on other people is a recipe for frustration. They can’t comply: they don’t hear you. Oh, they can learn to fake complicity through coercive discipline. But they don’t get it. The world is about them.

At four and half, and into five, I know this. Flora’s world is all about her. In retrospect, on either side of five, Cinder’s world was all about him too. But he manifested it in a different way and it was easier to live with. It was all about doing stuff. For Flora, it’s about feeling stuff. Waaay more complex.

So, here we are in Take Four. Obviously, for me, part of the lesson here is a remedial review of Take Two. It’s not about me. It’s all about her. This part, I’m doing pretty well on. I need to work a little bit more on the fact that you don’t matter. And also, I need to flip the fact that it’s not about me on its head. I actually need to make it about me: that is, seize each of these moments as an opportunity to work on ME. MY response. MY feelings and MY expression of them. MY understanding. What am I doing in this moment and why, and can I be the me in this moment that I want to be? Can I be that me just a little bit longer? One more minute? Another after that?

People pay big money for transcendental moments like this: they go to workshops, retreats, read books, meditate… and lucky me, motherhood is delivering these life-changing, self-reflecting opportunities to me just about every day…

I wrote this post more than two years ago. Flora is now seven and three and a half months—she could probably tell you her age precisely to the day, perhaps the hour. And while we are not in “Take Five,”  we are still learning our sensitive, fragile Flora. She’s learning us too—the selfishness of five is long gone, replaced by hyper-awareness to the feelings of others, and hyper-despair when they are negative. Sometimes, this hyper-awareness makes me long for the selfishness of five. But that’s a topic for a future post. 

Bust of Flora

Don’t fight with the four-year-old. Just don’t.

photo (21)

It goes like this:

Jane: For Keeee-rrriiiissst’s sake, what is wrong with you guys? Do. Not. Fight. With. The. Four. Year. Old!

But do they understand? No.

Flora: Is it too much to ask to not have him pull my hair?

Sean: Is it too much to ask to not have him screech in the car?

Cinder: Is it too much to want my testicles to be intact?

So I try to explain. Of course it’s not too much to ask to have him not pull your hair. It’s a perfectly reasonable request. But how about you just move your head like so, so it’s not within grasp of his crazy little fingers? He’s restrained in the car seat. There’s only so far he can reach. Just… move more to the right.

Flora: But I want to rest my head on the car seat!

Jane: Then he will pull your hair.

Flora: Because he’s evil?

Jane: Because he’s four…

I re-coach Sean through this, again. Yes, it sucks when he screeches in the car. But he’s at this awesome phase that the more of a reaction he gets from you, the more he will do it. Ask him to stop, once… if it doesn’t work, zone out. Don’t pay attention. The more you ask, the more—and with more glee—he will do it. That’s the phase. It should be over in four-to-six months.

Sean: But it’s driving me crazy!

Jane: But you will never, ever win that kind of argument with a four-year-old.

Sean: But you hate it too! I saw you—when we stopped at that red light, you clicked open the door and your hand was on the door handle. I know what you were thinking!

True. I almost leapt out of the car and walked the remaining 4 km home. And there was a blizzard happening, and I was NOT wearing sensible shoes. But it wasn’t just the screeching. It was the combination of screeching-and-counter-screeching… because, see, it always takes two.

Which brings me to…

Cinder: I can’t wait to see how you justify Ender’s incessant assault on my privates.

Jane: Cinder, you do everything to provoke him but tape a “kick me” sign to your groin.

Cinder: A “kick me” sign on my groin? Now there’s an idea…

Jane: I have absolutely no pity or sympathy for you. And I’m becoming resigned to the idea that you will never give me grandchildren. Thank Zeus I have two other children who may continue the genetic line…

I own this: the four-year-old is… exhausting. He is such an amazing combination of exuberance, glee, joy—and utter chaos, destruction, self-centredness and irrationality—that… well, exhausting. There’s no other way to describe it. Chaos personified, joy personified. Love personified, too, but energy draining more often than energy-giving. The mantra that gets me through his most intense moments is pretty simple:

It takes two to fight.

So I don’t.*

Ender: I’m going to pee in my potty, and then I’m going to put it on my head and dance, dance, dance!

Jane: I’m going to start the bath running, then.

And look for the mop.

Caveat: I don’t always succeed. Of course not. Them four-year-olds are wily creatures. And sometimes, they crave the conflict as much as I crave peace. They—or the Ender, at least—will work tirelessly and methodically to elicit a scream. To arouse the Evil-Mommy-Within. To evoke The-Voice-of-Cthulu.

Cinder: Jeezus, Mom, what the hell was that?

Jane: Um… sorry. That was the crazy, I’ve lost all control voice.

Cinder: Wow. Did you ever yell at me like that?

Jane: I can honestly say, No. But, you know, I don’t think it’s that you were any less annoying. I think I had more patience.

Flora: Mom? I don’t think the crazy voice worked. Ender just ran out the front door.

Jane: But it’s -10! And he’s naked!

Flora: He’s also holding a pair of garden shears in one hand and a drywall saw in the other.

Send chocolate. Wine. And the business cards of some good therapists.

xoxo,
Jane

P.S. I still want to know what your totem animal is. I’ll collect all the answers in this Friday’s post. The things you will learn about yourselves and your friends… Hashtag #whatsyourtotemanimal if you’re tweeting the answer or respond in comments below the original post, It’s a game: what’s your totem animal? And what’s mine? Email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com if you want to play but keep it all undercover.

P.P.S. I want to ensure none of you construe the above post as parenting advice. To that end, I direct you to Rachel of Tao of Poop’s recent post, Can’t you just stop the parenting advice?

P.P.P.S. For the bloggers in the crowd: last week, my Twitter feed introduced me to Shane Prather, from Whispering Sweetly and her Bloggers Coast to Coast map. It’s a fun idea: you list your blog with her and can use the resulting interactive map as a way to meet local bloggers. Have a peek:

*I will also own that my conflict-avoidance powers are legendary. For better or worse.

Ferocious Five

IMG_0615

Did you guess where I am? I should have packed more painkillers. Fortunately, there are drug stores and hot tubs everywhere. While I’m away–you know where I am, right? Figured it out?–a bunch of my friends have daughters who are turning five in the next little while. Here’s a recap of Flora’s Ferocious Five.

IMG_0615

2007. Flora is five years and three weeks old today—the three weeks is important, as important as the “half” was when she was four and a half. She’s just come off a very long—for our healthy, active girl—illness, almost two weeks of intermittent fever, sore throat and cough, sniffles and overall body aches, with two days of puking thrown in at the start just for fun. She’s physically well now, but weak. And fragile. Each of her nerves and emotions is exposed to the harsh air of every day life, and the smallest of life’s trials rub her raw and send her spiraling into misery.

It’s driving us mad.

We’ve been here before with her. She celebrated turning two by being sad for three weeks, non-stop. (Funny thing about time: at the time, we thought it was months. Perhaps an entire year. Fortunately, I keep records. It was three weeks on the dot, 21 days of almost incessant crying, over everything.) Between three and four—and especially on either side of three and a half—life thwarted her at every step and she barely survived (us too). At four and a half there was a brief—six days, but oh dear god what a six days—reprisal.

So this is Take Four of Flora being uber-fragile, and I’m trying very hard to approach it as a yet another opportunity handed to me by the universe to crack the Flora code. (We successfully cracked the Cinder code when he was two [this post is coming to the blog Archives soon!] and haven’t been significantly challenged in our interpretation of it since then; Flora is proving to be more complex. Perhaps we women really are.) However hard, each take has offered amazing insights and lessons. The first time around, when she was two and in tears, the lesson to us was simple. Happiness comes from within. We cannot make her happy or peaceful—it is not, indeed, our responsibility to make her happy. The best we can do is provide a certain type of environment, some coping tools—but the only one who can make Flora happy (or not) is Flora.

The lesson of Take Two was more nebulous, and it wasn’t really about Flora. It was about me and you (yes, you, the reading you, the you walking past my yard, the you I pass on the park path, the you paying a visit to my house while she’s having a meltdown). In a nutshell, it was: you don’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your reaction to Flora or to my reaction to Flora or to anything else that’s happening right now in Flora’s world doesn’t matter. Sorry. You don’t want to hear that, but I need to remind myself of it, throw you out of my mind, and focus on me and Flora. Then, I need to put me to the side—I’ll come back to me later, recharge, re-examine, ponder exactly why I was feeling the way I was and wanting to react the way I was, I’ll do all that, but later.

Right now, with you and me out of the way, I need to focus on Flora, I need to help her cope, work out some tools that she can use to help find herself, work through whatever inner turmoil she’s experiencing right now, and come back to a place of balance. This moment is all about her, and I need to surrender to that first. Only then can I help her… and maybe helping her just means being there while she can’t help herself. And then, when there is a moment when she wants and needs and is open to help—then, I step in. Without my baggage, without making this about me—much less you—but just her.

This lesson is much harder than calculus and I’m still studying it, reviewing it, intermittently failing it, because, at least some of the time, I want you to approve of my and my child and my parenting.

Flora—the current, five year old Flora—is stirring on the couch beside me now making whimpering unhappy noises as she wakes up from a quasi-nap, and I’m revisiting the second part of the lesson. Not about me. About her. What does she need? (Part of me says, a kick in the head.) Apparently, she says, her whole self covered with the blanket. Translation: control over her surroundings.

Take Three’s lesson was simple, so long as Take Two’s lesson was mastered. Repeat: it’s not about you or me. It’s about her. In capital letters: It’s about HER. Between three and five, children are as purely and completely selfish as selfish can be. They’re not psychotic, unsocialized, undisciplined: they just are. Purely, beautifully selfish. The world is all about them, and that’s all that matters to them.

This can suck to the rest of us having to live in the world alongside them. Until, that is, we realize that developmentally speaking, this is normal and inevitable… and it is possible to “work” with it. Asking a child in that stage to do something—or stop doing something, or, ha!, feeling something—because of the effect it has on other people is a recipe for frustration. They can’t comply: they don’t hear you. Oh, they can learn to fake complicity through coercive discipline. But they don’t get it. The world is about them.

At four and half, and into five, I know this. Flora’s world is all about her. In retrospect, on either side of five, Cinder’s world was all about him too. But he manifested it in a different way and it was easier to live with. It was all about doing stuff. For Flora, it’s about feeling stuff. Waaay more complex.

So, here we are in Take Four. Obviously, for me, part of the lesson here is a remedial review of Take Two. It’s not about me. It’s all about her. This part, I’m doing pretty well on. I need to work a little bit more on the fact that you don’t matter. And also, I need to flip the fact that it’s not about me on its head. I actually need to make it about me: that is, seize each of these moments as an opportunity to work on ME. MY response. MY feelings and MY expression of them. MY understanding. What am I doing in this moment and why, and can I be the me in this moment that I want to be? Can I be that me just a little bit longer? One more minute? Another after that?

People pay big money for transcendental moments like this: they go to workshops, retreats, read books, meditate… and lucky me, motherhood is delivering these life-changing, self-reflecting opportunities to me just about every day…

First published in Life’s Archives, January 27, 2007, with this note: I wrote this post more than two years ago. Flora is now seven and three and a half months—she could probably tell you her age precisely to the day, perhaps the hour. And while we are not in “Take Five,”  we are still learning our sensitive, fragile Flora. She’s learning us too—the selfishness of five is long gone, replaced by hyper-awareness to the feelings of others, and hyper-despair when they are negative. Sometimes, this hyper-awareness makes me long for the selfishness of five. But that’s a topic for a future post.

More like this: Searching for Strategies for Sensitive Seven and Emotional Eight 

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

 

Between the carrot (cake) and the fork 2

The stream from the water gun catches me under my skirt and I holler. And then the little bum shoots again. “Cinder!” I yell, tossing my own empty water gun far, far away from me. “Look, no weapon! I’m out!” He blasts me again.

“Dude! Remember that carrot cake we’re planning to get when we go to Eau Claire? There are two distinct futures ahead of you. One of them involves eating a delicious carrot cake. The other has me poking you in the bohunkus with a fork. Which one are you going to choose?”

My friend Neela, skirting the edges of the water gun fight, laughs. “That’s an interesting parenting technique,” she says, half-serious. “You should blog about it.”

“And call it what, how to disguise threats, punishments and rewards with words?” I ask. I’m soaking wet. Cinder’s backed off; he’s chasing Flora and her friend Jenny now. They’re still fully armed and firing back.

Neela gives my flippant statement serious thought. “Words are powerful,” she says. “Syntax, semantics, all that matters. I’d never say, ‘If you get into your pajamas, girls, I’ll get you ice cream.’ But I do say…” she thinks for a moment… “Oh, ‘Girls in pajamas who report to the kitchen will get ice cream.’” She laughs. “Because, you know, ice cream before bed is a routine snack in my house.” (I leave it up to you to determine if she’s joking or not… or if it matters.)

Neela and I round up the combatants and take them to Eau Claire. The moms get coffee; the kids sweets. Cinder gets carrot cake, not a fork in the bohunkus. Flora gets a lecture about gratitude, and Neela and I talk about … gratitude, entitlement, and the too-easy-too-cross line between coercive discipline and … what? we’re not quite sure what to call it. Words, words, words. But as Neela said before, and says again, words are important.

Cinder’s running around, stealing Jenny’s shoes in order to lure her off the blanket where she’s chatting with Flora and get her to chase him. Then he plays Frisbee with Ender. Then returns to “annoying the girls.” Later, he’ll tell me, “Well, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I got to annoy the girls.” “D’you have to do that?” I’ll sigh. “It’s sort of my job,” he’ll retort.

And my job, as Cinder’s mother, is to… well, to make sure that the “annoying the girls” doesn’t cross a certain line. To encourage peace and harmony when possible, and to minimize the bloodshed (usually metaphorical) and help negotiate truces and separations when necessary.

And to muddle along that path the best way I can, on any given day, in any given moment. And yeah, sometimes it means waving the carrot (cake).

(You know I’d never really poke him in the bohunkus with a fork, right? He knows I’d never do it. I’m pretty sure he knows… hold on. “Cinder? Do you think I’d ever poke you in the butt with a fork?” Pause. “Probably not. Um… Well, you might.” “Really? You think I’d…” “I think if I poked you first, you might.” “But you’re not gonna, right?” “Well…” Fuck. Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for…)

The muddling continues.

English: Carrot cake Deutsch: Rüeblitorte, Kar...

For “Neela.” Based on events of August 1, 2012. First published August 3, 2012, Nothing By The Book.

That hitting thing…

Kids Wall 2

Kids Wall 2

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.

Continue reading

Embracing Chaos

A61

A61

or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: a cheat sheet

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...

In the spirit of the Orange Rhino “No Yelling” Challenge:

If you’ve been reading me for a while—and if you know me in real life—then you know I’m usually this “pee in the driveway if you want” kind of parent. Just a leetle on this side of permissive, you could say. But I hope you’ve also noticed that Saint Jane also, ya’ know, loses it with her children—yells, gets irritated, frustrated, wants to run away…

And, to date, never more so than at three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half. Cinder and Flora, at both of those ages, drove me to the very edge of sanity and made me mine for immense reservoirs of patience within myself I didn’t know I had. And despite those, I still yelled and snapped. But without them, I would have snapped ever so much more…

As Ender, who has been simultaneously my easiest baby and my most frustrating child (paradoxes are what makes life interesting, right?), starts the path towards three-and-a-half, I thought I should remind myself of a few strategies that saw me through it the first two times. The cheat sheet strategy was an absolute lifesaver with Cinder—and as I dug it up out of old journals, I wish I had put it into action when Flora was struggling through Sensitive Seven… I think I might still, because I suspect Sensitive Seven might become Extra-Sensitive Eight—and I hope it sees me through Ender’s crazy 3.5 with some sanity intact. Without further ado, here it is.

The premise is this: a certain level of crazy on the kids’ part is normal at this stage. I can’t control it. What I can control is my own behaviour and my own reactions. To that end:

I made a three column cheat sheet that looked like this:

1. When Cinder says/does…[thing that drives me crazy]

2. DO NOT SAY [in small print my knee-jerk, channeling the worst of my angry-inner-voice response]

3. SAY or DO THIS [desired response in big letters]

and taped it to the fridge, because somehow, most of the unstellar performance on my part occurred in the kitchen. Upon reflection, I should have had another copy by the front door, because that would be conflict spot number two.

With Ender, I might put this sheet up in the bathroom as well. And maybe have another one in the car…

So…

1. When Ender yanks Flora’s hair / tries to destroy her art work

2. DO NOT SAY Stop it you little monster!

3. DO SAY: Ow, that hurts! AND Take Ender away and redirect him to something.

Because most of the time we all know WHAT we WANT to say or do, right? The problem is remembering that ideal in the frustration of the moment.

Related life hack: It also helps me at times like this to remind myself of my long-term parenting and living goals are and how most daily irritants don’t really impact them. Writing them down somewhere on the cheat sheet might be helpful—I might try that this time ‘round. You know, something like, “What’s really important to me is a peaceful, respectful house. Not a clean house.” Or “I want my children to be confident, strong willed-adults. That means I do not get instant obedience now.”

And… persevere, with a smile when possible.

Unrelated life hack: It’s not even that I’m an introvert; some days, I’m an outright misantrope. Here’s a an interesting post on Finding Balance as an Introverted Parent, by Vanessa Pruitt, from Natural Family Today. Now, I’m not a great fan of looking for balance myself (I prefer to seek harmony), but although Pruitt uses the “B” word, she writes about useful strategies.

 

 

Check This Out: The Orange Rhino 365 Days of No Yelling Challenge

 

Orange you glad...

This challenge has been going on for 266 days for the “Orange Rhino” mom (a mom to four BOYS ages 5, 3 1/2, 2, and 6 months), since the day she decided she yelled at her kids more than she wanted to–and she was going to do something about it! She’s got 99 days to go, and for those of us just discovering her now, that just means there are a lot of resources and back posts for you to tap into. Start with Alternatives to Yelling, and then mine the site for other ideas.

One of my favourite tips that OR offers is this:

88.  Look at TV and pretend there is a hidden camera (fear of judgment works wonders)

… “Pretend there are witnesses” is a great tool for getting through “those days.” And if you can’t make yourself “pretend”–get out of the house to somewhere with witnesses. 🙂

Similar to this on Nothing By The Book:

Ice cream discipline • Love letter discipline What do you mean you don’t punish your kids you permissive freak?

Photo (Orange you glad…) by Timmy F.

Between the carrot (cake) and the fork

The stream from the watergun catches me under my skirt and I holler. And then the little bum shoots again. “Cinder!” I yell, tossing my own empty water gun far, far away from me. “Look, no weapon! I’m out!” He blasts me again.

“Dude! Remember that carrot cake we’re planning to get when we go to Eau Claire? There are two distinct futures ahead of you. One of them involves eating a delicious carrot cake. The other has me poking you in the bohunkus with a fork. Which one are you going to choose?”

My friend Neela, skirting the edges of the water gun fight, laughs. “That’s an interesting parenting technique,” she says, half-serious. “You should blog about it.”

“And call it what, how to disguise threats, punishments and rewards with words?” I ask. I’m soaking wet. Cinder’s backed off; he’s chasing Flora and her friend Jenny now. They’re still fully armed and firing back.

Neela gives my flippant statement serious thought. “Words are powerful,” she says. “Syntax, semantics, all that matters. I’d never say, ‘If you get into your pajamas, girls, I’ll get you ice cream.’ But I do say…” she thinks for a moment… “Oh, ‘Girls in pajamas who report to the kitchen will get ice cream.’” She laughs. “Because, you know, ice cream before bed is a routine snack in my house.” (I leave it up to you to determine if she’s joking or not… or if it matters.)

Neela and I round up the combatants and take them to Eau Claire. The moms get coffee; the kids sweets. Cinder gets carrot cake, not a fork in the bohunkus. Flora gets a lecture about gratitude, and Neela and I talk about … gratitude, entitlement, and the too-easy-too-cross line between coercive discipline and … what? we’re not quite sure what to call it. Words, words, words. But as Neela said before, and says again, words are important.

Cinder’s running around, stealing Jenny’s shoes in order to lure her off the blanket where she’s chatting with Flora and get her to chase him. Then he plays Frisbee with Ender. Then returns to “annoying the girls.” Later, he’ll tell me, “Well, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I got to annoy the girls.” “D’you have to do that?” I’ll sigh. “It’s sort of my job,” he’ll retort.

And my job, as Cinder’s mother, is to… well, to make sure that the “annoying the girls” doesn’t cross a certain line. To encourage peace and harmony when possible, and to minimize the bloodshed (usually metaphorical) and help negotiate truces and separations when necessary.

And to muddle along that path the best way I can, on any given day, in any given moment. And yeah, sometimes it means waving the carrot (cake).

(You know I’d never really poke him in the bohunkus with a fork, right? He knows I’d never do it. I’m pretty sure he knows… hold on. “Cinder? Do you think I’d ever poke you in the butt with a fork?” Pause. “Probably not. Um… Well, you might.” “Really? You think I’d…” “I think if I poked you first, you might.” “But you’re not gonna, right?” “Well…” Fuck. Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for…)

The muddling continues.

English: Carrot cake Deutsch: Rüeblitorte, Kar...

For “Neela.” Based on events of August 1, 2012.

Saying yes

Say Yes, a post by Catherine Arveseth from The Power of Moms, arrived in my in-box earlier this week via my good friend Crystal. As we prepared for our trip to the wilds of ‘Toba, it was a timely reminder for me… “Yes, you can take the waterguns.” “Yes, we’ll throw the scooters in.” “Yes, we’ll buy those Peak Freens cookies for the road.”

I dream of getting into the car with one suitcase. And sometimes, I get to, and sometimes, they have to leave their markers, stuffies, balls (“Ender, seriously? Three balls? Baby, one soccer ball in the car. One.” “Two?” “One.” “Two?” Damn you, Bambi eyes) and what-not behind. And I know that from that bag of toys, one will be played with. So be it. “Yes.”

We default to “No” so easily. Because we’re tried. Because we don’t want to go up (or down) the stairs one more time. Because we don’t want to clean up the mess. I like to think our house is a “yes if possible” environment, but… we all default to “No,” sometimes, often for a not very good reason.

From Arveseth’s post:

“Yes is air” writes Ann Voskamp. “In the rarefied oxygen of that one word, ‘yes!’, the dreams breathe deep and the body exhales joy. I embrace [the] mess and try to be done with the slow suffocation of ‘perhaps’ and ‘we’ll see’ and ‘maybe’ — the biding of time till the visions wither limp — and every day I try to remember that control smothers and fear asphyxiates.”

I’d add two points to this.

First, there are so many moments and days in a child’s–a person’s life–when the No is inevitable. When you as a parent have to say no, because the request is not feasible–dangerous–impossible. Or when the world says No, because, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in 2012. Or when you’re doubled over the toilet vomiting and there isn’t an ounce of strength left in you to say “Yes” to anything… anything.

Second, when “No” is not the default mode, when it’s pulled out only when really necessary–it has way more power. It means… “No.” Rather than, “No, but if you whine and complain and argue enough I might change my mind. Or, “No. No. No… why are you doing it anyway?”

So. I’m writing this just before our trip–you’re reading this while I’m already on it. My task for myself: to be conscious of “Yes.” To default there. To really think hard before I say “No.”

I’ll report back on how it went when we come back. Including on how soccer balls I was conned into putting into the van…

A football (or soccer ball) icon.

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.

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?

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

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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...

“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.

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)

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.

Continue reading

Ferocious Five

For all the mothers of five-year-old girls, current and coming-up-on-five, in my life.

From Life’s Archives, January 27, 2007

Flora is five years and three weeks old today—the three weeks is important, as important as the “half” was when she was four and a half. She’s just come off a very long—for our healthy, active girl—illness, almost two weeks of intermittent fever, sore throat and cough, sniffles and overall body aches, with two days of puking thrown in at the start just for fun. She’s physically well now, but weak. And fragile. Each of her nerves and emotions is exposed to the harsh air of every day life, and the smallest of life’s trials rub her raw and send her spiraling into misery.

It’s driving us mad.

We’ve been here before with her. She celebrated turning two by being sad for three weeks, non-stop. (Funny thing about time: at the time, we thought it was months. Perhaps an entire year. Fortunately, I keep records. It was three weeks on the dot, 21 days of almost incessant crying, over everything.) Between three and four—and especially on either side of three and a half—life thwarted her at every step and she barely survived (us too). At four and a half there was a brief—six days, but oh dear god what a six days—reprisal.

So this is Take Four of Flora being uber-fragile, and I’m trying very hard to approach it as a yet another opportunity handed to me by the universe to crack the Flora code. (We successfully cracked the Cinder code when he was two [this post is coming to the blog Archives soon!] and haven’t been significantly challenged in our interpretation of it since then; Flora is proving to be more complex. Perhaps we women really are.) However hard, each take has offered amazing insights and lessons. The first time around, when she was two and in tears, the lesson to us was simple. Happiness comes from within. We cannot make her happy or peaceful—it is not, indeed, our responsibility to make her happy. The best we can do is provide a certain type of environment, some coping tools—but the only one who can make Flora happy (or not) is Flora.

The lesson of Take Two was more nebulous, and it wasn’t really about Flora. It was about me and you (yes, you, the reading you, the you walking past my yard, the you I pass on the park path, the you paying a visit to my house while she’s having a meltdown). In a nutshell, it was: you don’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your reaction to Flora or to my reaction to Flora or to anything else that’s happening right now in Flora’s world doesn’t matter. Sorry. You don’t want to hear that, but I need to remind myself of it, throw you out of my mind, and focus on me and Flora. Then, I need to put me to the side—I’ll come back to me later, recharge, re-examine, ponder exactly why I was feeling the way I was and wanting to react the way I was, I’ll do all that, but later.

Right now, with you and me out of the way, I need to focus on Flora, I need to help her cope, work out some tools that she can use to help find herself, work through whatever inner turmoil she’s experiencing right now, and come back to a place of balance. This moment is all about her, and I need to surrender to that first. Only then can I help her… and maybe helping her just means being there while she can’t help herself. And then, when there is a moment when she wants and needs and is open to help—then, I step in. Without my baggage, without making this about me—much less you—but just her.

This lesson is much harder than calculus and I’m still studying it, reviewing it, intermittently failing it, because, at least some of the time, I want you to approve of my and my child and my parenting.

Flora—the current, five year old Flora—is stirring on the couch beside me now making whimpering unhappy noises as she wakes up from a quasi-nap, and I’m revisiting the second part of the lesson. Not about me. About her. What does she need? (Part of me says, a kick in the head.) Apparently, she says, her whole self covered with the blanket. Translation: control over her surroundings.

Take Three’s lesson was simple, so long as Take Two’s lesson was mastered. Repeat: it’s not about you or me. It’s about her. In capital letters: It’s about HER. Between three and five, children are as purely and completely selfish as selfish can be. They’re not psychotic, unsocialized, undisciplined: they just are. Purely, beautifully selfish. The world is all about them, and that’s all that matters to them.

This can suck to the rest of us having to live in the world alongside them. Until, that is, we realize that developmentally speaking, this is normal and inevitable… and it is possible to “work” with it. Asking a child in that stage to do something—or stop doing something, or, ha!, feeling something—because of the effect it has on other people is a recipe for frustration. They can’t comply: they don’t hear you. Oh, they can learn to fake complicity through coercive discipline. But they don’t get it. The world is about them.

At four and half, and into five, I know this. Flora’s world is all about her. In retrospect, on either side of five, Cinder’s world was all about him too. But he manifested it in a different way and it was easier to live with. It was all about doing stuff. For Flora, it’s about feeling stuff. Waaay more complex.

So, here we are in Take Four. Obviously, for me, part of the lesson here is a remedial review of Take Two. It’s not about me. It’s all about her. This part, I’m doing pretty well on. I need to work a little bit more on the fact that you don’t matter. And also, I need to flip the fact that it’s not about me on its head. I actually need to make it about me: that is, seize each of these moments as an opportunity to work on ME. MY response. MY feelings and MY expression of them. MY understanding. What am I doing in this moment and why, and can I be the me in this moment that I want to be? Can I be that me just a little bit longer? One more minute? Another after that?

People pay big money for transcendental moments like this: they go to workshops, retreats, read books, meditate… and lucky me, motherhood is delivering these life-changing, self-reflecting opportunities to me just about every day…

I wrote this post more than two years ago. Flora is now seven and three and a half months—she could probably tell you her age precisely to the day, perhaps the hour. And while we are not in “Take Five,”  we are still learning our sensitive, fragile Flora. She’s learning us too—the selfishness of five is long gone, replaced by hyper-awareness to the feelings of others, and hyper-despair when they are negative. Sometimes, this hyper-awareness makes me long for the selfishness of five. But that’s a topic for a future post. 

Bust of Flora