Tag Archives: parenting

From One Teacher to Another

3 Sep

When I was a second-year teacher, many years ago (before kids), I was stunned silent by a parent after a not-so-pleasant meeting about their child’s lack of work completion and general bad attitude.

“Are you a parent?” she asked me after much discussion.  And in the uncomfortable silence, I heard myself screaming in my head.

“Huh. She thinks I’m an idiot.  Great.”

“Oh, I see.  Because you’ve been through school, you’re qualified to do my job, but because I’m not a parent, I can’t possibly understand kids.”

And, “No!  But I have a DEGREE.  Who gave you a degree in parenting?  Huh?  Nobody, that’s who.”

Her question stuck with me, and though my years of teaching elementary school I often found myself wondering if the parents secretly lacked trust in my ability to educate their children based on the simple fact that I did not belong in their little club.

And then I had children of my own, and despite my best efforts to keep them little, one of them grew old enough to attend school.

My dad likes to say that nothing is as humbling as being a parent, and I have to agree.  Because what I understand now is that Mrs. Jones (or whatever her name was) wasn’t telling me I wasn’t qualified to teach her child.  She wasn’t even telling me that I didn’t understand children or that I was wrong in my assessments.  If I could step back in time, and translate her question, I’d tell that second-year teacher what the mom was really trying to say:

Look.  I know you’re trained for this.  And I know my child is having problems, causing problems, and that we are all frustrated.  But even though I know you want the best for my child, you can’t possibly understand where I’m coming from.

Because that 9 year old in your class?  Is the baby I carried for 9 months.  She’s the tiny being I brought into the world.  Me.  With my body. I look at her and I see sleepless nights and endless nursing sessions, clogged ducts and tearful latches.  I recall how her baby smell slowly faded from my grasp and the moment when her first steps left me simultaneously cheering and catching my breath.  And just as I breathed life into her, she has breathed life into me.

I can’t possibly be objective.  I don’t want to be.

And so, to my daughter’s teachers, on her first day of Kindergarten, I want you to know:

I am trusting you with my baby.

And as exciting as it is – thinking of all she will learn and all the ways she will grow over the next 36 weeks – it is equally as terrifying.  E and I?  We have been through hell and back together, but if I thought bringing a child into this world was hard, it’s nothing compared to letting them go out in it.

Thank you for loving her and for bringing your light into her life.  Thank you for all you will give of yourself and all the ways you will broaden her horizons.  I will do my best to gently follow her lead as she grows up and to not get in your way.  But when I fail?  Please remember it’s because I’m learning, too.  And know I wouldn’t have it any other way.

DoodleBug First Moments

Emulating Perfection

19 Feb

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who snuck into her mother’s bathroom to poke through a drawer of wonder. Lotions and make ups. Powders and perfumes. Treasures worth the risk taken tiptoeing down the long, barren hallway to a room her parents considered a protected sanctuary. She applied the powder to her arms, to her face, to her hands, unsure of where it was supposed to go but confident that it made her just as beautiful as her mother, for it was her mother she was trying to embody.

For she grew up knowing that her father believed her mother to the the most beautiful creature in the planet. The most exquisite human being in existence, in fact, and she wanted just a taste of that kind of magic. To stretch out into, and fill up, her mother’s shadow.

Once, only once, her father uttered the words, “I wish your mother would…”  Her ears perked up and she raced into the room to find out what she trumped her mother in, begging her father to say it again.  She hoped for something deep and personal, for some great character trait her father would praise her for.  “He wishes Mom painted her toenails,” her younger brother whispered, and her face dropped into disappointment.  Surely there was something remarkable about her besides the polish she applied to her feet.

————

It makes me sad to look back and realize how much of my self worth as a child and teen was based on measuring up to someone else.  Honestly, I held onto my pedicure triumph for years.  YEARS, people, thinking “at least there is something I do that is good enough.”

My parents were (are) loving, attentive parents.  But I always felt, and work today to keep myself from feeling, that there was an element to their love that I had to earn.  And though I don’t blame them one bit, I wonder whether there’s something they did to cause me feel this way.  Maybe it is just a part of my personality, or unavoidable human nature.  Perhaps it’s partly to blame on my birth order.  It won’t surprise anyone who knows me to learn I am the eldest of three.

Now that I’m a mother of two children myself, I see how I treat my girls differently, and not just because they are different people and different ages, and therefore need different things from me (That was a lot of “differents” all in once sentence.  My English teacher would cringe).  My oldest seems so much older since her little sister joined us, and I constantly catch myself pushing her to put her childish ways behind her, as if they are reserved solely for the baby.  Some days I hypothetically ask her, “what are you? Five?” and it stops me in my tracks as I remember how small, fragile, and adorable 5-year-olds seemed to me before I had children of my own.  It’s the curse of being the oldest – the added responsibility of paving the way, your parents using their experiences with you to better themselves for your successor.

As I write all this, I realize that my mindfulness gives me an advantage and that I don’t doubt my worth as a mother to BOTH of my girls because I know I truly am doing the best I can with the knowledge that I have at the time.  I don’t expect to parent perfectly, nor do my children need me to.  And though I look back at the moment when I learned my father’s worship of my mother knew no bounds – that he loved her in a way he would never love me – with continued envy, I know it has shaped me for the better.

Mom and DadMy parents have been married for 36 years, and I see in my dad’s eyes that he feels the same way he did all those years ago.  Nothing compares to my mother for him.  And because he modeled that kind of marriage – one of unconditional love – I looked for the same in a spouse.  I can’t compare my love for my husband to the love I have for my children.  They are different kinds of love and can’t be measured with the same yardstick.  But there IS something about my husband that grants him trump.  After all, I chose him.  We vowed to spend our lives together, and when our girls have grown and left us to begin lives of their own, we will still be stuck with each other’s company, hopefully for many years.

As far as comparing myself to my mother?  I think I will always do that.  She’s an amazing woman to emulate.  But what I have discovered over the years is that she catches herself trying to emulate me as well.  She sees in me the best of her, and even better.  And that, besides being the greatest gift a parent can give a child, is what I couldn’t see all those years ago, when childhood placed a halo above my parents’ heads, blinding me to their humanity.

They were imperfect, too.

This Moment

17 Jan

As I stepped gently up the stairs to tell my rambunctious, challenging five year old she could come down while her baby sister continued to nap, I wondered to myself why she was so quiet.  I prepared myself for battle: the daily argument over picking up her room, and the barrage of requests that would accompany her back down to the living room.  And then I was greeted by this.  I sat down on the edge of her empty mattress and stared at her.

Impromptu Nap

She had fallen asleep on her floor, decorating a tinsel Christmas tree with hair barrettes during her “rest time.”  Her ever-faithful “Light-Up Turtle” companion by her head and her soulmate “Cuddle Monkey” tucked under an arm, she snored beneath a pile of blankets.  And in an instant, the stern-mommy-of-a-preschooler in me melted into the mom I remember being to her.

You see, though I love her fiercely, she and I are like oil and water – if oil and water were practically identical, that is.  Everything is an exercise in diplomacy with her, and most days I can no longer see the baby she used to be – I see the child she is and the young lady she is becoming: headstrong, opinionated, analytical, difficult.  And though I know the armor I unwittingly don puts space between us, I struggle with letting my guard down, burned by so many other bad moments, bad days, bad weeks.  The softness that I gave to her as a baby and toddler, the same softness that comes so easily with her younger sister, is buried under my frustrations and my anxieties and my fears.

I miss the toddler she used to be.  At times it’s as if this new, older daughter has replaced her, calling muffins by their correct name instead of “mondays,” and asking for privacy with a roll of her eyes instead of revolving her entire world around me.  Even her body has lost its toddlerness, the chub and rolls stretching out into a lean childhood figure.  She seems so big now, especially since her sister joined us two years ago, and I know I look at her and forget how big the world must seem to her, how many things she still has yet to understand, and how much wonder surrounds her.  I forget she is that same little baby that made me a mother.  How can you miss someone who is standing right in front of you?

It’s bittersweet, this process of letting go that we call motherhood… falling in love with a tiny being only to have them leave you day after day, metamorphosing into a new version of themselves.  I know the practical answer is to enjoy her for who she is at each stage of her childhood – to soak in this five-year-old Emily so that I may miss her when she too has gone, but I struggle with my sadness at what has been lost and with finding a balance between being better for her and allowing myself grace.

The words of Kahlil Gibran* have never rung so true:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

And so, I let her sleep, conscious of the fact that I will have to eventually wake her and break the spell, holding this moment in my heart, determined not to forget its warmth and softness once it has passed.

*Poem excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 1923

Yes, I’m Still Breastfeeding

6 Dec

Extended BreastfeedingI never expected to be breastfeeding a toddler.  But here I am, with my 23-month-old, still going strong.

After my first breastfeeding experience ended abruptly due to to a myriad of issues, I was determined to give it a shot the second time around, but I knew what mattered most was that I took good care of myself, no matter how I was feeding my baby.  We had rough start.  Bean struggled to gain weight and ultimately to nurse because of an undiagnosed milk protein allergy.  I had massive oversupply and hyperactive letdown difficulties, and I spent many nights sobbing out of frustration.  I knew my baby would be okay no matter what I decided to do, but she would be my last and I just wasn’t ready to give up.  But eventually, as many promised, it did get easier.  Breastfeeding became a solution instead of the problem, and both Bean and I grew to relish the quiet time together.

I never set a concrete goal, but deep down, I just wanted to make it farther than I did with Doodlebug – 3 months.   6 months sped by, and we introduced sweet potatoes, avocado, and bananas, and I found myself musing, “now what?”  I didn’t know what else to do, so we just kept nursing like aways, and I followed Bean’s lead.  We celebrated her first birthday, and we just kept nursing.  I remembered weaning Doodlebug from her bottle at 13 months out of fear of babying her (I know… first-time mom syndrome), and so around that same time, I started to feel a little conflicted about nursing Bean.

BFing Quote

By 13 months, she wasn’t nursing to sleep any longer.  She nursed before naps and bed, in the mornings, and a few times spread out during the day.  She wasn’t biting, wasn’t pinching or pulling at my hair, and didn’t “nurse and run.”  It was working for us, so we just kept on doing it, and one day turned into one week, one month, one season.   The conflicted feeling passed and we made it to 18 months, when she began nursing only before nap and bed and once in the morning.  Breastfeeding receded into the background of our day and I didn’t really give it much thought.

Now, her second birthday is fast approaching (pause for a moment to think about how utterly ridiculous and unfair that is) and the conflict has resurfaced. I have many good reasons to continue to breastfeed her, both anecdotal and scientific.  Nursing feels natural for us, it helps her sleep well and soothes pain and hurt feelings.  It’s alleviating some of the pain of her two-year-old molars erupting without the use of medications.  Extended breastfeeding is supported by the AAP and the WHO for the emotional and medical benefits.  My mama gut tells me it’s the right choice for us, and yet I feel like I should feel more uncomfortable with it.

Extended BreastfeedingIt’s not that I’m conflicted about continuing to nurse my toddler – in fact, I’m convinced my mama gut is right.  Instead, I’m conflicted about my lack of conflict, especially given my culture and upbringing.  I had no exposure to extended breastfeeding (or really breastfeeding at all, for that matter) before doing it myself, and it’s rarely discussed openly in this country (other than to condemn it as gross, damaging to a child, or selfish).  And to be completely honest?  Before nursing an almost-two-year-old myself, my first reaction to a breastfeeding toddler would have been misinformed judgment.

It turns out that it’s much easier for me to dismiss the opinions of strangers on the internet or hushed stares at the local playground than it is for me to silence my own social conditioning.  In recognizing this about myself, I can move past it…  Because the bottom line is that: Yes, I’m still breastfeeding.  It’s working for us.  And I refuse to put the discomfort or judgement of society before the needs of my family.

These words poured out of me for two reasons today.  Writing allows me to work through my emotions – to document my soul-searching.  But also?  I wanted to share that what I’ve learned from breastfeeding a toddler has nothing to do with breastfeeding at all:  Suspend judgement.  Informed convictions are valuable, but until you’ve experienced something, remember that you might not know everything.  You might be wrong.  I certainly was about extended nursing.

*******

p.s. Why do I post pictures here, you ask?  Because the more breastfeeding (both infant and extended) is normalized, the more moms will feel comfortable asking questions, sharing their stories, and reaching out for help.

p.p.s.  Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone – each family has to decide for themselves what is the best fit for mama and baby/toddler.  I support a mom’s right to choose how she feeds her baby.  But I’d also like to see more non-pressured support for nursing mamas.

Timeout

28 Oct

I don’t write often enough here about my failings as a parent.  And there are many of them.  You see?  I have what I’m learning to reframe as a “spirited” child.  She’s full throttle all. the. time.  And though I love her more deeply than I ever understood one person could love another, most days the degree to which I am grateful for her bedtime feels wrong.

This morning we argued over whether there were socks in her hamper.  Over what kind of toy she wanted to bring for “M” week at school.  She chased her sister around the house instead of putting on her shoes despite my pleadings, only to finally stop in her tracks to debate with yell at me about the practicality of sandals in the wintertime.  By the time I dropped her at the brick pathway, we were both relieved to be rid of the other’s company.

It’s like that all day long.  Nothing is simple.  Nothing is done just for the love of pleasing her mother or father.  Everything must be on her terms and those?  Come with litigation-worthy dispute.

The hardest thing about having a five year old is that they are too big to just pick up and put in timeout.  They are too focused to distract with shiny keys and too stubborn to respond to force.  You must learn to convince them and to bewitch them with the illusion of control.

Hence our timeout chart:

Timeout ChartTimeouts are a great tool for parenting, but I have to remind myself constantly that discipline is about educating behavior, not about punishment (though punishment sure does feel good to an angry mom, I must admit).  And though I usually end up sending Bug up to her room to stop the conflict and give everyone a chance to cool down, I needed more.  I want her to be able to make the kinds of choices I only just learned how to make – how to recognize what she needs and react accordingly.

So now, when things get out of control, she may be asked to go choose a time out.  Sometimes she gets full control of the choice, while other times she needs to be guided to an appropriate timeout for the situation (and other times, I forget about the chart and holler at her to go sit on the carpet).  It’s a reminder to me not just to punish, but to teach.  To think, “what was happening and how can I best teach her to change her behavior?”

It’s far from perfect, but so far it seems to be helping both of us.  And as a bonus?  It comes with drawings like these.  My husband and I were both surprised and enlightened by the discrepancy between what really happened and how Bug viewed it.  It’s quite revealing – and hilarious.  The laughter helped disperse any tension over the actual conflict.

Bugs Timeout Pic 1

 

Bugs Timeout Pic 2

And if you’re not laughing, you’re crying, right?

Talk to me.  What works for you with your most challenging kiddo?  How do you parent your child once they’re not a toddler anymore?

 

Sibling Rivalry

9 Aug

Mom, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the time I knocked two of  my little brother’s teeth out with the back of my skull even though he had my arms pinned behind my back and wouldn’t let me go.

And remember when he flushed my favorite washcloth down the toilet and I screamed and cried for days?  Even thought it was just a washcloth? Yeah.  Sorry.

For all the times I waited for him to do something bad just so I could tattle to you and get him in trouble.

And for the multitude of moments when you just wanted us to play nicely together so you could drink your tea in peace but that were inevitably punctuated by screaming.

I wish I could say it was all his fault, but I know better now.  And I’m so, so sorry.

This sibling rivalry nonsense?  Totally sucks from my new perspective.

I hear it’s normal and that I’m not doing anything wrong as a parent, but my god do these girls ever drive each other and me to tears.  They are almost 5 and 2, certainly more than the 4 and 1 their birth years would suggest.

Now, I know they adore each another.  The first person that Doodlebug wants to see in the morning is her baby sister.  She looks forward to the moment when Bean’s face will light up and they both grin silly smiles reserved just for sister.  Doodlebug’s mere presence in an unfamiliar environment is enough to fill Bean with sufficient courage and confidence to tear herself away from my arms to explore.  And noone has more adorable nicknames for the baby than her big sister.  They crack each other up and inspire a creativity that I couldn’t begin to understand.

So why are they constantly at each other’s throats?  Toy grabbing.  Screaming matches.  Shutting doors on little sisters.  Throwing toys at big sisters. Crying about toys “I was thinking about playing with but then she played with it and she’s never going to be done playing with it and IT’S NOT FAAAAAIR.”

It’s a passive agressive war for family dominance and I’m the one caught in the crossfire.

And though it’s truly exasperating, I’m trying to reframe it in a positive light.  Our home and family is the one place where both girls feel safe enough to experiment socially.  The can try things out, knowing the safety net of family love will catch them. And like lion cubs, they are testing their strength on one another.

So. Their sibling rivalry is important to their social development.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Sisters

Logistical Nightmare

29 Apr

My oldest daughter will be 5 this fall.  And in the last few months, it’s become more and more obvious that she’s a little girl now and not my baby.  Along with her fashion sense and her ability to manipulate and lie, has come the desire to “hang out with friends.”  What used to be a play-date, arranged so mothers could escape the solitary confinement that is life with a toddler (or two) has morphed into a social life for my preschooler.

Other moms? Are ready at a whim to have neighborhood friends over and after-school visits.  Daily.  Until now, I haven’t felt any pressure to join in.  But I can tell the days of play-dates arranged days or weeks in advance are fading.

Which leaves me with one question:

If my house needs to be ready for company at a moment’s notice, when will I have time to relax in my pajamas with three-day hair and no makeup?

By “relax,” I mean chase my children around the house, refereeing their constant bickering and cleaning up the tornado they leave behind.  And by “ready for company,” I mean clean enough that I don’t end up on an episode of hoarders.

I’m not hoping to invite my daughter’s friends into a cover from House and Home Magazine.  I’d just like it if playmates and their parents were exempt from seeing my underwear on the bathroom floor and dried yogurt painted onto the kitchen table.  Currently, if we’ve scheduled a play-date, I probably made sure I would have time to wipe the boogers off my clothes and sweep the cheerios under a rug.  With two kids under 5, any attempts at picking up are merely exercises in futility, so tidying the house requires a nap time or the strategic sacrifice of one room while I clean another.  It’s a logistical nightmare.

So what I really want to know is: How do they do it, those families with tidy houses?  Just the idea of being “on” 24-7 leaves me feeling exhausted.  But I also can’t stomach the idea of friends (and even family) coming over to the disaster that is my house (and me) on a regular basis.  I need a few days a week when I can focus on my kids and taking care of myself.  Sometimes that means a shower and a trip to the library.  Many times it means crafts in our pajamas at 2:30p p.m.

I’m seriously looking for wisdom here.  Do you keep a tidy house?  What is your secret?  Or are you like me, hiding in your messy house?

Paying For Sanity

1 Apr

As I sit here typing, my four-year-old and one-year-old are in the other room playing nicely together, sharing toys and building a town out of Duplo blocks.  I haven’t gotten my butt out of this overstuffed chair in over 15 minutes and the music of my choice is playing in the background (I’m on a Brett Dennan kick, if you must know).

I pay for this time every Monday afternoon.  You see, I have the world’s best babysitter.  Her sister babysat for No1 before heading off to college, passing the babysitting legacy to J.  They are both great neighborhood kids from an amazing family, and they are all mine (I may share their number with you for a small finders’ fee and a signed non-compete clause).  J has known No1 from the time she was 9 months old and is one of the only people outside of the family that No2 is comfortable around.  She has this playful yet stern nature and has wisdom befitting someone much older than her 13 years.  And she LOVES my kids.  I’m pretty sure she would come over and play with them even if I didn’t pay her.

When J was unable to babysit on piano lesson days, I was initially reluctant to shell out $10 an hour on a different day for “no good reason.”  But it’s turned out to be one of the highlights of my week.  I get time to write, or cook, or do something for myself, and the kids get time with someone much better at playing pretend than I am.

It always feels like money well-spent.

JamesandJax.com/2013/03/04/making-time-for-girlfriends/

Lost For Words

6 Jan

We were trapped in the car when the questions started.

Hey, Mommy?

If somebody dies in their house, and the mailman brings them their mail but they’re dead, how does the mailman get them their mail?

Um, what?!

The mailman would come to their door but they’d be dead.

Um….

So what would happen to the mail?

I think the mail would pile up and the mailman would eventually take it back to the post office.

Then new people would live the in house?

Yes, then new people would get their mail delivered to the house.

What about if all the mommies and daddies were dead and there were no more mommies or daddies.  Who would make more mommies?  Would robots make more mommies and daddies?

Um, Daddy?  Want to take this one?

No1 asks deep, serious questions, and we’re committed to answering her as honestly as possible.  But sometimes, her left-field questions just make us giggle and we stumble over our words, searching for what to say.  These moments are my favorite with my four-year-old.  Her innocence, her curiosity, her direct nature.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s the strangest, funniest, or most awkward question your child has asked you?

My Life is Literally a Blur

5 Sep

 

This is pretty much what my days look like.

If I turn my back for a moment,

the baby has already reached the door,

and the preschooler is a blur.

I know I will miss these days,

so I’m trying not to wish them away.

But oh,

I am so very tired.

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