Unquiet Time

I get up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. every weekday. I do this because it’s the only way I can get some dark, quiet, alone time in my own house. I use this time–usually at least an hour, some days closer to two hours–to walk the dog, do a yoga video, drink a whole cup of coffee while hot, make and eat my own breakfast, empty/re-load the dishwasher and, if there’s time, make L’s breakfast and maybe pack our lunches.

This time keeps me calm and sane and helps me start the day off on the right foot–i.e., means I have plenty of time to complete my metamorphosis into a human before I have to parent, spouse, adult, or anything else. This is not just about my mental and emotional well-being (which is important!) but also about just keeping ahead of the entropy of the house. Dishes, laundry, meal prep, wiping down surfaces and floors, clearing fossilized leftovers out of the fridge–this all happens in that uninterrupted early morning window.

And so, it drives me CRAZY when I don’t get it. Specifically, when the 3 y.o. wakes up at 4:54 am, wide awake, demanding breakfast, and raring to launch into an argument about why she won’t use the potty first.

This is harder for me than when she won’t go to bed at night, or even when she wakes up in the middle of the night, because, well, it feels like she’s sticking it to me on purpose (obviously not true…I mean, I wouldn’t put it past her, but she doesn’t have a clock in her room and she can’t tell time). But really because it just throws the entire day for a loop from the very first second we’re awake. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, we can get her back to bed or, in a pinch let her come into our bed. If everyone in the house is, in fact, sleeping, she is likely to settle down and at least stay quiet-ish and still-ish in the dark for awhile.

At 4:57, there’s no going back to bed, because in fact, I’m up, the dog’s up, there’s movement, there’s light, there’s clattering in the kitchen and the smell of coffee and she *knows* it’s not nighttime and nothing will convince her otherwise, even if it is pitch black outside. It also means I can’t just go walk the dog, unless S also gets up, an hour before he normally would, to make sure she doesn’t wreak havoc on the house in the 15 minutes I’m gone. And then he is up, too, which is good and helpful, in terms of childcare and prep for the day, but also a further chip away at the quiet time that I literally trade my sleep for: another person in the kitchen, all the lights on, all the clatter, all the animals, at 6 am instead of 7.

So, obviously, this is all frustrating, but also straight up part of parenting a small child. It’s to be expected. I know, I know. What I’m not sure about, and the line I’m trying to walk, is how far to go showing her that every minute of the day doesn’t revolve around her. This morning when I got back from walking the dog, I gave her a choice: stay in her room to play/look at books, or come downstairs while I did my yoga video, and either do the yoga with me, or look at her tablet on the couch.

She chose tablet on the couch, which was actually the worst because in fact TABLETS ARE THE WORST! Every 12 seconds she has unplugged the headphones, turned off the tablet, switched user profiles back over to me and locked herself out, run into a pay option in a kids app that’s preventing her from going any further (embedded purchase/upgrade options should be illegal in apps for small children, but I digress). In a way that would have been uncannily humorous, if not so enraging, I would be, like, in downward facing dog. She would demand assistance with some problem. I would pause my video, solve the problem, settle her down, start the video, get back in position and literally, as soon as my body would settle into where it needed to be….”MOMMY! I’M TANGLED UP!” and the headphone cord is wrapped around her toe.

I was starting to get really short with her: “What? … WHAT!?…. WHAT DO YOU WANT? CAN YOU PLEASE JUST STOP FOR LITERALLY TWO MINUTES!?”

I could feel my heart rate going up. I don’t think this is how yoga is supposed to work.

And I was feeling bad about it, but also just completely frustrated. Like, there’s only so early one can get up in the morning and still even pretend that it’s not the middle of the night. I am pretty much already at that place. If she starts getting up at 5, there’s nowhere for me to go, and when I contemplate this, that’s the feeling I literally have, this panicked, claustrophobic response. If this becomes a pattern, there’s. nowhere. for. me. to. go.

Last June she started getting up between 4 and 5 every day for like two weeks. Not coincidentally, I think, around this time I broke down crying in the doctors office and started an anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication. There were lots of reasons for this, this wasn’t the *cause* of my depression and anxiety. But I do firmly believe that it was the loss of this early morning, dark, quiet, low-sensory, no-people, morning warm-up time that destroyed my ability to cope/manage it.

So, back to today. Finally, I sat down with her on the couch for a chat and I said, “Look, you woke up almost 2 hours earlier than usual today. This is my quiet time, when I do other things. I’m getting frustrated because I really need that time, and to do those things. I am happy to see your face, but the rule right now is that you need to sit here, play by yourself, and be quiet until I am done. I get very frustrated when you interrupt me.”

Not that this was actually that *effective.* She’s barely three. She doesn’t necessarily even have the impulse control or awareness of other people to wait and choose to try to solve a problem by herself, before demanding assistance.

It felt good and reasonable, though, to make clear to her that not every minute is about her; that our household has other rhythms and requirements than her personal whims; that stuff happens that has nothing to do with her; and that she’s welcome to be a part of that, if she follows the rules, but if she doesn’t, I will be annoyed with her. This message will need (gentle) (and firm) reinforcing over years, I know. But laying the groundwork felt right–and helped me feel even a small measure of control over my blasted morning.

And yet it also felt questionable and subversive. Is it really ok to tell your kid, “I’m annoyed because you’re talking to me and I don’t want you to talk to me right now?” (actually I didn’t even put it that bluntly–maybe I should! That might help her to at least grasp what is going on). It seems better than just getting increasingly rageful, impatient, and resentful without explaining why. Or maintaining fake cheerful, patient facade that suddenly shatters into the horrifying monster beneath.

One lesson I took away from How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was the recommendation, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, to *let* your kids see when you’re getting annoyed, *before* you become enraged. Because it gives them information they need, so they can adjust their behavior. On the one hand, you don’t want to play into their pushing your buttons and deliberately riling you up–which definitely happens. But also, it’s not fair to be like, “It’s fine, it’s fine, everything is fine, you’re my precious angel, so sweet, so funny, so clever, life is a game, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.”

I work full time, so my only time with my kid during the week is before and after daycare. It seems like I should treasure an extra hour with her in the morning. But no, not so much, if from the very first second (“Come back upstairs, please.” “NO, I WANT BREAKFAST”) it’s a battle that neither of you are well equipped to navigate healthily. There’s this feeling that if you’re not patient, fully attentive, and responsive to your child’s needs at every moment, that you’re not a properly loving parent.

But it turns out that three-year-olds can’t differentiate between a need and a whim and an unfamiliar feeling or a random observation. They have no filter, they have no framework for making decisions about when and how to spout something. And there is *always* something bubbling up in those little minds of theirs. And I mean ALWAYS. It never, ever, ever, ever, stops. We have to establish this for them–help them learn to triage, and to read the room: this can wait, this never needs to be said (ever), this is an actual emergency, this feels scary but we can figure it out together, this is fine for later but don’t approach mom right now. Right? Otherwise we would all go absolutely mad?

So: while I will work on tone (ugh, nobody ever likes hearing “WHAT!? IS!? IT!?), I think after this morning I’m going to practice making it clear to her that 5-6:15 a.m. is my time, and if she’s going to be up and moving around then, so be it, but it will be on my terms. And there will be absolutely no toys, games, or shows of any kind with sound, and I am not open for questions. We can co-exist downstairs, or she can choose to have her own quiet time in her room (this is a skill I would really like for her to cultivate anyway!)

Also, she was basically falling asleep by them time we dropped her off at daycare, and threw a tantrum seconds after we walked in the door, because there were no seats available next to her BFF/frenemy. STAY ASLEEP LONGER, CHILD.


The Fire One and the Flower One

My daughter just watched her first full-length movie this week: Moana. She’s been watching the songs and clips on youtube for almost a year, so she’s very familiar with the characters and the music, but she hasn’t had the attention span to actually watch a movie until now.

My daughter has also been Going Through Some Stuff this week. The seasons are changing, I think she’s growing (she’s had a really hard time waking up in the mornings!) and she’s been extra clingy, with her teacher and with us–and then extra tantrumy when things don’t go her way, or when she has to share attention with other kids at school.

Trying to make sense of all of this has made me appreciate so much of what is wonderful and unique about Moana. We could write dozens of posts about what is good and not good about this movie (and others have), but for today’s purposes, I just want to focus on Te Ka and Te Fiti or, as my daughter calls them, “The Fire One” and “The Flower One.”

[OK, guys, Moana spoilers from here on out, but if you haven’t seen it yet by now I am not too worried about spoiling it for you]

When I saw the movie for the first time, I didn’t see it coming that Te Ka and Te Fiti were one and the same until just moments before it was revealed. I just was not expecting it, because it’s so fundamentally against the Disney MO! That the scary witch wasn’t just inherently evil and bad and needed to be killed, but that she had been injured and wronged, and she was hurt and sad and fucking angry about it (**ahem** if you’ve noticed in the meantime that Ursula, Maleficent, et al were almost universally powerful female rulers who had their power stolen from them, and were trying to get it back…?). And when someone (Moana) took the time to look at what was going on, and (crucially) amends were made, Te Ka recovered and transformed (back) into Te Fiti.

This was reassuring to my daughter in the most simplistic way while we watched the movie: The Fire One was scary, but then she turned into the Flower One. Imagine! A fairy tale resolved with healing, not with murder.

But it’s also been helpful this week, as we talk about her feelings and behavior. It’s been a rough one. There has been hitting, kicking, biting, pushing, screaming. And it has been so useful to be able to point to this image: that sometimes, when we’re scared or hurting or angry or confused, we are all The Fire One. And other times, when we’re well-nourished, well-loved, when we feel that we’re being seen and heard, we’re The Flower One. We’re still the same person. We’re not inherently bad or good. Sometimes we feel scared (and sometimes we act scary). Sometimes we’re at peace and better able to blossom. But that can (and does) change, back and forth, back and forth. And Moana’s greatest act of heroism is to see The Flower One through The Fire One, to help bring her back to herself–and to force those who wronged her to make amends. And so may we all.

Love to all my Fire Ones and Flower Ones out there…..


On being outsmarted by a toddler, #metoo, and Hunger

Content warning: sexual harassment, assault, trauma, #metoo

This morning L. was playing with two little wooden animals, a fish and a gorilla. She told me the fish was afraid, because the gorilla was scary. Trying to create a teachable moment, I said, “Hm, maybe they just don’t know each other well enough yet. Maybe the fish could ask the gorilla a question?”

So she makes the fish say to the gorilla, “Hey, you scary? Yeah. OK.”

After I stopped laughing, I thought. (Everything she does makes me think.) My first instinct was to focus on the obvious and child-friendly lesson of “let’s not fear what we don’t understand, or people who don’t look like us. Let’s try to learn more and get to know each other.”

But in light of the inescapable #metoo zeitgeist this week, I recognized a different direction I could have taken–one that I totally missed in this moment: Continue reading

Resolutions–January Review

Well, January felt like the longest month of all months ever. How are things going, resolution-wise? Exactly one thing actually crossed off the list. But progress on some others, and absolutely no progress on other others. Not a terrible start to the year!

  1. Drink more water. This lasted about a week. Now I’m back to my usual dehydrating schedule of gallons of daily coffee. More water necessary. I definitely notice that on the days where I don’t drink enough water, getting through the evening commute/dinner hour/bedtime is rough–I get hangry and light-headed. 
  2. Sleep at least 6 hours per night. See below. 
  3. Aim for 7. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! NOPE. Well, I’m alternating. Work has been busy and I’ve been up crazy late, way too often. Plus reading Twitter and fretting about the state of the world. I do this for about a week in a row until I’m completely exhausted and then go to bed freakishly early on alternate weeks. As usual, I’ve got to get back on a more moderate, regular schedule. 
  4. Exercise 5 days per week. See above.
  5. Eat more vegetables. We’re doing it! See below. Still not as many as we should or could be eating, but there has been a real, significant uptick in the volume of fresh vegetables consumed. 
  6. Be kinder to my spouse. I try to observe and appreciate *everything,* not take anything for granted, and verbally thank as much as possible. Whether in general I’m in a more friendly mood overall, not so sure. But I am trying to be proactively more gracious and appreciative. 
  7. Be less rigid. Eh….
  8. Have more fun. Eh….
  9. Roll with the punches. Eh…..
  10. Take the long view. Everything is temporary. Everything can change. Indeed, everything will change, whether I want it to or not. It’s hard to take the long view when the last two weeks has felt like ten years. Will keep trying. 
  11. Take myself as seriously as I expect other people to take me (like, carry business cards and shit). I think I am doing this. I’m assuming, for example, that I’m not dispensable or an accessory at things, and taking my attendance and contributions and leadership appropriately seriously, and I think it’s making a real difference. Bit by bit. So, I will keep it up. 
  12. But also take stuff in general less seriously. Eh….
  13. But also do not become complacent/paralyzed/apathetic re: the world/our nation/social justice. I stalled out after Thanksgiving and it took until the travel ban to really get jump-started again. We marched in our little city on Jan 21 and that was great and important and galvanizing but let’s be honest, it was also largely a feel-good thing (if also a visibility thing). It wasn’t until I woke up last Saturday morning and read all the travel ban stuff that I got back on the phone with my representatives. I also spent about an hour digging about the Department of Homeland Security website until I found an appropriate number to call and complain, and I shared it with a few folks, who shared it with a few groups, and I know word got out to others. I don’t even know if it was the right number, but I did *something*, and the something had ripple effects. After the election, before Thanksgiving, the idea of having only one action a week felt absurd and not enough. And it probably isn’t enough. But now, now that we’re in it, for the long hall, holding myself to one concrete action a week means I’m *taking* one action a week, and it may help stretch out my stamina to stay in this, as long as we need to. So, trying to stay engaged, but also pace myself. 
  14. Just keep grieving. I feel like Trump has pulled me out of my grief slump kinda the same way WWII pulled America out of the Great Depression. Like, suddenly something so much bigger, requiring everyone to rally and work together and combine resources, has come into being, and as Enjolras put it, our littlel lives don’t count at all. But also: In January we had my aunt’s birthday, Liddie’s birthday, my grandma’s birthday, and my dad’s birthday, in that order. He had a huge sweet tooth, and I made a batch of double chocolate cupcakes–the same ones we had for his 60th birthday–to honor the day.
  15. Pull my weight re: nurturing friendships; do my fair share of organizing, hosting, prodding, reaching out, reminding, and lowering the overhead as much as possible for busy people to spend good time together. Yeah! I’ve re-instated a weekly ice skating lunch with a good friend, hosted a book club meeting, and organized a trip to see a play with friends in June. Doin’ it! Will keep it up!
  16. Participate in the weekly Sunday night potluck dinner organized by a former neighbor at least quarterly. Aim for monthly. Our neighbors are valiantly continuing to host this meal on a weekly basis, and we haven’t gone yet. By Sunday night we’re usually just feeling so tired and anti-social we’re not really up for anything. Will continue to try. 
  17. Cook more real food for dinner at my house. We’re doing it! But, it’s hard to say if it’s worth it. What does “worth it” even mean? These evenings are rough, and cooking with toddlers is rough. I used to think it was just an unfortunate coincidence that everyone I knew who had a bad accident in the kitchen had small children. Ha. THIS IS NOT A COINCIDENCE. This WEEK alone, I burned my arm pretty badly and cut my finger. I admit that I *have* really been enjoying eating more actual, whole foods and fresh vegetables. Food tastes better and I appreciate it more. Will try to keep this up However, it turns out to be in conflict with the following: 
  18. Eat dinner as a family, at the table. Yeah! Kinda sorta. We’re doing it more than we ever did before, and it’s great! We like it, and Liddie likes it too! She now always tries to get us to sit down with her before she will eat. But cooking *and* eating together is hard. We did it for a week or so and her bedtime kept getting pushed later and later and later. I feel like we need to figure out some kind of balance between nights where she eats with us, but we have a super easy dinner, and nice where we cook something a little more involved and eat after she goes down. But *then* we achieve the goals of cooking more and eating together more, but we don’t have a predictable routine for the girl, and that’s something she likes and needs. *shrug.* So much of working + adulting + parenting = can’t win/do what you need to get by. 
  19. Make time to speak with my mom at least weekly, more if possible. We’re both sick and tired a lot, but we’re doing it! 
  20. Make time to speak to my aunt and my grandma at least monthly, more if possible. Well we’re only a month in, and I have talked to my grandma on the phone once and Skyped with my aunt with Liddie. So I guess technically I haven’t fallen behind yet, though I don’t feel like I’m doing much to reach out and be supportive. Keep it up, self, and don’t fall behind. 
  21. Curtail Facebook usage (unless actually writing meaningful messages to the above or others) That’s a big NOPE. I even blocked it from my work computer–and then unblocked it after two days. 
  22. Blog more. Not yet…
  23. Write more letters. Not yet….see below: at some point I’ll unpack my stationery, pens, and address book and then I’ll get on with things. And I just wrote my first postcard of the year! (it’s to a friend, not a political protest) Now to actually mail it….
  24. Make a weekend with Kelsey and Robyn happen. Yes! It’s happening! It’s booked! First weekend together in like ten years. I can’t wait! I’ll officially cross it off the list after it happens. 
  25. Visit my aunt and grandma in Denver Yup!–I’ll tack this on to the front of the weekend with Kelsey and Robyn. But, this is only a half success, I’d say: I’m not bringing Liddie on this trip, which will leave everyone in the family unsatisfied. 
  26. Get my high school girlfriends to Michigan for a visit. No plans yet. 
  27. Take one awesome, adventurous, ambitious family vacation. No plans yet. First concrete step: get Liddie a passport. I’m irrationally paranoid about doing this because I’m somehow afraid that the record of her birth certificate–literally the only evidence that we are family–will somehow disappear in the process, or that something will go terribly wrong. Need to just get on with it, as it will open up our options so much! Also to be prepared in case of emergency bug-out. 
  28. Make our bedroom a nice, warm, comfortable, functional, attractive, calming, intentional place to be, rather than the garbage pile where we hide everything that we don’t want anyone else to see. Paint. Window treatments. Closet. A bed. OK. We have a bed. It’s 90% assembled–the last step is going to be a stupid doozy. And no progress on anything else. 
  29. Renovate our kitchen. No progress. I’m coming around to really liking some parts of our kitchen. Other parts (portable dishwasher that connects to sink, flat white cupboards that show every single stain and grease spot) I am SO done with. I also feel wary, like, we shouldn’t spend so much money with the way the world is right now. I’d rather have savings in the bank and not luxuriate/spoil ourselves when the world is so rough. I don’t know. We’ll see. 
  30. Establish a personal desk/table/corner/space for my crafts/personal projects/special off-limits pens/whatever. Well, the table is ready, but covered with junk. Oh man, keeping surfaces free of garbage/other people’s mail takes such freaking EFFORT. I have an empty set of plastic drawers set up under the table. Next step: unpack all my desk stuff from the old house. I still have no stationary, pens, stamps, my address book, etc., at hand. 
  31. When not on vacation/sick/out of the office, respond to email within 48 hours. I think I’m getting better, but how can one know for sure? Just kidding. I know one can know for sure. I think to test myself on this it would be a good idea to put some kind of alert on emails that haven’t been dealt after 48 hours. 
  32. Fix our goddamn roof. YES DONE! One actual task checked off the list!
  33. Obtain access to a functional and comfortable bicycle. No progress. 
  34. Create playroom space in our basement. No progress. Jeez, the basement is still half full of packed boxes from moving. 
  35. Swimming lessons for Liddie. No progress. 
  36. Take Liddie ice skating. No progress.
  37. Help my mom move out of our family home. Ease this transition as much as possible with significant practical and emotional support, i.e. a substantial stay with her this spring.  Cry as much as needed. Do not withdraw, do not fail to show up for this. I’ve blocked a week on my calendar in April when I might go, stay, and help, but need to, you know, talk to Mom about this and make sure it works for her schedule. 
  38. Cruise on my brother’s schooner!!! Mom has booked her trip for the first week of August and invited Sam and me to join. We need to figure out what we’d do with Liddie and if we can manage it in general–but the door is open. 
  39. Make regular donations to worthy causes. Yes! Ongoing! Monthly gifts set up to ACLU (doubled my existing monthly gift after the travel ban) and Planned Parenthood. Annual memberships to the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of Art. Instead of signing up for TSA pre-Check as I had planned, I gave the $85 as a one time gift to the International Rescue Committee.  Add to this existing monthly gift to the Uganda Community Project. 
  40. Visit with Liddie’s birthmother in person at least once. Aim for three times. Need to get in touch with her. Sent some pictures after Liddie’s birthday, but haven’t tried to set up a meeting yet. 
  41. Do something fun on purpose for my birthday. This won’t be til June.
  42. Participate in the neighborhood yard sale. See above. 
  43. Go to the beach. Ehhhh, there’s time, there’s time. 
  44. Find a way that also works for spouse to regularly schedule to space and time to myself that does not involve staying up puttering until 1 a.m.: mental health days, Saturday mornings out, whatever. Well, I was sick yesterday and slept literally the entire day. Does that count? Also, Sam took L to the grocery store this afternoon (right now) and I am supposed to be vacuuming (see no. 46)
  45. Set up auto-pay or reminders as appropriate to pay all bills on time. Well, I got in a fight with a customer service rep at AmEx because I couldn’t log into the site on the day my bill was due, and wanted them to waive my late fee, and they did, but then the guy got condescending with me about why it was my fault that I couldn’t log into the site….so, that counts, right? In all seriousness, I am starting to get a fresh handle on our finances in this new house world and that’s a good thing. 
  46. Clean house more consistently. Sweep, vacuum and bathrooms weekly, that would be  a significant improvement and good enough. I’m hitting maybe 50% of my very minimal house cleaning goals. We are constantly drowning in laundry and dishes, and getting out in front of that often feels impossible and discouraging.
  47. See more movies in the theater. Enough movies that I’m not devastated every time I manage to go and it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I love going to the movies. It brings me joy and it is probably the number one thing that I used to do a lot of and now do practically none of. So far zero movies in 2017. 😦 
  48. See at least one live theater performance. Booked! Going to see Fun Home in June when it passes through East Lansing. 
  49. Have a big-ass Christmas tree. A little early to tackle this one. 

T is for Toddler

hisforhawkSome of you will know that I have recently been obsessed with and forcing on everyone I know the book  H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald. This is a really unique book. It’s the author’s memoir of the year after her father’s unexpected death. She (an experienced falconer already) buys and trains a young goshawk–a notoriously difficult bird. The book is the story of her grief, of her experience forging a relationship with the bird, a study of another troubled austringer: author T.H. White, and an immersion in anxiety (hers and his) and the primal drive to hide in the wild when civilization seems on the brink of disaster. It’s scholarly, but accessible. Wild, but meticulous. Absolutely undone and stiff upper lip-py. All at once.

Read it read it read it read it read it.

I suppose it’s not for everyone and, indeed, I suspect that most of the folks I’ve pressed it on neither want to read it nor will like it when they do, but it’s been the perfect book for me, at this time. I’ve read it twice in the last six months. Both times, I learned, I wept, I rolled Helen MacDonald’s lovely words around in my mouth, I got lost, I got found, and I felt better as she gave words to things I couldn’t.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: I also, it seems, absorbed child-rearding tips from her efforts to train her goshwak, Mabel.

The Fustible is now just a little over a week shy of two years old. She’s smart and verbal and understands (and can express) quite a bit. She’s also…opinionated…at the best of times and anywhere from exuberantly defiant to bitterly passive aggressive at others (gee, wonder where she learned that….)

I love her confidence, her opinions, her independence, her sense of self, her strong will. She will need them. I don’t want to stomp these things into docility or compliance. But it leaves us in a weird place where at every moment we’re a breath away from an out-of-the blue power struggle.

This week I realized that, inadvertently, I’d been applying a technique that really came from H is for Hawk:

Much is made in the book of the personality of the goshawk, and the need for the bird to be at the perfect “flying weight” before being asked to do anything in particular. Take the bird flying at the wrong weight, and it just doesn’t work. It’s not a question of how smart or well trained the bird is–if it’s not at the right level of energy, focus, interest, and physical engagement/need, they’re not going to respond, and nothing but disaster will ensue. (What this comes down to in reality is much about how much and what the bird has been fed. In the book when Helen has intractable troubles with the bird, it’s invariably because Mabel has eaten too much or too little. But I don’t want to draw that part of the analogy too here, since obviously that’s really not what I’m talking about when I talk about parenting)

What does this mean, then, for me and my two-year-old? It means, I know that my daughter knows intellectually what “Please go find your coat” means, and I know that she knows where the coat is and I know that she is physically able to get it. But depending on the day–how she feels, how tired she is, what kind of a mood she’s in, what we’ve been doing the last 10 minutes, etc.–she’ll either say “OK!” and run off to get her coat or say “NO!” and run to hide behind a chair. This all sounds like pretty typical toddler stuff–nothing too unusual here.

But what I’ve started doing without realizing it, is observing before I ask her to do something whether she’s at her “flying weight.” I also usually know in advance, I’ve learned, whether she’s going to respond positively to my request, or if it’s just not going to happen. And if it’s not going to happen, I don’t ask her. I don’t embark on the 20-minute battle that ends in tears and screaming and me physically chasing her with a coat. I just get the coat myself and put it on her *before* she gets worked up. Or put away the toys, take her socks off, whatever.

This was counterintuitive to me at first. It feels like a cop out or like giving up–doing something for her that I know her to be capable of doing.

But the point is that she’s not yet 24 months old–in these instances she actually is *not* emotionally/socially capable of doing what has been asked–even if she is capable in the other ways. And if I can tell that ahead of time, and I ask her to do it anyway, that’s on me: I’ve chosen an uphill battle.


Helen MacDonald and Mabel playing with a rolled up tube of paper. Hm, also a game I play with my toddler. (from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18803640-h-is-for-hawk)

The outcome, I hope, will be to reduce a pattern of frustrating power struggles and to to build up a pattern of mostly positive experiences where she starts to see herself as capable, resourceful, independent, and helpful. And fewer drawn out battles, where we starts to see herself as my opposition.

Look, I’m not saying we’ll never have battles over what needs to happen. We will. And I’m not saying that when she’s 10 years old I’ll be bringing her her coat if I think she’s not in the mood to get it herself. But for me, it’s about choosing when and when not to push–trying to keep the long view in mind.

Right now, going to get a coat is  probably the most challenging, complex thing we’re likely to ask of her–so even though she *can* do it, she can do it only when she’s ready to rise to the occasion. It’s her Personal Best. That won’t be the case forever. When she’s 10 it will be, maybe, I don’t know, preparing a simple meal. Or something. Who knows what will be a reasonable reach for the ten-year-old she’ll turn out to be. At ten, I hope I would expect her to get her coat without asking–or to be reasonably irritated with her if she doesn’t–but I would expect to judge carefully before asking her to cook, perhaps assessing whether  she’s ready to pay careful attention, in the mood and capable of using the tools in the right way, and motivated to produce a good outcome. My hope is that each new skill will become gradually learned and assimilated as a neutral-to-positive thing, until it becomes natural. Once it’s natural, it will become reasonable for us to expect her to do it on her own, consistently. But when she’s learning, it’s up to us to ensure that we push her when learning is possible–in other words, not to fly her when she’s not at her flying weight.

I suppose this is nothing new for parents. Guidance for things like potty training–something else we’re exploring right now–are all pretty unanimous in saying, if the child is resistant, STOP!–forcing it will not help anyone, will not help you “win.”

But the image of a human and a hawk–companions, one ostensibly leading and giving the commands, but the other entirely its own self, never subordinate in the way a dog is–and the responsibility of the human to care for and observe and respect the hawk–to take as a given the fact that if you don’t, whatever you want to happen just won’t happen–suddenly made so much sense to me.

And when she is ready? Watch her fly.