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.

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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…..

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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.

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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.

How Life is Now Part II

Not that I was exactly succinct in my last reflection, but I keep thinking of other big and small things that are true of my life now. The beautiful thing is, this is my blog, so I can put them all here! Lucky you.

  • My nails are WRECKED. I have no idea why. When the Fustible was a newborn I figured it was because it was winter and I was washing my my hands so much. Now, it’s the mildest winter ever and (I confess) I don’t wash my hands as obsessively as when she was only a few weeks old. But still, my nails still just peel and shred and chip and shatter, more than they ever did before. Is it stress/lack of sleep? Malnutrition? Carelessness and distraction when doing stuff like grating cheese and prying outlet covers out of the wall? All of the above.
  • Nothing else that I used to stress about seems that important anymore. This is not some self-righteous philosophical thing, like, “Nothing compares to the majesty and importance of forming a human mind!” On the contrary: my expectations for overall success have been lowered so much that no day seems that bad on balance. Oh, I’ll still get frustrated or overwhelmed or tired or angry. I don’t mean that I’m now unflappable. Hardly. Indeed, I am probably more flappable because, as noted elsewhere, these days I don’t have lots of patience to spare for fools. But whereas previously someone’s snippy email would ruin my day, now, I’ll get pissed off, rant a little bit, and then at the end of day, shrug and walk out happily because no one died and now I get to go pick up the babe. I’m not really intimidated by anyone because no matter what happens, they probably won’t head butt me in the chin, pull my hair, and sob piteously as though the world is ending (though this may happen in other departments). Passive aggressive, weirdly competitive dudes interrupting each other and acting like I’m to blame for…something? I’m not scared. Today we got the baby to daycare, dropped one car off for an oil change, got to work on time, rolled from meeting to meeting right up til 5:15, hauled a load of tablecloths belonging to work home to launder (DEFINITELY not part of our job descriptions…), picked up the car where we learned that our rear brakes are essentially out and need to be replaced immediately for a mere $400, got the baby, walked the dog, and met friends out for dinner. And dinner took FOREVER–an hour waiting for a table and another hour to get our food. 18 months ago, my takeaway would have been “What an annoying and exhausting end to an annoying and exhausting day!” Today, I was like, we KILLED this day! I can’t believe we survived! We rule! Best day ever!”
  • I weigh more than I ever have in my life and I just don’t really care. When the Fustible was born I was already at a lifetime max weight. And then I put on 10 pounds in like two weeks. I was such a fool–I had all these plans, that since I had *not* just given birth, I was going to get SO MUCH EXERCISE bouncing the baby at home all day instead of sitting at my desk. Lol. On the contrary, I never exercised again and I ate only frozen pizza for months. And also I turned 30 and now it apparently takes more than skipping a couple of cookies to lose weight. Weirdly? I don’t mind how my body looks now. I even kind of like it. In most pictures now I look exponentially happier now than I did in 2012 when I was 25 pounds lighter. And I don’t spend hours every day tracking food intake and calories. So be it. The main downside is that probably 2/3 of my wardrobe is now off limits. If I lost 10 pounds I’d get a lot of clothes “back” and it would bring me down from the boundaries of the unhealthy weight zone. When I do buy new things, I get things that fit properly, but I’m surely not going to replace everything (or if I do, it will take another 10 years). Look, I do know that claiming to be happy with my body shape is no excuse for not exercising: I need to exercise, not necessarily or only to lose weight but because it helps regulate my moods, and because I need to be strong and flexible and fit to chase the baby around and not throw out my neck or back or knee every time I pick her up. (“Lift with your legs” was clearly not invented by anyone who ever lived in a house of baby gates, cribs, playpens, etc.). And also, not just for her but for me, because I should take good care of myself. I know, I know, I know. And that’s all I’ll say on this for now.
  • My cycles are shorter. No, not those cycles. What I mean is, the ups and downs and round and rounds of life are compressed. For example, anyone in a very long term relationship will know that your relationship is not always the same. Sometimes for a few weeks or months it will be just like when you first fell in love–fun and happy and sexy and easy. Then you’ll go through weeks and months where you’re brittle and tense and arguing and just nothing seems to fit right and you wonder what happened to your life. And other times you’re more like roommates or even neighbors, just acquaintances moving through each other’s space. And then you’re in love again. Now? Instead of over weeks or months, we go through all of these phases almost every single day. Sometimes multiple times. Likewise, I used to think of days as morning, afternoon, and evening. Now each of those has at least three or four sub-sections (pre-breakfast, post-breakfast-pre-nap, nap, post-nap, pre-lunch, etc.), and each of *those* might contain time for work, play, rest, food, cleaning, reading, and cat-chasing. Round and round and round we go. Do something. Correct. Iterate. Parenting is basically living life according to the agile development model.
  • My hair is the longest it’s ever been, ever. Like, by a lot. I barely wash it (I was always skeptical of those women who said they didn’t have time to wash their hair but, nope) and I barely brush it. This seems to be the best possible way to treat my hair. It’s never looked so good–wavy and golden and shiny and voluminous. Hey, maybe all the cells from my nails are going into my hair instead for some reason? I guess I should probably cut it someday but, eh. Why?  I can always go pixie again and I’ll probably go to my grave that way, but these are probably my last years of mermaid hair.
  • It pays to diversify your diaper situation. We do mostly cloth diapers when we can and when it makes sense to. But there are times when it doesn’t. The best thing about having both on hand is that you’re pretty much never out. I am the kind of person who will always be out of gas when I need to get to the airport, out of milk when all I want is cereal, out of flour when I want to bake, etc. I’m not great at planning ahead for supplies. I definitely would have died on the Oregon Trail. So: I would *definitely* have been That Mom at Meijer frantically buying diapers at 11 p.m. Every week. Practically my favorite thing about cloth diapers is that they are literally always in your house. We buy one large box of disposables probably every 3 months to swap or supplement as needed. And between the two? Never. Out. Of. Diapers. Thank God!
  • Speaking of diapers, diapers are the only thing that lasts. Bumbo seats, pacifiers, walkers, Sophie the Giraffe, sleep sacks, infant bathtubs–all these things that you stock up on, and then they’re just over, done, in the blink of an eye. But not diapers. Diapers are forever. We are probably not even halfway done with diapers. Sigh.
  • I thought when we stopped buying formula we would suddenly have a lot more disposable income but it was cruel lie. 

 

How life is now, or, “Things I never knew I never knew”

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Birthday hats are delicious!

The Fustible turned one last month. I had no idea this would seem so much more momentous than any birthday or anniversary or commemorative occasion, ever. Honestly, the last year didn’t feel especially fast or slow to me. There were the days that seemed like they would never end, and then there were the whole months that just evaporated. On the whole, though, the year felt substantial. It felt like, well, a year. But as we closed in on January 16, and I thought back to where we were a year ago–as the sense memories and the snow crept up on me, I started to relive those early days more vividly than I had, well ever. And it’s crazy. 365 days, and our baby’s no longer a baby.

So, in the spirit of sniffly noses and full hearts, here’s a bunch of random anecdotes and thoughts about what’s up, one year in (and some change). In the inimitable words of George Washington (or maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda, same thing), “I wanna talk about what I’ve learned, the hard-won wisdom that I’ve earned!”

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