Thursday, April 26, 2012

Disconnecting to ReConnect

Yesterday was one of those inspiring days. We had a playdate with a very-adored family in the morning, and then Kiddo and I took off on a spontaneous walk for most of the afternoon. It had started out as just a short venture to get a treat-- small soy latte for me, Hamentashen for him--and ended up being a three hour stroll. I admired the gardens we passed, all dressed up fancy for spring. I thought of how good it felt to be moving my body, to be away from the distractions and just focused on Kiddo. 

Something was stirring, deep in my heart. At home, we had our Snack Storytime, then split up for a while. I did the dishes, read a bit online, and felt somewhat bored until the timer went ding! and Kiddo popped out, ready to help me make pizza for dinner. 

There is something so fun about Kiddo and working with him in the kitchen.  We put on some Moxy Fruvous (which I must admit, I love to sing along to) and he ground up herbs to mix with olive oil to rub on in lieu of a sauce. We chopped up olives, red peppers, opened up a tin of artichoke hearts and a tin of anchovies.  Can I tell you how much I love it that my son also likes the Bon 'Chovies? (They are good,  thus the translation is correct, albeit very silly.) We had a great evening which continued through until bedtime.

Later that night I thought about the day. These are the days I want to have regularly: a sense of purpose, active, busy, fun. Lounging in an old skirt and watching Doc Martin, I fingered a rough patch of stuff on the fabric and realized it was old, dried Mod Podge, likely from a time not so many years ago when I would do decoupage work whilst watching the trash tv of the evening.  So different from these days, when I often feel spent by the time eight o'clock has come along. 

Life has changed a lot, not just in the fact that we have Kiddo in our lives, but also, I believe, because of the wireless card in my laptop. It used to be that I spent a lot of my free time walking around for hours, working in the garden more and doing the more meaningful writing or activities simply for my own pleasure. Keeping a wireless card in my laptop has not been particularly good for me. There are too many empty distractions and it hasn't had the most positive effect on my relationships, or the size of my butt, if you want real honesty. This last winter-- far too many rainy days for my liking-- had kept me indoors and online. While writing is stimulating, the kind of writing one might do online feels depleting in some way. Yet, there's a sense of obligation when one keeps a blog that pulls on me to keep producing for others. 

I've decided to try to  move away from this way of life for a while. I've asked Joe to remove the wireless card from my laptop so that it can be exclusively for writing again.  Hopefully, when I do want to go online on the basement office computer, it will be a more purposeful expenditure of time.  This morning I  dropped Kiddo off to preschool and walked the mile to the grocery store, then took my full bags home on the bus.  I found that I had plenty of time to sort through the green beans I was selecting for tomorrow night's dinner, time to read labels and move at my own pace without answering a thousand questions or deflecting the Gimme Gimmes which often come when one shops with a child Kiddo's age. It was good not to be in a hurry, to be alone, to have the brain-space to pause for a few minutes while the older shoppers navigated the aisles ahead of me. I liked shopping without distractions and plan on keeping this habit up, at least until preschool ends in month and a half.

The ending of preschool is a reminder of all the change to come. Summer will be upon us soon, and fuller days with Kiddo will demand a lot of creativity, time and energy. Because of kindergarten looming in the distance, I want to savor this time with him. Being present is so important to how our days go. The wi-fi enabled laptop offers too much mental junk food, too much distraction. Summer is a time when mornings need to be spent focusing on gardening, setting up my day with Kiddo and using our time well, so that come evenings, the dinner was already made and a stove is not heating up the house.  Too, too soon after that and I will be fighting hard to make more time for us. I don't want to be disconnected from him, one of the parents whose kids are jealous of the computer. This is something I want to be in charge of, reconnecting on a daily basis to the people who are present and not attending to the transient conversations of people I do not really know. 

So, that's that, right? It will be more work, again, to go downstairs to research recipes or check my email, but I think that's the point of it: using my time with intention. I haven't felt like that's been my path lately-- mostly, the last few months have just been a head-down endurance march to just get through winter. Slogging through it is not fun. But not slogging through it, outdoors, makes me cranky, makes my butt big and makes me feel unfulfilled, purposeless. Sometimes we have to decide that change is necessary, to figure out what we don't want (even if we're not sure what we do want) and to hit that reset button. To chance change and figure out that even it the next thing isn't perfect, at least I'm not feeling so stuck, and that I'll be likely to be a better mom, even on the harder days, because I'm keeping my focus where it needs to be. Right here at home, offline and connected even more strongly to those I love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Beach and the Birthday Boy

Life is always a great teacher, if we pay attention and don't mind the lesson.

Last week, we took a much-anticipated trip to the beach. This was the longest trip we've taken as a family for quite some time, and for four nights we shared a large, albeit unusual, studio. We like the place because it's literally right across the street from Fun Beach (our name for it anyway) and not a hotel. The last time we stayed at a hotel, we had The World's Fussiest Man in the room below us... he complained that our then-toddler was making too much noise running around at both 6:30 in the evening and again at 7 in the morning. It made me want to dance a few jigs just to see if I could make him totally lose it and freak out, but then again, someone in the equation had to be the adult....

In any case, the beach studio apartment has served us well but for two things: first, the bathroom and kitchen are in the same room. Yes, there were rules about 'who can do what, and when'. Second, the studio was a studio. I think I've realized the importance of having at least one bedroom to escape to, even if only for a half-hour or so.  The kitchen consisted of a microwave and a fridge and no counter space. While I'm sure this helps the owners in limiting smells that might set in (fried fish, anyone?), I won't lie: I am a person who highly values the ability to boil water and make a proper pot of tea. This was not even close to happening.

So, Lesson Number One: rent a place with a full kitchen and at least one bedroom next time. The ability to wake up and make a cup of Yunnan Fancy cannot be underrated. The ability to go to a separate space is beyond value.

Lesson Number Two: well, I screwed myself on this one. Remember that we had paper chain links and a calendar to count off the days before we left? This excitement resulted in a nearly four-hour chant of "when will we be at the beach?" on the drive out, disappointment because it was dinnertime when we arrived and it was raining, and then a 3:30 wake-up call from our Little Mister: "I want to play at the beach now". If you know me, you know I usually parent along the lines of "I'll tell you what's going on when we get there" and not telling Kiddo about things too far before they happen. I broke my own rule and paid the price. Ass kicked, lesson learned.

Lesson Number Three: Do not try to be well-intentioned by taking a trip the weekend before Kiddo's birthday as a Special Birthday Treat. 

In a nutshell: I've been working since last Monday to make this all possible. Making lists for packing, lists for food, making food to take, etc. etc.Laundry. Coordinating kitty care. Coming home on the day before the birthday, then having to turn around and make sure we have all we need for preschool birthday (thank goodness they keep it real and only allow fruit, so we put strawberries and blueberries in cupcake cups) AND wrap presents... well, it's a lot. Last night I spent about two hours sketching out and painting a full-page watercolor card, complete with the beach, sea anemones, starfish and a cute puffin, a birthday greeting and a big five. I am glad I did this. This morning I prepped the birthday fruit cups and off we went.

So, what's on deck for today?
Well, in a minute, I'm going to make myself a nice artichoke. That's my treat. I also bought myself some flowers (Alstroemeria-- they last a long time and aren't expensive). I'm going to have a glass of wine with my lunch, try to get dishes done, and then putter for as long as I can, putting so many things away. I have four bags to unpack. More laundry.This afternoon I've promised Kiddo that we'll wash our seashells and rocks in the big washtub, then add the small ones to his 'sandbox' in the living room ( a block enclosure he made last night,  filled with other collections of rocks and shell bits from previous beach trips); the big ones will go outside in the Dinosaur Garden. We're doing a small birthday fete with a neighborhood family on Saturday; tonight, we're having strawberries and ice cream as the birthday treat. He is happy with this idea--after all, it was his. He got some delicious oatmeal with raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar for his birthday breakfast and has a few more presents to open. 

All in all, I think we did pretty well. Next year, we'll pace ourselves. No beach trip right before the birthday. No Beach Trip Hype. No "Can't Get Away from Each Other--Can't Cook Properly" accommodations. Lessons learned, and it wasn't too painful. I'm thanking my very lucky stars that I have a great husband who didn't complain about a thing, just nodded off to sleep a lot. And that I have a wonderful little guy who insists that "We should call it our Dinosaur Garden, Mommy, not just mine" and who loves the beach, even in the middle of the night. Maybe next time, I'll just bundle us up and walk out there with him, if the moonlight is right.

And an especial thanks to my dear friend Lissa, who came to our house and kept our Gus Kitty company. That was one thing I had NO worries about. Lissa, My Love, you are an awesome woman and everyone should know this! Everyone!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shadows of the Past

Sometimes, someone shines such a light on things, it's a glory in our hearts.*

Last November, our son's preschool teachers expressed some concerns about Kiddo. He's a sweet little guy, but like Mama, he's in his own head a lot and not always attentive to what's right in front of him. He's also a child who hasn't mastered that whole "look a person in the eye when speaking to them" thing. Apparently, while the former 'distracted by one's thoughts' thing might be hereditary, the second is somewhat common in families with "only" children. That is, we parents of Onlys don't do as much modeling of this "look you in the eye" thing because, when there's only the two of us around, we each know who the other is talking to. Heck, there's only two of us. So if Kiddo was chatting away about something, it was usually at me.  Or I'd be working at the sink and talking to him, my eyes on my task.  This is easy to understand.

Another observation they'd made was that our little guy wasn't always on the same page with his peers, conversationally. They'd be talking about the teacher's goats and he'd be talking about fire trucks. Huh? Friends were beginning to become unresponsive to the non sequitors  and would move their interest elsewhere. Teachers were concerned how this would impact him socially, especially once he'd entered kindergarten. 

Get him to this speech therapist for an evaluation, they said. She's great at nonverbal communication stuff. 

And she was, but our experience of the agency she worked through was stressful and unsatisfying. As parents, we were pretty chewed up and had already decided, due to our insurance coverage, to move Kiddo's therapy work to the nearby clinic. This started another round of endless paperwork and first, another evaluation with a new speech therapist...

who told us there was nothing wrong with his speech; in fact, he's a slight bit ahead of his peers. (I am not boasting--this could even out next week, right?) Perhaps Occupation Therapy would help?

Now, over half-a-year out from The Conference that Started it All, we are still trying to find the right something for Kiddo.

When you are floundering like this, small comments become magnified. A blog post on another parenting blog suggested that kids who don't make as much eye contact, who aren't happy to see us after school--perhaps those kids don't have good connection with parents. The parents are withholding, not connecting enough. At preschool pickup, sure enough, there are kids who squeal with delight and rocket into their parent's arms. Not my boy. His head is probably still somewhere else--in the cloakroom, in a conversation-- and it's almost like you can see the gears turning with the effort to make the transition of leaving school. It's a little like watching a creature emerge from an underground burrow, eyes squinting, sniffing the air, as if to say "oh, yeah, so it's daytime... and where am I? Oh! yes. Right here." (This isn't to imply that Kiddo is simple, but that he is very cute and cuddly like a woodland creature. )

In any case, sometimes a Mama just takes it all on herself. Perhaps I wasn't connecting enough? Perhaps I hadn't been enough for him? What if he didn't do well in kindergarten, because I know how hard it is when everyone else is here on Earth but our thoughts are off beyond the atmosphere? What if other kids stopped trying to play with him, because he was talking dinosaurs while they were talking Transformers? 

What if? What if? 

The final straw was a comment from someone I deeply respect, who suggested that Kiddo might have ADD/ADHD. I think my head blew off-- the capacity of the pressure valve had been exceeded and something had to give. If I'd wrecked him, somehow, I'd fix him. Right?

There is no feeling worse or more helpless than having people say "your kids has this problem" and to not know what to do with it. And so, for a week or two, I decided that we were going to Fix This. This was draining. This was reminding him "eyes", firmly, every time he didn't make eye contact. This was constantly correcting him when he'd abruptly start with a new subject. Fixing meant that We Would Pay Attention the first time. (I'm not even going to describe how futile that felt.) 

At some point one afternoon, after a good cry, I realized that I was caught in a trap I hadn't even been aware of. I was doing what my own mother did, which I'd hated. I was trying to 'fix' my really-not-doin'-too-shabby kid. My conversations with professionals and teachers had felt so deficit-oriented that it was hard to see all the good. Kiddo's a polite kid. He's very loving and snuggly. He's bright and we have some interesting conversations. He's a nice friend to his friends and shares his toys easily. He can go off and amuse himself and comes up with fun, fascinating ideas when given some tape and a drawer full of found objects. 

What the hell was I worried about?

It took that good cry for me to realize that I am one of those parents who comes to the job at a loss. As a child, I was never allowed to feel "okay" for just being myself. I was never unconditionally loved or considered Acceptable, As Is, by my most primary caregiver. I believe that this has a lot to do with my mother's undiagnosed mental illness, and I forgive her for this. But I've gotta say---it's hard to be your parent's favorite 'self improvement' project. That sort of thinking, I believe, goes something like this:

"If only my kid weren't so X, my life would be perfect."

I don't suffer from the delusion that all of my problems rest on the shoulders of my son. Not at all. That sort of scapegoating was very different from what I got stuck in, which was relapsing into my childhood experience of Parenting Means Making Your Kid Perfect. I don't have a visceral sense of being 'fine' in her eyes just being myself. This dynamic has contributed strongly to the social anxiety I still suffer from time to time.  It's difficult to flourish when a parent is constantly rejecting you for not being good enough. It's also emotionally difficult to remember that I had a parent who wasn't able to  model being relaxed about parenting, who couldn't model acceptance, and that this has cast a hard shadow on who I am as a parent. 

But it's only a shadow. When we raise a lantern in that darkness, we can see our way more clearly and find what we need.

Once I'd come to the conclusion that I was dangerously close to repeating some of my parents' mistakes, and why, there was a sense of illumination. "Oh, yeah... no wonder...." Instead of going on Red Alert, I've forgiven myself for starting down that bad path. Now that it's been identified, I can recognize it for what it is-- a shadow from the past which does have the potential to temporarily obscure healthy thinking. I can see that this more relaxed, accepting sort of parenting is something I have to learn from scratch. I'm up for it.

Kiddo is a light in my world. I can see it in his eyes, the joy when he giggles and smiles. He IS beloved of his playmates--no, not every second, but they do like him for his kindness and his interest in them, their concerns. They want to play with him and ask their parents to see him. He and a little friend saw each other the other day:  that other little boy came up and gave him a huge hug. We'll still go forward with the OT, but I'm beginning to believe that time, gentle encouragement and love are the fixers. Fear casts the shadow, but love shines the light. 

*I read this post after I'd come to my own realizations, but it just confirmed for me how important it is to accept our children for who they are--and their abilities here and now--and how important is is to keep the long-term, bigger picture in view as well.