Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Another Post from the Desk of....

Sometimes, as a parent, we feel like we've got it down. Like we are swimming in familiar waters, aware of where the deep spots are and reassured that the minnows tickling your toes are just little minnows nibbling, not toothy monsters lying in wait. 

That familiar swimming hole is often the place I write from. What I've experienced, time and again, and what is familiar, tested and true.

But there are those other days, right? Ones where I should add a disclaimer: this writing comes from the desk of a woman who has no idea what the hell she's doing. 

I have a very wise friend who often says to me, when life's road is twisting around a new bend: You have to walk the path to know it. Sometimes, though, I think parenting is more like driving down the road. It really doesn't matter how many times you've driven down the same street, even if it is familiar territory, there's always going to be something new to deal with. Sometimes it's a reckless driver,  coming at you because they are texting or thinking about getting to the bank before it closes or yelling at their kids. (Just proof that we are all driving impaired, in our own ways, really, and if that's not open to a bigger metaphor, I don't know what is.) Sometimes, it's some big potholes or other hazards we see just in time and have to go around. Sometimes, we are lucky and read the signs warning of roadwork and we detour in time; sometimes we are so busy ourselves that we miss the detour signs and end up just plain stuck and stalled, waiting for the safety flagger in hazard orange to turn the sign they bravely hold from Stop to Slow. Then we either breathe deeply, know that whatever's at the end of our route will still be there. Or sometimes, we get peeved with the kids for distracting us, or at the city because isn't there so much construction going on all around the time?, or we beat ourselves up for not noticing, and then get scared because we wonder how much else we didn't notice.

We have no idea what the hell we are doing, because we've never done this before.

Pretty good reason, huh?

Sometimes, we do the best we can in the moment. We use the information we have to suss out the situation to the best of our ability and then try our most reasonable approaches. And sometimes, we realize we can only do so much and sometimes, we have to express to our children our own limitations in how we can influence their world and make things better for them. 

Lately, I've experienced situations I which just couldn't fix or make better for Kiddo. This morning, I found myself throwing a couple of other parents under the bus because Kiddo simply didn't understand why I couldn't conjure up a playdate with their child for him. I felt terrible about the whole thing-- their being too busy to make planning anything easy, their never reciprocating playdates-- but mostly, I just feel bad for Kiddo. And after repeated questioning on the subject, with him getting increasingly madder at me, I just told him the truth: "Listen, making time for playdates is just not an important thing for So-And-So's parents right now. I don't know why, but that's the way it is, and there's really nothing I can do about it."

I felt bad, but didn't know what else to do. Sometimes, kids just won't take your word for it. They won't believe what they don't want to believe. I needed to help him understand that this wasn't about me, and it most certainly wasn't about him, it just was how things were. They were busy. Playdates weren't on their list of priorities. I didn't think it made the loss of his friend's presence any less felt, but I had run out of energy politely reminding him that the family 'was busy'. That really doesn't mean shit to a kid, right? They're busy too, and they have to stop all the time for us and our needs. So, our adult excuses just seem empty to them. They are focused on their disappointment, not the why of it. 

This is where we have to wing it. We have to just go forward, hoping we do what's best for our kids. I realized that his ego must have been hurt, however, it was life circumstances doing the hurting, not his friend refusing to play. There's a difference there. Life being unfair vs a friend's rejection-- take your pick.  I know which option I'd choose.  

So, there you have it. We go forward with what we've got-- whatever we've got. Life just seems to keep shaking things up, lest we get complacent. They get bigger and all of those other challenges we have mastered fade into the background as new ones arise. I have twenty years of experience in working with children, five years of being a mom, and some days I'm really pretty sure I don't know what the heck will come next, where the parenting journey will lead. I most certainly do not, at all times,  know what the hell I'm doing. Maybe that's what the fun part is, the part that gives us something to talk about, to mull over. The unexpected. Expect it. It's the only guarantee you get as a parent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The First Loose Tooth-- Don't Delay!

A couple of  months ago, a dear young friend took a post-graduation trip to France.  While there, she remembered our Kiddo and brought home a sweet gift for him: a wee round container made of boxwood. The top is painted brightly with the words "Dent du Lait" and screws on to the bottom, hollowed out to hold a baby tooth. Dent du lait is French for "milk teeth", which is what baby teeth are called in other parts of the English-speaking world. Dent du lait, when spoken, also sounds like "don't delay", and that's where my wish comes in.

Last night while eating a spicy, fresh apple, Kiddo moaned and then opened his mouth with an aggrieved look. "My teeth hurt." Perhaps I'd accidentally missed a tough piece of core whilst slicing it, and so we moved to the bathroom, I wrapped some floss around my fingers, and then took a good look into Kiddo's mouth. On the bottom row of teeth, I could see a little blood and so I gently pushed on the tooth. IT MOVED! I smiled and told Kiddo the best news of his Kindergarten life thus far~ "You have a loose tooth!" 

After this revelation, Kiddo was on a mission to find his little "Tooth Fairy" box. Once that had happened, we very carefully brushed his teeth and because his mouth was beginning to hurt, gave him a dose of Motrin. This was not going to be an easy, happy night after all. About a half-hour after bedtime, he complained of the tooth hurting. We rinsed with warm salt water, which helped temporarily. In this case, "temporary" translates to "about five minutes". Then he was up again. And again. Then he didn't want to fall asleep because he was afraid the tooth was going to come out . I reassured him that this wouldn't happen, that it was stuck in there with lots of little threads of tissue, and that it would be a while before it came out. 

I laid down with him and told him the story of the Three Bears. Settled him in. This was at 8. At 8:30, he was up again and I begged Joe for mercy. "I've been doing Tooth Trauma duty for the past hour and I need.a.break." He laid down with Kiddo and 15 minutes later, Kiddo was asleep. 

This morning we ensured the tooth was still there. I served sliced bananas and yogurt, and then scrambled eggs and rice, for breakfast. Soft foods. Another dose of Motrin, and I slipped half of a banana into his backpack for him to take to school for snack. This, instead of taking a chance on graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks, the latter of which I was more concerned about. Get one of those 'fruit gellies' stuck on that wiggly tooth and who knows how much that was going to hurt.

In my secret heart: I am not looking forward to tonight. I'm making matzoh ball soup with good bread and smoked salmon for dinner. And a Motrin nightcap for Kiddo again, likely. 

Teeth hurt. I know this because I remember a wisdom tooth coming in when I was in my early twenties, and how much that hurt. It's good to have this memory, because it is very empathy-inducing. And thus, while he's playing up that loose tooth at school, I know that darker side of this will come to the fore at home. Because we are safe to complain to. We adults can be excited for him, and we also know that besides the social glamour of having a loose tooth, it just freaking hurts for some kids. 

So, Tooth Fairy, if you will-- don't delay. Help that new tooth emerge sooner than later, to help that loose one become a tooth in a box, waiting for you. I know friends who have betting pools on when their kid's loose tooth finally pops out. In Kiddo's case, I'm betting it won't be soon enough. I'm looking forward to sneaking a box out from under his pillow, putting a dollar's worth of quarters inside (because our Tooth Fairy is not subject to inflation and has a healthy sense of proportion) and letting our wee Jack-o-Lantern faced child enjoy the treasure and magic of trading bone for silver. Okay, cupronickel, really (75% copper, 25% nickel). No matter what we call it, though, it's a dollar and it is good because a fairy came in the night to visit, and that tooth will be out, with more to follow. 

Better stock up on the Motrin. And coffee.  I think we're in for some tough nights.  

and the epilogue~Happily, the Tooth Fairy can read and Kiddo lost his tooth the day after I wrote this.  Of course,  it was right after I'd gone to the store to buy more soft foods....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Laptop on the Attic Floor

Mindful parenting. Being thoughtful. Being present.

Whatever you want to call it, sometimes it's hard when there's a constant distraction around. Which is why this laptop has been relegated to our upstairs attic bedroom.

Last week, amid a lot of fuss and stress, I felt I was needing breaks.

What easier way to 'take a break for a minute' than to go online and look at something trivial?

The only problem was that this was starting to happen a lot. Needing these mindless breaks did make sense in a way; Kiddo's big feelings seemed ever-present and like they came one after another, like a series of tidal waves.  While I did what I felt was right in being empathetic, responsive, and offering clear choices when need be, it apparently wasn't enough. So,  on Wednesday night I unplugged the laptop and moved it upstairs. I wasn't 100% sure how this would work, but knew that something had to change.

I can say that I've made a few observations in the days since:

I have been more focused on Kiddo and Joe at my morning tea, when I used to hide behind the screen while trying to wake up.

Taking a break on the laptop now inspires me to make some clear-cut decisions about how I'm using my time. Because I am actually removing myself from the ground floor, where most of the action is, I have to finish what I'm doing-- or at least have it at a good stopping place-- before going online. 

Because I'm going upstairs, I have to ensure that Kiddo is engaged and okay for a few minutes. Checking in is good.

Because I'm not physically present, Kiddo doesn't feel like he's having to compete for my attention. Out of sight, out of mind. I'll be down in five minutes-- and when I'm down, my attention is all yours. 

Because I'm not online much these days, when I go on that Mamaworldparenting  Forum, I find that I am developing a limited tolerance for some questions. Which forces me not to answer them much, because I don't want to be rude and tell them "hey, nice first world problem you have there. Quit your complaining." Which is what I really DO want to tell them, but so I don't, so I stay offline more and more. It's a relief, in a way.

Because I'm sitting on the floor, I have to deliberately decide "Is this so important that it's worth my legs falling asleep to look at it?" I hate to say it, but at my age with my body, this question comes into play a lot. 

Kiddo's life isn't miraculously better now that the dreaded computer is out of the way, but I feel like a better mom. I'm not as conflicted/distracted and am able to be a bit more deliberate. When I go upstairs for a few minutes, it really does feel like more of a break. 

I could wax philosophical a bit more on this good move, but my feet are getting tingly....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Old Mother Hugger

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare....

Sometimes, even when you try to make things better... well, sometimes, you just can't.

Monday was a lesson in futility. Ironic that I had written a post on making things better. Ha! 

I think you have to count the things that go right and hold onto them, so when the deluge of Things That Go Wrong comes along, there's something to keep us from getting swept off in that current.

Monday afternoon, miracle of miracles, our eye exercises and homework went off without a hitch. Things were looking good. We had our snack story-time and enjoyed a few one-page chapters of "Seabird", and then, when Kiddo was ready to get down from the table...

....well, I can't tell you exactly what happened, but he ended up smashing himself onto the floor. It actually looked like he was trying to slide off or fall in some way, but it went all wrong. "What were you trying to do, sweetie?"

"I was trying to do a cartwheel, Mama." he sniffed through his tears. A Cartwheel. From a sitting position. Leave it to my kid to be the first in the world to attempt that feat. 

Thus, when we were needing to separate for Quiet Playtime, he 'needed me'. I need to go to the store, and proposed that he could do this with me in lieu of the playtime. He wanted company. I wanted to make spaghetti. We all have our motives. Heading to the store, he fell and skinned his knee. Before we even got there, in my mind, I imagined getting him one of those little toy motorcycles that you rev up with a glorified zip-tie sort of thingy. He'd been interested in them earlier. This would cheer him up, right?

No. No it did not cheer him  up. So excited to get it, telling everyone at the store about it. Everyone. We got home and I made it zoom successfully. Kiddo? Not so much. In fact, after several crash-and-burn wipeouts, he came to me tearfully, gulping and big-eyed. "Mama. I can't do the motorcycle." Emotional crash and burn there.  Poor kid. He really Did Not Need This. All the things in the world lately which feel so hard for him, and now a toy he was excited about was nigh inoperable. I hugged him and suggested he try to find something he knew he *could* do so that I could make that spaghetti and get dinner going.

Then, whatever it was he thought he could do, well... it wasn't working. I'd just started cutting up vegetables for the red sauce when he came into the kitchen again and looked at me, so miserable. 

"Mama" his voice broke, "I just want to be a crying machine."

My heart broke and cracked a little bit, I'm sure. That one-- I'll remember that for quite a while. I left off the kitchen work for a moment and took him to his room and just sat with him, ignoring the piles of laundry he'd yet to put away or the toys all over the floor. This wasn't the time to bring it up. And there never would be a great time to bring it up that night. It was a hard one, and Joe was so great. When I told him that I'd been working for over an hour to get the spaghetti made, he smiled. "It's going to taste great." he said. When I grudgingly smiled at him, he teased me again. "Honey, it really WILL TASTE GREAT." 

He was going out for the evening and asked me what he could do to help. I suggested he could start with making me a martini. 

The rest of that evening was a push to do the bare minimum and to keep us from rolling away on a sea of tears. Joe escaped and I did the dishes like the mindless zombie I'd been reduced to.

Looking back on all of this, I think I've found a new idea for a business: moms would benefit from having someone to 'mom' them from time to time. Sure, some mothers of young children have great, supportive relationships with their own moms or other women in their family. But what about the rest of us, who just sometimes want to go get some hugs and have a cup of tea and a good cry? Like Old Mother Hubbard, who goes to her pantry and finds nothing for the dog.... she has nothing for herself, either. 

I think a lot of us moms, sometimes, some days, experience an emotional empty-cupboard. Mom hasn't enough to feed herself, yet she is tirelessly giving of herself and what little she has to her children. 

Who feeds her? Who ensures her cupboard is full? Who gives her hugs? Not "Hey baby, maybe later when the kids are asleep...wink wink" hugs, but simply "I love and accept you unconditionally and know you are doing the very best you can right now. So just let me hold you, let me support you for a moment. Let me tell you that even with the mistakes, I know you work so hard, and bless you for this." 

I think there's a market for this. We keep trying to create empathetic robots people can relate to. Maybe we need to hire retired women who have a little love and comfort to give, and hook them up to receiving third party payments through our insurance.

Last night, a mentor-friend of mine called me up for an evening walk up to beautiful Mt Tabor. I had forgotten how pretty the reservoirs are in the evening, with the lights shining on the water. She and I talked, she gave me some excellent advice which I will follow up on. 

But the last thing she did was what I needed most. She gave me a hug. A kiss on the cheek, which is our way. The advice was pragmatic and good, but this was what I needed. Another, older, been-there-done-that mom just accepting me for the mess I was in that moment and loving me for it anyway. It makes me think that this would be a valuable service for those of us moms who are just slogging through it. A hug, a listening ear, a place to cry and some good advice...

an Old Mother Hugger. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making it Better

First, this isn't a cute post about kindergarten. Just so's ya know...

This is a post about feeling very urchin-like and prickly and sore. I'm not sure how an urchin can feel sore while being prickly, but this wee lady urchin is feeling like things have been a bit much. That said, it's getting better.

Last week, we had some trouble with our Gus Kitty. The vet put him on some meds to help stimulate his appetite. That stimulated a lot of other problems. Here's the index:

Days of Upset Kitty: Seven
Number of Kitty Messes Cleaned Up: Several
Visits to vet: 2
Number of feline meds administered: Five
Amount spent: about $400
Number of Sad Kitty Looks that Ripped My Heart Out: Too many to count.
Thankfully,  Gus seems to be feeling better and we now have a new vet whose care plan seems reasonable to the humans and respectful to our very senior cat. Yeay, Kitty.

Last week, we had some (no, LOTS) of fuss and trouble with school and homework and eye exercises.  There is no index for this since counting tears and trying to quantify frustration only makes me depressed. Our new eye therapist is well-intentioned, but gave us some exercises which are a bit cognitively beyond what Kiddo can do. One problem is that due to his ocular motor dysfunction, Kiddo tends to tilt his head to suppress the image from one eye or the other, so his brain is only processing one image instead of the image from both eyes. He has to self-check this for the eye exercise, and this is really, really difficult for him at this age. It would be a perfect exercise a year or two from now, but when you are five and trying hard and not 'getting it', there is high potential to feel like a failure and get down on yourself. Which is what happened.

The homework isn't too bad. It's just running in conflict with his desire to play. Everything is 'after homework'. 

And then at school, he got upset because there was a 'scary story about people who were mad at each other and then someone was lowered into a cave'. This was from the week before, and I checked it out with his awesome teacher. She mentioned that it was a book-on-tape version of 'The Rescuers' and I explained to him that there are lots of things about school other kids don't like, but that they have to deal with and just do.  This, like it or not, is his. I know he's pretty sensitive to 'scary' and I respect that at home (because when he's done being scared of things, then he's over it. It's not an act.), but I also know that school is going to be different. 

So, I read him "The Book of Scary Things" hoping that a book which talked about scary stuff would neutralize it a bit.  Instead, I have now unwittingly introduced him to the idea of monsters under the bed. 

Luckily, we have a load of felt-toothed plush dinosaurs to stand guard. 

And then this morning, I responded favorably to a post written by a father, who was angry because  he'd taken his  little girl to  G-rated "Cinderella' and she was scared by a preview for a PG horror movie. When I mentioned my little guy was sensitive to this stuff too, another poster replied that unless a child is autistic, being afraid of the thrilling content I described was not 'normal'. And that I was overprotective. 

She is now first on my list of  People  I Would Like To Punch In the Neck.

So, what did we do to make things all better? Well, on Friday I picked up Kiddo from his half-day kindergarten and we went out for lunch, out to sushi, where my scaredy-cat child ate sea eel and edamame and loved it.  We bought the cobwebby Halloween stuff for our porch that he's been asking about since last October. (Now we need black pipe cleaners to make 'spiders' for the web.) We watched the start of a great BBC dvd called "Oceans" and he rather fearlessly flew down our low-grade hill on his scoot bike. Even when he decided to stop himself by aiming toward a pole, he got back up and brought his bike up the hill, smiling. "Did you see that?"

(Oh, honey, of course I did. I think my heart saw it and stopped for a moment.)

He had a favorite babysitter while we took Kitty to the vet. His playhouse in the backyard was worked on.  A happy surprise for him, Saturday night-- we met up with his dear playmate and her folks and went out to pizza.  On Sunday he had a few adventures, and the last thing we did yesterday was to let him choose which game to play before bedtime.  And the dinosaurs were still there to protect a sleepy boy when things got a little 'scary'. (Thanks, cousin Nate, for so thoughtfully passing your dinos on to your little cousin.)

This afternoon looks promising. I know there will be more homework, eye exercises. He did a rather naughty thing yesterday-- I won't say what-- but part of the consequence, we decided, would be extra chores, so he's going to have a stack of kitchen and bathroom linens to fold and put away. So, add that to the list. But we also have ways to make life better: a nice snacktime already planned out; the promise of watching that King Crimson concert dvd he loves; another daring scoot-bike journey through the neighborhood. Enjoying the exciting book we're now reading: Holling Clancy Holling's "Seabird".

Even with all the chaos and some days, heartache, I do love my son just for who he is: a small, creative, bright, thoughtful kid who is sensitive, jokey, silly, and who is a good friend because he adores his friends. A boy who is brave in the ways that really matter in this world. (Okay, not with dogs, but still... some kids are great with dogs and not so good with people. We all have areas we could improve in.) A kid who does keep trying, even when it's hard. A kid who is dealing with the daily challenge of actually seeing correctly, and who doesn't complain much about it.

I'm proud of that Kiddo of ours. There's so much more to come, and after last week, I am grateful for where we are today. It'll be another ride on that roller-coaster we call LIFE,  I am sure, but what the hell? You pays your money, you takes your chances. Besides, there's a bar across our laps holding us into our seat, so we don't fly out. 

That's called love.