Tag Archives: behavior management

I Might Have Been an Amazing Stay at Home Mom, or Not

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IMG_7381There are many days I feel my fate dealt me a cruel blow by not making me independently wealthy.  But I’m a social worker who married an artist, so the reality of my situation is that I have to work to help support the family.

Once I had kids, I went back to work four days a week.  So, I’m home on Mondays and then work four longer days.  I tell people that Monday is my day I get to pretend I’m a Stay at Home Mom (or SAHM for those of us who like buzzy abbreviations).

Mondays can be pretty stinking awesome.

For one thing, I get to spend some quality alone time with my three-year-old, Emily, while my seven-year-old, Jack is at school.  Before Em was born I relished every second with little Jack.  Oh the trips to the playground, ice cream cones, and hours snuggled on the couch watching Disney movies!

Now it is Emily’s turn.  Then the three of us get to be together for a few hours in the afternoon before my husband comes home.  Once the hubz comes home, we all eat dinner together and I take Jack to karate.  Pure bliss.

An added bonus is that on Mondays I get to keep the house in a lovely state.  I mean, it’s not Martha Stewart quality, but it’s pretty decent.  It smells like vanilla, coconut, or vetiver.  The recycling gets put out, sheets get changed, the butter dish gets washed, and I usually make some semblance of a healthy meal for dinner.

I buzz around the kitchen preparing fresh fruit for the children.  We all stay marvelously hydrated.  Our bowels are relaxed and friendly.

While Emily naps I enjoy some tea and a repeat (or two!) of Grey’s Anatomy on Lifetime.  Sometimes I bake cookies for the kids to enjoy after school.  Sometimes I bake cookies with the kids, and delight in a shared experience, knowing I am providing my children creative, sensory activity.

On these days, I find myself all like, hey, look at me!  I am rocking this party!  I am so freaking in love with my children, and they are totally adoring me.  I must be the mother of the freaking year!  I could have been a contender for freaking stay at home mother of the world!  I even showered and put on make up today, folks!  

It’s good stuff.

Then Tuesday through Friday comes and I barely see the children.  My husband becomes the primary caregiver, responsible for drop offs and pick ups, as I work longer, less-flexible hours.  Meals are much less organized (and less healthy. . .  sometimes there are Happy Meals– don’t judge!)  We become tense and snippy with each other.  Our tummies become tight and ornery.

But it is a reality that has worked for us, because it has to, more or less for the past seven years.

Sometimes a lot less, it feels.

It is easy to wax idyllic about what life would be like as a SAHM.  Maybe we would belong to a pool club in the summer.  Or maybe I would be all into Pinterest.

But then, there are those “other” Mondays with the kids.

You know, the ones where Jack comes home ticking like a time bomb from his shift in the grist mill of academia?

The ones where Emily doesn’t nap no matter how much I cajole, promise Snow White and lollipops when she wakes up or threaten to take shit away, she just.  won’t.  nap.  and thus is exhausted and grumpers by 4 p.m.?

The ones where I am in no mood for cooking a pot of boiling water, let alone a balanced meal for anyone?

Yeah, those days.

Those are the days when despite my brightest reasoning act (complete with jazz hands), Jack insists that he has a right to a cupcake for dinner and throws the mother of all tantrums for close to an hour.  Did I mention he is SEVEN?!  I mean, come on, weren’t we supposed to be past that like three years ago?

Those are the days when Emily (who hasn’t napped), switches over into hyper-drive and is twirling in circles, making this high pitched noise that I swear has all the dogs in the neighborhood howling along with her, and is driving me silently insane, but is driving her big brother (who came home nasty from school) very noisily insane.

Those are the days when, non-practicing-buddhist-atheist-Jew-that-I-am, I want to kneel down to whatever deity invented wine and is going to allow me to go to work and get the fuck out of this crazy town the next day.

Then I feel like a shitty person, because moms are supposed to want to be with their precious angels, no matter what, all day forever world without end, right?

Gosh.  I love my kids.  I fucking love them.

But motherhood is so.  fucking.  hard.

(It also makes you say the “F” word more than you used to, but you know, not in front of the kids…)

I think whatever flavor of mom you are in this society–  SAHM, working mom, work at home mom, single mom, part time working mom, whatever!–  it is just really hard.  I mean, can we just honor that?  Like for a moment?

Everyone in this world has some kind of opinion, and there is a new Huffpost article every day to tell us how wrong we are getting everything.  Any and everyone who can connect to digital media has an opinion and they are going to post it to try to convince me I am a bad mom because I said the five wrong things, or I fed my family soy, or I breastfed too long/not long enough.  I’m not “attachment” enough.  I’m not strict enough.  I’m screwing up these tiny humans, that I love almost beyond reason, one day at a time.

It all makes me a nervous wreck.  I sit in my car in the morning, preparing for my commute to work, and I am not sure if I should feel guilty for missing my kids, or for feeling a tiny reprieve.

Some people nail it.  Some people have exuberant energy and can juggle everything just so.  Some people that are just not me.

Look, I just want to love my kids and not feel guilty about working, or not working, or feeling burnt out, or yelling, or going through a drive through because it’s one of those days.

I just want to love my family, and I swear to you, I am doing my absolute best.  But sometimes I have those days, and it is really hard to keep things in perspective.

So, maybe I could have been a super hip SAHM.  And maybe I’m not the greatest working mom.

But I am the mom that I am.

And I love my kids.

If nothing else, I do love them.

Winter Makes It Worse

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For a brief minute or two, the breezy hum of my hairdryer drowns out the tantrum taking place in the kitchen.  Jack is pissed about doing homework.  Something has not gone to plan and he is freaking the fuck out.  While my husband is trying to butter waffles and shield Emily from Jack’s flailing pencil and fists, Jack is screaming, calling names, and taking swings at my husband.

This used to be an every day occurrence and now it is more like a couple times per month.  But still, when it happens, it feels like a freight train is racing towards me and I can’t move.  I don’t know what to do.  And I am supposed to know what to do because it is my job to tell other parents how to handle situations just like this.

He’s not giving you a hard time, he’s having a hard time!  

Stay consistent!  

Be present with him.  Keep your composure!  

Try to be perceived as a helper!

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  It frustrates me I am so inept in my own home.

Winter makes it all worse.  I don’t really know why.  We are still going out, getting physical exercise, staying busy.  Maybe it is the lack of sun.  Maybe Jack is as sensitive to this as I am.

IMG_7057While I am not one to complain about the weather, I have to recognize that this winter in New England has sucked in a giant way.  We have been pummeled with snow for weeks.  I stand nearly six feet tall, and yet there is a mound of snow TALLER THAN ME for crying out loud, next to our driveway.  Other parts of the country may be used to this type of precipitation, but for us, here, it is a little much.

The ice and snow are destroying people’s homes.  A bunch of my friends and coworkers have had slip and falls on the snow, have had to take time out of work, and have been sore and injured.  Businesses have had to shut down for state-of-emergencies, and have lost significant revenue.

My husband was in a fender bender a couple weeks ago, because he could not see around the enormous bank of snow at the top of our street.  While everyone was unharmed in the accident, it still required auto-body work on his car to the tune of a $500 deductible.  Since we don’t generally have $500 lying around, this represents an additional financial stressor in our lives which are already stretched very thin.

These are all real stressors.  These are all factors that tip the scales in favor of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

At least they have for me.

I’ve been noticing my patience is really thin with my kids, and then I feel like a total jerk hole for yelling or being short with them.  I’ve been noticing that my energy is low, my appetite is poor, and all I want to do is sleep and munch on chips.  I’ve been noticing it feels like an act of Congress would be the only thing to get me up off the couch to put the laundry in the dryer, or to get Emily a drink of water.

I look around outside and the big, crusty, piles of snow make me feel claustrophobic, like there is no room to move.

Then I get to go to work and listen to dozens of clients vent about their lives, the weather, and how insane their kids are acting.  At some point, I just want to say, Look, I’m not any better than this and I really have no advice for you because I am a total fraud.  So, good luck with everything.  Now go away and leave me alone.  

I was sick with bronchitis and then bronchitis induced asthma for the entire month of February, so any emotional buffer I might have had to tolerate aberrant child behavior, a hectic workload, and the third blizzard in as many weeks has been rinsed down the sink in a gob of greenish-yellow phlegm.

So, when I get pumped up with a tiny burst of pleasure at a nice hot shower, it just feels devastating to have that bubble popped by hearing a tantrum the second I turn off the water.

I know kids do crazy stuff and they get angry too. Believe me I know I’m not supposed to take it personally.  But it seems I’ve gone a bit snow-blind and have lost some perspective on things.  I’m trying to remember Jack typically has trouble at this time of year, then things get a little better with spring.

I just want my family to be happy.

I just want to be happy.

It sounds so simple, and yet somedays it can feel so hard.

Are you having a tough time this winter?  Have you ever been diagnosed with SADD?  What has been helpful to you during this time?  

Ps. Please check out my new creative writing blog, the Story of Blue. I’m so excited to see you there!

To Do List

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In addition to my daughter’s Christmas gifts, I bought a tiny Minnie Mouse necklace.  It was on sale, and I knew she would love having a piece of real, “big girl” jewelry.

I set it aside from her other gifts.  Instead of putting it under the tree, I had plans to use it as an incentive to motivate her to work on some tasks.

There is this list in my head of stuff I want her to do.

1.  Poop in the big toilet instead of the little potty.  Somehow, my delicate three year old creates these man-sized poos that are a pain to clean out of her froggy potty.

2.  Go the the bathroom and pee in the appropriate urine receptacle of choice–  toilet or froggy potty–  instead of going in the pull up we put on her at night for “just in case.”  Emily has awesome bladder retention and usually stays dry all night, but then insists on peeing in her pull up in the morning, instead of using the bathroom.  Yuck.

3.  Sleep through the night in her own bed.  Until we moved, Emily wanted nothing to do with sleeping in bed with us.  She had her own little crib next to my side of the bed and she stayed in it all night.  This was partially due to the logistics of our two bedroom apartment, and also partially due to my separation anxiety.  When we moved, we did away with the little crib and presented our darling daughter with a pink, Hello Kitty ensconced bedroom of her very own.  She’s been a trooper about falling asleep in her own bed, but in the middle of the night, she is trooping up to our bed.

“I don’t yike being awone in my woom,” she says.  “I too scared and I want da mama.”  I get it.  As someone who has always struggled with the horrible, creepy fear of the dark, I would do almost anything to prevent my little girl from feeling terrified.  Buuutttt. . .  sharing our bed makes things tight and uncomfortable and my husband and I are back to sleep-deprivation-mode, which is really no fun.

4.  Don’t struggle so at nap and bed times.  This one is pretty self-explainatory.  Like any feisty toddler, Emily gives us a run for our money when it comes to getting into bed.

5.  Don’t be sneaky.  With our son, we could have wall papered our house in chocolate and he wouldn’t have ever dreamed of nipping any without permission.  Emily however feels perfectly entitled to helping herself to snacks of her choosing (usually candy first thing in the morning).  She knows it is not pleasing to us, so she will go into her room and hide in her closet to munch.  It is actually kind of funny, and it never makes us particularly angry (unless there are major crumbs involved).  She has the most expressive little face, so we can always tell when she has done something cheeky.

6.  Give up the damn bubby already.  The kid is three.  Enough with the pacifier already.  She mostly only uses it for sleep now, and sometimes in the car, but I hear her smacking away on it and visions of orthodontic bills dance before my eyes.

It crossed my mind to make a chart of some sort and make her earn stickers or smiley faces or stars, and when she filled up the chart for all her good, honest, cooperative, toilet-learning choices, she could have the necklace.

Sometimes I get it into my mommy-head that I need to be fine tuning my children to get ahead in the mommy-game.

I caught myself feeling a bit anxious to get these traits programmed into my toddler as quickly as possible.  Buuuttt. . .  on the other hand, things are flying by so quickly already.  I look at pictures from last Christmas when she had no hair and was still in diapers, and I marvel that the same child is streaking through my house in her Hello Kitty underpants, her curls a tangled halo around her face.

She’s turning into such a cool, little human.  She is tough as nails and not afraid to express her opinions, or speak up for herself, but she also has an amazingly tender heart and shows an aptitude for giving and caring.  The combination of these traits simply make me glow, and suggest I might be doing something right as a mom.

So what if my kid sneaks a chocolate now and then?  In the grand scheme of things, will it really matter much if she stays dry in her pull-up this week, or next week, or six months from now?  If parenthood has taught me one thing, it is that children do stuff sooner or later.  Then it is done, and I wonder why I made such a fuss over it in the first place.

Karma blessed me, anxious-rule-bound-control-freak-that-I-am, with two humans who are fiercely independent and strong-willed, and who complete my mental to-do lists on their own, sweet schedule, usually making a lot of noise, clutter, and chaos in the process.

My relationship with my children teaches me a lot about letting go. . .  of expectations, of rules, of my nearly obsessive needs for organization and predictability.

Emily won’t want to snuggle with me forever.  She won’t always need me to wipe her little tush.  Her worries and fears might not always be so easy to soothe with hugs and kisses alone, and my life will feel cavernous with all the spare time from not tending to a toddler’s every need.

When you become a parent, people tell you to cherish every moment because it goes by in the blink of an eye.  Truer words have never been spoken, however they do little to describe the breakneck pace to which life accelerates after having children.  It is a constant circle of joy and loss and joy and loss and joy.

I put the little necklace up on top of my desk.  I might still use it as an incentive for her.  But I wrote a new to do list.  It only had one item on it:

Catch that squishy, squirmy little imp who smells like honey and speaks with a lisp and hug her up like there is no tomorrow.

Because time waits for no mom.

Gratitude

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I am grateful for the horrendous behavior my son had at bedtime because it means he is alive and feisty, and it means I am a mom.

I am also grateful my husband handled said tantrum and said bedtime.

I am grateful for the bickering my husband and I did this morning over who would mail the mortgage payment.  Our relationship is always strong enough to handle silly arguments.  I am grateful I can drop it, go to work, and come home to start fresh with him, even after we have been fresh with one another.

While I am on the subject, I am grateful to have made my first mortgage payment, and grateful I will have the opportunity to make many more.  It means we have a wonderful home of our own, and it means we have the finances, however meager, to afford a sturdy roof over our heads.

I am grateful for the plumbing, and heating, and painting, and lighting problems we have already experienced because it allowed for us to get creative solving problems, to see how supported we are by family.  It also allowed me to see my husband shine in his new role as master of the house for the first time.

I am grateful I have learned that no one is all good, and that no one is all bad.  This knowledge helps to temper my relationships with humanity.

I am grateful for the gigantic, purple bruise I have on my back from falling down the cellar stairs the other day.  All that blood under my skin is a sign I am alive and my body is doing what it needs to do to heal.

I am grateful for my daughter’s presence in my life, how she came to me when I fell and brought me the tiny ice pack, offered me hugs and kisses, put her hands on my thighs and said, “I’m here with you, Mama.”  This moment was such a blessing, despite the pain in my back, because it offered me a glimpse of her gentle nature, and was a tiny reflection of the nurture I have poured into her.

I am grateful for piles of dirty laundry that I will wash and fold and make sweet and clean for my family because it means we have fun, funky threads to keep our bodies warm as the weather cools, and clean water with which to do our wash in the comfort of our own home.  I am grateful for my husband’s assistance in this and many other chores.

I am grateful for the traffic tonight because I got to listen to music in solitude, and to relish private memories hidden therein.

I am grateful for the company of Regina Spektor, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, Iron and Wine, George Michael, Zap Mama, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Florence and the Machine, Ingrid Michaelson, Erykah Badu, Ani Difranco, Bon Iver, Dido, and so many others who have been with me in moments of joy and darkness.

I am grateful for the crowds in the grocery store because it means people are getting stuff to nourish their bodies and to spend time with their own.  I am grateful for the eye contact and smile of the grocery clerk who rang up my last minute purchases with good cheer.

I am grateful for all my friends who complain about the rain, the cold, the wind, the sleet, the heat.  I am happy to hear their weather woes because it means there is nothing more tragic in their lives.

I am grateful for my familial squabbles because it offers me an opportunity (if I so chose to accept) to deepen bonds and mend ways.

I am grateful for the anxiety I will feel over going to family events for holidays because I have lived with anxiety forever and it makes me realize how strong I am and how far I have come in being able to tolerate it.

I am grateful for the food I will eat, for the wine I will drink, for the multiple desserts I will savor (just because they are there and amazing!).  I am grateful for how sick and lazy I will feel afterwards because it is truly a blessing to be so decadent.

I am grateful for the memories of those no longer with me, weather because they have passed beyond the veil, or because we are out of touch, or because we have fallen out of each other’s graces because the grief of a loss is always in proportion to love.

And love is everything.

I am grateful for love.

That I can feel it.

That I can make it.

That I can share it.

That I can say, thank you, I love you.
I am grateful for this, and this, and everything.

Big love and blessings to you and yours from Momaste.

 

Dear Moms, It Will All Be Okay

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Over the past week, kids have gone back to school.  If you lucked out and have a child with an easy-going temperament, this transition may have barely caused a ripple in the pool of your life.  If you have a- shall we say- more sensitive child, this transition back to school may cause some angst for both your child and for yourself.

Our seven year old son, Jack, falls into the latter category.  He just started second grade.  While Jack is exceptionally bright, and gets stellar grades, he tends to be emotionally immature, and gets amped up over transitions big and small.  Sometimes just asking him to turn off the TV or come to supper can trigger a meltdown. So, we knew going back to school after a long, lazy summer would not be a picnic.

About a year an a half ago, I wrote a post reflecting on Jack’s year in kindergarten.  It was a strongly worded rant about how difficult it was to watch my small son grapple with the big world of education.  Although he had been in daycare since he was an infant, and he attended a stellar preschool, going to a full-day-every-day-academic-program was grueling.

Jack would return home at the end of the day like a ticking time bomb.  He was exhausted and agitated at the same time.  We struggled to get him to focus on homework after he had already sat still for so many hours in school.  He would hold himself together emotionally and behaviorally all day at school, and then let lose a barrage of anger and anxiety once he got home.

My post about Jack’s experience in kindergarten has been one of the most read, shared,  and commented-on posts here at Momaste.  I’ve heard from many moms who shared a similar and heart-wrenching experience as mine and Jack’s.

I still believe our education system is, in many ways, flawed.  You will never convince me that giving five and six year olds homework, or keeping them still for six hours at a time is developmentally appropriate.  I believe there should be way more opportunities for physical activities during the school day, and that children should be offered other methods of learning through play and exploration.

Despite this, I also believe teachers do their best working in the constraints of this system.  For the most part, teachers are amazing, helping friends who want our children to succeed.  They work way harder than I would ever want to, know way more about academically educating my child then I do, and do a much better job than I could ever dream of.  This is one reason why I continue to send my child to school, and have faith in our system, however flawed it may be.

It is really hard to keep perspective on things when our children are involved.  With the benefit of a year and a half of hindsight, I would like to take a moment to write couple of things.

First off, it is all going to be okay.  Your child will adjust.  Please take heart.

It is hard to watch our little people struggle with transitions, but have faith in your child’s ability to conquer challenges.  Jack is almost always capable of way more than I give him credit for.  Trying times pale in comparison to watching a child discover inherent joy in reading or science.

Second, I’ve learned that kindergarten is a year of major adjustments.  So is first grade.  And second.  Every year represents new and different developmental milestones for your child.  While it feels like our hearts are shredded when our kids come home dragging their back packs behind them, flattened by fatigue, frustrated by social challenges, or demoralized by a bad grade, we can not rob them of these precious learning opportunities.

It goes against everything in our nature to see our babies uncomfortable, but we need to accept we can not make every second of life comfortable for them.

This is not to say we should ignore it if they are truly struggling or having a hard time.  Making your maternal presence known as your child’s advocate is important.  Every child has special needs and needs to have a pleasant and rational spokesperson speak up for them while they learn to do so for themselves.  Most teachers and school administrators will be open and sensitive to your thoughts and concerns.

Finding ways to ease your parental anxiety about school can also help decrease your child’s difficulties going to school.  Volunteering to chaperone a field trip, read to the class, bring in a special snack, or help out with the school dance are great ways to get involved and feel more comfortable in the school where your child spends so much time.  It can also be fun to see your child interact with their peers and teachers in this environment which is so often another world to us as parents.

Finding positive outlets for your child is important.  We put Jack in karate, where he has flourished.  It is great to have a place for him that is not only socially safe, but where he also develops confidence and self esteem.  Additionally, it is a way for him to work out some of his frustration and energy at the end of the day.

While I believe karate has been beneficial for Jack, I also make sure his schedule is balanced with plenty of “down time” on the weekends.  The schedule really depends on the child.  Some kids do much better with every second of their day scheduled and structured, however for other kids (like my son), having unstructured time for free play and relaxation is very important.

Finally, take care of your mother heart.  It is helpful to talk with other moms and friends who may be going through similar things with their own children and can offer sympathy and support.  In my experience, knowing we are not alone is sometimes the most valuable thing for a mom.

I wish you and your child love, and light, and luck during this trying time.  Just keep telling yourself it will all be okay, because it will be.  Your child will surprise and delight you over and over again as you watch them take on the world with their own unique charm, wit, and intellect.

Momaste.

The Truth About Toddlers

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When your baby is born, she or he is perfect.  As they grow, and become more mobile, they get into monkey business and your primary task is to keep them from concussing themselves.  That’s it.

Then there is a subtle shift when they start pushing limits, let’s say around 18 months.  You might get a tantrum in Target, or at bedtime.  You might see them start to grab at their sibling’s stuff because they know their antics are going to get a big reaction.

It can be fatiguing, but then you get to this sweet spot, let’s say between 24-36 months. You pretty much know what makes them tick and tock.

You start to feel like you have this parenting thing down.  You’re a rock star.  Your kid goes right to bed and is potty-training like a champ!  You tell your friends, I don’t know why they call it the “terrible twos!”  It’s really not so bad at all.  Terrible twos, schmerible schmoos!

And just at that moment, while you are perhaps frying up a veggie burger, or putting in a load of laundry, you feel like you should give yourself a little pat on the back.  You’re a great mom.  Why do people yell at their kids?  Toddlers are perfectly reasonable, that is, if you know what you’re doing.

Wait, what is that smell?

The shit has hit the fan.  Literally.  Because while you were busy patting and being all self-congratulatory, your toddler has shit his or her pants and smeared it on the fan and they are giggling their poopy little ass off while you are inhaling the digested waft of that veggie burger you fed them for lunch.

And that, my friends, is the truth about toddlers.  Just when you think you have all the rules down, they change the entire game you are playing.

Just when you think everything is going great, it gets worse.

So much worse.

We sailed through the “terrible twos” with Jack, who is now seven.  Emily has been a breeze since the day she was born, roughly two and a half years ago.  All of a sudden, as she is getting closer to turning three, it is all coming back to me how wretched that year was with Jack.

At three, your toddler is bigger.  Sticking a breast in their face no longer solves every problem.  They are stronger, and so is their will.

My precious baby girl is doing things like spitting out her food, taunting her brother, and wildly screaming in our faces.  Oh, the sleep regression and tantrums are pure bliss.  Not.  And to cap it off we are in the throws of potty learning.

I’ve learned a few things about toddlers which help to ground me during those Target tantrums and poopy finger painting sessions.

1.)  Some days *it seems* their sole purpose is inflicting a sense of helpless desperation on their adults.  I say “it seems” because it really isn’t.  Their sole purpose is learning about the world and limits by bending them.  Their problem solving skills are also pretty primitive, so you get tantrums and the like.

Emily heard Jack use the words “stupid idiot,” and now when she gets frustrated with me or her dad she says it to us.  Of course it comes out more like, “Pooh ped dee dee dot!”  I mean, what the heck am I supposed to do with that?

As a child and family therapist, I’m supposed to have answers to this crap, and to know just what to do.  It is so much closer to the truth to say I don’t have a clue.  This sense of helplessness triggers thoughts of frustration and self depreciation for me.  Reminding myself my kids are doing typical, developmentally appropriate things and I am experiencing typical parental angst helps to empower me ever so slightly.

We do not use physical punishment, because inflicting physical pain on children just seems, well, yucky.  And it is largely ineffective, so that leaves us with the ever popular TIME OUT.

2.)  There is no invisible, magic glue that keeps a child with a strong will and fierce determination in “time out.”  Time out means spending a half hour in a wrestling match trying to get Em to stay in her spot, long enough to “think about what she did.”  A lot of the time, she responds to the counting to three or getting something taken away/losing a treat. But sometimes nothing works and you just have to ride it out as your little person asserts their individuality. This does NOT mean you did anything wrong.  (See # 6 below.)

3.)  There is no reasoning with a toddler, especially when they are over-tired, over-hungry, and over-stimulated. Let’s leave it at that.

4.)  Toddlers are still really, freaking adorable when they are asleep.  So, hold on to that, because toddler negativity can turn your life upside down well past two, and even three years old.

5.)  You can’t take it personally.  Easier said than done, yes, I know.  But it is true.  Your little person’s behavior is not really about you.  It is about their learning and growing experience.

Your toddler loves you.  They are not trying to make your life a living hell.  She or he feels safe and secure with you which is why they press buttons and push limits with you but not their babysitter/grandparent/daycare personnel.  They know you love and adore them and you won’t turn your back on them.

Your best bet is keeping your cool, taking a deep breath, and remembering you grew this ferocious, little beast from scratch in your tummy.  Again, easier said than done.

6.)  Somedays, you can execute every parenting move perfectly and yet nothing will work.  This does not mean you suck (or at least that’s what I tell myself).  It means you have a feisty little person on your hands who is searching for their own sense of self in this crazy drama we call life.  Also, remember even though we grow someone out of our own DNA, they arrive in the world with their own temperaments and personalities.  While we can shape them somewhat, we do not have total control.  Somedays are just chock-a-block full of growing pains for your toddler, and for you as you dig deep for that parenting Zen.

At the end of the day, I believe if the love is there everything will be okay.  Tantrums are normal.  Tantrums end eventually.  Poop can be wiped away.  You are rocking this parenting thing, and your kids love you.

Do you have any tips/tricks in your parenting bag to share?  What worked best?  What didn’t work at all?  

 

Remember The Good Shots

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In my mid-twenties, I fancied myself a golfer.  Sure, I’d never held a golf club before, or been on the links, but I was determined.  Don’t ask me why.  I bought myself some clubs and lessons.

Truthfully, I sucked.  Badly.  But I had a friend who took mercy on me and took me out to play nine holes on a few occasions.  We would also go out and smack away at buckets of balls at the driving ranges.  It was fun.

I never got good.  I gave it up after a couple years, but I always remembered something my friend said to me.  He told me to forget all the bad shots (and there were many), and to remember only the good shots.  Nearly 15 years later, I still remember the best shot I ever took when I sent the ball about 250 yards down the green.

I thought about remembering the good shots today.

We had a wonderful trip to the beach.  It was a huge success.  We got there and back without incident.  We played in the water and sand on a perfect, sunny day.  Every one was happy and relaxed.  We came home and took warm showers to refresh ourselves, and then Emily and I lounged on my bed and watched Kipper on the Ipad while Jack played and my husband worked.

It was idyllic.

I nipped out for an errand to buy gifts for Jack, who turns seven next week.  With a heart full of love and gratitude, I chose some science experiments, art supplies, and toys for outdoors.

I got home to find the kids hungry and tired.

We tried to mobilize everyone for a trip to Panera, but Jack disintegrated into a tantrum.  I thought about the trunk of my car which was filled with birthday toys for Jack, and felt frustrated, hurt, and offended by his behavior.

Some days, tantrums seem the bane of my existence.  They threaten to throw my entire day and emotional state off course.  I feared this would be the case when Jack started his antics after our dreamy day.

But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t last very long.  I tried to shake off my frustration, and the fear that I was sucking as a mom, and remembered all the happy moments earlier in the day.  I reminded myself not to take his behavior personally.

I thought of how happy the kids were splashing in the surf, how nicely they cooperated with us and one another, and how encouraged I was by our simultaneous and mutual enjoyment.

I remembered the good shots of the day.

Eventually, things settled down.  We ate pizza.  I read stories with Emily who was extra cuddly and wanted a lot of nursing time.  The children were exhausted and went to bed early.

Fifteen years from now, I know what I will remember about today.

Tell me about some of your good shots, and how they overshadowed a rough patch.  I love hearing from you!  I also love when you follow me on Twitter @Momasteblog!   

Is Motherhood Supposed to Feel Like an Inferno? Parenting Hell Holes

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I.  Am.  Going.  Insane.

Summer with the kids is wearing out my reality grip.

It’s hot and muggy.

We are potty training the toddler.

The nearly-seven-year-old is out of his routines and it is totally evident in his behavior.

The other day he took a hose and blasted it into my kitchen window, soaked me and every surface. Intentionally. Twice. He’s been told that from now on, it will be a very dry and boring summer, since he can’t be trusted with water.  Summer can totally suck it.

One by one, motherhood is prying my sweaty fingers from their tenuous grip as I swing on trapeze over a pit of molten lava, poisonous snakes, broken glass, and fire ants.

Ok, maybe that is a bit extreme. But humor me.  I’m struggling.

In reality, Emily is doing pretty amazing with her potty training.  And Jack has more good moments than bad.  So, is it just me and my nutty 40-year-old hormones?  Why isn’t reality registering with my emotional state?

I’ve written before about what it is like to be depressed as a mom.  To feel like a floundering, fraudulent, failure at the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to excel.  To feel incapable of juggling the demands of a stressful job and the needs of my family.  To feel terrified of not having enough patience to weather an entire day with the small folk.  To feel exhausted and sad.

I guess this post isn’t much different, except for the 9,000% humidity as I write.

This summer feels like an endless festival of breaking up cat sibling fights as I warble the Lego “Everything is Awesome” song to try to convince myself it is, and to drown out the footfalls of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

All right.  I get.  I’m being a drama mama again.

Watching everyone’s summer-highlight reels on Facebook, I feel like we are the only family that isn’t having fun in the sun.  People are snapping pictures of their placid tots digging in the sand and bobbing in pools, but I can’t even figure out how to get my two brawling brats out of the house in one piece.

Have you heard of Parenting Sweet Spots?  Well, at the moment, I am in a Parenting Hell Hole.  Both of my kids are in ridiculous phases of difficult that cause a domino effect all over our house.

Individually, they are in normal developmental phases.  Together, they are a bundle of hectic.

Emily is two-and-three-quarters.  She’s a typical toddler mix of Hello-Kitty cuteness, and fierce determination.  Her smile draws people from three aisles away in the grocery store.  She has bouncy curls, and a laugh that could make millions if captured and bottled.  She never stops moving, which means we never stop moving around her.

She is also keenly aware of how to press her older brother’s buttons.

Jack will be seven in a couple weeks.  He has always been my “difficult” kid.  He is freakishly smart, introspective, and aware.  He’s also sensitive and strong willed.  His temper would scare off a grizzly bear.  We’ve been working diligently to teach him calm and compassion, especially towards his sister.  He tries to be kind to her, but lacks the patience to roll with her toddler-nature. He is currently in a phase you might politely put as “finding his own sense of himself as an individual,” but in layman’s terms, he’s completely oppositional and defiant.  Hence the hose in the house.

One minute my kids play angelically with blocks, and the next they are throwing the blocks at each other’s heads, which leads to shrieking, screeching, and sulking.  It is a cycle that repeats 80 times per day and grates at my already frazzled nerves.

I feel like we’ve tried everything. It doesn’t seem to matter if I separate them, spend individual, quality time with them, connect with them before I correct, or model the behavior I want to see from them.  I have a feeling it is a phase we are just going to have to do our best to ride out as lovingly as we can, and I am trying to let go and accept this difficult time with deep breaths. . . .

. .  but it’s still hard and infuriating at times, swinging back and forth over what feels like a treacherous pit of despair yawning beneath me.

I wonder why it is so hard, and if there are parents who deal with their children’s temperaments with more aplomb?  Those people on Facebook, how do they have it all together?

Looking through my photos, I realize I have the highlight reel too.  I have the picture of Jack and Emily, arm in arm, glowing on the beach.  But I didn’t post it online because, in my eyes, that photo was tainted by the how stressful it was for me to get two kids to the beach and keep them from drowning.  What would it be like, I wonder, to post that picture with a caption about how great summer is, and how much I love my life?  How many “likes” would I get?  Would that make me feel any more together about my parenting?

Or. . .  is it closer to the truth that because we lead such open, public existences it makes me feel more like I am in a parenting inferno because I judge my reality against the “perfect” moments everyone else posts?  I mean, no one, not even me, posts a picture of the crying jag they had in the back stairwell.  Maybe if we did share those moments we would feel a little less incompetent or envious.

Isn’t parenting supposed to feel hard and scary?  I mean, we take this existential leap of faith and push a cantaloupe-sized head out of our privates.  Then we are charged with the monumental task of keeping it alive and thriving for the next 18 years.  For someone who could never even keep a houseplant green, this motherhood thing is infinitely daunting.

I think it is safe to say I am not the only one who feels confusion, insecurity, and frustration.

Besides the fact that we judge our (sometimes harsh) realities against the highlight reels of others online, there is also the fact that as 21st century, working women, we are used to having our way, doing things right, and looking amazing while we are doing it.

Here’s the thing about motherhood: You never feel like you are doing a good enough job.

At least I don’t.

The sudden loss of control and autonomy humbles and horrifies me. No matter how many stories I read, lullabies I sing, or boo-boos I bandage, someone always seems unhappy with my job performance as a mom.  There is always something I’ve forgotten to do, sign, or wipe.  Summer serves to make this all the more evident, since I am spending more time with my children.

For a control-freak, the noise and chaos does make it feel like I’m living in hell.  Add to that the sense that everyone seems to be doing it better and happier than me, and it is a recipe for a mama meltdown.

I read the other day that if you bitch about something without proposing a solution, then you are just whining.  So, I feel obligated to wrap this post up with a pithy suggestion, or candid observation about how in reality everything is really great and we just have to let go.

I was complaining to a friend the other day, and hearing myself I groaned.  It seems like motherhood has made me this stressy ball of dysthymic anxiety.  It isn’t pretty.  I apologized to my friend for being such a mess.  She graciously said, “No!  Don’t apologize!  It helps me.  Because I struggle too.”

Such words had never sounded sweeter, but not because I was glad my pal was struggling.

Sometimes when a mom is in a parenting hell hole, she just wants to know she isn’t in there alone.  Maybe you have been there, and you can share with me.  Or maybe you are there right now, and my words will help you feel a little less heated and lonely.

We flounder because we are trying to get it just right for the small people we adore.  We are not failures, even if we have a difficult day, even if we are honest about it.   Nor are we frauds if we are “faking it till we make it” and post the pic of the kids playing sweetly, and neglect to mention that 34 seconds after it was snapped they started mauling one another.

We will get through it.

And when we cool off, we will look at our kids and realize that most of the time motherhood is worth all the confusion, insecurity and frustration.

How is your summer going?  Do you have any tips or tricks for making summer with the kids less hectic?  Please share!  

“All That I Know Is I’m Breathing”

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“All that I know is I’m breathing.  Nothing can stop me from breathing.”  —  Ingrid Michaelson, from her song, Breathing.

 

I curled up on my bed, sulking because Emily flat out refused to allow me to slather her in sunblock.  She ran around the living room like a banshee, screeching, “No Mommy do!  No Mommy do!”

All of a sudden, she is in an impossible phase.  Every moment with her is a struggle–  she refuses to nurse on a certain side, she screams when I try to dress her, she tear-asses around the house when I attempt to change her diaper or coax her onto the potty.  She pushes me away and yells for daddy when I try to hug her.

She’s been my “easy” child, so this phase is super disheartening.  And while I know it is “just a phase,” and it is a normal part of her development as a little, two year old human, it is hard not to take it personally, like I am doing something wrong because my toddler howls and smacks at me when I try to protect her delicate, creamy skin from the harsh rays of the sun.

So, I walked away from her and flopped down on my bed.

Breathing in, I feel how frustrated I am.

Breathing out, I accept how tired I feel.

Breathing in, I acknowledge how much I love my daughter.

Breathing out, I give thanks for her independent and strong spirit.

Breathing in, I feel my anxiety about getting sunblock on my kid.

Breathing out, I let go of my doubts of myself as a parent.

In his book Planting Seeds with Music and Songs:  Practicing Mindfulness With Children, Thich Nhat Hanh describes short mindfulness poems called Gathas as a tool we can use to “bring more awakening into our daily life.”  He calls them “breathing poems.”

My husband recently bought this book for my Kindle, and I’ve been reading bits of it here and there when I get a few moments.  It’s a good book.  It’s simple, straightforward, and sweet.  A lot of Buddhism seems really complex and difficult for me to attain, but Hanh has this gorgeous ability to make it really practical and applicable.

As you can see from the above examples, I’ve been trying to use Gathas during the more difficult moments of my days.

Breathing in, I feel helpless and inept.

Breathing out, I give myself permission to be human and fallible.  

I stayed on my bed, doing this for a while.  When I came back into the living room, my daughter was on the floor watching Caillou.

Breathing in, I feel like a crappy mom for having the TV on all morning.  

Breathing out, I pick my battles and feel okay about it.  

In the end, my husband came out and performed the slathering on of Emily’s sunscreen.  I didn’t lose my cool with the kids, and we all got on with our day, one breath at a time.

Grudgey-Wudgey Was A Mom

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You’re probably making the Debbie Downer “whamp whaaaah” noise in your head and rolling your eyes at me right now, but you’ve never had to deal with Jack the week after school vacation, as he transitions back to school and all of its many joys–  early rising, turning off the TV to go to the bus stop, holding it together behavior-wise for six hours, and homework.

He came home happy enough, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I made a big bowl of fruit salad for his after-school snack, and we chatted about Sponge Bob and belt testing at karate tonight.  For about a half hour, I treasured the lovely illusion that I was totally “bringing it” as a mom.

Things were cool and upbeat. . .  until spelling homework.

My first grader is already spelling at a third grade level.  So, the work is not hard for him.  Honestly, I think the challenge of racing all day on the academic treadmill just wears the poor guy down.  Really.  And homework in first grade?  What happened to kids running around outside and exploring the world in their free time?  Now they get to sit for another hour as they fight their brains to do juuuusssst a bit more work.

Eff you homework.  I effing hate you.  I hate you even more than Jack does.  And you don’t care one bit that we have karate tonight and are already rushing around and that my kid hates to be rushed, that it triggers his anxiety and mine.  You could give a flying hoo-hah, couldn’t you, homework?

The meltdown started because his hand wouldn’t “stop laughing”.  He said it was numb, as he gripped the pencil like a caveman and scribbled his words about as neatly as a doctor writing me a prescription for the ativan of which I was dreaming.

“Hold the pencil right, Jack,” I said.  My heart rate sped up as we inched up the rails towards the peak of the tantrum coaster.  And then we were over the edge, screaming all the way down the steep plunge.  I effing hate roller coasters.

Jack started screaming, calling me stupid, calling his teacher stupid and threatening to write her a note telling her how awful she is and how she should be fired for giving him homework.  I managed not to take the bait and mention that he would have to hold his pencil correctly to write such a note.

We struggled for about 45 minutes.  Time out has never worked with Jack, but I tried it anyway.  I picked him up and put him in his room.  He immediately popped out to swing at me, throw his pencil, tip over a chair, and throw himself screaming and crying on the floor.

We are not spankers, but oh man, oh man, it sometimes takes every ounce of self control.  I’ve always fancied myself a pretty peaceful hippie chick.  I never had a violent urge or aggressive bone in my body. . .  until having children.  Something about my child blatantly disrespecting and aggressing upon me makes me feel helpless and scared.  And feeling helpless and scared makes me angry.  And while I logically know matching his aggression with my own will not help, I still have to sit on my hands a little bit in my mind.

Fast forward an hour.  The ride was over.  I stepped off the roller coaster, but my pulse still raced, my adrenaline still surged, my legs still shook, and my stomach still lurched.  

He finished his homework and moved on.  His consequence for disrupting the peace was “community service.”  He had to do my least favorite chore and swiffer the kitchen floor.

Life moved on. 

He fixed himself a cheese and guacamole “burrito” and sat happily drumming away on the table and humming as he ate it, but I was still pissed.

Why was I such a crappy mom that I couldn’t shepherd my kid through an afternoon without a tantrum?  What life lesson had I missed?  What the eff was wrong with me that I was still so enraged with the little punk who was changing into his karate uniform?  Aren’t moms supposed to love unconditionally?  What kind of terrible mother wants to smack her kid and then sits down to blog about it?

After I finished berating my character, morality, and parenting skills, I put my face in my hands and cried.

My husband came home and there was no dinner because I had been at the theme park of spelling homework disaster with my six and a half year old.  So, that made me a crappy home maker too.

My husband took Jack to karate so I could cool off and go for a walk with Emily, who seemed just as chipper as a stuffed Hello Kitty and who giggled when I squeezed her.    So, I can’t be doing everything wrong if she is happy, right?

As we walked, I thought about how much growth we’ve seen in Jack this past year.  A year ago we really struggled with the rigors of kindergarten, which was such a huge transitional year for Jack.  This year he  started reading like gangbusters, and writes a stories in a journal just for fun.  He is interested in Reiki and craves cuddling while he watches Nijja Turtles.  He practices his karate forms on the playground, or in the middle of aisles when we are out shopping. 

He’s a cool kid.

He’s a complex and sensitive little human I grew from scratch in my tummy.

During a tantrum, I completely lose sight of these things.  It is so hard to stay present, to feel love and connection through the rage and anxiety–  both his and mine.

Part of being a parent is being a good role model.  I want to model rolling with the punches (uh literally) for Jack, and that when life knocks us down we get back up and start fresh.  I also want to model empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

I don’t want to hold a grudge with my six year old. 

But sometimes it is really hard. 

Being a parent evokes the most insanely intense feelings I’ve ever felt.  Most of the time love and pride fill me to the point of bursting at the seams, but other times the feelings are dark and despairing– confusion, guilt, terror. 

Even after the tantrum, when I look at his blotchy face, it’s hard to remember he is so small, so young, and that the feelings in his little body must be just awful.  When he comes up to me with his arms open, wanting to hug me and cover my face in kisses, it is hard not to recoil.  Kids move on pretty quickly.  It is an adult thing to hold on to that kind of anger and frustration.  It is hard not to take it personally because it feels like a personal affront to my parenting.  There is nothing I want so much as to be a good parent.

Good parents do not hold grudges. 

I suppose part of “bringing it” as a good parent is learning how to be present and grounded during the tough times, not just when you’re sitting around eating fruit.

Are you always able to rise above when your child misbehaves?  How does it make you feel?  Do you ever take it personally? 

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