Tag Archives: behavior problems

Random Kindness To A Mother’s Heart

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20130503-160427.jpgOur neighbor is a college professor in early childhood education.  We don’t know her well, but all signs point to her being a lovely individual.  She lives in the second floor apartment of the house next door to us, and her office windows open onto our yard.

When Jack was a toddler, she made a point, on more than one occasion, of stopping to talk to us for a moment over the fence.  “I love to hear the two of you play,” she would say.  “You always have the nicest conversations.”

Her words touched me.  Jack was very verbal from an early age, and I loved my chats with him over the sandbox or flowerbed about nature, trucks, or animals.  Both my husband and I had infinite patience for Jack’s endless curiosity and chatter.

Flash forward four years.

We had Emily and in our constant state of emotional and physical exhaustion, things started to disintegrate at home.  Jack became a big brother after ruling our roost for four years by himself, and he did not like it one bit.

Our backyard banter turned into backyard battle as Jack bucked every rule and I balanced a baby on my hip.

I am sure this quiet, scholarly neighbor heard some conversations and confrontations quite different than the lovely idyll of Jack’s solo days.  I’m sure she heard me struggle with him, and him rage at me not only in our backyard, but also from our home, especially in the warmer months when our windows were all open.

There were times (oh there were times!) when I raced frantically though the house to close all the windows while Jack had one of his tantrums, praying no one would think I was hurting him and call the cops on me.

Our neighbor lady caught us at the bus stop one morning, as we waited for Jack’s big, yellow chariot to swoop him up.  She asked him where he was going to school and who his teacher was, etc.  She mentioned she had always loved hearing him play in the yard.

I scoffed awkwardly at this.  “Well, ” I said, “I’m sure you hear many interesting things.”

She looked me straight in the eye and smiled at me.

“Jack just has a really good sense of himself,” she said.

Huh.  Well that was one way to look at my son’s challenging demeanor.

I think of this brief exchange once in a while, and it strikes me as a very great kindness this neighbor, barely more than an acquaintance, offered me that morning.  She could have been really snarky about our noise interrupting her studies, or dug out some child development fact to imply we were doing it all wrong.  But she didn’t.

Instead, she offered me nine of the kindest words ever to meet my mother heart.

What is something kind someone has done for you as a mom when you least expected it?  Have you ever done/said anything to show kindness to another mom you saw struggling?  

Stupid, bad, idiot Mama

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This morning I woke early, before the baby and my alarm.  I had a few moments to put on coffee, brush my teeth, and use my netti pot.  Then I climbed back into bed, lulled by the sound of our cat purring in between my husband and me, and the baby’s soft snoring.

It was actually kind of blissful, although the clock was still ticking.  Even ten minutes in the morning can seem like an eternity, and I run a pretty tight ship around here.

Looking at the clock, realizing it was almost 7:00, I made a conscious choice to relax and not stress if I am a little late for work.  Being with my family on this peaceful morning was well worth it, right?

Eventually, Emily woke, nursed, cuddled, and I got up to get in the shower.  The kids ate and dressed.  I put on make up, dried my hair and went out to make lunches.  Everything was going so well (!) until Jack came out of his room sans socks.  I told him if he put on socks and shoes, he would have time to watch a show before catching the school bus, but he was going to have to show a little hustle because we were all running a little late this morning.

“Oh!  Why do I have to get my own socks?” he whined.

“Because it is your responsibility,” I replied, stuffing a banana in Emily’s ladybug lunchbox.

“But I was just in there, and you didn’t tell me I needed socks!” he shouted.  Like he isn’t told he needs frigging socks every frigging morning?  He eventually did turn around to get the socks, but tripped over the baby gate.  He was totally unscathed, however not all actors are in Hollywood, my friend.  He took this moment to make his Oscar bid, wailing and flailing to beat the band.

My head whirrled.  Do I ignore him?  Offer him an ice pack?  Go get the damn socks for him?  

Ultimately, I kept doing what I was doing, packing the lunches.  I took a moment to fill Jack’s water bottle and heard my husband come out of the bathroom to help Jack.  Whew.  I sighed.  Crisis averted.  It was being handled by my sergeant at arms.  I came around the corner to see my husband, still disheveled in his pajamas.  Five minutes before go time.

“You haven’t showered yet?” I quipped.

“No, I haven’t showered yet.” he nipped.  I heaved a huge, heavy breath and placid morning turned to prickly morning.  I looked at Jack bawling on the floor, still tantruming over his stupid socks.  Empathy paled as I embarked on my own Oscar bid.  The following words came out of my mouth:

“Great!  Now I’m going to be late for work.  Thanks guys.  I’ll probably be fired and we will have to live in a box on the street!”

As soon as the words were out, I felt awful, reactive, and narcissistic.  And as soon as the words were out, they dialed up the intensity on Jack’s meltdown.

“Mama you are stupid!  You are the worst, stupid, idiot Mama in the world!  I hate you!”  he screamed at me.  I tried to redirect him by reminding him he is working on earning a yellow stripe in karate for being responsible and calm, and he screeched, “SHUT UP!” at me.  Then he kicked me.

In retrospect, I see his point.  It was kind of hypocritical of me trying to bribe him to get control of himself when I was not modeling very proper self control of myself.

Some mornings it is really hard to find the joy when we are all bustling to get to places to which none of us really want to go.  Sometimes I say and do really stupid shit.  Sometimes I feel like Jack was put here on earth to call me on some of that shit, but man, I really would like to catch a break here and there.

I drove to work feeling guilty, ashamed, and angry I had been robbed of my peaceful morning.  Correction:  that I had robbed myself of my peaceful morning.  I totally made things worse by losing my own composure, by stressing over time.  In the end, I wasn’t even late for work, so it was all for naught.

I also felt pretty crappy because Jack has been doing so much better lately with his behavior.  Karate seems to be helping him with his self control.  His break through anger is much more infrequent and usually shorter lived.  So, exacerbating his distress this morning really did make me feel like a stupid, bad, idiot  mama.

At the end of the day, I entered the house saying silent little prayers that everything was going okay and there wouldn’t be any tantrums.  My husband kissed me at the door when I cam in.  Jack and Emily were already in their pajamas.  They were both thrilled to see me and wanted lots of cuddles.  We had all moved on, and the day ended peacefully.  The way it had started.

Do other parents have these vain and crazy moments where they say and do things that are senseless and regrettable?  I’ve heard tell of it.  But I feel like everyone presents such a pretty picture and would never do or say the crap that I do.  Especially because of my job, I think I should hold myself to a higher standard.

But I guess I’m human, so by design I screw stuff up.

Alright.  Time to get back on the horse and do better next time.

Thanks for listening.  Momaste.

I Choose You

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I ran into a friend from work in the parking lot after a staff meeting.  We work in different departments, so we don’t see each other often, but we have a tradition of hugging each other after these monthly meetings, then going about our business until the next time with the occasional email in between.  It is a little ray of sunshine.

She asked how I had been and without thinking, or editing myself, I offered that I had been stressed lately.  Jack has been going through a particularly persnickety phase, having to do mostly with his adjustment to the rigors of first grade.  We only had a moment to chat before bustling back to our respective buildings and work days.

I felt like a jerk pouring out my heart in a parking lot.  Sometimes I wish I could just smile and say everything is great, but if ya’ ask me how I’m doing, more than likely, I’m going to tell ya’.

The next day, I came into work and found a lovely email from her.  She told me she had worried about me, so she checked out my blog (I mean how else do we find anything out about each other these days, right?) and read a few of my recent posts about my struggles in mommy-land.  She shared with me that when she was a young mom (her children are now grown adults, and she is a grandmother herself) she struggled with many themes similar to mine.

She resonated with the post about Jack’s potential past life, and shared her belief that our children chose us, that somehow their little soul comes to grow in and with us for a reason.  She wrote of her grand daughter who died from a rare and vicious cancer at five months old.  The baby, she said, was an old soul, and while everyone wondered why this sadness fell on the family, my friend remained convinced that the baby picked her parents for a reason.

“I’ve told my mother, ‘I chose you,’ and I could tell that it gave her joy to think it,” she wrote to me.  “I like to think that my children chose me.  Somehow, it makes all those years when I didn’t live up to the ideal Mom okay, because they chose me regardless.”

I mused on these thoughts, rolling them over in my head like a pebble in the ocean, until they became my own.  When that pebble came to rest, I was filled with a warmth as though on a sundrenched shore.

Here is what I came up with:

1.  Sometimes honest sharing is good (even in a parking lot), and increases the potential of getting a need met.

2.  Perspective is everything.  It is  a blessing to have friends of all ages, in all phases of life to lend me their views.

3.  In mindfulness, part of the work is recognizing our thoughts and being aware of how they influence our emotions.  As a mom, I have many thoughts that work against me.  When Jack has a tantrum and I think to myself, “This is hopeless!  I don’t know what to do.  I can’t do anything to help and so nothing will ever change,” I feel despair course though every cell of my being.  When I think, “I am a child therapist for goodness sake, and even with all my experience, I am clueless!” I become possessed with deep insecurity and a sense of failure as both a mom and a therapist.

I looked at a picture of Jack on my desk and thought, “You chose me.  There must be some reason that I am your mom.  I can hold you and all your feelings.  I can do this.  We will figure it out and get through it together because you chose me to be your mom.”

The feeling was remarkable.  I felt strong and confident, infinite and open.

Whether or not I can tap these thoughts when I am in the middle of a five-alarm Jack attack remains to be seen.  But I guess if I tell myself that I can use it and do it and be it, then I have a better chance of being successful with it, and keeping my cool in the middle of the chaos (which is the NUMBER ONE rule when dealing with a strong-willed chicklet, by the way).

4.  Accepting my thoughts, feelings, and urges for what they are, as they are is an important step towards self acceptance.  It reminded me of how Pema Chodron speaks about compassion towards the self as being crucial to compassion for the rest of the world.

5.  It is pretty and comforting to think my children chose me, that there is some kind of ripening of karma in the fact that we are together making our way through life as a family.  But I also chose my children when I decided to become a mom.  True, our children come hard wired with some interesting temperaments over which we have less control than we might have thought before bearing children, but when we decide to become parents, we decide to love and nurture whatever karma throws our way.

I have bucked karma on this point many a time.  I’ve questioned why I got Jack– the ornery, intense, picky eater as opposed to a peaceful, kale and quinoa eating yogi.  But at the end of the day, he is the child I am kissing goodnight, see ya’ in the morning light, love ya’, sweet dreams.

We chose each other.

We chose our thoughts.

We chose our happiness.

They are powerful thoughts and I think they will serve me well, thanks to the caring kindness of my friend.

What thoughts do you have that help you get through the day with your child?  Are there any thoughts you have that don’t serve you well?  

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/daily-prompt-safety/

Pearl Harbor and My Son’s Past Life

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My daughter is easy for me to understand.  She is open, affectionate, and easy to redirect.  Of course at 22 months, this is all subject to change, but I think these qualities are just part of her sweet nature.

My son, on the other hand, is a mystery to me.  He gets his feet stuck in the cement of little, everyday issues so I feel I am in a near constant tug-of-war with him.  He is highly sensitive; we never know what will set him off.  He is also freakishly verbal, creative, and intelligent.

Despite his intensity, he is very lovable.  I find myself constantly amazed at how he can make friends anywhere he goes.  I am in a constant state of hypervigilance and confusion when I am with him- caught between the insane love only a mother can know, walking on eggshells to avoid his tantrums, and mystified at some of the deep thoughts he produces.

When Jack was a little over two, he started talking about Japan.  We never had occasion to expose him to much Japanese culture at that point, so it fascinated us.  Daily, he made statements about Japan, about a dusty old house where he swept a dirt floor, about his garden, about people he knew and things he would do.

A lot of it escapes me now.  I wish I had paid more attention, written more down.  I do remember one time when he was talking about being an old, old man in Japan.  “That was before you and Daddy were born, Mama,” he added.

Sometimes he would use his past in Japan as an excuse.  “Oh, broccoli? I don’t like broccoli.  I tried it once in Japan.”

One time, we passed a monument in a park that was shaped like a pagoda.  Jack pointed to it from his car seat.  “Do you see that?” he asked.  “That is what my house looked like in Japan!”

For me, the jury is still out on past lives and all of that mystical hocus pocus.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible, I just don’t know about it or believe in it.  But little Jack spoke of Japan with such innocent conviction it was startling and made it all seem possible.

He went on about Japan until he turned four, and then his past life regressions, if that is indeed what they were, became less and less.  By five, he hardly mentioned Japan at all anymore.

I heard somewhere that kids reference past lives up until about this time, and then the veil between the two worlds gets thicker, whatever that means.

People used to tell us we should take him for a past life session with a psychic, but this seemed far fetched, and the idea of sitting a little boy down to learn about another life seemed macabre.

I happened to be out with Jack the other day, and we found ourselves in a new age shop.  We smelled candles, admired Buddhas, and touched crystals.  Jack found a little turtle pin, which I brought to the counter to buy for him.

On a whim, I asked the lady at the counter if she did past life regressions.  She said she did.  I started to explain to her that Jack used to talk about Japan all the time.

“That’s because he was in Pearl  Harbor,” she stated before I finished.  “I saw it in him as he walked past.”

She went on to tell me that my child was an American soldier in the battle of Pearl Harbor.  He perished there, but not before saving about 16 other people.  “He kept diving into the water to save people,” she said.  “He was a hero.  He might have some kind of an aversion to water?”

“Yes!” I gasped.  “He only just learned to swim!  He is not buoyant at all!  He sinks like a stone in the water.”  She shook her head serenely.  She must have that kind of reaction from people all the time.

Jack was bored, waiting out in the entry-way of the shop.

“He’s a warrior.” She said.  “And at some point, he will start seeing spirits.  They may present as imaginary friends.”  Jack came back into the shop, grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the door.  I said good bye to the psychic and we made our way to our car.

Driving home, I felt queazy.  Hearing how your son “perished” in his past life is a disturbing conundrum.  I didn’t say anything about it to Jack.

By the time I shared the story with my husband, I had chillaxed enough to conclude this psychic lady probably just had an active imagination.  I mean, I can watch people walk past me and come up with stories about them all day long, and I suppose if you do it long enough, you gain a strong conviction in your stories.  I have no doubt her intentions were pure, and she believed what she told me heart and soul.

In another way, hearing about my son’s “warrior” nature brought me comfort.  I’ve always said he came back into this life with a vengeance.  Not that he is a vengeful soul, but just that he had unfinished business and a lot of life to live with every cell in his being. Hearing this is just his nature was validating.   It took away some of the constant blame and guilt that I place on myself for being a crappy mom who made a mad kid because I had him circumcised or tried to make him cry it out when he was a baby.

The encounter with Madame Mystic also made me realize how people can fall in love with psychics and become dependent on them.  We all crave answers for one quandary or another.  Whether it is if we will ever find true love or win the lottery or hear the voice of our dearly departed, we all want an answer for something. I would love to know what makes my kid tick.  Having a woman take one glance at my son and weave this incredible story was enticing as all hell.   Could this explain my fear that Jack will grow up and join the military?  Could this be why I am enchanted by all things Hawaiian?

I think not.

Regardless of where Jack was in his past life, he is my boy in this life.  Somedays I struggle to understand him, and other days I accept that this is just the mystery involved in being a mom.

I Hate The Playground

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When our son, Jack, was a baby we could not wait until he was big enough to go to the quaint, little playground across the street from us.  At eight months old, we took him over, and pushed him gently in the baby swing.  He walked at 13 months, and not long after that was toddling around the place, loving it.

We were there in all seasons, reveling in Jack’s play land.

Flash forward six years, add to the mix another child and a whole lotta’ sleep debt.

Jack and his little sister, Emily, adore the playground, but going to the playground is my least favorite activity.

First off, after working with and living amongst tiny humans, I have had just about enough of their loud noises, chaotic smells, and erratic movements.  I’m sorry; I sound like the Grinch, but I’m cooked.

The sheer hyper vigilance it takes to make sure my children are safe (meaning they are not getting kicked in the head as they walk past the swings or mowed down by the big kids on bikes) while simultaneously making sure other children are safe (meaning that my children are not hitting other children with sticks or plowing them down on the slide) is just crazy making.  CRAZY MAKING I TELL YOU!  There are a lot of people out there who let their kids lose on the playground and then don’t supervise them while they play on their phone .  I am not one of those people, although I probably would be happier about the playground if I were.

Next, there is the matter of chasing around my headstrong toddler while trying to maintain sight of my six year old who is usually cruising around on his bike.  But wait!  There is a flock of toddlers chasing him like an angry Simpsons mob, threatening to knock him off balance!  Why isn’t he wearing his helmet?  And where did he go now?  Is he behind those bushes, because if so, he needs to get out now!  Those bushes are where the gross moms let their kids pee in public instead of taking them to a toilet.  By the time I get him back in my line of sight, OMG, Emily is headed straight for the exit and I need to race over to get her.  I’m exhausted and we are only five minutes into this punishing activity.

There is also the issue of how much work the playground is.  We never leave without some sort of tantrum and the kids are always dirty.  It’s not that I mind dirt because of the germs.  It is more the effort involved in extra baths and more laundry.

Yes, I sound like a crap hole.  And yes, I realize bathing and laundry are part and parcel of being a mom.  Further, I realize you can’t just make kids sit still and be quiet all day.  They need to run and climb and be wild and get dirty.  Playgrounds bring out the best in kids, and the worst in me.

I like being and playing with my children, but the Lord-of-the-Flies chaos of the playground triggers every nervous cell in my body.  I’m being hyperbolic here; our playground is actually quite tame and full of nice families, but it feels threatening to me, which should give you some clue as to my temperament.

Some time back, I became aware when I took one or both of my kids to the playground it evoked nail-biting anxiety in me.  Part of this was my concern they were going to get snatched when my back was turned for a moment, or raped under the slides.  These irrational phobias are probably vicarious trauma from my job as a clinical social worker.

There is also the real trauma imprinted by adrenaline on my brain of the times I have physically dragged my kids and their bikes out of the playground because one or the other is in the throes of nastiness.  We don’t have far to walk, but ugh, I just hate that feeling.

The other part of my fear has to do with the worry that my kids will just get hurt.  And they do get hurt.  There have been countless scraped knees and bumped heads.  The first time Jack fell and scraped himself, I remember being so frightened someone would call the state on me because I had not been close enough to catch him before he fell, even though he is rarely out of my line of sight since he was born.

In addition to bumps and bruises, there are the psychic scrapes inflicted when peers belittle or refuse to play.  I’ll never forget the time, shortly after Emily’s birth, when Jack approached a group of kids, politely introduced himself and asked to play.  I watched proudly from the sidelines with Em strapped to me in the baby pack.  My pride turned to sadness as they ignored him and went off leaving my confused little boy alone.

This memory wounds me.  Jack was such a lost little soul after I had Emily, and in some ways still is.  I remember him taking that leap of faith asking to play, and being denied, and think that he might have felt the whole world had turned on him.

In truth, he doesn’t remember that moment, and neither did I until I started this post.  Sometimes that is how mindfulness works for me.  I dwell on something, trying to figure out why my feelings about it are so intense or burdensome, and then I get led in a direction I didn’t even know existed.

That’s kind of motherhood, right?  You go with the flow, with the tantrums, and unpleasant activities until you end up someplace new and maybe even fascinating.

Being mindful of my feelings about the playground has been important.  Mindfulness of my own anxieties- rational or not- helps keep me in check.  Because if I am not in check, my anxiety can spill over onto my kids and cause, ehem, trouble to get in our way.  Being aware also helps me talk myself down when I start to get hyper about the dirt or other children, which are really no big deal except in my neurotic brain.

Most importantly, when I realize I am worried about my children, it offers me an opportunity to remind myself that we are safe and all is well.

The playground will never be my favorite place, but I will continue to bring my kids there on a near daily basis, because it is important for them to get their ya-yas out.  It also offers me a place for some serious exercise of a different sort.

Wednesday Worries– A Bully In Our Midst

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My six year old is being bullied in his second week of school? Aw hell no!

Jack brought home a little sticky note from his teacher in his folder last night notifying us he spit at at a peer, and could we please talk to him. It requested that I sign and return the sticky note.

My first response was to get sick to my stomach. I had a brief urge to get drunk and jump off a bridge– but unless it was a very small bridge into a heated lazy river, I wasn’t really in the mood for that. As for getting drunk, being hung over with children scampering around is like my worst nightmare, so that was not an option either.

That left talking to my kid. 

Jack did NOT want to talk about it and when I brought it up screamed at me to shut up. This was the final straw. What had I done to bring this monster into my midst who apparently was engaging in primal behavior at school?! I was devastated and also discouraged at Jack’s lack of respect for me.

I admit it.  I catastrophized. 

Then the social worker in me remembered the signs and symptoms of bullying- changes in behavior, anger, crying, embarrassment, etc. When we finally got him calmed down (and I got myself calmed too), I laid down in bed with him and talked to him.

Because you have to talk to your kid about these things.  You can’t run away or jump off anything.  School teaches neither compassion nor self defense, so we are responsible for talking to and helping our children solve their problems.  We are their Obi Wan Kenobi, their only hope. 

It turns out there is a kid who Jack has been complaining about since the first day of school, on almost a daily basis. The kid pushed him in the library and has also said some mean things to him. This kid spit at him in the cafeteria and there was no teacher nearby for Jack to turn to, so he spit back. The kid then told on Jack before Jack could tell on him.

We explained to Jack that this behavior was totally unacceptable from that kid and from him. We explained that using our words and getting an adult to help is the best course of action. We hugged him and reassured him that we were on his side and that we would figure out how to fix these problems together.

This was his first time encountering a really mean kid. Of course he didn’t know what to do. And have you ever been spit at?  It has to be one of the most disgusting and shocking forms of aggression, in my humble opinion. 

I’m not excusing Jack’s behavior, but what the crap??!! This is his second week of first grade!! Why the eff are kids so freaking mean? I’m pissed as hell, which is maybe not the “right” response. Maybe if I called it the Mother Bear Instinct it would sound better. . .

I’m also really sad.  It wounds me to the core that my son has been hurt and confused by another child’s cruelty, and that he knew no other way than to respond in kind.  And I can’t help but wonder why that other child is so mean in the first place.  I do not want to believe that the world is a nasty place, but it truly challenges my faith in humanity to see my own baby in this space. 

Anger aside, I tried my very best to model tolerance and compassion for James, to not malign the other child involved, and to explain that we always do our best to be kind to others even if they are being mean to us.  My husband composed a letter expressing our concerns as well as our desire to work on preventing and addressing such occurances as a team in the future.  We Cc’d it to the principal. 

If I were to look on the bright side, and be ultra-mindful and strength’s based, I would have to say that this presented a good opportunity for us to discuss and model coping skills, compassion, and communication with Jack.  Unfortunately, bullies are going to be a part of any child’s experience at school, so it is also important to discuss how to handle those challenging situations. 

It also presented me with yet another opportunity to check myself and be mindful of my own feelings towards institutional education.  As a parent it is hard for me when I have really strong feelings about something, but have to put them aside and put on a bright and positive face for my children. 

While we hate to make a name for ourselves as the High Maintenance Parents, this is one issue on which we will not stay silent.  I am hoping and praying for a positive response from the teacher, and that the bullying will cease.  Until then, I will definitely be hugging my kid a little tighter and talking more about the power of love and compassion. 

Has your child ever been bullied?  If so, how did you respond?  Were you sucessful?  How did bullying affect your child, and how did you help support them? 

The following link will take you to the Mayo Clinic’s site where you can learn more about bullying and steps to handle bullying.  There may also be community groups in your state or area who can help you advocate for your child at the school level, if the school is not suitably responsive to your concerns about your child being bullied. 

I’m Sorry I Made You Become A Big Brother: A Letter To My Son

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Dear Jack,

We recently spent a day together, just you and me. I had forgotten what a great pal you are. We had so much fun exploring a museum of armor together, oohing and aahing over the displays of knights, swords, and shields.

Watching you make your own shield was a treat for me. You were so deliberate picking out all the emblems for your coat of arms, wanting to know what they all meant, and if they suited you. In the end, you picked a falcon, an arrow, a moon, and a star. I helped you cut and paste, but you designed the whole thing yourself.

We used to hang out like this all the time, during the four years of your life before your sister was born.  Being with you, just you, for a whole day made me remember that I miss those days.  Oh, I miss them sorely, son.

Bringing your sister into the family has changed things; this is a fact I cannot deny.

I see you struggle in your role as a big brother.  I want you to know I understand; I was a big sister myself and didn’t always like the responsibility of having to set a good example.  I see the awkward tension when people ask you in that chipper tone about being a big brother, how you try to be polite and say it’s okay, while you really resent the hell out of her.

You never asked for a little sister, or even showed any interest in babies.  Maybe I expected too much of you.

You have always been bright and verbal, and we have taken your intelligence for granted.  Many times, we forgot your tender age and were frustrated with your behavior.  I want you to know this was unfair of us, and I am sorry.

It was unrealistic for me to think I could simply bring Emily home and everything would be cool.  It was not right for me to think you would give up your cherished position as our only child without a fight.  I can’t imagine how estranged from me you must have felt, watching me struggle with nursing your sister, being too tired to play, and then going back to work and abandoning you anew.

Recalling the times I’ve told you to go play by yourself, act your age, or be quiet because the baby is napping break my heart.  It is also painful to think of the times I didn’t want you to hug me or sit on my lap because I was completely touched out and stretched so thin that even your fingers would snap me apart.

There is no way you could have possibly understood my burdens, but I should have understood yours.

Your sister is nearly two, and yet I am only just coming to grips with how difficult it has been for you, for all of us.

While I will never regret having your little sister, I do regret putting you in a position that has made you unhappy, anxious, and angry.  I miss the three-year-old cherub with whom I’d chat about pirates and seeds.  It grieves me to feel like I missed most of your fourth year on the planet because I was in such a haze of sleep-deprivation and stress.

There is a picture of the two of us on the fridge.  It was taken when you were three and I was newly pregnant with your sister.  Our faces are nuzzled together and we look completely content with one another.  I often forget how it feels to be at ease with you, but then a few hours alone together brings it all back to me.

My favorite moments of our outing might have been in the car when we were both quiet, silently occupying the same space in an almost meditative peace.  You like to be quiet in the car.  Just to be.  You are so much like me.

I doubt you will ever understand the psychic space you occupy in me.  I worry incessantly that I have somehow ruined your life by bringing this new beauty out of my body.  But I can’t put her back in, Jack, so we are going to have to make our peace and move steadily forward.

I worry we won’t find our equilibrium again, that you and I will drift apart from one another in the rocky terrain of mutual frustration.

I fear that you won’t trust or feel close with me again, as once you did, and that I will lose patience and hope.

You and your sister are my whole heart, the rhythm of my world, the loves of my life.  There is something about your sister which draws me to her in such a simple manner, and makes her easy for me to understand.  You seem more complex and mysterious to me, but you were and always will be my first baby love.  You and only you are the person who transformed me from maiden to mother.

It is my heart’s desire, dearest little son, that you will grow to love and even to like your sweet sister.  The age gap between you will grow smaller each year.  I hope that the two of you will come to depend on one another, share secrets, and lend supportive shoulders when needed.

Remember when we all went out for the day to the farm?  On the long drive home, I gave you a packet of Cheetos to share with Emily.  You handed her one at a time, and I relished the sound of both of you munching happily in the back seat.  I turned around to find you both covered in that orange, powdered cheese, content. This little moment of companionship between you and your sister warmed my heart, filled me with pride, and gave me hope.

We will get there, little sonny boy.  Until then, I will carry the hope for the both of us.

Love,

Mama.

Why Did I Get The Kid With Behavior Problems?

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20130727-155948.jpgAt six, our son, Jack, is highly intelligent and very strong-willed.  He is imaginative and goofy.  He has a beautiful vocabulary.  He loves cartoons, but will also sit through an entire Broadway musical and discuss it at length.

Jack is loving and can be kind to his baby sister.  He loves stories and is learning to read.  He assembles Lego kits meant for much older children with minimal assistance.  He enjoys being outdoors, does well in school, is angelic for his grandparents, and has great social skills with other children.

Like any social worker, I’ve started with my son’s strengths, because I love him and don’t want you to judge him (or me) too harshly by what I am going to say next.

Jack also has explosive, loud, and aggressive tantrums that last anywhere from five minutes to two hours several times a week.

If I put on my child and family therapist hat, I can tell you the cause or function of this behavior (stress, TV, lack of structure, anxiety, allergy medicine).  I can tell you we do our best to work around these factors and structure his routine.

I can tell you that we, his caregivers, should not take it personally, we should expect him to be good so he will live up to our expectations.  I can tell you tantrums eventually end, kids go through phases, and we should focus on the positive.

What I can’t tell you is how I ended up with a kid with behavioral challenges.  I can’t for the life of me tell you what Karma was thinking when she delivered ME with this emotional roller coaster of a child.  I was supposed to have this gig down. 

I had worked with children since I started babysitting at 12, then got my first job as a teacher assistant in a daycare at age 15.  I’ve always loved and felt comfortable around children. 

The idea of parenting was deceptively simple- love and feed them and they will grow and love you in return.  Tell them how to behave, guide them, give them structure, consistency and consequences, and they will eventually cooperate.

When we were new parents, we tried to do everything “by the book” with Jack, and he thwarted us at every turn.  We became flexible and creative in parenting this kid, but there are still times where my husband and I look at one another as if to say, “Where did we go wrong?”

I plague myself asking what I could have done differently or better. 

Jack goes through periods where he does really well.  He is relaxed and pleasant to be with.  But then he goes through other phases where his behavior casts a pall over our entire home. 

I shudder as I write that last line, knowing (with my clinical hat on) that a child should not wield that much power in the family.  One of my tasks is working really hard on keeping my cool and not taking his behavior personally. 

Don’t look at me like that.  You, with your mellow, easy kid who maybe whined once at bedtime.  You are in no position to judge until your child is throwing the TV remote at you or swinging his belt above his head simply because you said, “Bless you!” after he sneezed.

Or maybe you are a new mom, clutching your darling bundle to your chest as Jack calls me an idiot and tells me to “shut up” over and over again.  Maybe you are kissing your baby’s fuzzy, milky-smelling head and thinking, “Oh MY baby would NEVER do that.”

Yeah, I was once you too. . .

In grad school, I was a disciple of behavior theory.  I interned with children with autism, designing elaborate behavioral and learning programs and then implementing them in the home.  At that time, in my naive mind, that was the only way to work with children.  I remember feeling frustrated with a family because they did not agree this method would help their child.

While listening to me vent, my supervisor patiently pointed out, “It is really difficult coming to terms with the fact that the child you got was not the child of your dreams.”

Recalling this conversation, it strikes me that Karma may have had her eye on me since that moment.  Pride goeth, and all.

The baby boy I dreamed of was everything Jack is minus the tantrums.  The kid I dreamed of would write thank-you cards and clean his room without screaming at the top of his lungs.  The child I wanted took a deep breath and counted to ten before calling his mom names.  My dream-kid would never hit or throw things.

It strikes me that the traits I struggle with in my son are characteristics I struggle with in myself- inflexibility, anxiety, anger and frustration.  For the most part, I deal with my emotions in mature and responsible ways, but it has taken the better part of my lifetime to get here.

 Jack is six, so maybe I should give him a little more time to grow into his emotions and learn new strategies.  Maybe it will all be okay. 

Maybe I am projecting my own issues onto my kid, but at the end of the day, I still need him to be safe, calm, and respectful.  Am I asking too much?  Is this why my kid is an angry mess?  Or is he a normal boy who’s clinician mom is making pathological mountains out of developmental mole hills?

Being a social worker and a mom is exhausting and confusing.  At times I’m uncertain how to put Jack’s behavior into perspective.  I have intense fear that he will never learn to regulate his emotions and then turn to a life of risk-taking to self-soothe.  I feel like a fraud because at times I have no freaking clue how to get my child to behave.  Shouldn’t I of all people have a well-adjusted, happy, and respectful child?

I think about all the things I would advise a family to do in my situation and I’ve done most of them- incentive programs, time-outs, tons of love, deep breathing.  Part of me feels like none of these things work.  Another part of me just doesn’t want to take any more of my own advice because it is labor-intensive, complicated, and tiring.

Well played, Karma.  Well played.

How is parenting different than you dreamed?  What curve-balls has karma thrown you as a parent?  Does your child have any behaviors that confuse or concern you? 

Who the Hell am I?

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If I wrote half of the things I thought about my kid yesterday, you wouldn’t like me anymore.

You might wonder who the hell is this crazy lady, and where did the mindful author of I Have It All go?

Yesterday, moments after I wrote and posted about love mantras, my day took a dark turn.

I don’t mean to bitch about the heat, really I don’t.  But it has been making monsters out of me and my entire family.  Without air conditioning in the main parts of the house, it is really freaking hard to even move around in my 95 degree oven  house.  The sun and heat are so strong that I am nervous to even take the kids outside to play in the sprinkler or baby pool for fear of them getting overheated running around.

Also, I have an infection in my eye and had an allergic reaction to the medication I was given and I woke with a totally swollen, red, weeping eye that was crusted shut and still wouldn’t open all the way even after cold and warm compresses.

Not that any of this excuses my crappiness.  I’m just saying.

So, I wrote that glowing and exuberant post and then Jack started to escalate with his behavior.  Stupid stuff that just spiraled out of control to the point where he was kicking, screaming, and throwing things.  We put him into his air conditioned room to cool off and he continued to scream and throw things at the door.

Logically I know this is just a tantrum and it will end.  Rationally I know that he is just pissy from the heat and this is his way of showing us.  Cognitively I understand all of his bluster will eventually peter out and he will be back to his good old self.

But emotionally?

Emotionally the banging on his door makes my heart race and I want to cry.  The noise and aggression scare the shit out of me.  I feel like a total failure as a mom.  I feel like my kid hates me and does not respect me or any of my entirely reasonable demands.

My initial response is anger, frustration, and fear.  Then I kind of go numb.  It is like I dissociate and the happy, warm, loving mama gets locked up while irritable, chilly mama takes over.

Chilly mama hates her life.  She had a tendency to bitch non-stop about how small the apartment is, and how it is dubious we will ever get anywhere in life.  She goes on and on about the mess, the surplus of toys, and how she is going to throw everything away and cancel Christmas.  She snaps at everyone, even the baby.  She hates her car and resents the fact that she is the only person who knows how to walk a can to the recycle bin, or wipe up the pee around the toilet.

Sometimes she even wishes that she never got married or had kids. . .

Chilly mama is a huge, effin bee.

Before you go calling your publisher thinking you have a book deal telling my story as the next Sybil, put down the phone.  I do not have multiple personalities.

I’m a mom who is beyond stressed and so scared that she is not good enough, but I’m not psychotic.

Days like yesterday, I don’t feel any of the bounty and empathy that allow me to write posts about having everything I could ever dream of in life.

We had to go to my mom’s.  It was her birthday.  I was so caught up in my stress I could barely muster a smile.  When she took me aside to ask what was wrong, I told her that every ounce of my psychic space was taken up with Jack’s behavior and that I almost wished he had never been born.

Who the hell am I?  That is just such assholic, awful behavior towards everyone!  What kind of a mom would ever say such a thing about their child?

Am I a fraud?  I don’t know.

I hope not.  I mean, when I write those sally sunshine posts, I really feel and mean them.

But it is so easy for the balance to get tipped to the hopeless.  And here I am blogging about what a crappy mom, wife, and person I am really deep down, so that should count for something, right?

Warm mama came back a little while after dinner because, believe it or not she remembered the love mantras about which she was spouting off earlier.

I put some drops in my demonic-looking eye and went to bed in my air conditioned room pretty early.  Getting some sleep helped a bit, and I am feeling myself today.

This confession is written, I fear, at the risk of creating a mass exodus of my blog followers.  But I want to be real, and I think being mindful of my neurosis and foibles is the first step towards successful integration of both warm and chilly mamas.

I’m going to sit with it for a while.

If you are still around tomorrow, I will let you know what I come up with.

The Kid I Was Meant To Get, and Two Gifts

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I will start by saying that today wasn’t the worst day we have ever had.  But it was far from the best.

Last week I waxed poetic about my little boy’s graduation from kindergarten.  It was a week in Utopia. . .  and you know what happens to all Utopian societies.

As with any major transition in his life, Jack is going through the end of kindergarten and beginning of summer in balls-to-the-wall disruptive behavior mode.

On Mondays, I stay home with the kids.  Up until this week, Jack had spent six gorgeous hours of Monday in kindergarten.  Now, with school done, he is home with me and Emily all day.  I’m not going to lie; I was dreading it. I just knew the change was going to rock his socks and thereby cause us collateral damage.

If I were my own client, I would tell myself stay positive, expect the best of your kid so he doesn’t live up to your expectations for him to be naughty, remain in control, yadda, yadda, yadda.  If I were my own client, I would also tell myself to shut the hell up, because I know my kid.

To keep things cool and under control, I planned the day with structure– some fun activities mixed with meals, snacks, and a couple TV breaks.  The day was to end with birthday dinner for me at my mother’s house, a cool, air conditioned respite after a hot day.

It was hotter here today than I could have imagined.  99 degrees in the shade.  We don’t have central air, and our air conditioners were not in our bed rooms yet.  So it was really freaking hot.  For this reason, I planned a water feature for our day which proved to be my downfall.

But let’s start at the very beginning, at the children’s museum where it was cool, not too crowded and my children were wonderful.  Jack was charming, patient, and indulgent with Emily.  We came home, had lunch, and Emily went down for her nap.  Jack had a “rest” in front of the TV, allowing me to catch my breath.

Despite the heat, I was pleased everything was going well!  We hit our first speed bump of the day when Jack wanted to make freeze pops, but I couldn’t find the funnel.  When I told him that I was not going to make them right that moment, he became immediately triggered, slapped and then pinched me repeatedly.  I kept my shit together and let him know, very calmly, that he wouldn’t be going to birthday cake dinner at his grandparents’ house if he didn’t pull it together and go take some space.  That worked, and we got back on track.

When Em got up from her nap, we went outside to play in the kiddie pool.  I was not opposed to getting wet, but I was opposed to getting sprayed in the face by Jack’s water bottle.  When I asked him not to do it again, he promptly did it again.  I got with Em, and he followed after me, amping up the spraying to opening up the bottle and dumping it on me.  

I brought Em inside to change her and he followed, kicking my shins and dumping an entire bottle of water (which he had refilled since the first dumping) on me right where I stood, in front of the changing table.

“Are you kidding me?”  I snapped at him, grabbing the water bottle and tossing it up on the highest shelf in the kitchen.  He proceeded to pinch and kick and slap while I attempted to install a diaper on the now crying Emily.  

I called my mom and told her Jack could not be rewarded for this kind of behavior with family party dinner, thereby shooting myself in the foot.  What the eff was I going to cook for dinner in this effing heat?!

I took Emily into my bedroom and shut the door.  Jack banged on it.  I stood against it to keep him from coming in.  Despite the flood of adrenaline making my heart race and my head float, I kept my shit together.  I did not raise my voice.  I did not spank or threaten or freak out, much as I wanted to.

Instead, I got my histrionics out by calling my husband and telling him, “I’m going to call the cops on Jack.”

“I’ll be home in 20,” he said.  

I think he might have been home in 15.  I’ve never been so relieved to see him walk in the door.

By the time he got home, Jack realized he was in deep doo-doo and had gone into his room to “take space.”  This is a really positive thing, as last year, he would have still been in full throttle tantrum.   

Despite the full-body sweat I was rocking my husband held me as I cried, “I just want to be a happy family.”  He set to work putting in our air conditioners and went out to get some salads for dinner.  My hero. 

It is really hard for me to write this, to admit that I am such a miserable failure as a mom, to describe how dysregulated my kid gets, and how I am seemingly powerless to stop it.

It is humiliating.

It makes me feel fraudulent to think that tomorrow I start my work week trying to help people with their dysregulated children.  Who the crap am I to give advice to anyone?

I have a shred of pride knowing I handled this tantrum better than the last, and I will handle the next one better than I handled this one.  I am working crazy hard at staying mindful during these moments.

I get so triggered and panicked when Jack has a tantrum, especially after we have had a wonderful start to the day.  During his last big tantrum before today, which was really and truly awful, I did some really hard tuning in to my thoughts and urges to find out why I was taking his behavior so personally.  One of the internal thoughts I had, “How dare he ruin my perfect day?”

When I realized this thought was at the epicenter of my rage and crazy-mommy-head, I was able to look at the day and realize that his tantrum really only lasted 30 minutes, and why did I have to trash the other 23.5 hours of the “perfect” day for that one tantrum?

It also helps to realize Jack is evolving.  Although he still has tantrums and aggressions, they are not nearly as frequent or ferocious as when he was younger.  Tonight, Jack was remorseful and spent the remainder of the evening trying to be extra loving and calm. 

My  behavior affects Jack as well.  He is a strong-willed kid, prone to anxiety who gets easily triggered.  Something today about my telling him I didn’t want him to spray me in the face triggered him.  It is like he took it personally, fired off some behaviors, which I took personally, and there you have the symbiosis of our relationship.  I wonder how things would have gone if I had more of a sense of humor about getting sprayed in the face. . . 

I’ve worked really hard to keep my self-composure, because if he feels for one second that I am out of control, then it makes his spiral even worse.  

Mindfulness does not come easily or naturally for me during these times, but this is when it is most important.

I sit writing this out on my porch.  I think we are about to get a big thunder storm.  There is a lovely breeze, the wind chimes are lazily singing, and I can’t help but keep looking over at our fat patch of marigolds.  The saying, All’s well that ends well, comes to mind.

And now the two gifts: 

A while back I was talking with a friend about  my son.  She is an expert in child development and has ten times the grace and patience I could ever hope for.  I remember saying I don’t know why I became a mom because I have know clue how to parent this kid.  She smiled so kindly, and told me that I got Jack for a reason.  That he is the kid I was meant to get because I will figure out how to parent him.

When I whined about feeling like a total fraud coming to work after bumbling through one of his tantrums, she said.  “You are not a fraud.  What makes you good at this work is that you know first-hand how hard it is to be a mom.”  

Armed with those two gifts, I think I can hug my kid and go to work tomorrow with my head held high.