Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.

Any of my mama friends who come across this post will probably meet it with a rolling of the eyes. I just recently hashed out this very issue over the course of several days. Following my whining, their loving comments, my venting, their loving comments, I came to a realization…my little boy is growing up.

My son is 3.25 and over the last few weeks, we have been trialing a program at the YMCA that requires I sit outside while he participates inside. While 3 seems to be the magic age for this, it’s a first for us. All of the programs that we have ever attended have been together, so I was tentative at first but was willing to give it a try if he was. On the first day he joined without much urging, but came running out half way through in tears and has done so every time until last week when he flat out refused to go. He gave it a try–a real effort in my book–and while I won’t go into the ins and outs of why I agree with him I will say that I believe it is very telling of our current growing pain.

Over the last few weeks he’s kept closer, cuddled more and slept lighter. He’s cried when I didn’t expect it and has asked for me when he previously would not have. I was growing worried, filled with concern and frustration and considering “solutions” and “fixes”. And, then it dawned on me–he was in doubt. And so was I. I was doubting his ability to determine his own readiness. I was choosing for him and pushing, gently pushing but pushing nonetheless, when he wasn’t ready.

This new world with all of its “without mom possibilities” has only just recently begun computing in his little processor. And I have noticed that our Y experience, casual conversations about possible Jr. Kindergarten (Canada’s Pre-K) enrollment this fall and my own attempts at urging autonomous play at home have triggered a pulling in rather than a moving out and away. After watching a pee-wee karate demonstration in awe this past weekend, he quickly turned to me without provocation and refused to ever take a karate class (by himself)–then it was swimming class, a yoga class and music class. He has always been eager to jump into social situations–excited to connect with playmates for engagement and group fun. But it’s now clear that the idea of all of this without mom nearby is foreign and, therefore, scary leaving him feeling unsure and insecure. My perceptions of where he should be now that he’s 3 have been clouding my observation and honoring of where he is at developmentally. As a result, I have not been unconditionally offering him what he has been needing the most as he navigates this very unsteady new territory–more, not less, of me and time.

With the addition of a little sister, more responsibilities and expectations have been tucked into his pocket. He’s asked for some but others have been hashed out by us, perhaps, too prematurely. We expect that with a certain age, readiness for moving forward and stepping ahead magically appears. But as with all things readiness, too, comes best in its own time, in its own way, and at its own pace. As such, I have decided that my best and only role in all of this is not to fix or solve anything–nothing is broken–it’s simply to be mom. Therefore, beginning tomorrow, I’ll meet his caution with patience, his fear with reassurance, his tears with empathy and glimpses of bravery with encouragement and by doing so, hopefully, foster the courage to take the next step in his own time, in his own way, and at his own pace.

Magic Mama

My mom was magic.

She is magic.  But her dust sparkles the most in my childhood mind.  She did it all, and now that I am a mom to a toddler at the same age she was a mom to a toddler and a new born baby, it baffles my mind she even combed her hair.

But her hair was always combed.  In fact, she always looked beautiful — flaming red hair that sparkled when the sun hit it — a gregarious laugh that was never fake and always full — a smile that welcomed many a kid on our block into her arms.

My mom, the child whisperer

She was magic.  She is magic.  She is my mom.  And she taught me about being a mom.

She threw elaborate dog parties for all our dogs:  Shaggy, the Pekingese; Sam-I-Am, the runaway Irish setter;  Bear, the Collie –- the-great-big-fluffy-his-breath-stinks-so-much-drooled-so-bad-he-could-clear-a-room-when-he-farted-soft-cuddly-lovable-dog that was my mom’s favorite; and even Arthur Roo, the-curly-tight-permy-looking-poodle-that-jumped-all-over-you-if-you-just-as-much-as-looked-at-him-sideways.  He just was excitable.  That’s what my mother said.  Even jumping hyper freak dog got his own birthday party.

Then there was Penny.  Penny was a German Shepard my mom adored and who protected her from an attacker once.  Mom didn’t hesitate to get rid of Penny quicker than lightening when she started snapping and growling at us young kids.  Mom always put her needs last and us first.

She was magic.

Each dog had its own party, complete with party hats, party favors (biscuits, balls, and bones.)  What I remember the most was Mom right there in the middle of it — flaming red hair, giant open-hearted smile, and children surrounding her.  Her hands calm and her warmth radiant.  She responded with patience and humor.  She loved a party.  In fact, she wanted to own her own children’s party store, but did not pursue that because she wanted to be at home with us as much as possible.

You see, my mother could have had any job she wanted.  She was a genius by IQ and creativity and  had been an executive at the King Home in Evanston, Illinois, which was a retirement community for men as  there are many nowadays, Loomis Lakeside at Reed Landing is a full CCRC or takes new residents directly into Springfield MA nursing home care.

My mom at the King Home (Evanston, IL)

That is my foxy redheaded mom standing next to some very important people at the King Home in Evanston, Illinois.

Betty chose us.  She chose to be home.  This was her greatest work, for we were her miracles.  She had had over ten miscarriages.  We were her miracles. We were her gift; she was ours.

She was magic.

The dog parties would have all the trimmings – really, I’m totally serious.  My mom made the dog cake and let us help.  It was made of wet dog food with dry dog food to create a crust.  Party hats were given to dogs and children.  Candles were lit; birthday songs were sung.  Candles were blown out, and sometimes even the dogs barked out the candles.  Party hats were given to dogs and children.  Children were invited on invitations that read, “Sam-I-Am Turns Two.  Bring your dog.  Bring your sneakers.”

What party is complete without party games?  Betty had that all planned.   The ultimate party game was chase Sam-I-Am.  We lived close to a huge field and behind the field was a forested path where Mom often took gangs of children to pick wild berries.

With a magical tone, she’d ssshhh us all down from the towers of sugared excitement.  We’d all listen.  She was magic, after all.  She’d give the directions in clear, short sentences.  We all understood, as our eyes widened.

The point of the game was to let Sam-I-Am off his leash and catch him in the woods.  The winner would get a prize.  We were gone for hours.  On foot with our sneakers and curiosity leading the way, giggles and silly struts created a caravan, lead by Betty.  We were on an adventure.  It was magic.

She was magic.

Pow-Wow Party

That’s me at a Pow-Wow Mom had planned, complete with tribal dancing, a bonfire, a circle of sleeping bags, and Indian head dresses.  That’s Betty dazzling her magic charm, handling out drums and enthusiasm.

I remember my older sister’s Girl Scout unit went to a party at the Girl Scout Cabin around Halloween.  Mom had organized the best game ever – John Brown’s Body.  She went to the butcher to get bones and the super market to get spaghetti.  She peeled grapes for the eyes, and creatively and curiously narrated the spooky story of John Brown’s Body as we passed along intestines (cooked spaghetti), eyeballs (peeled grapes), and leg bones (beef bones from the butcher).  Every major organ was represented by something we could touch with our fingers under the blanket so our imaginations could run wild.

The story got all of us spooked out of our minds, but we were mesmerized;   It was magic.  Mom told the story, with the lights off and a flashlight choreographed just right to give it enough spook and enough game to make us giggle nervously.

She was magic.

I wet the bed that night.  I begged her to let me go upstairs with my older sister’s friends and the rest of the Girl Scout troop my mother led.  She snuggled me close and told me just what I needed to hear. “Meggie My, you are little.  You will be a Girl Scout soon enough.  Snuggle here darling.  Snuggle close.  I need someone to keep me company and I’d like it to be you.”

I soon forgot about wanting to be older, wiser, and more girly.  And Mom and I snuggled.  I was embarrassed that I wet the bed.  I woke her.  I whispered, “Mommy, I wet the bed.”  She whispered back, “We’ll take care of it.”  She was so patient.  We folded up the blue mat that lay on the wood floor of the big open first floor room in the cabin.  I followed her, tiptoeing in wet pajama bottoms and we went into the kitchen through the swinging door.  She made sure nobody would find out.

She made me an ice cream sundae after I changed.  I could hear the Girl Scouts up above giggling, telling secrets and stories, playing with their flashlights.  I got jealous I couldn’t be up in the loft with the other girls, knowing I was too little.  Knowing I was still a Brownie.

Mom and I had our own magic.  She washed me up, while singing me a song — probably one of her favorites from her childhood days of sleep-away camps and Girl Scouts.  It was probably the song she always sang us — our lovie song, which I sing to my son now.  It goes like this:

My mom with me on her lap

Who’s my Little Whose-It?

Who’s the one I love?

Who’s my little whose it?

Who’s the one I love?

The thing about that song was, after each line, I’d giggle, and jump into her arms saying, “Me.”  Then I’d shake my little feet back and dance in anticipation for the next line:

Who’s my little whose it?

Me!

Who’s the one I love?

Me!

She was magic; she still is.

Mom went with me to the local college up the street as a young teenager.   Somehow we’d just walk right into the gym and it would be empty and open.  I would take the basketball and dribble, dribble, dribble.  Then I’d practice my 3 point shot.  And I’d practice again and again.  She never got bored — that I noticed.  She had no phone to text or call anyone.  She just had me and she watched me — encouraged me.  Even after air ball after air ball.  But day after day, week after week, I started to get better.  Her great big smile would cheer me on.  She clapped, jumped, and cheered each time I made one fall through the net.  Then her magic became my own.  Ask anyone – I can seriously throw up a nothing-but-net-hear-that-electric-sound-of-the-swish-3-pointer- buzzer-beater.

Mom was The Picture Lady in elementary school.  She volunteered her time to talk to my class about art.  She’d walk into the class and that magic would light up the room.  She’d bring Picasso, Monet, Manet, Warhol, and ones we never heard of, encased is shiny glass frames she would check out from the local library.  She’d talk to us like we were brilliant, like we understood, because we did.  She’d check out a new painting each week and she’d tell the entire class about the artist and the painting.  But then she always turned it to us.  She’d ask us what we thought and like elementary children are famous for — we all chitter chattered how it made us feel, think, and see.

She was magic.

Attachment

I remember sitting in the group, hands folded on my lap. Quiet.  Questioning.   My own wheels turning in my young mind.  I loved art.  But I loved that The Picture Lady was my mom.  I watched how they reacted to her; the children danced in her presence.  She celebrated with them and ignited something that seemed to already be blazing.  That was my mom, she was magic and her flame warmed me.

We cuddled on Sundays when Dad was at work.  My sister on one side, me on the other.  She’d say, “That is why I have two arms – one for each of you.”  We’d watch Family Classics with Frasier Thomas on WGN.  And Mom always cried when it counted — when Scarlett O’Hara clutched dirt deep in her hands, and called out, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again.”  And when Judy Garland sang out, “Clang clang clang goes the trolley, clang clang goes the band…” in Meet Me in St. Louis. Mom would sing.

She was magic.

Mom was a genius and could have had any job she wanted.  But she chose to stay home and work part-time as an accountant at the gas station close to our house.  Literally, it was just a quick run outside and through a secret tree lined passage and up into her office we’d go, in the midst of a kid squabble my father had no idea how to handle.

Mom was magic.

She’d explain it to us, Betty style – honest and direct, with her Cajun seasoning of magic.  We’d shake hands or hug and off we’d go back to playing.

My mother taught me how to play.  She taught me how to love and she taught me I have my own magic.  And that there’s plenty to share.

She celebrated life.

She celebrated me.

She celebrated my sister.

She celebrated life.

She was magic.

And she taught me everything I know about the beauty of motherhood.

She is magic.

* My mother has been battling non-cancerous brain tumors for twelve years.  She was diagnosed in 2000.  Her condition has declined slowly and gradually.  She has one brain tumor on her brain stem and one in her cerebellum.  The magic is still there.  Ask anyone.  They all know Betty; nobody forgets her.  She is magic, after all.  Here is a link to a photo I have submitted to a creative invite from the Moxie Institute on Talenthouse.com.  If selected, it will be featured in Tiffany Shlain’s documentary film called Brain Power.  The movie will be viewed by non-profits.  You can vote for the photo through your facebook or twitter account.

What I have come to accept is, no matter what happens, has happened, will happen — she will never lose that magic.

Nighttime Parenting Isn’t Always Pretty

My first had always been a good sleeper. We co-slept through about 18 months or so, and when we moved, Little Man jumped right into his big-boy bed and that’s where he wanted to sleep.

After I had my second child, we went through a phase where Little Man would wander into my bed in the middle of the night. Which was fine for a while. Hey, if he needed some extra security or mommy time or whatever it was, I was happy to oblige. After all, he was adapting to a pretty big change.

After a few months, he would wander into the bedroom in the middle of the night, where the other 3 of us were sleeping, and start asking for trains. Or cookies. Or to go to Zia’s (his aunt’s) house. And when we would say no, a full-throttle tantrum ensued. So, the 3 of us would have to wake fully, get Little Man settled, then try to settle ourselves and the baby to sleep.

He did this every night for about a month. It had gone on long enough that we were all becoming tired, cranky zombies.

I have no problem waking with him for nightmares, for monsters in the closet, or if he’s not feeling well. But to burst in at 2:00 a.m. every night, getting everyone all fired up? It affected everyone, every day. And I didn’t want to start feeling resentful.

Okay, I was already feeling a little resentful.

At a loss, I did something about it. One night, when he came into our room, he made his usual request for something he could be sure we would shoot down. As soon he showed the first signs of tantrum, I picked him up and put him in his bed. I told him he could come back in and talk to us or sleep with us if he could do it quietly, without waking the baby.

Of course, this made him wail. When he came back in, I took him back to his bed, and repeated what I had just said. By the third time, I had almost given up. I felt like I was doing a form of cry-it-out for almost-three-year-olds. But because I was inviting him into our bed and the alternative (sleepy, crabby family) wasn’t good for anyone, I decided to stick to my guns this time.

After one more round, he started to calm down. I asked him, “can you come into the big bed quietly?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

I tucked us all in.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Get trains,” he said.

“No, it’s dark down there and we won’t be able to see them.”

“Okay.” He rolled over and went to sleep.

That was the first and last time I had to do anything like that at night. Now, when he wanders in, he sneaks in quietly and nobody knows until morning. We can all wake refreshed and happy. He has his nighttime security, we have our rest.

Still, as with every parenting move I make, I can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing.

Quiet is Okay

Early on, I remember being in new groups and being shooed away to “go play with the kids.” I have memories of not really wanting to play with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, but they would look like they were having fun. So I’d force myself, thinking that I might end up having fun too.

From age 8 to 17, I was the first one on and the last one off the school bus. I’d board close to 6:00 a.m., groggy and not quite warmed up for exciting conversation. I wanted to stare out the window and get lost in my own thoughts. Problem was, social convention dictated that one should spend the entire time socializing. Topics of conversation were usually less than profound – gossip, TV shows the night before, mocking teachers’ unusual quirks – none of which interested me in the least.

But again, I forced myself to participate. This time, it was to avoid being labeled as weird, uncool, or whatever I was avoiding. But I think I knew by then that I wouldn’t be having as much fun as the other passengers.

Beyond age 13 or so, I stopped caring about being cool or popular. I remember thinking that once I entered high school, I could just be the quiet, thoughtful one and it would be okay. If I would have been most content parking myself on a bench with a stack of books, I could do that, right?

Wrong. Instead, I discovered that I was being labeled a new thing – snobby. And that was not okay with me. It wasn’t that I was standing around thinking I was better than everyone, or anyone for that matter. It was more that I wasn’t a giggler, a rumormonger, or a hot new TV series watcher, so I didn’t have much to contribute to most conversations in my circles.

To this day, I loathe small talk. There’s no bigger waste of hot air, in my opinion. Asking questions to learn about a new person is one thing – there’s purpose behind that. But meaningless chit-chat about the weather and whatever sports thing just happened? Torture. But through almost 3 decades of forcing myself to engage in the mundane jibber jabber, I’m as good at it as the next guy. I can even fake being social and chatty. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you need to bust it out, and I can.

Most people open up once they’re comfortable with someone. I appear to be doing the opposite. I’ll say less and listen more. It looks like I’m withdrawing, but it really means I’m comfortable enough to show you me, quiet and all. I’m lucky that my nearest and dearest get it and accept it, even embrace this about me. Only one person I’ve come across in adulthood has expressed discomfort with my silence, but she has her own issues that I couldn’t even begin to help her with, so I’ve got to just shrug it off.

But enough about me. What does this have to do with parenting?

Remembering my own childhood and observing other parents I’m around now, I think kids get undue pressure to be socially “normal,” whatever the heck that means. If a child would rather go off on his own to take apart his toys instead of joining group games, we start throwing around words like withdrawn and we suspect they might need autism testing. Couldn’t he just be a curious tinkerer? Or the girl who would rather hang out at the library than splash at the pool with her friends – what difference does her choice of activity make?

There’s enough pressure for kids to conform to social and societal pressures without parents adding to it. I want my children to know that Mom and Dad would never want them to pretend to be something they’re not. I hope the freedom to be themselves can start in the home, and that they feel free to be themselves in whatever circles they choose. Judgments, criticisms and all.

Maintaining Attachment Parenting As They Grow & Become Big Siblings…

My 20-month-old daughter is very easy to parent. Okay, well, that’s not entirely true. She’s aptly-nicknamed “Aurora the Destroyer” for her desire to explore and investigate, and her physical and mental abilities to not only climb to higher places, but figure out how to position things to climb to even higher places. But her needs, those are still simple. In her universe, most problems are still limited to being hungry, tired, dry, or bored, and most solutions are limited to food, a diaper or a breast.

My son Rowan, on the other hand, will be 7 in April, and he’s the one I struggle with. As a toddler, he was less physically draining but much more emotional than his sister, and that’s carried on into childhood. To compound things, he is in first grade with a less-than-emotionally respectful teacher, he’s a big brother, and I work from home as well. And of course, with age comes much more complex problems, and naturally, more complex solutions. With his emotional tendencies also comes some emotional outbursts — from him and me.

Being an Attachment Parent to babies and toddlers is very simple, and logically, you’re setting the groundwork then for childhood and adolescence, but maintaining the same relationship gets tougher and tougher. As we know, you can never be perfect at parenting — as your child always grows and changes, your parenting does as well. With a toddler, a job, and an upcoming move, I often feel like my changes as a parent, my growth alongside his has fallen behind, and we’re butting heads and struggling more with maintaining positive discipline and respect, both towards him and from him.

However, every time I start thinking, “What have I done wrong? Did I break our relationship?” I also stop and think, “What am I DOING wrong?” Then, the basics become clear again. Regardless of age, some things still stand true:

1. You have to stop and listen to their needs. The more distanced you are from them, the more complicated figuring them out will be. Also, the bigger they are, the more aware they are of whether or not you’re really listening and caring. Sometimes you’re going to need to have someone remove the little sibling from the room or wait for a nap so your child can really know all the attention is on them, and only them. But of course, as long as you follow through, nothing is wrong with letting your child know you need to wait until ___ time, and then you’ll sit down and talk.

2. You have to accept that you aren’t always going to be perfect… and neither are they. Sometimes you’re going to suck. Sometimes you will be really distracted, concentrating hard on something, and will say something in a less-than-ideal manner… and chances are, your kid will respond in kind. A very important lesson for you to learn is that there’s no erasing mistakes, but there’s learning from them. In fact, almost as important as what you do the first time is how you handle things when you’re patching them up.

3. Remember the behavior is only a symptom. Just like with infants, you still need to remember that they did whatever they did, or didn’t do, for a reason, and that’s what you need to figure out. Getting down at their level, with a sympathetic face and tone, is very important, but so is respecting when they’re not ready to talk. Nothing irritated me more as a child than trying to walk away so I could calm down and being followed, which leads me to…

4. Respect their autonomy. Allowing children to have a space that’s theirs, and letting them have it as somewhere they can request to be alone is invaluable. If you’ve been respectful and open and available with your child, they’ll start becoming independent all on their own, and with that comes the request for certain autonomy, like being able to have a space of their own that a sibling can’t destroy. If Rowan is annoyed with Aurora, he knows his room is a place he can do things without her interference.

5. Try to make as much time just for them. This one is particularly difficult in my household as childcare isn’t readily available or desirable for us, but even just playing a game with my son while she’s napping or nursing can make all the difference.

Overall, the general mantra is: Be patient, be present and be respectful. Life can really start making things difficult, but the longer you let the distance grow, the worse things will get. Taking the time, even when you feel you don’t have it, so close that gap again is so, so important.

What do you feel is most important when dealing with older children?

Mamas Need White Space

One of my favorite non-mom blogs is Zen Habits. This week he posted about making space in your life using the design principle of creating white space.

Creating white space around the important things and getting rid of clutter lets you focus on what’s important.

I loved the post so much that I immediately began moving things out of my home or into better spots. I’m somewhat of a hoarder and I often pile things up in and around my home instead of finding a good spot for it right away. I also live in a tiny little apartment with a 2-year-old. Nuff said.

So this post was so perfect for me. It clarified for me just why creating space is important. Not just so your house will look clean for when you have company over. But so your mind can concentrate in an orderly space. Interior is affected by exterior.

Then I imagined what parenting would be like if I used the white space principle on my parenting. Lose arbitrary rules. Focus on what’s important, a connection with my child. That’s what really needs to pop out at me.

Using white space creates:

* greater legibility
* feeling of luxury
* breathing room & balance
* more emphasis

Wouldn’t it be nice if we felt those things surrounding our relationship with our children?
Continue reading “Mamas Need White Space”

Making Unique Rules for Unique Children

I spent the last nine days worrying and praying for my 19-year-old niece who was hospitalized again for a problem stemming from her kidney disease, despite taking early precaution and being on chanca piedra stone-breaking pills. Her strength and stamina are inspiring, her tears are gut-wrenching and her journey is still an uphill climb. One realization for all of us this week is that she can never live by the same rules enjoyed by her peers. While most collegians survive on pizza and experiment with alcohol, my niece can get sick from too little sleep and too much stress. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate balance of keeping her body healthy. She must adhere to very different rules and regulations. Continue reading “Making Unique Rules for Unique Children”

Motherhood’s Magic Mirror

It starts off simply enough. I smile, you smile. Then it gets more complicated.

My daughters had a hard time using the word “please.” I noticed this several years ago, when I was constantly correcting their demands, making them insert the word before I would honor their request. They always said, “Thank you,” just not the “p” word. I remember the moment when I discovered why this phenomenon was occurring and needless to say, it was a head-slapping revelation. I asked my child (about age 4) to do something and she looked at me while asking, “please?” She was correcting my rudeness.

So, I listened in on all my conversations that day. Do I ever use the word? I frequently use the words “thanks” and, “I’m sorry.” I say “you’re welcome” and I always say “I love you” at least twice a day per family member. Somehow I had gotten into the habit of issuing orders without the basic nicety of “please.” It didn’t matter that I was telling my children to always use this word, they were simply mirroring my own behavior. It was so basic. So many trite sayings have formed out of this one constant of human development. Monkey see, monkey do. Do as I say, not as I do. But there it was staring me in the face without me really seeing it.

There are many times in raising children when you need to stop, examine your world through your child’s eyes and ears, and really think about what they are learning from you. Are you telling them not to hit, but spanking them as a form of punishment? Do you raise your voice when angry, but reprimand your child for yelling? (This is one of my uglier problems that I’m still working on.) Do you wish they would interact more with other children, but spend all your time with them instead of making strong connections with other adults?

It’s not easy realizing that your children are so much like you, yet so different. You assume they will only pick up your strengths and excel at the areas you have mastered. In addition to picking up your bad habits, magnifying them and mirroring them back to you like a carnival fun house; children also pick up on your energy. They know when you are tense, sad, angry with your spouse or worried about life. They know instantly when you don’t like someone. Unfortunately, children assume that they are the cause of your negative emotions, not an outside influence. My oldest daughter has the eerie habit of plucking thoughts right out of my head. It happens so often now that I’ve come to accept her ability as yet another reason to focus my thoughts and energy into positive messages.

MOM DARE: Spend this week listening in on your conversations, really hearing yourself the way your child does. Are they imitating you? Can you see how one of their troublesome behaviors could be related to something you have inadvertently taught them? Are you stressed about something and your child is picking up on your anxiety? Try spending a little more time this week reassuring your children that they are doing a good job, that you love them, and that life is truly beautiful. Please.

Sharron Wright is the work-at-home mother of three girls, ages 2, 5 and 8. Her mission is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children. She blogs at http://momswithgrace.wordpress.com and helps new moms at www.babylovecarebook.com

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