Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reasons My Two Year Old Is Sobbing Today

Reasons My Two Year Old Is Sobbing Today:
  • I asked him to stop pressing both feet into the soft tissue of my abdomen while snuggling this morning in bed.
  • I asked him to pick up the yogurt-laden fork he flung across the room.
  • He didn't want to nap.
  • Brother got the blue cup.
  • He doesn't want to wear an overnight diaper.
  • I included the family dog in my made-up lullaby at bedtime.

Wow, it's a trying time and I'm paying close attention to my reactions. I notice when I am tired or rushed, I have a hair-trigger response to defiance. Adding adult anger to a toddler meltdown never ends well, you probably know.

Little cherub looking onward towards the heavens - ha!
When I take care of my own physical needs (especially sleep, but also staying ahead of hunger and thirst), and when I can keep our schedule slow and spacious, my reaction is very different.

With the snuggling in bed incident, I was able to just be present to his experience. I was enjoying the closeness, just not the pressure in my ribs. I hadn't shamed him in asking him to stop, I was simply expressing my bodily boundary. His tears were his own and I didn't feel compelled to make them stop or figure out a solution. It made me wonder how many of his meltdowns would melt away if I can just get to that place of feeling centered and gently curious toward his experience (versus anger, impatience, a desire to maintain my authority, teach a lesson, etc). What's the definition of mindfulness, again?: Awareness without judgement. That sounds so simple, doesn't it?

I know it would be cute to include a photo of Ez in an anguished-face tantrum but, you know?, I find that really disrespectful. I would be so pissed if someone took a photo of me in my angry meltdown face! Besides, it really does help me to visualize E as this sweet, small child bathed in light, needing my protection and guidance.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Family Milestone

An impromptu canoe rental was a highlight for the kidlets
I've been talking lots about milestones lately here, mostly of the 5 year old variety. This past week we reached a family milestone with our longest camping trip ever, 3 nights in the Pisgah Mountains near Boone, NC. It's still wicked hot here in Durham but we lost about 10 degrees with the increase in elevation, so it was perfect camping weather. Apparently, hundreds of other people shared our thinking, and the Julian Price campground was completely full while we were there. Ah, nothing like enjoying "seclusion" and "wilderness" with 200 other families sleeping near enough that I could hear snoring from someone else's tent. Perhaps our next milestone will be hike-in camping!?

A friend describes traveling with children as "travel" and not to be confused with "vacation." I find a lot of truth in this distinction, as the rigors of parenting are intensified in many ways for  me on these trips. There were, in fact, many highly unpleasant moments I can recall: Ezra screaming about whether the visor above my seat in the car should be opened or closed and at what angle, shushing the boys each morning as they began the day with wrestling and loud conversations at dawn, heavy Labor Day traffic, missed connections with friends due to no cell phone service, a broken AC on the hot car ride home, etc. Constant together time together for 72 hours created a lot of friction points for our family.

The gestalt of our trip, however, was highly positive and the kids reported loving our time together. We walked in the woods, checked out the Linville Caverns (do you know the difference between a "cavern" and a "cave?" I do!),  waded in cool mountain streams and threw many a rock in Price Lake. We slept in our cozy den of a new champion tent, which stood guard against a tremendous rainstorm on Night #2. I got over my disdain for S'mores by supplying good quality dark chocolate instead of that Hershey's schlock (though I later perfected the S'mores concept in my toaster oven at home). For me, the goals of travel are to experience something new or inspiring and to step away from the daily rhythms and routines of home.  Even though I didn't get to sleep in or lounge on high thread sheets or eat delicious meals not cooked by me in high quality restaurants with great ambience, our trip met these goals. Adjusting my expectations goes a long way in cultivating contentment.

What have been your most positive experiences traveling with children?

Hammock play starts off fun....

...and gets a little dicey. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Obligatory First Day of Kindergarten Post

He looks kind of scared, doesn't he?
Noah started kindergarten this morning, along with many other 5 year olds all over the land, judging from the pics and chatter on social media. There was no question that he is ready for a little more "action" in his days - he's been acting out and starting trouble seemingly out of boredom and/or maybe for the instant reaction he gets from family members.

I thought I would feel a bigger sense of nostalgia and sadness this morning and I did wake up nervous for him, mostly because his first teacher is a 3-week interim teacher, until the permanent teacher is hired! Uggh, that's not what I hoped for…

After all, it is truly the end of his babyhood, but ya know?-it's been over for a while now. The summer was full of milestones and his return from 2 happy weeks in the mountains of Utah with just his Papa was only the latest sign of growing independence.

good luck croc and "kissing hand"
He expressed begin "scared" each time we discussed the new school. We acknowledged that it was scary to make a big transition and that he'd probably make friends and learn a lot. With his two grandmas, we had an indoor "picnic" celebration on the carpet in the living room (weather looked stormy) this weekend. Each person offered him a wish or a memento for his new school experience, so that he'd feel circled in our love and support in these early days.

He requested his blue blankie this morning but seemed to know even while asking that it wasn't an
option. He had his Grandmothers' good luck croc and felt "kissing hand" in his bag instead when he and Papa took off on their bikes for the maiden voyage. There were some tears but nothing too intense.

I can't wait to hear all about his first day!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Slow

Kamping with kousins!
 Our summer so far has been low-key and relaxed: swim lessons and 3 mornings/week of preschool camp for Noah, trips to the park, wading in the Eno River... It leaves LOTS of unstructured time at home, which I used to dread but now see in new light. Free time is a beautiful and necessary backdrop for deeply fulfilling creative play. I see how being engaged together in mutual projects and imaginative worlds deepens the relationships between the boys and their playmates in a really special way. It's different from more structured outings or games because they do it themselves, only asking me occasionally for help and, more frequently, permission to do the messy, slightly risky activity their hearts' desire (to pile every furniture cushion in the house next to the 3-step ladder and leap, get out the art supplies from the high shelf and use every staple in the box, zip up the princess dress, and so on). I'm not exactly resting on the couch with bon-bons during these afternoons, because there are frequent injuries and hurt feelings to soothe, hungry bellies requiring snacks and eventually, the dreaded clean-up period where I seek to return my home to a semblance or order.

We'll miss you, Sahara
I meant to sign Noah up for weekly music lessons this summer but every time I thought about scheduling it and following through with daily piano practice, I realized I didn't want to add even the minor stress of it into our days. Kid commitments equate to stress for me, both positive and negative stress. I'm learning to say No more than Yes to activities that may well be enjoyable but come at a cost to the family's free-flowing time.

The next month is a big one for our family and it will soon be the end of our lazy summer: a beloved neighbor girl (and near-constant summer companion) moves away, Matthew and Noah are headed to Utah to build a friend's mountain cabin, leaving Ezra and me at home for almost 2 weeks. Noah begins kindergarten at the end of August (talk about a major interruption to unstructured play..sigh. I teared up a little while entering the relevant dates for school into my Fall calendar, realizing how shackled we would now be to the Durham Public School calendar). My task is to remember the beauty of "summer slow"even as the days shorten and our schedules solidify with more daily structure.

Guess who passed the "yellow band" swim test?

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Raising (Mostly) Peaceful Sons

Noah comforting Ezra on the playground after a scare.
Photo by Betsey Ferney
My friend Miriam wrote a blog post recently about the efforts she and her mate are taking to protect their now-young daughters from future sexual violence perpetuated by males. She expressed concern that some parents of boys do not appear to feel any similar responsibility to teach their boys to prevent violence against females.

It's a thought-provoking observation and well-timed for me as as my older son shows more and more interest in Star Wars, gun battles, war play, etc, all of which feels violent to me on some level.  It's uncomfortable for me, honestly, and I especially hate when the 2 year old points his stick in mimicry and says, "Bang, bang, I shoot you." Never mind that we do not watch television depicting such material (not even in cartoon form), we do not purchase toy guns or encourage play fighting by participating. Hubs and I met at a Quaker college, for crying out loud!

Yet, my instinct is to approach the play lightly and not forbid it outright. I express my view in simple form ("Guns kill people and I don't enjoy playing gun games"), require that he stop when anyone declines to play, and give factual information about guns - the ways they are useful and the ways they harm, both. For instance, we bond by reading the Little House on the Prairie books, in which Pa uses his hunting rifle on a daily basis for killing animals to eat and for self-protection. I also shared with Noah about a neighbor child who recently accidentally shot his brother to death. He showed interest and concern, but it didn't dampen his gun play.

I mean, I've seen him fashion weapons from found objects of all variety, and it is creative play of sorts (not enactment of televised or actual violence that he's seen), so there's that. I simply don't believe a 5 year old's curiosity about war play means they are destined to be a sniper. Most action games kind of require an enemy, right, even if it's just Team A vs Team B?

You can probably tell that I'm not totally at ease with the matter, to tell the truth.

Here's what we do do to promote peacefulness in our boys:

We teach respect for their bodies, by not insisting on affection when it's not freely given, ending tickling when requested, seeking permission to pick them up or cut their hair or nails, using discipline methods that don't involve physical harm, encouraging and supporting conflict resolution through conversation, treating them like valuable human beings with ideas worth hearing...

We give them permission to be emotional creatures and other experiences long-associated with femininity: that it's ok and even good to cry, that tears deserve compassion, not scorn.

We reject silly and rigid gender norms: boys can like any colors and wear sparkles, enjoy dress-up, dolls and babies, and playing with kids of all genders.

It's not the time to talk with our children about sexual violence and cultural misogyny but we are laying the groundwork for those conversations. I am interested to hear from other parents exploring what it means to raise non-violent boys.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I'm in a state of contraction. No-not those kinds of contractions (we are done with baby making after all). Rather, I'm in an energetic state of drawing inward, letting go of the extraneous and strenuous. One symptom of this phase is I've not had a lot to say in the semi-public sphere of this blog. It can be a challenge to discuss the real and deep when it involves others whose privacy I need to preserve. It's a lot easier to just post cute pics of my adorable children*!

I can say there are some big transitions coming up this summer - I'll be seeing my oldest off to kindergarten in August, with the plan to increase my work hours at that time. With these changes, I'm feeling a shift in identity. I see an end to the "Stay At Home Mom" way of life (the open ended schedule, leisurely morning playdates with other Moms and kids, planning kiddy enrichment like a "job" of sorts). A parenting group I've been involved with since moving to Durham is slowly dissolving, with less and less energy and leadership over time. I'm saying goodbye to another friend leaving Durham (the 4th friend this year, but who's keeping count?) and yet another will be away for much of the summer. 

I don't have any great leads for new friendships right now (although my amazing Mom is moving here this month, so there's that) and I expect the shift to kindergarten and more work hours will challenge even the ones that remain. The activities that have energized me before are no longer energizing me today and rather than resist that process, I'm willingly letting go in faith that ultimately, this process is a positive and necessary trajectory.

I suspect that this simplification is making room for other relationships and projects, or perhaps it's an opportunity to deepen the few instead of maintain the many.  I have some other interests I've put on the back burner for a while now -  herbalism and natural healing, regular participation in a meditation or spiritual group, challenging myself in wilderness settings...

I hope you'll join me on the journey!

*Here are some highlights of Spring in my part of the world...

Honeysuckle, or what paradise must smell like

35 lbs of strawberries picked, 2 lbs consumed in the process!

My gorgeous boys

Monday, April 21, 2014

Things Fall Apart, Indeed They Do (And Life Goes On Anyway)

This past week has seen a long list of things breaking down, going lost, and falling apart:

-my phone fell out of my pocket on a bike ride 2 weeks ago, never to be seen again

-the home computer broke a day or two later

-sister's borrowed mini-van, the only way I had to safely transport 3 kids this week, died

-camping trip cancelled due to rain

-even the wheels on my beloved stroller/bike trailer sheared in half at a critical joint when Matthew hit a rough patch of pavement

What are you telling me, universe???

It's been discombobulating, especially since the last week was so-called "Spring Break" (I no longer associate the words "Spring Break" with anything fun or relaxing - basically, I did without the 17 hours per week of paid childcare that keeps me feeling centered and sane, so someone got a break but it wasn't me). We also had my nephew here as well, and were caring for a neighbor-friend's chickens and cats.

If I had to identify the most helpful coping tools in my little toolkit this week they would be 1.) improvisation and 2.) simplification.

I had great plans for the week, dangit! I wanted to take the kids on some semi-ambitious excursions we are unable to make when preschool is in session. When the broken-down mini-van limited us to places we could reach on foot (or scooter/bikes), we made our fun with visits to the neighborhood park,  feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs (and enjoying new scooter tricks down our friends' long driveway into a dead-end road). I learn it again and again - young kids do not need elaborate excursions and mounds of structured, paid activities to have fun and enjoy life. The park 5 minutes away is almost as much fun as the cool wooden one with turrets and tunnels 20 minutes away (I, however, seek a little more novelty and diversity in our daily activities).

My smartphone represents many ways to connect with the world beyond its use as a telephone, and losing it meant I felt isolated and constrained. Meeting up with friends at a crowded museum became a lot more challenging with no way to announce my arrival. Sharing daily moments of frustration or delight by text message is a huge part of how I stay in tune with family and friends. Figuring out directions to a new place was impossible since I no longer possess any paper maps. Hubby has an old i-pod that proved usable in places where there was wi-fi but it meant I was sometimes sending messages under his name, receiving texts from his customers or bandmates (and some quite funny ones from a friend seeking tips on vasectomy procedures! Hilariously, i-phone autocorrects "scrotum" to "scoutmaster." I think everyone should know this.)…

Now things are back to boring, old blissful normal - ahhhh.