Saturday, March 22, 2014

Parenting And Sickness

First day of Spring and we're peeking our heads out from under the bedcovers of an intense spell of illness. Chirp, chirp, the flowering pear tree in the front yard is abustin' with blooms, all is reborn!

All four of us had something, with Noah's something lasting for four solid days and nights, and ending in antibiotics for an ear infection. Gulp. I sure do bemoan the overuse of antibiotics, until they work their magic and my hurting, moaning boy is returned to his usual meth-addict level of energy after a single dose. For a long day and night, collectively, there were fevers, there was puking, there was water-butt (I can never spell the more technical term that starts with a "D"), ear aching and general "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (for my Bible reading friends).

Some reflections on parenting through illness:

Being laid out flat on your back has advantages over being only mildly ill and carrying on with ordinary life. Truly succumbing forces rest and focuses the healing more sharply than when I try to soldier on. It also requires I cut all the extraneous parts of life until the sickness releases its grip: school, work, fun, other plans...we were at home and with one another and that was it. I missed a couple days of news, which is really rare. You know that feeling you have upon returning from vacation? Suddenly you see your life with new eyes. Being so ill was like a departure from everyday life, like a really shitty vacation.

I recognize it is a blessing for both Hubs and me to be able to stay home from work when family demands require it. If I had to care for the kids in my sick state, it would have been traumatic for all of us.

Going into the illness, I'd been feeling deathly bored of my small life with these children, their messes, the intensity of their needs, you know - lucky first world mom laments. See here for examples.

When Noah first became unwell, I felt annoyed by his bellows to, "Come lay with me. Tickle my arm. Read to me. Bring me a drink." If you have kids, you know that this is the lighter stage of illness, when they still have enough energy to be grumpy. I would sit and watch "Cat in the Hat" with him for the requisite 15 minutes at a time, but  would find reason to escape - to get dinner going, brother needs a diaper change, Mama can't handle one second more of this overly-loud cartoon....

After I felt so sick I couldn't be vertical for more than 3 minutes, I had so much more empathy for my little one. I knew exactly why he wanted me to sit near and distract his pain sensors with tickles and murmurs, to doze in my arms and wake with me near, just waiting to offer cold water and a rub. And I was the only one who could do that for him. I was the Mama. I got myself into feeling mode and it felt really good to be there for him, to help him feel deeply cared for during his illness. I hope that's what he remembers about being sick when he was a kid.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Abby and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

What's the opposite of flow? By "flow," I mean that psychological term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe periods of intensely positive, forward-moving energy, when your mind is focused and in a zone of achievement. Yeah, today was the opposite of that. Today, I was stymied and flummoxed and overwhelmed.

I busted ass to get the kids prepped for preschool and myself to an early morning appointment with the allergist. Wasn't I surprised to learn our new health insurance coverage is a laughable (if it weren't so sad) shell of a plan with very few providers in-network?  I was asked to pay the $187 visit fee up front, plus unknown lab costs and maybe my insurance would reimburse me……something.  Eventually. Hopefully... Even though I was already there, and had waited 5 months for the appointment, I cancelled. 

Since Wednesday is the one morning when I have regular childcare for both kids, I began to fill my unexpected "me" time with some thrifting and a solo lunch, only to get a call from preschool because the little one was weepy and "not himself. Maybe he was ill?" Maybe, though there were no physical signs besides his being unusually emotional (in that case, they should see him after nap every afternoon). I went and picked up both kids early, just in case.

Little one woke from nap after just an hour (usual nap is 2) and was, true to form, hellaciously cranky. I usually have a few tricks for easing this period (bubbles, favorite snack, art activities), but I was caught off-guard and had nothing. In fact, both kids turned weepy, howling whenever I paid any attention to the other or, gasp- did something on my own (I threw some dinner together amidst their shrieks of complaint because I'm mean that way). We tried reading a book together on the couch but the mere touch of the other brother's skin caused conniptions. Older child began threatening to saying he might vomit, whether for real or just to get some damn attention. I couldn't tell, but I got a big bowl and some towels to be safe.  At some point, Ezra is crying for bread still baking in the oven, Noah is rationalizing that I should be paying more attention to him because he's the one that feels really sick now….I threw up my hands and pled, 
"Guys, what do you want me to do here?!" "We want you to take care of us," sniffed Noah (as if they made it so easy).

Because I'm masochistic, I called the health insurance company and enjoyed a long wait and an unsatisfying non-solution to my problem. That's an aggravation I wisely decided to table for a better day.

At least there's my evening yoga to console myself with, I thought, just 2 more hours until I am free… and then my phone lights up with a text from Hubs suggesting he might need to work late…I talked him out of this one. When he walked in the door, I immediately took myself off the clock; can I get an "Amen?"

So, how do I handle disruptions and disappointment? Not all that gracefully, at least not today. Sigh, I'm working on it.

Anyone else have days like this?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Now That I Have a Five Year Old... Part 2 (Cool 5 Year Old Skills)

Noah at his 5th birthday party
Photo by Sandrine Pilaz
Highlighted tricks of the newly initiated 5 year old in my life include:

1. The height to reach into the upper echelons of the closets and kitchen cupboards, where, lo-and-behold: Mom's been hiding all the good stuff for all these years!

2. The ability to (almost) tell a lie, related very much to Trick #1
3. The confidence to head off alone in the woods (shirtless in January)…

Yes, my always-tall boy is now just shy of 4 feet, tall enough to reach almost anything in the house with the help of a trusty chair. Nothing strikes the "Oh, shit" chord in my heart more than the scraping sound of a chair on hardwood from downstairs, as I'm held hostage by a nursing-to-nap toddler upstairs. Like smart parents everywhere, I have long placed the dark chocolate, the cookies, the gifts purchased on sale in advance of the birthday or holiday, etc…up in the highest shelves of our closets and cupboards. Noah has managed to find every single hiding spot in the last month. It's like he just realized - eureka!- there's a whole upper realm beyond what I can see or reach from the ground. And the stuff up there is a goldmine well worth climbing for! So we now have a lock on the bedroom closet door and are riding the tension between continuing to hide off-limit items and acknowledging their existence and the need for restraint. In psycho-babble, I'm trying to nurture an internal locus of control, not an external one. "Ahem, just because you can, son, doesn't mean you should."

Fort Macon, Atlantic Beach, NC
Photo by Matthew Young
He doesn't yet have the impulse control to face easy temptation and walk away (in the case of sugar, that's a difficult feat for many an adult, even) so I am getting clearer in establishing expectations ahead of tempting times: "I'm taking Ezra upstairs for nap. I do not want you getting any food items until I come downstairs." If I'm really on top of it, I remind him of a designated treat item available for when I come downstairs (smoothie popsicles and popcorn are strong currency of late). And sometimes he enjoys himself a sneaky snack and attempts to cover up. But his lying abilities are…rather primitive. "No, I didn't have a granola bar" (outed by granola bar wrapper in trash just 3 feet away).

I remember reading that lying is a sign of growing intelligence and it's important to not set your kid up to lie. For now I'm opting to say Yes when my impulse is to say No to reasonable requests for found chocolate (because if he's always denied when he asks, why would he continue to ask?) and going light in disciplining this particular transgression ("Oh, I see you already ate a treat while I was upstairs. This means you won't have a popsicle now. Oh, I see you found the chocolate bar. How many squares do you think you'd enjoy?" I'm only able to be this calm because he doesn't, in fact, like dark chocolate all that much so my favorite treat is mostly safe :)

When's the last time you enjoyed making funny faces in the french press?!
Photo by Matthew Young
Just this past Monday we enjoyed a group hike along the lovely Eno River. About an hour in, while we were stopped for lunch and water play, I noticed my hat was missing and that I'd probably forgotten it a little ways back on the trail. Well, Noah was off to fetch that thing right away. I even voiced to my friend Sandrine how nice it was to have a fetcher so willing to fetch.

Then I found my hat, hidden inside my sweater, so I went to go let him know the search was off. Except... I couldn't find him. Even calling his name aloud and walking pretty briskly for 10 minutes and...nothing. I started to worry at this point, because he'd never gone off in the woods for this long before and I thought he might be lost. Did I mention he was shirtless in 60 degree temps? I continued walking and shouting his name, getting very close to feelings of panic, when he came jogging happily down the trail, unfazed but a little bummed that he hadn't found my hat. I took my cue from him and didn't let him know I was worried for his safety. Because, you know? His confidence in the woods is exactly what I want for him. Now that I know he desires that kind of freedom outdoors, we need to have conversations about staying in one spot when you get lost, carrying a whistle, not drinking water from the stream, following a map, etc..and I can't wait to teach him all this great stuff!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Now That I Have a 5 Year Old... (Some Thoughts On Schooling)

NOT a selfie!
Photo credit:
I was talking with a stranger mom at the park last week. We were both swinging toddlers and she was wearing her infant. As we talked on, it became apparent that she was the mother to most of the kids on the play scape that day, not just the two in front of us....there were six kids under 13! She was gorgeous, serene and unflappable, gently correcting  and directing her brood in the loveliest Southern accent. And of course... of course!- she homeschools them all.

Right now, the prospect of homeschooling is weighing heavily on my heart. It started because I am just now exploring the kindergarten process for Noah, who just turned 5 and will be eligible for free childcare-er-public school- next September. The application process for many schools starts next month. We are unlikely to be selected to attend one of the nearby, walkable schools, and chances are high that Noah will attend a totally fine, but not outstanding, school 3 miles away.
The ideal classroom

I have not seriously considered homeschooling before now but as I tour schools and listen more
carefully to families participating in the public school system, I question if mainstream education is the right place for us. The thought that I'm committing  truancy if I keep Noah home from school to do something really cool instead or because he needs a do-nothing day to recharge his batteries chafes me. I'm conjuring childhood memories of elementary school boredom and remembering just how much learning time was devoted to citizenship and crowd management (saluting the flag, raising one's hand to speak, standing in line, asking to use the restroom, etc). I am reluctant to give up the best hours of our days with Noah, to relinquish the flexibility of our lives, to give up so much of his upbringing to teachers and (more accurately) peers. At the elementary level, in a room of 2 teachers and 25 kids, I'm not at all convinced the quality of education is any better than I would provide at home, one to one.

But, there are many buts. Noah's attending kindergarten will allow me to increase my work hours and we could really use the money. Right now, paying for two children in childcare negates the financial benefits of working more than part time for me. Also, I cherish daily no-kid time and it is essential to my wellbeing so rejecting the free childcare component of mainstream schooling is a huge burden. That's 35 hours of free childcare a week. Do I really have the patience to teach my child how to read, one sound at a time? I love teaching him in an unstructured, ride-the-interest-wave sort of way but learning how to hand write at the kitchen table is a whole 'nother level of drudgery and repetition.

I know this about myself: sometimes I am in love with an idea and the reality is not nearly so enjoyable. I have to really kick the tires of my fantasies, you know? The full color fantasy surrounding this homeschooling notion is of the DIY, homesteading, large family-having, natural rhythms-keeping Crunchy Lady Madonna.  (You can see examples here and here.) Even though I don't sew, we're done having children, and are committed to urban living (seriously - what's left?!), I am drawn to the freedoms I associate with this lifestyle. It's a poignant image for me: a close family meeting many of its own needs and rejecting societal trends and values that do not benefit them.

I'm moving forward with all options on the table: seeing what comes of the public school process, connecting with homeschooling families, trying out more formal learning scenarios with Noah and learning about different ways to homeschool. I am struggling with the uncertainty but trying to enjoy the not-knowing what's next. I welcome your feedback!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Parenting While Introverted

I just finished the book Quiet, by Susan Cain, in which she dives deeply into the research on introversion. As usual, when I learn more about introversion, I am flooded with new awareness and understanding of why I do the things I do, and feel the way I feel. I didn't realize I was an introvert until my late 20's, when I took a Myers Briggs test and was surprised to find I was not, in fact, an extrovert. I'm a very social person in small doses and in the right settings, but I also get burnt out if I don't have daily quiet and time alone.

I wish I'd known this about myself sooner. I would have spent my social time differently and avoided certain jobs that drained my energy because they were a poor fit with my temperament. Cain describes the "Extrovert Ideal" within American culture, this idea that outgoing people are smarter, more attractive, and more successful than quiet, more inwardly focused people. Many of our cultural institutions reaffirm this expectation from an early age, especially mainstream schools.  I think I was pulled into this mindset as part of my school years' focus on achievement and that contributed to my lack of self-awareness.

Another interesting insight from the book is that introverts tend to be more sensitive to stimuli like noise, odors, tastes, touch, etc. If you've heard my rants about too-much-perfume wearing people, you know I can be a little more reactive than some!

Cain describes the "sweet spot" where life demands match one's temperament and emotional/physical/spiritual energies. In  many ways, parenting young children is a real challenge for introverted me because my kids want to talk and interact almost all the minutes we are together. That daily quiet and alone time is really precious and hard to come by!

I find my sweet spot by being very intentional about finding opportunities for quiet. This includes recently moving to a simplified bedtime for the kids so I can enjoy a solid chunk of alone time at night, prioritizing paid childcare even with a tight budget, and saying no to some parties and other social engagements. I need to do better about using my alone time for more nourishing activities like yoga and hiking and not surfing the web.

Any other introverted parents out there? What are some of your coping strategies?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ahhh...A Bedtime that Works (For Us. Right Now, At Least)

There's this interesting tension that underlies change in our family. The existing way of operating becomes less tenable, until the new way of doing appears easier, inevitable, even. It's a tender little dance of parents and children, all the moving parts, because one element of the family can't simply will it time to change if the others are not ready.

The biggest change of late has to do with bedtime. Until recently, we've tag-teamed bedtime and, even as the kids share a bedroom, we've tried to keep them far apart from one another during the going-to-bed routine. I've nursed Ezra in the rocking chair upstairs, Papa's read books with Noah on the downstairs couch and brought him up only after Ezra was asleep in the bedroom.

This two-parent jig meant we could not begin bedtime until I got home from work at 9 pm a couple evenings each week, it also meant outings to book club, or dance jam, dates, etc..had to end promptly by 8:45 if we had any hope of getting the kids to sleep before 9:30. And 9:30 seemed too late (and 10 pm felt like an outright defeat, though there were many of those nights, for sure), leading to under-slept kids the next day, and all the misery that involves. Not to mention, late bedtimes for the kids leads to late bedtimes for parents, limited couple and alone time...bad deal all around.

It became very clear recently that our family life would be much improved when one parent could handle both kids' bedtimes. This allow us to start bedtime earlier, according to the children's need, and not according to when I get off work. On the nights I do not work, one parent can be enjoying their alone time or tidying up the house while the other parent does bedtime. That's 30 extra minutes every day, people. Huge!

It's been a week now and it's going great. Before, Ezra would protest mightily when I'd bring him upstairs for sleep.  He didn't want to separate from Noah and Papa. Now, we've touted the fun of "family bedtime" and he eagerly joins us in the climb upstairs toward sleep. It's also the end of Daylight Savings Time this weekend, and I think that'll nudge us toward the 8 pm bedtime I'm aiming for.

Another change is in the works, and it's a big part of what allows the joint bedtime to work. Ezra is slowly weaning and is willing to fall to sleep without nursing these days, if Papa's doing the bedtime.
That's a big deal and its own topic for another day, but I'm encouraging the weaning. It's not a change we'll complete this week but I am glad we're shuffling in that direction.

Are you on the cusp of any family changes?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

No, No, No (Not Right Now)

Go away overnight and leave me??? NO!
My toddler and I have adopted the same mantra. I find myself saying the word NO a lot lately, not just to my son, hellbent on destroying things and/or hurting himself. I am also turning down requests for getting together, outings and really cool opportunities that do not fit the rhythm of my life right now.

Sometimes it feels good, because trying to squeeze in an afternoon play date between Ezra's nap and when I leave for work at 5:15 is just too much (com)motion, even as I would like to spend time with my dear friend and her kids. Saying no helps keeps our lives simple and gives us long stretches of time at home, puttering and playing.

Saying no to volunteer work that doesn't light me up with joy disappoints the person asking me, but saves me drudgery and obligation (because caring for young children provides me with ample amounts of both of those!).

Other times saying No hurts like hell and I howl (on the inside) with resentment that I can't find a way to say Yes. Some examples:
  • Last Saturday, Matthew and I planned to see a really amazing strings group performing in a bar. Seeing live music together is something we have long enjoyed as a couple, but 11 pm club shows are a relic of our rollicking 20s, our life pre-children. We cancelled at the last minute because babysitter arrangements meant we'd arrive late for an expensive show, and we were concerned that bedtime might be a 10 pm affair for the kids.
  • I was invited to participate in a small women's discussion group,  for women with young children interested in uncovering our life's purpose. I need that. I am hungry for a chance to talk aloud in a guided setting about what's next for me as these children grow and need me less. Did I mention it was with several women I consider close friends? And would be free, led by a retired therapist? But no not right now, it's meets regularly on a work night and interferes with bedtime, besides. I spent a long time thinking through how - if I switched this shift with that person, it could probably work but then I'd have to go into the studio on a Sunday, which really upsets the flow of family togetherness on the one day a week with no work or extracurricular obligations. I was thinking so hard about how I could make.this.happen that I gave myself 4:30 am insomnia.
  • I want to visit my brother in his new city of Portland and I want to do it alone, without children, drinking craft beers, riding our bikes and staying up late listening to bands in clubs. No. Not right now
  •  I want to take an overnight meditation retreat but a still-nursing kiddo would be difficult for Matthew to soothe in the overnight hours. No. Not right now.
When I slow my breath and really tune in more deeply, I see two truths bubbling up:

Saying no now doesn't mean I won't be able to say yes later, when the time is right. When the time is right, these events will happen easily and not require acrobatics and insomnia to force a way. This is a short season in my life when my children need me so intensely.

The other truth is that a simple life can be boring for me, someone who needs novelty in small doses. I need to find a way to meet my need for interesting and new, on a small scale and in a way that meshes with my life right now.

I'm accepting ideas if you have them! How do you cultivate the fun and fulfilling while caring for young children?