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

Contracting

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.


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.


video


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!