Parenting Feels: First Times

It’s always the heaviest rain happens in the minutes during school drop-off, or pick-up. I’m thinking this as rain pours down my back from the tilting off my umbrella, unable to hold it steady while I juggle closing the two others. My 3rd grader and 1st grader are several minutes gone. I don’t even remember if they waved good-bye before being swallowed into the anonymity of hundreds shoes squeaking on the linoleum floors. I walked Elliot to his room the first two days of 1st grade, then he didn’t need me. I walked Zach to his class only on the first day, not because he needed–or wanted–me to, but because those bags of classroom supplies are heavy.

I’m not even thinking about it until I see a red-eyed woman hurry past, and then Oh, It’s the first official day of school for the kinders.

The Feels between Zach’s first day of kindergarten and Elliot’s first day? Different.

The kind of different that twists just the tiniest bit of guilt. It always be harder, I think, navigating those First Feels, which will largely belong to Zach. I hope that doesn’t make Elliot think I am less attached to him. He’ll get his First, many long years from now. Or not so long.

Once they left the baby/toddler stage, it became harder to see time passing in changes to their faces. I’m with them every day, there is more subtlety in the changes to their appearance now: taller, longer hair, shorter hair, missing teeth, new teeth. Dr. Who wasn’t talking about parenting, but it applies here: It’s a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.What I can’t measure in my own kids sneaks in from other sources. From my first nephew starting high school this year; my former boss’s 2-year-old also in high school; a former co-worker’s two-seconds-ago 5-year-old who has somehow skipped all of the years in between to freshman year of college.

The faint, smokey smell of time burning, blown away before it can settle.

I know it will happen in an instant, the moment, that final First, when my last child leaves home. That will be the First time those First Feels will belong to Elliot. Bless his heart, I hope he’s ready for them.

 

Zach–Not to be Left Out

Hey Mom, Look Fast.

My first son. My Big Boy. You’ve been on this earth for 39 months, 9 days. Wowzer.

See, I was perfectly content to get sappy about your brother and save the Zach-sap for another day. Until I ran across this photo–

Maybe it was because I had been looking through all of y’alls baby pictures. Maybe it was because it’s actually possible to have a meaningful conversation with you now. Maybe it’s because you delivered a rebuttal to one of my mom-decisions that was worthy of the Supreme Court. I just had this sense that 15 years from now I’ll be able to look back at this picture and see the man in the boy you were. After I got a beer and stopped crying…sigh, this mothering thing will rip your heart out if you let it…I got sappy all over you. You even helped me pick some of the photos. At one point you asked why there weren’t pictures of you and Elliot together. So we found some and I got to work.

I spent the first 2 years of your life so smug in my parenting skills. As it turns out, you get your personality from your father and my skills didn’t have much to with it at all. You liked to sleep, eat, stare and snuggle. In that order. Even fully immersed in the “I’m three stage” you aren’t a difficult kid. You’re a people-pleaser, a peacemaker (usually), a diplomat, and a spokesperson. You are also self-centered, bossy and extraordinarily talkative (that you definitely get from me!).

November and Decemeber 2006

I worked full time throughout my pregnancy, going into labor 10 days before I was due. We all blame a certain company, who had caused an inordinate amount of stress for the past several weeks and for whom I had concluded the resulting meeting late that afternoon. At home, we were watching college basketball and at the next bathroom break, my water broke. Just like in the movies. I got all excited, decided my contractions were 5 minutes apart (they weren’t), and that we should go to the hospital (we shouldn’t have), and that I could do a natural delivery (I didn’t). I was dilated a whole centimeter.

Eight hours later I had dilated to 2cm. 12 hours later I made it to 3cm. It was then that they gave me the pitocin. I made it to 5cm before begging for the epidural. You were what they call “sunny side up”, meaning you were face up instead of down. Which explains the rug burn on both of your cheeks. I pushed for 2 hours and you finally popped out. Well, you were kind of vacuumed out, but regardless you were out and I avoided the c-section.

I didn’t have a parenting dogma mapped out. I’ve never read a Sears or Ferber book. I just did what came naturally, which I would classify as Attachment Parenting-light. I was still working, telecommuting, and you were the perfect baby for such a situation. You weren’t demanding–quite the opposite, actually.

Your First Year

It was just you, me, and our two dogs. Where Elliot has you to entertain him, you had the dogs. You bounced yourself to sleep in the jumparoo more than once, but you also enjoyed free range over most of the house. We listened to NPR and read a ton of books. I was a member of the No-TV club (until I got pregnant with your brother, then all bets were off). We took plane trips–to both Louisiana and Illinois– and you were the perfect travel partner. You were a child living in an adult’s world, for sure.

I’ve had the chance to watch a child grow from a newborn blob to an independent preschooler. I appreciate you more than you can possibly know. Sometimes I think you get the short-end of the stick –because you are the oldest, because of who you are, and because even when you are demanding, you still really aren’t.

As laid back as you are, you’ve thrown some volcanic fits. Some kids hold their breath, you managed to form petechia.

You want to be a train conductor when you grow up. I tried to buy you a conductor hat and you politely refused, stating, “I’m not a grown up yet.” You are convinced that you are going to college when you are 13 years old. You love basketball, though there is still some confusion on whether you will be a Duke or Carolina fan. You have a mess of curls and I keep your hair long, because I think they are gorgeous. You mimic my expressions and school me on my occasional hypocrisy (HANDS ARE NOT FOR HITTING, MOMMY). You are sensitive, compassionate, and full of laughter. I hope you don’t let life take those qualities away from you.

Faces of Zach

You are an awesome brother. When I was pregnant you continually insisted that having a brother meant “cookies and more toys”. Once reality set in we had some tense moments. But nothing like I anticipated based on anecdotal evidence. I’m always impressed with how much assholish-younger brother you can take before snapping back at Elliot. You boss him around incessantly, though and I think that time for you is coming to end with him.

I listen to you guys play when you think I’m not paying attention. I hear you explaining Real Life Issues to him.

“This is NOT a cup, Elliot. This is a baby cup. We DO NOT drink out of baby cups”.

      I tried to give y’all baby sippies and call them a cup.

“Head butts are not cool. I don’t like them. Does you like it when I do it to you?”

      Overheard from the living room after I Elliot had started crying. E’s lesson was learned, no interference from me was needed.

“Yes, that is a _____ (train, truck, car, shoe, sock, book). Good job.”
“HA, Elliot. That’s not a cat. That’s an apatosaurus”.

Brothers

You try my patience daily, sometimes hourly. That’s not really your fault — I don’t have an abundance of patience to begin with and life with a 3.5 year old mostly guarantees that my short supply is gone by noon. But you also amuse me with your silliness. You amaze me with your intelligence and self-sufficiency (bliss, you can put on your own shoes, brush your own teeth, and get in/out of the carseat…complete with buckling).

Most importantly, you filled this adult’s world with the unconditional love of, and for, a child.

Cardboard Box Train

If you are a person with a son who loves train, an overactive imagination, and not enough things to keep occupied during those long afternoon naps, you probably get in the same kind of trouble that I do. The trouble that revolves around having ideas and making plans off those ideas. Perhaps you think of building a playhouse train out of a cardboard box in your kids’ playroom closet.

Or perhaps you don’t. But I do, and did.

My inspiration came from the local kid’s museum—they have all kinds of static play-on structures; ambulances, boats, etc. I thought about my love of upcycling. I thought of the large wardrobe boxes (had to buy these)…I thought of silver paint (had lots of this)…I thought of a fake driver seat (had one of these, too). I thought of everything.

Well, not everything. I didn’t remember that you can’t paint oil-based paint over water-based paint and expect adhesion, especially not when the painting surface is cardboard. Nope, I didn’t think of that until after I fighting with the installation of the train roof and noticed I had silver fingers.

I have once again been foiled by the ADHD and my attention-to-detail problem.

Even had the paint not rubbed off and the end result of my idea was an actual train, I spent far more time on this than I intended. My original estimate was that it would take about 5 hours—to include paint/dry times—to create a square train from two boxes.

Well, the train wasn’t going to be square (mistake number 1) because I told a certain Small Person what I was doing (mistake number 2) and he got all excited and said SIR JOHN?, and I agreed (mistake number 3). Giving a rough guesstimate, I would say the whole thing took 16 hours. Not 16 hours of actual work, I’m billing some time to “thinking” (my former co-workers will remember this work-code). I spent about 10 minutes being really annoyed by the dismal end, and then I got over it.

Because regardless of there being no fancy silver train—I have another wardrobe box. They can use their own imaginations and pretend it’s a train. No further involvement from me is necessary. It’s only what I should have done to begin with…had my own imagination not gotten the best of me!

Now…my real fantasy is to build a train-shaped playhouse in the back yard. I think I’ll wait until the silver dust settles to bring that idea up with Joel.

The End of Quarantine

Tuesday, Day 4
Mildly sick-ish kids–low fever and snot, but they’d have to like a person in the eye to spread any germs. Off to the Cary train station before the end of quarantine.

They have lots of cool stuff—like route maps.

A bench with an older man who spent more than several minutes playing pass the paper with Elliot.

Instead of being punk’D, I was ADHD’ d and managed to insult the game-playing stranger. If a clinical definition for social Tourette’s Syndrome doesn’t already exist, it should. I don’t even remember how I managed to transition an innocuous conversation about plane vs train travel into a Yankee crack. In Cary. Cary, the city that is (lovingly) referred to as the Corral Area for Relocated Yankees. Thankfully, the train arrived soon after, saved by the…whistle?

In the afternoon Zach and I made play dough. I even let him stir it on the hot stove stove, with burner on super low.

Oh gracious, he could have burned himself! What if he ended up in the ER. Said with all of the Southern-ness of, Bless your heart, you moron. Why ever would you let let your 3.5 near the hot stove?)

I have to constantly remind myself (and a few others) that Zach is not as spastic as Elliot. Activities that Elliot can’t do–both because he’s Elliot and he’s only 18 months old–Zach can do, just fine.

Also, for anyone who thinks that homeschooled kids don’t learn as much as schooled children…let me point out a few of the conventional topics I taught to my 3.5 year old.

English

      Review of capital versus lowercase letters.

 

    Reading–recognize simple words, learn new words.

Math

      Review of whole number ID

 

      Introduction to fractions–1 cup of flour versus 1/2 cup of flour

 

    Counting–3 cups of water

Chemistry

      What is energy–for cooking, the energy is heat

 

      Phases of matter–How does energy affect the matter? Liquid starts to solidify

 

    Describe the some of the differences between a liquid and a semi-solid

All of that looks like formal learning to me. And we got some playdough out of it. 😉

Then there are the points that I re-learned, too

      A kid who goes more than a little crazy after

eating

      red dye #40 will have the same reaction he uses it with bare hands to color his dough orange.

 

    Food coloring is more water resistant than Crayola paint

Wednesday, Day 5.
Yet another regularly scheduled playdate that we are missing. The fevers broke on Tuesday night, so they were both feeling better, which meant they were antsy. It’s hard to explain the 24-hour-without-fever rule to Small People. We were all bored and getting annoyed with each other.

A random bag of hidden (from them, not me) toys provided a happy diversion when tossed into rubbermaid containers of moonsand.

We ended up having a spontaneous–and quick–birthday party for several members of the Stuffed Animal crew. Complete with cake (bread, cream cheese, and fresh strawberry preserves) and pointy birthday hats. Take that, Tea Party.

Even though hanging out with them turned out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated we are happy to be rejoined in the healthy world of with the other Small (and adult) People.

Mud and Grubs

I participate in the unschooling method of preschool. For us, this means we learn about new topics as they come up and not as part of a formal plan. In reality it just means I haven’t been so great finishing all of the ideas I’ve gotten from other moms. No matter.

As a side note, if one of you super-motivated folks could start a preschool-question-wiki, that would be awesome.

I am desperate to rid my yard of pesky vermin, including voles, grubs of various sizes, and slugs. Zach likes learning stuff and he definitely loves bugs. We did lots and lots of science today. And some letter-writing (mud + stick = awesome). Mostly I took this perfect opportunity to teach Zach about the life-cycle of beetles, cementing his legacy of grub-hatred. Then he helps me hunt ‘em by digging with his shovel, yellow mud-boots, and little plastic bucket. When he gets bored he goes and plays king of the mountain or splashes in the mud. I keep the bucket.

Elliot wanders. Mostly he just enjoys having his own king of the water table time. He sneaks some drinks here and there—I have to keep him in my line of sight. But at least he isn’t face-diving in it anymore. Progress!

That said, I screwed up today when I took them for a wagon ride around the block. After we got back they wanted to play in the backyard. Zach changed into the rain(mud) boots first, but I forgot to change Elliot’s shoes. This was bound to happen—and it’s the real reason I cringed over paying $40 bucks for a pair of damn shoes. E’s small though, and clothes are lasting longer for him, so I had hoped to have more time with those shoes.

Well, I didn’t change the expensive pair for the dirt shoes. They played in a hole that we dug yesterday. A wet, clay hole. See where I am going with this and the expensive shoes? Stride Rite claims they are washable–I guess we are going to find out.

It was still fun. And totally worth it. Check out one of our birds eating at the Grub-Bucket-Buffet!

How AA Helps Parent a Toddler

I’m not an alcoholic which might make how AA helps me parent a toddler seem strange. But it’s all about the Serenity Prayer.

…grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference…–Reinhold Niebuhr

I’ve been reciting this to myself for weeks. It’s not to keep me from drinking, but rather to help me make it through parenting a three year-old. My own natural tendency toward control-freakishness and impatience makes this stage particularly difficult for me to deal with. But I will persevere—he’s far too old to be dropped off at the fire station.

From the beginning of Zach’s second year—new sibling included—I was smug because all signs suggested that the Terrible Two’s weren’t going to be so bad for us. I tried NOT to be smug, and even when I failed my smugness wasn’t borne of maliciousness. Zach was E.A.S.Y. Yeah, we dealt with the occasional tantrum, including one that lasted—no lie—for 12 straight hours soon after Elliot was born, but he was a generally affable kid. I assumed (incorrectly) that this was the result of our stellar (ha!) parenting.

Well, I was smug. Then he turned three and exchanged compliance for defiance without apology—or warning. He tries to call my bluff every day—still not believing that I don’t deliver empty threats. Part of me (a very small part that only comes out while he sleeps) admits to being proud of his determination. Surely this personality trait will serve him well in his future.

wisdom to know the difference

Ah, the most important line. A thousand times a day I remind myself that I cannot control him (or anyone else), but I can control myself. I give choices when appropriate. Bad behavior delivers consequences; good behavior provides rewards. Our family’s definitions of good and bad are well-defined and consistent. Sadly, making the appropriate choices often requires applying logic and reason and well, we aren’t there yet.

Freud has a semi-famous theory about Id (instincts), Ego (pleasure), and Super Ego (conscience). My delightfully laid-back infant has grown from being little more than an Id-filled, baby-blob to a little person. A little person so full of Ego, that his eyes are brown with it. Eventually he will also develop his Super Ego and things will presumably get easier. Presumably.

The irony of being an adult in a life surrounded by three-year-old-Ego includes the realization that all this defiance and emotional lability also happens to be developmentally appropriate. Teaching a young preschooler to get control of those murderous feelings of rage (today prompted by me cutting a sandwich into rectangles and not triangles) is the most important/difficult job for me.

Hell, I sometimes struggle with overwhelming feelings of impatience and anger, and I’m well beyond my preschool years.

I am humbled.

With Zach, as a first-time parent, I had the pleasure of not knowing what was to come. I assumed I had thrown the right bait into the lake of genetics and landed a large bass. With Elliot I have no such illusions. Maybe second children move into the Ego stage earlier thanks to all of that older-sibling modeling. Maybe Elliot will revert to a laid-back kid when he’s three. Maybe I’ll get a punching bag for the basement.

What I didn’t get for Valentine’s Day…

this year was pregnant again.  Phew.  You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but I’ve gotten pregnant on love day not once, but twice.

Our first pregnancy (2006) was as much of an accident as two well-educated people can claim.  I mean, we knew where unprotected sex could lead, but according to my uber-regular schedule we were as safe as can be.  Except the sperm that would create one-half of Zach wanted desperately to fertilize that egg, and thus hung around for five extra days or so.  On the other hand, maybe it was just lost and refused to ask for directions–it did carry male DNA.  Or stopped for a magazine and a cup of coffee.  Who knows?

Fast forward to February 14, 2008.  The older that Zach got (ha–old at 14 months) the less I wanted to start over again with a newborn.  We tentatively talked about maybe trying to get pregnant again.  I assumed that being older, heavier, and the new host for a few ovarian cysts that it would take longer to get pregnant a second time.

After a delicious dinner out—sans existing kid—we did what attached people all over the world do on Valentine’s Day.  For the second time ever (except during pregnancy) we did the deed without a condom.  Even though we were technically trying, I wussed out after that one time and we went back to using protection.  Alas it was too late, and 5 weeks later yet another positive pregnancy test stared at me from the bathroom counter.

This year we celebrated Valentine’s Day with me wearing the ugliest jogging pant/t-shirt combo I could find.  I didn’t shave my legs.  My husband ate ice cream.  We watched basketball.  This might not sound romantic to anyone else, but I have gotten really attached to not nursing every two hours, which by definition, also includes that whole getting regular sleep thing.

A small part of my Fertile Myrtle biology tries to plant little seeds of newborn-baby longing.   I don’t have to work too hard to declare that part clinically insane.   Thankfully, I have an ongoing supply of pregnant friends available to scratch that newborn-baby itch without having to, you know, have another one.  We are done having kids and Joel has an appointment with the snip-snip doctor next week.

We did make purty babies though.

“Booh”

Reading  a “booh” (translation, book) both fascinates and delights Elliot.  An equal-opportunity lover of books, he even refrains from eating them.  Most of the time.

The love of reading is my family thing.  My Mom loves to read, as did my Grandfather.  I’ve been reading since I was three (apparently my mother’s answer to no-naps was for her to sleep while I read out loud).

I demonstrate my love of reading every day, thanks to my ever-growing obsession with faery/vampire/preternatural “literature”.   Before you judge my tendency toward literary smut, I’d like to point out that, in this instance, what I’m reading matters not since neither of them can–you know–read.

I used to spend all of my free time arguing politics via online debate forums, but it was killing my blood pressure, so I went back to books.  I showed my three year old that there is no greater power for the imagination than the written word.  Zach has sat quietly “reading” since he was six months old.  I have evidence–the pictures below are at 6 months and at 18 months, respectively.

He will now sit quietly reading “floppy books” (i.e., books with easily ripped pages therefore not-to-be-shared-with-younger-brother) spelling out the words he knows and trying to sound out the words he doesn’t.  I glow with pride.

For my youngest, however, reading presents more challenge than hobby.  Desperate to speak English—everyone keeps doing it around him, much to his disgust—he yells “BOOH” while head-butting whatever part of me he can reach.  If I should dare to try and delay reading said “BOOH” he redirects his energies into a glorious tantrum. Have you ever tried to continue to read while a small person screams and kicks the floor?  It’s most distracting.

I came up with a plan when Zach began to recite the words to Brown Bear with me one afternoon.

Me: “Hey, why don’t you read this book to Elliot”

Zach: “No”

Me: “Oh, c’mon.  You know all of the words.  You read to him, I’ll read to myself, and we’ll all be reading…together.”

Zach—walking away: “No, I doesn’t want to.”

Elliot: “BOOH”

Well, dammit.

Me: “Brown bear, brown bear…”

Tantrums

Okay, who’s with me? How many of you will honestly admit there are certain behaviors exhibited by people (both large and wee) that are guaranteed to make your teeth grind and fists clench?  Some things should definitely produce those reactions.  One of those shouldn’t be your 3 year old dumping a glass of cranberry juice on his younger brother.   Or the insistence of same child that naps are optional– despite offering bribes…er, rewards.  And, really, is it that big of a deal that your 1 year old continually insists on emptying all of the pans out of the cabinet so he can river-dance in a wok?  Probably not rage-inducing activites to most normal people.

Some events cause what I deem acceptable rages.  For instance, when your $65 dollar bra is washed with jeans by a husband for whom laundry is a forbidden chore.  Or the squirrel that has been using the front gutter as a highway for weeks only to decide that the warmth of your attic is a better home than the giant oak tree.

Most days when one of my kids starts to throw themselves to the floor (Elliot) or beat the wall in anger (Zach) I can respond with a sigh and deal.  Most days I look at the display with a bemused expression of disbelief.  Is it really that big of a deal that I cut the apple instead of giving it to him whole?  Or that I dared to serve a chicken rice casserole or chicken noodle soup for dinner?  Really?

It occurs to me that one of the reasons I handle temper tantrums reasonably well is that I’m still– at the ripe age of 33– having them myself.