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Pre-schooler

Coming to terms with preschool graduation

Until just now, I found the thought of pre-school graduation mildly sickening. Something for wealthy kids in uniforms, for overly sentimental, clingy parents who iron their pants.

But here I am. Looking forward to it. Wanting it. Needing a ceremony to help me say goodbye to the school that has been a refuge for me as a parent-in-training.

Jo’s school is a co-op, so I, like all the other parents, have been required to teach there once a week. Monday mornings for the past 2 years have been me, 4 other parents dosing caffeine, 2 teaching professionals and swarm of 26 pre-schoolers.

That first year was about recovering from the shame of having a very phyiscal boy. I just kept showing up every week, peeling Jo’s hot fist out of another kid’s hair, taking a deep breath as I helped the train kids put their track back together after Jo crashed through on his way to the bookshelf. The teachers there kept reminding me of Jo’s goodness. And the other parents didn’t cast me out. Sometimes, their kids acted like neanderthals too, which was always a relief.

preschoolsnack
Snack time was also a relief.

This second year has been about slowing down and listening. “I see that you both want to sit in the same chair. What should we do?” And then I just stay there in the silence that follows, crouched down, looking at their open faces. “No. I can’t let you take the chair away. I’m going to hold it right here while we figure out what to do.” Then Voila! after 3 LONG minutes of questions, tears and ideas, it’s over. “Oh, you wanted the chair because it’s red and she wanted it because it’s next to a friend. Let’s get that other chair and move it over here too.”

preschooldrawing2

These last weeks I’ve been surveying the dreamy landscape we’ve all created. Watching from afar as two kids tugging at the same cape decide to wear hats instead. Looking up from the tire swing to see a trio working out how to let another kid in on the magic ninja freeze tag game. And feeling like we belong. Because sometimes, other parents look just as cracked-out as me when they drop off their older kid with a sweaty, hollering toddler in tow.

What a gift it has been to have this school embrace Jo and me as we are. Unshowered and exhausted, kicking and screaming, easy and playful, nervous and open. Somehow, there’s been enough room for all of it.

Damn it. I’m totally going to be in the front row. Sitting in a chair too small for me. And crying all over myself at effing pre-school graduation.

Learning to feed my hunger

I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.

This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.

I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.

R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.

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Familiar, anyone?

Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.

My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.

The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.

The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.

I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:

I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.

One feeds my body. The other, my soul.

In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.

When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.

It doesn’t.

And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.

This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.

To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.

Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:

I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.

It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.

The new jeans aren’t too bad either.

Giveaway winner: how to survive mornings with your kids!

Step right up! Get it while it’s hot! Get it while it’s buttered! Parenting advice you actually want is being served up by my favorite experts.

Congrats, Susie, you won!! See Angela’s letter below for help with your kid morning dilemma. And congrats to Allison, vjentzsch and Jacquie (and the hoardes of the rest of us) who share Susie’s exasperation on this issue!

And BONUS, Angela and Niels will be answering all of your other questions on their podcast! Woot!! Read on…

Here’s Susie’s question:

L is 5. And INCAPABLE of following directions. In the morning, particularly. It’s “please brush your teeth” and “please do first pee” and “please get your clothes on” and despite many calm talks, and a chart we made called “L’s Morning,” with fetching pictures of what he needs to accomplish, AND with the sometimes-threat (delivered kindly, in my defense) that he will lose the privilege of watching Wild Kratts later if he can’t help out more, he dilly-dallies like no other. I sometimes have to ask 5 or 6 times for each of the three things he needs to get done. We help more and more (pick the clothes, cue up the toothbrush), and that’s fine–we just want some ownership over the activities and a little frigging help around here, please. Often, he completely ignores us, not in a willful way exactly, but in a “I’m-spaced-out-and-am-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-hear-you-so-I-can-play-animals” way. It is SUCH A BEAR to get out of the house, and it often results in yelling or tears or drama that none of us wants. My patience has worn thin. I’m over it. THANKS!

***

Dear Susie,

Oh, yes, the morning Getting-Out-The-Door challenge. Who hasn’t been there? Whew.

First, let me say this: please, please, don’t take any of my advice as a way to be hard on yourself. Parents are stuck between a Rock (children’s hardwired need for connection) and a Hard Place (societal structures and rhythms that make connection extremely difficult, nearly impossibly sometimes).

Be mad about this. It sucks to parent in this culture of isolation, speed, stress, and the pursuit of perfection. Be very mad. But don’t be mad at yourself.

Every moment of warmth, listening and laughter with your child is nothing less than a counter-cultural act of resistance (Do I sound dramatic here? I feel rather passionate about this). Give yourself lots of love and praise for every drop of patience, compassion and ingenuity that you manage to come up with as a mother or father parenting in the here and now. And trust that your kids are resilient enough to take the bits of connection you manage to cast their way and use it to heal, grow, and create their own ways of moving through the world. So without guilt, and while dousing yourself in self-appreciation for the awesome parent you already are (and I can tell this is true!) … read on!

Ok, you might want to first watch this little video to get oriented to why connection is the key to helping things run smoothly in our families, and what this might look like in the very real, very challenging everyday moments with our kids:

So … mornings. A big time of challenge and upset in most families. These are my thoughts on it…

Mornings are really hard for young kids because they are facing many hours away from us. Children who have been pretty well treated—and yours clearly are!—still have high standards for what life should be like. And at age five, it is much, much, much more reasonable to want to spend the day with people who love and adore you than with people who might be nice enough, but don’t necessarily love you. I’m assuming that’s what school is like for kids, even at great schools. So…a five year old, whose brain still relies on lots and lots of warm, attuned limbic-to-limbic resonance (love) to be able to function well, has understandable apprehension when anticipating many hours away from you—the capitol S source of love in his life!

But there’s still lots we can do to gain kids’ cooperation and help mornings go better, especially once we understand that we are asking young brains to swim upstream from their natural impulses. And smoother, warmer mornings are better for everyone because they set us up to enter the day well. So, I think there are three main things that can make a huge difference in the morning—these aren’t easy things to achieve, but well worth our attention. (And I challenge you to do these things imperfectly, at best.)

First, calm, cooperative mornings require a calm, regulated parent. As the Master Regulators of our households, our emotional tenor sets the tone for the whole family. But before you beat yourself up about how stressed and frustrated you often feel in the morning, know that it is TOTALLY unfair that you should have to get yourself and your kids ready and out the door so early in the morning, and that to do it while being CALM is a high order, indeed. You shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are, parenting at a time in history that sets us up to have to work extra hard. So give yourself kudos for all the mornings when you don’t lose it, and be extremely gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do lose it.

And then try this strategy to help your system feel calm in the morning: wake up thirty minutes before anyone else in your family.

Spend this time being with yourself, in some easy enjoyable way, before you become Mommy. For instance, make your favorite hot beverage, sit in the comfiest chair in the living room, and let yourself enter the day gently. Sometimes I light a candle just to help me set the right tone (otherwise, I am liable to start worrying and fretting over the day as I sit there with my coffee). Do whatever you need to make this time pleasant. Recently I have added to my morning time a little self-given foot rub with coconut oil and a few drops of my favorite essential oils. This is a time to treat yourself really well because you are a champ and doing an amazing job in an impossible situation. (A mom in one of my classes recently asked if it “counts” to spend her thirty minutes taking a shower and getting dressed all by herself. I could tell that the thought almost made her giddy, so my answer: Hell yes!) But however you spend your thirty minutes, keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and make it all about you.

Second, get your kids connected before you ask them to cooperate. This can look different for each kid, and it may change over time. I used to start the day with a morning cuddle with my daughter in bed. The only problem was that then she really never wanted to get out of bed. So we started a ritual of having a “morning couch cuddle.” When she was five I could still lift her, so I’d scoop her up and carry her to the living room where we’d snuggle quietly until she’d wake up to discover she was hungry. These days, enjoying my own morning foot rub with essential oils has inspired me to start her day in a similar way, so I sneak in and give her an invigorating foot and leg rub while she wakes up.

You can also start the day with a little dose of “Special Time”—which is two to five to ten minutes of undivided and enthusiastic attention while you do whatever your child wants to do—with a timer set. Here’s a video in which Niels describes this powerful practice.

But whatever your “connection strategy,” just think of this as a quick fill up before the day begins. Because if we can get our kids juiced up with connection right away, they often have it in them to cooperate better through the morning. You can also give them “micro-fill-ups” as you go… nuzzles, twinkling at them, extra body contact wherever you can, lots of appreciation for what they are doing right (I love how you picked out your own socks this morning!!). The more full their connection cups, the better equipped they are to do what needs to be done and face the day.

Third, make it fun. I know, I’m rolling my eyes just rereading those words because I know how impossible it sounds. But fun greases the cooperation wheels in a grand way. Kids are suckers for a good time. You are on the right track with your “task chart,” by the way. But the difference may be in the delivery. Can you make it into a game? When my daughter was in kindergarten, we went to Staples and she picked out a a write-on wipe-off board that we hung on her bedroom door. On the board, I drew pictures with little check boxes beside them of each step she needed to take to move through the morning. As she did each task she got to check it off. Something about that made it fun—and empowering. Plus, I would give her high-fives as I noticed items that were complete, and with a twinkle in my eye I’d say, “I wonder what the next step is on your list?” when I noticed she was lagging.

Fun is in the attitude. And it creates connection. You can give them piggy backs to the kitchen for breakfast, or announce that you are SURE you will be the first one to get your shoes on (and then be sure to lose). It can mean announcing that you have three things that need to go into the backpack, can anyone help by counting as they go in? Lunchbox, 1! Homework folder, 2! Sunscreen, 3! It can mean adding a dose of silly to the task. This morning, when the foot rub wasn’t enough to get my kid out of bed, I blasted Taylor Swift in her bedroom and we had a ten second dance party (and all her eye rolls let me know I was reaching new heights of “cool” by the goofy way I danced).

Making it fun is like flirting and courting your child into the day. Does it sound exhausting? Yes, I guess it is. But so is wrangling them, nagging, and yelling. And in my experience, a little connection and fun goes a long way. Opera tooth brushing and a skipping race to the car is far, far easier than having to ask my child to put her socks on fifteen thousand times. And it makes us both feel a hell of a lot better.

Smooth Mornings Getting Out The Door really begin the Day Before…, or the Weekend Before.

This is the real kicker…We really only have time in the morning to give our kids “micro-fill-ups” of connection, which isn’t really enough to get them through the morning (and the rest of the day) in good shape. Little fill ups of connection work best in the morning when a kid has had a BIG fill up of our attention sometime recently.

What does a big dose of connection with you look like? It might be a romping pillow fight or your tender attention while they feel their difficult feelings deeply and fully (or even both, because play often gives rise to the big, vulnerable feelings that are often right underneath the surface).

These are examples of the Big Doses of Connection that kids are really looking for in the morning, but who has time then? It’s much easier on everyone if we can provide the Big Doses after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. So whenever you can manage it, let yourself drop your other responsibilities and playfully connect with your kids, and if their feelings start to erupt, stay close and let ‘em flow. Be the safe container for their storm, and welcome the feelings forth. Because if they wake up on school days with their cups already pretty full, then they are more likely to be sated by the “micro-fill-up” that you are able to give in the morning.

But know that it’s not always going to happen when it’s convenient. Some mornings we just have to toss the schedule out the window, and sit down on the floor with our wailing, thrashing child, and beam our love on their emotional storm. When kids have regular chances to release the pressure in this way, you will find you get that time back in spades.

And tomorrow morning will likely go just a bit more smoothly.

I hope this helps,
Angela

PS. We, Angela and Niels, have read all the questions and thought about answering them all. And we will. This week is the start of our new podcast. One of the first episodes features an interview with An Honest Mom herself. You can listen to that interview here.

In the coming weeks of the podcast, we’ll answer all the questions you asked in the comments section of the the giveaway post. You can sign up for the podcast on the Every Parent Podcast website or directly on iTunes, so you won’t miss an episode.

You can also visit us on our regular website, Parent Connect East Bay, where you can find information about our classes and coaching.

The Mommy Asana Photo Challenge

It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned photo challenge around here.

Our inspiration this time is coming from a photo series I love, Mommy Asanas.

This is the one that really wholloped me right off the bat:

Garden Gala

I love this woman. So strange and unapologetic with those damn shears.

And then there’s this one that tugs at my fraught relationship with the dishes.

Kitchen Bride

And this. The mother of all baby wearers.

Slung

Since I’m such a fan of these, I invited Barbara, the photographic mastermind behind these photos, to help me craft a photo challenge based on this series. And here it is, in her words.

self-portraits – they can show their face or not, but I would try to go deeper here. journal for 1 week & find 1 symbol that serves as a metaphor for their feelings that week. include that symbol in the image somehow.

I love this idea. Take some time, journal or not, to find your symbol. I say that because I was initially overwhelmed by the journaling idea. I’m averse to any more to-dos. So I just sat here, and it came to me.

momma asana

I’ve been wading eyeball deep through Jo/Cal aggression recently.

This morning, I knew I needed some listening time from a friends about last night, when I was all aglow over celebrating Jo’s 5th birthday. I went swiftly dead inside after watching Jo kick Cal for no apparent reason and then receiving 2 intentional blows on my face from Cal’s soft fist. I sulked off to the kitchen where I cleaned up and cried. This is not what I signed up for. I hate senseless kid aggression. I hate testosterone. I hate that this is part of my life. I worry that Jo is teaching Cal to hit and kick. And that my otherwise sweet little sweety is being morphed into another bad hitting boy. I want to surgically remove these routine kicks and smacks from my kids, leaving everything else intact. This is the part I know I don’t want. And yet it’s always here. Again and again and again.

So that’s my photo. And my diatribe.

Care to hop on the old Mommy Asana photo challenge bandwagon?

I hope so.

Not a mommy or a woman or someone who is good at taking pictures? Who cares?! Please share a photo if this challenge gets you going.

You can post your photos on my Facebook page or message the photo to me through Facebook if you’d like to share anonymously. And if you’re not all Facebook-y, just leave me a comment here, and I’ll be in touch over email so you can send ’em that way.

Sooner rather than later, I’ll post a photo gallery of our work here. And we can all sip wine and wear fancy clothes and discuss.

I’ll leave you with this parting shot for inspiration:

Classically Trained

Summer vacation, when doing the dishes is fun

This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.

It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.

I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?

Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?

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Decidedly awesome.

This dreamy riffle?

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J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.

These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.

photo(2)

Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?

I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.

There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.

Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.

Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.

I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.

Car camping is my new best friend

As a long-time backpacker in my youth, I would scoff at car campers. Why would you go to so much trouble to sit in a dusty parking lot and sleep in a tent?

Well, you narcissistic 20 year old know-it-all, because you have small children. That’s why.

And it doesn’t have to be a dusty parking lot, either.

We packed ourselves all up with stuff we had—sleeping bags, folding chairs, camp stove, pack-and-play, an old nonstick aluminum pan that AJ bought at a thrift store in New Zealand while I snuck off with a lid from another cooking set since we only had $6. And then we added a slew of borrowed stuff to the mix: 6 person tent, twin air mattress, full sized air mattress, battery operated thing to blow up air mattresses.

Then we were off. Propelling ourselves through the heavy, hot air of California’s central valley to a place called King’s Canyon.

On the road, back seat version. #familytriumph

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Back when we did childless things like going to trivia night every Monday, I remember one of the co-hosts mentioning how beautiful King’s Canyon was. So we decided to go to there.

Let me tell you, I’ve been dragging my feet on this camping thing. We tried once when Jo was 7 or 8 months and it was not the best. We actually backpacked in a couple miles–AW with Jo strapped to his front and a backpack on his back, only to find out that there was a spot we could have driven to less than 1/4 mile away. In the end, he barely napped and instead rolled around the tent like a ping pong ball. The night was pretty similar and I woke up bleary-eyed and desperate for our usual world of cribs and doors that close.

When it comes to camping, I wish we were co-sleepers–sleep together at home or sleep together in a tent. One less hurdle to get over. But for our separate-sleeper family and particularly me, with my sleep PTSD, the idea of bedding down together in a tent gave me the heebee-jeebees. To his credit, AJ was persistent, and I said OK through gritted teeth.

Then I stumbled across this post about traveling with kids and–cue soundtrack for light breaking through the clouds–a little golden ray started shining through. I commented on the post, admitting my terror of family tent sleeping and Free to Be replied,

…if you’re used to doing things a certain way at home, it often is a case of looking at things from a totally different angle as a camper – just as the cooking gets done in a different way, so does bedtime and babycare.

Eureka!

So damn true.

I packed that little nugget along with us and kept it as my mantra. I still doubted as we wound our way through the canyon to a campsite at the road’s end, all while enduring Cal’s cry which had turned raspy from overuse. We pulled into our site around 6 and I stumbled out of the driver’s seat, grabbed blotchy, sobbing Cal, yanked his clothes and diaper off and deposited him on the riverbank.

There was a cool breeze. Jo scrambled from rock to rock. Banged sticks on things. Threw stones at things. Cal felt the wind in his face. Splashed. Was calm.

I didn’t look at a clock for the next 4 days. We ate when hungry, slept when tired and not only survived, but enjoyed ourselves. That huge tent and the air mattresses helped too. Yes. There were nights when Cal would wake up Jo who would then wake up Cal. But AJ and I would take turns sleeping in and napping by the river. And being up with Cal at 5:30 washing dishes by the river had its own charm.

Camper

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There was a sublime joy in seeing Jo in such a fitting environment. I had a blessed break from the word “no.” Wanna break that branch? Sure. Light that on fire? Please. Hurdle that huge boulder down into the water? Just wait till that girl floats by. Ok, you betcha.

And we got deep into Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Jo saw the cover illustration of the spooky, beautiful witch at the library and was hooked. I required him to sit through my lengthy prologue about the term “witch” and it being a catch-all category for many powerful, magical, wonderful women. Once we got into it, I was struck by Jo’s fear and fascination with deadly, dark characters. Since I’m still afraid of the dark and the Wicked Witch of the West, I worry that stories like these only introduce him to oppressive, new fears, but I had the sense over and over as we read it that it was filling a deep need of his. To have a place to rest some of his knowledge that there are scary things and people out there. To be trusted with a story with some sharp edges.

When we weren’t reading in our camping chairs to the delicious white noise of the South Fork of the Kings River, we were roasting marshmallows over a campfire while Cal slept in his tented pack-n-play. In just four nights, I learned the geography and natural rhythms of Sentinel campsite #13 more intimately than those of the sweet little house we’ve lived in for the last year and a half.

The way the cedars go from 3 dimensional swaying green giants to lacy black frames for a hundred million stars. The evening glow on the east bank of the river, just before sunset. My back pressed into the smooth curve of river rock, eyes closed in the sun, squinting the light in every so often to watch Jo jump and splash through his new river world.

Why you're all welcome in my exclusive bad boy club

For those of you who don’t keep obsessive tabs on the goings on here (gasp! You don’t?!) I’ll catch you up real quick.

I wrote about a parenting breakthrough I had with Jo who will kick, bite, hit, head-butt and then laugh when angry. The post got lots of attention, and 60 or 70 parents, mostly moms, responded about how their kids, mostly boys, did this same thing. I was so moved by all the comments and struck by this pattern of boys behaving this way that I wrote another post speculating about where all this boy raging was coming from. Then I re-wrote that post due to an insightful comment on my Facebook page about gender. I re-wrote it because I realized that while my experience is about boys and while I see and hear this happening a lot with boys, I’m sure it also happens with some girls too, and I honestly can’t imagine the additional challenges of having a girl behaving this way. So I re-wrote the parts where I generalized about boys into generalizing to kids.

Since I did that, there have been some interesting comments in the vein of “Wait?! I thought we were now in this great raging boys club and now you’re expanding it to all kids, and we’re parents of boys. I liked it when you firmly identified as a mom of a boy. Don’t stop doing that!” I also got a fair number of, “Yes, my girl is like this too, so thank you for including me.”

And I’m left here pondering what I think about all of this—the old “are boys and girls wired differently?” conversation. The old nature vs. nurture conversation. The old “how do you talk about your specific experience and bond with people like you and also keep things open enough for different voices to join in?” conversation.

So here’s what I have to say about all that.

I think boys and girls are wired differently. Boys have penises. Girls have vaginas. They have different hormone combinations coursing through their little bodies. I also think boys and girls are wired very similarly. They both have brains and eyes and hands and are human and tend to prefer macaroni and cheese over most any other food in the world.

Here now, courtesy of my friend Jen with a witty blog that always makes me guffaw, are some examples of boy wiring:

Hammer2

Hammer1

BoyNails

Anyone else appreciate the “nails” theme in this series?!

In terms of inclusion/exclusion, I think something is lost when we try to include everyone in everything because one of my most profound joys in this lifetime is seeking comfort in people who share my experience. I’m talking to you, mom’s of “bad” boys! Also, I think something is lost when we get super exclusive, because one of my other most profound joys is learning from people who are really different than me. And having my mind blown by them. Hello, dads of mild-mannered, craft loving girls.

I want both things, damn it.

I am the mom of a particular breed of boy, and I’m going to talk about that without any apologies. I want you all to write from the hip here too, and not worry about generalizing about patterns you see in boy and girl behavior. I get it. We all see patterns. My big caveat is this: while some of the differences between boys and girls are rooted in biology, the differences between them that we see and talk about are culturally re-enforced to the max. We think boys are like this and girls are like this, we notice what confirms our thoughts (ignore what doesn’t) and make it true.

Also, I want to make room for our boys and girls to surprise us. For the record, when Jo is flinging his limbs wildly about, he’s often wearing one of his favorite shirts–it’s (gasp!) a turquoise “girl” shirt with puffed sleeves and a starfish on it.

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He’s also very nurturing of Cal and regularly shouts, “Mom, Cal’s on the stairs again—it’s a safety problem!”

He’s a big, complicated, easy-to-generalize kid.

Probably a lot like yours.

That slippery fish of parenting mastery

There are moments of mastery.

Because there are so many more moments of barely getting by and utter failure, I have to mark these somehow.

Not to toot my own horn…

To finish reading this post, get ye over to Get Born, a radical blog of unflinchingly real women writers where I post once a month. It’s a dream come true over there.

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Why I re-wrote my last post

Thanks to a really insightful comment from one of you on my Facebook page, I decided to go back and change the title and some of the content of my last post about raging boys.

I like this post, but I must admit I’m not keen on the slight ‘gender essentialism’ edge to it. Labeling this type of behavior as somehow a ‘boy’ thing isn’t really a good thing for either boys or girls. Also in my opinion it’s really not that clear cut. I have a boy who is (at least so far) the total opposite of this- very physically cautious etc. this describes our friend’s daughter far more accurately. A mom I talked to recently with a wonderful spirited ‘wild’ daughter was lamenting the fact that everyone seemed to think this kind of behavior was fine from boys and wrote it off as ‘boys will be boys’ type stuff, but saw it as almost unnatural and totally unacceptable in a girl. Since having kids I see so many examples of how much we try to stereotype them. When we see behavior that confirms our bias we note it, but when we see anything that runs counter to our bias we ignore it. Boys or girls, the same principles, solutions and dilemmas apply so why pigeon hole?

Since honesty is my bag here, I have to admit that I felt really defensive after reading Ruth’s comment at first. “But I wrote it because I have a boy, and 99% of the comments on my post about Jo’s badness were from parents of boys.” And then I thought some more, and had a back and forth with Ruth and decided that she was right. Parents of raging, wild, aggressive girls probably feel less open about it than those of boys, so I probably hear less from them. And like it or not, this kind of behavior is something that’s more tolerated in boys. Based on my own experience at the playground, I can only imagine what onlooking parental wrath I’d incur if my 4-year-old girl kicked and then dumped sand on the little boy sitting by the slide.

So I want to broaden this discussion from parents of boys to parents of kids. Are you the parent of a kid? Do they rage? Do they head-butt you and then laugh? Well then step right up. I re-wrote this for you.

Our raging kids and where they come from

Well hot damn. Hells bells. Sheesh-ka-bob.

Things have been really hopping over here since I wrote my last post.

I’m a chronic over-sharer in my day-to-day, so writing about my life, all splayed open for the world to see, comes naturally and feels good. Necessary, even. And so I write and I keep writing and I hope it strikes a chord somewhere. Hope someone else feels a little less nuts, a little more jovial about their particular mess, a little bit encouraged by the good company of us other bumbling humans, just trying to see what sticks.

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And then BAM. For whatever reason, I struck a chord last week. A relatively big one.

The things you’ve shared with me have left me stunned.

There are so many of us.

This is my son ALL over the place.

Wow. Just Wow. Your story resonated with our boy word for word.

The attitude of mum, the elder child’s personality and spunk, and the shock when it actually worked all ring so true.

My beautiful bad seed is all girl..lovely, opinionated, strong-willed, thoughtful, loving, commanding, and gorgeously all girl. With a temper that can send giants to the corner, silently weeping and hugging their knees.

What you wrote has an impact for me right now. I can be that padded wall.

This is our house, so thanks-

Like a few of you have said above, he hits, kicks, head butts, body slams me, bites, throws things, ect, and laughs all the while doing it. And I know he is not laughing to be malicious, but because he cannot get his emotions under control, and he doesn’t understand them. It’s damn hard though. And he’s a strong little bugger.

Ladies, this was so my son when he was younger. I think I still have PTSD from his first month or so of kindergarten when he was 5.

I’m trying to find a way with my 3 years old boy that plays –often– the agressive kid, usually against me.

I have four boys – two are like your son. Your piece had me in tears as not an hour ago I had numerous sets of eyes glaring at me at a park as a meltdown occurred. I stayed calm, told myself to ignore the judgement and to love my boy. But gosh was it hard. Even after two years of practice staying calm with him during his outbursts (since I finally learned not staying calm made it infinitely worse!) I still struggle.

Thank you for putting in words what I’ve been trying to do with my nearly-3yr old bundle of energy boy.

My very spirited 2 1/2 year old can be aggressive and violent like this to his very gentle 6 year old brother!

I needed this today.

my son is Jo…

This is exactly my 4yo.

When my son goes berserk he tries to hit and scratch and bite and he’s like a wild beast. If it’s not that it’s chucking things at me and knocking things down.

I am in exactly the same boat with my almost 3 year old and little ‘accidents’ with his younger brother.

My son is only 6-months and I feel like this already fits him to a T. Love the insight and I’ll be sharing this with my wife as we prepare for the next stage!

We have a Jo of our own in the form of Eli. Thank you very much for sharing this.

Your description of the sadistic smile that he gets is so like my William’s! He is so much more than that mask. Your post brought me to tears, because you showed me I am not alone.

Maria, I thought of you when I read this, especially the head-butting part.

And this isn’t even all of them.

I had no idea how many of us were in this boat. Parents with young ones who are scratching, hitting, throwing, biting and yes, as Maria well knows, head-butting; they’re hurting things and people in their path and then tossing off a sadistic laugh to boot. Even though I know these behaviors intimately because we’ve lived them all for the past couple years, it still baffles me to write it all out. Why is this happening? And to so many of us?

Maybe this has been going on for centuries with human kids. But if that were the case, wouldn’t there be a How-To-Handle-Your-Young-Child-Who-Often-Behaves-Very-Much-Like-a-Sociopath manual out there? Written and tried and tested by the droves of mothers who have come before us, and sat where we sit, staring, glazed-over, at a loss?

I’m working out a theory for why we’re seeing this particular kind of child so much.

First, there are a bunch of us parents who are suspicious of going straight to punishment when our kids’ behavior goes south. We don’t go straight to spanking or time out when the block goes whizzing by our head. That is not to say we don’t ever go the punishment route. After a long LONG day when I’m over it, I bust out some yelling and forceful placement in the room, to “not come out until you can touch your brother the right way.” But sometimes I have the energy and time to try other stuff. I listen. I give eye contact. For those of us who are willing to try this stuff, we don’t (or can’t!) stop the cyclone of destruction dead in its tracks (as much as we might like to!), so we see our kids’ raging as it gains steam and plays out.

Second is this article. It has me floored.

Atlantic Overprotected Kid

My friend Meg brought it up as we were talking about the response to my post about “bad” Jo and all the droves of moms of kids like him that were moved to share their thoughts here. It’s a long read, but worth the time, about the dramatic trend away from unsupervised and risky play since the 1970s and how, these days, children expect to be constantly supervised. While the hyper-supervision trend seems to be rooted in parents’ fear of injury or abduction, instances of those things haven’t gone up since the 70s, though our awareness of them has. And I have a hunch that all this reigning in of our kiddos has something to do with these little psychopath boy moments we’re trying to contain out in the world and in our houses.

For example, beginning in 2011, Swanson Primary School in New Zealand submitted itself to a university experiment and agreed to suspend all playground rules, allowing the kids to run, climb trees, slide down a muddy hill, jump off swings, and play in a “loose-parts pit” that was like a mini adventure playground. The teachers feared chaos, but in fact what they got was less naughtiness and bullying—because the kids were too busy and engaged to want to cause trouble, the principal said.

Are our kids so bored out of their skulls with their wooden train sets and soccer practice and happy cartoons that they’re seeking out the juicy-dangerous-aliveness that comes from risk-taking with us? If they could wander, unfettered with their neighborhood friends and build forts and cut down tree limbs and explore on their own more often, would they rage less at home?

Something tells me yes.