J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself. I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.
So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.
I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?
Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.
I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.
I’ve been saying stuff like this:
I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?
Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.
Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.
Both things are true.
And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.
Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”
Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.
We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.
Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.
Dear Mom of the kid who my kid just hit, kicked, pushed, scratched or grabbed,
I’m sorry. It is horrifying to watch my child hurt another. It’s like putting on by best outfit, going out and trying to be the good person I know I am and suddenly having a surprise third arm lurch out from under my coat and start flipping everyone off.
I worry now that you’ll think less of me, even though I’m a good woman.
Is your kid okay? I’m sorry. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll try to get J to tell your child that he’s sorry. I read somewhere that it matters less to a toddler to make them say they’re sorry, and that it impacts them more to show them the face and body language of the child they hurt, so they understand how their actions affected the other child. So I tend to do that instead of angling for an apology.
I’m ashamed to admit that this has been a problem for a while. I’ve been working with J on this for a year and a half, and it grieves me when this happens—it makes me doubt myself as a mother.
At multiple stages, some approach I’ve taken has worked, so I think that we we’re past this. And I heave a huge sigh and take the opportunity not to shadow him at every moment when there are other children around. So lately, I’ve gotten more relaxed when I’m in public. And now he’s doing it again. I don’t know why. I don’t hit him at home. And I try to use forms of discipline that will be effective but not prey on his fears or break his will.
It’s times like this when I wish that I could break his will, but I’m not sure if that would work with this particular child. And after thinking about it for more than a few seconds, I don’t want to break his will. Because I believe in him.
I also believe that he will grow out of this and that it’s my responsibility to minimize damages in the mean time.
If you feel empathetic towards me, I’d love to hear any ideas you might have for how to handle this, particularly if you’ve struggled with this yourself. And if you have struggled with this yourself, PLEASE tell me. It’ll make me feel less like a social pariah, and more like a woman who is trying her best. And I’ll admit. Sometimes I get lazy, or I just need to believe that today will be better. Because I want to be able to sit at the park and zone out for 5 minutes. Or I want to be able to talk to you and enjoy our conversation instead of lurking 3 feet behind my son trying to anticipate his frustration, fear or anger.
And if you feel extra, super empathetic, and if you know us, please remind me that you know J is a good kid and that you care about him even when stuff like this happens.
A mom of a kid who physically hurts other kids sometimes
Train engineers the size of wine corks (where is my mind?!) tend to escape my 1st pass of throw-various-toys-into-various-boxes-so-I-can-walk-on-level-ground-in-my-own-home. So J’s esteemed engineer was marooned on our floor, only to be crunched under one of our giant feet. It was a grisly injury to be sure, but I felt confident in my skills once I found where the head had rolled off to.
As I was holding the head in place for the 3rd time, cursing myself for not having the patience to let the glue set, I had an idea. And as I tried unsuccessfully to peel the ripply crust of superglue off of my fingers, I decided that this was the best idea I had ever conceived.
You see, I’ve been having a daily battle in my mind, since J was very young. It is a battle with pronouns. I started to resent his children’s books, which were so casually saturated with male characters. Male humans. Male trucks. Male ducks. I decided that I could provide some strategic revisions to his stories, replacing the “he” and “his” with “she” and “hers.” And any resistance I got in the form of, “But that’s a boy, Momma,” I would just quash with my explanation of how some boys have long hair and wear dresses and some girls have short hair and wear dungarees.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I started to hear my own thoughts, and how dominant and automatic the “he” was. So I started “she-ing” birds we saw, and garbage collectors and worms.
Naturally, I had to “she” the engineer.
I had some internal criticism with myself over whether the haircut was too girly, but ultimately decided that I wanted anyone else playing with the toy to see that it was an engineer lady, so I went with the fringe-y bangs and bob.
I must say, the result has thrilled me. Every time J is padding through our house saying “My engineer, where is she?” I feel a warm, relaxing tingle in my belly. Because more than wanting J to know that women can be engineers and that girls can play trucks, I want him to just see those things as a casual matter of fact.
And I make sure of it by giving human action figures the Sharpie treatment the moment they cross our threshold.
For the past couple months, J has complained just about every time I take him to daycare. The minute I cheerfully tell him that it’s a school day he begins the “I don’t like my school” refrain. It can also express itself as “I don’t like my friends,” or the even more concerning “I’m scared of my school.”
Ever since I had my revelation about how to drop him off at daycare to instill confidence in him, I’ve had that whole situation dialed in. Until now.
For the first month, I just told myself that things would shift. I listened to him, acknowledged his feelings of not wanting to go and then let him know that I think his daycare is a good and safe place for him. And that I trust his teachers to take wonderful care of him. But he keeps expressing resistance. So I’ve started to worry. Is there something going on that I should be worried about? And even if there’s not, is this school just not the best fit for him anymore?
Many of his older friends moved on to pre-school around age 3, but I’ve resisted following that pattern because:
I couldn’t give a rip about his academic development. We live in a culture that is completely obsessed with knowledge and thinking and he’s going to get plenty of emphasis on that his whole life. So right now, I just want him to feel safe and loved and be well fed.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
After our second month of the “I don’t like my school” chorus, started to wonder if maybe it was broke. I decided to ask for some advice. I sent this to a blogger friend with extensive teaching and childcare experience. (She has an intensely helpful blog called Aunt Annie’s Childcare.)
Hello fabulous Annie. I have a question for you. It’s about my sweet J and our current childcare situation. He’s been going to the same place since he was 1 (and he’ll be 3 in a couple weeks). It’s a home-based montessori daycare and the woman who runs it is full of love and joy and makes amazing organic food for the kids. I love her. So for the past month or so, nearly every time we get ready for school, he goes 2 mornings a week, J says, “I don’t like my school,” and is often very clingy when we get there. If I can get him engaged in something, he’s usually happy for me to leave, but sometimes, I have to pry his little hands away from me and leave with him crying. I’ve tried to talk with him about why he doesn’t want to go. He has said that he’s worried about some boys there who have been rough with him and so we talked with his teacher about it in front of him, asking her to please keep him safe and letting her know that J was worried. The whole conversation went well, and I felt great.
The other day, though, J said that he wanted to go to Childwatch, which is the childcare associated with the gym I go to. I found this a bit alarming, since he was actually preferencing one form of childcare over another. I’d always just assumed that he wanted to be with me instead of going to school, which I understand. But his mention of Childwatch made me wonder if that’s his way of saying that this childcare situation isn’t the best for him. The other thing about the current situation that worries me is that there’s been a lot of staff turnover at his school. His teacher usually has 2 helpers, and since J has been going there, her helper of several years left and since then it has been very unstable. At this point I am concerned, but not sure what to do. I love his school and think it is a good, loving, safe place but am beginning to wonder if it’s the best fit for him. When I think of moving him to another school, I worry that the same exact thing will happen, and we’ll go through that whole upheaval for nothing. So there you have it.
And here is Annie’s most helpful reply:
First, it’s not unknown for a child of this age to have a new bout of separation anxiety; he may have associated the gym childcare service with you being in close proximity. Have you asked the teachers at his Montessori care what happens after you leave? Does he settle quickly or fret for hours? If he frets for hours, change is definitely indicated. In this case you should definitely be listening to your child’s signals about the service, regardless of what you think of it.
If he settles once you’re gone, then he is still having a problem with the actual separation rather than with the service. A transition routine which is the same every day can help here- transitions are SO important. You can work out something that works for you (say, a special breakfast with mummy, then when you get to care you read him a story, then you kiss and cuddle once, leave him with the carer of his choice and then GO) and repeat it regardless of his tears or clinginess. The carer should ring you if he can’t settle- I gather this hasn’t happened?
Changes of staff can definitely be unsettling at this age. It’s a difficult time, but the same thing happens in other settings so that in itself is not a reason to move. You really need to be a fly on the wall and find out what happens when you’re not there! You should be able to rely on the staff to tell you this- but if you are still worried, perhaps some surprise visits are in order where you pop in and observe without him seeing you (if possible!).
She provided exactly the distinction I needed: Is his problem with the separation or the service? And I can say with total confidence now that it’s the separation that is hard for him. He always recovers after my departure within minutes, and every time I pick him up, he’s happily playing in the back yard.
Oh, the joy of asking an expert and finding some peace of mind. Now I can focus my time and energy on developing good transition routine and my confidence in J’s lovely school is back in full force.
I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.
Without further ado:
I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.
p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.
Well, thanks to all of your helpful comments responding to my cry for help, things are going a bit better on the sleep front.
Your suggestions reminded me of something that I knew deep down in my heart–J is getting bigger all the time, and I will probably always be a few steps behind, thinking he still might need his crib or only drink 4oz of milk at one sitting or that he’ll want to sleep swaddled until his mid 40s.
So I did it. Thanks to my trusty IKEA-supplied Allen wrench, I turned his crib into a toddler bed.
I was definitely terrified of what chaos might ensue, and also just clinging lazily to old routines. It just takes so much damned energy to construct a whole new set of bed time procedures. But it seems that we’ve done it.
Naps are still the real challenge–we’ve gotten him to fall asleep in there on his own for nap time once. I was so giddy with excitement that I had to take a picture:
All other times, he has either fallen asleep nursing (which I must say, I think I am finally ready to give up at this point) or he has never fallen asleep and thus had “quiet time” which consists of bursts of quiet or loud play alone in his room, punctuated by opening his door and having chats with me. I have yet to find a way of enforcing quiet time that feels right to me. The one thing I haven’t tried that I might is turning on an album and saying that he has to stay in his room until the music ends. I welcome any other tips you might have.
Nighttime is much simpler. My friend B sent me this very applicable quote from this website, which seems quite helpful especially for the 0-1 set.
I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor can you make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.
Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does!
Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.
I found this particularly helpful and found the extra added reinforcement of a Goodnight Moon pop-up book that J and I found on the street corner the other day. Granted, many of the pop-ups had been torn off, which is probably why this book had been jettisoned by its former owner, but one function that remained delightfully intact was the pop up of the little bunny who goes to bed in the great green room. There’s a little tab that you pull and the little bunny sits up, and if you push it, she lies down. But she doesn’t get out of bed. Because she knows it’s BEDTIME. I explained all of this enthusiastically to J and really put some ooomph behind it. I’ve been reminded of the power of ooomph by this post about intention that my blogging friend Turned on Mama wrote. (And she also happens to give great sex advice to boot.)
Anyhoo. He bought it. He stayed in his little bed and fell asleep. And he’s done that a few nights now. Of course, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes he clucks around in there for what seems like forever. Other times he gets out of the bed and winds up falling asleep like this:
Do the sleep challenges ever end? We’re having a rough day over here.
After our delightful time away in Colorado, aka my soul place, J has adopted all sorts of different sleeping patterns. When we were away, J said he wanted to sleep in the “flat bed” and since the room where he stayed had one, we gave it a try, instead of using his travel crib. It worked great and we really enjoyed being able to snuggle with him while he went to sleep. So much so that we would sometimes fall asleep too or just lay there watching his little eyes droop and cheeks bloom into that sweet, rosy napping boy color.
Now that we’re back at home, in the land of the room with no flat bed and only a crib, things have been pretty topsy turvy. In short, over the past 2 weeks, he got pretty used to having someone lay down with him while he was falling asleep. So now he’s been screaming maybe 70% of the time when we leave him awake for night-time or nap. I’m able to write at this very moment because our nap battle, which began at 1 and ended a few minutes ago at 2:15, has ended with victory for me. I have a sleeper. But here’s how it went down:
We read 3 books, sang 2 songs, then “boo boos,” our very secret code for “boobs,” the typical routine.
J cries when I put him in his crib, wants me to snuggle with him and leave the door open.
I don’t want to, so I don’t.
He yells. Then climbs out of his crib and plays with toys.
Then opens his door every few minutes, sticks his hand out, holding a random object — a rubber band, then a dragon wing — and saying “Here, Momma.”
I go in, tell him that if he doesn’t want to sleep he needs to have quiet time.
He announces he has to poop.
He announces that he wants to watch Thomas the Tank Engine.
I say that if he takes a nap, he can.
I deposit him in his crib and he screams.
I walk out.
He climbs out of his crib.
I walk in, make no eye contact and put him silently back into bed.
Repeat these last 2 steps 15 times.
He climbs out, plays quietly on his floor for 20 minutes, then begins the “Here’s a random toy I’m gonna thrust through a crack in the door, Momma” routine again and says “I wanna watch Thomas.”
I say he needs to have more quiet time if he’s gonna watch Thomas.
And then somehow, I wound up in there holding him on the rocking chair and he nursed himself to sleep.
I know that this is, as one Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, a complete cluster-cuss.
I know I was not consistent. I know I tried a jillion different strategies (and I didn’t even mention when I went in, grabbed his crib mattress, blankets, stuffed animals and pillows and put them on his floor–in all my wisdom, I was trying to simulate the “flat bed.”). And after all that, I ended up “caving” by nursing him to sleep.
Here’s the deal: J is almost 3. The same strategies that used to work just don’t any more. And a lot of the good resources I’ve found for sleep drop off after the first couple of years. Like this one my friend B, mom of a 3-month-old, emailed me, with the endorsement, “I just found it and I am like yes finally the answers in plain English!” If you have a 0-12 month old, go forth and enjoy.
I also read and re-read choice sections of the Weissbluth sleep book when we go through a period like this. I’ll be the first to admit that I credit the Weissbluth sleep book as one of the things that saved our lives in J’s 5th month. I’ll also be the first to admit that his book will probably push your buttons if you take your place on the “anti-cry-it-out” side of the firestorm that is the baby sleep debate. Regardless of his opinions in the cry-it-out department, I think Weissbluth has some very useful things to say about naps, and sleep cycles and typical sleep patterns for infants in particular. Again, though, I’m kinda coming up empty now that I have a willful boy who can climb out of cribs, open doors and hit, kick and scratch.
Well, I’ve been having a serious inertia problem over here, folks. I even looked up inertia to make sure that’s what I meant, and it is—the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest.
When I sit down, I want to sit forever. If I’m in bed, that’s where I’d like to spend the rest of my days. When I’m at dance class, it’s all I want to do.
But let me not give you the wrong impression: most of the time, I experience the inertia issue when I am in a state of rest. And most of the time, I’m not resting luxuriously or particularly well. I’m on the couch, looking at Facebook. Or I’m sleeping while Jonah watches Dora. Or I’m staring off into space while J squishes green playdough through our garlic press and hums Puff the Magic Dragon.
I’ve been avoiding things. Namely:
Looking earnestly for the part-time freelance video editing gig of my dreams.
Cleaning that last pile of random crap off the dining room table/desk.
I tell myself that tomorrow it’ll feel better, more do-able, and then the next day, I’m weighed down by the same feeling of meh-ness when faced with these various tasks.
For the last few days, I’ve been admitting to myself that my whole depression thing probably has something to do with it. And admitting that has me scared. Because it’s summer time. Because I’m no longer the exhausted parent of a completely erratic infant. Things are pretty good right now. And if I’m still depressed, then that means I’m a depressed person, rather than a person in a particular situation which has brought on depression.
Luckily, I had a stroke of genius today. After A took J to daycare and I had my 3 hours of sweet, sweet freedom, I decided to make some phone calls. Rather than sinking into the whole resting inertia thing, I actually voluntarily changed my state of motion. I washed dishes and did laundry and called my friends.
FRIENDS. What a revelation.
The first one I talked to was S. Calm, earnest, pregnant S whose husband was on a walk with her 2-year-old daughter, which meant that we had nearly 40 minutes of uninterrupted talking time. When I gushed all my worries out to her–in particular, my fear about being depressed even in the midst of very little stress–she burst the situation wide open with this: “Well, actually sounds like you’ve got a lot of stressful stuff going on right now.”
We *are* facing a huge rent increase in the next several months. And we *do* have a lot of uncertainty right now in terms of our incomes. So our home and money situations are both totally up in the air. That does sound stressful.
And in terms of the little work tasks I’ve been avoiding, S offered this pearl of wisdom: “Sounds like you just need to do it.”
So I did.
After this whole exchange and hearing about S’s latest travails with her toddler and impending move, I just felt one thing.
Then, up stepped L, friend #2 in this delightful turnaround of a day. She called, asking if I wanted her to stop by in a few hours. Yes, I did. Even though her timing was going to be smack in the middle of J’s nap when I could get some work done, I thought that hanging with her might actually enable me to feel more whole and productive. I was right.
When I got home from picking J up at daycare, L was already here, waiting. I love it that she just lets herself into our back door if no one is home. She reminded me, just by hanging out on the couch and talking and eating chips, of the lightness and ease that still exists in my life, even amidst all the uncertainty.
Enter: friend #3. I met up with R for a walk after our kiddos woke up from their naps. I filled her in on the day’s discoveries while we pounded the pavement and pushed our strollers.
By this time, I was starting to feel almost normal.
And then R said, “I love it that you called me and asked for what you needed.” This thrilled me because: a) I actually had the presence of mind to ask a good friend for what I needed, and b) she liked it–nay, loved it–that I asked her.
Isn’t it ludicrous that I have to learn these things over and over and over again? Like that I have a lot of amazing friends and that it’s actually a good idea to call them instead of building an isolated tower of guilt and shame? Or that instead of feeling put upon, my friends actually like it when I call them to talk about my problems?
With results like these, why do I have this deep, dark, moldy fear of reaching out for the people that care about me when I feel crappy? Well, for one, I’m afraid of being rejected. And I’m also ashamed that I have wholly slovenly, unproductive, depressing days. Yet when someone I love (or any person, really) confides in me about their darker, messier parts, my whole self heaves a huge sigh of relief.
We all have parts of our lives that feel shameful. We all get isolated in our own little mental horror stories.
So let us all now take an enormous, collective sigh.
I’ve been craving more space for our little family. Daydreaming of 3 bedroom apartments with chickens in the backyard and a garage for our bikes. And then the universe promptly declared, “Put your money where your mouth is, lady!” in the form of an unexpected and radical rent increase at our little cottage.
After recovering from my initial shock and terror, I realized that this was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Nothing like the prospect of paying $700 more per month to motivate a hunt for new housing. So we’ve had to put the backyard chicken plan on hold for the time being. That is not to say that our coop isn’t getting plenty of use.
Please note the cool combo ladder/door that my naked child is playing with. I came up with the design and A hammered it out–this way, we don’t have to put out and then take away a separate ladder every time we open and close the door. What efficiency! That is, won’t that be efficient once we actually get chickens?
While our chicken aspirations are on hold, my kale dreams are coming true.
Perhaps I’ll go make myself a kale salad and go obsess over housing ads on Craigslist…
Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.
So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?
It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”
That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.
Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?
So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.
For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.
How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?