Category Archives: parenting highlights

Walking the line

On Sunday a major tornado came through Minneapolis and devastated several blocks in North Minneapolis neighborhoods. Our south Minneapolis home was blessedly spared, but the pictures and stories have been all over Facebook and the news, and we have friends within blocks of the destruction. At my ECFE class this morning, we were talking about disaster preparedness and how to talk to your kids about these kinds of events. I shared this list of things to do to prepare for a major disaster, and we all nodded our heads and murmured about what a good idea that was and how we all really needed to put some of that stuff in place. And then we talked about how we never had any awareness of stuff like this when we were kids, and was that because there weren’t as many disasters (hi, global warming!) or because our parents were less paranoid than we were or what? And it got me to thinking about how so much of what I think of as good parenting is finding a way to walk the line between anxiety and neglect. I mean, do you have yearly fire drills with your family, because: Safety! Or do you just install smoke alarms and assume that everything will be all right? Because, statistically speaking, of course, it probably WILL be all right. But, you know, I still make my kids wear seat belts and hold my hand when they cross the street.

Of course, this sense of walking a line isn’t limited to safety issues. I have the same sense of precarious balance when it comes to, say, gender issues with my two girls. For a long time, the Hatchling was completely uninterested in all things pink and princessy, for example. I mean, this is the kid who has been, respectively, a ladybug, Yoda, a cowboy, and a tornado for the last four Halloweens. But then she went to preschool. Or maybe it was just turning four, or maybe I let her listen to too many Broadway soundtracks – anyway, whatever the reason, she is now TOTALLY into the whole glitterlicious girl complex. Asked what she wanted for decorations on her 5th birthday cake this year, she said, and I quote, “ponies, unicorns, dolphins, and rainbows,” which also happens to be a comprehensive list of the contents of my 5th grade puffy-sticker album. I’ve talked with friends of mine who have girls the same age, and we’re all in the same quandary. On the one hand: Feminism! Woman power! Realistic body images! Fuck the patriarchy! Etc. But on the other hand, Choice! Support kids for who they are! Embrace multiplicity! Etc. Which is to say, yes, dammit, Barbie makes me fucking uncomfortable on every level, but if that’s where my kid is right now who am I to say that’s wrong?

That strangled sound you’re hearing right about now would be my mother choking on the words “You’re her PARENT, that’s who!” See, when I was growing up, there were lots of things that were off limits in our house for specifically feminist reasons. We weren’t allowed to watch The Flintstones or The Jetsons, for example, because of the problematic way they represented the role of women. (TV in general was both rationed and heavily weighted toward PBS.) And Barbies were RIGHT. OUT. Dolls were OK, and we could – and did – play dress-up Queens and Princesses to our hearts content. Hell, the first book I ever memorized was a little golden book version of Disney’s Cinderella, which ain’t exactly the most feminist story in existence. But the closest I ever got to a Barbie was a Princess Leia doll, who, while pretty stacked, was acceptable because a) she had flat feet like a normal person, and b) hello! Princess Leia is the shit! And I loved that Leia doll, don’t get me wrong, but I also yearned – YEARNED – for a Barbie doll. So while I totally and completely get why they were off limits, and my mom was really good about explaining exactly why she wouldn’t let me get one, I’m also pretty sure that they were way more important to me because they were off limits than they would have been if they hadn’t been forbidden fruit.

I guess what it all comes down to is that we all draw our lines where we’re comfortable drawing them, and if we’re conscientious about morals but also sensitive to cultural pressures, that can result in some arbitrary-ass line-drawings. So in our house, barbies are a non-starter, but the Disney Princess dolls are OK. (I know. Totally irrational.) I’ll let the girls watch Tangled and The Little Mermaid until they have the complete score memorized (with gestures!), but The Biggest Loser will air in my house over my dead, fat body. I’ll talk with them about feminism and self-respect and kindness and empowerment until their eyes roll back in their heads. I will strongly encourage them to read Louisa May Alcott, and I will pitch the mother of all fits if they want to read Ayn Rand. (Or at least if they want to read her uncritically.) I will happily embrace life partners of any race, color, creed, gender or ethnicity, but if they vote Republican I might have an aneurysm. And, of course, I reserve the right to redraw those lines whenever I see fit, because I’m still figuring this parenting tightrope out, dammit, and I might need to reroute myself occasionally.

So how about you? Where do you draw your lines? Does it feel like a tightrope to everyone, or just to those of us with a tendency toward neuroses? Lay it on me, y’all.

Mothering, Multi-Tasking, and Buddha, Part 2

OK, so you’re caught up on my blossoming interest in all things Buddhesque. The reason I made you sit through all that was … well, I’m not going to lie to you, part of it was because I’ve just been THINKING so much about it and I wanted to have someone to talk to. But also it was because the thinking about the Buddhism has – in particular – got me rethinking my relationship to multitasking.

Here’s the thing: I kind of hate it when parent-bloggers write from the assumption that having kids is some kind of holy experience that fundamentally differentiates them from non-parents, because I actually think that parents and non-parents have a lot more in common than not. BUT, having said that, it is also true that having kids has given me a completely different relationship to time. Before kids, when I was working full time, there were certainly times when I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that I wanted to do. Especially when I was, say, in tech rehearsals for a show, or finishing a really big project. After having a kid, and even more so after having two kids, OMFG THE TIME – There isn’t – I mean – Are you kidding me with the no time thing? And I’m not claiming that this is some essential quality of parenthood. I have high-powered lawyer friends without kids who get this, for example. And conversely, I’m sure there’s a person out there for whom parenting was the beginning of a whole new world of happiness and a sense that they were finally doing what they were meant to do. I’m just saying that A) that has not been *my* experience, and B) if I ever meet that person, I will punch them in the neck.

It’s just that lately, by which I mean for the last five years, I’m so goddamned worn out by the end of the day from taking care of my adored, demanding, lovely, exasperating children, that it’s all I can do to figure out what we’re having for dinner and *maybe* make it, before ceding all power for the rest of the evening to Mr. Squab – who is, of course, wiped out himself from working at the office all day. But at the same time, I’m craving time for myself like a heroin addict craves a hit. I mean, taking care of kids is eminently worthy and important work (DUH), but it’s not exactly the most mentally stimulating activity you could ever engage in. In fact, most of the time, and I say this with love, it’s boring as fuck. So once the kids are in bed, my brain switches into hyperdrive and suddenly I have an urgent desire to dive headfirst into every single self-centered grown-up activity I can think of in the 4 hours I have before my own bedtime. It’s like somehow I have to make up for all the lost time I wasted grooming the next generation when I could have been catching up on the latest season of Mad Men. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW, since I don’t have time to watch that show even though literally everyone I know has told me that I would love it and I’m sure they’re all right. So every evening, I cram in as many of my favorite selfish activities as I can get into the brief time available to me, often doing three or four things at once just so I can cross them off my list. You remember that episode of Seinfeld where George works out a way to have sex, listen to a ball game, and eat a hoagie all at the same time? Well, add knitting a sweater, reading a murder mystery, drinking a bourbon-and-coke and obsessively refreshing my Facebook feed and you have my ultimate fantasy night.

It’s ridiculous, and the stupid thing is that I’m not even enjoying it. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that my self-worth and sanity are predicated on maintaining all my pre-parenting interests and activities even as I engage in one of the most intense and time-consuming periods of being a parent. Now, there’s a part of that that’s right on the money: Every parent – every caretaker of any kind, for that matter – needs a healthy dose of caring for themselves on a regular basis, and lord knows those post-kid-bedtime hours are precious as gold. But I also recognize that I’ve gotten distinctly grabby with my “off” hours, in the sense that I collect activities around me and then hold them close with the single-mindedness of a born hoarder. I HAVE to read at least a chapter of my book every night. I HAVE to keep up with all the weekly shows on my DVR. I HAVE to knit-or-bake-or-sew-or-draw at least once a week. I HAVE to read every single Facebook post from every single friend and family member. I HAVE to skim Newsweek. And The New Yorker. And Entertainment Weekly. And Vanity Fair. Have to, have to, have to, because … well, because I ENJOY all those things, dammit! And I should be able to do things I enjoy! Haven’t I paid my dues? Don’t I deserve this time for myself? DON’T YOU TRY TO TELL ME I DON’T DESERVE IT!

Sigh. So then I’m reading my various Buddhist books, and they talk about mindfulness, and being in the moment, and letting your chaotic thoughts, your “monkey mind,” settle into a calm and spacious perspective, and I think, Gee. That sounds awfully nice. Maybe what I really want isn’t more hours in the day. Maybe what would make me happy isn’t being grabby and angry about getting more “me time.” Perhaps, if I allowed myself, even occasionally, to stop multi-tasking and really focus on what I’m doing right now … maybe then I could stop being afraid of losing myself in parenthood, and remember that Walt Whitman was right: I am large, I contain multitudes. And life is too short not to enjoy the hell out of it as much as you can.

So I’m trying. Not all the time, but occasionally, to just do what I’m doing when I’m doing it. If I want to read a book, I can just read it. If I want to watch TV, I can just watch it. I don’t have to check my email while I’m talking on the phone. I don’t have to knit AND surf the web AND drink a glass of wine to make it “count.” I don’t have to stay up until two in the morning to squeeze everything in. I can let stuff go. I can do things more slowly. And though my house will be dirty and my magazines unread, I think I will be a happier, squabbier, better, mother-and-daughter-and-wife-and-self. Which is really what it’s all about.

Just call her Che

So the Hatchling staged a coup at preschool last week. I knew I was in trouble when her preschool teacher (whom we love) came out of the classroom to where all the parents wait in the hallway, and pointing her finger successively at four of us, said, “You, you, you and you – I need to talk to you.” We winced and slunk into the classroom while the other parents looked on in sympathy mixed with relief. It TOTALLY felt like getting called into the principal’s office, NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW, since I was one of those kids who never GOT called into the principal’s office, because my whole aim in life was to please my teachers. Because I’m an oldest kid, and we like to get approval from authority figures. UNLESS YOU’RE MY DAUGHTER. Because apparently nobody told the Hatchling this, and she and three of her favorite little playmates went completely Mutiny on the Bounty on their preschool teachers. Collectively, they refused to help clean up at clean-up time, would not join the group at group time, trashed the reading nook during snack time, and (thus) did not get to go outside and play at the end of the day. As soon as we walked into the room, the Hatchling and the other little girl in the group both started crying; they knew they were in trouble. The little boys opted for the avoidance tactic, and just looked away like they didn’t even know any of these people and where were they, anyway? We spent about 10 minutes sternly exhorting our wayward progeny to clean up the mess, pronto, no I mean do it right now, RIGHT NOW, miss, you are going to get in TROUBLE, and now go apologize to your teacher and we are going to have WORDS on the way home. Sigh. Of course, their teacher was horribly sick that morning, so my theory is that they sensed weakness and went in for the kill. Which maybe makes it even worse. Honestly, y’all, I have no template for this. I was a goody-two-shoes all through school. I mean, there were MAYBE two times when I got my name up on the board for talking too much, but lawsy, that alone was enough to just about bring me to tears. I didn’t even start THINKING about sticking it to the man until grad school. I am trying to look on the bright side. Perhaps she’ll be an inspirational activist type! Or … a union organizer! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Alternatively, she could end up stealing hubcaps after dropping out of school at thirteen. That’s parenting! Always an exciting option somewhere down the road!

Parenting FAIL.

I have a terrible temper. No, really. I’m a pretty patient person, so it takes a lot for me to lose my temper, but when I do … it’s not pretty. I don’t know if it’s my Prussian forebears or just my own personal inadequacy, but it’s a fault I’ve been working on for years and years. I’m a person of intense feelings, which can be wonderful when you’re talking about joy or love or empathy, but when it comes to anger I have a difficult time regaining control once I’ve lost it.

I come from a family of yellers. Our anger doesn’t usually last a long time (I have a hard time sustaining it longer than 30 minutes) and we’re not passive-aggressive, thank Maude, but in my family, when you’re mad, you yell. When I was a teenager, I had some doozies of yelling matches with my parents – fights that have gone down in family legend and probably caused all of my younger siblings to experience some level of PTSD. We all survived it, but looking back I wish we’d been able to find a way to manage those years with less screaming on everyone’s part. However, we didn’t, and so – like a lot of you, I’d imagine – my model of parenting consisted of spanking when young and yelling when older. I don’t blame anyone for that, mind you – like most parents, my mother and father did the best they could with the tools they had available to them, and, hey, I turned out OK. I just wonder if there was another way, sometimes.

It’s something I’ve really been trying to come to terms with as I parent my own kids. The spanking thing has been pretty easy to avoid. Not that I don’t understand the impulse, but it’s something we decided not to do a long time ago, and the social pressure against it (at least in our parenting and peer circles) reinforces that decision. The yelling/losing of temper issue has been much more difficult. It wasn’t until sometime this last year that I even seriously considered that it might be possible to parent (mostly) without yelling. Not in a repress-your-emotions-and-go-insane kind of way, but in a head-it-off-at-the-pass kind of way. I do know that yelling is rarely effective for me. I do know that I hate to see the Hatchling mimicking my or Mr. Squab’s angry behavior (with her dolls, for example). So I’ve been thinking about it, and trying some different techniques, and seeing what I can do about controlling my epic temper, particularly in the area of parenting.

I’ve been having a particularly difficult time with it this autumn, as all of our tempers have been tried by the ridiculous cycle of illness we’ve been experiencing, in addition to which the Hatchling is clearly entering into a “disequilibrium” phase and is trying my patience to the utmost on her bad days. This afternoon was a real nadir. Both the Hatchling and the Sprout woke up from their naps in absolutely foul moods, which in the Sprout’s case manifested itself in nonstop cranky fussing, and in the Hatchling’s case manifested itself in vicious temper tantrums approximately every five minutes. EVERYTHING was wrong and EVERYTHING was my fault. Make her ask for things politely? TANTRUM. Give her the snack she just asked for? TANTRUM. Ask her to pick up the toy she just threw at your head? TANTRUM. Turn on her favorite movie in the hope that it will calm her down? TANTRUM. You get the idea. Lots of “NO!” and “IT’S NOT FAIR!” and general “AAAAAAAAHHHH!” And I just … Could. Not. Take it. I tried patient reasoning. I tried calmly giving her options. I really, really tried. And then I started yelling. And then I found myself in the kitchen, slamming the stainless steel coffee pot on the counter to relieve my feelings. And finally, I put on a jacket and put the Sprout in her warm fleece and told the Hatchling that we were going outside to wait for Daddy and she could come if she wanted. And when she started pitching a fit about getting on her shoes and jacket, I just took the baby, and walked out to sit on the back steps.

We were out there for all of about five minutes, and I left the doors open so I could hear what was going on. But oh, it felt like failure. I was sick to my stomach afterward and I still feel totally deflated and defeated. Because, you know: SHE’S THREE. Of course she’s going to have bad, tantrum-y afternoons. And I know it’s just because she’s going through some kind of mental growth spurt, and this is how it works, and in a few weeks or (ack) months I’ll have my happy girl back on a more full-time basis. She’s three: she gets to act that way. Not without consequences, sure, but three-year-olds get a pass on losing control of themselves occasionally. Thirty-eight-year-olds, not so much.

Why is it so hard? What can I do to get better? I know you’ll tell me to cut myself some slack, and I do – I’m not interested in being anything like a perfect parent, even if that were possible. But I really don’t want to lose it again like I did today, or, god forbid, even worse. (I mean, if a three-year-old can punch my buttons this hard, what the hell will I do with two teenagers?) There has to be a better way. Anyone have any tips?

Well, there goes my mother of the week award.

You know how, when you have a baby, there are all these WARNINGS about things? Most of which involve never leaving your child unattended? Especially when they’re infants? Because they might fall? But of course when they’re newborns they can’t really move at all so you sort of can leave them unattended even though you shouldn’t, and maybe you kind of push that luck a little too long and your 5 month old thrashes around until she sort of slides/falls out of the chair you had her propped up in? While you were (arrrgh) checking your email!?!?!!

Yeah. That might have happened to me today.

(Good thing babies have such hard heads.)

Recap of our trip to the grocery store with the baby, aka the first time the Hatchling has been out of the cart the whole time

Me: OK, now, remember, the Sprout has to ride in the cart so you get to walk and help Mama with the groceries. You have to stay with Mama, OK? NO running away, right?

Hatchling: OK, Mama. I helpa get gwocewies.

Me: Right. You help.

Sprout: A-bah.

Me: OK, let’s see what we need for fruit … do you want some bananas? (She’s only been asking for them 10 times a day since we ran out.)

Hatchling: Ummmm … no fanks. Oh, WOOK! Tomayoes!

Me: (grabbing bananas, distracted) Uh-huh, that’s right – ok, put it back, Boo. Put it back on the pile.

The Hatchling puts the tomato back on the top of the heap, and it rolls down and falls on the floor.

Hatchling: Uh-oh.

Me: That’s ok … (surreptitiously places it back on the pile) … Now don’t touch anything, OK? Just look. No touch.

Hatchling: Wookit, Mama! Apple! (She holds out a pomegranate.)

Me: No, that’s a … never mind. Put it back. No touching, right? Just LOOK.

Sprout: MAH!

Hatchling: OK, Mama. I get-a bwoccoli. I be riiiiight back.

Me: Honey, don’t – you really want broccoli, huh? Well, I guess that’s a good thing to want. OK. Look, don’t touch all of the – just bring me that one. THAT ONE. (The Hatchling walks towards me with a clump of dripping wet broccoli.) Good, good job. Here, I’ll take it.

Hatchling: NO! I PUTTA INDA CART!!

Me: Honey, we have to put a bag on it first.

Hatchling: INDA CART!!!!!!

Me: Yes, we’ll PUT it in the cart, but FIRST we have to put a bag on it. See? It’s all wet.

Hatchling: All wet!

Me: Thank you. OK, now we need to go down this way for some cereal …

Hatchling: I WUV ceweal!

Me: I know you –

Hatchling: Oh, WOOK! BAWOONS!

Me: Boo, stay here! We’ll look at the balloons later! Honey … (grabs cereal, parks cart and Sprout in corner) Come on, Boo. You have to stay with me, remember? (Hatchling darts through flag display, I knock it over trying to reach her) Ack! (grabs Hatchling with one hand, picks up flags with the other) Now come on. We’ll look at the balloons when we’re all done. Let’s find the milk, OK?

Hatchling: What’s dat?

Me: That’s crackers.

Hatchling: Get some?

Me: Uh, yeah, I guess we do need some crackers.

Hatchling: What’s dat?

Me: That’s gouda. It’s a kind of cheese.

Hatchling: I WUV-A CHEESE! Get some?

Me: No, you don’t like that kind. Come on, here’s the milk. (grabs milk, tries to head back to registers)

Hatchling: What’s dat?

Me: Those are lightbulbs, honey. Come on, it’s time to go pay for our stuff.

Hatchling: What’s dat? What’s dat WIGHT DERE, Mama?

Me: (increasingly beleagured) I don’t … those are cookies, honey.

Hatchling: COOOOOKIES. (She says this exactly like Cookie Monster) Getta some coooooookies, Mama? Get some wight DERE? I WUV-A coooooookies.

Sprout: Ga gooo. Ggggoo.

Me: Fine. (grabs cookies, dumps in cart) Now let’s GO. Come on! (enticingly) Let’s go look at the balloons!!

Hatchling: (brightly) OK! (runs off in the direction of the balloons)

Bag Boy: Wow, she’s a real cutie. How old?

Me: (smiling, fatally turning attention away from the Hatchling) She’s three, and the little one is two months. (notices Hatchling completely entangled in various balloon strings) Honey … argh … (leaves cart and Sprout at register) come here, let’s get you untangled …

Hatchling: I stuck, Mama.

Me: No kidding. OK, now let’s go get our groc-

Hatchling: I NEEDA BAWOON!! MY BAWOON, MAMA!! (Grabs four graduation themed balloons tightly in fist.)

Me: Christ. Look, how about we get this one? Just ONE, ok? And put the rest back.

Hatchling: (brightly) OK! (Marches back to cart with her rainbow happy birthday balloon in hand.)

Grocery Clerk: (smirking) One balloon, then?

Me: (sheepishly) Yeah. Thanks.

Hatchling: OK, Mama! Time to go to car. Say bye-bye!

Sprout: geh-GA.
**********************

Final Score: Hatchling = Eleventy Billion, Me = Zero. Once the Sprout can play I am truly doomed.

I write letters

Dear Teacher at the School Where Our Weekly Toddler Class Is Held,

If you see a harried-looking mother trying unsuccessfully to calm an infant who is screaming like her eyes are being stabbed out with red-hot pokers, it is perhaps not the ideal time to strike up a conversation with said mother about how cute the baby’s outfit is and you assume it’s a girl and what a lovely name! etc., because I DO NOT HAVE THE BRAIN SPACE to engage in social niceties while my baby girl is having a complete and total conniption fit. You absolute moron.

Warmest regards,

The Squab