Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting the Poison Out

Yesterday, I lost my shit.  And by "lost my shit" I mean I threw a toddler-style tantrum, complete with screaming, kicking the wall and throwing things.  What, you might ask, prompted this break with mature adult behavior at six forty-five in the evening?  Hot Wheels - little metal cars, strewn about the play room, that Gage absolutely refused to pick up.  My reaction may seem a bit extreme, and I am the first to admit it was, but to know what put me in the state of mind to become so unhinged by tiny cars and my own tiny, little person, we have to backtrack a bit.  
I started the day yesterday at a disadvantage.  I woke up tired and irritable due to PMS.  This does not excuse poor behavior, but any woman thus afflicted, can understand it makes  not ripping everyone's heads off a colossal exercise in restraint.  We had to be out the door by nine o'clock for me to get the kids over to my parents' house, so my dad could watch them while I went for my annual exam at the gynecologist  (yee-haw, what fun).  I was having the house cleaned while we were gone, so in addition to the normal struggle of getting everyone dressed, fed, pottied and out the door, I was trying to get everything picked up.  (I am not suggesting you feel sorry for me because I hired someone to clean my house.) I did, I thought, a remarkable job of not yelling at anyone during this process, but by the time I had all of us, including the dog, in the van and was backing down the driveway at precisely nine, I felt like I'd already expended my daily allotment of energy.   
I dropped off the kids, went to my appointment (again, yee-haw) and returned just before Gage's nap.  I put Gage down for a nap, went upstairs and did some work for Dad's and my engineering business we run out of their house.  As soon as Gage woke up, we gathered the amazing amount of crap we take to my parents' for a mere three-hour visit, and stuffed everyone back in the van to head to Jack's soccer class.  At the class, I spent my time trying to watch Jack practice and keep Gage from flooding the place with the water fountain at the same time.  We went by Randall's on the way home to pick up one thing I needed to make dinner, and I decided to (gasp!) leave the kids in the car.  I got sausage, paid, and was back at the van in under four minutes.  No one stole the kids, which doesn't surprise me, because what nut job wants a five-year-old and a two-year-old they are not biologically beholden to take care of??
Back at home, we walked in to the smell of pinesol, which made me smile.  A clean house makes Momma happy, even when she knows it will only last five minutes.  Then, I discovered the cleaning crew had broken a ceramic handprint ornament the kids had done for Christmas, ate the cookies I was saving for dessert, and rearranged the pillows on Jack's bed. (Okay, that last one was only a big deal because Jack was extremely upset about it.) I took deep breaths, and left Jack in his room to scream and, "get the poison out," as Jason says.  When Jack was calm, we went downstairs, where the kids watched Mickey Mouse, while I made dinner.  Dinner was uneventful, except for the kids not eating what I cooked.  Apparently, black beans and rice with turkey sausage is a very suspicious dish and not be trusted.
After dinner, I was emptying the dish washer while the kids played surprisingly nicely together in the playroom.  I thought, "I made it.  It was a really busy day, I was in a bad mood, but I did all right."
Then I walked into the playroom to help the kids clean up before bath and it happened:
Me:  Let's pick up all these cars.
Jack:  Gage dumped them out.
Me:  Gage, come help clean up.
Gage:  (Ignores me while engrossed in a plastic bracelet.)
Me:  Come on, Gage, clean up, clean up...(I sing the clean up song to no avail.)
I pick Gage up, carry him to the cars.
Me:  Toss the cars in the basket, Gage!  Two points! (I try to make a game out of it.)
Gage:  giggle, giggle, giggle (still not cleaning up)

In hindsight, I should've just let it go.  I know I need to be consistent with the clean-up thing, but I knew I didn't have the patience, and I should've just closed the playroom door, gone upstairs with the kids, and forgotten it.  But I didn't.  I stood up, gave a primal scream at the top of my lungs, threw the basket on the tile floor, and kicked the wall with my bare foot.  I guess Jack wasn't the only one who needed to get the poison out.  At this point, both kids started crying, and I immediately felt awful.  Great example there, Mom.  Way to show the kids how to control their tempers.  Now you've scared them.  Jack was sobbing, Gage was crying, "Mama, Mama, Mama!" I sat down on the floor with my head in my hands, and that's when Jason walked in.  " Welcome home to the asylum, honey!!"
Both kids came over and sat in my lap, and we hugged for a while until everyone felt a little better.  I said I was sorry for losing my temper and that I would do better next time.  Then, Gage got up, picked up one of the Hot Wheels and went over and dropped it in the basket.  Then, he looked at me with a questioning expression and said, "eh?" Interpretation:  Is this what you got so worked up about?
Jason gave the kids their bath that night, while I laid on our bed and cried.  It was something I needed to do.  It was cathartic, and afterwards, I felt much better.  I could hear Jason laughing with the kids in the tub, and I was so very grateful to have him, to know that he could be patient with them when I couldn't.  Jack and Gage and I cuddled, read books, and reconnected before Jason put them to bed, and that made me feel better, too.  After that, I had a bath, drank some wine, watched some tv, and went to bed,  And this morning, I felt renewed - ready to take on the day, and the kids.  I even had a few new ideas about how to get Gage to do things like clean up and get dressed that would help it be less frustrating for all of us.  This story doesn't really have a moral or a point, except to say, some days are hard and sometimes I'm not going to handle the hard things well, because I am imperfect, but that's all right, because I am lucky.  I have forgiving children and a husband to share the burdens of life and child rearing with.  Plus, he intuitively knows when to bring home wine.  Thanks, guys.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Five-Year Itch

Lately, when I sit still, I feel antsy.  Whether it's while the kids are playing and for once not in need of my immediate intervention or by myself while Gage naps and Jack is at school, I have this sense there's something I should be doing - something I'm forgetting or something my conscious brain is deliberately ignoring.  Like today:  here I sat on my driveway on a gorgeous afternoon, watching Jack shoot baskets, while Jason and Gage played inside. We'd had a busy day, and I was tired, my allergies were in full swing, but I still had that itch - there was something that needed doing.   I know what it is.  It's time to write, like seriously write, like more than a few lines of blog-style venting and ranting. 
 This fall, Jack will be in full-time kindergarten and Gage will start 2-days-a-week preschool.  The kids are getting a little older, and I'm finally finding myself with some spare time on my hands here and there when I'm not too exhausted to even think.  I hear part of my mind whispering to me,"Write! You need to write!" Then, another part of my mind comes up with an excuse not to.  It's very similar to rationalizations not to exercise.  (I should go run...but I'm tired, I'm hungry, I need to pay bills, it looks like rain...) Part of it, I guess, is that I'm a little lazy.  As much as I enjoy writing and feel rewarded by it, it is work, and it can be frustrating.  More of it, though,  is that I am reticent or even afraid to go leaping off into that abyss.  What if I start writing a book, and I can't finish it?  What if I don't have what it takes to sit in front of my computer for the hours, daily it would take to complete it?  What if I do finish it, and it sucks?  What if I can't get it published?  I know I sound like McFly in Back to the Future (I just don't think I could handle that kind of rejection.)
Of course, I know the answers to all this.  If I never try, I'll never know if I could've done it.  I'll always wonder.  But still it's hard to actually do it, when I can tidy up the kitchen, fold laundry, order things on amazon,  poke around on Facebook, or find a million other excuses not to sit down at my desk.  It's like deciding to clean my whole apartment in college before I could sit down to study for an exam.
In the end, when I think about it, I know I'll do it.  I have to do it, or I'll drive myself crazy with mental self-nagging.  At least, I'll try to do it. I'll take my own advice, often given to Jack about new foods, activities or friends - you'll never know if you don't try.  That kid is so like me sometimes it scary.  So pretty soon, I promise, I'm going to start suffering and write that symphony... er, book.*

* This is a reference to Singing in the Rain, which my sister and I watched over and over to the point of obsession when we were kids.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Kids Aren't Cute

Years ago, when Jack was my only child and about thirteen months old, in the context of a play date, a friend of mine asked of me and another mom, while the three of us were serenely watching our toddlers play,  "So when do they stop being cute?"  The other mom said with surprise, "Oh!  Never!"  My flip response was, "I guess around four or so."  While I don't think she asked the question with any real seriousness, it stuck with me, and I think of it periodically as I watch my children learn and grow.  Jack is now closing in on five and will go to kindergarten in the fall, and I can say, I think he is no longer cute.  This isn't really as insulting as it sounds.  You see, Gage is almost two.  He has this cute little voice.  He likes to sing songs in his own personal language, which is super cute, and when he dances in his jumping, swaying toddler way, he is so stinking cute, I could eat him up.  (Incidentally, I never understood why cute kids drum up feelings of cannibalism in adults until I had my own kids.)  The way Gage squats down to examine bugs and rocks and acorns is endearingly cute, and when he waves and says, "Bye-eee," to people, they always respond with, "Aw, he is soooo cute!"  I remember it was that way with Jack when he was two, but now his comments and affectations inspire different feelings in me.  I don't remember the last time I told Jack, "You are so cute!"  But I am often in awe of his analytical ability.  I'm always thinking how smart and coordinated and emotionally empathetic he is, and I tell him these things.   He's become so much more complex and competent than cute.  We have whole, real conversations about things that make him curious - actual give and take conversations, instead of an endless stream of his asking, "Why?"  The other day, I came across a video I took of Jack holding Gage in his lap on our couch when Gage was just three weeks old.  Jack was three.  As he talked in his little three-year-old voice, I smiled and thought, "How cute!"  That's when I realized Jack has now, to a large degree, grown out of "cute."  It made me both proud of the big kid he's become and a little wistful and sad that he's lost that simplicity of toddlerhood.  It also reminded me to cherish the moments of Gage's cuteness, because it will be gone all too soon.
As I look forward to the fall, when Gage will start preschool and Jack will make the big move to kindergarten in public school, I remember how scared I used to be when I thought of my little Jack going off to big, public school.  I worried he was too sensitive and sweet and that big, bad kindergarten would eat him alive.  Now when I think about it, I'm still a little apprehensive.  I'm still concerned someone will be mean to him, or he won't feel comfortable asking the teacher for help when he needs it.  But, as my cute little Jack has turned into a competent, problem-solving, resilient kid, in my heart, I know he'll be okay.  I know that, even if everyone isn't always nice as pie to him, he can handle it.  I know that, even if he doesn't know where the bathroom is, he'll ask.  And I know that, even if he feels sad, frustrated, angry or even a little lonely from time to time at school, he'll be all right.  I know that, despite any obstacles or hardships, Jack will make it through school, and not only will he be okay, but he'll be stronger for having overcome the challenges along the way.  This is why it is good he is no longer just cute, because cute only gets you so far in life.  The rest of it -  finding real happiness and satisfaction - takes intelligence, fortitude, introspection and a sense of humor.  All of which is so much more than cute.