Peanut Is Winning

I’ve been working hard on not yelling. I’m not a patient person, I’ve found more patience than I ever though I possessed in my parenting journey, and I still occasionally lose it and bark at my children. Especially the older one. And I could sound all apologetic and acknowledge the damage I do when I raise my voice, but I have to tell you, I’m kind of over the judging myself thing. When I feel like a terrible parent I go to Target and watch other people parent. Then I pat myself on the back and go back to doing my best.

I don’t like yelling. And saying something gently three or four times in a row, then yelling, is not a pattern that’s working for us. So I don’t get to three and I don’t yell after four. I change my approach after the first try doesn’t work.

So I’ve worked hard on the rekindling the techniques I busted my ass to cleave to when Peanut was Two: making eye contact, getting down on his level, speaking softly in concise, simple sentences.

But this older Peanut is always on the move, and rarely wants to make eye contact with someone trying to tell him what to do.

So lately I’ve seen a lot of his back, to which I calmly say, “Peanut Cacahuete Naptime: look at my face.” When he’s looking I know he hears, I can use a quieter voice, and the process of getting him to turn around defuses my anger. As Mommy Mantras says, the pump is already primed. When pressed, if I can find a release valve for the top 20% of my frustration, I can get a restart on a tense situation and behave like the parent I want to be.

Yesterday before bath I needed him to hear me about a politeness issue. “Peanut,” I said to a hastily retreating boy. “Look at my face.”

He turned and looked in my eyes. “What is it, Too Serious Mother?”

He knew he had me. His eyes held mine and absolutely danced with his impression of his cleverness. I chuckled and told him quickly what I needed to say. He scooted off down the hall to do what I was going to ask anyway, because the little bugger *does* hear me. He just often doesn’t want to.

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Can’t be sure

Because taking a woman out of her element and letting her parent two amazing baby humans is akin to stringing her up by her ankles and asking her to live with bats, I’m not always sure what I’m doing. It’s hardly my fault. I’m a diurnal, visual biped forced to hang upside down and fly around echo-locating by night.

So I was surprised when our two-year-old decided his outfit for the week would be just socks. On his hands. And nothing else.

I shouldn’t have been shocked. His brother did the same thing for one whole month, four years ago. Also in the winter. It’s as though winter nudity with impromptu mittens/puppets is in the toddler manual.

Wait, is it?

The week of rain at the end of a rainless winter did not surprise me. Neither did the frenetic and borderline sociopathic cabin-fever behavior during the same time. What did shock me was how planned activities totally took care of everything. One part dance party, one part playdough party, one part playdate, one part role playing goodness. Who knew? (I did. I had just forgotten. We’ve had a dry winter and I haven’t had to do this for over a year.)

And I was taken aback when the six-year-old decided it was time to use his words, react calmly, and speak in a normal tone of voice.

For the first time in six years.

Who knew that there was a phase during which children were reasonable, interesting, and fun to be with?

Oh, yeah: Me. Because it happens at least once an hour.

From my toddler to yours

Today we have a guest post from our almost-two-year-old, Butter. He was inspired this morning to start composing this. And since I started this blog when his brother was just a bit older than Butter is now, I thought it would be a nice beginning to The Years That Require Some Coping Mechanism.

Take it away, Butterbean.

***

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Everything. Except when they try to do things for you. Blech. They don’t know anything. Why would I want shoes or socks or pants? If you don’t want shoes or socks or pants, just tell them. Loudly. They’ll give up. And then, guess what? No shoes or socks or pants!

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Dumping. And Throwing. Today I asked the Cuddle Lady to get me a game so I could dump out all the plastic disks into the box, then dump the box into my truck, then dump my truck into another truck, then dump all the disks on the floor. When I asked her to put them back in the bags so I could dump again she said “yes.” I like “yes.” I also like “uh-oh.” Uh-oh means people pay attention and say gentle words and clean up for you.

I don’t like shoes or socks or pants.

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Chalk. Today the Cuddle Lady game me some chalk and I dumped it on the floor. Guess what? Chalk makes More Chalk if you dump it. I took my More Chalk and put it in the cup thing that goes with other cup things in my drawer of cup things. Then I poured the More Chalk into a different cup thing. Then I dumped it on the floor. Guess what? Even More Chalk. Back into the cup thing and into the other cup thing and onto a table and onto the floor and into the cup thing and then guess what? Some of the Even More Chalk was dirt! Lello dirt and purpu dirt and boo dirt and orja dirt! I pinched that into the dirtpan then dumped it on the table. Then I put stickers on it. Stickers with BEES! Then the Cuddle Lady said it was time for pants. Boy, was she wrong. Uh-oh, Cuddle Lady. Time to clean Even More Chalk.

Know what’s fun about being almost Two? Lunch! The Cuddle Lady calls not-quite-bathtime food at the table “dinner” and morning food at the table “breakfast” but food walking around the kitchen or in the yard is “lunch.” Lunch means no shoes or socks or pants. Lunch is yay!

The most yay is potty. Being almost Two means taking off your pants, and sometimes taking off your pants and sitting on the potty. If you tell your Cuddle Lady or Poky Face to stay away while you’re on the potty, then when you’re done you can throw the potty. And guess what? Throwing the potty is even more fun than dumping the potty! Everything flies out of the potty.

Flying out of the potty is yay!

Uh-oh. Cuddle Lady says pants. And dinner. Pants and dinner are not yay. Time to make more uh-ohs so Cuddle Lady will talk gently and forget about pants. While she’s cleaning the potty throwing, I’ll climb up to the table and dump dinner.

Bye-bye!

Boxing Day

This year, Boxing Day might be my favorite holiday. (It always creeped me out before, hearing the inaccurate history of the day as based in a tradition of boxing children’s ears so they’d remember the day. Terrible. And, as I said, inaccurate. Sticks with you, though.)

Christmas was delightful. Morning at home in a slow frenzy of buckwheat pancakes, unwrapping, and play. Afternoon with family. And evening with more family, pausing, as we chased after a Tasmanian Devil toddler, to chat with dear people we haven’t seen in longer than we’d like. Kids were wiped and went to sleep easily.

Today, though, was heaven. The kids had enough newness in the living room that they played without tormenting each other. The bigger one was so involved in projects that he didn’t scream when the little one drew near. The little one had so many things to investigate that he didn’t tail the bigger one. And they both left me alone to do my thing: cooking and Internonsense. When they wanted me, it was for play. And it was every 10 minutes instead of every single minute of thirteen straight hours.

I didn’t even care that the toddler didn’t nap.

The day went by at regular pace, a shocking rarity in life with two small, energetic, opinionated, frenetic little destructive forces.

Regular pace. Like, recognizable as an actual day. Not sped up in hyperdrive, nor tortuously slow. No freakish stops and starts, the likes of which dominate my at-the-whims-of-everyone-else life.

I barely knew what to do with myself.

Mmmmmmm. Regular speed. It’s been years, but you feel like home.

Whatever it takes

For your consideration:

Item #1 At 9 months Butter discovered the jars of spices and was smitten.
Item #2 He requests several times a day to have someone hold him and open all the spices so he can sniff them.
Item #3 He did, anyway, until he could open jars himself.
Item #4 And work the stepstool.
Item #5 He regularly pads over to the far end of the kitchen, drags the stepstool over to the spice counter/drawer, and has at it.
Item #6 if not closely supervised he will pour them all over the floor.
Item #7 Lack of close supervision includes blinking during the close supervision of spice sniffing.
Item #8 He opens the jars, sniffs, then recaps nicely unless he smells weakness with the herbs d’provence. Then he speeds to the cinnamon.
Item #9 The cinnamon is the only rat bastard spice to have a flip top.
Item #10 Today I decided I can’t fight this anymore.

I grabbed the cinnamon and the small child. I asked him, “Cinnamon sprinkle, cinnamon shake, you like cinnamon?”

“YEAH” came the resounding answer.

“Let’s sprinkle the cinnamon outside, okay?”

“Tookatooka!” he agreed.

So we spend a half hour outside, him meandering through the backyard and announcing each tablespoon of cinnamon with a crashing wet cement on metal sound, the likes of which only small truck-lovers can make.

On paper I might appear to be an awesome mom. I let my kid shake $2.50 worth of cinnamon all over the patio and lawn. In reality I just take whatever drives me nuts and give it a positive outlet. Outside.

Always with the outside.

Coming soon to our backyard, a whining contest and an indirect-wood-carving-by-drawing-on-thin-paper extravaganza.

Alls well that ends well. I think.

Act I
Interior, Boys’ bedroom. Bedtime.

Peanut notices Butter is happily cuddling a little green bear. The bear he gave his younger brother months ago. The bear he said he was done with and didn’t like. The bear that represents one of only two things he’s ever given Butter to keep.

“Why does he have that? I want it.”

I’m going to spare you the details of the next ten minutes. Suffice it to say it was a ping pong match of screaming versus calm. He wanted it back. I am not going to take a bear from a happy baby. Ill-gotten gains would be a different discussion. But the 5 year old GAVE the bear to the toddler.

Peanut bellowed and writhed for 10 minutes. And he refused to calm down, to lie down, or to stop screaming. I sat next to Butter’s crib, reading a book. (Most nights I nurse the wee one, and put him to bed awake. I leave the room. If he cries I come back, tell him to lie down, fix his blanket, and leave again. After four tries, if he won’t settle, I sit in the rocker and read until he’s asleep. I might actually read a whole book this year.)

I told Peanut I would talk with him when he was prone and quiet. He refused. I had lots of tricks up my sleeve: the other green bear on Peanut’s bed, the idea of taking this green bear back tomorrow, the possibility of a trade for the orange monster Butter has never liked, and the piggy bank just itching for a new bear purchase. I get to use none of my masterful techniques because my child’s stubbornness rivals my own.

He’s actually quite hilarious, and I had to fight not to laugh. First he walked circles around the room for ten minutes while I ignored him. Clearly tired, he finally sat down on his bed. But he refused to lie down.
And he told me so.
And he stared at me, fuming, sitting on his bed, for another ten minutes.

It took half an hour before I told him he could have the bear back in the morning.

Act II
Interior, morning, days later

I wake to the sound of Peanut mimicking Butter’s morning sounds. They banter in toddlerese for a while, then Peanut reads (from memory) and embellishes (from his awesome cache of storybook rhythms) Butter’s favorite book. I go in when Butter gets frustrated because he can’t get out of his bed.

His bed that now contains the forbidden green bear. I casually ask Peanut what they’ve been doing and he tells me, “I brought Butter the bear and told him he can cuddle it for a little while, but that I’d like it back later.”

Fair enough.

Act III
Interior, afternoon, days later

I’ve fallen asleep nursing Butter before his nap. Peanut sneaks into the room and softly talks to me. His whispers are a change from moments before, when he was begging for a movie, cursing my name, and threatening not to eat ever again if he couldn’t have pudding for lunch.

P: Do you want me to pull the curtains?
M: Hmmm? What? Oh, that would be nice. Thank you.
P: [he closes the curtains] Is that enough?
M: Yes. That was such a huge help. Thank you.

He gets the magical bear from his bed.

P: Which way will his head be when he gets in bed?
M: That side.
P: I’ll put this in the middle so he sees it no matter which way he sleeps.
M: That is so friendly, P. What a great idea.

What!? Who is this model citizen? This is the kid I met years ago and haven’t seen since he started preschool. This kid standing before me has been missing for two years. Is it possible he’s shaking his Threes and Fours just in time to leave our sphere of influence and enter the terrifyingly unsheltered, unprotected, unsavory world of public school?

Cool!

Act IV
Interior, bedtime, same day

The boys rush into their bedroom after bath, screeching and laughing. B sees his crib and points. He wants the green bear. P sees me give it to him and seems fine. B holds the bear, kisses the bear, drags the bear around during the bedtime ritual. And as he nurses he bangs me in the face with the mangy little thing. Repeatedly.

Peanut laughs. A lot.

And I’m guessing Butter can keep the bear now. Because he has helped Peanut turn the nauseating little urchin into a partner in crime, used first in a petty war but now as a weapon against the arch-nemesis Mama. Forget rivalries. They’ve moved onto the bigger picture: their lifelong rebellion against the Forces of Rules and Expectations.

Leeches

Small children, adorable, clever, hilarious, cuddly little humans suck the life out of you if you’re with them 14 hours a day without cease. And when it’s seven days a week, and they’ve sucked the life out of you by Monday afternoon, it’s a long, long, long long long week.

In related news, the debut two-hour stint of our first babysitter is six days away. In other related news, the submission of my novel to the next round of agents will be about eight babysitting sessions from now.

In unrelated news, kale chips are nice. Even better was last night’s Thai sweet potato lentil foil packets. Baked for now, but next time will be grilled. By someone else. From packets I’ve prepped the night before. It took almost three hours to prep a meal that takes someone without small children (who cling, scream, and hit more during meal prep than any other time in the day) about 15 minutes.

And finally, in this abbreviated version of our news hour: people suck. Twice in two days someone turning left almost hit me and my small wards as we were walking in the crosswalk. At an intersection with a green light and a walk sign. No late afternoon glare, no echoing sirens, no tsunami, no excuses. Bad drivers almost killing perfectly decent bloggers and future bloggers.

People suck.
You heard it here first.

Tickets. Get your tickets.

This weekend, Spouse took Peanut to an arcade museum. Pin ball machines, carnival games, and skee ball. Peanut was in heaven and has, since he came home, forced us to perform feats of skill and chance in exchange for tickets. Tape flags, really, that I gave him to get him to stop raiding my desk and (to my horror) the books I’ve flagged during my ongoing, stunted, stop-and-go research.

But that’s another story for another day.

Anyway. I’ve been bouncing balls across the room into yogurt cups for tickets. Spouse has been coaxing plastic toys through jumping contests for tickets.

And when Butter finally let go and walked on his own, Peanut counted the steps. And awarded Butter tickets for each unassisted step.

We have pages and pages like this.

Peanut is so excited to be in control.

Butter is so proud of himself it’s irresistible.

It’s a good time to be at Casa Naptime.

Twilight zone parenting

You know the ads make it look so cute. Babies make every scene adorable. Preschoolers make every moment lovable. Together they warm hearths and hearts.

So I was in potential heaven this weekend. In the kitchen, baking my favorite chocolate cake recipe for my mom’s birthday, listening to “Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me” on the radio. Gorgeous day outside, decent night of sleep…you get the picture.

Except that at each key moment in the broadcast, Peanut pushed a button on some infernal singing toy that blasted crappy kids’ music over the top of a clever and topical NPR rejoinder. And each time I measured and poured, the baby nursing in my sling reached out of his faux sleep to grab a fistful of goop.

The zen that used to be cooking, as most parents can attest, is now the zen of cooking and listening and showing and sharing and cooking and observing and correcting and cleaning and cooking and listening and ignoring and pretending and listening and watching and for god’s sake not blinking and sighing and listening and explaining and spilling and cursing and apologizing and crying and drinking.

Or something like that.

Parenting FAIL

Every stinking night my kid walks out of his room well after bedtime and tells me his foot hurts. And every stinking night I feign concern and get him an ice pack. He puts it on his foot in bed and comes out twenty minutes later to hand over the now-warm bag of rice he made at school and colored and sewed himself.

Tonight he came out two minutes after the ice pack and said it’s not cold enough.

I said, calmly and firmly: “Go tell Daddy. I don’t care.”

So maybe I get an F for parenting tonight. Or maybe he gets an F for being an intense kid. Because his nightly fake sore foot is not responding to the nightly effective treatment, so maybe he’s not pretending hard enough. Or he’s pretending too hard. It’s my job to prepare him for the real world, right? Let’s call this a referral to a specialist.

So grades have been submitted but changed with permission of the Dean. Peanut gets the F. I get a well deserved drink.
Or a block of parmesan cheese.
Or pretzels and ice cream.
Or all four. Nothing like a healthy eating FAIL to go with the rest of the week.

This week in Peanut

A roundup of the goings on in a certain four-year-old’s world…

Me: Would you like melon in your lunch?
Peanut: Heck yeah!
Me: Heck yeah? Where’d you hear that?
P: From you.
Me: Great.
P: Spectacular.
Me: Spectacular?
P: Yeah. What’s that mean?
Me: Like really great, something that makes you say “wow.”
P: Oh.
Me: It’s a good word. Where’d you hear it?
P: You. Can I have some spectacular melon?

Stalking through the house, and unearthing tape and construction paper projects at every turn, Peanut narrates his misadventures as though reading them from a book:
“He searched and searched for the shooter but could not find it. So he made one himself and put it on so he could shoot pirates who came to the castle without paying toll….”

Running naked out of the bathroom after his bath, Peanut dove under the huge box he’s been playing in to hide from the jammies-application process. Spouse, tired of playing the “where is he? I can’t seem to find him” game, said to the cat, “Cat One, do you know where Peanut is? If you know, go there.” Then picked up his feline mole and tossed him onto the box.
Peanut was horrified that the cat gave him away.

Ah, to be so adorable and clueless.

Small difference

The difference between him and me:

He thinks it’s really funny to hide behind the door and call me into his room long after bedtime; and that it’s really sad when my entry hurts his foot.

I think it’s a little sad when he calls me into his room long after bedtime; and that it’s a little funny when my entry hurts his foot.

Open Letter to Alfie Kohn

Dear Mr. Kohn,

I finally read Unconditional Parenting, which was recommended more than a year ago by a mom I really dig. At the time I was too busy to read it, and we were doing pretty dang well with the whole “respect kids don’t dictate to them; give them choices and empathy” stuff. I prioritized other work because I didn’t need your book at that moment.

Except that I did, because pretty soon after I put your book in my online shopping cart as a reminder to eventually read it, he turned Three.

All our parenting techniques went out the window as we fought to figure out how to get through each day. We started listening to those voices from family and friends who told us to take a harder line; as he got more out of control, we tried harder to control him. We tore out our hair and bookmarked the gypsies’ “going rates” page, and I cried almost every night in exhaustion and rage and terror at the creature who replaced the child we had parented so carefully. We drew the boundaries more tightly and he acted, predictably, as though the walls were closing in on him.

We barely made it out of Three alive. It took everything we could muster to survive. But unfortunately it meant we went from working with to doing to our son. And now that we’re coming out we know we’ve lost our way.

So thank you for the reminder that kids who are given firm rules and punished into following them misbehave just as often as children who are given respect and choices. And that those children who are treated as decent humans turn out to be just that.

Thank you, too, for the reminder that focusing on our long-term goals means both boys need to make as many decisions as possible now so they’re practiced in making good decisions later. That if we want to learn to influence them, we can’t coerce them. Not just because it’s demoralizing but because it doesn’t work.

Thank you for making me write down what I value so I’d remember that if I want these young humans to grow up and stand up for what’s right—to question repressive rules and fight for what’s important—they have to do it now. Gulp. With our structures (which are now more reasonable, generally created with his participation, imposed only when necessary, and flexible).

I feel more in control now that I’m not controlling. My son feels less caged and cornered and is a lot nicer to be around.

And we’ve redoubled our efforts to find an elementary school that refuses to create an environment where punishment and reward teaches kids only to obey, to do things for what their actions will get them rather than how their actions affect others.

Thank you for getting us back on track toward unconditional love and respectful, flexible, mindful parenting.

—The Calmer, Gentler NaptimeWriting Family

P.S. Dearest readers: don’t worry. The snark doled out weekly for most of the residents of this planet remains in all its bloggy goodness. There are only two mushy little dudes who get the aforementioned awesome me. The rest of you get the worn little nubbin that’s left after all the patient, respectful, engaged, long-term-focused defaulting to yes stuff.

Now THIS I could get used to…

Peanut was sick today. Poor lamb. Went to school but had them call me an hour in because he wanted his Mommy. Brought him home and he spent all day on the couch, quietly, after telling me “no t.v. because I just need to settle down.”

So he ate quietly at dinner, crawled into his jammies while Butter had a bath, and waited politely for stories. Butter fell asleep during storytime, Peanut didn’t battle us over anything. After bathroom and teeth and songs, he went sweetly to bed. Butter woke up to nurse one last time before…well, before the next time…and I asked Peanut if I could nurse the baby on his bed.

Sure.

So I sang to both boys as I nursed the tiny one. I told the older boy stories about when he was a baby. I changed Butter, put him to bed, and closed the door on two adorable, sweet, quiet, sleepy, well loved children.

Internet: if this was our night every night, I would have dozens of children. I’m not saying I want easy kids, because easy kids scare me. Spunky children plus supportive family equals interesting grownups.

But seriously, I could take one of these nights every week without being worried. As it is, this is a semiannual event. At best.

Why Parents Hate Parenting

Oh, boy. There are a big steaming bundle of quotes in this New York Magazine article on the huge pile of crap that is contemporary parenting. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Did someone say their emotional life is “a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs”?

Yes, yes she did.

Did somebody remind us of the research that shows “Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so”? Yup. Same article.

Hmm. “As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns,” you say? Tell me more. Despite believing firmly in attachment parenting, in offering a supportive, firm, and respectful environment, despite being on top of the current child development research on how discipline means teaching and therefore must be gentle, this article sings the refrain of how much parenting sucks.

The article mentions that people seem skeptical of this data, seem to pity those “for whom” this is true. Those must be the lying liars on facebook who claim life is always a bowl of cheesy-poofs.

Or, did I mention, they’re lying liars. Before Spouse and I had Peanut, my OB said, “avoid anyone who tells you parenting is bliss, wonderfully rewarding, or a blessing. Parenting is rarely joyful. Children can be delightful. Parenting is a hot steaming bowl of stress thrown on your favorite couch. While you’re on it.”

Some people, as one researcher notes, want children and think they’ll be happy, only to find that offspring “offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being.” The moments of bliss are opiate. And the rest of the day is 23.5 hours of drudgery.

Because, as the article quips, as industrialization led to sheltered childhoods (rather than apprenticeships and farm labor at a young age) children “went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”

I bristle at the suggestion that it’s organizing projects and scheduling children that makes parenting difficult. Luckily, the article clarifies that it’s actively paying attention to children rather than ignoring them that is so freaking exhausting. Soccer and ballet aren’t the problem. Knowing that discipline means teaching gently and consistently, listening and responding empathetically teaches emotional maturity, attachment leads to independence, and subverting your desires to help your children become model citizens is simply way more work than any paid job.

And this parenting job sucks the life out of parents who work at home or who work outside the home. “Today’s married mothers also have less leisure time (5.4 fewer hours per week); 71 percent say they crave more time for themselves (as do 57 percent of married fathers). Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Not surprisingly, those societies (I’m looking at you, Holland) that value nurturing children, that pay for a parent to stay home with babies for over a year, that support breastfeeding, that pay for good education and health care, and that offer quality childcare to all workers means parents are less exhausted, stressed, and angry. “Countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.” But we’re buying Baby Einstein crap instead of lobbying for social changes that will actually produce smarter, healthier, more self assured children.

This article makes me want to shake every person pining for a child and show them that: “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak.” Parenting is not all buttercups and rainbows. And it’s not just the vomit and the late nights and the filthy carseats. It’s soul DRAINING, emotionally WRENCHING, personally EXHAUSTING bullshit day in and day out that leaves icky stains on life.

And yet we smile for the ten seconds each hour that our children are joyful, those crazy-making little monsters for whom we sacrifice what seems like everything.