Counting Lucky Stars

This week, my little wrecking crew of a three-year-old closed me into the kitchen as I made lunches.
“Shhhhhh,” he said. “I just really need some quiet.”

Whuck?

My shoulders dropped several inches and I breathed the air of joy and silence and adrenaline-dissipation. Peace was mine for at least 30 seconds, and it was sweet.

Later in the week, my little bundle of raw nerves, almost-eight-year-old took a deep breath and started to chill the heck out.
“I just need some space,” he calmly told his shrieking little brother. “I might be allergic to you.”

Again, I measured my relief in decreased tension and increased oxygen intake. I had space to breathe twice in a week? Genuinely, seriously unheard of.

And then, today, two of the boys slated for our impending birthday sleepover party told their moms that they’d really rather attend just the waking hours of the party. I had offered to each family the opportunity to sleep here, or to stay right up until teeth brushing, go home, and return for the morning breakfast and egg hunt.

Having two children opt out of the giggling, silly, late-night horse pucky that is trying to get elementary-school children to sleep? I swear to all that I hold dear…this is a Pope verifiable miracle. This represents three deep breaths in a week, and I am so grateful that I’m going on a tear of charity donations, random acts of kindness, and willful support of those who normally irk me.

I’m almost to the point of skipping, dear readers. Seriously. Life is good, kind, and glorious.

And now that I think of it, it all started when Jimmy Fallon hit some incredible notes on The Tonight Show.

Maybe my unbounded joy, immeasurable good fortune, and serendipitous droplets of magical fairy nectar this week are because of the history of rap.

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Anything amazing happen to you this week?

Was it better than quiet and calm in the midst of two feuding brothers?
Was it better than this?

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Why ask why?

I was getting a bit worried about Butter. Not worried, really, but wistful. He hasn’t gone through the Age Three Incessant Why phase. And I rather miss it. I loved telling Peanut several years ago why the sky is blue and why there are white and yellow lines on the road and why bread has holes in it and why toilet paper comes on rolls.

I love why, that’s why.

But Butter doesn’t ask why.

Look at that: navigating between a rock and a hard place.

Look at that: navigating between a rock and a hard place.

And I wondered, for the briefest moment, if he might be his own person, built differently than his brother and I are. He’s not of course. He’s my baby doll to do with as I please and to coerce into my plans and to bend to my whims.

[Let’s let everyone who has ever known a three-year-old pause to laugh after that one. If you’re bored while you wait for the cackles to die down, go see what Peanut did when he was Three, for a sample of this delightfully demonic age.]

So as I longed for the Whys and fretted a bit and wondered if I’d missed an important phase, I realized the reason Butter has skipped Why.

Because his approach is “Why should I believe you when life is so uncertain?”

If I tell him that cheese might be white or orange, and we’ll see what’s at the store, he’ll tell me, “Mommy. Maybe it’s blue. Don’t tell me no. Because MAYBE.”

When I tell him that we’re going to eat, take a bath, read, and get in bed, he tells me, “And maybe we’ll go for a bike ride. Really, Mommy. Maybe.”

Hard to argue with maybe, I guess. Can’t imagine where he learned that.

Tonight I told him that tomorrow is Tuesday. He said, “Mommy. It’s maybe going to be Monday. MAYBE. Maybe, Mommy.”

So instead of searching for a scientific cause, a reason for that which is, Butter’s looking for a nuance that will let him out of the laws of physics. And society. And the space-time continuum.

He’s looking for an out, not a why.

I think a legal career, maybe. Or advertising. Shades of gray. Politics, perhaps.

Shudder.

 

Poised on the verge

Well, seems we’re set pretty well on the whole Almost-Three thing.

Butter has composed his own song and sings it loudly in all scenarios: backseat, library, market, backyard.

“Bob the not builder
Can we not fix it?
No, we can’t.”

For all those who haven’t had a three-year-old, that song is the epigraph to your instruction manual, a book in which the pages are stuffed with only coping mechanisms and a benediction that if you make it through you’re clearly one of the Chosen.

My dear Two-and-Three-Quarters has further decided that “no” and “yes” are for two-year-olds and now answers questions either “Poopy Yes” or “Poopy No.”

To everyone. See above references to public places and relatively staid audiences.

Yes, I’d say we’re doing pretty well on the “are you ready to be Three” checklist. Now I just need some sign from him that he’s aware of the importance of this new phase.

Could the signal I’m waiting for be that he threw a massive fit today because he wanted more sandwich? Probably, since the second half of the sandwich was in his hand during all the writhing and keening. And when I told him to that he had sandwich in his hand and isn’t that silly, and told me, “But Mommy, when you say ‘no,’ I say ‘yes.'”

And there it is.

See you some time in the summer of 2014 when I come up for air…

mutual guidance

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on what a difference Raising Your Highly Spirited Child has made in our family. But this article in The Atlantic pushed me to post sooner. (The article details how researchers have shown that, while some people have a genetic predisposition to psychological catastrophes, those same people, if nurtured well, can turn their potential liabilities into measurable assets.)

Our dear little Peanut, the tightly wound, sensitive, intense, persistent, introverted, empathetic, strong willed child is my greatest challenge. (When I typed “three-year-old” as a tag for this post, wordpress automatically suggested a previously used tag: “help, I’m being held hostage by a three-year-old.” ‘Nuff said.)

I can handle demanding bosses and confrontational colleagues and obtuse clients and tight deadlines, but my child is harder than anything I’ve ever come across. Because I want to do more than just love him; I want to allow him to be himself, guiding him to a future in which his self esteem and social skills will allow him to do whatever he wants with his life. I want to help him become his best self without squashing his individuality or molding him to my will. I want to find a way to apply gentle, attachment parenting styles to a child most parents would beat into submission and who, daily, takes way more out of me than I have to give. I want him to exist within firm, thoughtful, and broad boundaries within which he is free to explore with wild abandon whatever interests and compels him. I want him to be a full participant in our family, not a pet or accessory. I want what might seem like weaknesses now to become strengths, not just memories.

But it often feels like he is killing me.

To that end, I greatly appreciate Mary Kucinka’s Raising Your Highly Spirited Child because she breaks down some of the personality traits that parents find difficult to manage in typically developing children, and offers an empathetic perspective and some very practical advice on guiding (rather than managing or changing) behavior. One obvious technique she dispenses with quickly, before a lengthy quiz in which readers can discern just where on the spectrum their child resides and the specific realms in which she is “more” than other children, is to rename characteristics as assets. “Difficult” children can be strong willed, energetic, or cautious rather than stubborn, out-of-control, or shy.

What I appreciate even more than the specific advice, the enumerated parameters, and the reassurance, really, that my child has always been a whole handful and a half (and it’s not just my imagination), is the section that acknowledges that oftentimes the almost constant stream of adrenaline that comes from raising a spirited child intensifies when parents are highly spirited, too. I have been called by my family most of the negative terms Kurcinka urges us to reframe as strengths. Her bold acknowledgment that “recommending that spirited parents keep their cool was a denial of their own intensity….It doesn’t work to simply say, ‘I am supposed to be cool.’ The fact is, you’re not” rocked my world. I thought I was a failure for not keeping cool all the time. Now I know I was being me and just need different tools to keep both Peanut and myself from losing it at what turn out to be easily forseeable moments.

The retraction of Kurcinka’s former stance that parents should just stay calm during a child’s most intense moments absolutely melted me. Her book is not a license to autocratic parenting behavior, as so many are, and her suggestions are teaching me how to guide myself as I am guiding Peanut. For instance, I taught him (very easily because he was open to both the technique and the acceptance of his intense passions it implied) that it’s okay, when other people are too much, to politely excuse yourself to your room to have some quiet time and get enough energy to deal with them again. That frustration and anger and hitting come from feeling like you can’t get away but that, really, you can notice that before it happens and get the space you need. Now I have allowed myself to say the same thing to him. “Love, I’m out of people energy and need a little quiet time with a book; I’ll be in my room for a few minutes and you’re welcome to come with me to quietly read your own book” is now something we both respect (and really enjoy). He usually declines because he doesn’t find me draining, exhausting, or infuriating most of the time. When he does want to rip my throat out, he tells me in calm, reasonable tones that he doesn’t like my approach and offers his own suggestions for making things better. We work on issues until we find a solution we both like (unless it’s a non-negotiable issue, in which case I have firm boundaries. But at almost four he’s way beyond fighting sunblock, seat belts, or holding hands in the street.) But when we’re not pressed up against on of those, we’re having a much better time figuring everything out.

Perspective

A sweet family member saw some pictures of Peanut on facebook the other day and said something to the effect of “I don’t understand how someone so cute can be such a terror…”  And I need to clarify, for my own sake (and for his grandma, who reads this blog and did a damned fine job raising Spouse)

Peanut is wonderful. Sweet, gentle, spirited, intense. But compounding that is the fact that he’s three. Before that he was two. Right there, ‘nough said, right? Two can be like having all the poles on your batteries reversed as they are attached to your watering eyeballs. And three can be like peeling off your skin and diving into grapefruit juice. And I just can’t take it. Doesn’t mean he’s actually a terror that Spouse and I talk, daily, mutually, about a 4:30 bedtime for Peanut. He’s not the problem. WE are the problem. We grownups who can’t seem to find the patience and willpower and energy to make it through 15 hours of this every day.  Without a break. Without formal training. Without the benefit of a spare in case we actually sell him to the gypsies. (Anyone know if they’re buying, btw? And where to find them? I know the economy is tough and I don’t know the going rate, but…)

He’s not a terror. We are terrified and terror-stricken and terrorized. But it’s not the boy’s fault. I wish I knew whose fault it is, because I’m all about the blame and the downside and the cloud within the silver lining. But until I find some perspective, my friend is right. It’s a good thing he’s cute.

Spring in my step

So last week’s experience at a potential preschool has me doing ill-advised cartwheels (seriously, our house is small, there’s crap everywhere, and I’m old and not so bendy anymore in the adductor region) about my family’s freaking growth and development as decent human beings.

What the hell is in their Kool-Aid, you ask? Well, we don’t like that kind of talk around here. (Kool-aid is not on our preferred beverage list. “What the hell is in their unflavored rice milk, dammit” is more like it. Thank you.)

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Other preschool tours made me feel I wasn’t being something enough…one made me feel not stern enough, one made me feel not musical enough, one made me feel not detached enough. This preschool we just visited, though, made me feel that the approach I’ve always wanted is possible, and that with a few new techniques Spouse and I can be even more of the parents we envisioned when we had a good, old-fashioned panic attack about a little pink line.

Tell you this much…since the preschool visit I have been patient and hopeful and calm. Without feeling put out or thwarted or martyr-y. I’m doing stuff now because I want to, not just because several generations of Drs. Sears say so. I’m offering two yesses for each no because it makes sense and it’s fair. I’m more relaxed about telling Peanut what I need because I know I’m meeting his needs. I’m setting up sensory stations in the dining room and smiling as a paint-covered Peanut streaks the wall with purple then offers to clean it.

And the conflict resolution the potential preschool uses is TOTALLY working! How? Well I’ll tell ya. Peanut hits Spouse. A lot. To be fair, just between you and me and the ninety other people who read this blog, Spouse totally deserves it, but I can’t say that to Peanut, who is confused by the idea that grabbing stuff and blocking people from things, and generally not letting a person use their own body in ways they stinking want to is not nice, unless you’re big and lacking in patience.  So I  started taking each by the hand and asking the one more recently violated what he wants to say to the other. Then when he finishes, I ask the most recent offender what he wants to say. And back and forth until they stop. Then ask is there anything else you want to say? Each takes a turn. Then “does anybody need a hug?” It’s really freaking awesome because Peanut got the technique immediately, without a seven hour explanation from me, and always has one more thing to say.  Spouse never has anything else to say except, “No. Nothing to say, I just love you.” And when asked, Spouse always says he needs a hug.

Get this. Peanut always gives him one. Who are these people? Where do I sign up for this school? Oh. Behind the forty other families waiting to get in for September? I see. Is there anything for those of us who would like to have our lives back sooner, rather than later? No? Okay.  I’ll take your life-affirming techniques and apply them at home. Thanks. See you when he’s almost four.

So this potential preschool has Spouse and Peanut talking and hugging, has me running around joyfully placing tubs of dry beans and brownie tins full of raw flour and different sized scoops all over the house. What’s in the unflavored rice milk? Don’t know. But I’m getting a subscription on Amazon so it’s delivered every three months at a 15% discount.

Preschool science fiction

It’s a scientific fact:*

A three-year-old playing by himself can methodically work through the most intricate toys and attempt the most gravity-defying physical feats if he is in his room pretending to nap during quiet time.

Yet he cannot manage more than three minutes by himself without apocalyptic levels of crying and frustration if you are in the shower.

* (in our house. your results may vary.)