Monthly Archives: May 2015

Post Holiday Meltdowns

Post holiday meltdowns. Transitioning back into the week after a long and busy weekend.

It is 6:30am, my phone starts vibrating with messages.

“Help!” “My daughter had a fun weekend but today she is screaming about nothing, what can I do?” “My son is upset about everything!” “Why are my kids so unhappy? They were awesome all weekend!”

My own kids are still asleep.

I start writing a post about my expectations for today, the day after a three day weekend spent with family and friends.

My daughter wakes up.

My day begins.

Seven AM. More messages. My middle child is awake now. The two younger ones are eating breakfast between melting down about each and every little thing.

I lost my draft. I decide I’ll leave the topic alone. Focus on today.

Eight AM. My oldest wakes. I playfully offer breakfast in bed. He wants to eat with his brother and sister. I say okay. He immediately starts a brawl.

I think “I will write about today, and my expectations. It will help me to commit to the approach I want to take.”

Eight thirty. My oldest is off to school. I am not writing. I am perched in the attic before it becomes too hot, rooting through garbage bags of clothes looking for the 5T shorts and grumpy that the off-brand masking tape that I used for labels apparently becomes brittle paper and falls off into a useless pile of labels on the floor. I find the shorts and my kids make them rain down the ladder into the hallway below.

Nine AM. I start to write. They start to fight. I put my phone down. I sit down. I talk to them and we come up with a plan. We get dressed and sneak outside to the sandbox to dig. I pull up a chair and try again.

Which takes me to here, my plan for today.

I understand that one of the needs of childhood is stability and routine.

We did a lot over the weekend. Saw a lot of people. We met a lot of the kids needs, but we did not meet the need for stability and routine.

There is nothing wrong or bad about that, but is has consequences. My children will have a hard time with self regulation today. They will have a hard time with communication, with moods.

When they are upset I will stay present, I will make sure that I am listening. I will verbalize what it is they are trying to tell me, and I will stay calm.

(I move to toast a bagel. Keenie starts to scream and cry. I breathe in, I breathe out. I squat down to eye level. “Keenie, can you tell me what is upsetting you?” She can’t yet. I wait until she can. She does not want her bagel toasted. I remind her that she can say “mommy, mommy, please don’t toast my bagel.” She smiles relieved and says those words through her tears. I tell her of course I won’t toast it if she doesn’t want it toasted. I stay with her for a minute more, crouched by her chair waiting for her tears to pass. “Keenie, are you okay now? Can I get you your bagel?” She is not throwing a fit to manipulate me. She saw me moving too quickly for her to remember the words to use, because over the weekend things have worked differently.)

I will expect them to be off schedule, off routine, expecting things that are not part of our normal days.

(“Isaac, can you please put on your shoes and socks?” I ask. His bus is a few minutes away. He puts on his shoes first, then puts his socks on over them. He comes to me laughing. I am less than amused. “Isaac, there is a time to be funny and a time to follow routine. Right now your bus is about to come. Can you please get ready the way you are supposed to?” I ask. He does. His bus comes. He is ready and he runs out the door just on time.)

It’s not that they have unlearned the things that they need to know. They’ve just fallen out of practice in these past three or four days. And little kids don’t have great impulse control or self regulation skills. They rely heavily on routine, on expectations and on practice.

Today we will practice. We will reinforce. We will remember the words that we use and the tones of voice that we use. We will rebuild our connections, we will stay as calm as we can stay.

We will also spend as much time doing quiet things in a “yes” space as we possibly can. Outside in the garden. In the sandbox. On the swings.

I have a lot to do today. A lot of things to catch up on.

But the most important part of today will be this. The gentle transition back into routine.Staying calm through meltdowns. Understanding why they are happening, and being patient while this storm passes.

I can’t just say “Okay folks. Back to the routine. Everyone be happy and polite and nice and cooperative!”

And if I expect that? We’ll just have a rotten week instead of a tough day.

Today will be the long slow gradual transition that they need.

Tantrums are Teaching Tools

11216521_10153303978851972_3647234326667884486_oI’ll crouch down as you stomp your feet on the hot pavement of the parking lot, your little face contorted with upset. You are trying to tell me something but your words are not coming and you are furious at the words that you cannot find.

I will count back from ten so that I do not use my words too soon.

“Keenie.” I will start after I wait a second or two longer.

That will be all that I say.

I will wait and watch your eyes.

“Keenie.” I will say, again. Your stomping stops. You stand there with your body rigid.

“Keenie, you are trying to tell me something.” I will say.

I see this path in my head as I wait to respond. As I wait to start acting.

She is miserable.

People stream around us. Cars pass us by. We are safely crouched here, time simply doesn’t matter. Watching eyes do not matter. I simply do not care.

I am parenting as though no one is watching.

Because I have decided that I do not care if anyone is.

I breathe. Her eyes are on me.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want something?” I ask.

She shakes her head no.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want to do something?” I ask.

Her frustration lifts a bit. She nods. Her face unsure.

“Do you know what you want to do?” I ask her.

She doesn’t.

The simple truth of it is that this is the time where she would have napped if she hadn’t stopped napping months ago. Instead she becomes cranky at this time on some of the days that we pass through.

She is not trying to get anything out of me. She is not trying to manipulate me. She is struggling with self regulation.

I am not struggling with self regulation. I’ve made the grown up choice to be calm.

“Would you like me to try to help you figure out what you want to do?” I ask her.

She nods.

“You can say ‘mommy, mommy, I am upset because I want to DO SOMETHING!” I suggest.

She repeats the words that I have given her.

I laugh and smile and start offering suggestions.

I’ve had people tell me that I should just ignore the tantrum. That I should punish the tantrum. That I should do all kinds of different things. That by staying calm and “rewarding” her through trying to figure out what it is that she wants, I am encouraging these outbursts.

This outburst of hers lasted all of two minutes, when it could have dragged on for much longer.

I am rewarding something. I’m rewarding her for trying to communicate even though she doesn’t understand what it is that she is upset about.

I am teaching her to say “Mommy, I’m upset.”

I know far too many adults that have to retreat into solitude with their upset  instead of saying to their husband or their relative or friend “Hey. I’m upset.”

I’d like to teach her other ways.

The time for that is now. Not when she’s grown bigger and is upset about things that I can relate to more easily.

The time is now, while her views of the world are still forming.

The Cautious Child: Big Changes in a Familiar Place

AlexanderAtKarateAlexander was three. We had been taking his older brother to karate lessons for a year. Alexander adored hanging out in the waiting area watching his brother through the big glass windows, copying the things that he was doing. He made friends with all of the adults and kids and knew them by name. Then the old location closed down and a new location opened up. All of the same people were there. The same kickboxing bags. The same mats on the floors. But re-arranged in a new building with new rooms and new walls.

I had told him “Karate moved to a new place.” That “We will be taking Isaac to karate here now.” We said goodbye to the old location, peeking through the windows at the empty rooms. We said hello to the new location each time we passed by. Alexander was excited. Until we walked into the new building. Alexander started to scream and try to climb up my leg. Keenie was tiny, still. In a wrap on my chest. I pulled Alexander up onto my hip and we walked outside together. “Come on. let’s take a walk.” I told him. I slid him down my side until he was standing next to me. He did not resist. I took his hand in mine and we walked over by some trees. His sobbing slowed and stopped.

“Alexander, you got really upset when we went inside.” I said. “We are going to go back inside now, super-fast, just to see where everything is and then we’ll come back out and go for another walk, okay?”

I carried him to the building again. We paused outside the door and I asked him if he was ready. We took a quick tour and I pointed out the kickboxing bags. “The punching bags are over there, now.” I told him. We found the office space. ‘And look, it’s the desk where Joshu works.’ The  locker rooms. The bathroom. The water fountain. “Would you like to get a drink?” He clings to me in response. Not yet.

We walk outside again. He relaxes. We walk around near the trees for a few minutes and look at rocks, at bugs, at leaves, at a little dried up stream bed full of rocks and mud.

When we go back inside he knows where everything is and he is calm. I carry him through the building pointing everything out. Now we are looking for familiar faces so that we can say hi. His body is relaxed in mine, now. He isn’t clinging to me. Soon he kicks to get down and holds my hand. Then soon after that he is playing like nothing has changed.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I am bringing laundry upstairs.

Isaac, Alexander and Keenie are in the kitchen. Keenie and Alexander are eating some Mac and Cheese. Isaac has made himself a bowl of ramen noodle soup using the electric tea kettle the way I taught him.

Alexander is screaming his head off.

I stop by. Ask what is wrong. Alexander can’t tell me. I ask Isaac.

“Alexander wants some soup. I told him he can have some after I am done.” Isaac says.

“Why is he so upset?” I ask.

“He wants some right now. I told him ‘you can’t always get what you want.'” Isaac tells me. His voice takes on a hard tone when he quotes what he has said.

I sigh.

“Isaac, I know that someone in your life has been using those words with you when you are upset.” I say. “If you were in Alexander’s place right now, what would you want to happen?” I ask.

“Well he’ll have some when I’m done.” Isaac starts off. Then he thinks for a second. “You know what? Can you get me another bowl?” he asks.

I get him another bowl. He uses his spoon to ladle out some soup for his brother, then he goes to get him a spoon.

No. You can’t always get what you want when you want it.

But a person always has the ability to make a compassionate choice when someone that they love is upset over a situation that they feel isn’t fair.

As for Alexander’s screaming… That is not something that I want to reinforce. Usually I have the hard and fast rule that we don’t make changes until everyone has calmed down so that we can talk about things. When Isaac has been away for visitations and re-joins our family, Alexander and Keenie both have a lot of emotional overwhelm and feel like Isaac ignores their personal boundaries, doesn’t listen to them, and is not treating them well. They become more raw. More quick to anger and more easily frustrated.

When it comes to sibling interactions I try to intervene in a way that will help the relationships that they have with each other. Sometimes that means putting my personal rules off to the side to remind them that they love and care about each other and that they are ultimately really good friends.

Sometimes Isaac will hold fast to whatever outside lesson he is trying to teach them. At that point I will provide them with comfort and help them weather the situation until Isaac remembers that isn’t how we do things in our house.

How Do I Deal With Judgement as a Parent?

A friend recently asked Alex how I deal with judgement.

Listening to him explain it from the outside was interesting. I guess that what it looks like is a bit different from what it feels.

He described a woman who decided that judgement didn’t necessarily matter and that wasn’t going to let it get in her way. I guess the whole “dance like no one is watching” thing.

In reality I decided that judgement didn’t change anything. I surrendered while choosing to stay true to myself.

Breastfeeding in public, for example.

Yes. I understand that if I nurse my infant in public some people will stare. Some people will be uncomfortable. Some people will want me to cover up. Some people will want me to go nurse in the bathroom. Some people will think I should just stay home. Some people will think that I should pump and use a bottle. Some people will smile. Some people will grin. Some people will give me a thumbs up. Some people won’t notice. Some will feel a sadness because it was something that they never got to experience. Most people won’t care. Somewhere in there a random pervert may pop up who finds breastfeeding erotic because he hasn’t been exposed to it the way he would have been if we lived in a society that treated breastfeeding like the normal every day part of life that it is.

I accept all of that. The choice that I make is made for many reasons. Not many people that pass through my life in those tiny moments that overlap… No. Wait. NONE of those people… Would sit down and say “Hey, I noticed that you’re nursing in public. I’m really curious about that because…” There’s no discussion. They have their feelings without any understanding. And the feelings of each person passing by covers a whole big spectrum of things.

I feel all of it, too. I feel creeped out when I see someone staring with a particular type of stare. I feel happy when someone smiles. I feel that sharp jab of shame and embarrassment when someone stares at me with a wilting glare. The one time I was told that I could not nurse in public I felt confused and singled out.

Or public tantrums. Some say you should spank your child out of those. Some say that you should ignore them. Some say you should just give in and give the child the candy or the toy and get out of the store as quickly as you can. Some say that you should always leave the second your child starts to cry. I feel deep down that a parents primary responsibility is to their child. So how I handle tantrums reflects that. I will try to bring my child off to the side to help them calm down. I will be there with empathy and with love. If my child needs to leave the store because it is overwhelming for my child, then we will leave. If my child is able to process things and continue shopping then I will try to do that.

I feel all of it. I feel the people that are staring with annoyed expressions on their face because the quiet calm of a grocery store is momentarily disrupted. I know that some people feel that I should pick my child up and storm out to teach a lesson. I know that some people are sympathetic but would make a different choice. And I know some people are in awe of my calm and patience.

I feel all of those things. And I push them as far away as I can because I want to focus on the children that are there with me.

It’s not that I don’t mind judgement. I’m riddled with anxiety over it, actually. It feels sad and bad and it makes me mad. (And all sorts of other things that don’t rhyme, too.) So how do I deal? I decided that judgement didn’t need to change how I did things. The choices that I make and the things that I do are well thought out and backed by many many good reasons.

I don’t dance like no one is watching. I dance with the knowledge that I cannot control the eyes that are viewing me. I can dance with shame and sadness. I can dance only hidden away. Or I can dance with the belief that I, as a human being, deserve the joy of dancing even if I can’t dance along the standards of someone else. Even if I can’t dance to all of the different tunes that someone might prefer, in the way that they would dance.

I have decided that I have the right to my own existence.

I will go out in public with frizzy hair if my hair is frizzy that day. I will nurse in public. I will crouch down with my child as they throw a tantrum, and I will be as compassionate as I darned well please. I know that of all the eyes that watch me there are so many opinions washing over me at any given moment.

I will be judged.

I’d rather be judged based on the choices that I have made out of love. I would rather be consistent with my children no matter who is watching or not watching.

It’s not that I don’t care about judgement. It’s that I allow myself to be judged. I let it wash over me. Later I may cry. But in those moments throughout my days I will be proud of myself for staying true to the things that I believe in and for living my life as though it is my own.

Yes. “As though” it is my own. This is MY life. Mine.

MINE.

These children are my children. My family.

And these are my choices.

I own my choices.

No one else has my permission to make them for me.