Monthly Archives: May 2017

Not Everyone is Nice, Toughening Up a Child

Not everyone will be nice to them, you know. Not everyone will treat kids kindly. Toughen them up!

No thank you.

Today my five year old daughter came to me and said matter-of-factly “I do not think he is a nice man.” “Why do you think that?” I asked. “He told me and Isaac and Alexander to go away.” she answered. “Did he ask nicely?” I ask. “Nope.” she said. She is not bothered. Just matter of fact. “He said to go away. We were watching him.” “He is here to do a job.” I say. “Not everyone likes being watched while they work.” “Oh.” she says. “Not everyone knows how to ask kids things nicely. They think kids only listen if they use a firm voice. You know, the voice I use to ask our dog to get away from the garbage when he doesn’t listen to please?” “Oh!” she says. (I have taken to getting down to my dog’s eye level when he is sniffing at the garbage can, and patiently asking him to go to his bed. At the end of it when he is staring into my eyes with doggie love and enjoying the attention I say firmly “Bed. Now.” and he goes. Good boy.) “Kids are not dogs, though. Kids understand words, right?” Silly question.

She is five. She is not bothered by people being rude to her. She recognizes it as not okay. But she also recognizes it as being more about them than about her. This is a skill that I still have not fully mastered at thirty-seven.

I haven’t toughened her up. But somehow she has become tough. Tough, like resilient. Tough, like compassionate. Not tough in the way that accepts that this is how things are. Tough in a way that says the world could be much better than it is. Tough in a way that tries to be better.

Oh. Yes. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes they make bad guesses. Or don’t string together words in the right ways. Sometimes people say things that are not okay. Sometimes people do things that are not okay. People are bad guessers. And not everyone has someone to teach them the things that they are supposed to learn as children.

Toughening up a child is about teaching them to reject poor treatment, not accept poor treatment.

If someone is not treating you well, walk away. Seek help. If they won’t let you walk away, fight. Be loud. Be noisy. Raise hell.

It’s a hard thing to explain to a child. Why adults are polite to other adults but not so much to children. We’re supposed to be teaching children how to be, not treating them as lesser beings until they guess how to be polite to us.

Word-Like Things and Being Open to Communication. 

Wren points at a water bottle.  

Usually she wants to drink. 

I pick it up and open it. She looks inside. Bobs in excitement.  Then points to one of the other water bottles. She babbles with word-like things. 

Being deaf makes me good with word-like things. I am accustomed to trying to arrange what little I can hear with what little I can see on the lips, and making sense of everything as it filters through context. 

One path would see me annoyed. Drink. Here. I opened this for you. Why do you want another one? 

This path, though. I hear a hiss in her word-like things. A “sh” like lispy slurry to her babble. 

“This?” I say. I point. 

“Da!” She says, enthustically in Russian. 

I open that bottle. “Empty.” I say. There is no water in it. She says “dee” or “tee” or something completely different.  “Empty. ” I repeat. 

She points to another bottle. We talk about empty, about full, about red and blue and black and purple. About this and that.  (And yes, we have a LOT of water bottles. We are a very thirsty family of six.)

She isn’t thirsty. She is communicating. She is learning to make and organize sounds. She is practicing communication.

Happy Mothers Day!

Yesterday it was pouring. 

Today the sun is shining. 
I’m snuggled under a mountain of blankets while a toddler in a red knit sweater climbs all over me and kneads my mama-belly with her scritchy scratchy hands that are ungentle in a very toddler kind of way. Not unkind. Just lost in the sensation and entirely unaware of any unpleasantless experienced by the person on the receiving end. 
Wren is thirteen months, fourteen days. Thirteen and a half months. Close enough to fourteen months, apparently, for her to plow headfirst into the restless sleeplessness that that month has always marked for me. Nursh nursh nursh climb climb crawl. All. Night. Long. 
I handed her to Alex as soon as it seemed close enough to morning to be more fair and less unkind. And he took her from me for as long as one can take a toddler going through a growth spurt. 
He returned her with an apologetic accompaniment of coffee, which I sipped as she warmed her freezing cold hands against my skin. Toddler hands are somehow always a totally different temperature from the rest of their sweaty little bodies. 
Motherhood is a practice in tolerating extremes that somehow average out over time and become nostalgic memories. At least this is what I have come to believe. 
My ten year old shows up with one of the orange partitioned kids plates. He has made me eggs. With a chocolate chip smiley face on them, and a side of saltines. He’s still experimenting with flavor combinations. Some are interesting. Some are… experimental. Chocolate on eggs is not a flavor combo I would have ever otherwise thought to try. 
The toddler steals my saltines, turns them into bed crumbs for me. 
Yesterday it rained. (And watered my garden)

Today it is sunny. (And feels beautiful.)
Today it is the sweet overbearing well intentioned lovely kind of mother’s day that children create on their own. 
Keenie will gift me dandelions and other wildflowers picked without stems. 
Alexander will crush me with the wiggling hugs of an almost seven year old boy.
Wren will shower me with crumbs.  
And I will look back on the remarkable love and delight my own mother showed us all over the years as we appreciated her in the way that only children can appreciate mothers. 
Happy Mother’s Day, Mumsy. We shall visit you soon so you can have flashbacks to when the lot of us were small wiggly people intent on populating your head with… remarkable stories. <3

Mother, Martyr

I’m barefoot and braless in the kitchen. Hair a mess, teeth unbrushed, my glasses smudged with egg. A thirteen month old is balanced on my hip while I dip pieces of bread into eggs and drop them on a sizzling frying pan to make golden brown french toast.

I go through the motions of retrieving a towel, a bowl. Filling it with water and some spoons. I lower Wren onto the towel and try to load the dishwasher. Wren is fussing at my legs, pulling on my jeans while standing on her tiptoes. I pull her up onto my hip and she reaches for the running water of the sink.

I adjust the water so it isn’t quite so scalding, dip my hand into it to make sure it’s okay for her, then let her hold her little hands under the stream.

Mother, martyr? We’re told over and over to not lose ourselves to motherhood. To not give in to the demands our children make. To not become martyrs. All these different lines are suggested, and everyone has an idea for where they should be drawn.

I’ve been thinking a lot the idea of motherhood being martyrdom lately. About all the things you MUST do to avoid losing yourself, your relationship, and the respect of those around you. I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism and choice.

“Am I doing this of my own free will?”

I catch myself asking that question and erupt into laughter. Wren startles, looks at me, pats my face with dripping hands. Her face is giddy as my laughter rocks both of our bodies. Soon she is laughing, too.

I kiss her nose. Yes. Yes, I am doing this of my own free will.

Sometimes I’m not, though.

Sometimes the “should” and “must” and “YOU HAVE TO” and “BAD MOTHER” and all those things sneak in and start robbing me of my choice. My mind fills up with all the words of other people and my schedule fills up with all the things that everyone thinks I should be doing. Sometimes I prickle at the touch of the child who hugs my legs or who crawls into my bed before the sunrise.

Sometimes when I am packing lunch for my partner I am focused on what he might expect of me, rather than the fact that it has been a mutual choice of ours. And that I can fail if I need to fail. I can shove in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he can eat it or pack his own damned lunch.

That isn’t my reaction to my children, though. Or to my partner. I love the hugs. I love the snuggles. I enjoy packing lunches and helping my not-so-little family save toward not-so-little dreams.

Do I really hate this, or do I hate that it’s a thing added to a list of things that I have to do in order to earn an A+ in parenting? To get my 4.0 GPA in life? To be On Top of Things and Have The Perfect Balance?

I give rides to friends who need them. There are extra seats in my messy van. I sweep books off to the side. Introduce my friends to the heap of crumbs. I should have the van sparkling clean and I should hand them a cup of freshly brewed organic something and be a good hostess while I drive them to whatever place I am driving them to. Instead I’m frazzled and check again to make sure no one is allergic to peanuts. Because some portion of the crumbs are from peanut butter crackers that my children used as confetti at some point in the past.

I’ve given myself permission to fail. To be imperfect. Not the hidden sort of imperfect, either. I’m not ashamed. Although I do need to make a date with my father in law’s shop vac soon for my own sanity if not the sanity of those that get rides in my poor crumbly Minerva the Minivan.

Most days I have bonus kids here. Neighbor kids. Friends kids. And then, in the spaces where I spend parts of my week? Wren spent time sitting on the lap of a friend exploring her necklaces. Bigger kids carry Wren around and help her join their games. Friends help my kids put their shoes back on, and tie their laces.

I’m not a martyr.
I’m not alone.
I’m not perfect.
I refuse to make that a goal.
I refuse to hold anyone else to that standard.

That’s where I find happiness in life. By working hard at all of the things, and by understanding that they are not going to be perfect. But that I will get better at all of them as time passes. I will have more space for things as my children grow. I will grow back into myself.

Where I’m at today? It’s fine. I choose to be here. And choice is a delicious and wonderful thing.

It keeps me from becoming one of those people who throws up their hands and declares the world incompetent. It keeps me from steeping in my own bitterness.

I will not allow the pace of life to make me resent the people who are most important to me. If something needs changing, I will find a way to change it. If something is temporary I will find a way through it. If something is worded in a way that makes me feel taken for granted I will ask that other words be used. Or that more help is offered.

Giving grace makes it easier to receive grace.
Giving help makes it easier to accept help.
Accepting help makes it easier to know how to give help.
Giving love makes it easier to feel love.

Am I okay with this?
If I’m not okay with this, I can say no.
And if I am? I can say yes.
And be really truly okay with it.
Can I offer help?
If I can’t, I don’t.
And if I can, I do.
And really truly mean it.

I am not, and will not be a martyr. There’s no need.
No one’s grading us at life.
And if they are?
They don’t understand what life truly is.