Monday, September 05, 2011

Sotto Voce II- Speak Softly and Regain Control

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, I once described my experience with my kindergartners on the day I had no voice. It was surprisingly positive, and taught me an important lesson in expectations and what it means to "control."

Nearly six years later, with a home-schooled four year old and the world's busiest toddler boy (seventeen months old this week!) it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to out-shout the crowd. When water is being spat upon the floor while simultaneously Lola, the super dog, is being vigorously petted with a toy screwdriver, my instinct is to go into drill-sargent mode: "WHAT ARE YOOOU DOOOOOOOOOING? NO!"

The ridiculousness of the words aside (I find "What are you doing?" and "What do you think you're doing?" to be some of the absolute stupidest questions any adult could pose to a child), the tone accomplishes nothing. Not that the instinct is any less because of this. But on the rare days that I remind myself to stop, take a breath, and use a very quiet voice, I surprise myself with the attention-grabbing power of just being quiet. This works much better for the four year old, as the seventeen-month old is still very much in the stage of "Talk him through what he needs to do, while escorting him through it," but it's still surprisingly effective.

What does this look like? Roll film:

Small girl-child decides to take a big mouthful of her Calm tea (oh, the irony) and then slightly whale-like, spouts tea all over the floor. She then glances at it, laughs, and takes another giant mouthful.

I observe this with the growing horror of someone who had just washed that floor. I feel a giant, rushing intake of air, and adrenaline that makes me absolutely spin- surely a loud voice will only make the situation better, yes? Um, no. Tea will almost certainly either splatter out, or be inhaled (and choked) in. My expression must be triggering the small girl-child's radar- surely this sort of behavior is just not done. I let out the air and kneel down next to the spill.

Small girl-child smiles and tries to dance away- the "after" of tea being on the floor is nowhere near as fun as the "during" of tea being sprayed onto the floor. I remind myself of my goals here- I do not want this to happen again, and I do want her to clean this up. Around here, what we do, we un-do. What we un-do, we re-do. Whatever it takes to make things right. And that rule pretty much covers every situation I can possibly think of, from messes to harming a sibling to breaking something. I focus only on the goals and very quietly tell her to put the tea cup down, and go find the towel near the sink. Whether from the super quiet voice or the potential for "Fun With A Towel," she complies and comes over to begin the process of skating around the wet floor with a towel on her feet. She explains, while wiping the floor, that she wanted to make her cheeks puff wayyyyyy out. I respond that it didn't work so well, and that I do not want to see that sort of thing outside of the bathroom again. The floor is cleaned, my voice doesn't go into "Screechy Anger Mode," the small-girl child is on to bigger and better things without being crushed verbally by an adult.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fun in the Snow! In Only 800 Easy Steps...

So much for regular blogging. A busy three and a half year old and a busy ten month old make for some very active days. We were able to get outside and actually play in the snow for the second day in a row, so I'm going to cross my fingers that bedtime actually took, and share a little glimpse of what it takes to get these two ready to go outside and play.

First, I do need to share that I'm a huge proponent of outdoor play. Kids need dirt and sunshine as much as plants do, and even in the winter, I know I am a happier person after being outdoors. Particularly as kids who play outside tend to sleep a little better!

So it was ironic that we've just exited an entire month of sub-zero temps, and windchill factors in the double-digits. The toddler-girl and almost-walking-infant-boy and I have been bouncing off the walls and going on little trips to various places just to see something new.

2:00 PM- We returned home from church and the fascinating trip to the car wash which followed, where the car wash guy woke Vincent up with his cheery booming, "HELLO!!!!!!!!!!! BEAUTIFUL DAYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!" which ended up entombing me in the car wash, with both a screaming baby and a highly-charged toddler. The toddler had been given red, sparkly cookies after church, and was high as a kite on red food dye. She attempted to comfort Vincent by treating him to a high-pitched soliloquy in her own language. Without taking a single breath. Home again, and now after noon, we'd eaten, cleaned up, and it was time to get us all outside. First, we needed play clothes.

2:05 PM- "Go get a shirt!" I told Gianna, as I changed Vincent. Changing Vincent requires the use of both arms and both feet, while he tries to crab-crawl away. Deep down, he wants to own and operate his own nudist colony, and diapers have no role in this dream. So I wrangled him out of one diaper when Gianna ran back with two pairs of pants. I reminded her that she already had pants, and she needed a shirt. She happily ran away. I returned my attention to Vincent, who was trying to stand up in the middle of the bed. I managed to wrestle a clean diaper onto him, in spite of his extreme protests. I set him on the floor and raced him to the bathroom to rinse out his previous diaper, while using my foot to keep him away from assisting me in this fascinating job.

2:15 PM- I grabbed Vincent, and ran into Gianna in the hall, who found a shirt and had now decided to cover her felt vegetable friends in "sparkly shiny treasures." I switch her into play clothes as Vincent made moves on her treasures and her vegetable friend, while each screamed at each other.

2:20 PM- We headed downstairs. I grabbed all of our winter gear, and tossed that down the stairs ahead of us. Vincent signals that he wants to nurse, and by this point I was pretty relieved for a break, so we take a milk break.

2:25- The science of order- this is very important. I always get myself prepped first, as I've found that if I don't do this, the whole operation crumbles and we need to start all over from step one. Gianna went next, and finally I popped Vincent into his Maggie-Simpson-style fleece snowsuit. This was met with diaper-esque enthusiasm, and during this endurance training event, Lola orbited us in increasingly smaller and smaller circles, very jazzed over the fact that the entire pack of us would shortly be outside together.

2:30- We exited, having spent thirty whole minutes doing what used to take me less than five to do. I consoled myself with the idea that in a matter of a few short months, leaving the house will require merely grabbing a spare diaper and sticking little feet into sandals.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hug Your Babies

I promise I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I'm up to my eyeballs in toddler and crawling, cruising infant antics, and dog escapades.

I did want to circulate this for a few more eyes to read. I've read about Dana's family for a while at Roscommon Acres ( for a while now, and was devastated by the loss of their 22 month old son, Mattias. Here is a link to her blog entry, memorializing her little "Tiggy":

God hold little Tigg for his mama. If you feel so compelled, the family asks that you donate to Tiny Hands International (an organization that works toward ending the child sex trade in Asia) in his honor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Through a Glass

Pop culture has turned Post-Partum Depression (PPD) into something of a fad, or an example of extremes, or the scapegoat to personal downfalls, or the extreme opposite: a falsity.

Here's a look at what it feels like from the inside- picture being inside a small, glass room. When you are inside this room, you can kind of hear what is going on outside, and if you force yourself, you can hear and interact in conversations. It's just muffled enough so that if you don't focus and concentrate on what is going on, you can easily tune it out. Time passes in weird rushes and pauses. Sometimes, you swear that you've been rocking and nursing your baby for only five or ten minutes, and you are startled when you look at the clock and realize it's been nearly an hour. Or sometimes you focus so hard on chopping vegetables for dinner, and think that surely you've just wasted thirty minutes on the stupid celery, and barely five minutes have passed. You know you love your children and your husband, and try to focus to make sure that they understand that, but feel guilty because every once in a while, your own flat affect (numbness, nothingness) becomes glaringly obvious to you.

And then something triggers a quick smash through at least one of the panes of glass in your small glassed-in room, and suddenly you feel something again. In my case, it was an odd event involving a small child (not my own). Anger and no small amount of instant "Mama Bear" defensiveness managed to flip that switch back on again.

I'm in a place right now where I vacillate between no feelings and then lots and lots of them. It does make me think, as always, where this can fit in the primal, natural state of mothering children. Did Cave Clara deal with this? Somehow, I doubt it, unless there were extreme circumstances that compounded the issue (loss, abandonment, a major catastrophic weather event, etc.) Pregnancy and birth and the post-partum period of time were treated as normal, natural, spiritual conditions that sort of flowed together and were assisted by the knowledgeable women in the family or tribal group. Extra hands were always available to help out with the children that Cave Clara already had, and to go grab some well-established herbal remedies to some of the nutritional deficits of birth. Food today is, even when carefully searched for and prepared, nutritionally inferior to food in its natural state. Even when food is bought from local sources, it's still typically something augmented in some way by factory-prepared chicken food (most likely created with genetically modified soy) or chemical plant treatments (pesticides or fertilizers).

Catnip tea, Motherwort tincture, and calcium helped me avoid a severe hormonal crash in the first four weeks following Vincent's birth. So effectively, in fact, that I felt fantastic, and stopped taking them. Three weeks after a birth, a mother's endocrine system starts doing a colossal tango, preparing her body to begin to be able to breastfeed her baby via the "supply and demand" mode that mothers and babies worldwide, for centuries, have perfected. By three months post-partum, the post-pregnancy hormones that supplied the colostrum and early, fatty newborn milk are replaced by the give-and-take of nursing of the infant triggering the oxytocin that maintains the perfect amount of milk for the baby- right down to the time of day. So three weeks post-partum is a prime time for new mothers to feel a "crash."

That crash didn't happen for me until a bit later. As typical for that sort of thing, it probably was from overdoing it. The facts are fairly easy to blame for this- we don't live near family, and out-of-state family members have their own lives and can only help out for so long. Mr. Clarateaches does need to work to support us. And active toddlers and rapidly growing babies need to have a mama that does things with them, all day every day (and all night, too, sometimes). Food, we already covered. I attempt to use herbs, but I really need some fantastic old crone to guide my path (and frankly, to do the work for me).

Post-Partum Depression is NOT some kind of character flaw in the mother. It's not a reflection of her children, nor is it a reflection of her feelings towards her children. PPD usually works the other way- it can cloud the actual feelings (rather than stem from them). PPD is not Post-Partum Psychosis, either. PPP is a rare, but very serious medical condition that requires intense, immediate medical and psychological help. It's not an excuse. It is indeed something that requires a lot of work to overcome, and some women do choose drugs and medical intervention. There is no weakness there, just like there is no heroism involved in choosing the opposite.

For now, I'm choosing a combination of things. Pilates in the morning, assisted by my baby (he makes a fantastic weight, and loves sitting on my lower legs while I do abdominal exercises) and my toddler (who grabs a baby doll and incorporates it into her gyrations) do a fantastic job of clearing my head. Keeping myself on a fairly regular schedule of accomplishing tasks and getting us out of the house means that my family has what they need, even on the days I don't particularly care. Sunshine, calcium (so important to the brain), and a diet that is a strange mix of Mediterranean and Weston A Price's "Traditional Foods" all seem to help. Re-reading Glasser's Choice Theory is also helpful, at least in as much as I am working hard to make sure my feelings (or lack thereof) are not affecting my actions. The support and love of Mr. Clarateaches is, always, crucial. Bit by bit, I'm getting there.

Off to start my day...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Three is a Magic Number, III: Trip and Fall Down

Repeat after me, Grasshopper: Power is not taken away, but given away. A power struggle only exists when power (authority) is forced. The moment power is in the process of being proven, it is tossed out there and is up for grabs, like a fumbled football, and each player scrambles to try to gain control, and in the process does more extreme and intense actions to do so. Authority and power are better held, calmly and gently- and guarded from struggle be avoiding pushing it on anyone, especially children.

Say it, learn it, live it. Screw up. Repent. Make amends. Over and over and over. And somehow, one day, you will look back to where you were, see where you are, and find that you have improved.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Three is a Magic Number, II: Pre-Three Silliness

Well-Baby Visit of Vincent

- We all trooped into the waiting room of our family doctor (a rather chatty osteopath and his wife, a PA, run the practice) to discover that there were not one, but two pharmaceutical reps in chairs. This instantly put a giant bunch in my shorts, as I wasn't in the mood to be trapped in an examination room with an active almost-three year old and a two month old. I can only keep her away from the tempting, candy-store style glass containers of cotton balls and tongue dispensers for so long before she decides that the battle must now commence.

The Astra-Zeneca rep immediately went into "people-person" mode and smiled at Gianna and said "Hi!" Gianna, not a fan of strangers interacting with her or potentially trying to usurp her role as "the big sister," made a derisive noise and flapped her hand at him in a shoo-ing manner. He wisely did not pursue the interaction further, but then made the grave mistake of clearly talking about her with the other rep in the waiting room. The two of them smiled and pointed at her and whispered together. I walked around the chairs where our Sherpas had deposited all of our gear and did the "Mom dance" to keep Vincent happy in the Mei Tai. Gianna suddenly whirled around in her chair and, while yelling, "I'm gonna SKUNK you!" she crouched in a skunk position. And then blasted an earth-shattering fart in the direction of the pharmaceutical reps. They died laughing, while I stood at the cross-roads of Laugh Hysterically and Die of Embarrassment. I decided, after nearly chewing off the inside of my cheeks, to remind her to make sure her body is safe when she is on chairs.

Vincent's First Beer

- I always sort of knew that at some point in the future, Gianna would supply Vincent with a beer, and yet, really didn't know it would happen so soon. As I cleaned up after dinner one evening, Gianna grabbed Mr. Clarateaches' almost-empty beer bottle and tried making train noises with it. After having a wonderful time blowing air over the top of the bottle, I heard her say lovingly to her most adoring fan (who was chilling in the swing), "Vin-Cent, do you want to try it too?" My attempt at flying around the counter top divider was too slow, and Vincent smelled like a sweaty frat boy for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three is a Magic Number

Veggie Tales are on the TV, the nearly three-month-old is sleeping on me, and the nearly three-year old has leaned against me, pinched "the squishy part" of my arm (her favorite comfort method) and has fallen asleep.

In only training pants. Couch, brace yourself.

As the water system is on the blink (is inundating my house with major iron and manganese) I am exempt from any type of cleaning involving water. By my own command. Thus sayeth the Clara. So I'll start another rambling series on my blog.

Three is truly "The Crucible" when it comes to ages and stages that children go through. A taller and more potty-adept version revisits around age 13, but it's really just the same thing. Three year olds wake up in the morning with the thought: "What shall I conquer today? And how shall I mete out the torture when I hit an obstacle?" And this is where parents can either help or harm: it's time to either jump right into the pool and help sort this out into appropriate manifestations, or to punitively squash and shame and ridicule. Being an "appropriate manifestations" fan myself, we're steering towards that direction.

It's easy to look down at your sleeping newborn, and your adorable, new-to-sitting 6 month old, and your freshly toddling one year old and say, "I will never harm you." Three is the age where the adults are sorted out from random infantile morons who happen to procreate. Strong words, yes, but adulthood is truly a state of being in control of one's own actions. Children have to learn this (hence the term"childish." If a child can't behave in a childish manner, when exactly can they? Post adolescence? By pop media accounts, one might actually be persuaded of that.)

So what, then? Should we allow threes to "rule the house?" To dictate every move we make? Somehow that seems to be the default option that most people like to leap to, when they discover that we fully plan on using gentle discipline methods with our children- no punitive, shaming, arbitrary,"take that you little brat," juvenile nonsense around here. It certainly would feel pretty satisfying to land a smack on my child when she's pushing all of my buttons at once, but what exactly would that teach her?

Adults who really do want to guide and teach and model grace and methods of amending mistakes, to the right. Those of you who are retributive, vindictive, and do not own your emotions and have no desire to do so, you have a seat over there. Everyone in between, who want to do the right thing but finds themselves caught up in how they were parented, perhaps it is time to examine how we were parented and "re-parent" ourselves. Especially those of us whose childhoods were "black and blue and red all over," mindfully owning our emotions will be one of the very best tools in our bag of parenting tricks. Our kids, wonderful and wild, loud and clumsy, loving and greeting each new day as exactly that- a chance for a fresh new beginning, deserve exactly that.

Here we go...