Friday, January 16, 2015

Having compassion for 2 year olds...

So K is 2 years old and almost 5 months. We can easily round up to a solid 2.5 years old, development-wise. Meaning he's is IN IT. And as his parents, so are we.

Yesterday, there were some strong feelings (I'm not naming names) about not getting a Clif bar (and really, it was about going to the store, which he thinks is a ritual and I can't say it's not...:S) and then there was some mean things said about not going to the library (I know, really? was I preventing my book-obsessed kid from going to the horrible library AND denying him a Clif bar?? What kind of monster am I? Oh, one who has some boundaries and limitations and can't go to the library or go to the store to quiet a screaming child...but I digress) and it was a rough ride home.

When we got in the house we needed to cool down and take a breath.

Sometimes my husband and I have just resulted to shrugging and raising our eyebrows as a parenting method that loosely translates into, "I have no fucking clue what just happened, but I think some growing and developing is going on and I really don't know how to help him!" I actually feel like I "lose" my kid while he derails and it's heart-breaking to watch him go...and I really can't hold on to him. In fact, the thing I feel that would most help him is this unbreakable hug where I basically use my brute force to keep him from flailing (like a parental straight-jacket). Ah, of course I think that would has for so long, right?...all the strapping him in, holding him close, swaddling, etc. It has worked for a long time...

But upon reflection, I realize that no, that won't work anymore, sadly. He'll separate from me regardless of the intensity of my hugging. That's the nature of our relationship. So how can I make it easier? How can I just stay present while he derails?

One way to do it, is to just literally stay present and have compassion (the "co-" part is key!). Silent, engaged, listening, eye contact, grounded energy, staying there. People will do this thing OVER AND OVER until the moment of our death (the final separation in the physical sense) and we better start practicing it (if we haven't already been).

I can also hold space (or ask for a bigger entity to hold space) while he flails. In a way, I am flailing too. I am also experiencing this separation, right? As an adult, with more awareness, of course, but it's still scary. How do I know he's ready? How can I tell him it's okay? How can I tell him that I am still *here* when we are both obviously feeling this huge difference/shift in our relationship? I don't know, but a bigger presence in the world (God, Mother Nature, the Universe, etc) knows. And so I can (and try to) trust that.

Other than those things (and variations of those things) there isn't much else I can do. I really need to keep clear about that. I cannot really make it easier. It's hard. Just like my parents couldn't help me handle my hormones as a teenager (ugh, what a mess!). I will just not be able to do some things to help. No amount of therapy or books or awesome parenting tricks will work. Separation is the combination of destruction and creation in the SAME moment! It's hard for me and I'm an adult, so it MUST be much harder for this little person who hasn't really had to do it a lot yet.

So in the end, what I am going on about is growing my ability and capability to be compassionate. K is not doing this TO me. He's unable to talk about why and how this is happening and the best thing I can do is to be firm, kind, and present (and maybe toughen up my own skin a bit?). We'll make it through. Billions of people have done it for millions of years. It's survivable. And a little compassion goes a long way...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The new way to keep time

I have been trying to write my friend (okay, honestly, I've been trying to write about 7 friends) for a month. Like a real letter. Or I'd even accept an email. I got a new job, my schedule shifted, my brain shifted, my kid shifted and even my husband shifted.
I haven't been able to sit down and really focus and write a heartfelt letter in so long.
I remember the days fondly when I used to do that and I long for them now.

But I'm a parent now. A working parent. A working parent with a happy marriage.

So I don't have the same kind of time that I used to have. The same 24 hours exist, but they have shifted. We go to bed at 9p (yep!) so we can get up at 5a (yep!). Our child is in bed by 8:15p. That gives us an hour to sometimes eat, catch up, clean the kitchen, reconcile our expenses, coordinate our schedules, do laundry, prep lunches and "unwind."

*I've been writing for 3 minutes and now have to get up, because my family has just come home, just to give you an idea of how much time I actually have to write*

Mind you, I'm just talking about writing a letter. I didn't really want to even broach the subject of seeing the people I love in-person. Seems like more than a struggle.

A friend just texted me if this is what adult friendship looks like now. And I was stumped. Is it? Or is it just me? Another friend of mine has two kids and lives far away and the idea of either of us having time to truly talk on the phone and catch up (or really, more accurately, weigh in, support, share honestly about our lives, etc.) seems like a total pipe dream now.

But back to the title of this entry: The new way to keep time.

Here's what I'd like to try:

I don't talk to my close friends as much, but the closeness for me isn't lessened. It may *feel* that way or even look that way, but how can I possibly explain that their spirits just hang around me and when I walk down the street - alone-, I am actually talking to them, laughing with them, shoving them lovingly, giggling, pointing out outfits and hot people and generally "connecting" in a very different way now?

If I could text all my friends (I know, a really poor way of connecting for a lot of people, but for me, it works) when I thought of them, then I'd seem a bit insane. But I have 30 seconds for a text. What I hate is that the in-depth conversation I had with one of my friends the other day was while I drove to another city, and had to hang up abruptly because I needed to park and I hadn't even barely checked in. It was emotionally frustrating to leave the conversation in that kind of process lurch, but if I wanted to stop playing phone tag, I had to get a bluetooth hooked up (ugh) and call during my drive.

Okay, I realize this isn't an experiment, as much as it's a re-frame of time. It used to be that hours equaled the amount of love I had for a friend (not really, but it felt that way). That can't work anymore because I am constantly suffering from the idea that I am choosing one person over after day. It's not that way. Some friends I think of at 3am, after a bad dream. I imagine what they'd say and how they'd comfort me. Other times, I hear the echoes of my friend's voice telling me to slow down, be nicer to myself, and to appreciate how awesome I am. I'm confident it's her voice and not mine. So I take that as "connection" time.

Another several of my friends are new parents and if time spent with me equaled the state of our friendship then I suppose I'd have to consider the friendship in a coma, at best. But I don't want to think that. I want to reach them outside the bounds of time and space, so I can still connect with them.

Other friends don't have kids and I am struggling with the idea that I can't be with them like I used to be. And I know they have no problem with my kids coming over or hanging out, but honestly, I do! I don't want to take precious time with them and add my kid to that! I want alone time with them!

What about my husband? We have to wake up at 5am so that we can have alone time together. And that time is just so we can ground, check-in, appreciate each other, and make sure we know what's going on in the other's life. We're too beat to do it at night, and before K gets up is just the best time. But from 5-7a I want to cram in: time with hubby, writing time, art time, writing to my friends, showering, dressing, taking care of bills, and maybe a few facebook checks (which are lessening because I just don't have the mental space).

So how do adults with busy lives (kids, travel, atypical jobs, etc) stay friends? Do we need to restructure the conditions? Write more texts? Be satisfied with smaller hangout periods? Wake up earlier?
I don't know the answer.

In the meantime, I am trying to check-in with folks as much as I can, even if it's in between appointments or on the train to/from work. Sometimes I just write them quick poems and forward them along. I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm looking at a new way to keep time...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mama really lets go

I have about six posts in draft form...waiting for editing, perfecting, proofreading, etc. This is my style. I run to write down my thoughts...sometimes extreme ones that need a day or two to percolate...and then I edit and release.

With a book, it's different. It takes a lot more words, a lot more editing, a lot more nail-biting and anxiety, and even then I'll find something to keep me from publishing. A book is so...PERMANENT.

But, kind readership, I have finally published the book. The first book. I tell people I can't write a second book until I write a first. So it has to be published, right? It's on Amazon. In one day it sold 14 times. I'm surprised and delighted. I finally let go of a big one.

Here's the link: Dear Artist 

It's about my process of creativity and calling myself an artist (really, I'm calling all of you artists, too). I was nervous to share about it and promote it, thinking myself too arrogant if I did that. But I was reminded by a dear friend that sometimes letting go of something (sharing the truth or a good idea or authentic feelings) is a SERVICE to others. Who am I to keep that to myself? What if my words comfort, save, relieve, inspire, and encourage others? I would be a horribly self-centered person if I DIDN'T share if that were the case. And it's not my job to dictate that. I really don't have the biggest picture (in the universe).

The book is done. It's out there. Now I can get to writing the second one. Which may have nothing to do with the first. Maybe the next one will be about parenting. Or plants. Or furniture...

Anyway, I wanted to share here because it was a HUGE thing to let go of that book and release it to the world. It's vulnerable and scary and unknown (the top three reasons I don't like letting go, of course). If I've learned anything, it's that letting go leads to freedom most of the time or growth or both.

Check out the book. You can look at a sample if you're not sure it's for you. But give yourself a chance. It could be something that inspires you to write your own book, or create your own stuff,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A friend of mine just had a baby a week ago and I have been thinking back to those times when K was newborn. I stare at my 3T toddler, just a few weeks over 2 years old, and I think back at the comments people shared about "time going by so fast."

Honestly, sometimes the time crawls. Like at 3am, when a screaming fit erupts because a beloved toy is lost in the blankets (why don't all toys glow in the dark?), and going back to sleep seems near impossible.

But other times, all I'm doing is folding clean laundry and I hold up something that K has worn for months and by some strange motherly gift, as I'm folding it, I sense that its dimensions no longer fit my son. I look at the tag, "18-24 mos," and that's when time speeds up. Instead of putting the item away, like I've done 20 times before, it goes into a box filled with the past of my child. A hat that's too small, a pair of socks that no longer fit, a pair of jeans with blown out knees from probably 15 kids before wearing the same piece of clothing.

Time flies when a mispronounced word is one day, all of a sudden, pronounced correctly. Or when a "yesterday" arrives in a sentence and I think, "What? How does K know about yesterday? How is he already conscious of time?" I think of my friend and I don't want to tell her time flies...she already knows that, even with a one week old baby. What I want to tell her is that during the folding of laundry and breakfast and in the car, her child is growing and sponging it all in. Our children have holidays and birthdays to mark time, too, of course. But those don't mark enough moments for me.

One night, everyone just sleeps through the night and then magically, you can't remember when it started happening and when you got some sanity. One day your child asks for salad and doesn't immediately spit it up on the plate. One day, your child magically says "please" and "thank you" without your prompting and you only realize it because you didn't hear the echo of your mother out loud when obliging a request.

We get notes home each day from K's school and sometimes, if it weren't for those, I wouldn't know what sort of things my kid was capable of doing. And I admit, when I see some competency, my first thought is "Oh no, he's growing some more," and not "Oh wow, he's learning so much!" They are so spongy there's isn't enough time to learn about what they are learning. I keep pointing things out to my husband because if I didn't, we'd miss all the subtle changes and just call him 2 years old, instead of 24 months, one day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What do parents need?

As a parent, I know that alone time gets a new meaning and importance. We will take the walk from the carseat around to the driver's side (thanks, Louis CK) as alone time. We'll take the grocery store trip, the car wash, and the line at the DMV as alone time. It's all perspective.

I get enough alone time. And the alone time I do get actually makes me a bit anxious (it gives me too much time to think of things I might be forgetting, failing, doing wrong, etc.).

But I had this thought when I was talking with other mom friends (apparently, it's thought that this is a mom-only concept...although, I encourage any dads I know to pipe up and talk about it in the comments!):

I've had a lot of alone time.

When my dad died when I was six, I felt really alone.

When I was single and without a loving, supportive, awesome partner, I felt pretty alone.

When I had trouble making friends as weird kid, I felt alone.

In fact, I think I've probably had more alone time than I could ever want in a lifetime. I know, it's not the same thing. But honestly, it's perspective. Do I want to enjoy a movie in peace sometimes? Sure. But I think I need to make sure that I'm not constantly seeking alone time. I need to make sure that I am balancing time to myself and time with my family so that I don't feel like I haven't had time out or a break.

I love my family. Heck, I love YOUR family (yes, that's how many extroverts feel). I love the memories and the laughter and yes, even (sometimes especially) the tears. I love when my in-laws say that extended time with my child allows them to get to know him better...because that's the same for me too. I'm not a stay at home parent (so I also grasp that this plays into "time alone") so time with my kid can be interesting and challenging. But I had to learn that sleep counts for me (a well-rested mama can be your best friend!) as alone time. And that I needed to ask friends to watch (or listen to K cry...) when I needed a bath (and to ask for their tub, too). I also need to look at what I love about not being alone. I don't mind sharing the bathroom, or being woken up early sometimes. I do need to make sure that what I need protected stays protected, so that my kid knows how I stay sane, he knows that he is allowed to protect his time and space, and so I know what might be contributing to a foul mood.

This is a good conversation to have with a partner or extended family because I hear a lot of parents sacrificing alone time because they have no options, they forget, they don't have enough energy, etc. If I want to successfully have another child, I need to keep paying attention to this. Living in community is great too, if that's something that's clearly understood. Not all communitarians are extroverts or love kids, though!

Anyway, I digress.

My point is that I just need to make sure that I get what I need to help me feel balanced. I am not particularly trapped by not getting absolute alone time. For me, it's enough time to eat well. I also need time outside in the sun, time with my family (I NEED this and feel really horrible when I don't see or hear from my siblings and parents!). Getting your needs met (for both parents) is key. If you need alone time, find out how to get it. If you need 5 meals a day, find out how to plan for that. Teaching our kids that life goes on (and usually better) when we meet our needs is a great lesson. A hard one for sure, but a really great one.

So while I don't feel my alone time is that threatened, I am getting more and more clear about what I do need, so that I can be as present as possible when my kid waltzes into the bathroom, with no concept of privacy or "alone time."

Mama, let go

By now, if you're paying attention, you know that I don't like mess. It's not that I'm not messy, but I don't like it. I don't like crumbs (ack!) or spills or stains. You get the picture.

Yesterday was a rough day for this mama. K is frequently in underwear now, and usually makes it to the potty on time. But not yesterday. He had two accidents in the morning (!) and I KNOW I'm not supposed to get upset, but humans, being what they are (imperfect), I got so angry. I had to go scream in another far away room, I was so angry. In addition to the mess, there was a trail of oatmeal on the rug, pen marks, and a bunch of other toddler territorial markings. I was fed up (also, I wasn't feeling well).

I yelled. I'm not proud to admit it. I know my kid isn't even two, doesn't really get my annoyance at stains and mess, and frankly can't exactly control his bladder yet. I KNOW this. But a part of me felt out of control (ya think?) and out came the loud voice. Which of course K was scared of. Oh, that look of horror is enough to get a person in the deepest place in their heart. Crap. I was the yell-y mom. I sort of had yell-y parents. Not really, but I remember a few times. I remember it not working. I remember it scaring me.

But then K did something that got under my skin AGAIN and I think he saw the steam coming out of my ears and said, "Mama, no angry." That got me. Double crap. My kid was basically asking me not to get angry. I felt pure shame right then. I immediately apologized and hugged him tight, and explained as best as I could that it wasn't fair of me to get angry at him about things he couldn't control. I told him I wasn't feeling well, and I was frustrated. He said, "Yeah." Then he proceeded to talk about the yelling all day. Sad. A friend of mine who's a therapist had this to say about repeating a trauma over and over to work through it. Yep, we did that. We talked about it to papa, too.

I don't want to hang out in shame too much because that's not what K's intention is. He's two. He's recognizing what's scary, who's yelling and why, and how he can process all of that. Sadly, I'm one of the people who will likely be in several of those moments that need processing. I hate knowing that.

But I know this too: I am a forgiving person. I am an open person. I have more love than rage. I can change and I have changed. If I don't want my kid to fear me I have to stop shaming myself for being out of control sometimes (the shame is a way I keep reliving the moment myself and it backfires). It's not okay to hit or be violent. But I am not yet capable of not yelling. I am capable of reflection and asking for forgiveness and trying harder.

A mom recommended this technique which I will try next time. I need an answer for myself when I feel the steam rising. I need to let go of the mess (and how I feel about the mess). I need to let go of any possession I feel won't be marked by kids (they will all be marked!). I need to not drag myself through the mud all day.

I share this hear publicly because I know that tons of parents want to be "those" parents. The ones who are Zen calm, have amazing parenting aikido (metaphorically speaking) techniques, and who are straight awesome and gently loving 24/7/365. I haven't met one yet. All the parents I know lose it every once in a while (or more), they get fed up, they forget their tools, they feel helpless and hopeless and all in front of their beloved kids. It happens. It also changes. Don't beat yourself up. Learn about what makes you angry (I should've eaten earlier, done my daily writing, planned an outing or activity, taken painkillers, etc.) and how you can prevent it. Your kids will give you a lot of chances to try stuff out.

For me, reflection and awareness really help. I keep hearing K say, "Mama, no angry." That's what it takes for me. I can't say I'll never yell again. That would be a parent myth I don't want to propagate. I will learn new techniques. I will try new ways of being. I will keep letting go and getting better.

New moms

My midwives at In Tandem Midwifery asked these questions recently:

Did you feel like a good mom from the get go, or was there a learning curve?
Did you feel like there was a baby whispering secret that nobody told you about?
What kindness can you instill on some of our newest mamas who are struggling with their first few days?

I had a lot to say, but I thought maybe I would go into more detail here:

 "Good mom" is so loaded! I didn't know what a "good wife" was the day after I got married, so I tended to treat myself a bit more flexibly when judging myself as a parent. Did I make mistakes that annoyed me? Hell yes. Did I not know answers i thought I should know? Sure thing. 

But with a two year old now, I realize that being a good person means I'm a good mom, regardless of milestones, breastfeeding, diapers, etc. Intention is key. Just like with everything else, there's a learning curve and I definitely have figured out how I learn (trial and error, still!) and I realize, too, my kid is WAY more forgiving than I am! 

My "baby whispering secret" is to listen to my kid, both literally and figuratively. Many books can't simply cover all humans, so it was key to read less and listen more, specifically to MY kid. My intuition was KEY to my success, my feeling happy and rested, and my bonding with my son. 

Also, treating my child like a new little (already formed) human, rather than a blob baby with no skills, allowed him to share wisdom with me...he's been guiding me the entire time! And treating him with respect has been good for me to get in the habit of. 

Observing him (rather than checking charts, talking to doctors, comparing with friends) has resulted in really weird but SUCCESSFUL parenting moments (like I started talking to my kid in the womb and we have had a lot of success with telepathic communication). 

As for the first days, I had to let myself off the hook from my insane (and unrealistic) expectations. I drank coffee, didn't bathe myself or my kid, watched TV during 3am breastfeeding sessions, asked for a LOT of help from ANYONE and EVERYONE who offered, cried, and tried to be as gentle as possible. As someone who wants to look strong, it started to feel unsustainable to "act" strong, when I just needed to feel okay being "weak" or taken care of (now I see that it wasn't weak at all...just different from my normal methods). 

Parenting is unique in that one day you are pregnant and the NEXT day you are in charge of an entire person! I also didn't use language that discounted my parenting (Parenting of the Year Award--said sarcastically--, lazy, bad mom, etc). I don't like knocking myself in front of my kid. I'm a "great" mom because i said so. My kid said so, too.  

One other thing is that sharing the struggle really helps. When we share, we release and someone else can hold us for a bit. We can see it better when we share it. We can help others when we share. That's been powerful.


My favorite baby

My inspiration

My inspiration