A New View

We spent the last nearly two weeks sick with acute bronchitis.  Daughter and I are the last holdouts, and it’s chilly today.  We were so sick last week, the whole week blew by without a blog post, or even the mental reminder to write one.  I felt a little bad about not working on my novel, but between the coughing, fevers, and pain, I couldn’t focus on much else.

This meant we had to postpone the Little Fox’s 3rd birthday for this com
ing weekend.  While it made us sad to do it, we now have a little more time to prepare the house.  One thing we did manage to complete this weekend: painting the kids’ room.

Up until last week, it was Daughter’s room, but soon they’ll both have new beds in there, even if the little one probably won’t be sleeping anywhere but my bed for a long time to come (it’s up to him, but I don’t see it happening).  Though they often argue about a lot of trivial matters, they both agreed on one thing: the room would be painted light blue.  With clouds.

So that’s what we did.

kidsroom-beforeWhile painting the clouds with cut up sponge pieces, my daughter started getting grumpy.  I asked her what was wrong.  “You said the clouds didn’t have to be realistic, that they could be cartoonish or whatever we wanted.”

“Yeah?”

“You’ve been ‘correcting’ all of my clouds, and telling me what’s wrong with them.”

“I wanted to show you some techniques to improve your skills.  You’re an artist, aren’t you?”

“I just wanted to have some fun.”

She was right.  Their room, not mine.  Their rules, not mine.  The moment I saw one of the clouds she’d made, I’d begun a critical spew of corrections detailing how to smooth the edges out and make them look “better,” and I was rapidly draining all of the enjoyment from our shared project.

After a moment of silence, I sang the Steven Universe theme song, despite a raspy voice, and both kids joined in.  Then we made clouds, with directions from the Dragon to break out of my fixed ideas about how to make clouds … and we had fun.

kidsroom-painted

This is my favorite part of the room:

handprints

Little Fox and Dragon hand prints

 

The pictures I took with my phone don’t do the colors justice.  As my daughter said, the room makes her feel as if she’s falling through an endless sky (and she loves it).  The little Fox just kept saying, “Wow — woah.  Wow!”

The children picked two colors from the Benjamin Moore line: Crisp Morning Air (blue), #780, and Ice Mist (white), #2123-70.  We wanted a zero VOC line of paints, and our favorite hardware store (McLendon’s) said all of Ben Moore’s paints were zero VOC, despite only advertising one line as such.  Take a look on the paint cans and it’ll have a stamp along with the batch number that reads: VOC: 0%.

 

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Why I Don’t Join Moms Groups

“We Mustn’t Panic” scene from Chicken Run; This sums up the looks I get from other adults when I open my mouth.

I’m on the cusp of introvert and extrovert, though I lean more toward the former than the latter.  Beyond the standard trappings of introversion, you have people like me.  Weird people with strange minds who don’t fit into most groups, especially not moms groups.  This leads to a conundrum because …

1. I want my children to interact with other kids.

2. As homeschoolers, this often means joining a mom’s group or attending community events.

3. I’m weird and empathetic.

4. Other people in groups sense this weirdness and don’t know how to react to it.

5. Feeling their discomfort, I retreat into myself and do my best to hide everything about me.

6. Exhausted after having to be social, but hide who I am, I take the kids home.

7. I do not want to go back, but that’s ok, because I’m usually not invited back.

See also: Why my parties are small despite large guest lists, and Why I’m a wreck after family gatherings.

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I like people. I like interacting. I like parties and games and having fun. But I’m weird and few people get me enough to want to spend time with me. Because I also like cuddles and bouncing and dark humor and science fiction and contemplating odd scenarios and … I don’t feel particularly human because being human the way people expect me to be human isn’t the way I am.

So I cosplay Pinkie Pie on Easter because people understand Pinkie Pie. Who is like me when I don’t have to hide.

Pinkie Pie owned by Hasbro

Pinkie Pie and her party cannon; the original, the best party pony

I don’t join moms groups.  Instead, we go to community events open to all, and make the best of it.  I’ve learned there are two things I can talk about that don’t feel like small talk: parenting and gardening.  But I have to resist hugging the first person who displays a shared passion or interest.

Thankfully, my kids love me, and I have good friends who accept me as the oddball I am.  Mostly because they’re oddballs, too.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable in moms groups or community events?  Start with local newsgroups and find out which families share similar interests.  You might not become best friends with the parents you meet, but it’s possible you’ll have something to talk about while your kids develop their own friendships.  Support in parenting, especially for parents at home, is crucial to staying sane.  (Also, you might become best friends.  You never know.)

When It’s Just Too Much

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Every parent, no matter how balanced, patient, and aware gets to the point where something — or everything — is just too much.  Sometimes “too much” is a matter of comfort, sometimes it’s a physical drain, while other times it feels almost personal and emotionally overwhelming.

I’ve experienced all of these at some point in the last fifteen years, usually many times.  While it helps to have a co-parent now, it’s still not easy from day to day.

If you’re fortunate enough to share parenting with one or more adults, it’s wonderful to be able to lean on someone to provide support and to give support in return.  But what if all the adults are feeling tired, grouchy, or overwhelmed?  What if you’re going it alone?

Here’s what helps get our house back into flow, when we adults remember to do it.

  • Slow down.  No matter how important keeping to a schedule seems, sometimes it’s best to simply stop watching the clock and take time to pay attention to the little things — and little ones — who need us.  Sometimes I forget dinner can wait a few extra minutes so I can finish up a game with my son, or my late night work can wait another day so I can have a heart-to-heart with my daughter. When we cram too many things into a day, it becomes too much for everyone, and leads to less patience and more shouting.  Typically, the smaller the person, the bigger the scream, too, and a screaming toddler is no fun for anyone.  Take a deep breath, go back to basics, and focus on the two or three things that matter most in a day — or the one person in a moment.

 

  • Clean up.  When the demands of parenting and being an adult add more pressure than you can handle, it can help with focus on regain a sense of control by cleaning something.  Get everyone working on picking up their toys and objects, or if you need to be alone and not supervising, deal with some chore you’ve been putting off or you know will help you let go.  My daughter tells me she’s actually come to enjoy doing dishes for the relief she feels after doing them.  Together, we’ve gotten our fridge deep cleaned and our kitchen in excellent shape this month, and we enjoyed doing it together.  My son has had fun picking up his cars, ponies, and Duplo (always out at once, for some reason), just so he can have a chance to play with my Calico Critters.  Yes, I said mine.  They relax me.

 

  • Declutter. Lately, my partner has been feeling the crunch of time between a demanding senior position, a long commute each day, and the little bit of time each evening he gets to spend with his family.  It’s a classic complaint, and I’ve taken to working harder to hear him out even when I’m feeling grouchy.  He gives me respite from parenting, while gaining the joy of playing with the children, and I’m able to get time to practice piano, play a solitary game, get some chores done, or tend to a health complaint.  One of the aspects of our home aggravating him the most (besides the roof) is the abundance of toys spread out across the office every evening.  I’ve suggested we rotate bins and only take out one when the rest are put away, but until I can get everyone on board (especially our son), we’ve agreed there are a lot of toys he simply doesn’t play with enough to warrant holding onto.  This week, we’ll be collecting the toys our son isn’t using and donate them to a non-profit who can make better use of them.  Even my son likes this idea, because it overwhelms him, too!

 

  • Be gentle.  When feeling overwhelmed, pressured, on the verge of tears or yelling, it can be difficult to remember everyone else’s feelings.  One thing I say to everyone, including myself, is to be gentle.  Gentle in word, deed, and feeling.  To avoid assuming someone is doing or saying something intended to be unkind.  Our family is a caring bunch, and homeschooling leads us all to spend more time with each other than many parents who are unable to do so.  No matter how much we love each other, we get on each other’s nerves.  Taking an extra breath when grumpy and ready to argue, it helps to remember to approach each situation gently.  It can be hard, I’ve certainly failed a number of times when my patience wore thin and I raised my voice or said something cynical, but like everything, we get better with practice.  However we react to pressure will affect many events that follow.  Some small slight can wreck a whole day or weekend, while pausing to regain an outlook of gentleness can help everyone relax and move smoothly into a happier day.

 

  • Make plans. Another way to regain control is to sit down with the family and make plans to tackle whatever issues you’re facing.  Whether it’s cleaning out the garage together, going on vacation, planning your weekend, or just coming up with school activities or a meal plan for the week.  By brainstorming a list, and setting goals and steps to achieve them, the family becomes a team and even if not very exciting, can lead to better cooperation all around.

 

  • Dance party.  When all else fails, engage your body.  Get physical.  Dance it out.  Sing, drum, run, swim, laugh, shout.  Do whatever it takes to get out of your head and into your body again.  It’s grounding, energizing, and can encourage everyone else to get loose and join you in an impromptu romp.  Come together in the joy of movement, rhythm, harmony.  It might not solve all your problems, but you’ll feel better for it after, and things might not look so overwhelming.

These are some actions I take when the kids are yelling at each other, my partner’s grouchy, and I want to hide in my room playing Bubble Witch 2 until it blows over.  Believe me, these help a lot more than avoiding the issues at hand.  What works for your family?

Three More Minutes

Little Fox likes to get his way from wearing skirts to negotiating extra time to play and dance.

Little Fox likes to get his way from wearing skirts to negotiating extra time to play and dance.

Our two year old is at the age of toddlerhood where what we, the parents, say becomes hard and fast rules in his mind. If we identify an object correctly or incorrectly, he’ll repeat our original phrasing and it’s a struggle to convince him to correct this.  He’s more likely to tell his sister she’s wrong before a parent, but there are times he will argue a point until he ends up in a meltdown spiral.

To avoid this, we actively work to say what we mean the first time and stick to it. We explain a series of events he should expect, we offer choices, use positive statements (e.g. “Pet the cat gently” instead of “don’t poke the kitty!”), stand firm about an issue, and offer negotiations where possible. One of these negotiation tactics he adores using several times a day is the “three more minutes” request.

If he’s engaged in something he enjoys and doesn’t wish to stop immediately, he can request an extra three minutes to wrap up. And most of the time, we agree to those extra three minutes.  I say, “Ok. Three more minutes to play with your cars,” and I wait. At the two and one minute markers, I let him know how much time is left.  When it gets toward the end, he especially enjoys to have me count down the last ten seconds. He even tells me to do it if I’ve forgotten, or reminds me at the start of the three minutes to do it at the end.

The moment I get to 3, 2, 1, he pops up on his feet and is ready and excited about what he’s going to do next, whether it’s a diaper change, nap time, or getting ready to go out. It doesn’t matter what, as long as I’m excited in that final ten second countdown and he had his three more minutes, he’s ready to race to the next task.

In part, I think it works because it’s fair to give him a little extra time to prepare himself for transition and he sees it as fair, but also, he gets to have a little control over his time. The enthusiasm we show also helps, as he wants to share in the excitement.

We don’t allow him an additional three minutes (this isn’t a Foamy the Squirrel skit), and I think a longer period would make it harder for him to retain focus on transition and be less excited should we allow him five, seven, or ten minutes more.  In fact, he might have even picked the duration himself (and requested it the first time) after I said a meal we had would be done in three more minutes, and he had to wait.

This method might work for you if your toddler isn’t dealing well with ending a task or frustration/disappointment meltdowns are common. Give it a try, and keep a clock or timer handy to help stick to the agreed upon duration (unless your internal clock is as on point as mine).

Taking the Orange Rhino Challenge

The people closest to me know I have a temper (and all the reasons why), and more importantly, that I’ve struggled as a parent to eliminate this aspect of my life from my parenting. While I’ve come far in better maintaining my control and managing my quick-to-anger temperament, there’s still more I can do in order to live up to my personal goals toward peaceful parenting.

So, it’s probably not a surprise that I’ve read “10 Things I Learned When I Stopped Yelling at My Kids” at least half a dozen times. The anonymous author and creator of the Orange Rhino blog has inspired me to take her Challenge.

Today was Day 1. No yelling, no irritated voice, no snappish or cutting remarks. When I saw chores being left undone, I used “I need” or “we need” statements only. A good start.

I need to do this to improve my relationship with my daughter and support her emotional health, I need to practice this with my teen so I don’t make the same mistakes with my infant as he grows into toddlerhood, and I need to this for me, because I’ve stayed up nights, sleepless with guilt for recent or past instances in which I lost my temper and was the cause of my beloved child’s tears … I should be the comfort not the cause.

There are reasons for my temper, but they’re my monsters to fight, not my children’s, and blessedly, we all have a lot of support now that wasn’t there in my daughter’s early childhood.

To All the Parents with Babies

This is my second child, and with thirteen years difference between the two, I’ve had a lot of time to consider what I wanted to differently with this child in order to serve his needs better than I did my first. One major area in which I possessed a dearth of knowledge was how to spend those awake, alert, non-nursing times with a baby.

There are hosts of well-meaning government and medical pamphlets with short lists of stuff to do, but without explanation of how to implement them daily and across hours of time each day. How do you stay focused, establish a routine, yet not become so set in said routine as to become blindingly bored?

In other words, how do you engage with a child under six months old?

Here’s what we’re doing this time around:

1. Exercise. I found a great link thanks to Pinterest titled Seven Activities to Do with your baby 0-6 months. It’s a short list with descriptions and video showing how to work with your infant to help improve sensory and gross motor function for the second half of the first year when babies tend to become more ambulatory. While it says 0-6 months, I’ve found some of these are better from one to three months on, but the massage is definitely good from birth!

2. Talking. We talk almost constantly. We talk about all the trivial things no one talks about (“mama is brushing her hair. Now I’m putting my hair into a ponytail so it’s out of the way”). We speak clearly, annunciating our words, and making eye contact as often as possible.

We hold conversations, “It’s time for a diaper change. Ooh look, there are elephants on this wipe. Which color diaper cover do you want this time? Yellow or green?” We make eye contact while speaking with him. We use simple ASL signs for common things like “milk” and “change diaper”; he may not be able to make these signs yet himself, but he sees them and will use them soon enough. He came up with his own sign to tell us he wanted to be picked “up” since he doesn’t have fine motor control of his fingers yet.

And I employ methods for language acquisition learned in my linguistic anthropology classes, namely: speak a single word or phrase slowly, breaking down the sounds (phonemes) and exaggerating the placement of the tongue, etc. I show my son where the sound comes from in my mouth and make sure he can see it, and I work with him on vowel sounds and consonants that can be made easily without teeth (e.g. “el”, “buh”, “puh”, et al).

3. Singing. Whether you’re musically gifted or not, try to sing as much as you can. Lullabies and soothing songs are great for calming and getting baby to sleep, but engaging in singing upbeat and up tempo songs are a fun way to interact and they ALSO help with language acquisition (singing activates a different part of our brains than speaking, and has been used as a form of speech therapy in people who have suffered brain injury and lost the ability to speak; by singing the words, they’re able to relearn how to verbally communicate). If you really can’t hold a tune, play music you enjoy and lip synch or dance with the music for your baby’s entertainment. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all baby and toddler music, play what you love, just listen to cues when your baby vetoes a particular song.

4. Reading. Read books out loud. Read books you enjoy, though if they’re not ready to sleep, they may not be as engaged in the story unless they can see your face. Picture books are wonderful, you can pick up dozens from the library at once, and if you and your child find one you adore, buy it later! Read with a slow, deliberate cadence, talking about the pictures between paragraphs or verses.

Some of my favorites for this age include: Seuss books (lots of contrast, primary colors, and rhyming words), There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, Where the Wild Things Are, Time to Sleep, and Song of Night: It’s Time to Go to Bed. The baby faces series is also exciting for little ones to look at (but not for bed).

5. Movement. Whether your baby has colic like mine or not, carrying you child most of the time will help recreate the familiar sensations of being in the womb and increase a sense of safety and security (it’ll also help move gas out and lymph fluid around). Also follow your baby’s lead about their own desires to move around and provide support for sitting, standing, foot grabbing, rolling, even attempts at walking. I also do postpartum yoga while he lays on a mat next to me and I like to hold my son close (supporting his head) and dance with him. For more ideas see the link in #1 and check out some baby yoga books.

6. Playing with toys. I love giving my son the opportunity to make choices even at this early stage (and use your best guess about what your baby prefers), and I tend to give him two choices for outfits or diaper covers (whatever he stares at most, kicks, or grabs for is what I take for a choice). However, with toys it’s better to offer one choice at a time, let baby play with it, and when clearly done, offer something else. At three months, my son plays with 5″ knobby balls, 5-7″ kick balls and non-PVC beach style ball, three wooden teethers (one sheep, one rattler, one set of rings on a rope, all from etsy crafters), a cotton teether, a “happy apple”, a “scraptopus”, maracas, a small tambourine, a handful of small fabric stuffed animals, and a homemade play mat from a baby gym I didn’t finish making. He loves playing in his bouncy chair or on a lap.

7. Playing games. And like his toys, he enjoys playing a rotation of games. Peek-a-boo involves him hiding his face beneath his blanket as we say “goodbye” and revealing himself, so we say “hello”. This game started around four weeks with me hiding under his blanket instead. At one point, his father flipped a blanket corner over our son’s face instead. He liked it so much, he created this game with us. He also enjoys patty-cake, but being unable to clap yet (our pediatrician suggested we help him with this and we do), he prefers to do it with his feet. We don’t use the patty-cake rhyme each time, either, just the first round (he could play for hours, which is why my upcoming children’s books is titled “The Patty-Cake Tyrant”). Instead, we use a host of nursery rhymes, songs, and other rhythmic poems while he lifts his feet. It teaches language, rhythm, repetition/patterning, and gives him a small workout.

8. Mirror time. Nothing is as wonderful as seeing my son light up in the mirror. At first I’d just hold him in front of it, or let him recline in his Puj tub in the sink to watch himself. Now, he wants me to hold him up while walks to the mirror over my partner’s dresser and let him try to touch his reflection. Whenever he’s particularly fussy and the usual tricks don’t work, we pay a five to ten minute visit to the mirror.

9. Alternate/switch-up the routine. While some things should provide a stable routine (bedtime is a big one), you don’t need to do everything the same way each day. Change activities, only use some toys some days, get out of the house, even if its to play in the yard or a visit the local park or library. A change in environment will refresh you both, and give baby a chance to explore new spaces.

10. Nothing. No really, once in a while you can choose to do nothing together. Sometimes, I’ll lay in bed next to my son when he’s calmly staring at pictures on the wall, looking out the window, playing with his feet, or nomming his fists or blankets, and just enjoy doing nothing for a few minutes. It allows him to process his recent experiences before encountering new ones, and gives me a break from having to perform or actively provide care. It’s relaxing, and we can bond in the way so many people do — we just hang out together. If we blacked out the window, turned on a red bulb, and put on The Wall, it wouldn’t be much different from spending time with my friends in my late teens! So, take five and enjoy the peace.

Of course, nursing, diaper changes, and cuddling are wonderful times to bond, get creative with your baby, be silly, be dramatic. Two days ago, my son made his first art by standing on a piece of paper with paint on his feet, though I dare say he was confused about the whole process, he loved having his feet washed in a bucket of warm water afterwards while staring at himself in the mirror.

Enjoy these tender times, for they truly don’t last as long as we’d like. Hug those babies for me!

Skill Diversity

One of the unspoken goals playing out in the back of my mind is to offer the children in my life the opportunity to live by the principles of this quote:

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

–Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

I’d like to add such concepts as: speak a foreign language, grow vegetables, sew a button, birth a baby, nurse the sick, darn a sock, knit a scarf, play an instrument, and so on, but above all, I want to ensure I’m instilling a diverse body of knowledge and skills — the ability to learn and explore the world’s many flavors — in my daughter and all those children whose lives I touch.

Sometimes, though, I can barely manage to get through math, science, and literature in a week, and wonder where the time went.  I worry often I’ll not be able to come anywhere near my ideals, and thus, fail my daughter, leaving her without the tools she needs to succeed in the world.  *sigh*  Does every parent feel this way?  I find myself even more lost without my mother, all the questions I have now have go unanswered without her experience to guide me.  It’s cruel they only come to me now to even consider asking . . .