This Day But Once

It’s 8:30pm. The house is quiet. I am standing at the kitchen sink, washing the day’s dishes, as my husband puts away endless toys (currently cardboard boxes and plastic cups) in the living room. And then, the quiet creak of a bedroom door…

Miles: “Mama, I think you forgot to put ice cubes in my water.”

Me: “Oh my, well please come to the kitchen and I will fill your cup!”

Delighted smile, he tiptoes to the kitchen, amazed at the prospect of leaving his bedroom after goodnight kisses and venturing to the kitchen.

It is now 8:45pm. I am standing in my usual spot still, at the kitchen sink. And again, the quiet creak of a bedroom door…

Miles: “Mama, can I sleep with my flashlight?”

Me: “Hmm. Well I suppose so, as long as you remember to turn it off and let your body rest soon.”

A happy dance ensues as I bring the small flashlight to his room.

8:50pm, and we are nearing the homestretch of nightly chores as I wipe down the dinner table and prepare to sit and read (maybe). And yet, the quiet creak of a bedroom door…

Miles: “Oh, Mama, I am untucked from my blankie. Can you tuck me back in?”

Me: “Of course, my dear one!”

Relish in the sweet smell of his post-bath hair one more time as I tuck him in – again – and steal another goodnight kiss.

8:55pm. That was fast…

Miles: “Mama, do you think that dinosaurs climbed trees?”

Me: “Some, yes, but not all, much like animals today. We have swimmers, crawlers, runners, climbers, flyers, all made to do their very important jobs in their very special way.”

Miles: “I wonder if T-Rex is sad he could not climb trees?”

Me: “I bet T-Rex was happy to sit and watch his friends climb trees.”

Miles: “I bet so. Goodnight, Mama.”

9:00pm. The Adulting Hour. We are sitting, watching Law & Order, eating Chinese take-out. The quiet creak arises once more, but not seeing Mama at her usual spot in the kitchen, Miles quietly tiptoes to the living room.

Miles: “Mama! What are you doing?!”

Me: “Well, sometimes adults have dinner after their children have already gone to bed. It is one of the great surprises of growing older.”

Miles, noticing fruit: “Oh, I love strawberries!”

Me: “Me too. Maybe we can share some at breakfast?”

Miles: “Okay. Can I have one more hug?”

Me: “Always, my love.”

One of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, penned one of my favorite poems in the 1930s, which included the line, “Do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

But these words could have easily been penned by my toddler.

Of course we want you to sleep…we love for you to sleep (and maybe one day your baby brother will join in the sleep party) but what I have learned, what I know and feel in my soul, is that today is the only day you will be in this moment. You will never be 2 years, 10 months and 23 days old again, because time is fleeting. And so I pause to find the joy in your revelation that the bedroom door opens, and you can escape. I find wonder in your clever ability to make the sweetest requests, none of which can be turned down. I find love overflowing, even as I wake again at 2am for the youngest. Because I know that, like you, he will never be 10 months and 23 days old again.  This day, we have but once.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light, my dear ones.

tumblr_nf965vhdg81qb2fifo1_1280

Advertisements

The Trifecta

A few weeks ago, we had a pretty big weekend.  First, Grant slept all night.  ALL NIGHT.  Like, ten consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Second, Grant got his first tooth.  Seems counterintuitive to sleeping through the night, right?  But those things happened.  And third, Miles officially learned how to use the toilet full-time.  That was The Trifecta.

But we’ve learned that with all things awesome, there can sometimes be a little catch.  A little something unexpected.  Or expected.  It happens.

The caveats to our trifecta weekend:

Sleeping through the night.  In all of Grant’s time on earth, he has slept through the night less than a handful of times (that’s less than five, people).  It’s no biggie, really, because we’ve learned that after you have one kid you never, ever sleep the same again.  Every sneeze, roll, squeak and meow will awaken you, probably because parents never truly enter REM sleep.  It’s the sort of insomnia in which you can fall asleep just fine, but wake up shortly thereafter, and repeatedly throughout the night.  Grant settled into the routine of waking up once overnight to eat, and he’s kept that same pattern.  Around 2am, I know he’s going to call us to cash in our “ha, you thought you were going to sleep?!” tab.  He’s only up long enough to eat, but I often find myself up long enough to watch three episodes of Roseanne (side note: I can tell you TV Land’s entire overnight programming schedule).  When Grant did sleep through the night, we relished in the uninterrupted hours (although I woke up twice just to make sure I was actually sleeping) but we did know it was probably a fluke.  And it was.  One day, he’ll be a teenager and he’ll sleep all night and then some (right?  please tell me he’ll sleep one day…) but until then, we exhaustingly enjoy our special time at 2am.  Every night.  Without fail.

The first tooth.  Aah, the first tooth is awesome because IT’S THE FIRST TOOTH!  But the first tooth can also make your sweet baby a total asshole.  So, there’s the caveat.  Grant has been an adorable jerk for a week or so now, and this tooth popping up explains it all.

Learning to use the toilet.  This is awesome, right?  I mean it’s one less kid in diapers.  But it is also a weapon to be used against you.  For example, Miles thinks he should get marshmallows every time he poops now.  He also manages to make bedtime last a full 45 minutes longer than usual because he knows that we don’t know if he really needs to go to the bathroom and we will naturally respond to every “Moooom, I have to peeee!” by escorting him to the bathroom half a dozen times until he finally gives up and realizes that 1). we aren’t letting him stay up and 2). you do not get marshmallows every time you sit on the toilet.  Yes, our lives are controlled by this three foot tall dictator.

All of these things are awesome, and we are super proud.  Super tired, but super proud.

boys

I buy Café Bustelo in bulk now.

735ba327ebe04bf2f8ec6974e9c7924b

 

No, we don’t do “time out.”

kumbaya

During our usual weekend trip to target this past Saturday, I separated from my boys so that they could peruse the books and I could run through the infant/toddler section. While comparing baby foods, an ear piercing shriek erupted two aisles over, interrupting the unusual peace and quiet of this portion of the store.

The noise didn’t faze me; as the parent of two young kids, I’m accustomed to sudden outbursts, whether they are of sheer joy or complete unhappiness. I carried on with my browsing accordingly.

A woman sharing my aisle then made a comment loud enough for anyone within earshot to hear:

“What that child needs is a long time-out.”

With great effort, I withheld my own comments and thoughts. I strive to be understanding of each situation, and know that every person and family is different – we were raised differently, hold differing opinions when it comes to parenting, and we choose to react to situations as we see fit. But it was really, really difficult to bite my tongue knowing this woman who knew nothing of this child felt bold enough to express her unwarranted opinion.

I feel so strongly about her words for one specific reason: we don’t do time-out.

One of the greatest pieces of parenting wisdom I’ve ever had the privilege of reading comes from Magda Gerber, founder of the RIE parenting method. RIE: Resources for Infant Educarers. A quick summation for those unfamiliar with RIE: this method is geared toward children from infancy up to age four, and encourages you to understand the child as a whole person; one with thoughts, feelings and opinions, just like you. We strive to use RIE (pronounced “rye”)in every aspect of our lives.  It’s respectful, dignified, and loving.

Magda Gerber had this to say in regards to outbursts and challenging moments:

“Your child is not giving you a hard time; your child is having a hard time.”

I read those words and thought, YES! Yes, that is it exactly. You see, these tiny little people carry the same big emotions and thoughts that we do, but their ability to express them is completely different from our own because they are still learning what these feelings mean.

If Miles is upset because he cannot have ice cream for breakfast, it’s not a call for punishment (we don’t do “punishment”, either) but a time to learn. Our conversation might go something like, “Miles, I understand you feel upset that you cannot have ice cream for breakfast. I know it can make us feel sad or angry when we cannot have fun things each time we ask for them. Your body will be at its best having something for breakfast that will help you have energy to run and jump and play, and use your big imagination. Let’s pick out something together.” We always explain to Miles that just because we can’t have what we want now doesn’t mean we can’t have it later, or at another time.

Children do not always know what these big feelings are, or why they have them. Taking the opportunity to put a label on it, letting him know he feels upset or angry or sad, helps Miles communicate his feelings later. He can tell me, “Mama, I don’t want to leave the park, and I am ANGRY!” And that’s good. I want him to feel angry, and know what that feels like; it’s the first step in learning what we do with those big feelings.

Like many toddlers who are angry or upset, Miles will look for a physical act to help release the energy from those feelings. He might yell or throw toys. We welcome his physical expression of anger in a safe manner. “You are upset, and it makes you feel like throwing toys. I won’t let you hurt yourself or throw a toy that could hurt you or someone else; you may throw this stuffed animal.” We give him a safe space, a “yes” space, to express these emotions. Over time, as children grow older, they will learn to recognize that desire to throw stems from a feeling of anger or frustration, and they will be able to communicate verbally. This doesn’t mean your kid will never throw a toy; I know plenty of adults who still have physical responses to their feelings of anger, so I would never, ever expect my child to become completely void of that response themselves.

Time-out, for us, wouldn’t work. Having time-out isolates a child when they are in their most vulnerable emotional state; they need us to sit with them, be with them, talk about these feelings to work through and understand them. We aren’t going to punish a behavior; we are going to understand why the behavior occurred. Did you color on the wall because you’re bored? Well, help me clean it up, and then we will go outside and play. Did you dump your yogurt out because you don’t want to eat it? Help me clean it up, and let’s remember that you can always tell me that your body doesn’t want or need the yogurt, or that your belly is full. Are you mad because you can’t have marshmallows for lunch? Well, your choices were a grilled cheese sandwich or fruit and yogurt; you may choose one of those, or have no lunch at all. We will find a time for a special treat later.

We don’t want time-out. We want time in. We want time together to talk and feel and hug. To us, taking a child in a heightened emotional state and sending them to sit alone in their room or a corner sends them a message: you are too difficult for us to manage, so we need you to be away from us.

I get varying reactions from people when I talk about how we parent. I hear a lot of Kumbaya because we want to talk about our feelings and hug it out; to some, that sounds like some hippie business. But to us, it’s nothing more than treating our children the same way we want to be treated ourselves. Our children are people, after all – they aren’t puppies waiting to be trained. They are little humans wanting to learn.

I wouldn’t put you, an adult, in time-out because you got snarky with me. And I certainly wouldn’t hit you because you were late meeting me for lunch (yes, of course we vehemently oppose any physical punishment as well). So why would I do that to my own child? We are here to teach love and acceptance and understanding; not isolation, not that love is conditional, and not that anger or violence is the solution to any issue that arises.

I have been asked whether this parenting style “works.” Well, we never consider whether or not something “works”, because our goal isn’t to have perfectly behaved children who never express or respond to emotions. Do we like what we do? Yes, we love it.

I have a child who can tell me how he feels, what makes him happy or sad, and is learning how to recognize the emotions that make him want to have a strong physical response. Because of this, he is better able to talk instead of tantrum – not all the time, but a large majority of the time. Our boys know that we respect them, and that their opinions are equally as important as our own; that their thoughts, ideas, feelings, questions and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. They feel safe and secure, and they know our love is unconditional, because we have never reacted in a way that would make them feel otherwise.

So is it a little Kumbaya? I don’t know; I never considered it that way, but I can see where some who parent differently would think that. I do know this: it’s love. Pure, true, overwhelming love. We give it, and we get it.

Kumbaya.

If you’d like to learn more about RIE, I’d encourage you to visit the following sites:

Resources for Infant Educarers    Elevated Childcare – Janet Lansbury

24 Tenets of Rie – We don’t say, “Good job!”

kumbaya-640x360

HUG IT OUT.

Winning isn’t everything (unless it’s bedtime).

The Global Parenting Truth: Consistently easy bedtimes are the unicorn of the toddler universe. That’s not to say bedtime is a never-ending battle of wits (although I’m sure it is for some – and for you, parents of bedtime battlers, I send you wine and chocolate and coffee) but bedtime, at least in our house, is always an adventure.

Bathtime has always been a dad thing. Maybe Dad is the fun bathtime guy because he lets Miles bring 847 Batman toys into the tub, along with every triceratops, stegosaurus, t-rex and other –aurus type prehistoric creatures. Once Miles hit a certain age, he decided that just because bathtime had ended didn’t mean he needed to say goodnight to these metal and plastic toys of bedtime weaponry. Oh no; we needed to bring them to bed with us.

So my husband is sort of a pushover when it comes to things like this. He’ll admit it himself (LOVE YOU, HONEY). The nightly challenge of choosing two toys and two toys only to bring to bed began. And, as with any toddler negotiation, this easily escalated into three, four, five, and then seventeen thousand toys. I’m positive there was a night I asked Miles if he would just prefer sleeping in his toy box with a pillow because clearly that’s the direction in which we were headed. (Note: don’t ask toddlers questions like that, because the answer is always YES)

But it wasn’t enough to bring all the toys to bed; oh, no…we had to bring the toys with pieces. Legos. Guys who wore hats. Dogs with construction trucks. Do you know what happens to a toddler’s world when his Lego guy loses a hat before he falls asleep? CHAOS.

Miles: “Mama! Daddy! Mama! Daddy! Come in! Quick!”

Me: *running because clearly this is an emergency* “Hey buddy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Miles: “Ryder fell off his motorcycle.”

Me: “…”

For those who aren’t as “with it” as parents of toddlers are, you should know that Ryder is on Paw Patrol. He rides an ATV and leads dogs around town to save the day. I could give you a more detailed explanation but A). It’s sort of weird I know this much about Paw Patrol and B). It’s even weirder that I really like Paw Patrol and could write an overly lengthy thesis on it because C). I was like a NO TV EVER mom and now I’m like an “Okay, some TV is fine if it means I can cook dinner and go to the bathroom without worrying about you climbing on the dining room table.” What were we talking about?

BEDTIME.

So, Ryder fell off his motorcycle. And guess what? I put him back on. Then at 8:17p, he fell off again. He fell off at 8:23p, 8:35p, and 8:52p. Like good hippie parents, we want Miles to have his things in his space, but we had reached the point of needing to stop this incessant Ryder falling off his ATV thing. And so, we instilled A LIMIT. Dun dun dun.

Miles: “Mama! Mama, come quick!”

Me: “Yes, Miles?”

Miles: “Mama, Ryder fell off AGAIN. He’s so silly.”

Me: “Okay Miles, I will put Ryder back on one time, and one time only. If he falls off again, you will need to either learn how to put him back on yourself, or let Ryder sleep without riding his ATV.”

BOOM. Limit = set.

The following night, Miles wanted to take his entire menagerie of rubber insects to bed. And this time, we introduced yet another limit: two toys, and two toys only. And the nightly process of choosing which two would stay began again. Just like that, the limit was set again.

But of course a child can’t just take a toy to bed and go to sleep. No, toys are to be played with, and we both understand and expect that to happen. The reality is that none of us just lay down and fall asleep. We read, we watch TV, we think about the day, but we need some time to unwind. For Miles, that time involves our nightly routine of bathtime, jammies and the longest Dr. Seuss books he can find, but even then, he’s not necessarily ready to sleep. And so he usually talks to his stuffed animals or toys after we’ve said goodnight.

The occasional chat with his four teddy bears or Thomas the Train turned into what sounded like a demolition derby through the monitor. Certain toys – ones with wheels – must be played with on top of the dresser. WHO KNEW?! And so, another limit was introduced: no toys with wheels. Something along the lines of, “Fine, Mom” was the response, but I ignored this because I’m not ready to have a teenager.

Miles would still get a little rambunctious with his bedtime companions, and so I reminded him that if it was difficult for him to fall asleep with the toys, and that if he felt the need to play instead of just putting them to bed with him, we would need to say goodnight to our toys in the tub. He nodded in understanding.

And now…NOW, I was winning. The next night, we had our regular routine. Miles chose his two favorite Batmen of the day. We put on jammies, we read The Lorax and Little Blue Truck and Goodnight Moon. We snuggled and talked about the day. We said goodnight. I closed the door.

Standing in the kitchen washing the days dishes, I noticed how calm and peaceful and blessedly quiet it was in the house. No one was asking me to put some guy back on an ATV, or put a hat back on a Lego, and no one was mashing buttons on a damn Thomas the Train that can’t stop telling me he has big important jobs to do (JUST GO TO SLEEP, THOMAS). I was winning!

I washed dishes. I put on my PJs. I sat down to read. I silently patted myself on the back and congratulated my ability to set limits and talk to my child and come to a mutual agreement. For the love, I actually knew what I was doing.

Then my husband got home, and asked why Miles’ bedroom light was on, since it was now 8:30p.

‘Scuse me. His light is on?!

I walked down the hallway and as sure as the sky is blue, there was a sliver of light peeking from beneath his door. I opened it, and found Miles playing very, very quietly at his train table, with soft toys that make no noise.

“Mama, look how quiet I can be!”

And I laughed, because he’s cute, and he’s also much smarter than me. You see, our discussion had frequently involved the fact that bedtime was a quiet time. Well, here he was, being quiet. Who am I to argue when he’s truly doing the one thing I was asking him to do?

The truth is that I am consistently outsmarted, but in the most adorable way. You win some, you win some.

PS – It’s important to know that as I sat here writing, I was summoned by my tiny dictator to come to his room so he could tell me that his new big trucks do not, in fact, fit behind his headboard. IMPORTANT. Kids are so weird.

MjAxMy02MWRjN2ExOTM2YzA5NTg3