Getting out of the House

It’s amazing what getting out of the house can do–even for a brief period.

Yesterday morning, I volunteered on the COVID-19 information hotline at the Loudoun County Health department.

It was my first volunteering stint in a while, and just the fact of being out of the house and doing something other than childcare from 8:30am to 1pm was amazingly restorative.

A Mad Rush

Luckily I woke up to pee at about 3:30am, because that’s when I realized that I had entirely neglected to set my alarm for the morning. Bad habit I’ve slipped into the last few months…

I set the alarm, and went back to sleep, only to have weird dreams about odd deadlines.

I woke in a cold sweat at 6:00am, and my first thought was: I have to make the boys’ lunch before I leave!

Before I knew it, I was dressed, had put on some make-up (it HAD been a while!), dressed a child, and was in the kitchen with three pots on the stove. Between feeding the boys and getting their pasta salad lunch ready (why couldn’t I just give them PB&J? What’s WRONG with me??), I nearly forgot to feed myself.

Thankfully, I remembered to eat AND have a much-needed cup of tea before stuffing a hunk of cheese in my bag and rushing out the door.

On Duty

Once I arrived at the call center (this was my first shift there), it was all business.

The stress of the morning melted away, and my focus shifted entirely. I read through the FAQ materials, made a note of some important information I was likely to need, and met my fellow volunteers.

By the time the phone lines opened, I was ready.

For the next four hours, I was in the zone. My focus was entirely on the callers, on answering their questions, figuring out where they could find the information they needed.

By the time the shift ended, I felt like I’d been productive and helpful, like my energies had been expended usefully.

Return Home

I came home with a spring in my step, renewed energy and recharged batteries. When I opened the door and heard, “Mama!!” and was walloped in the abdomen with a hug from an enthusiastic 5.5-year-old, I smiled down into his face and felt excited to spend the afternoon together.

For the rest of the day, when the Bear woke up from his nap, I was game. I felt like I could take anything they threw at me.

Instead of feeling like I needed to get some alone time ASAP, I felt like I had more of myself to give. We played, we laughed, and it felt really good.

Unlike the Previous Day…

The contrast with the previous day was too marked to pass unnoticed.

On a typical, socially-isolated, distance-learning day, by the time 4pm comes along, I keep glancing at the clock. I’m exhausted, spent and ready for a break.

At 5pm I start to make dinner, and that’s when the boys are allowed to watch TV. I always feel a stab of guilt about it, especially because the Bug spends so much time on the computer for school. But it doesn’t stop me from letting them.

I pop something on PBS Kids, Amazon Prime or Disney+ and retreat to the kitchen, quietly closing the door at the top of the basement stairs behind me.

There in the kitchen, I can listen to my audiobook or some podcasts, or even sneak over to practice on the piano a bit before I get dinner going. It’s a little time to do something for me.

More Days Like Yesterday

I want more days like yesterday. Whether it’s volunteering or working, I want to have something that takes me out of the home context for at least part of the day.

Using my brainpower, energy and focus for something else gives me more of all of those for my kids.

It makes coming home to my little princes so much sweeter.

Things I Did Today

I hauled myself out of bed and (miraculously) got on the exercise bike. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost mechanical now. The day isn’t right if I don’t do it.

I epilated for the first time in far more weeks than I care to say. I did this while sitting stark naked in our bathtub with a three-year-old playing with the Paw Patrol on the bathroom floor next to me, constantly complaining that my “machine” made “too much noise.”

I piled the threenager into the car and went to the grocery store. Found some Spanish jamon serrano which I’d forgotten about until now and now I desperately want to pull out of the fridge.

I put some laundry into the washer. Then moved it to the dryer. Then left it there.

I obsessed over why, despite eating meals heavy in proteins and veggies and some carefully chosen carbohydrates, I’m still feeling hungry after my meals? Is this all in my head?

I ate four cookies (and wrote it down–though first I only counted it as two because two of them were really small, but then I thought the point of writing it all down is to really write it down).

I glanced at the clean and dry bedsheets hanging over our bar stools (to avoid wrinkles) and considered folding them. Then didn’t.

I finished a book.

I took the boys to the playground where I continually shooed them away from me and told them to go play, no, Mama is not “safe”, stop jumping on me, ouch, please go play, we are at the playground, there’s a jungle gym, you guys can climb on me at home. Finally, I fended them off with my knitting needles.

We saw a really really really big snake crawling through the playground. I managed to scoop it up onto a long stick and toss it into the bushes. It was kinda scary and cool. My boys weren’t impressed.

I cooked one meal for the Chico and me and another for the boys. I couldn’t face their complaints, meltdowns and grossed-out faces. The Chico devoured his meal and had seconds. God bless him.

I played the piano. I wrote to friends. I’m writing here.

It’s been a busy day.

And Yet…

When I think about some Big Important Things I should probably be doing, it seems like I have been wasting my time.

At least I finished a book. Time to start another.

We’re Doing Just Fine

You can’t make me believe in “terrible twos.” Nope. Impossible.

To us, terrible two doesn’t exist.

Our boys were absolute DOLLS at the age of two. They were sweet, loving, caring, fun and funny. We can’t remember any huge behavioral issues at age two, and even tantrums (few and far between) weren’t a big thing.

They both potty trained at two or shortly after. They had big changes in their third years (a baby brother for the big guy, and moving to another country for the little guy). They exploded with language and really started speaking in both English and Spanish at or before age two.

It was wonderful. A dream!

That was two.

Fast Forward to Three

I once heard someone use the term threenager.

That’s a mash-up of “three” and “teenager.” It means emotions are BIG. They’re OVERWHELMING. They’re OVER THE TOP.

Attitudes are big, too. Eyes roll, tempers flare. Transitions become nearly impossible.

For example, when it’s time to leave the playground: Meltdown.

When it’s time to stop playing and come set the table: Meltdown.

When it’s time to get ready for bed: EPIC MELTDOWN.

We try to mitigate the meltdown by giving ten-minute warnings for transitions. “Ten minutes until we have to leave, boys! Ten minutes!” Five minutes later, we’ll give the five-minute warning. Then, if things look like they’ll be rough, a two-minute warning.

The warning system has helped to get our kids used to the idea that a transition is coming. It doesn’t always cut off the tantrum, but it often helps.

It’s Relentless

Because of this threenager behavior, we need to keep a couple steps ahead of the game in an effort to help manage these enormous feelings.

But we don’t always do it right. Sometimes, we’re tired. Sometimes, we don’t have the time to think about how an upcoming event (even if it literally happens at the SAME TIME EVERY DAY) is going to break upon the beach of our three-year-old’s mind.

Doing this dance all day, every day, is very tiring. Despite having adopted better eating and exercise habits, cutting out sugar and other unhealthy foods…

I am still exhausted.

It Has Its Moments

It’s also unpredictable. Sometimes, it’s a battle. Other times, he hops-to and does whatever we ask him. He keeps us on our toes! It’s always a guessing game!

At times like these, we try to praise enthusiastically and effusively. It may sound corny, but it works.

And truly, despite the exhaustion, despite the relentlessness and the overwhelming emotions of our three-year-old, he is still our sunshine.

He’s sweet. He is so over-the-top in a very funny way, and he often has us in stitches.

Every morning, he rises and truly shines along with his brother. Each day when that happens, it’s like someone has hit the reset button, and I feel nothing but delight and joy.

Some days that lasts longer than others.

We’re going to be fine.

https://morealtitude.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/evening-star/

It’s Been a Week

First, there was the whole Covid-at-daycare situation.

Which was thankfully followed by two negative test results!

But then came Thursday evening. Thursday evening was a bit of a bust.

A Dumb Accident

It was typical evening of roughhousing. I was practicing piano downstairs when suddenly I heard screaming from upstairs. I heard Chico calling my name, and I ran.

The Bug was on his knees on our bedroom floor, his right arm limp at his side. It was hard to make out what had happened through his screams, but it involved a twist and a pop.

Assuming his elbow was dislocated, I prepared to take him to the ER. I gave him a dose of Motrin, grabbed a new chapter book, water bottles and our masks, and we headed out.

Three and a half hours, several X-rays and a splint later, and we were home with a new toy in hand, given to him by the doctor as we were leaving. There are perks to going to the pediatric ER!

We had to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon on Friday, and it turns out the Bug has such a small radial fracture that it didn’t even show up on the X-rays.

He shouldn’t need his cast for more than a week.

And Now… Trump Has Covid.

We don’t have Covid, but the president does.

(I should say that what I’m writing about now has little to do with the above. It’s late. I’m tired. It’s been a week.)

I haven’t been on Facebook since the news broke, and I intend to stay off it for a while. I don’t really care to know what people think of this situation.

I cannot wish him ill, though. He’s a monster. He’s the human version of Covid, and yet I cannot wish him ill.

The Value of Human Life

It’s appalling to me the way people here seem to undervalue human life. On TV, in films, and even in the news, I see people throwing away human life as if it were nothing.

I read in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, that a dispute got out of hand between some neighbors in Fairfax county, Virginia. They were townhouse neighbors, and apparently for years they had been arguing.

One day, one of the men walked up his neighbor’s front steps. He knocked on the neighbor’s door. The neighbor opened his door, and immediately opened fire on the man. He shot him three times, and the man staggered back. He shot him three more times as he fell backwards down the front steps.

And finally, he shot him as he lay at the bottom of the stairs. Seven shots. The man died before an ambulance arrived.

What kind of country is this?

In the midwest, a young man drove hours from his home to shoot protesters in a city in a neighboring state.

All over the country, people are being shot at and disabled or murdered by the police. And then no one is being held accountable or responsible.

And now, on social media, people are spewing forth with vitriol, wishing death on the president.

I’m sure it happens in other places, too, but what terrifies me about the United States is that devaluing human life seems to be part of the culture.

Whether it’s by arguing about the right to own guns, to the normalization of violence in pop culture, I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s not just on one side of the political divide.

This disregard for the value of a person’s life seems to be just as prevalent on the left as on the right. The left just seems to be a bit more hypocritical about it, it seems to me.

Tying the Two Together

Though our son was never in any danger this week, a visit to the ER is always enough to give one a little perspective.

My son’s life is just as precious as the president’s.

I recoil at the sight of those words, but the thing is they are true. No one’s life is of greater value than anyone else’s.

That is why Black Lives Matter is so important, because as things stand Black lives are not valued as greatly as white lives. As things stand, a Black man like George Floyd is not as valued as my precious son.

And he should be. Because every single human life is precious. Every single one.

Even the president’s.

Never Trampolining Again

Earlier this week, I wrote about a beautiful moment my son and I shared on our trampoline.

It was a very sweet moment. It was a fun moment! We were doing something active together, and laughing like crazy.

However…

NEVER EVER, EVER AGAIN.

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I couldn’t walk.

First off, bouncing on a trampoline after you’ve had two children is NOT a comfortable experience.

(I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that I am no slouch with doing my Kegel exercises, and they didn’t help.)

Secondly, if you’ve ever had back problems, issues with your sciatic nerve, or anything of that sort, trampoline bouncing is a BAD IDEA.

Trust me.

Stiff as a Board, NOT Light as a Feather

I woke up Wednesday morning with pain shooting down my left buttock (*giggle*) and into my leg.

As a result, my whole lower back seized up as if to protect the discs and nerves, but of course that only made it worse. I was stiff as could be, and walked around standing bolt upright in a rather unnatural fashion.

Wednesday was therefore a day of ibuprofen, hot and cold packs, and a lovely massage from my Chico in the evening.

We’ll Have Other Moments

Bouncing on the trampoline with the Bug is a memory I will always cherish.

But I’m sure there are other ways to create cherished memories without causing myself grievous bodily harm.

No. More. Trampoline.

You’d Think, Wouldn’t You?

You’d think that staying home with my kids would be enough.

Neglecting my own career, letting myself fall into complaisance and inaction on that front (Praxis exam in one month? Studying? Nope.)…

You’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you?

You might even think that spending each weekday with my kindergartener, facilitating his distance learning, helping him out and participating in ways previously unplanned would be enough.

What about meal planning? Making sure the fridge is stocked and we know what we’re going to eat?

Managing doctors appointments, dentist visits, haircuts, new clothes as needed…?

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Apparently Not.

No, evidently I am somehow not doing enough.

How do I know?

Because when I want to take the time to blow dry my hair… Or sit down and read a book… Or study for my Praxis exam… Or get on my exercise bike…

Or even (for Pete’s sake!) go to the gynecologist!

What do I feel?

Guilt.

This morning, for instance, I had a follow-up appointment with the gynecologist. (I still don’t have my genetic test results yet, by the way.)

When I got home, the first words out of my mouth as I walked in the door were, “I’m home, I’m sorry!”

I’m sorry.

Why was I sorry? Sorry because the appointment had taken longer than expected. Because I was away from the house long enough for it to potentially be inconvenient for my husband and son.

At This Point I Should Say…

That this supposed inconvenience does not exist.

This is all in my head.

My husband was quietly getting work done in the next room, while listening in on our son’s class.

He was not in any way inconvenienced, and his first concern when I got home was to know what the doctor had said and how my appointment had gone. He hadn’t even noticed the time.

Even on Sunday evening, after a nice weekend, when I had a headache and just wanted to sit in my chair, drink water and read my book, I felt a stab of guilt when I asked my husband to make dinner.

He had already seen I wasn’t feeling well. He was already on it. I didn’t need to ask. Much less feel guilty.

So, Why?

Why does the thought of taking time for myself make me feel such guilt?

Back when I used to meet up with people, why did I feel the need to apologize for wanting to spend an evening away from my family?

Most of all: Why do I feel like all that I do, is not enough? That it’s nothing special? That it’s not worthy of praise or being valued?

And I’m Not The Only One

A girlfriend recently told me she felt guilty for planning a weekend away to visit a friend.

When she asked her husband which weekend would be best for him, he literally responded with, “Whenever you want to go. I don’t care.”

Such nonchalance! Such unconcern!

How can we get that? How do we kick this guilt?

It Needs To Be Kicked

I feel like it’s important for me to kick this guilty feeling. It eats away at my mental health. It makes me feel like no matter what I do, it’s not good enough.

How can I possibly live up to these impossible standards I’ve set for myself?

I can’t. Because they’re not standards. They’re demands.

Unreasonable ones, at that.

Slip Up

62. Slip Up: Write about making mistakes.

ThinkWritten.com

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately.

Mostly they’re from dear friends of mine–fellow mothers–who have questions about how I might handle a certain parenting situation.

While I’m flattered that they turn to me, I also kind of worry about why they feel they can ask me for advice.

But hey! If people think I have my s*** together, then great! I’ll take it.

(I do not really have my s*** together.)

A Recent Query

A friend recently asked me, “Jane, how would you handle it if your partner were putting your oldest kid to bed, but the kid wanted YOU to put her down, and ended up having a complete meltdown and begging for you to come.”

Essentially, the question was: do my partner and I look weak for caving into our daughter’s tantrum over who puts her to bed?

My short answer was: No. You do not look weak.

A Little Background

The back story to this was that there’s a baby sibling involved (jealousy), they are on vacation with family (meaning lots of activity and sleep deprivation), the kid has recently given up her pacifier, she’s dropping her afternoon nap…

In short, as any parent of a 3-year-old reading this can guess, the entire situation is a hot mess.

Such times are not times to dig your feet in and insist that your child do what you say BECAUSE YOU SAID SO.

It sounded to me like that kid needed to get to bed ASAP and the best thing was to get her to bed in the quickest and calmest way possible.

And so in response to my friend’s question, I said:

No. You are not weak or undisciplined for giving into your daughter’s demand for her mother to put her to bed.

It’s Not Admitting Defeat

Raising our kids is not raging war (no matter how much it might feel like it sometimes).

We, as parents, do not always have to win.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to want my kids to snap to order when I say “go” (see my recent article about my overuse of the word No).

But when they don’t, when they fight back, protest, or throw tantrums, it does not mean that we the parents have lost.

In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes my kids throw fits or have meltdowns because I am being either unreasonable or terribly unsympathetic.

Admitting Weakness Gives Strength

One thing I’ve tried to work on, is being able to take a step back in the heat of the moment and look at a situation from my child’s perspective.

When you’re locked in a power struggle, it can be so difficult to get yourself out of that mindset, and to ask yourself, “Why is this happening?”

Another thing I’ve tried to do is to say, “Mama’s got it wrong. I’m sorry. Let’s try again.”

For our older son, it really works with him to get down to his eye level, and say, “We’re having some trouble here. Let’s figure this out together.”

Strange to say it, but he seems reassured when we admit that we’re wrong. It’s like he’s relieved to know that it’s not just he who thinks that a situation is coo-coo bananas.

Slip-Ups Happen

Sometimes the kids are being pig-headed.

Often times, I’m the pig-headed one.

Either way, we all make mistakes. Hopefully, our children will learn from our example that admitting to our mistakes does not make us weak.

Pick Your Battles

And “caving in” (or, as I like to call it, “picking your battles wisely”) does not make you a weak parent.

It makes you a smart parent.

In the Dark

58. Darkness: Write a poem or journal entry inspired by what you can’t see.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I think about what my boys don’t see.

Or, more like, I wonder what they do see, but simply take for granted.

For example, the fact that their mother stays home. Or the fact that they are privileged.

The fact that their laundry gets done and put away. Their lunchboxes get filled, their dinners are made. Someone works his butt off to make money so they can enjoy a paddling pool and Disney+.

I Once Was Blind

I didn’t even think twice about any of that stuff as a kid. Any kid from a privileged background doesn’t need to.

It’s only as an adult that I understand how hard my parents worked to make things nice for us. And that I realize what hard work it actually is.

But Now I See

While acknowledging that I am extremely privileged, I can also recognize that being a parent is difficult. Marriage itself is hard work.

And so, I want my boys to see something else, and learn to also take it for granted:

Their parents take time to do things for themselves, and as a couple.

Whether it’s their father going for a run, their mother sitting down to the piano, or calling a babysitter (remember when we could do that?) to go out on a date night.

When They’re Older

None of this will register now, of course. They’re too little.

But when they’re older, I hope they’ll see the light.

They’ll look back at our family life and see each individual take time for themselves.

I hope they’ll learn that it’s not selfish to do this. By taking the time to do things we love, we’re keeping ourselves healthier and happier, and better able to do the hard work of marriage and parenting.

But man, we’re still tired.

4_great_reasons_to_take_kids_outside

A Quick Reminder

When our Bug was little, I wrote an article about not talking about your kids.

Not because it’s annoying to other people (alright, a little bit because of that). But mostly because our kids are people whose privacy should be respected.

Today, I was reminded why I wrote that article.

Old Habits

I still slip into the bad habit of talking about my kids. The other day, I even went so far as to talk about them in front of them.

It makes me cringe to think about it. Our oldest is smart and observant, and he listened as I compared and contrasted him with his brother.

How was he not going to notice? I’m ashamed of myself.

The Consequences

So today, I shouldn’t have been baffled when the Bug did his best to live up to the picture I had painted of him earlier in the week.

We were having a social-distanced get-together for ice cream with distant relatives, some of whom we’d never met.

Suddenly, our Bug was behaving totally uncharacteristically. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

He Explains

When we got home, he was still behaving strangely. He looked up at me with his big beautiful eyes and said, “Mama, I’m shy.”

At first I was miffed. But then I remembered the conversation he had overheard earlier in the week.

That’s when I realized that his weird behavior was on me.

All he wanted to do was try and live up to the description he had overheard me give of him. He’s a sensitive and sweet boy; of course he wants to conform to what he thinks his mama wants from him.

So Zip Up, Mama.

It killed me to see my son try and fit himself into a mould I’d made for him. A mould that, though perhaps true in some ways and at some moments, was too simplistic to be accurate.

It’s the same lesson I keep thinking I’ve learned: Zip it, lady. Stop it. Just don’t talk about your kids.

But I can talk with my kids. And in the morning, I think the first thing I need to say to my son is, “I owe you an apology.”

Power Trippin’ No

50. Just Say No: Write about the power you felt when you told someone no.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“No.”

Such a tiny little word, and yet! And yet how powerful!

I’ve come up with lots of different ways to say “no” these days. As a mom, I think it’s important to have a variety of ways to destroy your child’s happiness.

“Now’s not the time, love.”
“Not likely.”
“Never in a million years.”
“Heck no!”
“What, do you think I’m stupid or something?”
“Ix-nay.”
“Let’s all have a big tall glass of nope.”

It feels like I have a whole arsenal of “no” weapons, ready at a moment’s notice!

A Bit Carried Away

At one point, though, I realized that perhaps it was getting a bit excessive.

This dawned on me when my three-year-old threw himself on the floor and screamed when I told him, “No, you can’t play the piano.”

That’s normal, you think. Any three-year-old would throw a fit about something like that.

True, but hear me out.

I have fairly high noise tolerance. This piano has survived lessons from four kids: it’s not like it’s delicate. My kids aren’t that rough. We had just finished one activity and hadn’t yet moved on to another. He had washed his hands and everything.

Could It Be That…

Perhaps I was saying “no” too much??

But how can that be?! I must be FIRM with my children! They can’t have everything they want!

This is true. They cannot have everything they want. But not everything has to be a battle. After all, we got the piano for the kids to enjoy!

So after watching him scream for a minute, I thought to myself, “Do I really care enough about this situation to worry about seeming inconsistent if I change my mind?”

The answer was (you guessed it!), NO. No, I didn’t care that much.

“You know what, love? Why not? Of course you can play the piano. Go ahead.”

Picking Your Battles

His face immediately cleared, and he clambered up onto the piano stool and started plonking away. He didn’t last long, and soon became interested in his trains.

Noise gone. Happy child. Happy mother.

That was a battle that didn’t need to happen. Others definitely need to happen (like reasonable bedtime, brushing your teeth and OMG STOP EATING TOOTHPASTE HOW DID YOU FIND IT GAAAAAAH).

But when we’re all cooped up at home together, and things are tough enough as it is, picking your battles is an important skill to learn.

It’s also good to realize that sometimes…

“Yes” Is Powerful, Too

(Or, if “yes” feels too permissive, try, “What the heck? Knock yourself out, kid.”)