babysitter overnight; cousin sleepover; conversation; being present in the moment

We tried an experiment last night. Ted was away, and I took Hazel and went down to my sister’s house, leaving the twins in the care of one of our babysitters. She’s put them down for naps and bedtime before, but they’ve never had 24 hours without either of us. It was a success. Emily did cry/scream when it was time to go to sleep, but H was able to calm her down. And when I got home this afternoon after running some errands, they stayed in her lap and didn’t come over to me immediately, which means that they’ve gotten even more comfortable with her. That’s really great. It gives us another resource and more flexibility.

Hazel and her cousin had a good time, too. Shortly after we arrived at my sister’s house, we took the girls to a local gymnastics joint, and they played hard for a couple of hours while G and I had dinner together. That was lovely for all concerned. While there, I realized that I will finish my Whole30 month at the end of Monday. It’s been something of a challenge, but not so bad, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not going to entirely stick with it after that, but I’m going to stick more closely to it than I had gotten in recent months.

Anyway…

Hazel slept on an air mattress under her cousin’s loft bed. S (cousin, using a different name from the B she was being called before) read to her, and told her a story. They got to sleep a bit late, but not too bad, and they slept until sometime after 6 am, also not too bad. That’s also the first time we’ve done that, and it is a step toward greater flexibility as well. We’re looking forward to when S and Hazel can spend the night at each other’s houses as a matter of course. It gives us more options.

This morning, when we were leaving, around 10:45 am, Hazel and S agreed that it felt like they’d only had an hour together. They did well. There was very little squabbling, and they were mostly kind and loving with each other. And I got to get some sister time. All good.

This afternoon I had a quartet rehearsal. The Prokofiev is starting to sound musical. We’re definitely a lot further along than we were when we started. We’re rehearsing again tomorrow morning. My babysitter said she heard a lot of laughter when we were rehearsing. And it’s true, we have a good time. That is but one reason why I love my quartet.

Tonight my friend P came over, and participated in dinner & bedtime with the kids, after which we talked for a while. I am fortunate to have so many great friends, with whom conversation can be stimulating, illuminating, supportive, and interesting. One nugget from tonight is the idea that we are all connected. And we are. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a rocker of boats; why I have resisted doing things that rocked the boat (or might rock the boat) in the past; the difference between principled action which ends up rocking the boat and action done purely for the sake of boat rocking. One of my self development tasks has been to cultivate being thoughtful about the impact I can have on others, while centering my actions in my values and taking responsibility for what I need and what I do.

Another task which is up for me right now is being present in the moment. This is something I sometimes really struggle with, particularly as a parent. The small amount I’ve been learning about meditation makes me think that rather than meditation being something apart from life, it is something which shows this most basic life challenge in sharp relief: it is challenging to focus on and engage with the present moment with all sorts of other things clamoring at the gates demanding entrance to your mind and heart.

Gratitude, as always, goes a long way toward bringing peace.

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Being hard on myself, telling the full story

My dear friend M gave me an enormous gift today. We were on the phone, and I was crying about how hard parenting is, and how much worse at it I am than I thought I would be: specifically, the difference in how I usually interact with people (I am fairly good at being warm, loving, generous, thoughtful, communicative) and how I interact with Hazel (I feel I am mean, demanding, autocratic, insensitive, etc.) In fact, I feel two things: one, that being a mother is like being a teenager again, in that black fog of drama and difficulty; and two, that I too often find myself behaving like a toddler myself.

The other night when I was doing the bedtime routine with the kids I found a marble in the toothbrush bin and was sure that Hazel had just put it there (perhaps yes, perhaps no; it’s immaterial.) I reacted, picked it up, and threw it into the dining room. I wasn’t even actively feeling that mad, just reactive. Hazel, of course, got really upset, and demanded that I apologize. I refused, still in a reactive state. See? Toddler behavior. Ugh. I did apologize the next day, and told her I’d overreacted and it was not right for me to throw the marble. Of course, that afternoon Emily threw one in play, and so I had to say, “Emily, we don’t throw marbles in this house. Mommy did last night, but that was a mistake. Mommy didn’t make a good choice. But we don’t throw marbles.” She smiled.

So, I was relaying this to M, and she pointed out (as has been pointed out before) that I was being hard on myself. Yes, true. I’m good at that. But I still do it, because of course there is part of me that believes that I deserve it; I can stop being hard on myself when I stop making awful mistakes and only commit the small, easily forgivable offences. While we were talking about this I was getting the twins dressed and ready to go pick Hazel up. While I was putting Emily’s shoes on, I looked up to find that Joanna had brought me her coat from the hooks in the dining room. I said, “Yay, Joanna! Did you bring me your coat?” She nodded yes. I said, ” Thank you, that’s so great!” She grinned. Emily then went and got her coat to bring it to me. I was happy, and so were they. (That is, until I had to put pants on Emily. She hates that. But still, the transition to outside in the stroller went quite well overall.)

M pointed out that I had noticed the good things that the twins had just done, and told me that I need to do that with myself, too. I need to notice when I do good things, take note, and give myself credit. This is brilliant. It doesn’t mean that I’m attempting to praise myself into a better place or trying to cancel out the bad with the good: it means noticing the full picture, the whole story. It means, not focusing purely on the difficult things or wrong choices, but focusing on everything. It is being honest.

So, here are some truths: I don’t handle some stresses well, but I handle others just fine; I have good days and bad days; parenting is bloody hard work; as I learn it will benefit my children; and, I need to love myself and love my daughters, and we will figure out this family thing together.

Oh, and thank goodness for friends. They make the world go around.

football, music, sleep

I am not a football fan, but today’s game did have certain indirect impacts on my life. My critique group met a bit earlier and ended earlier so that two of my friends could go watch the game. That’s all good. I was not feeling so hot today myself, so after I got home and after we got the twins down for the their nap after lunch, I went back to bed. Thus, I was napping when my friend R called for our weekly phone conversation. And that is the only reason that I knew anything about the game during the game; he, in the prison’s common room, could see it on the TV, and told me the score while we were talking. I find that highly amusing. After our conversation was over I went back to sleep, only coming down a bit before Ted and I were due to leave for our class. And thus I found out from our babysitter that the score had been reversed and the Seahawks had won in a dramatic, game-ending finish. Yay, go us! Our geographical region is awesome!

Ok, I’m laying it on a bit thick, I know. What can I say? I think competition is good, and learning both to win and to lose with grace is important. Sports have been shown to be important for both boys and girls, and I am not anti-sport. Nonetheless, I find the depth of involvement of fans in the outcome of a game to be fairly personally mystifying. And I find the amount of money involved in the major sports leagues to be depressing, given the sorts of terribly destructive decisions and attitudes that seem to prevail, including ignoring the abuse of animals, of women, the valorizing of violence, etc.

Speaking of kids and their education, I read this article today about the many and profound benefits of childhood musical instruction. Ted and I have just recently been discussing what our musical goals are for our kids, and have agreed that each of them will take music lessons through middle school, at which point they can quit if they want to (though I hope they won’t.) It’s nice to see a scientific rationale for my decision-making. 🙂

I read another article today, about how incredibly important sleep is. It scared me a bit, so I think I’ll sign off and hit the sack. Good wishes to all for a great week.

Blogging frequency, life

I made it a long time before my daily posts on this blog became every-few-days posts. I’m proud of that, actually, but posting to my blog has to take a back seat to a couple of things, including sleep, practicing cello, and communicating with individual friends and family. I am sure there will be periods in which I post more often, and periods where it’s less frequent. I intend to keep it up, hopefully for years, as a way to share with far-flung family and friends, as well as a family record for my kids. Nonetheless, having sporadic postings does show me the power of habit, and the way in which keeping up with something I don’t do very regularly is harder. I have to use more will power to go to the blog page and add a post. On the other hand, not writing one every night opens space for other things. So, my bottom line is that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

As I sit here, contemplating what to write, I am looking forward to going back downstairs to my studio and doing some more work on the Prokofiev quartet we’re going to perform in March. It is deeply satisfying to have a sense of positive anticipation for work, for something so personal at the same time that it is a professional undertaking.

And in fact, challenging my habits that aren’t so helpful involves checking in more often and more deeply with myself about what I really want. So that too is more difficult than just going with the standard I’m-tired-I’ll-play-Scrabble. Not easy, but worth it.

Who knew being an adult would be so thorny, so complex, so sometimes monotonous and yet wild?

I guess my parents knew that, but I wasn’t equipped to hear the message, being a child.

The Theory Of Everything, movies, character development, conversation, physics

We went to see “The Theory Of Everything” this evening, the movie about Steven Hawking and Jane Wilde Hawking, their life together, his development of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and his work. It was well done. I was staggered by the way in which Eddie Redmayne showed the progression of the disease in his body, by how completely convincing he was.

But…

Movies that cover a significant number of years almost invariably leave me feeling unsatisfied, knowing that the surface has merely been scratched. It is quite difficult, in my opinion, to convey in a movie the depth possible in a book. Various of the scenes in this movie were filmed (or processed in such a way) so that they had the quality of a home movie, blurry, fuzzy, glowing. And though the effect was cool and interesting, to me it added more distance, took me out of the immediacy of the moment in the life story that was being told.

The result was that I had the sense of watching a series of animated snapshots, something like the moving photos in the Harry Potter world, that even though these snapshots included sound as well as motion, they were just images, unreachable. I wanted more dialogue, more than just one scene of Jane writing to get a sense of her as an academic (after all, she was a graduate student herself at the time, and earned a Doctorate in Romance Languages – the Wikipedia article is short, and I haven’t found more detail yet), more time with the various characters so I could actually get to know them, and to make the narrative more comprehensible. When Jane declares that she loves Stephen and will marry him despite his diagnosis and decline, my main reaction, based on the few scenes already shown of their interaction, was, “Wait, what?” But for that, I suppose, I will have to read the book.

Yet there was emotion expressed and felt. And I experienced the sense of dislocation upon coming out of the theatre into the lobby that happens when I’ve been engaged with a movie. I’m glad we went to see it, as it spawned contemplation and questions. In the car on the way home, Ted and I had a good conversation about the content and processes of stars, their birth, how singularities are created, that black holes do actually emit radiation, and about the universe(s) and how it/they might have/will be created and “live”.

I cannot, and never have been able to, really wrap my mind around the thing/place into which the universe(s) is/are expanding. I am not sure my mind can comprehend it. Is it an absence? Is it a cauldron? Is it where all the matter came from in the first place? If there are other universes, do they contain the same sorts of elements, or other things altogether?

And finally, it seems completely ludicrous to me that in all the galaxies in our universe, that there wouldn’t exist other solar systems on which life has or will develop.

So here’s to gigantic, incomprehensible, practically indescribable ideas and the capacity of the minds which arrive at them, consider them, debate them, and are inspired by them.

And here’s to coming home and having an equally deep conversation with our wonderful nanny H about babies, their effluvia, and the way their presence has changed me forever.

It’s a weird, weird world.

Love

There’s a saying I like a lot, and that is, “Love is a verb”. Love is a feeling, of course, but it is also, at least as importantly, an action. It’s how we treat people.

This afternoon Emily was beside herself when Ted got home from the morning’s outing with the kids. We did quick lunch and then took the twins upstairs for their nap, but Emily was so tired she was unable to become anything other than very very mad and sad. After we turned the light out she started crying for Hazel. After a bit I went downstairs and asked Hazel if she’d come up and snuggle with her sister. She did. Ted was in bed with Emily, who was still scream/crying, and Hazel got in too.

And then she embodied love in action. She spoke with such tenderness and compassion in her voice, reassuring Emily, telling her it was ok, that she was ok. She told her a story. She went through the mantra we use, “Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you,” etc. She soothed and was present. In that moment I felt how having a family can expand love, make it bigger. It’s like rings from a thrown rock in water, only they grow in volume as they get bigger, rather than fading away.

Hazel was born with eyes wide open, totally and intensely present. Everyone noticed. Even when she was a tiny little baby people would come up to us in the grocery store and comment on her gaze, her presence. I felt so acutely that she was a gift to me. I was enveloped in wonder and beauty.

Life goes along and gets so complex, and kids grow and things get more complicated. They challenge you, and you lose, for a time, the purity of those early moments. But sometimes you get that back. This afternoon was a moment like that for me, a dive back into that sense of amazed marveling I felt when she first came into my life. Hazel’s presence in it is a gift of love, both in feeling and in action.

And it reminds me of how I felt as a little kid with my older sister. That quality of nurturing love that runs like a thread through our relationship to this day, and which I will always treasure.

relationships, communication, parenting

Tonight Ted and I talked about what we need to do to model in our interactions the sorts of things we’re asking for from Hazel, and attempting to teach her.

When Hazel gets upset, she has a strong tendency to go first to blame and accusation. We’ve been trying to guide her to say, instead, how she’s feeling and what she wants. So Ted and I agreed tonight to start explicitly doing the same thing ourselves. So, when I’m mad about something he said, I need to say (for example), “I’m getting into a reactive place. I’m mad that you started talking about yourself when I was telling you about how I was feeling, and I want you to acknowledge what I’ve said about me before you start talking about you.” Then, Ted can decide whether or not he’s ready to respond to that or not, and if he’s not, he can just say he wants to respond later. In the meantime, I will have taken care of myself by saying what I think happened and how I feel about it, and I will know that he’ll get back to me later (if he’s not ready to respond in the moment), and that can help me release some of the urgency and difficulty in my emotional state.

This is much better than an explicit or implicit statement that he f**ked up, and I am blaming him for how I feel. That is something we both do, though my statements tend to be explicit and his tend to be implicit. It’s all the same pattern, and I’m glad that we’re both willing to work on improving it.

Relationships are hard. I am glad, though, that the addition of children to our family is, ultimately, going to help us to get better at managing ours, even if it has also added a rather impressively thick layer of complication and stress.

One step at a time.

Meantime, all of us but Ted are sick. Today when I took the twins out in the stroller so I could run an errand, they fell asleep. Miraculously, they also napped some more, an hour and a half later. I napped too, still feeling pretty zapped by this cold. Tomorrow is a work day, because I’m doing a bunch of makeup lessons. By the time the night off enabled by the babysitter rolls around, I will be very ready for it.

Tonight I went over to meet up with Ted and Hazel, who were walking home from her friend D’s house. She saw me and starting running toward me, calling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” so happily. I caught her up in a big hug. That was wonderful.

I’m grateful for my kids.