Recovering from parental and partner mistakes

So, Ted and I have had an evolving but pretty consistent media plan since Hazel was born. We had originally decided no TV or movies for her until she turned 7, but we moved that back to 1st grade, which started when she was 6.5. When she was home sick over the past few years she was allowed to watch, “Microcosmos”, an almost entirely speech-free French documentary about bugs, which is actually pretty fascinating and beautiful. Even that was a lot of input for her: when she first started watching it she wanted us to be with her. When she was 3.5 and we were visiting friends she was introduced to “Pingu”, a cute Claymation series about a penguin kid and his family. We started letting her watch those this year, and then quickly decided they were fine for her twin sisters too. And she’s been allowed to play 10 -15 minutes of games on a phone/tablet/other device since she was 4 or so (drawing games, connect-the-dots, “Fruit Ninja”, and “Plants VS Zombies”).

Ted and talked about what to do once we had the twins, and we made a plan; that was, that this year we’d start Hazel watching movies, and the twins would be allowed to watch Pingu, but that we’d stick with the 6.5-year-old start for them for movies. We were comfortable with that plan.

This morning I made a partner/parent mistake, and brought up the possibility of watching, “Frozen”, about which all of our kids are nuts despite never having seen it, IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. Had Ted done that, I would have likely been pretty pissed off at him. Of course the kids exploded with glee, and even though we both were reluctant (I was already regretting my mistake), we felt locked into watching. So. We agreed on a 30 minute limit, and we sat down to watch it, pausing it once in a while to talk about what was going on. At 30 minutes we were in the middle of a tense scene, and decided to continue until a more peaceful moment. We did.

The twins clearly could not track, could not follow, could not understand. And Emily got scared to tears when Anna had snow fall on her head and then when she fell into a pond.

I felt like shit. *sigh*

So, we stopped at about the 40 minute mark, promising that we’d watch again in a week. The kids protested, quite vigorously. We followed through on our plan to get outside, which prompted more vigorous protestations.

On our walk around the block a few minutes later I apologized to Ted.

After more thought and a good couple of conversations, tonight Ted and I came up with another plan. Instead of just cutting them off at the pass entirely, or on the other side of the spectrum letting them watch the whole thing while regretting it intensely and risking really freaking them out (which happened to me when I was a kid, and I had nightmares from one Art Museum art horror series of shorts until after I’d graduated from college), we are going to let the twins watch a few selected songs, and continue watching the whole movie with Hazel only, when we have Mommy/Daddy/Hazel time (once a week). We’ll tell the twins the truth, that we made a mistake and realized that the whole movie is for kids older than they are, but that they can see the songs they love, and they’ll be able to watch the whole movie when they’re 6.5, like Hazel is now. And then we’ll work our way through the tears and shouts and recriminations which are likely to occur.

And I will use this as an object lesson to remind me of the critical importance of talking to my parenting partner about significant parenting choices. It is the right thing to do, the most respectful thing to do, and also the way that the kids get the best and most thorough parenting.

I told Hazel in a recent conversation that I am learning as I parent, just as much as she’s learning as she grows. She didn’t believe me. I told her that yes, I have learned a lot from her and will continue to do so. She immediately challenged me to give her an example. I reminded her of the sock example, that she had taught me that it’s ok to wear not just colorful socks, but UNMATCHING colorful socks, which I now do with glee. This, though a seemingly small thing, was a major victory for me, and I credit her example and inspiration. She was very pleased by that idea.

So that’s my plan, to continue to learn, and to be open to learning, as long as I am alive.

And I thank Ted for his understanding.


Positive Discipline in action, parenting meeting, gardening, nuclear-powered twins

It’s been a difficult period with Hazel. She’s been whining non-stop, and we haven’t been consistent in our response in a positive way. In fact, the biggest consistency in our response has been irritation or anger, alternating with attempts and understanding. So, tonight we spent half an hour reading the first chapter of, “Positive Discipline” and then conferred about it. Later in the book (we’ve started it before) the author suggests trying one new thing at a time, which seems like an awfully good idea. This week our one new thing is going to be removing ourselves from the situation when we’re too upset to process or be respectful and productive.

“I’m too upset to talk about this right now, Hazel, so I’m going to take a few minutes to calm down. When we’re both able to use regular voices and kind words we can talk again and come up with a solution.”

A few takeaways from the first chapter that have struck me each time I’ve read it are as follows.

    Making your kid feel worse in order to do better is not helpful in the long run (or short run, either, really). But my inner child, who can be fairly vindictive, often wants to do that when I’m feeling especially overwhelmed and/or angry. So stepping away from the situation will help me get to a better, more adult place.
    We think we have to solve the problem right at the moment it’s occurring. But often in that moment we’re in a fight-or-flight mindset, and not able to think or process calmly. We’re more likely to say things we regret later. After all, it is not necessary to rub our children’s noses in their mistakes, or attempt to shame them into better behavior. We can problem solve in a more cooperative way when we’re not in the middle of the conflict.
    Discipline teaches compassion and self-reliance. Punishment teaches obedience and rebellion. We have to keep remembering what it is we want to teach Hazel (and ourselves). And that is not blind obedience to the iron and arbitrary fist.


Today when I was practicing I realized that I’d missed a tempo change in the first movement of one of the pieces for this concert. There is, in fact, quite a difference between a tempo in the mid-60’s and a much faster one of 152. Heh. I’m glad I caught it today. It does make the movement more fun.

This afternoon I went to lead the second parenting group meeting of this series. Ted didn’t come, because our nanny is sick. The topic was sleep. Side-topics that came up included alone time and partner time, as well as childcare. Already, the group members are looking at and to each other instead of me when they share, which is great. I’m excited to see their community forming.

Before I went off to that meeting I visited a nursery to get some more groundcover plants. We’re going to put in Lithodora diffusa at the back of the garden, under the climbing rose. We’ve seen it at a couple of houses in the neighborhood, and it is beautiful and striking. There aren’t that many genuinely blue flowers. These are vibrant and will provide a nice thick anti-weed barrier as well.

Tonight the twins ran around like nuclear-powered wind-up toys. Joanna doesn’t usually achieve the same volume as Emily, but she was giggling and squealing quite impressively with delight as the two of them climbed off and on of one of their toddler beds. This morning I rearranged their room, since leaning way over and reaching far out in front of me to lay a 24-pound toddler in her bed has started to challenge me too much. All three kids liked the new position of the beds, and in the twins’ case that lead to a certain amount of bedtime hijinks. We breathed a sigh of relief when they went to sleep, though it took a visit upstairs on Ted’s part before that occurred.

Ok, dishes await, and then bed. Having spent an hour this afternoon in conversation with a bunch of new parents about sleep, I think I shall attempt to put my money where at least my mind, if not my mouth is, and not wait until I’m drooping and wearing to hit the sack.

The Sun Is In The House, and engagement vs avoidance

Today I got to spend a while in a comfy chair by the window, sun shining on my legs and lap, a cat in said lap, relaxing. And then, later on, I got to spend some more time on a comfy couch by another window with the light shining in on me. The rearrangement is already paying dividends. It makes such a big difference to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, rather than just viewing it outside when you’re inside. Ted said that when he came downstairs this morning he really loved seeing the light all through the two front rooms. It occurred to me that when we finally put in the stairway going upstairs and take out the current old not-to-code staircase that goes up to the second floor, we’ll gain a wall in the kitchen. And that wall can have windows. And through those windows will come morning sunshine. Looking out through those windows we’ll be able to see our garden, the elementary school Hazel may or may not attend, and our neighborhood. That will be lovely.

And all of that today was nice, because I had a migraine that lasted almost 24 hours before I finally conquered it this evening an hour before the kids’ bedtime. Ugh. Migraines make it hard for me to think, to speak, to maintain an even mood.

Tonight after dinner I asked Hazel if she wanted to do one of her new puzzles with me. She agreed eagerly, and so we put together the solar system. I didn’t think we’d be able to finish it tonight, but we did. It’s a big floor puzzle by “Melissa and Doug” with 48 very large pieces, quite colorful. That was fun.

And right now Ted and I are hanging out in our living room under the streamers from Hazel’s birthday party, listening to music and reading. He’s got a cat in his lap and another one at his feet. I can feel myself letting go, relaxing. It is nice to anticipate bedtime when I’m not in resistance to it, when I can look forward to lying down, letting my muscles release tension, letting my breathing slow, sleeping. I am more relaxed, in part, because instead of pulling away from interaction due to tiredness and feeling crappy, I engaged, reached out to Hazel, played. I have to remember that. Generally, engagement works better for me than avoidance.

And now Jasmine is back, relaxing on my forearm and digging her claws into my stomach. But she’s warm and purring. This will work until my arm goes to sleep and I get pins and needles, or until she bolts when she hears the sound of Ted opening a can of cat food.

Aaaaaaaaand, she’s off!

Mommy-Daddy-Hazel day 2.1.14; swimming, gardening, ice cream, games

Today was a Mommy-Daddy-Hazel day. We have spent so little time together just the three of us since the twins were born, and it was nice to have it just be the three of us. She was super excited to show Ted her blast-offs in the pool, so we went swimming for the first part of our time. She had an enormous grin on her face while we were in the pool, and the hot tub for a few minutes at the end. What particularly amazed me was that when she went under, as she did a few times, it didn’t freak her out. She was matter-of-fact about it a couple of times, and proud another couple. What a change!

After a nice brunch at a favorite breakfast spot of Hazel’s, we went to a nursery. We have old lavender plants that have taken over a big chunk of our garden, so we planned to buy a couple new smaller ones to replace them, some wooly thyme, which we love and which got consumed by the lavenders, and maybe think about something with blooms to replace the rhodie which is going to be moved to a shadier spot in the backyard where it will be happier. We picked out some thymes and then headed out doors to look for the lavenders. Then Hazel had to go, so Ted took her inside, and I wandered around a bit aimlessly. I wound up in conversation with an employee who turned out to be the main rose maven, and we had a fabulous long talk. I love roses, but haven’t really known how to care for them. She told me what to do with the ones we have in our front garden, and by the end of the conversation Ted and Hazel and I had picked out four new roses for the various garden areas in front of our house. One medium-sized plant, a “Firefighter” hybrid tea rose, will go in a small area where we have Pacific Coast Iris and strawberries (we’re going to move the strawberries, which are prone to fungus, to a planter box in the back). Two short roses, an “orange All Atwitter”, and a white with yellow center “Gourmet Popcorn” (really, who comes up with these names??) will go on the berm where the lavender was, along with the new small lavenders. Additionally, we got a medium-sized yellow rose with orange/red edges called, “Rio Samba” that Hazel absolutely loved. We will pot it for now, and plant it in our new garden in the back of the house when we’ve done the regarding & prepping of beds this fall. And now, I’m looking forward to cutting the roses back in March and seeing new growth and new blooms in the spring and summer.

When we got home we dug out the lavenders. Now our little Impeditum rhodie that was also getting swallowed up by the lavenders will hopefully recover. Hazel was agitating almost the entire ride home and during the plant removal for the next item on our agenda, which was going to get ice cream. We’d designated today as a treat day, and she’s been looking forward to a double-decker kids’ ice cream for weeks. We allowed her to persuade us to drive to the store so that we’d have time to play a board game when we got home. So, once we were back, tummies full of the sweet treat, we got out “Robot Turtles,” a game given us by my brother, and played a couple of rounds. Hazel was, of course, the Turtle Master.

I really can’t take even a kid’s sized ice cream any more. It’s sad, but even that amount of sugar messes with my insides. But good to know.

Hazel was tired and clingy during bedtime, but everyone went down pretty easily tonight. And then, with the moral support of Ted who came downstairs with me and hung out while I worked, I practiced for about an hour. That makes two for today.

Lovely day with my daughter and partner today.

Rehearsal tomorrow.

I’m happy about both.

Personal work, parenting

Ted and I had another joint session today, mostly focused on parenting, specifically of Hazel. It was very helpful, especially the reminder that in order to take care of anyone else you have to take care of yourself first. Parenting can feel so incredibly relentless (because it is), that there’s no time or space in which to think, to process, to figure out how you feel or what you want or need to do. From the first moment in which I come downstairs to Hazel’s favorite chant, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” to her pleas/demands/desires during the day for more, or less, or different, or the same, or sooner, or later, or for answers to infinite questions, to her desire at night for all Mommy all the time, I have to work to balance the needs of my child with the needs of my inner child, my vulnerable, human, imperfect self. And the less I pay attention to the latter, the less likely I am to pay full attention to the former.

I have realized that when I am feeling too overwhelmed or super irritated, I have a tendency to stop looking at Hazel, not to make eye contact, and to resist talking to her too. A fundamental lesson here for me is that rather than changing her, (and I’m not talking about setting healthy boundaries, but deeper efforts to change who she is or what she wants or her style of expression due to my own personal discomfort or difficulty) I have to take better care of myself. If I’m having a hard time because I’m feeling sleep-deprived, or because the 749th repetition of a request is driving me bonkers, I need to step back, ask myself what I need, and take action to give myself at least some percentage of that. I can also, of course, ask Hazel for help or understanding (where appropriate). When a request is framed that way, i.e., “I am very tired, and would love five minutes of quiet. Do you think you can help me out by reading to yourself until half past? I’ll be happy to play a game with you after that,” she is usually quite positively responsive. And that works better than just barking, “Hazel, you’re being too loud. Be quiet!” at her.

And I have to look at her. If I need a break from eye contact, I have to at least tell her that I’m taking some space for myself to get more peaceful inside. I have to make it about me, in my communication with her, and not about her, because it is about me.

Obviously, this does not mean that I won’t correct behavior that needs it, or set firm boundaries with her. I will. But in order to come from a place of love toward Hazel, I must first love myself so I have the emotional and energetic wherewithal in order to parent the way I wish to.

Ted and I share this issue, and can support each other in our learning process around it. We can remind each other to take a step back and assess what’s going on inside. We can ask each other if we need help. We can understand and sympathize with each other as we work on changing our responses.

It was nice to be reminded today that I shouldn’t feel bad about struggling to take care of myself, that particularly at the beginning of having the twins there was no time to even ask what I needed, because I couldn’t get that far down the list, due to the overwhelming nature of taking care of two newborns and an older child. It is good to be reaching a time when we can at least start considering what we each need.

Parenting is so much harder than I realized it would be, because it brings up every single one of my most difficult personal challenges. But I do genuinely appreciate this opportunity to grow and learn. Some days it’s easier to feel graceful about it than others, of course.

parenting challenges

Today my nanny told me about an incident last week (on my birthday, while I was off teaching) in which she came down from grabbing her phone and baby clothes upstairs to find Hazel about to clip the back of Emily’s hand with the nail clippers. She grabbed it away, and put Hazel in the playroom by herself in a time-out, during which she howled and screamed and only calmed down when the nanny said that her timeout would get longer if she didn’t calm down. She hadn’t had a chance to tell me (though she’d told Ted) about it, so we had a conversation about it today. I asked if she thought Hazel hadn’t known what she was doing. She said she wasn’t sure, and that Hazel had immediately gotten a guilty look on her face when our nanny came through the door.

I have felt at a loss in dealing with situations in which I cannot tell if Hazel is telling the truth or not. She is only 4.5, and I don’t really know what are developmentally appropriate expectations. I do know that I haven’t handled those times particularly well, given that I feel somewhat at sea.

This afternoon, thinking about Emily with a bloody hand and screaming and in pain, I overreacted, and lectured Hazel for way too long. (She finally said, “Mama, I don’t want to discuss this any more.”)

This evening, though, Ted and I had a good talk about it, and decided that rather than punishing Hazel, which is useless, we need to come up with a solution to the issue that helps all of us. And that is, we’re going to stop unsupervised sibling time until we’ve had a chance to coach Hazel further in how to treat her sisters, and are feeling reasonably confident that she’ll stay within the safety parameters we set. We also need to commit to making sure that stuff that’s not baby safe is out of reach not only of the babies, but of Hazel too. Once we’d had that conversation we talked to Hazel and gave her three main points. 1) She has to ask the babies if she can pick them up, hug them, or move their bodies, just the way we ask her. We’ve taught them that lifting their arms means being picked up, and they’ll respond to the question, “Do you want to be picked up/Can I pick you up?” by either lifting their arms or not. It’s pretty clear. Same with hugs (outstretched arms), and holding hands (hands out palms up). If she can’t ask them in a way she can’t get a clear answer, then the answer is no. 2) She can only play with them with baby safe toys. Once the basement is done in a couple weeks it will be easier to again separate out between the living room and the playroom toys that are not baby-safe from those that are. 3) If she’s not sure if a thing or action is safe for the babies, we want her to ask an adult. Ted had the good idea of asking her to repeat those points back to us. She did with the first two, and we reminded her on the third.

We also need to ask more questions so we can find out what Hazel is thinking rather than just giving directions. This is something I’ve been attempting to do, and need to get better at. We want Hazel to be willing to talk to us about stuff, and if we’re just issuing commands and/or making her feel bad, she won’t want to.

Having a clear conversation with her tonight helped a lot; she stopped acting out and we all felt better for being on the same page, I think.

While I’m out of town we are all going to read, “Positive Discipline”, and having a meeting about it after I’m back. We all feel we could use some more expert information in this area.

Day 30 of the Whole30 ruminations

The power of the psychology of food has become clarified for me in this last month of no sugar. It is now almost the end of day 30 of our Whole30 month, and I am seriously craving the chocolate that’s in our snack drawer. The chocolate that didn’t really bother me this month of no sugar, no dairy, no grains, and no legumes. The chocolate that isn’t worth it, that I intellectually know wouldn’t taste as good as it’d have to in order to make up for my disappointment in myself if I ended this month in that way. So, I have to put some effort into visualizing other things.

And Ted and I have to decide how to proceed from here. What is clear to me, though, is that rather than sticking like glue to a set of rules, we have to go by how we feel, and be honest about that. I put the ingredients for Paleo Caramel Brownies on our shopping list. We’ll try it. We’ll make them and see what happens if we eat them: does doing so make me crave other things that are full of the ingredients we’ve decided not to eat? According to the folks at Whole30, eating things that are sweet will lead down the same path we were on before, regardless of the ingredients. But we want to try it and see. I may wind up continuing a diet which is just as strict as the one we’ve been on this month. The trick is to find out what amount, starting from zero, of non-Whole30 foods I can eat without re-engaging cravings, having problems with my digestion, or finding that my knee is flaring up again.

What I do know is that I don’t want to go back to where I was before, struggling with powerful cravings, feeling awful about myself when I ate things I knew, felt, or believed to be bad for me, attaching that to my self-esteem and feelings about my body. One of the best things about this month has been proving to myself that I am capable of not eating sugar if I put my mind to it. I truly didn’t believe that was possible. So now, as we experiment, I believe that I’ll be able to hold whatever line I decide upon, based on my body’s feedback.

Another positive is that the babies, who are now eating a lot less dairy, are having healthier GI tracks too. Emily hasn’t done her stiff-as-a-board routine in weeks. We are all more consistently eating protein and vegetables as a matter of course.

So, no matter what comes down the pike, Ted and I both feel more confident in our ability to make healthy choices, and are functioning as more of a team in terms of the planning and production of our family’s food. I’m glad we took the plunge and did the program.