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.

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Chamber music party, critique, inspirational friends, Chanukah, family

Today I had a critique meeting. My friends pointed out a big problem, which was that I was having my protagonist do something that made her untrustworthy and unlikeable. What was amazing to me was that I hadn’t noticed it until they talked about it. This is one reason why having a critique group is so invaluable. Changing her actions actually makes everything work better, too; it allows her to experience secret-keeping in a particular way, to retain her integrity, and creates a foil in the person of another character in the book which will allow for some interesting character development.

After that I had a chamber music x-mas party to attend. The music was fun, the people are wonderful, and I’m really glad I went.

However, I didn’t just fall off the Whole30 wagon at the party; I jumped off. I tried to enjoy the experience, knowing what I was doing, but I have to say that all that sugar & grains & gluten made me feel sick. Ugh. We’re going to re-do the Whole30 month in January (my friend D’s plan to use that month was always probably better than our effort to stick to it during the holiday month). Nonetheless, I’ve gotten a lot out of the 24.5 days I managed to achieve sugar-free. It has shown me how far I’d gotten away from it, not just in infrequent occurrences, but as a regular thing. And I know I can do this: I’ve done it before.

One of the co-hosts, my friend F, is going to be 87 in February. I hope to be playing cello and vivaciously living life as well as she is when I am her age! I hope to be her age, for that matter. She says 87 doesn’t bother her, but the fact that 90 is only three years away gives her pause. She is an inspiration, with an unfailingly positive attitude and such love for music and people and life. She is always warm and welcoming, glad to see everyone who comes, and always has a kind word. A lovely soul.

I had a good talk with my friend R in between the party and running to the store for some dinner items. He’s had good news, in the form of employment and also moving along toward the next step in his process in the justice system. I was glad to hear it. We shared some laughs about the grammatical errors on the signs in prison, and about the bureaucratic nature of it, with the expected time delays and random ridiculousnesses.

Then, when I got home with dinner Ted had cleared off the dining room table, and it was so great to see it with a fresh table cloth and the lovely center piece one of my students gave me for a present at her last lesson. Our friends A and P came over, and we had a great visit with them. Joanna climbed up into P’s lap and wanted her to read to her, all snuggled in. This makes me so happy to see. A had Hazel and Jasmine in his lap for a while, too.

After dinner, which was such a pleasure to eat at the dining room table, all together, we lit the menorah and watched the candles while Hazel soaked her arm.

The kids went to bed very late, but there was no crying. They all got happily in bed, Ted turned the lights out, and I sang “Frere Jacques” our traditional three times (French, English, French). I bashed into the dresser as we left, but that didn’t disturb them.

Now I’m writing the blog, listening to the first Brahms sextet, which I love so much, and thinking of how lovely it will be to lie down in my own bed in a bit.

And I have forgiven myself for the leap off the wagon. It helps that I know I’ll do a better job in January. Life is so much better without shame and self-hatred. Yes, that is my aphorism for the day. 🙂

Peace and Joy, all!

Women’s connections, banana jousting, learning to read, missing cello, friends

Today I bundled the twins into the Madsen and took off to a park where I met up with a woman who’s considering getting a cargo bike for herself and her kids. We talked about pros and cons, about music (her son is interested in cello lessons) about pregnancy and its impacts on one’s body. One thing I enjoy about being a woman is the way in which women are able to connect on a personal level having never met one another before. In my experience, it is easiest to do that with another woman, and sometimes possible to do with a man. The men I know, however, talk about how hard it is to engage in personal conversation with other men, who are socialized away from that sort of interaction. Parenthood helps. Ted, and various of my male friends, have described softer interactions with other people when they’re out with a baby or child. There are more smiles, more conversation, more openness.

After we got back I fed the twins a quick lunch, as we were running a bit behind on our lunch/nap/picking Hazel up daily schedule. As part of their lunch I gave them each a banana. They devised a game wherein they each held a long piece of banana in their mouths and then jousted with them, giggling madly through the fruit. I laughed and laughed, and I also taped the moment, glad to have it to show them, both now and later. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Twins are magic. I am so lucky.

When Hazel and I got home from school, she read a bunch of little books to me, with her sight words colored in to show which they are. She loves to do that, loves to show me what she’s learned. She was very sad to hear that she’s going to be off school for two weeks. I had to placate her with reminders of our upcoming trip to visit my parents, and that we’ll be able to spend time together, go the pool, etc., during the time we’re here. Hazel wants to spend all of her time with Ted and me, and she also wants to spend all of her time with her friends at school. She has a plethora of good options, but of course experiences these multiple desires as conflicts. Issues of time, relationships, and time management begin young! She’s always sad when she hears about something I did with the twins in the morning, because, “I didn’t get to go! That’s not fair!”

Nonetheless, I can’t wait to show her the banana jousting video tomorrow. I think she will love it.

Today was one of those days during which teaching made me miss my cello, and miss practicing my own repertoire on the cello, desperately. I don’t have any child care tomorrow, but am making a plan to practice when Ted gets home. I have so much work to do, and I want to get to it! Hazel’s not the only one with competing desires for how to spend time.

I am in more frequent communication with my friend R who’s in prison these days. He’s accomplishing a remarkable change of outlook, and we are getting to know each other again through conversations over the phone and in letters. I am grateful for that friendship, and for so many others.

Kids learning about friendship

“But they’re my best friends, and they never want to play with me!” cried Hazel, so sad.

Oh my. It is hard to watch your kid start to enter the complicated world of social interaction with a child’s understanding, and a child’s heart. Her neighbors, T and J, are brothers, one year older and one year younger than she is, respectively. The older brother isn’t as comfortable with people in general, and perhaps with Hazel specifically. Today they kept running up to our house, calling for her, and then running away screaming with laughter as soon as she came to the door. She wound up sobbing on the couch. I know that a) it is likely not mean-spirited, but a game in which they expect her to run out and chase them, but that b) especially with their history of telling her they don’t want to play with them she won’t see it that way, and c) none of them have the emotional communication chops to discuss it, and that d) I need to keep an even tone even when I feel distressed about it.

I have been asking her lately what she likes about so and so, and why they’re her best friend (a term she uses pretty much indiscriminately to describe anyone she wants to play with). I’ve been trying to encourage her to consider what she likes and what she doesn’t like, rather than just focusing on whether someone wants to be with her or not.

I want to put my head under a pillow, really.

I wasn’t graceful when I asked their dad about it (I tried to be, but didn’t manage), and should have waited to talk with him later, when I was entirely calm myself.

Social interactions are sometimes so hard. And the interweaving of the interactions between parents and kids complicates them even more.

But here’s the thing: no one *has* to play with Hazel if they don’t want to, and that is a tough lesson to learn. It can be so hard, to grant people their right to free choice and not take it personally, to realize that people have moods and desires, and right now doesn’t have to determine tomorrow or next week.

Sometimes I feel so damn clumsy in this parenting gig.

lunch, conversations, evening work and snuggles

This morning my student cancelled, so my nanny and I walked the twins over to pick up the car. We had enough time to stroll, to stop and smell the flowers, and to enjoy the day. We don’t get slow time like that as a rule, and it was a pleasure.

This afternoon, due to our severe lack of food in the house, I took Hazel and her friend M out for lunch after I picked them up from preschool. It was a giggle-fest as they drew and joked together, drawing smiles from the table nearby. There was more giggling and art-making once we got home, along with an increase in Hazel’s tendency to tell her friend what to do. (“It’s my house and my stuff, and so I get to say what we’re going to do.”) I made a mistake, and intervened at the end while they were trying to figure out what was going to be done. Next time, I’ll wait until later, and then ask Hazel how she felt about the time, and make one observation and ask her about that rather than lecturing or directing in the minute.

Next week they’re going to have a playdate at another friend’s house. The three of them really seem to love each other. It’s sweet to see.

Then after nap/quiet time I figured out how to call my mom on Facetime, and we had a lovely rambling conversation which wound up outside where Hazel could show my mom our flowers. Emily called her some version of “Grandma”. It wasn’t clear, but it was repeated enough times to become obviously intentional.

Tonight my friend J came over to have the first accompanying rehearsal with my two students who are giving an end-of-year recital. That was fun. I think they’re both going to do well, and I’m looking forward to it!

After that I went upstairs to snuggle with Hazel. I’d told her I’d do that, since I wasn’t going to see her all evening (I usually do on Mondays). She was happy that she got a snuggle with Ted while they were waiting for me, and then with me.

birthday party, community, parent groups

Today was full! Ted took Hazel and the twins off to Hazel’s soccer class while I got a Car2Go and went shopping for our family group 5th birthday party. One of the families in our group has recently moved to a new house, and they hosted. Their house is all the things ours is not – new, pretty, finished, open, easy to use. Ted and I both felt a bit wistful looking at all the un-cracked walls and un-peeling paint. (It did, however, give me new motivation to start cleaning our house after the upheaval of the past several weeks.)

We met when our kids were tiny – Hazel was three weeks old, and we were totally shell-shocked at our first gathering. I am so glad we’ve stayed together, to celebrate and offer each other support, to watch our kids grow and learn, and to talk about everything that’s going on in our lives. Now they’re turning five, and kindergarten is around the corner. It seems like so long ago that they were newborn babies. And now there are more kids, all the siblings that have arrived in the past few years. We make a big group these days.

There were costumes for dress-up, and games (Pin The Tail On The Donkey, and Duck Duck Goose). We traditionally have a book exchange, and our hosts had also so generously bought books for the little ones. We got a couple of wonderful books for Emily and Joanna. Hazel got a sticker book and was thrilled. There were cupcakes to decorate and consume, and a cake. (The kids were wired and zapping with energy today, and then exquisitely whiney later on.) There was a lot of generalized running around. And through it all the twins toddled around watching and listening, playing with toys, going up and down the very short flight of stairs from the kitchen to the living room, eating, being read to, and having a grand time. It was great to see all our friends, to relax knowing that there was always a pair of eyes looking out for the kids. I love that bunch of people. Such a collection of warm hearts all in one place.

Ultimately, it was time to come home and get the kids down for nap, which, miraculously, we were able to do. That might have been by virtue of the fact that the twins fell asleep in the car on the way home, and we were able to transfer them to bed.

Then, while our nanny was here, Ted and I made progress on filling out our tax forms, and restored some order to the overwhelming chaos.

And then, I had a dinner out with some of the members of the Moms’ group I joined when Hazel was a year old. I hadn’t seen a couple of them in years. By now there are more siblings and other major life changes. Our conversation was personal, wide-ranging, and mutually supportive. It’s so easy to get isolated when you have very young children. Reconnection and community are life-savers. I’m glad we got together again, and I hope we can keep it up. We can all use it.

I made it home for bedtime and a supremely whiney Hazel. We really have to watch her sugar intake. There was too much today, and she was pretty unsettled tonight. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful day.

Learning the cello, lunch with a friend

Today my morning adult student had a really great lesson, in which we worked on tone and bowing. The fact that we’re doing so now indicates that she’s made a lot of progress, and we’re able to move on from really foundational hand position and bowing technique. Learning the cello takes a long, long time. In fact, I figure that no one is ever done. One reason why learning a musical instrument is so challenging is that human beings aren’t really great multi-taskers. Playing the cello means doing a huge number of things at the same time, some of them quite different in nature. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to build the pieces and put them together.

Most people also tend to focus heavily on whether they’re getting the right note. And while that is indubitably important, that focus can also impede work on other areas, particularly rhythm. And when you get right down to it, rhythm is the most important thing. The right note at the wrong time is still the wrong note.

Great tone quality is something that also tends to take time and an advancing skill set to achieve. Making progress in that area, though, is deeply satisfying. It is one factor of playing which immediately raises the level of the student’s performance. And it is a major ingredient in making music that reaches people.

One thing that someone wise once said to me is, “It takes a lot of courage to be willing to make ugly sounds while learning how to make beautiful ones.” I love hearing my students begin to draw the voice of the cello out of their instruments.

After the lesson, I met my friend L for lunch. After we ate, we wandered around in the sunshine for a while, enjoying its warmth after the very cold temperatures of last week. We shared good, mutually supportive conversation and a couple of good hugs. I realized recently that I haven’t spent much one-on-one time with hardly any of my friends in so long. And that’s due to the intensity of my family life. But I miss doing so, want to make it a priority. It’s been literally something like five years since L and I had lunch together, and it used to be something that happened at least once a quarter, if not every couple of months. It was good to be back together again. We’ve known each other since college, and have a warm, affectionate friendship I treasure.

Tonight Ted and I managed to get a couple of dishes cooked. We played around as a family, and the kids went down smoothly enough that we might even make it upstairs not too late and leaving behind a relatively clean kitchen without Herculean effort.