Differences within families

Families often have one member who’s different from the rest: an artist in a family of sports fans, for example, or an enthusiastic member of debate teams in a family of book readers. Most commonly occurring, perhaps, are personality pattern differences. A really big challenge in families (and other human groupings) is learning to observe a family member’s behavior patterns without calcifying them into judgements about “who” that person is. When that happens it becomes impossible to truly see those close to us. Instead, we paste a projection onto their faces and attempt to interact with it, instead of engaging with real people in open and thoughtful ways. Focusing on the ways in which a family member is different from the rest also makes it impossible to see differences in other family members. Then everybody loses: nobody is properly seen, and no one in the family gets their needs met or the emotional validation which is so important for every person’s well-being.

In our family, two of our children are twins. This exacerbates issues already common to families with siblings: twins are relentlessly compared to each other. Since our twin daughters are very different from each other, and developing at different rates and in different ways, the potential for developing conflict, jealousy, and limiting, stereotyped views of each of them is high. Ted and I have been conscious of this from the beginning.

Additionally, there is a great deal of personality alignment between Hazel (our oldest daughter) and Emily (the other twin). So comparisons are easy to make between Emily and Hazel, on the one hand, and Joanna on the other.

Our family is composed of two extroverts (Hazel and Emily), two introverts (Ted and Joanna), and one introvert with an extroverted wing (me). Ted and I, being adults, have learned how to handle functioning in the world (at least to some extent). Joanna doesn’t have our decades of experience. She is thoughtful and curious. She is quiet. She likes to take her time to experience the world around her. She very often gets run over by her sisters, who tend to dive in with verve and enthusiasm (especially Emily). Because things go so fast, she winds up just copying Emily a lot. Partly, this is a totally genuine appreciation for others’ enthusiasms. But partly, it is because she needs space made for her in our family, space and time to think and feel and decide without pressure.

She also winds up asking for help and assuming a certain degree of lack of capability on her own part. This is partly because everyone thinks Joanna is cute and sweet and wants to help her. This is also partly because she has had the tendency since very early on to reach out for help. Ted and I (and our wonderful nanny H) are making a conscious effort to encourage Joanna to try first, before we help her. As Ted pointed out today, our expectations of our children will have a tremendous impact on their own perception of themselves and their abilities. We know Joanna can do many things: we need to provide gentle and consistent feedback and support for her to learn this about herself too.

Sometimes people will say that they parented all their kids the same way. I find this extremely improbable, and also not even a goal to shoot for. Everyone is different. We all have different strengths, areas of challenge, tendencies. We need different sorts of support in order to grow and thrive. We all need to learn how to be leaders and how to accept direction. We all need to learn how to take care of ourselves, and how to ask for help. But we will all learn and acquire those skills differently.

So, today a Wonder Woman costume arrived for Joanna. We’re all getting super hero costumes; I ordered a plus-size Super Girl costume I was extremely excited to find last week, Joanna chose the Wonder Woman costume, and Emily chose a Batgirl costume. Hazel wants to be Super Girl too; I am not sure yet what Ted is going to choose. Anyway, Joanna’s arrived today. The girls have been very excited to get their costumes, and the box was an object of very enthusiastic attention. Hazel and Emily immediately rushed over to it, and Emily reached out to open it.

I called a halt, told the girls to step back and give Joanna some space. This was so hard for them to do that ultimately I made them sit on the benches next to H and me, so that Joanna could open her box unimpeded. I enforced no talking to Joanna other than to offer things like, “Oh, that’s cool!” No suggestions, no questions, no “help”. Hazel twitched. She kept trying to offer suggestions/orders to Joanna. She drummed her feet on the ground. She got really mad. She said she was bored. Emily started to copy me; I told her not to jump on the bandwagon (a common issue in our house, something we work on a lot.) She relaxed and watched Joanna.

Hazel, to her credit, did not throw a full-blown fit. She wanted to try on Joanna’s Wonder Woman “boots” (knee-high leg coverings). After I told her no the second time, she dropped it.

With this firewall in place, with a space in which she could explore and know her stuff was just hers, with time to process, Joanna smiled. She poked around. She asked for help: we told her to try it herself. We offered silly suggestions when she seemed stressed by the idea that she could find the packaging flap and open it herself. She puttered. She initiated conversation. She gradually found everything, gradually put it all on. She enjoyed herself. With a big smile, she said that her costume had come first; she told Emily that hers would come soon. When there were things Joanna genuinely needed help with, we asked her whom she wanted to help her. She pointed at Hazel, and said, “You!” Once Joanna was all dressed up in her costume, she sat on the floor, and Emily came and sat down in front of her. They stretched out their legs and put their feet together.

Afterwards it was time for Ted and I to go have our downtime. We walked down the street together, talking about parenting. We want to help our kids learn to consider the needs and boundaries of everyone in the family. We want to help them understand and appreciate each other’s differences without turning each other into caricatures. For example, we want all of them (Joanna included) to understand that Joanna needs time to experience and process the people and things in the world around her, without reframing that as, “Joanna is slow.”

We all fall prey to making those characterizations, and to being the object of them. The story about me, from when I was little, was that I was emotional, impractical, and unrealistic. “Touchy-feely woman”, and “sees life through rose-colored lenses”, were two associated descriptions used about me. In actual fact, though I have strong emotions, I am quite analytical. It took me decades to realize that the characterizations of me were not, in fact, the definition of who I am. Even more importantly, that who I am is less important than what I choose to do: that the behavior patterns I choose to establish and the skills I choose to acquire are at least as important as the tendencies I was born with.

I want each of my children to have the space and support within our family that will help create a foundation upon which they can discover themselves, gain needed life skills, and learn that to a large degree we are what/whom we make of ourselves. Very little is set in stone, and there is always more about a person (including oneself) than we think.

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One-on-one time, in a family of five

Today we set it up so that all three kids got some one-on-one time with one of us. Given that there are three kids, and that the younger two are twins, this is something that virtually never happens. I remember taking Joanna to a medical appointment a couple of years ago and realizing that it was possibly the first time in her life I’d ever spent more than five minutes with her, just the two of us. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do, but has felt challenging to actually accomplish. Today we did it. Hazel got time with her daddy, and Emily and Joanna each got time with me.

It was so wonderful, both in the moment and later. The twins were both more affectionate with me throughout the day, and I felt that our connection was reinforced and refreshed, updated and newly prioritized by the time together, even though it was short, only an hour and a half in each case.

This week Hazel has been home from school for spring break, and it has been a difficult week in some regards. I really have a hard time with lots of simultaneous input from multiple sources, and having three kids around instead of two pushes my limits at times. And I also fell into the trap of having expectations about how the time was going to go, and even more unproductively, how I was going to feel about it. And then the week got fairly complicated in other ways, and my attention was split, and I started to feel guilty about not having the sort of week I had expected to have, and then it got harder to handle, and well, if you have children you likely know that cycle.

Nonetheless, there have been many positives as well as difficulties. Among other things, both the positives and the negatives provide opportunities to learn. And I appreciated today’s opportunities to revel in the simplicity of one child, one conversation, the sweetness of a pair, and the wonderful individuality of my children.

Favorite moments include: Emily snuggled up with me inside my bathrobe; Joanna asking me to repeat the sound effect I made as she ran her hand along a chain-link fence; the fort built in the living room by Ted and Hazel, and all of them sitting under it as he read a book to them; and Ted and I doing a good job both of setting expectations about bedtime (we’re trying to get back on track) and also flexing together where necessary when realizing that insisting on absolute adherence was going to get us nowhere good.

I am so grateful for my family.

Practicing cello, dinner with a friend

Today I had three separate practice sessions, and thought I might add a fourth after coming back from dinner with a friend. I was still mildly entertaining that idea when I received a reminder from one of the members of my quartet that tonight is DST, and to set our clocks forward. Somehow, seeing the time move from after 10 pm to after 11 pm removed the idea of going down to my studio to practice from the realm of the possible and pushed it some small distance toward the absurd. Nonetheless, given that my body thinks it’s only 10:39, and not 11:39, I may shortly wish that I was downstairs doing something productive rather than surfing the web. Choices, choices.

I have come to the conclusion that come what may, I need to find time to practice every night, even if it’s just 15 minutes after I brush my teeth and before I hit the sack. I need that degree of regularity, regardless of the amount of practice I’ve achieved earlier in the day. So, despite tonight’s choice, starting tomorrow I’m going to implement my new plan. Before doing the dishes, before reading, before anything else, as soon as the kids are down, I’m going to practice, even if it’s just playing scales or tackling one difficult measure. Doing so will be good for me professionally, and good for me personally. Practicing is part of how I am alive, engaged, creative, curious, productive. It’s certainly better for me than Scrabble, for example. I may give myself Saturday nights off, given the time of night I come home sometimes from hanging out with friends (not scandalously late, seeing as how I have three small children, but later than most other nights). And that will feel good too. Balance is important.

I have been working hard enough on the Prokofiev that now themes from the second movement are running frequently through my head. There’s a place where the cello part dives up into treble clef with passionate abandon. I spent a fair amount of time today working on the intonation on that run. It’s a funny contrast, the careful crafting that goes into music, so that one can play with the passionate abandon often required by it.

Then tonight, I got to have dinner with another college friend, whose kids are a decade older than mine. The parenting situations occurring in her life feel as distant as the moon to me, but I know that once I’m there, the days of preschool and kindergarten will seem almost like they happened to someone else. Yet I clearly remember the day I met R’s younger kid, when we met for lunch while R was still on maternity leave. Time and memory continue to bemuse and fascinate me. Sometimes I think that we really are a series of people as we grow and learn and change, and that the connections between periods of our lives are sometimes more tenuous than we might think.

It is wonderful to talk with other parents, especially people one knows and trusts, to see different ways of doing things, to learn and appreciate, to understand and be mystified.

Life is a thing I am grateful to have.

I am in that state of trepidation and excitement prior to our upcoming quartet concert that burnishes everything with internal sparkles. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s rehearsal.

I hope everyone survives Daylight Saving’s Time intact.

new friend, conversation, community, cousin time

This morning I had tea with someone I haven’t known for that long. She and I have a few life circumstances in common, and it was great to share histories, current events, thoughts/feelings. It’s lovely to develop a new friendship, to feel the happiness of a mutually appreciated connection and anticipate fun and interesting times to come.

This afternoon I went to pick Hazel up from school. Ted was home, and so I got to go over there by myself. I talked to a couple of the other parents of Hazel’s friends for a while, so got to have more interesting and enjoyable conversation, interspersed with the occasional bit of advice, direction, help, or comforting as required by the younger set. Gradually, over the course of the year I’ve met and started to get to know various of the kids’ parents in Hazel’s school. I really love hearing people’s stories, of where and how they grew up, where they’ve lived, what they’ve done that’s important to them, or difficult. I love sharing parenting stories, challenges. I love the sense of community. It’s lovely to feel that my community has expanded as Hazel’s has, more slowly, but gaining a sense of solidity as the year progresses, and we all get more familiar with each other.

After school Hazel went home with her friend D for a playdate. When I came to pick her up and take her to the park where her sisters and cousin were playing, she and D had constructed a slide down his stairs with his mattress and a ton of pillows, and were having all the fun possible. I love seeing how she gets different things with different friends. She and D play so well together. They have a good rapport, and are able to work out differences or conflicts when they arise with little to no adult help.

At dinner we were more or less successful in the kid & adult table distribution, though we ended up with both of the twins for the last third of our meal. Progress! Oh, and Joanna ate half her weight in chicken. Perhaps she’s about to grow another inch or five. It was fairly spectacular to see her plow all that food down. The twins are pretty little.

Bedtime was an experiment, as this is the first cousin sleepover here. It didn’t quite work out as planned, but we expected that. Nonetheless, I am feeling somewhat guilty, as my sister and Ted are each sleeping with a child, and here I am in the gigantic bed I was going to share with my sister by myself. Nonetheless, I am sure I will have some nighttime twin care to soothe my guilty conscience. If not, I’ll volunteer for morning duty so the two of them can sleep in. Hopefully the big girls won’t wake up at 5 am.

Here’s to friendship and conversation. They are two of the things that make my world go around.

A creative weekend of writing and playing

What a weekend! I spent Friday through Sunday morning at a resort with my critique group. The weather was incredible: we had clear blue skies and water of so crystal a quality that the reflections mirrored almost exactly the sky and clouds above. The community was even more incredible. There’s no topping time with friends that involves conversation that weaves through humor, into depths of feeling, and through analysis of the creative process.

I got another scene done, and then a good chunk of an outline, as well as the end of the book. There are still big holes I have to fill, but I’m getting a better sense for the overall picture, and that feels very good.

I made some more movement forward in my own process, too, toward self-love and compassion. It’s easier to think when you’re not surrounded by kids who need things from you, and you can have not just one, but several conversations with adults, time to breathe, time to relax. One evening I went for a swim, and walking over to the pool through the crisp clean air, looking at the stars above, I realized that I was feeling a peace and ease in my own company that was soothing and joyful at the same time.

When I got back home, Ted and I took the kids for a walk, and then to a park. It was that magic time of day when the light glows and the colors are rich and alive. The twins set off across the field and I went with them. We climbed a big hill, got up on top of big rocks, listened to a woodpecker, admired the sky, and enjoyed each other’s company.

And, after we got them down for the night, I had a quartet rehearsal. We did all Haydn tonight. We were cold and out of it when we started, and the thing bumped and bumbled along, but it was a very productive session, and by the end we were sounding downright musical. Three of the four of us are quite vivacious, and we tend to increase that tendency in each other, so rehearsals sometimes have a quite enjoyable element of hilarity. We’re going to record everything next week so we can discover all the myriad of things we need to improve before our concert. That will be sobering, I am sure, but I am also sure we’ll hear some beauty.

I am endlessly grateful for the fact that I have such a vibrant creative life. I am grateful for my ability to play, and to write, and for the opportunities I have for collaboration with others. Those are wonderful gifts.

music gigs, Volvo, twins at daycare

Tonight was the first rehearsal I attended for my orchestra’s current concert. It was, however, the second concert of the rehearsal cycle. I was unable to make it to the first, because it was moved. For football. This stuns me, but I suppose I’ll eventually get over it. 🙂

We’re doing a nice lush program for Valentine’s Day. Hazel will be in attendance, wearing the new fancy purple dress I bought her, as well as either her fancy purple shoes or the fancy red ones. I suggested she could wear one of each, but she shot that down. I guess the mixed colors aren’t acceptable once we enter the realm of fancy dress.

Speaking of Hazel, her teacher told her last week that she ate the healthiest lunches in her class. She beamed with pride. So did we. We shall enjoy this moment, as pride goeth before a fall, and eating healthy lunch may not be a source of pleasure in quite the same way for her as she gets older.

Back to my previous topic… I wound up giving two people a ride home after rehearsal. It’s moments like those that I fleetingly wish we had a minivan or SUV. I had to stuff one of my colleagues into the very back of the Volvo, and then stuff my cello in on top of him, since I had to stuff the stroller into the middle seats. Tomorrow I’m giving three people a ride, so when I got home I took the stroller out of the car. I figure rehearsals shouldn’t be preceded by torturous positions that cause cricks in necks and strained muscles.

This was the first of four rehearsals this weekend. Tomorrow my friend T and I will grab lunch in between, because after our orchestra rehearsal will be a quartet rehearsal, and we need fuel for the Prokofiev.

Today I dropped the twins off for the first time at the drop-off daycare I sometimes took Hazel to when she was their age. It never ceases to feel strange to give them over to the care of someone else, especially for the first time, but they did great. The staff said they were fun to have. I’m glad we have this resource now. It gave me time to talk with a friend, and then to come home to an empty house to practice. Quite lovely.

And now I need to rest my hands and arms.

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.