Thursday, May 31, 2012

Space and Sharing

My post, Attachment Parenting, left me going down memory lane a bit.  I realized, as I looked back, that our early decisions to practice attachment parenting extended to many more intentional decisions even as our kids started to grow up.  Shared space in the form of a sling or a bed turned into a shared bedroom, shared toys, one family computer, and one television.  Interestingly enough, these very simple choices sometimes felt just as counter cultural as having a home birth.

For Christmas one year we made the earth shattering decision  to purchase a Game Boy for the boys.  It felt like a life changing moment for our family.  Choosing to buy only one and have both boys share it was our way of keeping our little team in balance.  I remember the day after Christmas when they told their friends what they had gotten.  I felt a twinge of guilt for not giving them each their own and then I heard my son say, "It's ok, cuz I'm good at the jumps and he's good at finding the treasures.  So we are going fast through the levels."

Pokemon and Game Boy of the past.
Pokemon and Game Boy of the past. (Photo credit: heath_bar)
Those stupid video games had them going to the store and negotiating which new game they would purchase, returning to trade old, conquered ones for a new challenge.  They needed to come to consensus on each acquisition or spend 100% of their own money on a game that they could only play when the other person was otherwise occupied. Even with our imposed limits they managed to be obsessed by the images on the four inch screen.  We were far from Amish and yet I still felt like I was out of the normal range of accepted U.S. parenting practices.  I felt out of sync because I was resisting the consumption driven culture.  How dare I not purchase as much as possible for my children.  How dare I make them wait for the latest game until they could buy it for themselves or find it used or for trade, 6 months later.

We bought the Game Boy because we wanted to do something special for our children. We wanted to indulge one of their kiddie desires. We minimized how much it could control our lives by insisting that our sons shared it and by limiting when they could use it - 10 hour car rides to South Dakota -YES!; parties at friends' homes - NO!  We aren't carrying them in a sling anymore but we are still trying to find ways that we can share space and stuff as a family.

It changes over time but there is always something, at every developmental age, that ends up forcing us to decide what is right for our family.  Now, there are nights when we are all within 10 feet of each other but on a different screen -, tv, computer, ipod.  I'm grateful that we decided to have the screens only on the first level of our house and I'm grateful that we have one tv that requires us to negotiate/talk/argue. Now that we have teenagers it feels like we are starting to reap the benefits of our families' counter cultural revolution.  I'm glad that we are still attached and sharing space.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Attachment Parenting

Let The War Begin!
Let The War Begin! (Photo credit:
When I was pregnant for the first time, I knew one specific thing was going to be a part of my role as mother and that was breastfeeding.  My own mother had breastfed all of her five children and it felt very normal, almost a non-issue.  We bought many things in preparation for the new baby, a crib, car seat, and stroller, but no bottles.  To my surprise and deep frustration, the one thing that I had no worries or insecurities about, became a huge struggle.  My son would not nurse for any significant amount of time for the first month of his life.  The most natural part of mothering, for me, turned into a torturous routine of prepping and prodding, ultimately failing with my son only taking a small fraction of what he would need, and then pumping to offer later via a bottle.  There was intense fatigue, infections, and numerous consultations with our midwife and lactation specialists.  It was humbling to say the least.   Breastfeeding was the one thing that I had been calm and confident about.  Instead, I was left wondering what I was doing wrong.

Fourteen years later, the Time magazine cover, "Are you mom enough?", hit a nerve. I struggled to understand what the cover and subsequent flurry of public commentary meant to me.  When I was bleary eyed and brain dead from exhaustion the last thing that I needed was public scrutiny and judgement.  It felt like that cover photo was landing a blow on breastfeeding in general, not just those who breastfeed past the cute, defenseless time of infancy.  I have my own opinions about breastfeeding older children but my biggest theory is that as Americans, we are becoming more and more uncomfortable with lifestyles that promote emotional closeness, reject excessive consumerism, and allow for individuality.  It doesn't matter that a large part of the world shares a bed or at least a bedroom with their child(ren), in the U.S. it's suspect.  It doesn't matter that children all over the world are able to live with very little resources, in the U.S. our children's greatest gift is to help us stimulate the economy with purchases for "healthy development", "enrichment", and "stimulation".  Less is more is heresy.

Sleeping Angels
Sleeping Angels (Photo credit: Cavalier92)
One of the big issues for our family around attachment parenting was the use of a sling for carrying and our (various mutations) shared sleeping quarters.  My boys were toddlers and walking competently when we stopped using the sling. The toddler moved to a sidecar bed when the new baby came and then they shared a bed in their own room as they both transitioned out of our room at two and four. We received many comments, even from people we love, about how we needed to stop babying them. I was resentful at the time that we could be judged for damaging our children or limiting their capacity for independence when they were notably smart, creative, and very confident.  When I would evaluate whether we were doing the right thing, it was never the boys that gave proof that we should change course, it was me. Attachment parenting was hard for me.  There were many days when I wasn't sure how much longer I could stay healthy and maintain the routine of physical closeness.  The choices we made were never as planned out or as calculated as I may have liked.  We moved one day to the next, loving our kids and trying desperately to do what seemed right for them.  What was good for one wasn't the same for the other, and our plans and intentions were always being tweaked. 

So the cover, and the public debate, stirred those early years up for me.  My own experience tells me that what I think will be easy or least manageable, frequently becomes a surprising struggle.  Other things that I never even planned can come to feel natural.  The one thing that remains constant is the love part.  There are happy kids who were fed formula and "Ferberized" and there are happy kids who were breastfed and slept in a family bed.  The happiness comes from families who are genuinely doing there best to meet their child's unique needs and doing that in love.  We don't need to pick sides and label one group of families as "normal"  or "ideal" and demonize others.  A different style of parenting doesn't need to feel like a challenge to your own.  Make the choices that meet the needs of your child, your family, and you.  Making choices based on what works or doesn't work for someone else may be a fun debate topic but it's not good for families.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turning Point - Give Me Twenty

I know that I tend to turn most of these reflections towards the positive or to search out some type of personal learning.  I don't do that because everything is happy all the time but more as a way to practice looking for the good.  I'm not able to manage it most of the time but in my writing, I can.  There was a time in my family when I found it very hard to be upbeat.  My youngest son seemed to be angry and combative all the time, he fought with his brother every waking moment, called him terrible names, and I thought that maybe some type of intervention was going to be necessary.

Where was all the anger coming from?  How could I tell if he was going through a phase or showing some early signs of serious struggles?   My best friend gave me a piece of very sage advice.  She pointed out to me that my son wasn't acting the same all the time.  When we visited with friends for example, he didn't fight with them or call their children names.  He did have the ability to control himself and censure his behavior at times.  It helped calm my mind but I still didn't have a solution.  Our biggest response had been natural consequences, usually a withdrawal of some type of privilege that was linked to the offensive activity.  If he trashed his brother's room then he would have to clean it or do his brother's chores for several days.  Mostly though, his consequence was taking away TV time or time with his friend.  A favorite message in those days was, "You don't get to be rewarded with hanging out with your friend if you treat your family like crap."

an exercise of chest
an exercise of chest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is also the son who could spend hours in repetitive labor (sanding, heavy lifting, gardening).  There were moments when I felt like I couldn't listen to his negativity or anger one more second and yet if he had a job, that he deemed important, he could be focused and helpful.  Over time I realized that when he was most agitated and most deserving of a drop kick, was the exact time that I needed to give him a job. I met with several teachers back then, suggesting that as counter intuitive as it might seem from his actions, more responsibility in the classroom, not less, would help his classroom behavior.  As much as he liked to feel responsible, he also liked to feel strong.  As he was repetitively harassing  his brother, I would shout from the other room, "O.K., you've got too much energy for me right now.  Give me twenty!"  He would drop to the ground and do push ups.  To my surprise, he never fought me on my boot camp inspired demands.  As miserable as we all felt around him in those years, he felt just as bad.  He wanted a solution to his out of control behavior as much as we did.

In the midst of the worst of his negative, argumentative behavior, I asked him to join me as my workout buddy at the gym.  I had to lie to the YMCA about his age so that he could be permitted to use the equipment but it was worth it.  About 6 months after our gym routine had begun I looked at him and didn't see the anger.  "Do you feel different?   You don't seem as upset or on edge as you used to.  Have you noticed a change?"  I asked him.  He shrugged his shoulders and gave an understated, "Yea, maybe."

His intense attitude may have subsided all on its own just by getting older and allowing all the initial prepubescent stuff to settle down.  Maybe it was the physical exercise.  Maybe it was the two boys being separated and going to different schools.  Maybe it was just the realization that we weren't in a battle with our son as much as we were wrestling with his out of control feelings and behavior.  Maybe it was just a super lucky alignment of the stars and all of the things I just listed melding at the right moment.  So here is my reflection that I'm trying to remember for other things in my life:
  1. When you are in the middle of a struggle it can be hard to see a solution.  Don't give up.
  2. Being honest about the hard parts of our lives/parenting is so much easier than pretending that things    are "fine" and it's a lot less lonely.
  3. When agitated, frustrated, antsy, or full out angry, push ups might help and definitely won't hurt.
Good luck with whatever your latest struggle is.  We all have them so you are in good company.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mom memories

I'm four, sitting in my mom's lap, on our way home from Christmas Eve dinner and midnight mass with family.  It's cold outside and I'm very tired.  I lay against the faux fur collar of my mom's coat and fall asleep.

Playing outside on my bike with the training wheels.  I pull up to the side of our trailer home, riding on the sidewalk to our steps.  The bully of the complex pushes me off my bike and into the row of rose bushes lining our home.  I lay on my bed while my mom picks out all of the thorns from my back and legs. 

It's May and we're walking up to Johnson's U Pick farm.  We walk on to a dusty old school bus, buckets in hand and take the bumpiest ride through unpaved, gravel roads to our strawberry patch.  On hands and knees we find the little red treasures hiding in the straw covered rows.  Dreaming of the shortcake and jam that will come makes the boredom and sun bearable.

"God doesn't make junk."

In my bedroom, at 12 or 13, hearing the knock at the door.  She sits on the edge of the bed and says goodnight.  Asks about my day.  Five or ten minutes of time, with just her.  Saying next to nothing.  Waiting every night for that knock.

Shipped care packages -  boxes of my favorite store bought cookie, cashews, a five dollar bill, and a note from her during finals week.

Singing.  A snippet of a hymn, a chorus from a musical.  Every topic seems to have a piece of music that she recalls and inserts in the conversation. 

Little flashes of her.  Tiny bits.  Elusive memories.  A small collection of moments.  And yet the power!  The influence, the love, the confidence, the foundation that she set in place for me.  It's impossible to document how a person can speak to your soul, long after they're gone or how being seen so deeply and clearly can change you.  Trying to let the gratitude overtake the sadness.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Turning Points - uno

I was thinking yesterday about pivotal moments in our family.  We had dinner with some new friends and the getting to know you conversation turned to children.  Theirs are grown and as we spoke they kept reflecting on their own memories.  I was touched when the father started talking about the trip he had taken to Paris with his daughter to celebrate her 40th birthday.  "I wanted to do something special with each of my children when they hit that age.  Something that they would remember.", he said.  He's planning an Alaska trip with his second daughter for next year, on her 40th. 

His story helped me relax a little and note that there will be a lifetime of opportunities to develop, teach, share, love, and nurture.  I don't have to squeeze it all in by the age of 18.  So many times I've thought that maybe one certain moment is the one that's going to make the difference, for good or bad.  I was convinced that on the day that I let my youngest son quit piano lessons, I was securing his place in a life of hardship.  I thought for sure that this had the power to create a life habit of giving up when things got hard, which would then lead to poor academics and hanging out instead, which of course would lead to him becoming an immediate gratification junkie or maybe just a drug addict in general.  He was 9.
Music guitar
Music guitar (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

He's 13 now and I've been listening to him play his guitar for the last hour or more, for pleasure.  Letting go of the piano was a turning point for him.  It was one of the first times that he asserted himself and articulated what he did or didn't want on anything of real importance.  It was also a turning point for me as a parent.  It was one of the first times that I had to figure out what the real issue was and articulate what the family values were that I was protecting.  We came to the realization that it wasn't piano that was important but rather having some type of arts training, something that wasn't available in their school at all.  I let him choose what would come next - dance?, guitar?, painting?  He chose guitar.  He's still had moments where he wanted to quit guitar but they have been moments of frustration, wishing that he could master a certain skill that's still out of reach.

I wonder where he would be with music now if I had dug in my heels and insisted on having him "hang in there".  I wonder how I would be feeling now if I had insisted that pressuring a 9 yr old into "my plan" was the most important, make or break parenting decision I was going to make.  These turning points are not moments where we make the "right" or "wrong" decisions but rather places where we turn, move, evolve.  There will be more chances to correct or improve on what we've chosen - long after they are 9 or 13 or 18 or 40.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Found Treasure

Obverse of United States one dollar bill, seri...
Obverse of United States one dollar bill, series 2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"I had a great day!  I found two dollars and a penny today!"  My son was giving me the quick summary of his school day during our 1 minute phone conversation when he checks in and tells me he's home.

"Where did you find two dollars?", I asked.

"In my wallet." He cuts me off as he hears me start laughing a little, "Well, it was like I found it because it was in a hidden spot in my wallet and I forgot it was there."  I told my husband the story later in the day and I laughed all over again.  What a silly, goofball of a kid we have.  Where does he come up with this stuff?!

Indeed.  His words hit me today in a different way.  I've mentioned here that I've been in a funk.  It's been a low time for me and a frustrating time.  I want to feel different, more motivated, but never seem to find the secret key to unlock or unblock my malaise.  Today, I asked my son if he wanted to go to the gym with me.  As I became soaked in sweat on the spinning bike, cranking the music in my ears, and letting the endorphins kick in, I remembered my son's found treasure. 

Part of me was annoyed with myself for not going to the gym earlier.  I felt so good, why didn't I do this sooner?  What took me so long?  My son could have done the same too but he didn't.  He just reveled in the moment. We always have the choice to be present in the here and now or dwell on the missed opportunities or the broken pieces.  We can waste time looking at what others have that we don't.  We can look past our life in hopes of finding some future great thing.  I want to look for more of the hidden spots in my life.  As an insurance policy, in case I backslide, I'm also going to tuck two dollars in a secret spot in my wallet.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mother's Day Preparations

Mother's Day card
Mother's Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a couple of weeks,  a holiday that I don't have to do ANYTHING for will arrive with secrecy and hushed excitement.  Partners, prepare your children for Mother's Day.  It's one of the best ways to teach our children how to be great, compassionate, kind, thoughtful people.  Here's a composite flash on my special day over the years:

 I lie in bed listening to the boys bickering.  "Why did you put the toast in now?  It's going to be cold by the time everything else is ready."  The younger brother defends his place in the Mother's Day Preparations, "Well, you're ruining everything.  Why can't you let me just do it?  You're an idiot."

I beat back my urge to go downstairs and referee the cooking feud and roll over in the bed instead.  After quite a bit of clanging and more stage whisper name calling, I hear feet on the landing of the stairs.  Here we go.  Mother's Day.  Breakfast in bed.  One of my favorite family traditions.

The boys walk in with a tray of food, coffee, and sometimes a bud vase with one of our garden flowers.  They hand me cards first, then a present.  My husband hands me a card and present as well.  Sometimes there's even a card "from" our dog.  Lord knows he's my youngest baby.  Sometimes the presents are homemade.  Sometimes they are coupon books for services that the boys promise to offer at future dates.  Sometimes they are a shared effort of pooled allowance money and really shock me (a Shuffle for my gym workouts really took the cake one year).

There is a clear attempt at being nice to one another while I eat my breakfast.  They know that a day without bickering is the only present that I really want, any day of the year.  "Do you like the eggs?  I made the eggs."  I do like the eggs.   There is something very different about them.  Tomatoes, cheese, spinach(?), no it's lettuce, and something sweet...raisins?!  After my deduction, I respond, "I do like the eggs.  You put some of last night's salad in, didn't you.  I wouldn't have thought to do that.  It works though (it did, mostly)."

A version of this has happened for the last 13 years.  The first two years my husband did most of the cooking but once they were old enough to put bread in the toaster or open a cup of yogurt, they have come up the stairs with my breakfast.  I love Mother's Day because it is their day to really think about someone else (Father's Day too).  They know that there will be no card and present waiting for them after I open my surprises.  They are actively trying to think of things that I will like, or at least things that they can afford that I will also like.  That is why I like the over blown, Hallmark highjacked holiday of Mother's Day.  It is one of the first ways that my boys started to learn selflessness, kindness, generosity, and gratitude.

A good friend of mine told me that she instructed her husband to teach her son about Mother's Day.  She understood that her husband's love didn't always show up aligned with holidays or birthdays.  In spite of that, she wanted him to teach their son the importance of thinking of and caring for others.  "He won't know how to stay in a decent relationship if he doesn't get a chance to practice these practical ways of caring."  Amen!  I don't love scrambled eggs with lettuce and raisins.  I do love my 8 year old son "visioning" a gourmet, one-of-a-kind brunch for his mother - just to show her how much he cares.
Enhanced by Zemanta