4 words I need to say more often

It’s been a challenging couple of weeks with Micah again. I don’t know if this is just the pattern we’re going to be in or if there are particular reasons that we’re having more frequent meltdowns. My guess is that there’s been a bit too much change for him over the past couple weeks.  When there’s a lot happening, he seems to lose his coping abilities – graduation from kindergarten, party at my brother’s house, week at the beach, start of a new summer camp.  And much more intense physical activity tires him out, weakens his coping, ends him in bed at 7:00pm and awake at 5:00am (have I mentioned that’s not a great schedule for me??).

The problem is, when we exceed the coping mechanisms of a newly-minted 7-year-old, his fall back mechanisms are those of a two-year-old. “Did you just take that toy from me?” = whap! “Did you just splash water on me?” = knockdown!  I’m glad there hasn’t been any biting at least, but a few times I’ve had to resort to pinning him to the ground and waiting for his body to calm. Needless to say, he’s two-thirds of my body weight and almost comes up to my shoulder, so we’re getting pretty evenly matched in the sport of wrestling. Guess I should contemplate weight training!

When we’re in this “mode,” it’s just not fun. I realize that I am much less interested in engaging Micah or spending time together. So, I’ve been going out of my way to be a bit more “huggy” and rewarding the positives. I know that I tell him that I love him often, but I keep trying to find other ways to say that.

The other day, I wrote this as a reminder that I do really enjoy the boys.

I delight-1

I delight in the fact that Micah just learned to float on his back and jump in the deep end (though I panic at that as well).

I delight in many of Noah’s quotes, including today when he said “Thank you, Mommy, for not calling me grouchy anymore because that hurts my feelings.”

I delight in Seth’s toothless grin and the way that he waves and says “hello” to everyone on our way into Starbucks to get my calcium supplement mixed with caffeine and chocolate-flavored sugar.

I delight in finding a small Sarris candy bar in my office as I type this :).

Yes, it’s good to praise the boys….to reward the positives….but sometimes, we just need to tell people “I delight in you” just for who you are. May I remember that next time Micah’s and my tempers roar!


I abhore 5:00am….Just ask the dragon

I do not like 5 am.

I was not created to be a morning person and the only time that I will intentionally wake up at 5 am is when that is the only time during the day that I have any chance of being alone. And the only times I’ve had to do that is when I’m on mission trips in third-world countries and I’ve wanted to wake up to see how the world around me is rubbing their eyes and embracing the new day.

I do not embrace the world at 5:00 am at my house. In fact, I’m not even embracing my own boys. I am generally, thoroughly, shockingly, surprisingly angry. Deep down angry that they have the gall to make any noise or heaven-forbid to say “hi, Mommy.” And I’m even angrier if they decide to say hello to a brother and thereby have more than one child awake when the birds haven’t even gotten in tune yet.

Naturally, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem. I have a problem. I do not like the person I am when I growl at my innocent, bright-eyed bouncy children in the morning. It’s just not pretty when I try to push a 70 -ound Micah off the bed because he won’t be quiet and won’t stop poking me.

I tell myself stupidly unhelpful things like – you know, if you went to be at 10pm (it’s 11:43 pm right now) instead of midnight or 1 o’clock, you wouldn’t be so tired and grumpy in the morning. It doesn’t work. I’m a night-owl, my children are early birds. And the Great Horned Owl is known to eat over 50 species of birds, including ducks, herons, Canadian geese and hawks. I’m just saying – don’t mess with me at 5:00 am. You will face the dragon.

I have, in my own head, for the past few years thought of myself as “Dragon Mommy.” (In fact, the folder on my laptop which stores my writings is titled Dragon Mommy.)  This description is based purely on my emotional state. I don’t know, the dragons in children’s books always look pretty benign….until of course, they are disturbed. Then the faces turn red and they spew fire and burn up castles and forests and trees (eg, “The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch). It can get pretty nasty….and that is what I can become. In fact, just this evening, Micah said “let’s play where you’re the dragon and you capture me and throw me into the tickle jail” – a great game which gives me fantastic exercise, but really – am I the dragon a lot?

So when Micah previously woke up at the respectable hour of 5:47, I would go against my conscience and hand him my cellphone for Netflix at 6:00 am….but not until “6-zero-zero, Micah” so that he doesn’t want to wake up earlier and earlier just to watch it. But after a few days of 5:02 and 5:08, I have totally compromised my morals. This morning when I was stuffed between Micah on one side, Noah pressing in on the other side, and Seth reaching up his hands and mumbling through the binky and toothless grin “up please”  – I handed Micah the phone, convinced Noah to go back to sleep and sent Seth off to “find Auntie” – gosh, I’m really bad a 5:00am. Please just let me sleep until 6:20 – that’s all I ask.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll work on a strategy to settle the dragon….maybe….

Maybe check in later in the week….and we’ll see.

…… It’s Friday….my sister comments, “wow, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I can sleep in!” I sigh – “wish I could….but my lovely little ones will have me up by 5:10.”  Yes, no change, no resolution….except that I have succumbed to it and got myself to bed a little earlier last night.  Seth probably thinks that I’m the meanest mommy in the world, because even at 5:38, I’ll bark “get back in bed – it’s nigh-night time!”


And the baby freezes….

In preparation for a workshop I gave last week for the crisis nursery project, I was reading about coping strategies that people use when they feel under threat.  It’s interesting to think about how we develop some strategies as young children that carry over into adulthood. And some strategies that were helpful when we were young are not helpful as an adult and yet we keep trying them.

We’re all pretty familiar with the “fight vs. flight” mechanism when facing a threatening situation – and it doesn’t even have to be the black bear that was wondering the city neighborhood last week. Less well known is the “freeze” aspect of coping in which the individual takes no action – not always helpful for a bear sighting, but interestingly, this is the strategy that first develops in the young child and infant. This makes sense since the baby can’t get up and walk away (or run) and has no strength to fight….but if under tremendous or constant stress, this style becomes an ingrained coping mechanism.

Last Monday morning, I sat in the waiting room at the hospital’s dental clinic for Seth’s appointment. He played happily watching the fish swim from one tank to the next, knocking himself silly for not ducking under the connecting tube, or tripping over the slight ramp. I did my usual – people watching….always fascinating.  Sometimes I even watched my own kid to be sure he was still in the general area and hadn’t knocked himself unconscious yet.

After watching numerous people emerge from the clinic area and talk with waiting relatives or on the phone, I had this sense of “gosh, these people are real grumps. Is it a Monday morning problem or do they have really poor coping mechanisms? Such negativity….” (very judgmental of me sitting there…)

Well, fifteen minutes after being called in….I was one of those grumpy, not coping well people. The dental resident saw Seth for 1.5 minutes, said “yep, tooth’s got to come out” (very good – this was my third professional opinion) and “too bad he ate breakfast or I could have done it now since I have an opening.”  Right…turns out very bad. Little did I know when walking happily out of the exam room that my sense of homeostasis was about to be challenged when I was offered an appointment TWO MONTHS later to pull his tooth!

I did a bit of the “freeze” mechanism….or was that shock? And then spent the next 2 days in “fight” mode. There was no way I was going to let my 2-year-old walk around for 2 months with a broken front tooth. I called other dentists. I called the insurance company. I called the head of the hospital dental department. In the midst of this, there was a cancellation and Seth was on the schedule for extraction on Friday. All went smoothly and he has a cute little hole in the front when he smiles.

But I did not have a smooth week at all. It’s amazing how much energy being a “grumpy, unhappy parent” consumes. Yet, there really wasn’t any other option than to keep pursuing the issue. Seth certainly had no ability to say “gosh, mom, this broken tooth is a bit annoying and occasionally painful….and you can keep saying I’m clumsy and grumpy and tired from the vacation….but you don’t really know what’s bothering me, do you? (despite what your blog says last week!!)”  And so – I carry his stress within my heart.

Hmmm….I was about to type that the “freeze” is about his only coping mechanism – but that is not actually true. He’s very good at the “fight” – crosses his arms in front of his body, stamps his foot and says “bad” in a most grumpy tone. He’s pretty good at flight too if I mention the word “diaper.” I’d have to say he’s quite well-rounded in developing his coping styles – but it’s not really helping him in the world yet. To navigate the broken tooth, to manage the hygiene, to access his nourishment, to dress, to travel….all that still requires me.  No wonder two-year-olds are so frustrated and so frustrating!

So he and I are ready to face another week. I’m going to work on managing my coping strategies, he’s going to work on developing some new ones, and we are going to continue to hug and kiss and say “I wuv you, Mommy.”

PS – a snapshot of Seth this month would make you shake your head. So pathetic looking. His left eye squints in the sunshine (strabismus), his left front tooth is gone, and his left knee has 3 scrapes now and dried-on, now-blackened geometric patterns where the band-aids used to be…Just makes you pick him up and say “poor baby!” Sam+bunnyBut the Tooth Fairy did leave him a toothless bunny (since cousin Ryan reminded me that the Tooth Fairy always leaves a present for the first tooth!).

The True Story of the Beach Vacation

… as told by the 2-year-old….I mean, who else really knows the truth!

  • When you say, “we’re going to the beach today,” is there a way you could have explained hours and hours….and HOURS in a carseat?
  • The words “water” and “waves” don’t exactly convey the truth of a huge expanse of ice bath. And really, “here comes a little wave” greatly depends on your perspective ….because something that hits me squarely in the chest seems a bit like a typhoon.
  • When I say “bandaid,” I don’t mean that you should put one on my badly skinned knee…and I certainly don’t mean you should rip off more skin in removing it. I’m actually trying to tell you that my boo-boo really hurts. That is blood, after all.
  • “Night, night” and “nap time” are NOT two of my favorite words, even if they are yours.
  • You know those two right-footed over-sized plastic shoes I wore the whole trip out because you didn’t pay enough attention to me (kid number 5 – geesh!!) – you think they might have something to do with the wounds on my feet? Or are you just going to label me “Banged-up Seth” and add more bandaids?!?
  • It seems to me that the brothers are making some choices in flavors at Yums Yums Ice Cream and you’re going to give me a tiny bit of vanilla again? I mean, really, is it my fault that the chocolate stained the white shirt? Who put that shirt on me anyway?
  • So it took you four days to “realize” that you had a size 1 wetsuit in the swim bucket that actually fit me? Well, yeah, I look adorable – I’m also finally warm, thank you. Days and days of mind-numbing teeth chattering pain….and now I’m “adorable.”
  • Apparently I didn’t see the big hole that sent me flying into that rock and “owwie” actually means “I’m hurt.” Yes, this is blood on my hand. What….it’s two hours later and you’re going to act shocked that the middle part of my front tooth is missing?!? Really?!?
  • You may think he looks like a nice dentist but I don’t think I need any gloved fingers in my mouth. Okay, Sunshine Dentistry, the balloons are a nice touch.
  • Have you tried to eat a pretzel rod with half of your tooth missing?
  • When I say “gaglassh,” I am not referring to your glasses, nor my desire for a pair of sunglasses, nor a giraffe…or grass….or anything else you’re coming up with.  Why do you tall things think that you know everything?
  • At what point did I not make myself perfectly clear that I don’t want to have my picture taken on the beach this morning?
  • Well what do you think? If you tumbled down a staircase 10 times your size, do you think you might be a bit ouchy too? And you want me to tell you where it hurts?!?
  • Wait – you’re going to refer to me as “23 pounds of spunk”…. ”loud”…. ”stubborn”…. ”persistent”…. “independent” – gosh, look what I have to put up with – 4 rambunctious boys and you!  (see also the older brother’s view a couple years ago: http://middleofthemadness.org/2012/08/14/top-ten-disney/)
  • I don’t really find it funny when you smugly say “I only have to understand half of what he says since he’s two years old.”  Didn’t I hear somewhere that you haveExhausting parents a degree in development? I’d also like to know when that pediatrics degree is going to help me any – let’s look at the bandaid….tooth….stairway incidents, for example.  Who gave you those degrees anyway?
  • So, you think it’s cute to road trip with me wearing a shirt saying “My parents are exhausted.”  It’s more like “My parents are exhausting!”  So happy to be home – put me to bed, “peas.”

Handling transitions

Story Teller. The award for Story Teller went to Micah at his Kindergarten graduation ceremony. I was pretty sure (after seeing the first graders’ awards) that he would Story teller2win for “Energizer Bunny” – ie, the inability to sit still. He came in a close second for that one said his teacher. Despite my initial surprise, “story teller” does fit Micah. He’s told his class that he ran the marathon with me, that he has a pet tiger in a cage behind the house, and that he’s planning to go to Pluto in a rocket next year. It can be “good or bad” this story telling ability!

I wasn’t quite ready for Micah’s current transition, however. It sort of snuck up on me that he was finishing kindergarten. I keep realizing that I had “intended” to be a little more sentimental about it. Have great plans about the end of this year. Even now as I sit here, I think to myself “oh, I meant to have his teachers sign a book for him.” I meant to get more thoughtful gifts for them rather than a quick stop at the store right before graduation (though I did get Micah to sign their cards – bonus points!). I realized I never really got to know the parents of his classmates even though we often crossed paths in dropping off or picking up the kids (and should I have asked for contact info from them? – they seemed like nice people as we sat chatting before the graduation song began). I just wasn’t quite ready to close that chapter of his (probably particularly because I don’t know in which school his next chapter will open).

Just as I’m thinking about Micah’s transition, the director of the day care center called two days ago to ask about transitioning Seth (she forgot to say right off the bat, “this is xx from xx daycare and they boys are fine” so of course I spent 2 very long seconds after called ID ID’d her, wondering who fell and broke their arm and which emergency room they were going to). Seth is two now and they’re ready to move a group of toddlers over to the next room.  On the other end of the line (at work), I said “sure, I think he’s ready. He’s tiny but he has a huge personality.” She laughed and agreed. But now I realize he’s moving out of “babyhood” and into the “big boy” class….and even if he’s ready, am I?  (Well, I am ready to stop changing diapers, I am ready to understand more than 50% of his words and stop some of the melt-down tantrums, I am ready for him to understand the word “no” in all the many nuances of the word…though I acknowledge that it’s likely he never will….)

The one transition she also mentioned is the one I’m really not ready for — Noah moving over to the “pre-k” room. Yes, I’m ready for him to finish day care and go to kindergarten to save me some moolah….but, I absolutely love his preschool classroom teachers and I’m not sure I’m ready to change that relationship yet. His teacher helped me so much when I was struggling with Micah’s behavior a few years ago. She has a great relationship with Noah now and every morning he wants to take in something to show her. And she won “teacher of the year” award last year (beats “Story Teller” I’m pretty sure). But more than all that, she understands my insanity. She lets me stand and chat for a few minutes in daycare drop-off and makes me feel like she cares. And she knows that on the occasional morning when I carry Noah in under one arm and his shoes in the other hand that she doesn’t even need to ask – just take the kid and the shoes and say “have a good day, Lynne.”  We’ve got it down.

So I’m not really ready for all this change. I say things like “I can’t wait until they’re older” and yet I don’t really want to experience the changes that go with aging. It’s a bit unsettling, especially as each kid is transitioning at the same time. Instead of dealing with it head-on like any good problem solver – I run – to the beach!