I guess kids should surprise you.  I mean, why wouldn’t they?  They are their own little independent selves, interacting with a world from the perspective of adult knees and trying to make sense out of the chaos of noise, lights, movement and touch that surrounds them constantly.

They are naturally built to focus in on certain things.  They know to look at the human face to read emotion. They know to pay attention when enumeration begins, but that it’s possible to ignore for quite some time the word that’s supposed to signify their identity (ie, the eldest responds to “One….” much faster than he answers to “Micah….”).  They know that if they crawl into bed at 2 am and say they’re “scared,” the warm body there will accept them and drape an arm over them in protection. They know that the relationship between a mother and her child is vital to the child’s survival and they will attempt to repair it whenever needed.

But they also seem to know that it’s pretty unconditional – and that relationship can be pushed pretty far and stretched out and pulled and yanked… and yet the coil will still spring back. So my kids love to check the pull of this coil.  They love to see how loudly they can screech as they chase each other around the loop of the house.  They love to test how much water is too much water out of the bathtub as they splash gleefully. They like to explore the effects of cheerios flying through the air and scattering upon the carpet and then eating them up “like doggies.” They like to measure how frequently the word “no” can be said before it is followed by a long tirade of how and why “no means no,” or a distinct rise in the ending tone of the word, or a movement of a large parent towards them to block their original goal.

It still surprises me, though, when Micah has one of his really big blow-outs. Like this afternoon, when we decided to get into the car and go someplace fun, but he gets upset and starts the fight with removing his seatbelt as we’re driving 50 mph. This calls for an immediate pull off the road and a discussion on safety….and yet it’s followed by repeated hitting of his brother, taking off the seatbelt and throwing things in the car.  Each time, I pull over and remove him from the car.  I breathe deeply.  I count to 10. I try to remember all those tips from numerous parenting books (none of which has mentioned specifically how to handle a size 2 boy shoe thrown at the back of one’s head while driving…hmmm….). We work ourselves up to 4 hours of time-out upstairs by the time we’ve spent 40 minutes in and out of the car… going nowhere. I feel bad for the other two in the car. And when Micah and I finally talk about it later and I ask “why,” he says, “my brain tells me to be bad.”  Okay – what do I say to that?

Gosh, I’m glad he doesn’t surprise me too often with this. But it does stop me in my tracks. I start to wonder what’s going on…and if I’m supposed to be doing something else with him. Am I working too hard and ignoring my kids? Should we go back to therapy? Does this kid need something else? What sparked all that? Is this something I’m triggering or continuing? Is he starting to react to the stress of the craziness that is hitting our lives recently?tracks in the tub

I prefer the surprise of being called to “look what we did!” and finding car tracks encircling the bathtub. And sharing the joy of creating something new out of connecting toys. And smiling at the surprise of making a tunnel under a pile of snow. And giggling together over a video of funny cat tricks. I so often hear the phrase “oh, the joys of parenting” and there are many joys for sure, but the sarcastic tone that sometimes accompanies that phrase is also very true some times. There are some “joys” that are hard to handle. But the coil always snaps back into place….

It is a very tight coil built of the strongest material ever – love.

(8:00 pm addendum: Now I’m wondering if today’s blow-up was a harbinger of illness. Micah fell asleep on the couch at 6 after complaining of “being cold” which he never is and a headache. Sigh. Gotta love these viral-infested little guys!)

Never…and No, I won’t

“Well, acknowledging your ‘issues’ is 3/4ths of the way there,” a good friend recently said over a very nice margarita and nachos supreme.  And I kind of wanted to ask – if I’m at 75%, is that good enough or do I have to actually try to go for 100%….ie, do I have to work on improving myself?

I was explaining to my friend the difficulties that I sometimes have with Micah as he continually tries to test the limits I set.  I joked that I had just picked up another book, this one called “Try and Make Me,” and it described us perfectly in the first 5 pages.  It also suggested rather firmly that the fault of all power struggles lies solely in me, the adult.  Yes….I roll my eyes, I know.

So, I am starting to feel a little confident that I have found a book that understands my problem, and on Thursday as we are all getting ready for school/work/day care, Micah is throwing a ball at the chandelier (right after being reprimanded and having the first ball removed from his hands).  I turn to my sister and say “he’s baiting me.  Yep, that’s what the book says – he’s baiting me.”  “So,” she replies, “what does it say to do about it?”  I shake my head, “no clue, haven’t gotten there yet, but he’s baiting me!”

Then this morning, the woman working at the community center where Micah plays basketball offers that her life was completely changed around by the “1-2-3 Magic” system by Thomas Phalen.  Good, I think, another book for me to read….

A few months ago, I joked with a co-worker that the only “literature” I read now is parenting books.  He surprised me when he said, “you know, I really admire that.  I mean, if I want to become an expert at something, I read about it.  I would imagine that if you want to become good at parenting, it’s good to read about it.”  I actually had never thought about that.  Somehow I expected parenting to be as easy and natural as babysitting – feed them, rock them, play with them, viola! – return them to the parents!

But no….not that easy.  Now I feed and rock and play and worry about whether their school/day care is right for them?  Whether Seth’s hair will grow back quickly as he has no bangs after that haircut yesterday?  Whether they will grow up to be independent, ethical, hard-working young men?  Whether they will stay as beautiful (ahem, handsome) as they are now.  So, now I read books:

Wild Things, the Art of Raising Boys – loved it

Love and Logic – couldn’t really get into it

The Explosive Child – described Micah and our difficulty perfectly, but the solution – not so helpful

The Help – great book

The Irresistible Henry House – thought I’d love it, never finished it

Goodnight Moon – a classic

The Very Cranky Bear – my favorite

Here’s what it boils down to.  My issues.  There are two parts of my personality that I struggle with – my need for control and the desire to be right.  Those two qualities are deep-seated and highly ingrained features of me.  And I’ve come far because of them (elementary education degree, developmental psychology doctorate, pediatrician – driven by my ability to control my learning and my need to be right).  However, these two qualities are at the root of much of my parenting difficulties.

Guess what?  You can’t actually control a child – they are their own unique human beings with their own will (and, not surprisingly, their own desire for control!).  My job is to help shape that will, but I can’t control it.  And when it comes to parenting, I am not nearly as right as I sure would like to be and that frustrates me.  So when Micah and I are escalating into one of our classic power struggles, it is actually me grappling with my own self and nature and refusing to give in or be perceived as being “wrong.”  Heavy stuff.

So….this is where I am right now – at 75% – and halfway through one book with two more in my Amazon cart….and I am open to suggestions.

————————- A  brief update to last week’s post ———————–

I called the caseworker supervisor on Monday to say that the visit almost never took place as the mother’s name was not on the list again.  He said, “Well, that’s her responsibility to make sure she’s on the list.”  I replied, “She didn’t even know a visit was happening that day.”  To this, he became quite agitated – saying that the mother’s lawyer had thrown a dramatic fit at the court hearing a week prior that CYF was ignoring the mother’s rights and treating her poorly and that the mother was so upset about not having a visit.  And now we’re all wondering how much of this craziness is being driven by the lawyer….rather than the mother….and is the lawyer even talking to the birthmother.  Who needs fiction?  Life is crazy enough!  So birthmother will be released in about two weeks and we’ll see what happens next.

Don’t forget to laugh!

As you might be able to tell by now, I like to think about parenting.  And one of my recent thoughts is how to inspire other parents who might be going through similar things.  It helps to know someone out there has also completely lost it over the kid splashing water outside of the bathtub.  I mean, what’s the big deal really?  It’s a bathroom.  Everything about a bathroom screams “get me wet, I can handle it!”  And yet, when my boys sit in the tub thrashing about or squirting streams of water droplets into the air, I have some mini-volcanic eruption about water hitting the water-proof tile floor (though I save my level 8.5 Richter Scale explosions for when they slide down the back of the tub sending a Tsunami reverberating back and over the edge…again….onto a water-proof floor!). My head shakes wondering why this “mess” is so offensive to me.

Today I was contemplating this in light of what a friend recently posted as her favorite “rules” of parenting (thanks AskDoctorG): “1. Love, 2. Limit, and 3. Let them be.”

1.  I sure do love my boys….though sometimes I show a little “less” love in the midst of discussing whether or not Micah will get dressed for daycare this morning (of course you will).  And sometimes I have to remind myself that part of how I show them love is in the small touches, so I tousle their hair (which is universally disliked by kids) and I pat their legs (which is typically greeted with an “ouch”), and give them “lovings” as Micah has coined it.  But sometimes I realize the true depth of my love when someone challenges my kid, like the woman who honked at Micah as he tried to steer his bike off a path at the playground this weekend – and the fiery dragon of protectiveness unleashed itself within me and roared at the open window about honking at a kid and being patient with a kid, and ….and….and….heart thumping emotional energy of love encircled my child as a shield. This reaction is not always rational, but it sure is powerful love.

2. Limits – ah, the splashing in the tub.  I do have very clear limits on “hurting another,” but I don’t know why I decide to “limit” other behaviors. Of course, it’s not always the “bad” things that I limit – sometimes it’s the good as well.  Sometimes it’s telling Micah that he’s had enough screen time.  Sometimes it’s saying no to a third or fourth “treat” even though you want to give in and make them happy (meanwhile, I fly past all normal limits of portion size for ice cream…on a routine basis).  And sometimes, as a friend and I discussed today, it’s even limiting the activities we do with our kids.  Just because they are old enough to do something (zipline, white-water rafting, waterpark slides) does not mean that we need to expose them to everything at once.  It is okay to have a completely unscheduled weekend….at least I think so…and we’ll have to try it some time.

3. And I definitely let the boys “be” if they’re being quiet…unless they are being too quiet…and every parent knows when that threshold is crossed!

But I decided today that I would add a 4th “rule” and that is: Laugh!  A statistic flashed by me recently that said a child laughs 400 times a day and an adult only 15.  This is sad indeed.  Clearly something has gone wrong – I need to laugh more.  And I need to remember to laugh more at the boys and with the boys.  So, when my sister decided to let 2-year-old Stephen run around naked for a few minutes after a bath yesterday to dry out his swimsuit-chaffed legs and said “it’s no problem as long as he doesn’t have to go potty,” guess what word Stephen heard in that sentence?  And guess who sprung out of range when he commenced to spraying the carpet.  Naturally, one day it will be a good idea to limit the location of his urination, but yesterday it was a good idea just to laugh.