“It’s not what it looks like!”: One parent’s lament

Neve, playing happily on dry land

Neve, playing happily on dry land

There are so many things about parenting that, from the outside, look entirely different from the inside.

Subtle things. Like, one day, I’d herded both girls (because the little one wanted to tag along, of course) into a restaurant’s single restroom, and when, after everyone had washed their hands, Lily pulled multiple paper towels from the dispenser – after I told her she only needed one – I got surly and sharp with her.

“That’s a waste! We need to create as little waste as possible! It’s terrible for the environment! And I asked you to take one! You took FIVE! You don’t need five!”

In this moment, even as I’m saying the words, I hear them through the perspective of a 5 year old (or my calmly blinking spouse, to whom I repeat my grievance moments later), and they sound like the ravings of a crazy person. What is she talking about? Why is Mommy losing her s*** over paper towels?

A pretty reasonable question, really. And I don’t honestly know the answer. I wasn’t more sleep-deprived than usual. I’d had a decent day up until then. But out of nowhere, this ugly anger just poured out of me, and I snapped. What the what? Continue reading

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The curative power of little girls, ducks, and evening walks

DEARTH OF DUCKSI love working in a newsroom. I really do. The people who work there are generally quick-witted, articulate and intellectually curious, and when news big and small (and sometimes absurd) comes over the transom, the place pulses with a vibrant electricity. It’s a fun place to be.

But on days of national heartbreak – which have become too common lately, with the Newtown shootings in December, and the Boston Marathon explosions on Monday – it becomes a place where these same great people must work to do something productive with the harrowing news that we’re all receiving simultaneously. And while there’s something inspiring and impressive about this act, the consequence is that there’s no escaping the story, on our screens or in our minds, since we’re all constantly tuned in for updates and information.

So days like Monday are hard. You feel angry and frustrated, because even though the statistics still stand wildly in favor of your family’s safety, you can’t rid your mind of that infinitesimal possibility of sudden destruction and loss. (You reflexively want to gather your family in your basement and only occasionally come out for food.) Such thoughts consumed me when walking my little daughters to preschool three days after Newtown. And now I’ll feel this during my next run through our neighborhood, and my next 10K race.

Right now, people are pledging to run to honor today’s victims, wearing old race T-shirts, changing their profile pictures on Facebook, and giving (online) voice to a collective sense of sadness and fear – all of which reflects a populace struggling mightily to find a way to respond in a positive way to the violence.

And while the cynical part of me thinks these symbolic gestures will do nothing to prevent these tragedies from happening again, I have to remind myself that there’s really nothing substantive any of us can do – writing my Congressman with a request to “get Americans off the crazy-train of violence” doesn’t seem particularly useful or effective, either – and that these small acts aren’t necessarily about solving the problem, but about grieving the loss, honoring the victims and survivors, and reflecting on the value of life. And most of us would rather do something than nothing – so we run, we pull on a shirt, we update our status, we virtually rend garments.

Still, as the clock inched toward five o’clock on Monday, I locked up the house, as I do every day, and I walked down the sidewalk toward the girls’ preschool.

Once I got there, things were chaotic, as usual – Neve was crying and desperately pulling me toward the door that leads to the playground, while Lily was throwing every item from her cubby onto the ground and obsessing over some “bracelet” she said her teacher was supposed to put there – but as unpleasant as this push-and-pull phase of multi-child parenting can be, the girls’ micro-drama nonetheless forced me to focus solely on them, solve (or at least distract them from) their problems, and exist only in the exact time and place I was occupying.

That’s something you hear a lot about if you practice yoga – being present and all that – but there really is something to it. In yoga, it’s because if you’re not focused on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re approaching it, it won’t happen. You have to focus on various parts of your body and the teacher’s voice. And that’s one of the main things I’ve always loved about the practice: it gets me out of my neurotic little head for an hour here, an hour there, and then everything else that worries me doesn’t seem quite as tragic or awful. Continue reading

Struggles with my four year old rage-aholic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate last week, I’d had a good day at work, and was generally in a good mood, when I walked to Lily and Neve’s preschool/daycare and entered the building. Within seconds, though, one of the caregivers approached me in the hall and said, with a grimace, “Uh, some really bad news.”

Because she normally works in Neve’s room, my first thought was that Neve had fallen ill; but then she added, “Lily got upset a few minutes ago and hit one of the kids, and then hit a teacher who tried to stop her, and then she hit Miss Jenny,” Lily’s most beloved teacher. “Now she’s screaming and crying and will not calm down.” (Turns out she’d been assigned a group and a room that was not to her liking.)

I felt myself physically and emotionally wilt. Lily has had these awful bouts with anger plenty of times before, and she knows better than to hit me or Joe. But she’d never before hit teachers, that I knew of. So in that moment, I knew things were getting worse, not better.

Having dealt with these meltdowns before, I knew I’d be trying to calm her down for a good while, so I decided to leave Neve in her classroom while I tried to deal with Lily. (Which made me feel guilty on top of despairing, since Neve had been there all day and would spend even less time with me because I was dealing with my flailing, screaming, out-of-control older daughter.)

I entered the empty classroom where Lily sat red-eyed, red-faced, howling, and wailing on the floor next to her teacher, who was kindly trying to distract Lily by talking about something else entirely.

I sat down on a nearby chair, cupped my face in my hands for a moment, gathering my strength, and plowed into the conversation, knowing perfectly well that none of it would get Lily to a state of calm any sooner. Once she’s “left the building,” as Joe and I call it, she’s out for a good while. Continue reading

Mommy’s got something to prove – to whom?

When Lily was a newborn, one of the only things that consistently soothed her was being toted around in a sling – so we walked around town with our “baby in a bag” quite a bit.

On one occasion, a neighbor, after peeking inside the sling to see our then-sleeping new addition, admonished me and Joe to “cherish this time,” because we’d never get it back, and it would all go so fast.

We nodded gravely, but Joe and I exchanged subtle glances that conveyed that we were both mentally circling a pointed finger aside our heads in a “cuckoo” gesture. Was this guy meshugge? Having your sleep constantly and randomly interrupted; being screamed at for long stretches, and feeling absolutely helpless to soothe your child; being shat and spit up upon regularly; and not being able to eat a meal together in peace (let alone eat a meal, or take a shower, when flying solo with the baby) – this was the apex of parenthood? Seriously?

Joe and I shook our heads while walking back to our house, agreeing that, from what we could tell so far, the baby phase was something to be endured rather than “cherished.”

Now, of course, our family lineup has changed, and we have a boundary-pushing 3 year old as well as a newborn in the house. And this long-past, casual conversation with a neighbor has come to have far more resonance for me.

This is partly due, surely, to the fact that Neve is a low-key, sleepy, easily comforted baby, and I’ve enjoyed the baby phase much more the second time around (when the anxiety is generally lower, anyway). But I think the primary reason I’m recalling this exchange lately is because I’m realizing that handling a newborn, despite its challenges, is relatively simple when compared to the self-doubt/guilt/misery spiral involved in disciplining your average, volatile 3 year old, who’s prone to operatic, irrational tirades. Continue reading