Monday, August 19

A Tale of Parenting Gone Wrong

This one has been in my head for a while now.
And so, while the boy is at grandma's and the girl recovers from a bout of who-knows-what and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine, I can do this.
Let's start at the end, which went something like this:
(crying crying crying)
"Why don't you ever listen to me??!! I'm trying to help you!"
"You are so stubborn! Why are you so stubborn??!!"
"I will never buy you new shoes again! These are going back to the store! I will give these to a child who knows how to appreciate gifts!"
(crying crying crying)
An hour later, life the morning has been tainted by tears, yelling, threats, things getting thrown about, and one very unhappy boy and two utterly frustrated flustered guilt-ridden parents were left wondering where it all went wrong.
All this because of a new pair of shoes. I bought them for the boy as one of a gaggle of birthday presents to mark five years.
I was in love with the shoes. I was excited to buy them and I was excited to give them. They were uncharacteristically cheap which only heightened my enthusiasm and filled me with a sense of pride.
Alon has inherited my love of shoes. He gets equally excited at the prospect of new ones and gets a real kick out of showing them off.
At his old kindergarten, parents, friends, teachers, and passersby were treated to a "Look, I have new shoes!" long after the shoes could be considered "new" (see glue, paint, food particles and other such decorations).
But, folks, we know this isn't about the shoes.
This is a tale about how we, the parents, get lost sometimes on the parenting road, forget that there are tiny humans traveling with us, and in doing so we spew ourselves and our co-travelers with the wrath of bad parenting.
It happens.
Mistake Number One: The Timing.
I can't remember now if the shoes were presented on the evening before or the morning of this all took place. Either way, I should have foreseen the desire to wear them to summer camp. I should have known the request would be made, adamantly.
And so, it was at this juncture that I took my first wrong turn, whereby my own excitement for the new pair of shoes overshadowed my better judgement. For had I looked over at my fellow little traveler and taken the time to consider the inevitable consequences of giving the shoes at that precise moment, I would have been blinded by the flashing red lights surrounding the impending mistake. Also, as Alon has inherited both his parents' non-existent ability to delay gratification, well, again, I should have known.

But, as it went, the boy woke up, dressed, and asked to wear his new shoes to summer camp. Horrified at the prospect (see glue, paint, food particles, and other such decorations) I tried to explain that it would be a shame if the new shoes were to get dirty, as summer camp is known to dirty up children, and that we should hold on to them and perhaps he can wear them to his upcoming birthday celebration.
"No! I want to wear them today. I want to show my teacher my new shoes. They won't get dirty, I promise, Mom."
Mistake Number Two: Ignoring the Universe When It Screams "Surrender, Surrender!".
I tried to reason. I tried to explain. I tried to appease. I tried to coerce, gently, then not so gently. I tried the empty threats that all parents try knowing full well that the words coming out of their mouths will never, ever, be backed up by an analogous action.

The dad tried too.
It didn't work.
Mistake Number Three: Letting It All Go to Hell
Ok. So we didn't surrender when we should have.
By this point, the understanding that, in actuality, these were now his shoes and he could choose to do with them whatever he pleased (within reason, of course - we do have, er, boundaries in this house) was there.
But herein lies one of the most difficult struggles I find myself facing in child rearing: consistency in exercising parental authority vs. recognizing and respecting your kid's voice and independence. In other words, where does the line get drawn, how often can you erase it and at what cost?
We're told to be clear. To be coherent and simple and straightforward in our speech. Don't send mixed messages. Be consistent.
However, if you're engaged in a discourse, which at its outset your own stance is perfectly clear to you and you are completely sure of its truth, but somewhere along the line you begin to waver, and your child's stance becomes no less true than your own, what then?
Do you retreat and put your parental authority (ha!) at risk? Do you continue to assert your position in the name of consistency? Or do you let go of your own desire as to the outcome of the discourse and admit that your kid has a right to assert his position as well, and that part of your parental duty is respecting said position?
Alas, wrong turn again. Though in my heart I knew by then that I was fighting a losing battle, and for what, really, I did not retreat. Upset, frustrated, confused, I let it all go to hell. We let it all go to hell.
Which brings us to
Mistake Number Four: (Failing to) Choose Your Battles.
Five years in, I have to remind myself of this one daily. Daily, people.
Don't parent without it.
You see, these kids make messes out of us. We hold on when we should let go. We let go when we should be desperately holding on. We confuse our wants with their needs. We forget they're not babies anymore while expecting them to act their age already. We don't always listen and we often talk way way way too much. Sometimes our very best really sucks.
As with all our parenting debacles, my guilt is eventually assuaged by the hope that recognizing our mistakes will help us to tread wiser next time.
Time will tell.

Thursday, June 6

On How We Love Our Children

My friend used to be an au pair for a family with three children, and one day the mother of those children told her the following:
"The biggest lie in parenting is that we love our children equally."
Well, then.

At the time, I myself was not a mother yet, but that sentence stayed with me and as I turned it over and over in my head I examined it in relation to the experience of my own mom and siblings, my maternal grandmother and her daughters, and various other moms in my life whom I was close to.

It seemed wrong somehow, the sentiment, even crude and somewhat frightening to think about, let alone to speak out loud.
Yet something about that saying resonated with me, and years later I came to understand that while I don't agree with its basic tenet, I do understand its origins.
And perhaps, though I can't be sure of course, what that mother was actually trying to say is:

We love our children differently.
Because we do.
Our children are born and we don't know. We don't know what kind of babies they will be. We don't know if they'll like milk chocolate like us, or dark chocolate like their dads. We don't know if they'll be good sleepers, or excel at math, or be crafty with their hands. We don't know if they'll be the five year-old with bruises all up and down their legs from climbing and stumbling and falling and running, and we don't know if entering the first grade will be a cinch for them.

We certainly don't know what kind of adults they will turn into. Will they show empathy? Be ambitious? Make the dean's list? Travel the world? Be kind and gentle and forgiving? Will their stubbornness of childhood linger or will they soften and bend?
My kids are young. The oldest is just about to turn five, the youngest is just about four months.
I know plenty about Alon, after five years together, less about Anna, who, as a baby, demands a steep learning curve.
I'm at the beginning. But already, even with Anna being so young, I know that my love for them is different.
Alon is a boy, Anna is a girl. Objectively, right from the get go, this makes things different. We don't love our boys the same way we love our girls and I don't care how many nature/nurture studies you quote (I've read them too) it is what it is. We just can't help it (and I don't think we should).

Alon is rambunctious, hard-headed, so so curious, and currently has the attention span of a fruit-fly. His limbs flail through space while his mind wanders around there too and so copious amounts of scratches, bruises, one lost tooth, and this morning's huge black and blue bump that just barely missed his eye, are procured. Because we had a baby and brought her home, he's a little angry right now and is doing his best at displaying said anger mostly through deafening screams and cries.
And because we had a baby and brought her home, I love him even more.
So, what makes our love different?
I believe the difference lies in our approach, in our understanding of the individuality of each of our children, and in our acceptance of personality traits that we might otherwise prefer to expunge.
Being that our children our different - different from us , different from each other, different from what we "wish" or "hope" them to be - we parent them differently and in doing so we love them differently.

Each child challenges us to learn the language that speaks to them. Alon can be pacified with a certain tone, a specific look, a few definite words that are timed correctly.
Anna is appeased by a delicate touch to the face, a hush whispered gently in her ear.
Nadav responds to a well thought-out argument and only on a full stomach. Never, ever, approach on an empty gut. Ever. After all, the language we speak with our partners is a life-long lesson, no less important, and oftentimes just as challenging. But that's for another time.

When I think about the years to come with my children, I often find my thoughts drifting to the language that we will share. Will we talk about music and clothes and cakes and friends? Will they be able to find comfort in their mom's advice, will they seek it out? Will I know how to dispense it, at what time, and will I find the words that will resonate just right with each child? Because when I think about the kind of mom I aspire to be, the kind of love that I wish for my children to know, it's in this place that I pause. So much of our day to day dialogue is haphazard and cursory and by-the-way. We're exhausted, busy, and just want to get through, get it done already. But there are moments where the words are everything. A "You're a fantastic kid" just before the meltdown can mean the difference between an evening of pulling hairs and one of smooth sailing. An invitation to bake accompanied by "I need my helper to do this" can set the tone for an entire weekend. And when you're able to take a deep breath and speak the request calmly instead of blowing up, well hell, that's a gold medal-deserving kind of moment.
And yet, the same words said in the same manner can have such different effects and yield as wide a variety of results as there are children in the world. Herein lies one one of the biggest lessons in how we love our children. When we learn to tailor our words, their intentions, and their desired consequences, to each of our children, I believe that we learn how to love in the way that they need to be loved.

And that's why we love them differently. Because they demand it of us. And when we are able to rise to the challenge, it's one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

Thursday, May 23

One Man's Troubles...

My dear older brother came home today. He currently resides in the U.S. where he received his Ph.D. in Mathematics a couple years ago. Craziness. Go him! So glad to have him home.
It came to be that he had twelve hours to kill at the airport before his flight took off from Dulles.
He described this as somewhat of a nuisance.
I describe this as a dream.
Twelve hours, that's half a whole day, to kick around doing jack shit.
Twelve hours to wander aimlessly through a terminal, eat a burger, buy a magazine and then have time to read said magazine. Or four.
Twelve hours to nap, wake up, get a coffee, nap again.
Twelve hours during which no one is looking for you, cause everyone knows you're in that no-man's land called an airport.
By your.self.
Which brings us to the most sought-after, highly unattainable commodity in the kingdom of motherhood.

Time to Yourself.

Granted, I am currently nursing an almost three month old babe, so I'm on the extreme end of this short time-no-time spectrum, but still.
I have not been by myself for more than three hours in the last three months. Three hours people. And you know what I was doing those three hours? I was at the doctor's, doing my best to keep my boobs from exploding.
Is this a complaint?
Not quite. It's a fact of life in the kingdom of motherhood.
Time to yourself, if you're lucky enough to snatch some, is strictly limited.
It starts somewhere between 7 and 8 in the morning, and ends somewhere around 2 to 5 in the afternoon. Non-negotiable. 5 to 6 days a week.
If you're not running errands/folding laundry/sick/washing dishes/all of the above, you might be able to squeeze in a coffee, maybe even one with caffeine, and if you're really lucky, you might even be able to drink this coffee in a coffee shop, while sitting down. With a friend? Hah! Chances are your friend is working/running errands/at home with a sick kid/folding laundry/all of the above.
Potential opportunities for Time to Yourself include:
The shower (at midnight when you can barely make out the shampoo from the toothpaste).
The car (while speeding to make it to daycare on time).
The supermarket (if you've juggled it just so that you don't have an antsy overly tired kid haggling you in the cart).
Make it count.
As it is, if your kingdom of motherhood is inhabited by tiny humans, chances are you're out of luck.
Time to Yourself, see you again somewhere around year 60 to 70.

Tuesday, May 21

The Middle

The gardener is working outside. It's very loud. Anna is sleeping peacefully. Alon is at kindergarten. Nadav just left to go meet a client. I should probably be doing something else.
But I can't.
Or won't.
Either way, this is what it's come to.
Anna was born just under three months ago. She's the second. She came quickly and painfully, naturally. Loudly. Well, that was me. I was ready for her. She's a gorgeous one. Calm. Smiley. Interested. But she screams like a slaughtered animal in the car. There you have it.
Alon's fifth birthday will be at the beginning of August. A summer child. Free spirit. Stubborn. Has known exactly what he wants from the very first moment, and you just try telling him different. Passionate. He had a hard time of it for a while there, now he's making up for it with energy reserves that threaten to defeat me. Has been known to go to sleep with an orange picked from grandpa Y.'s tree. I am hoping that year five meets us with a bit more calm and readiness to sit still. 
We celebrated ten years (we think) together this last March. An entire decade. He was 32. I was 22. Back then. He's really handsome. And argumentative. And sharp and super creative. The youngest of four boys. The son of a doctor. And a working mom who dreamed of becoming a doctor but whose parents refused to let it be. Ours are the tenth and eleventh grandchildren, respectively. He builds things. Really beautiful, crafted, eloquent things.
I have to write two seminars in order to fulfill the requirements of my psych degree. Just a plain old bachelor's. I'm having a hard time. I don't like writing about things I have no interest in. I have trouble with long-terms goals. I struggle with commitment and laziness and internal motivation. And then the baby wakes up. And then dishes have to be washed and dinner made and kids need baths and bedtime stories and oh, how is it 11 pm already and I'm so exhausted I'm just gonna pass out without brushing my teeth.
I have opinions about things. I speak most of them quietly to myself in my head. I've decided perhaps it's time to stop that.