Monday, November 29, 2010

The Igloo and the Cakey Sidewalk

            “What do you want to build first?” I asked Celia, pointing to the eight inches of snow lying outside in our front yard. “A snowman. A snow fort. Or an igloo.”
            “An igloo!” Celia called out happily.
            “Okay! An igloo it is!” I ran into the garage to grab a couple of small coolers to use as our bricks, and we began to pack them and lay a foundation.
            Celia instantly gave up packing and happily sat on the bricks as I slowly laid them out into a ring. She cheerfully ate snow and said things like, “I got sick when I drank the pool water.”
            “Yes, that’s true. When we went to the hot springs last week you drank the water and had a belly ache, didn’t you?”
            “Yeah. And I had the pink medicine,” Celia said, nodding her head.
            “That’s right. We gave you the pink medicine called Pepto Bismol for your stomach ache. Hopefully, next time we go to the hot springs you won’t drink the water.”
            “Yeah,” Celia said in agreement. She ate another piece of snow and watched me struggle to pack the cooler with snow that wasn’t quite moist enough for easy brick creation.
            “Boys and girls live in their igloos,” Celia said to me.
            “Yes they do,” I responded with a grunt as I nestled another brick into the wall. “The whole family lives in their igloo. Even the tiny little babies, when they’re brand new and smaller than your brother Joshua. They live in the igloos too.”
            “Oh,” Celia said with a profound-sounding sense of understanding.
            I love it when she says that. Sometimes, I know there’s no possible way she could understand what was just said, but it makes her sound like she’s a brilliant little two-year-old with an insightful grasp of everything.
            I smiled and kept laying bricks. Celia happily kicked her legs as she sat, then played a version of peek-a-boo with the cat around the walls before sitting down again.
            “I’m cold,” Celia said after awhile.
            “Go see Mommy and have a hot chocolate,” I told her.
            Celia went inside as I finished the second layer of bricks. My arms and back were getting sore and sweat was running down my forehead. I stared at my handiwork and shook my head. That was a lot of work for such a small igloo, and only half-created! I gained new respect for the Inuit people, and finished laying two more bricks before going inside for an Alpine (hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps).
            Michelle handed me my warm drink as I finished unlayering, and said to me, “You didn’t shovel the walk.”
            “Oh,” I said, looking outside. Somehow, I’d forgotten, with all that igloo creating. I kicked off my boots, sat down and took a sip of the Alpine. And of course, forgot about shoveling until this morning, when everything had frozen and stuck making the job significantly more difficult.
            As I chipped away at the caked ice and snow this morning for a job that took forty minutes rather than the ten it would have taken if I’d have done it with Celia the night before, as I often do, I reflected on what I could have done differently. I suppose I could have shoveled after making the igloo, tired as I was. Or perhaps I could have done it before making the igloo – although that would have cut the igloo creating time much shorter.
            No, I needed to protect making that igloo. The experience was priceless. I know it’s a pretty lame excuse for an igloo, but these are the kinds of experiences parenting is all about. Mothers have their own versions of bonding with kids, and I respect that. For dads, doing activities together is where it’s at.
            Pick an activity, whether it’s building a fort from couch cushions, hiking, playing tag, or constructing a rickety igloo, and go for it. It gives a memorable experience together, and it creates a bond of love that goes deeper than words. It’s a physical way of saying, “I not only provide for you and care about you, I like to have fun with you too.” In other words, “I don’t just love you, I like you. A lot.”  
            That kind of time with kids is priceless. And it’s so natural for fathers to do stuff, we may as well work with our natural inclinations.
            I suppose I could have gone out after putting the kids to bed to finish shoveling. If I’d have thought of it, that would have been the best choice. But the kitchen’s massive pile-up of dirty dishes and pans caught my eye, and I found myself washing and cleaning for an hour before collapsing exhausted onto the couch to watch a movie with Michelle.
            So, I cut into my morning with tired arms and hacked away at the caked-up sidewalk. All of life is about making tiny decisions like this. The amazing thing is, no matter how tiny they are, these decisions add up quickly. Time passes, and we’ve chosen which path we took.
            I hope I can always choose the path that shows my family I love them. No matter how stressed or tired, I want that to be my number one message. When I look back at this last week, I think I succeeded at that, but I also failed too. It’s good to look back, see where I could have picked things up a notch, and change. We can choose in this life to grow into better people, or stagnate in bad habits and stale behaviors. I, for one, would like to grow. No matter how much my arms ache this morning, our lives are just a little bit better for it. For that, I am glad.
            Now, I just have to finish building that igloo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Burdens and Baskets

            I don’t know why, but the last few weeks I’ve felt a huge load of stress weighing me down. The responsibility of providing for my wife and two kids feels like a sack of bricks that I’m lugging around with me and, frankly, it’s scaring me.
            I’d like to think I have more faith – that I could be at peace when my mind starts going in these directions.
            You’d think I would be more confident based on my life’s history. I’ve always had a roof over my head, delicious and nutritious food on my plate, and an abundance of loving people around me. Maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through, trying to figure out life. Maybe I need to rethink my plans.
            I was asking myself all sorts of difficult questions as I was sitting on the couch, and feeling the edge come out when I replied to my wife, when Celia called out, “Daddy!” from the other room.
            I turned my head to see her parading around with a laundry basket on her head.
            My mood instantly perked up and I laughed as I watched her. She mirrored my smile with a big smile of her own. The smile said, “I’m smiling because I’m making you happy.”
            The laundry basket was funny, but her smile is what cheered me up.
            It doesn’t change all my questions. I don’t know how we’ll make it. And it’s good to be realistic as well as careful. But it reminds me that I need to be grounded in the present with my kids, and not get wrapped up in these kinds of worries when I’m with them.
            I hope that, no matter what burdens I face in this life, and no matter what our financial situation will be down the road, I can always experience joy, light and love with my family. It’s hard to keep the edginess from seeping out around the edges, even with the kids, but this is my goal. I don’t want them to experience adult stresses. Not yet. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Discipline, Punishment and the Terrible Two's

            People seem to have a big fear about the “terrible two’s”. I’m not exactly sure what the kerfuffle is all about, but it seems to be something along the lines of – your kids start expressing their individuality, and it’s executed with a lot of hyper-activity.
            I’m not sure if I’m just an overly optimistic sort of guy here, but I don’t see what’s wrong with that! It sounds like a wonderful challenge! I hear the same kinds of fears about the teenage years.
            “Beware!” these experienced parents tell me with an ominous sort of look in their eyes. I’m not sure if it’s because teens are finding individualism at the same time as a wild edge of adventure, and if they’ve had overly-restrictive authority figures it comes through as rebellion. Could be. But for me, having been a youth worker for many years in the past and having some absolutely fantastic times with teens, I’m actually looking forward to the teenage years quite a lot.
            Just as I’m looking forward to the two’s.
            I definitely see the spark of rebellion in Celia, but most of the time it’s just a cry for attention. When she does something she knows is wrong, the first thing I think about is whether she has any needs that aren’t being met.
            Usually, it comes at a time when both Michelle and I are quite busy with something else. In these moments, I see the acting out as a plea for attention. Rather than punishing her for these kinds of things, we have chosen to distract her. One time I heard her around the corner go from clattering and singing to utter silence.
            Pure silence from a two-year-old can be quite lovely when they’ve found some toy that fascinates them. I enjoy watching Celia quietly figure out shapes and toys in her own little world. But dead silence is also a warning bell – it could be that mischief is about to occur.
            Just in case, I popped my head around the corner to see what she was up to. There she was, pulling the hallway plant right out of its pot.
            “Aah! Celia! What are you doing!?” I raced over and grabbed the plant out of her hand. Celia had a mixed look of “guilty but curious” on her face.
            “You’ll kill the plant if you do that! We’ve got to make sure the roots stay in the soil, or it’ll die. That’s where it gets its food.” I pointed at the roots dangling in the open air. Celia watched them with pursed lips.
            “Now help me put it back in.”
            Celia put her hand on one of the leaves as I shoved the roots of the poor shrub into the soil. I then patted the soil to make it stick. When the plant looked semi-stable, albeit a lot less happy, I turned to Celia and said, “I know what time it is…”
            Celia looked at me with wide eyes.
            “It’s Tickle Time!” I scooped her up, tossed her onto the couch, and gave her all sorts of rib tickles as both of us cackled with glee. We rolled around and had a marvelous little laugh session before moving on to the next activity together.
            In these kinds of moments, I believe she’s acting out because she wants attention, mixed in with a deep curiosity for the world around her. My response mirrored that. I explained to her about the plant, the roots, the soil, and how the plant needs to stay in the soil. She was quite attentive, and I believe she learned about plants that day.
            I also gave her a role in “fixing” the damage she’d done. Yes, it was only holding the leaf, but I think even that little role she played gave her a sense of taking care of her own mess.
            Then, instead of forming some sort of punishment on top of all of that, I distracted her with a lot of positive attention. We had a grand old night, and at the end of it all, Celia knew that she was deeply loved and respected. She had made a mistake, but we all do that. She was curious. So why take that out on her?
            This is all great in theory, but I have to admit I didn’t keep to my own philosophy a few days ago. It was almost Celia’s bedtime, and Celia was sitting at the table with a bowl of grapes while Michelle and I were standing around in the kitchen chatting with a friend. The grape-bowl was a hand-made clay creation that a friend had made a few years ago.
            None of us were watching Celia, and she started walking through the kitchen with the bowl in her hand. She walked right past all of us and tossed the bowl into the garbage can. SMASH! I heard the tinkling of pieces as Celia stepped back and started to leave.
            In this moment, I admit I forgot my own philosophies and chastised her. “Celia! You broke the bowl!”
            I pulled it out of the garbage can.
            “Now it’s garbage forever!” I held it up to her big eyes so she could see the big chunk that had broken out of it.
            “We’ll never be able to use it again!”
            Celia looked dazed.
            “That’s it. You’ve shown us you don’t deserve your stories before bed tonight.”
            Instantly I knew I shouldn’t have said that.
            Michelle looked at me with raised eyebrows.
            Our goal is to teach her that there are consequences to her actions. It was the first consequence that came to my mind. But taking away her utterly critical bedtime story routine is probably not going to teach her about the value of the bowl. I see that in retrospect.
            Of course, Celia cried herself to sleep that night. I came downstairs and wondered what I could have done differently. Teaching responsibility without doling out punishments takes a lot more creativity and thoughtfulness.
            Now that time has passed, I know what I could have done. Again, just like with the plant, Celia was curious. Of course, she knows about being careful with bowls, and she knows about the purpose of garbage. But she’s exploring the great big world and trying new things, not trying to be malicious. I needed to figure out a consequence to her action that would somehow help her understand the seriousness of it.
            I should have told her to make another bowl.
            It’s not that far-out, actually. My mother works with clay, and even has a kiln in her studio. If I’d have gone with that tack, Celia would have gained a tremendous respect for where bowls come from. Plus, we’d then have another new bowl in our lives, to replace the one she broke.
            Instead, she probably walked away with a feeling like, “Daddy was being overly harsh with me the other night. I didn’t like him when he did that.” I may be wrong, but all of those negative thoughts are directed at me, not at learning the lesson I wanted to teach her. This is not a helpful way to educate her. I want her to learn about the world in positive ways, and feel like I’m a safe person for her to be around while she makes mistakes.
            As I write this, I’m realizing it’s not too late. It’s never too late. Today I’m going to talk to my mom about making a new bowl with Celia, and I’m going to remind my daughter about the whole experience. We’ll set up a date and make it happen.
            I suppose all of parenting is kind of like this. You never quite know what your kids will do, so you can never fully plan ahead. You can come up with some principles to help, but even so, it’s so easy to forget them.
            It’s helpful to take a step back at times, debrief with your spouse and figure out a creative way to teach the lesson while being positive. I’m a big believer in second-chances. It’s not over yet. We’ll redeem that bowl. Oh yes. It will be even better than the first one. And I’ll bet you anything that if Celia has made it, from start to finish, she’ll never even dream about putting it in the garbage.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Anatomy of Survival Mode

            It struck me yesterday that we’ve passed through the season of survival mode. Joshua’s colic is over, and it seems like overnight he gained a couple of pounds. Now he’s so happy to just sit around and chew on toys or stare at all the happenings around him in this great big world.
            It struck me as I actually finished washing the dishes with Joshua staring happily at me – we have passed through the tunnel. We made it. We can actually breathe and get back to the other things we care about, like having a clean house, reading and going out with friends.
            Survival mode is a difficult place to be in, but it also teaches a lot of valuable lessons. In the middle of it, it’s easy to feel bitter or upset with all sorts of things – with the child who’s keeping us away from the rest of our lives; with each other, for the littlest faults; with life in general.
            I can see why some new mothers who have a difficult child get really depressed. They even have a big sounding name for it: “post-partum depression,” which is basically a fancy way for saying, “Not only are all your chemicals totally imbalanced after such a huge physical and emotional ordeal, but everything didn’t turn out as you’d expected, so you’re living in survival mode, wondering if and when you’ll be able to pop your head out and breathe.”
            Something like that.
            One thing is for certain, having now come through survival mode, the entire experience has definitely made me appreciate our lives all the more. But in the middle of it, life can be really difficult. If I could dissect the time and pinpoint what it was like, these would be my highlights:
·       No time. Our colicky kid always needed holding, and during the day his naps would only last twenty minutes unless he was being walked, which meant, of course, we took him on long walks. Getting out and taking walks is lovely, but it also means we can’t do anything else. And when it feels like there’s no time to yourself, it generally leads to…
·       Snarkiness. That’s what Michelle and I would call it. We’d try to be civil and nice to each other, but sometimes the stress would feel so enormous we’d snap. Then, the other person would say, “Why so snarky?” That would help us remember to be nice.
·       Tiredness. When we weren’t sleeping enough, our minds would get rough around the edges and we’d start doing things like misplacing important documents, losing vocabulary, or forgetting important events.
·       Lack of Compassion. It’s hard to care when my own needs aren’t being met. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a person needs to have their basic needs met (survival) before they care about safety needs (comforts), before they care about psychological needs, before they care about self-actualization (doing something profound). Well, in survival mode, all I could think about was the basics. Who cares about self-actualization when sleep is so hard to come by?

            I could go on, but I think even more helpful would be to make another list of what’s most needed in these kinds of times:
#1. A sense of humor. Without it, you’re toast. Sometimes, the best medicine is to lift your head and laugh. And when things seem rotten, look for the light side peaking through the cracks – it’s always there.
#2. Hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be unknown or invisible, but things will get better. The time will pass. You’ve just got to hold on and wait it out.
#3. A community. It’s immeasurably easier to get through difficult times with people around who love you. And if you don’t have a community, do something about it. Try reaching out and making new friends. Help others. Invite them over to lunch. I don’t care if the house is a mess, they’ll love it, trust me, and it will bless you both.
#4. Grace. Be easy on yourself and on everyone around you. Sure, life didn’t turn out exactly as expected, but be forgiving and nice, and it’ll go a long way to uplifting you and those around you, despite whatever’s going on.

            I’m so thankful that we got through Joshua’s colicky stage. The snow is falling outside but it feels like flowers are blooming. For the first time in many months, I can look around and start dreaming. Self-actualization, whatever you want to call it, I’m ready.
            Onto the next adventure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Miracle of Mental Maturity

            My daughter is barely two years old, and I’m starting to realize that there’s an awful lot going on in her little noggin. As her parent, it’s my responsibility to teach her about this world, but I’ve found recently that if I pay attention, she seems to be picking up things I never taught her.
            “Let’s buy a flower for Denise!” Celia exclaimed one day to our surprise. Denise is her daycare provider. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows. How did she know to do that? What got it into her mind?
            When she showed up at the doorstep of Denise’s house, Denise got watery eyes as she took the flower from Celia. “Thank you, Celia,” she said.
            Celia smiled happily.
            I don’t know where she came up with the idea to do that, but I shook my head and wondered – when was the last time I’d bought flowers for anyone? It’s been a long time, that’s for sure. I was even hesitant to buy the flower at all, but Michelle was all about letting Celia do it. Something about Celia’s fresh and untainted perspective touched me, and I wished that I’d been doing a better job of showing my appreciation for the people around me.
            Celia seems so mature in so many ways, it’s easy for me to forget that she’s so young. Her vocabulary is going through the roof, and it seems like she not only understands everything, she’s now putting two and two together to create new thoughts. But we have to remind ourselves that she’s still a tiny little kid, and that she doesn’t have the mental understanding we do.
            Take last Sunday, for instance. Michelle offered Celia some applesauce while in the nursery at church. Celia was excited, and so Michelle cracked open the little container and pulled out a spoon. She said to Celia, “Put your hand out.”
            Celia put her hand out.
            Michelle gently placed the opened apple sauce on her open hand. “Now be very careful. You’re going to take it over there and sit down.” Michelle gestured to the table a couple of feet from them.
            Celia had a look of concentration on her face as she watched the apple sauce in her open hand.
            “Now keep your eye on it,” Michelle said.
            Celia instantly lifted the apple sauce right up to her eye and – SMACK! – pushed it right in!
            Michelle told me what happened later and I broke out laughing. Of course she put it in her eye! When your mommy says keep your eye on it, you’d better do just that. She hasn’t been around long enough to know all of our idioms.
            In some ways, I think that’s what’s most refreshing about being around her. She doesn’t have all the years of baggage dragging her down. When she sees something new, she sees it with new (albeit messy) eyes and a fresh perspective.
            Last night Celia was playing just out of my view on the other side of the evening’s fort built up from the cushions of two different couches, and I heard her say loudly, “It’s a miracle!”
            I raised my eyebrows and looked at Michelle. “Did she say ‘miracle’?”
            Michelle nodded her head and looked over at Celia.
            Celia said it again, “A miracle!”
            “How the heck did she learn about that!?” I asked. I wondered, Did she learn it at church? Did we say it? For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine how she’d picked up that word in the last few months.
            Michelle craned her head to see what Celia was looking at.
            Celia was crouched over one of Joshua’s play mats.
            Michelle squinted.
            Celia was touching a small circular mirror that was stitched into the fabric.
            Michelle laughed. “A miracle! It’s a mirror-circle! A mirro-cle.”
            “Oh!” I grinned.
            That totally makes sense! On two levels – as a word play, and frankly, it is pretty miraculous to think of all the things we people have come up with over the years. Who’d have come up with these things? Only a two-year-old.
            Only a two-year-old has a fresh enough perspective of the world to see the hidden gems awaiting. Something tells me I’d better take notes. For adults like me, who’ve been around and think we know all about the world we live in, I have a feeling I might learn something.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monkey-Eating Crocodiles

            Our kids are growing up in a significantly different world than the one I grew up in. Ecologically. Politically. Culturally.
            Some things bother me more than others. The ecological damage that’s been done in the last thirty years seems irreparable. As soon as we drive out into the wilderness, the devastation that the pine beetle has wreaked is immediately evident – massive swathes of trees are standing dead, a burnt orange in color, and helpless to survive the onslaught caused by rising temperatures.
            One day I was playing out in my mind the conversation I’ll inevitably be having with my kids.
            “I remember when these trees were all green, as far as the eye can see.” I’ll say to them whistfully.
            “Wow, Dad!” my kids will exclaim.
            “Yep. It was pretty amazing back then.”
            What’s odd to me is that the areas I’m most saddened about are the ones barely anybody sees. Like the big island of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that’s way larger than the state of Texas. I think what bugs me is that we have a sort of group-cultural agreement to not be bugged by stuff that’s not right in front of us. The problem is, every living creature in the sea is eating little particles of plastic (which never fully break down), and as I learned in the sixth grade, big fish eat little fish, birds eat big fish, and people eat everything. We’re eating plastic.
            I think plastic and corn syrup explain why America is getting fatter. Corn syrup, because it’s in literally every packaged food out there and it’s terrible for you. Plastic, because we’re daily ingesting more little particles of the stuff, and since the body can’t process it, it forms a fat cell around it.
            I get upset when I think that I’m bringing my kids into a world that’s been vandalized so badly. Although I know that it’s a time of great freedoms and prosperity, which I’m thankful for. A hundred years ago people lived a much more difficult life than today. But I’m bothered by the political polarity in this country. I don’t remember it being so aggressive when I first left for Canada fifteen years ago.
            And it seems like people are trying to protect their kids far more than anyone of us ever dreamed when we ourselves were kids. Nowadays, you’ve got to be in a car seat till you’re ten or something. Back then, not only did we not have car seats, we didn’t use seat belts! We would play “steamroller” in the back of the van and engage in full wrestling tournaments, group dog piles, or one of my favorites, hide-and-seek (yes, we actually did manage to find some good hiding spots in a twelve-passenger van, believe it or not).
            I’m a bit more laid back about the whole seat belt thing than Michelle is. If it were just me, I’d let the kids run around here and there like in the old days. But Michelle’s argument is that we know so much more now, and we can keep our kids safer, so why would you go back?
            Part of her argument comes from personal experience, knowing people personally who were in car accidents without seatbelts, and how it destroyed their lives. I get that, and I respect it. But even so, I wonder where we draw the line.
            I used to walk to school almost a mile in the second-grade. That’s six years old! I couldn’t imagine that, today. A six-year old walking alone almost a mile to school on a cold winter day? Preposterous!
            Back then we grew up quickly, and learned to take care of ourselves. Nowadays, our culture is trying to somehow protect kids far beyond what seems reasonable to me. I see it in the books they’ve rewritten for our times. Take for instance, the age-old nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie.
            The new versions of this rhyme don’t say, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” Instead, it’s, “A-Tishoo, A-Tishoo!”
            What the heck is a tishoo?
            I don’t know, but I still read it to Celia, because that’s what’s on the page. And I know they’re just trying to protect our little kids from knowing about the Bubonic Plague and how they had to burn dead people’s bodies so it wouldn’t spread. That was the inspiration behind the original.
            But seriously, you can’t stop them – kids will learn both versions, no matter how hard a parent tries to prevent it. Yesterday when I went to pick up Celia from daycare, there she was singing the song with two other girls. And of course, they were all shouting with glee, “Ashes! Ashes!”
            When I saw them I smiled, for two reasons. First, because they were so darn cute! But second, because I never taught her the ashes version, and even so, the first time I hear her saying the rhyme out loud, there it is. I laugh because I don’t really think it matters, to be honest. I want my kid to grow up, not live some overly protected life.
            And although sometimes I laugh about it, this protective, fearful approach to parenting can get pretty annoying to me. Michelle brought home a book about the five little monkeys sitting in a tree, teasing Mr. Crocodile, “Can’t catch me!” Along comes Mr. Crocodile, and snap! Four monkeys…
            I thought, “Hey, this is great! I remember this one.”
            But when I got to the end, instead of Mr. Crocodile beaming with huge crocodile teeth that he ate all those little monkeys because they were playing with fire and messing with the wrong reptile, it turned out the monkeys were disappearing because they were scared. And when they all showed their faces again their mom made them apologize to Mr. Crocodile (I’m not kidding!), followed by a lovely little picnic in the park (I’m not making this up!).
            When I got to the end, I got irate. Seriously irritable. With our world crumbing around us, and more political tensions in the air than ever, here we are trying to protect our kids, from what? From the monkey-eating crocodiles of life? Seriously? I don’t get it.
            Then and there I swore never to read the end of the new version to my kids. It’s a crazy world out there, and I want my kids to know about it. Those monkeys are going to get eaten! That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it!
            Mr. Crocodile, 1. Monkeys, 0.
            Now, onto the next cultural battle.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Snapping Out Of It

            Joshua is snapping out of it.
            He turns five months old in a couple of days, and he’s finally starting to show signs of awareness. He can grab things (and inevitably chew on them). His whole face lights up when he sees people looking at him. And my favorite change is he’s started to laugh when he’s tickled. I could easily spend fifteen minutes bending over and giving him big rib-tickles and listening to him cackle in glee.
            It’s such a delightful age when they tone down the crying and ramp up the giggling. He’s so much more fun to be around. Recently, Joshua has been trying his hand at making sounds. Mostly, they sound like little shrieks and gurgles, but sometimes it actually sounds like language.
            I was sitting with Celia having breakfast and Joshua was next to us gurgling away. “Waaaah!” he called out.
            I smiled down at Joshua in his little vibrating chair and asked him, “What are you saying, Joshua?”
            Joshua smiled back at me and said it again. “Waaaah!”
            But it was Celia who answered my question. “He’s saying, ‘Waaaah!’” She didn’t even look up from her cereal. It was simply a statement of fact.
            I laughed. “That he is.”
            I think I’m starting to see some of his personality come through. When he’s not shrieking in pain, like he was a few days ago because Michelle tried drinking some milk for the first time in two months to see if it would make any difference (believe me, that’s the last time she does that for awhile!), it seems like he’s a pretty laid back kid. And happy. I love the fact that he always seems to have a huge smile for me. Something about an infant’s smile will perk up just about anyone, I figure.
            Parenting a colicky child wears the system down, and it’s wonderful to have a few positive things to get excited about. For the first time in many weeks, I feel rested (thanks to gaining an hour for daylight savings!), and my son is too. I think I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can get through this time. We can do it. I know we can.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cousin Capers

            Celia and her cousin Webber need constant monitoring when they’re together. One never knows when to expect the hitting, pulling, pushing, taking, and biting which inevitably blossoms from their little friendship.
            Don’t get me wrong, the kids absolutely love each other. When Celia sees Webber, who’s a year younger but roughly the same weight, she always goes up to him and gives him a big hug. Every single person in the room looks on and thinks, “Aww, how sweet.”
            This initial hug quickly develops into a quasi-wrestling match where both end up rolling on the ground, with the stronger Celia on top. Webber is so chilled out, he usually doesn’t even complain, but you can see in his eyes that he’s not exactly happy either.
            And then the “playing” begins. If there are toys involved, they simply have to have whatever it is the other child is holding. The toy they currently hold becomes irrelevant when they see their cousin holding something immeasurably more interesting. Oddly enough, when the toy switch occurs, they instantly look at the toy in the other’s hands, which they’d previously been holding, and want it back.
            We’ve been trying to teach Celia about sharing, with a certain degree of success. We’ll explain to her, “Celia, never take things out of someone else’s hands,” or, “Celia, you can take turns with the toys, and share them with each other. That way everyone gets to play with them.”
            At one level, I know Celia understands, but then she pulls off some interesting stunts as well. One time she approached Webber and said, “I’m going to share with Webber,” and took his toy. We all laughed when we saw this. I don’t think sharing was intended to be initiated that way! But then again, it sure makes sense when you think of it from her perspective.
            Another time she took Webber’s toy, as usual, and as she was walking away she said, “I’m not going to take Webber’s toy!” I’m not sure what was going on in her head, but we all shook our heads and marveled at her two-year-old logic (and how similar it is to certain greedy corporations!).
            One time, Webber had had enough, and bit Celia in the arm. He doesn’t have very much language yet, and his frustration was so huge, he lashed out in the only way he knew. Celia was, of course, upset, and I consoled her but I also shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I hope this teaches her a lesson.”
            All of this raises the question as to how much we should get involved as parents. At one level, I want to make sure they play well and don’t pick up any long-term bad habits or hurt each other too much, but at the same time I don’t want to be a “helicopter parent” who hovers around the kids controlling their every movement. I’ve seen the way that dampens a child’s spirit, and I know it’s not for me.
            I suppose we’ll play it by ear, and let them roughhouse but not get overly violent. As it is, it’s already a handful just existing every time we’re together. Take last night. We were trying to enjoy a nice dinner out, and of course every child (three at this point) was in need of parental holding just as the meal reached its climax.
            At one point I said, while standing and holding Webber in one arm, “Somebody help me cut a bite off that filet, please.” One-armed eating can be tricky at times, as we all knew well.
            I reached out with my fork and stabbed the meat. Michelle reached out with her one free arm and started to cut it, but because the plate was wobbling, Elise, my sister-in-law, reached out with her one free arm and held the plate. Success! With three free hands acting in unison, I was able to enjoy that luscious bite of filet.
            Yes, managing three kids from four months to two years old is a juggling act, and requires a bit of extra creativity, but I think we’re laying a groundwork for some pretty cool things to come. I bet in four years it’ll be Webber who’s sitting on Celia, not the other way around. And by then they’ll have a healthy respect for each other. A dad can dream, can’t he?