Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Our Little Dude

There's no doubt Maddox has gotten short shrift in this blog. I pretty much chronicled Roan's every move as an infant and toddler. So many family members shared with me that it helped them feel connected to us and to her, and part of our lives. Maddox, by contrast, is probably pretty much a stranger to you. I'll do what I can to paint a picture of my little boy with words.

At almost 20 months, there are some aspects to Maddox's personality that I feel have been consistent since he was in utero. He is still bubbly and full of joy so much of the time. It's not unusual for him to start giggling to himself in the backseat about goodness knows what out the window. Recently he's learned the words "fun" and "funny," and they've quickly become two of his favorites. I'm struck with a sense of wonder that a child less than 2 has a concept of humor. Almost every day he points something out that is "funny."

The other personality trait that is true to his embryonic self is that he seems to never stop moving. He jumps and wiggles and squirms and runs all within the first 3 minutes of waking up in the morning. He loves to jump on the bed, especially with Roan. One of his favorite moves is to climb up on to the back of the couch and jump down. When it goes well he catches air and says "Dat fun!" When it goes wrong, he catapults himself onto the floor and bonks his head. Thankfully that's only happened once.

One surprise to me is that he's a total bookworm. Oh, don't roll your eyes at me! While yes, it's true, Roan was read to daily from infancy, I must confess I've been by comparison rather derelict in that duty with Maddox, at least early on. Yet somehow he has acquired - whether by inheritance, by observation, or by some other means - a deep appreciation for the written word. He begs to be read to. He grabs endless stacks of books, one at a time, from the shelves, and presents them insistently. Who knows. Perhaps he'll be a line backer and a poet.

Like Roan and Logan, Maddox starting walking early at nine months. Talking has come a bit more slowly. Maybe it's because he's a boy. Or maybe it's because he can hardly get a word in edgewise with his sister. But now he's built up a good starter vocabulary. He's got about 100 words, and he can strings some together in short sentences. "Want some." "Dat funny." "I got it." He can usually get his point across, although in his own style. He still prefers to call me "Nah-nah" although he's perfectly capable of saying "Mama." His word for "blankie" remains "ba-dit." He says "peace" instead of "please." He says "alligator" pretty well, but his word for elephant is something along the lines of "oh-ga-dee."

Another difference between Roan and Maddox: this boy loves cars, trucks, trains, airplanes and motorcycles ("go gos" he calls them). Really anything that moves. He will point out "big bus!" out the window on the way to school. Heaven forbid a backhoe rolls down the street while I'm trying to hurry him into daycare (as happened this morning). He will just stand there, pointing and grunting, unmoveable. Roan was completely oblivious to such things. He also loves to play with balls. (Get your mind out of the gutter!) He's quite good at kicking a soccer ball and playing catch.

He's a real sweetheart too. He loves to hug and snuggle. He's still working on learning how to kiss. The other day I asked him for a kiss and he gave me a big old lick up one side of my face. Completely took me by surprise! When he blows kisses it sort of looks like he's eating them. But hugs he has down. After he whacks his sister upside the head or rolls over her sore toe with the stroller he just snatched from her, he's quite willing to make amends with a big hug and a "Sah-wee Woan". But then he pretty much thinks the sun rises and sets on her.

Here's another thing that hasn't changed about him since birth: when he's sad, mad or disappointed you will know about it. He has an ear piercing scream-shriek that stuns and stupefies. He can go from giggling to thermonuclear in a split second. I'm not sure if he has a short temper, or if he's just gearing up for the terrible twos. But that is the one thing I feels is my top priority to help him work on. Learning patience. Learning to take a breath. To calm down. To say it with words instead of scream it. To say "Please" instead of "MINE!!!" Given the number of times a day I repeat the same phrases ("We don't say 'Mine.' What do we say?") one might think he's a hopeless case. Good thing rationality is not a requirement for motherhood.

Despite these foibles, he is a lovely human being. And I feel privileged to share this part of his journey with him. In some ways, childhood breezes by so quickly - too quickly. But in other ways, it feels like a very slow unfolding. It takes so long before a clear picture of who this small human really is begins to come into focus. With Roan I had so many thoughts and desires about what I hoped for in a daughter. And she has surpassed each one of those. For Maddox, he is unencumbered by expectation. I never expected to have a son; I had no conception of who I hoped he would be. He is free to be himself, a complete mystery to me.

Here are some more videos.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

18 seconds

Recently I've been working on bringing balance to my life. It all started with this article that got me thinking about today's child-centric culture that seems to produce whiny kids with a sense of entitlement who never move out of their parents' basements. It's hard to fathom how we got here, when this country was built by generation upon generation of self-sufficient, pioneer spirits. People like Arwen's grandfather, who watched over his family's cattle for weeks at a time at the tender age of 10, cooking his supper over a camp fire with no one but his little brother to keep him company. I always marvel at the tales of Arwen's great grandmother, who raised 10 children, built a thriving ranch in the desert and fended off Indians with one hand tied behind her back. How did she manage to do all that, and I can't even weed the garden on a pretty Saturday with just two wee ones running around?

The answer, I've concluded, lies in my view of my children, myself, and our respective roles. Until now, I've viewed my children as essentially helpless beings that must be taught everything - from how to burp to how to poop to how to do calculus. I've viewed myself as Chief Entertainer, Butt Wiper, Taxi Driver and Brain Builder, with a focus on exposing them to a broad array of appropriate enrichment activities in order to stimulate optimal social and cognitive development. Problem is, not only is this take on parenting exhausting, I was starting to see it lead to a feeling of entitlement in my kids and an increasing lack of empathy for those of us running ourselves ragged giving them every advantage in life.

But what if they're not helpless beings? What if my endless drive to do for them is actually harming them? What if they are essentially capable beings, who simply must be taught the building blocks of self sufficiency one step at a time? What if it's possible to sit through a four-course meal with two preschoolers in peace and harmony, and actually enjoy ourselves? I started trying a few things out.

I began by taking an inventory of what was not "working" for me in our day-to-day lives. At the top of my list was our morning routine, which generally involved me running around half dressed, barking at Roan to get her dressed and groomed, while tugging Maddox's shoes on and making her lunch. So I began setting a timer on the kitchen clock, in clear sight of everyone. I let Roan know that since she's going to be a Kindergartener soon, she is now responsible for her things, her body and her lunch. It's her responsibility to have herself and her things ready by the time the timer beeps. Ready or not, we all get into the car on time each morning.

The hardest thing about this for me is keeping my mouth shut and letting her experience the natural consequences of her actions. But if I am operating from the assumption that she's essentially a capable being, giving her the space to make her own choices - and live with them - affords her a certain freedom and respect. Of course, it also demands a level of respect from her for the needs of the family: to leave on schedule so we can be at work and at school on time.

Rest assured, she has put me to the test. One morning she basically refused to make her lunch. True to my word, we piled into the car on schedule. I asked how she felt about not having a lunch for camp that day. She began to get upset. I asked if she'd like some ideas, and she said yes. She had just gotten her allowance the night before and was planning to go to the toy store with her dad that day. I suggested she could use some of her allowance money to buy herself a lunch. "It will make me late to take you to the store, but I'm willing to do that to help you this time." How heartless am I? Even Arwen felt I perhaps went too far. But I wanted her to experience a natural consequence as opposed to a punitive one, like taking away movie day or a favorite toy. She thought about it, and we talked it over. She really did not like the idea of missing out on buying a toy, but ultimately decided she liked the idea of missing lunch even less. I could see the wheels turning in her head. She was taking ownership of her decisions. She didn't whine. She didn't blame me. And I think that lesson stuck. She has taken responsibility for making her own lunch every day since, without complaint.

The next thing on my list of pet peeves was my kids' constant snacking. I could never leave the house without two sippy cups and a bag full of food. Afternoon pickups from school were always stressful because either I had to remember to pack snacks before leaving for work in the morning, or - heaven forbid - endure an hour of endless whining on the way home. Even if I did pack snacks, I often got complaints on the selections I'd made. And for anyone who has had the misfortune of riding in my car, there is the toll all that snacking takes on the backseat. Maddox inevitably would throw his milk each and every day. So I announced to Roan that soon we would have a "no snacking in the car" rule. The first couple of days I offered her a choice: she could either have a single graham cracker now OR if she waited until we got home, she could have that graham cracker plus a sweet treat. The first day she chose instant gratification. The second day she waited until we got home.

The third day I brought no snacks. She began to  cry. Then she began to scream. And then she became totally unhinged. It was so ridiculous that I suggested we have a screaming contest. "Is that as loud as you can scream? Come on!" That stratagem failed utterly. 10 minutes into the car ride and she was still screaming. I felt so powerless. I was yearning for some way to hold onto my sense of calm, composure, and control of the situation. So then I said calmly, "Roan, I'm going to turn on my timer. However many minutes you spend screaming in the car is how long you will have to go to your room when we get home." Guess how long it took her to calm down. Guess. Really. You'll never guess.

18 seconds.

18 seconds, and not only was she not screaming or crying. She was smiling. She let out a little laugh. "Guess what, Mommy! I was only fake crying!" Wow kid. You have been playing me. And I've been falling for it so hard.

I keep thinking about that 18 seconds. It's like a mantra I repeat to myself when I'm feeling particularly challenged by the kids. It reminds me that they're capable of much more than I think they are. If I raise the bar, they will rise to the challenge.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to now. We still have conversations from time to time about snacks. But no meltdowns. Even Maddox will say "Milk. Home. Milk. Home." from the backseat after I pick him up for daycare. And the change in Roan has been remarkable. She's decided she prefers packing her lunch the night before, so she has plenty of time to get ready in the morning. She asked me to wake her up a few minutes early so she has time to make her bed tomorrow (her idea completely). When I pick her up from camp in the afternoons, lo and behold she has pre-filled her water bottle for the ride home (water is allowed in the car). She sets napkins and silverware out at dinner time and clears her plate when she's done. She even pours her own milk sometimes (while I stand by holding my breath). Last weekend she baked her first cake - from measuring to pouring to decorating - with help only getting it into and out of the oven. And I swear, she's walking two inches taller, proud of herself, secure in the knowledge that she is capable of many things.

The change in me is good too. I'm relaxed more. I'm enjoying our time together more. It's creating space for me to take time for myself, and for me to pause and enjoy my wonderful husband. I've realized it's far more important to teach my children to be patient, to persevere, to take responsibility, to put their endless desires within bounds than it is to entertain them, or even to tend to their cognitive development. If they can learn to be calm, confident, and focused, then their internal landscape will allow the rest to follow.