Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ninja Turtles Don't Hit

and other things I never heard myself say before I was a mom. I swear I'm going to write a book someday full of the random things I hear come out of my mouth now that I spend my days following wee ones around.

Just let me smell your butt. I bet this one doesn't get heard most places. But believe me, when you're chasing around 8 kids and 6 of them are in diapers, you really need to identify the source of that smell before it gets out of control. Especially since a part of you knows that you've been missing a sippy cup for a few days and the last time you saw it, it had milk in it, and it was somewhere around here, and if you don't find it soon, you're going to have to evacuate and disinfect the whole house.

Get that out of your mouth. Or better yet: Get that out of your brother's mouth. How many people spend their time inserting things into other people's mouths? People who are not frighteningly creepy. Pretty much just the small ones I spend my day with. I cannot believe the things they will put in their mouths. Only a kid thinks that it's a good idea to spend all their energy removing the outlet cover from the outlet just so they can then suck on the outlet cover. It must be a real treasure if it was stuck that hard in the wall!

Just because you want to, that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Oh, so many people could stand to learn this one. M will be a year old in March (how crazy is that? It seems like just yesterday I was wondering what we were going to do with a third baby), and she's just insistent that absolutely everything she wants to do is the best idea ever. But I want to eat an entire magazine! But I want to crawl behind the toilet! But I want to suck on the soles of my brother's shoes! But I want to nurse from 9:30 PM to 6:00 AM without interruption, either by your need to sleep or by your desire to roll over or by your eventual need to get up because my brothers are up!

Could you be quiet for just three seconds in a row? I've recently realized that the whole "count to 10" thing is just ridiculous. I was talking to my sister and she commented that counting to 10 just gives her enough time to pause in her anger; she's just as angry as she was 10 seconds ago, possibly more since she's had enough time to think about it. Me, I'm the other way. I get angry quickly and calm down quickly. I keep thinking of the old parenting advice to count to 10 before you get mad. Let's see, I'm standing in my living room. Z, just home from kindergarten, is angry that E, 3, has taken something from him and is starting to whine and yell. E is running around with the toy, chattering at 90 miles a second about the toy he's swiped and about how excited he is for the next time he's going to get to see a certain cereal commercial with me so I can see how funny it is. K, 3, is parked on the couch, sullen because I've told him he can't take toys away from his friends. When I asked him to listen, he yelled, "I DON'T LIKE YOU!" and swatted my face. When I told him it wasn't okay to hit, he screamed, so now he's in time out on the couch until he agrees to listen and be nice. A, 2, is sitting on the floor crouched over his most treasured possessions, all the cars from the "Cars" movie and several "Thomas" trains. He's shrieking "NO!!!!" every time M looks in his direction, because he's certain she's going to try to take them all away. She, however, is clinging to my leg, possibly getting ready to bite it because she feels that the attention is insufficient and so is the acknowledgement of her distress. She may have an ear infection but I'll be damned if I know when I'll be able to have it checked. And Baby A, 6 months, is banging in the saucer, sobbing because she doesn't want to eat or play or nap or crawl, but she doesn't like being set in the saucer. And now the phone rings.

At this moment, I am pretty much at my breaking point. This is the moment where I am going to snap and yell at someone for something utterly inconsequential. ("How many times have I told you not to play cars on the coffee table? There are a thousand other perfectly good places to put cars!") And this is the point where I'm supposed to stop, take a deep breath, and count to 10 before flipping out. But the problem is that I can't find 10 seconds in a row in which to breathe, where I don't have to answer a question or referree a fight or feed or change or console someone. And if I did have 10 seconds in a row, all the fight would go right out of me and I wouldn't need the 10 seconds anymore.

And that, dear readers, is why I spend so much time in the bathroom. Sometimes that's the only way I can get 10 seconds in a row to myself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who Do You Think You Are?

I've been thinking a lot lately about identity. I'm sure that for some people, they think of themselves first and foremost in terms of their profession. "I'm a lawyer." (I guess that when you spend that much money to become something, it better be a pretty important part of your personality when you're done!) And I hear other people describe themselves in terms of their hobbies or interests: I'm an avid read; I'm a volunteer; I'm a passionate fisherman, or whatever. And of course, a lot of people describe themselves as parents. And I do the same thing. I mean, to most of the people who know me, I'm Z, E, and M's mom. But a few years into parenting, especially if you're a stay-at-home parent, I think you have to start to wonder if you're ever going to be anything other than your kid's mom again.

There was a time when I was widely considered to be smart; when people actively sought out my opinion about things ranging from punctuation to politics. There was a time when I had an active social life and knew which places to frequent when, depending on the kind of crowd you were up for that night; when I knew how to make a martini and how to drink one and still usually chose beer. There was a time when I had all kinds of friends, all ages, all interests, all backgrounds; when we used to get together and just see what was going to happen that night. There was a time when I was considered funny; when I used to say witty things and people would laugh. And let's not forget one of the fundamentals: There was a time when I used to spend all my time with people who were totally, completely potty trained--people whose poops were no one's business but their own. Those were the days, huh?

Now I'm considered an authority on how to get babies to sleep, on how to stop fights from getting out of hand, on how to handle diaper rash (there are several schools of thought on all of those, just so you know). Now the places I go rarely vary: the living room, kitchen, and E's room for most of the day, occasionally interrupted by the TV room and bedroom. Once a week or so, I venture out to the bank, and on Saturday I usually make it to the grocery store. Once every couple of months, I make it to book club, and I'm trying to make it to PTA once a month. I remember only that you shouldn't put too much vermouth in a martini; but I'm very good at mixing a bottle, even with that tricky, crazy thick formula. I still usually drink beer, but now it's always at home. I haven't heard from most of my old friends in years. We lost touch when I got married and had kids and they didn't. I had birthday parties and day care, and they had budding careers and new relationships. Now they may have the birthday parties and day care, but too much time has passed, and we just don't connect anymore. We try to email or call occasionally, but it never lasts. And new friends are hard to find when you never leave the house. No one thinks I'm funny anymore, unless you count my 10-month-old, who laughs when I stick out my tongue and wiggle my finger at her. And very few people in my life are potty trained. Let's face it: poop is now a major player in my life/

I'm not complaining per se. It's not that I would leave my kids and go off to some sparkling new job all day if I could. I love getting to be here with them, and I love the kids I stay with. (Both genuinely true and the "standard mom disclaimer," as my sister calls it.) But I think in addition to the isolation that comes with staying home with kids, which is another post in and of itself, it really calls into question who exactly you are; if you're not all the things you used to be, who are you instead? And have all the previous dimensions of your personality been replaced by "my kid's mom"? I try to do things--this blog is an example--that remind me and everyone else that I am more than just the person I appear to be from day to day. But I wonder how everyone else handles it. And how women have handled it for hundreds of years. Because I do wake up most mornings wondering, now that things have changed so much in the last 5 years or so, just who I think I am.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I'm losing a battle of wills with my 3-year-old

First of all, in the name of full disclosure, I feel like crap. I've caught some sort of cold that immediately went to my chest, leaving me with a perpetual smoker's cough, without any of the fun nicotine buzz. And M, now 10 months, is teething or something and is up approximately all night long, wanting to nurse, but not really, and ideally on the other side, and plus on her stomach. So I was a little crabby. But this was the worst parenting day I can ever remember, at least for a few hours.

E is apparently outgrowing the need for a nap, which is leaving me breathless with terror. I can't tell you how much I count on that hour or two in a 24-hour period that I can kind of call my own. He wasn't napping at all well the last 2 weeks, but Z was off school, so I blamed it on having a non-napper in the house, making just enough noise to keep him up. I was seriously looking forward to today, since the husband was back at work and I would have some naptime me-time for just a little while. I got the little day care kids down and settled E and his friend in his room. We tried a new approach today: "You don't have to sleep today. There are only two rules. Stay in your bed and be quiet." Holy crap. I seriously thought that was a practical request. I got M to sleep, nursing, and just as I put her down, I realized two things: Z would be home from school in 20 minutes, and E and friend were running and yelling just above M's head. Thus followed several of the worst hours of my life.

I tried the nice approach: "You don't want your sister to cry, do you? You're going to wake her and make her cry. Do you have your book? You can read, you just have to be quiet." I tried the stern approach: "That's it. You are going to plant your butt on your bed and shut your mouth right now. And if you want a book, there's one right there. You don't get a different one." And I tried the mean approach: "You don't get a show for the rest of the day. No Baby Einstein, no SpongeBob, nothing. And if you don't shut your mouth right now, you don't get anything tomorrow either!" And while all this was going on, M woke up and started screaming--twice. (My new approach to getting her to sleep more at night--let her work it out during the day. I'm way more willing to let her scream for 10 minutes at 2 PM than at 2 AM.) And E, whom my husband has referred to as "Cool Hand Luke" and as "a force of nature," sat through it all. I swear to god, I have never actually met a more strong-willed child. I've seen the titles referring to "the strong-willed child" and always thought "I could get that, but nah." I mean, in order for you to get a book because a description of your kid is on the cover, your kid has to be diagnosed with something, right? I mean, mine must not be what they're talking about because he doesn't have Strong-Willed Child Syndrome--or something. But I think the time has come. He's a really smart kid, no question. He obviously listens closely to what people say, and then later I'm always shocked at the way he uses them in context. And when he's really engaged in listening, I can see what a great learner he is. But the strength of his will just gets in the way of his comprehension. As I explained the consequences of his behavior, he would just scream at me that he wanted to listen. And I would tell him that he wasn't listening, or that he had already lost one thing and was on the way to losing more. And he would just scream that "I WANT TO LISTEN!" I know that the idea--that a person makes a choice and there are consequences that follow that choice--makes sense to him. He sees it with his siblings and the day care kids, and even with his parents. But when he gets all up in arms, he just can't grasp that things aren't going to happen the way he wants them to. And he gets into a mode of just consistently making them worse.

By the time Z got home from school, E was in major trouble with the bedroom door closed (which he hates), M was crying her eyes out, and I was barely holding it together. An hour later, I think everyone but Z was in tears. Fortunately he was pretty into his Dora game and didn't really notice my tears--I think. But I was amazed. I am admittedly a pretty emotional person. But this was over the top. I thought I was going to have to run away for a few minutes so I didn't lose it completely. My husband has said that E is about 4,000 times better at conflict than I am, and about 4 times better than he is. So I know I'm outmatched. But if I want him to grow up into someone the rest of the world loves as much as I do, I have to find a way to deal with this insanely strong will of his. (We came up with a reward system for quiet naps, by the way; we'll see in the next week or so how it pans out.)

UPDATE 1/6: After tearfully describing my day to my sweet husband, he suggested a chart approach instead. Every day that E is quiet at nap time (being "a god listener," which is what we're always telling him he needs to be), he will get an X on his chart. If he fills his chart (6 Xs), then he will get a special big treat like going out for fast food or getting to pick a movie. Today was like night and day. The chart incentive worked absolute wonders. I realized first that I would always rather give them something than take something away; it just feels better as a parent to make them happy rather than sad. And second, he's much more motivated by working toward something than he is by avoiding something bad. Fingers crossed that it will continue to work well!