Progress report

The book said it might take awhile. The book is right.

I do feel that I’ve made a lot of progress, though. There have already been many times when before, I’d have yelled. Or at least raised my voice and gotten sarcastic. And yet I was able to be mindful of my words, and more importantly, of my girls’ words and actions. I was able to act deliberately, choose different ways to help them, and tune in to working on what matters.

Juniper, for some reason, lost her shit at the idea of putting on shoes before school last week. I don’t know of they were the wrong shoes or her socks pinched or her toast wasn’t to her liking or WHAT. This sort of behavior is normal for 2, but so freaking annoying because every weekday we put on shoes and go to school. This is not new. This is the routine. And we were running late; I didn’t have time to sit down and talk about her feelings and preferences in footwear.

Old me would have snarled, sighed, wrestled some shoes on her and let her deal with it.

New me threw shoes in my bag and calmly put her in the car shoeless. By the time we got to daycare, she was totally cool with me putting shoes on her so she could trot down the hall to her classroom.

Dan brought up that this might teach her she can just do whatever, but I explained it was a very deliberate choice on my part to let this one slide. She didn’t HAVE to have shoes on to get in the car – we always carry the girls to the car. It wasn’t freezing cold. And I didn’t have time to sort out what was bothering her, or distract her. The book asks me to think, in those moments when I am getting heated: Does this matter right now?

Right then, it all added up to NO. So I put shoes in the bag, meltdown averted. And I made a mental note that we need to get up a few minutes earlier to avoid this time crunch.

This has been vital with the Thanksgiving holiday and our trip to Dan’s parents’ house. The girls adore their grandma and grandpa, who they don’t see terribly often, but travel really upsets the routine and can make for some very emotional, confused kids. Marigold has gotten really rotten about bedtime since we got back, so I’m working on different ways to help us both through that. Better bedtimes start way before bedtime, so we have been working to standardize the evening a little more, from dinner time on.

We’ve still had tantrums, but at least they haven’t been mine.

Taking it All In

This week marked the first in my adult life that I was not employed by the hospital. After nearly thirteen years with the company that hired me when I was twenty-one, degree-less, aimless (careerwise, anyway) and living with my parents, this was a leap of faith. I was nervous as hell this time last week; today I am reflecting on the first five days at the new job and feeling pretty all right about it.

I didn’t go far – from an academic hospital to the employ of the university that includes that hospital’s medical school partner – but the move from health care to higher education, from marketing to business intelligence, is requiring a massive intake of information. I’m not just learning a new job, I’m learning a new language in a new industry. And while I’d never have gone for the role in the first place if I didn’t think that my zig zag career path had given me a good footing, holy wow is my brain just drenched.

We used to joke about the younger residents at the hospital, how so many of them were just brilliant in their work, among the best of their peers nationwide, and yet so devoid of seemingly basic elements of common sense, or common courtesy. We would say their brains had reached maximum saturation and something was leaking out their ears. This is an observation that really could resonate with many highly educated people, but it seemed to fit these newly-minted MDs because of the particular point in their careers where they were facing the most professional pressure of their lives and expected to learn, learn, learn for eighty hours a week. It’s really no surprise they lost basic mental math capabilities and had to peck at Palm Pilots (yes, this was then) to figure a tip for the delivery of the food they were inevitably too exhausted to eat.

I think I might have felt a little of that this week. I stated two different birthdays for the twins when I subscribed to our new insurance plan, if that’s any indication. I am nervous, yes, but excited and antsy and curious and very eager to make myself indispensable. I’ve been working very hard to keep my eyes from glazing over when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

You’d think home time would be a relief, but coming home from work this week has been hard. I’m struggling, big time, to regulate the mental gymnastics that this massive shift has required, and in turn my emotional regulation at home has been… not so great. Not awful. But I have yelled and gotten a temper and been basically a toddler a few times. And, like my toddlers, most of my disappointing behavior had been around stupid stuff. So, definitely not good.

I don’t blame this on the job. I’ve actually been very happy with how it’s shaping up, so why the crazy? I think what it’s pointing to is a need for a fundamental change in how I parent when stressed… In general, but especially when stressed. And now seems like as good a time as any to throw some serious weight behind a change.

I will not yell.

Actually, I will probably yell, probably tomorrow. After a half dozen Kindle samples, I settled on Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham, the creator of Aha! Parenting. Dr. Markham suggests that stopping yelling may take awhile, as there are a number of things I need to teach myself to create a natural stress reaction in which I do not raise my voice. But that may take a month, or even three.

It might seem like a bit of an odd time to try to re-train my fight-or-flight responses when I am complaining of an overstuffed brain as it is, but I feel like the timing here is everything. I am yelling because I am not managing my emotions. And 90% off the time, the reason I am yelling is because my kids are not managing theirs. If I can teach them, we can reduce those behaviors. And as the book points out, I can teach them by doing it myself. It’s so obvious, really, to the point of DUH, but it’s not something most people can just snap their fingers and do once they’ve realized the error of their ways. That’s step one.

I will not yell.

The rest of it is going to be hard. I am going to keep reading. My girls deserve better from me, and managing my yelling will make a positive change for our whole family. When I was looking to leave my hospital job, I zeroed in on higher education because of the opportunity to earn tuition benefits for my dependents. After seven years of employment, I could send my girls to the university – a top tier private school with a hefty fee – for just the cost of room and board. So right now I am on this kick, this energy, about securing their future. I can’t say that yelling stops here. But the promise to start, to work to fix this, to learn how, that begins today.

And if, in the process of packing more into my brain, something has to give, I suppose it can be mental math.

IKEA hack: Hemnes + Stubbarp

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Our oddly-shaped and out-of-level foyer requires creative solutions for storage. The windows and chair rail limit the height of anything you could put against or hang on the wall. The vent and the cold air return in the floor limit what we can place on the floor. Its a weird little corner that until recently had just been a pile of junk. Since IKEA opened here this fall I have been itching to get my hands on a Hemnes shoe cabinet to make use of this space. It looked like a perfect solution – right height, right style, good price – till I realized that our old house skirting boards are 9″ tall, and the cabinet mounts flush to the wall with only 5″ of clearance.

Stubbarp to the rescue!

Stubbarp legs are designed to fit on Besta cabinets. They come in black-brown, which matches the black-brown finish of the Hemnes line. At 4″ tall, they are the perfect height to boost my cabinet over the skirting boards and still keep it short enough to fit under the chair rail. They come with levelers, too, which helped tremendously when I realized that one foot needed to sit on a vent and requires an extra boost to bring that side up to level.

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Stubbarp foot on Hemnes shoe cabinet

It’s not a perfect fit, but when I look at the big picture, I’m pretty pleased with how this worked out for just ten more bucks.

How I lost 40 pounds in one hour

When I returned from maternity leave in December 2012, I looked about as awesome as your average parent of 3-month old twins. Which is to say, of course, not at all. In this sorry state, I encountered the then – president of the hospital, a wonderful man with whom I’d worked tangentially on several things but did not know very well personally. We chatted amicably on the elevator.

“Welcome back! How are you doing? How are the twins?”

No really, we didn’t know each other well, but when you gain half your body weight over again in your pregnancy, people you don’t know end up knowing who you are, how many kids you’re having, boys or girls, everything.

“We’re doing well, I suppose – it’s been a big adjustment but a very exciting time!”

I’m going to guess that my forced cheer sounded exactly that: forced. Coming back to work was a refuge for me in that it allowed me to lose myself in something I was good at, something that clicked and made sense to me in a way that, at the time, parenting just didn’t. So when I came to work, sometimes it was hard for me to talk about them at first. Home life was so wrapped up in emotional things then, I had to check it at the door to do what needed doing.

But when the president asks, you answer, right?

He looked me right in the eye and gave me the half smile of a been – there parent. “The days are long,” he said kindly. “But the years are short.”

It sounds for a minute like something you’d see cross stitched on a pillow or handpainted on a reclaimed pallet wall hanging, next to the ones that say “Pardon the mess, the kids are making memories” and similar. But look closely, as I did then despite the sleep-deprived fog that enveloped me, and notice how very honest it is:

The days are long.

I never knew a day could last a million hours until I became a parent. Surrounded by the “cherish every second” tripe, it can be hard to admit that the days with my children are often painfully long. I stare at the microwave clock and yearn for bedtime many days.

It has always seemed impossible that these days might actually be flying by – except for one particular day. When September 8 rolls around, I find myself agreeing:

The years are short.

On their birthday it just sort of kicks in. It’s been a year since this. Last year they were doing those things. Now they are doing other things. And I get hit with that where-did-time-go whoosh of feelings.

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Today actually didn’t feel that long. We had a decent start off to school, where the girls were greeted with colorful signs and a special intercom announcement to everyone about their special day. Work was work and it passed quickly. They did great at pickup, ate a great dinner for once, and then enjoyed some incredibly messy ice cream. We let them each practice blowing out a candle, to practice for their big family party Saturday. A few bumps at bedtime, normal for us these days, and now they are sound asleep.

Tomorrow we will be back to normal, I presume. Back to days flying by, back to eye-rolling, tears of frustration and exasperated sighs, punctuated with bursts of giggles and tickles and delightful discovery of new words. Oh, my big girls – we will have so many days we will forget, all of us. Some we will try to forget and succeed, some we will let slip away without noticing. Some, I am sure, we will try to forget and find instead they cling to us like pet hair. That may not be a bad thing.

You fill and break my heart every single day, girls. I am so fortunate and yet still so terrified to be your mother. It is both humbling and awe-inspiring to be trusted with two small souls to nurture. I would not stop time if I could. I don’t miss my tiny babies or my pregnancy, I don’t even miss two months ago. The greatest joy of parenting is watching you learn, discover, create and grow. Seeing you truly becoming your own unique selves is just phenomenally gratifying. I  can’t wait to see what you think up next.

Happy birthday!

I know, but…

I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer: I’m writing from a bit of a dark place, tonight. The kind of dark that comes from exhaustion, and hunger, and frustration and self-loathing, all boiling over while I wait for the benadryl to kick in and give me some peace.

So why write it now, without the benefit of tomorrow’s hindsight? Because I need to remember this. I need to remember it just like this and capture these exact thoughts, not whitewashed by the haze of an induced sleep. It’s a mom thing, maybe, to become conditioned to pushing one’s own feelings aside to do the other, neverending things that need doing. But my feelings do matter, and I need to work through them better and more honestly than I have done in the recent past. And maybe I will get a little whiny and irrational. Well, that’s how I feel.

It sucks to feel like your kid hates you. I know she doesn’t.  Of COURSE she doesn’t hate me. I’m her mother and she’s just a little kid, not in control of her emotions. Shit. I’m not even in control of mine, so I know how that goes. But the hitting and screaming, the defiance and the narrowed eyes and set jaw…contrast this with batting those long lashes and showing off her dimples to anyone but me. She hugs my legs and says mommy mommy, asking for something, and in the split second I turn away from her TO GET HER THE THING SHE ASKED FOR, the meltdown begins and she’s slapping me, stomping her feet, crying real tears and yanking away from me when I try to reach out to her. I try to give her the thing she wanted and she slaps it out of my hand and cries harder.

My kid is pretty whiny and irrational too. I’m acting like a toddler. It helps me to see it written out like this, right in the moment as I am feeling like Mommy Martyr when in reality the only problem is that my feelings are hurt.

She’s supposed to love me, right? And she does, doesn’t she? Of course. I know. But when I get her what she asked for and she won’t take it from me but she will take it from her father, it’s like a personal affront. Yes, I want it but no, not badly enough to take it from you. And that hurts.

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The hurt is immediately, inevitably followed by the guilt washing over me like a wave – all those moments when I wanted her off my leg, every no, I can’t hold you right now because I have to open the oven and no, you can’t come with me because I just want two flipping minutes to pee alone – and it leaves me waist – deep in this thick pool of every moment I’ve pushed her away from my body. And now I’m trying so hard to run to her, I’m waving my arms to reach out to her but my legs are moving in slow motion, underwater, and I can’t get close enough to show her how sorry I am.

She’s not even two yet. I know it’s only going to get worse and I have got to get myself under control, but I don’t know how to fix this. I feel like all I say to her some days is no, stop, or some variation thereof. She’s testing her knowledge of the world and testing the strength of her little body and always, always testing me. I HAVE to stop her when she’s doing something dangerous.  I HAVE to stop her when she’s breaking The House Rules: Don’t physically hurt anyone, and don’t take things away when someone is using them. It’s my job to help her learn these very basic things, the foundation of all common courtesy and social adjustment, and also to keep her alive to do it. She can’t run into the street. She can’t hit her sister with a book, or take a book from her sister. If I don’t enforce these very basic concepts, then I think I am a shitty mom. It is my job to teach her these things, not as an authoritarian but as a loving parent who wants to raise her into a good person with good decision-making skills and respect for others.

Apparently these are very difficult concepts for a toddler.

Dan says when she acts out at me and goes all dimples and giggles for visitors,  it’s because the visitors don’t have to discipline her and she knows it. That  makes sense. But if she’s got the mental capacity to know when it’s ok to push her limits, why does it seem like behavioral corrections never stick?

I might just be doing it wrong.  In these moments on these days, I’m pretty sure of it. So I dive into books and blogs and look for a different thing to try, a different way to correct and lead and nurture. I get online and buy educational toys and craft kits and things to keep them occupied and stimulated so they won’t even bother standing on the dining room table or try to dive headfirst off the back of the couch. All it does is give her more all-natural, educational ammunition to smack someone with or steal from her sister, and more crayons and chalk to eat.

This is normal. This will pass. I know.

But.