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Yesterday was language development day.  After a successful attempt at getting the Snapper dressed without a fuss–victory is mine!–taking a stroller ride to KMart for laundry detergent, and some wonderful freeplay, we played with a stack of letter cards together.  They’re the kind with the letter and some sort of representative object.  We just went through them saying the object and the letter it begins with.  I didn’t think it would make much of an impression (he’s only 2 1/2, after all), but at the bus stop as we were hunkered down watching the miniature world of the sidewalk I asked him, “what letter does ‘ant’ begin with?” (‘ant’ was on the ‘a’ card specifically) and he answered “A, Alligators all Around!” quoting a song we love.  It was thrilling.  Of course it could just be a coincidence and he certainly doesn’t know all of his letters, but it was cool.

After lunch/reading/nap we hopped on the bus to the library, where he had a tantrum over sharing at the train table (seriously, if you are going to have your 14-year-old babysit, please forbid them from texting) and got to see his favorite babysitter.  Then we met Attic Man and friends for pizza downtown.  One of the Snapper’s most favoritist of Attic Man’s friends was there, and he was ecstatic to have the friend carry him partway to the bus stop to go home.

I wanted to say a couple of things about this preschool-at-home approach.  First, it’s mostly for me.  I need structure to, as Kohana phrased it, always be moving toward the “next thing” so I don’t get stuck.  Second, I really believe there are as many ways to parent as there are kids, and that lots of people do it with very little structure and their kids thrive.  Mine wasn’t (well, as much as he could be), and I wasn’t, so I did what was needed.  Third, I am not in the least deluded enough to think that this will necessarily give the Snapper any kind of academic edge.  He already lives in a language-rich environment with adults that pay attention to him and include him.  Honestly the teaching is just a lot of fun for both of us.  The moment it becomes work we will change it up.  I imagine the unschooling people have a similar philosophy with their older kids, and I can really get behind that.  Learning should be fun.

One of the nice things we’ve arranged these days is for Attic Man to do the entire bedtime routine so that I can go to our Community Garden plot in the evenings.  It’s been so nice to get my hands in the dirt.  I’ve planted peas, broccoli, romaine lettuce, okra tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, cilantro, green beans, and cosmos for the ends of the rows.  And I’m planting more today!  I may run out of garden before I can use up all my seed packets.

And the Snapper this morning?  Playing happily in his room.  He hasn’t called for me yet so I’m enjoying the time to myself.  He has never done that before.

So life is good.

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First it was the battle over changing his pull-up before nursing; then over helping make pancakes (he declared the dry ingredients he was stirring “mine,” screaming); what to have for lunch; what to have for snacks; not going onto every porch of every house we passed; and a dozen other little things.

BUT the schedule, for whatever reason, is making the craziness more bearable.  I have a suspicion that it makes me feel in control of the larger aspects of the day.  I build in a lot of choice and flexibility for him, but the flow of the day is in my hands.  Before if he had a tantrum over not wanting to get dressed it unraveled the whole day.  I got really tired of failing at managing a small tyrant.

Today we did an art lesson after a lovely trip outside–we chased the garbage truck all the way to the end of our long road and back–on collage with pieces of interestingly texured paper.  It was a lot of fun, except that I should have kept it to about ten minutes.  He started acting up after that, which isn’t surprising given that it was almost lunch time and he must have been hungry after all that running.

Our nap didn’t go as scheduled because he slept in so late this morning.  I’m amazed I didn’t lose it without that good chunk of time to myself.  I did leave him in his room for quiet time and listened to make sure he was safe, so at least I got to sit down.

Once again he was crazy happy about circle time; again he requested it several times through the course of the day.  One time he asked to be the teacher, and gave me stickers for sitting nicely!  He picked the song and read a book to me.  It was too cute.

I’m feeling a lot less stressed and angry since we started this.  I know we’ve only tried it on two days but I have high hopes.

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Parenting Revamp

The last ten months of life with the Snapper have been extremely trying.  Last June, just as we were being hit by the flood, he hit 18 months, or rather 18 months hit us.  He began tantruming hard, daily, hitting and biting, and being oppositional to most transitions and parental directions.  That summer I spent weekdays without Attic Man, as he was interning in another city, so the entire task of managing, or surviving, the Snapper’s behavior fell on me, with a little respite on the weekends.

Fall came with Attic Man home but doing his busiest semester yet.  We were both extremely stressed out through the fall and spring semesters, which probably didn’t help our very sensitive boy who began to act out even more (minus the aggression, which is now almost gone) and have the occasional three-week-long bout of insomnia.  I got used to it taking 2 hours or more to get him to bed and rising with him as early as 4:30.  To top it off he has been sick three times since late January, a week each with the flu, and is just getting over a bad cold.

We’ve worked hard on the sleep, and between that and him being past the two-year sleep regression, he is now going to bed at a reasonable time–with me out of the house and Attic Man running the show–and waking up at an equally reasonable time.  I feel like a new woman.

Once I was rested, I started to finally think rationally about my out-of-character feelings this past months.  I am a person who has always loved children, always done well with them, and has always imagined her fall-back job as nanny.  As I looked into part-time employment opportunities for the fall, I found my eyes wandering to the nanny ads.  Then I realized how crazy that was: a miserable PT SAHM looking for MORE work with children during the day?

I began to think about how I would approach a nanny job.  I would see it as an opportunity to make an impact in the education and development of young children.  I would make up a schedule, I would seek out interesting and fun and wacky field trips, I would design funky art projects, have dance parties, and be mindful at every step of their developmental needs.

Like a smack on the forehead, I realized that I’ve become bored as a PT SAHM and that, while my child is certainly strong-willed, my unhappiness may be contributing to his behavioral issues.  Even if becoming more structured does not settle him down, it will at least settle me down enough to calmly approach his needs.

I’m thinking of starting by trying to keep his daycare schedule here at home (we already keep his naptime the same) with circle time in the morning and the same snack and lunch times.  I think circle time would help ground us both and set the tone for the day.

I’m also going to be more intentional about hitting the major areas of his development: language, music, movement, art, and math (um, really just counting).  We’ll have naturally-occuring lessons on safety and kindness, of course, as we have been.  I have to face the fact that I am a teacher at heart and I need to be working this like a job to be satisfied.

I’m also going to be more consistent with his potty training.  He is in underwear at home and in pull-ups out and at night.  I need to work in regular times to ask (I never, ever force) and re-do his rewards.

Oh, and the TV is so going OFF.  I may consider adding it back in a teensy bit as a reward, but it’s off entirely for at least the first week (except for 5 minutes at bedtime, which is something he does with his dad and I’m not going to mess with success, especially if it’s not my routine).

Here’s an idea of what I might be doing.  I am going to have to tweak it, but it’s the general idea.

Monday–

a.m. Rise and immediately remove pull-up, go to potty, put on underwear, nurse.  Breakfast.  Clean up and get dressed. (Currently he will refuse to take his pull-up until as late as 10 a.m., which is just so gross; also we don’t usually dress unless going outside, but I’m going for structure here).

9:00 Circle time.  Sing “What is the Weather” and use weather stickers.  Talk about the day of the week, the color or number of the day, etc.  You know, all that Sesame Street stuff.  I have to work some of this out.  It will be really short.

9:30 Snack.

Nice day: 9:45-11:30 OUTSIDE!

Rainy day: 9:45-11 Outside with galoshes or inside free play; 11-11:30 Music activity.

11:30-12 Mama makes lunch.  The Snapper helps if she is feeling brave.

12-12:30 Eat lunch.

12:30-3 Reading time, nap.

3-4 Snack, Movement (dance party, yoga, running around the apt, etc.)

4-5:30 Free play; Reading together; Music activity if we’ve been outside in the morning.

Evening routine, which Attic Man runs and involves going to the playground while I garden.

Tuesday–Daycare.

Wednesday–Same as Monday except focus is on art.

Thursday–Daycare.

Friday–Same as Monday and Wednesday except public library for p.m. free-play time (our library is less busy on Friday afternoon, and we’ve had no success at all with preschool storytime on Wednesday mornings).  Also perhaps a field trip for the morning.

This is just a rough sketch and I will be really flexible.  The idea is just to be intentional and have a plan, however malleable.  The touchstones will be circle time, mealtimes, and naptime.

I’ll do housework during free play.  Naptime will remain my time to chill out.

Monday is launch day.

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In two and a half minutes, no matter how well you structure my environment, I will scream for approximately five minutes after my bath.  I love water and it is not fair that you will not let me stay in the bathtub all night and I don’t care if my lips turn blue.  So there.

When our kids our babies it is easy to coast a bit. And thank goodness–we are so tired from night feedings and hourly diaper blowouts and lugging carseats that we hardly have the energy.

Then they become toddlers. No more escape from issues of discipline and parenting techniques. My son, for one, is in a tantrum phase. Big picture-wise, it’s good. It means that he is feeling and asserting a will of his own and that he is working on communication. It also means that it’s time for us to figure out where we want to go with our parenting. My situation is frustrating because I am (was?) a trained behaviorist and a lot of my reactions in that direction are second nature at this point. Over the past few years, especially after working at the group home, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with behavioral techniques. They just don’t address the whole of a person. A person is not a robotic consumer of rewards and loather of punishment (I have a more sophisticated critique but I’m going to shorthand it here). I also have some baggage from my upbringing, nothing serious, but some things I’d like to do differently.

All this means that there’s a bit of a vacuum when it comes to discipline and I feel like I’m kind of trying to find my way in the dark. I’m making a lot of it up as I go along. Lately we’ve been working on pairing ‘no’ with a simple, pared-down reason: “danger!”; “that belongs to the puppy”; “you must wait.” We’re labeling his emotions for him: “Say, ‘mama, I’m angry/sad/frustrated!'”; “it’s hard to wait for what you want”; “you’re feeling tired, aren’t you?” I told a friend the other day that it also helps me reorient myself to empathy and compassion rather than pure frustration and resentfulness towards the Snapper. It IS hard to be little.

I also want to parent pro-actively. I want to create situations that have just enough challenge for him to learn but not so much that he’ll be overwhelmed. I’m not sure how to do this with our regular everyday goings-on, though. No matter how well we babyproof there will always be things he shouldn’t get into that he can reach. There’s no way I can see to head off the tantrum. I read in a comment on AskMoxie the other day that you can “honor the impulse” (not sure of the professional that wording comes from) so that if your child is, say, trying to climb somewhere inappropriate you can offer an appropriate place to climb. Sometimes it’s impractical, of course. Especially if your house is as tiny as ours and it’s the dead of winter.
We do LOTS of praise with labeling (“good listening!”; “you followed directions! way to go!”; “you are being safe/kind!”) which is behaviorist but in a way I want to keep.

The thing that bothers me the most is the approaching-aggressive stuff, like head butting and face swatting. All I know to do is to hold his little hands or head gently but firmly and say (not yell), “no hitting. that hurts me” and let him have his scream.

I read somewhere else (Mothering?) that tantrums are a natural and necessary outlet for the torrent of emotions our children experience and that the best we can do is offer a safe and supportive environment for them to happen and some language for them after it has happened. I’ve been trying to work with that idea, too.

This is not much of a post–just working it out on the screen, as it were.

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Thanks, Paragraphein.

From: What Privileges Do You Have?
-based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University.
(If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.)Directions: Bold the statements that apply to you.

1. Father went to college.
2. Father finished college.
3. Mother went to college.
4. Mother finished college.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 assuming that sport counts.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
16. Went to a private high school.
17. Went to summer camp.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.(mortgage not paid off)

25. You had your own room as a child.
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

It’s funny because this list is based on upbringing, but it reminds me of how privileged I am NOW.  For instance, I may not have any direct relatives who are physicians, attorneys, or professors, but I have many close contacts and friends who are.  Mostly I’m thinking about how different my son’s answers will be, and how that scares me a little bit.

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Fifteen Months

nearly.

Why is it that when YOUR kid starts doing something normal, something that all kids do around that age, it feels like this amazing, spectacular accomplishment, like it is an astounding feat of humanity?  Because that’s how I feel every single time the Snapper does something new.  Now the new things come daily: using a spoon and fork (correctly); pretending to talk on an old cellphone held up to his ear, complete with jibberish followed by, “bye, bye!”; using a comb (correctly); hugging and patting his doll (“aww, Snapper!  you’re such a good father!  look at you holding your baby!”); grabbing my neck with both hands and pulling me in for a slimy kiss…He is incredible, this kid, my kid. He was just a baby!  Just a few months ago!  I want to run to the computer and tell you all of it like it was worthy of the evening news.  But then I want to gather it up into my heart and keep it a secret, too.  Like this morning when I was changing him, and he was fussy, and he grabbed my neck, pulled me down, and turned his head to the side to give me his neck.  I kissed and kissed him and he laughed and laughed.  I came up, he pulled me down, this time turning his head the other way.  Kiss, kiss, giggle, giggle.  These are the things I wanted when I dreamed of parenthood.  They’re the things I guess I thought would never come, irrationally, during the first sleepless six weeks.  And yet they’re coming faster than I can count them.  Every day closer to his full self, every day also closer to his death, the one I’m supposed to keep at bay for as long as I can–every day closer to goodbye.  This is the best and most painful thing I’ve ever done.  I’m glad I’m doing it.

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Two days working at the group home.  Two days dissertating.  Two days of homemaking and childcare.

One day called “Family Day” for me to be exhausted and for Attic Man, who has been caring for the Snapper all weekend, to race to school to catch up on work.

I can’t tell whether it’s ‘balanced’ or crazy, this radical, constant role-switching.  The group home is two very long days in a row, but the other days are mixed up–one buried in books and writing with kisses at the door, one in pajamas until midmorning frantically trying to catch up on laundry and dishes, one back to the books, one morning at home followed by an afternoon at work.  There are no transitions.  I put on a hat and set off running.

Two times I am really, really tired: Thursday night, after we’ve all been away from home for 11 hours, and Sunday, after my two long shifts.  Sunday is the bad one–I just can’t be needed any more, but there is a child and two dogs who have missed me, so that isn’t an option.  I feel grateful for my life on dissertation days and to a certain extent on homemaking days, and for moments at the group home.  I do not feel grateful when the exhaustion that has nipped at my heels all week finally catches up with me.  I cry, pick fights, get despondent.

***

We tried something new yesterday that confirms to me that we have now entered the “chopped liver” phase of parenting which I believe is supposed to last until the child turns 35 or even 40.  I have noticed that on daycare days our midday nurse is getting shorter and shorter, and that while morning drop-off goes quite well, pre-nap midday drop off does not.  The Snapper is also taking soy milk well now.  So I thought that although it has been a nice interlude for me and a chance to reconnect, it might no longer be worth it for the boy.  So yesterday I dropped him off at 8 and didn’t return until 5.  His teachers reported that he drank two whole sippy cups full of soy milk, and didn’t cry before or after his nap for the first time since starting daycare.  He was happy to see me but didn’t act like I’d been gone for decades.  I am happy for him but sad for me.  We’re almost certainly entering a time of increased weaning, as we’ve never gone this long in the daytime without nursing (as for pumping, if I’m going to put up with the time loss and inconvenience I might as well nurse him–and no way can I pump enough to equal two sippy cups at this stage).  I don’t think he’s ready to fully wean, thank goodness.  I hope he continues to nurse for a good long time.

At any rate I think this all means that he is nicely attached and emotionally doing quite well.  This makes me pleased and proud as a parent, of course, but also a little sad that he doesn’t need me as much.  I will probably be getting over this soon.  I am already moving in that direction, especially since my productivity increased noticeably yesterday.

***

Snow.

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