Smelling Those Roses

This time of year is odd. On the one hand, it’s summer. The kids are home and free, and the weather is nice (albeit hot here) and there’s lots of fun stuff going on.

On the other hand, school is right around the corner. It starts August 4th here. And once school starts, another year of my kiddo’s lives zips right past us. All the pick ups and drop offs and homework and field trips, and then the holidays and there’s no stopping the freight train that is time when school is in session.

I try to slow down and enjoy the days that we have. But the boys are fighting incessantly, and it’s to hot to go and do many of the things we want to. I’m simultaneously willing the school year to start, and not wanting it to at all.

The Timehop app on my phone shows me pictures from long ago, when Bowie was just a baby and a toddler. And I can’t believe how fast the time has gone, and how big my kiddos are now. Even in pictures from only one year ago, they seem so small in comparison.

People often talk about what the hardest parts of parenting are. Having a newborn. Successfully breastfeeding. Getting kids to sleep through the night. Getting them to even just lay down at bedtime. Making sure they eat healthy. Keeping siblings out of each other’s hair. But I think when we really boil it down, it’s how quickly they grow up. It happens in the blink of an eye.

Every day they rely on us less and less. And eventually, they will rely on us very little, if at all. This is the way of things, of course. We did the same thing to our own parents, and they to their parents, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

So, here’s to slowing down. Enjoying every moment. Playing Legos with them, letting them splash in the bathtub a little longer. Because these moments are fleeting. Gone in a flash. And even a good old fashioned sibling WWE match can be funny and memorable if you’ve got the right mindset.

You’ve Got This

We all want to be a perfect parent. Some of us even already think we are. We do what we self-righteously believe is the right thing to do, in any given situation, and sit smugly at the end of the day, basking in our brilliance.

Or do we?

I think the more likely scenario is that we’re thrown situation after situation that we’ve never had to deal with, nor have we ever thought we’d have to deal with, day in and day out. And we sit in a panic at the end of the day, wondering if we handled all of those situations perfectly. The way a perfect parent would.

The inherent problem in trying to be a perfect parent is that there are so many different choices you can make and still be a “perfect” parent. Breastfeeding? That’s perfect. Bottle feeding? That’s perfect. Co-sleeping? That’s perfect. Crying it out? That’s perfect. Homemade baby food? That’s perfect. Store bought baby food? That’s perfect. See what I’m getting at here?

We make choices for our children that we feel are the right choice at that time and for that child. And so long as we have our child’s best interest in mind, and are not causing our child harm, that makes us a “perfect” parent.

Another problem with this perfect parent business is that we aren’t consistent. Those of us with more than one child know that you aren’t the same parent with your second child as you were with your first, and so on and so on for subsequent children.

For instance, I breastfed Bowie until he was 13 months old. I made about 90% of his baby food at home. I started solids at 7 months. I started potty training at 18 months.

I breastfed Ferris until he was 8 months old, at which time he self-weaned, and I formula fed until he was 1 year old. I made about 20% of his baby food at home. I started solids at 4 months. I started potty training at 2 1/2 years old.

Each child is their own little puzzle. They’ll be ready for different things at different times. You’ll have more time and more attention to devote to some things than other things, especially when baby #2 comes along. And each child has their own personality. Bowie has SPD and requires a little more attention and patience sometimes. Ferris is more daring than Bowie, and was doing things at 18 months that his 5 year old brother was still too scared to try. You have to treat them as individuals, and hard and fast parenting rules don’t work.

Most of the judgment of other parents, I feel, comes from the newbie crowd and the childless crowd. Someone who has no children of their own, yet has a pretty good idea of how things are supposed to work. Or, a mom with her first infant, with a whole long list of things she deems right and wrong for parenthood, without the actual experience to back up her claims. Parenting is one of those things you are not prepared for until you are in the thick of it. In the trenches, wiping poop off of your own face, trying to calm a screaming baby in a crowded public place, balancing a baby on your hip as you wipe a toddler’s butt, having all your lovingly homemade baby food spat back at you, running after your toddler at the zoo, the park, the museum, helping your Kindergartener with homework, being begged for the 100th time for a cookie you’ve said no to 99 times.

It is in these moments that you make certain decisions. Decisions you didn’t previously think you’d make. Jarred baby food, formula, delayed potty training, kid leashes, fast food, bribery, all those things you swore off, they suddenly become very attractive offers. And you decide that in life, there is give and take, weak and strong moments, and you know everything’s best in moderation. So you do what you have to do to survive, to stay sane. And that makes you a perfect parent.

The Way Things Are Supposed to Be

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my older son Bowie has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). He’s also emotionally volatile and fragile, likely as a result of his condition being misunderstood for so long, but he’s also just a sensitive guy.

My husband, my younger son and I spend a good deal of time just negotiating life with Bowie. Handling outbursts. Avoiding outbursts. Trying to give him everything he needs and deserves to be happy, healthy and successful.

I think, for the most part, we’ve grown accustomed to it. Often people passing us on the street mid-breakdown are astonished at his behavior, and that we appear to be so nonplussed by it. But there are those days when he has one too many breakdowns, and our nervous systems just can’t handle any more. Or, we get a lecture from a stranger about what a shit job we’re doing raising our shit kid. And then I just lose it. My husband appears to hold up okay, but I bet he’s losing it too.

Our younger son Ferris is around the age now that Bowie was when we first started to suspect there might be a problem. And so far, Ferris doesn’t seem to exhibit and of those troublesome traits (knock on wood). He’s a much calmer, more agreeable child. Of course he throws fits, he is just three after all, but it’s nowhere near the level we were dealing with for Bowie.

I find myself sometimes alone with Ferris and thinking, this is how it is supposed to be. This is how it was always supposed to be.

I don’t have to worry about Ferris randomly punching another child. I don’t have to worry about him yelling, “Fuck you!” at another child, or at me. I don’t have to worry that he’ll bite another child, or another parent. I don’t have to drag him kicking and screaming from a crowded public place because he’s completely overwhelmed. I don’t have to worry that he will head butt my face, sock me in the eye or kick me in the teeth.

Yes, Bowie actually did all of these things.

It’s the trouble with having your first child be a child with special needs. If you have another child, you get a glimpse into what a “normal” kid is like, and the whole special needs situation that you thought you had the hang of suddenly seems so very abnormal. 

It’s not that I wish to change Bowie in any way. He is my son and I love him 100%, difficulties and all. I never let my brain get to that place where I start to wish he were different. I stop those thoughts dead in their tracks. Because that’s not how I feel.

Sometimes I just wonder what life would have been like for us, what life could have been like for Bowie, if we weren’t dealing with SPD. It would have shaped our family so differently. But would that have been a good thing or a bad thing?

And how do people cope with larger issues? Bowie’s SPD is no walk in the park, but it’s pretty low on the scale of special needs in kids. What is it like for people who have it a little harder than us? I feel like I should just be grateful that Bowie is difficult, yes, but manageable.

I’d love to hear from other parents of kids with special needs. Or people who are friends with them. Do they ever get caught up in this “what if?” thinking? And do they feel mass amounts of parental guilt because of it? Is it taboo to talk about your other child(ren) as “easier?”

Just some stuff I’ve been musing on lately.

boys

Reason #4954 Parenting is Just the Best

Over the past week or two, we have slowly ventured into the parenting minefield known as potty training with Ferris. He usually goes on the potty in the morning and before bed, and maybe once in between. I was afraid we were heading into “waited too long” territory, but it finally started happening.

With Bowie, we were new parents and we started right when he turned 2, thinking that’s just when you started, that’s just how it worked. We’d put him on the potty every few hours, like a puppy, and give him a little treat when he went, and then in a few weeks he’d be all potty trained, just like that. Over and out.

Any seasoned parent reading this knows that’s not entirely how it goes. And with Bowie, it ended up being as easy and enjoyable as giving a dental exam to a hungry lion. And the journey that began when he turned 2 didn’t end until he was about to turn 4. There were many a day spent at home with him running around completely naked from the waist down so he could make a mad dash to the potty when he felt that urge. We gave more than one UPS guy the most interesting day of his career.

So, when it came to Ferris, we took a much more relaxed stance on the issue. We encouraged it, of course, but never forced it. Some days he was excited about it, some days not so much. But, it’s starting to work. He’s getting self-aware, knowing when he has to go, though he generally just tells us as he’s going, or shortly after. But, we’ll get there, slowly but surely. And then we wait for our good friend, regression.

But, it’s also been a good 3 years since we’ve really had to worry about the issue at all, and so much of it has been blocked out and tucked away in my subconscious to protect my sanity. I feel like we’re totally new at it again. I hesitate to use a reward system, because we have been showering him with praise whenever he’s successful, which he hates (a trait no doubt inherited from his mama).

So, what were your experiences like? Any pointers for anyone out there doing this for the first time? Any tried and true methods? What motivates a kid who hates praise?

As you can see, he’s having a blast with it, and giving us all that toddler respect for elders.

ferris on the throne

 

Growing Up

Yesterday the director of Ferris’ preschool announced that there were 6 weeks left in the school year. And it triggered that familiar twinge I get each year at this time. Another school year in the books. My babies are another year older.

To add insult to injury, Bowie’s birthday always falls right around the last day of the school year. So he truly does turn a year older.

I know if you’re a parent and you’re reading this that I’m preaching to the choir. It’s tough to see the wee ones grow up into big ones. And then bigger ones. And it’s hard to think about the day they will leave the nest.

I will be just innocently going about my day, relishing in how little my children still are, and then I will see a picture of them from one year ago, and realize just how big they have gotten. And then I say, “Stop growing up so fast!” And I’m only like, half kidding.

But, when they do something completely amazing, like form their first full sentence, or read their first full sentence, or use the bathroom all by themselves, or help their friend up after they fall. Then you’re so proud. You puff out your chest and smile ear to ear, and think to yourself, “I made that. Me. I did.”

I remember when Bowie was little I would think, “Two is just the best age. I don’t want this to end.” But then three was awesome. “Three is just the best age. I don’t want this to end.” And then four was awesome too. And so on, and so forth.

Every new step comes with its own challenges and new horizons. And you look back on the previous years as being so easy. Why didn’t I just slow down and enjoy that more? Why did I think that was so hard?

But, every new step also comes with its own really amazing stuff. Suddenly your kid is capable of things you never even thought of waiting for them to do. And you can have conversations with them. And you can enjoy just hanging out with them. It’s much more relaxing at 6 that it is at 2, for sure.

I know the teen years are hard. Even if only because I was so terrible myself as a teen. But, I know that it will also be great for so many new reasons. And then when they are grown, yes they will leave me, but then I get to watch them go out into the world and become something.

I’ll sit back and watch and think, “I made that. Me. I did.”

boys at the park

 

The Playground Structure that Taught Me Something About Myself

Most of the playgrounds in San Francisco have been remodeled, rebuilt, revamped. And they look great, and modern, and they’re lots of fun. Take a look at these pictures of the completely amazing playground at Dolores Park for an (exaggerated) example.

There are a handful that have not been updated since, oh I don’t know, the 70s? 80s? The dangers and hazards at these things are a work of art, yet they oddly draw me in as a mom. They look like the playgrounds I grew up playing at. And I like that.

One such park has no official name, but has been dubbed by the neighborhood the Blue Boat Park, or more simply, the Boat Park. It’s close to our house, and is a neighborhood favorite, and we’ve been there many times for play dates, birthday parties, or just the Mom-needs-to-get-out neighborhood jaunts.

There’s a bunch of stuff at this park for the kids to play on, including, as the name suggests, an old blue boat that rests in the sand, a gloriously tall and skinny metal slide, old school monkey bars and wood, tons and tons of unfinished wood. There were, until recently some amazingly dangerous baby swings, but those have been replaced.

There’s one structure in particular that at first had me a little worried. It’s a wooden structure with a crazy, curvy, old school metal slide and a fire pole. The only way to get up in order to go down the slide or fire pole is to first go up a simple ladder made of metal tubes. Or to go up the slide the wrong way, a neighborhood kid favorite. The structure is also really tall, so you can’t lift your child up onto it.

 The tendency, I think, for a modern American parent is to go up on playground structures with their kid, at least the first few times. Especially if they’re under the age of 3. And especially if it looks like this one. But on this structure, you can’t. There’s just no easy way, or safe way for that matter, to do it. So, Bowie, like all the other kids, had to patiently wait until he was big enough and coordinated enough and brave enough to climb the ladder himself. And that day did eventually come.

I didn’t think a whole lot about it, beyond our first day visiting that park, and being a little disappointed about it. Until the other day when I saw a mother trying as hard as she could to carry her small daughter up onto that structure. She tried and she tried until she realized that it’s not safe to do, and then she finally gave up. But she said, “The city should really just take this one down.”

What? A play structure that’s been there no doubt for decades, and has delighted thousands of kids, needs to come down because you can’t carry your 18 month old to the top?

Now, some parts of my momming are very Type A and helicopter-y. I will admit it. And it’s a constant struggle for me to try to keep all of that anxiety at bay and sometimes just let my kids be kids. But, until I saw this frustrated mom at the Boat Park, I had no idea just how well I was doing with that, and also how far I’ve come since being a new mom.

Once I figured out Bowie was going to have to tackle that playground structure on his own, that was it for me. I didn’t put any more thought into it. I didn’t think the structure was a hazard, or that the way it was built wasn’t fair to the smaller children, or that it needed to come down. I didn’t get worried when he finally did figure it out and went up there all alone. I just shrugged my shoulders and went about my day.

That playground structure is a parental exercise in letting go. And I learned from that exercise that I can let go, when they’re ready, and when I need to. We’ll chat about this again when they’re teenagers, but for now, I’m proud of myself.

Baby on Board

You know those little caution signs you hang in your car’s back window to let everyone know there’s a baby inside? Baby on Board! We don’t have one, I don’t know why, I guess I never felt like spending the money and also saw one for sale at the same time in the same place. But, I’ve heard people complaining about them lately. “You think your baby is so much more special than everyone else on the road, you gotta put a sign in the window that says, hey, look at me, I had a baby! I’m special!” Or something to that effect.

But, I’m here today to tell you it doesn’t mean that at all. Here’s a few things a Baby on Board sign does mean:

–Warning: Distracted Driver. Babies and kids might be a distraction for the driver. Nay, babies and kids ARE ALWAYS a distraction for the driver. Pretty much the entire time they are in the car. Something is amiss–they’re hungry, they’re thirsty, it’s too sunny, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, they have to pee, the straps of their carseat are digging into their shoulders, because they just grew another inch since getting in–whatever it is, they’ve got to YELL and SCREAM about it. And sometimes things are thrown. It’s hard to drive like this. Is it unreasonable to expect the other drivers to deal with that? Totally. But, you’ve been warned.

–Don’t Drive Like a Shit Around Me. Don’t tailgate. Don’t drive 20 miles over the speed limit. Don’t weave in and out of traffic like it’s a damn NASCAR race. I have CHILDREN in my car. Know how much fun it is to rear end someone? Well, guess how much fun it is to rear end someone with kids in their car. Someone who is a grown up, responsible adult (ok, haha, just kidding) that the police are going to side with.

–Save Your Sanity: Don’t Go Where I’m Going. Don’t. Just don’t.

When One Becomes Two, What Becomes of Me

I’m having one of those days. Where I clean up a mess only to turn around and find another one. Where it feels like the house will be messy forever. Where I put a plate of lunch in front of my son, and it sits untouched for 10 minutes when he announces, “I’m hungry!” Where I can’t read a full sentence on my favorite blog without interruptions like “I want bubble gum!”, “I NEED to watch a show!”, “Please cut the green parts off of my strawberries!!!” (I realize that makes me look a little selfish, but after a morning of reading books, playing race cars and running around the park together, I thought maybe I could catch up on a little blog reading before preschool. Alas.)

I also see the summer days ahead of us, not so far away. I’ve got Bowie signed up for summer school, but that is still only 6 of the 12 weeks that comprise the summer months, and we’re not sure if it will even work out for him this year.

And when I’m getting frustrated, and thinking “motherhood is so flipping hard sometimes!”, I get a stirring from my expanding midsection, reminding me that while I have only one child for now, pretty soon there will be two. I used to marvel at the fact that we had made a person. A real, live person. We made one. And now, we have made people. Plural.

GULP.

While Bowie will eventually move through this needy, demanding, messy preschooler phase, his little brother will be going through it too, at some point. It makes me feel a little defeated. If I can’t learn how to see past the peanut butter smeared on the window and see the humor in it, how on earth will I be able to do this small kid scene for five more years? Five more years.

When I can coax optimistic Beth out of her shell again, she’s telling me that I’m learning this mom thing day by day. That, as unfortunate of a reality as it is, Bowie is the “test child”. The one I make all my mistakes on. The one that will teach me to be a better mom to his brother. The one who is teaching me to let things slide a bit. I’m going to get better at this. We’re going to get better at this.

Somewhere inside, I will find that amazing mom strength that we all have in us. I thought maybe I used it all up with Bowie, but helping him cope with these sensory issues while also being pregnant has shown me that there are infinite reserves available of this mom power. I will get by, I will get through.

Deep breath. I can do this.

Right?

The Tree

We read The Giving Tree a lot in our house, it’s one of munchkin’s favorites. Today, he made a connection:

Out of the blue he says, “Mommy, you’re the tree and I love you.”

“I love you too.” [kiss]

“No, mama. Trees don’t kiss. But, trees can hug.”

“Ok.” [hug]

“You are my tree and I love you.”

MIND = BLOWN

But, you know, I think that’s maybe the underlying message of the whole book? That I haven’t figured out in 25 years of reading the book?

The tree loves the boy and gives him everything he needs to be happy, expecting nothing in return. Yep, that about sums up parenthood.

Ok, I need a little advice.

Bowie picked up a new phrase at some point, and started using it quite a bit while we were on our trip.

“I hate you!”

As in, I hate you Mommy, for making my PB&J with different jelly than what we have at home. I hate you Daddy, for making me put on sunscreen before sitting out in the hot, Hawaiian sun. I hate you Grandma for making me listen to my mommy. I hate you Grandpa for telling me to listen to Grandma and Mommy and Daddy. I hate you random kid I don’t know for splashing me in the pool.

Hate hate hate. One of my least favorite words, over and over. And I have no idea what to do about it.

If I ignore it, he keeps repeating it, louder and louder, until the entire universe has decided that I’m a bad parent.

If I respond, in any way, he wins. He gets attention. Negative attention, but attention nonetheless. And I seriously don’t think he’s not getting enough attention otherwise, though who knows. Maybe some kids need more than others?

So, help me bloggy universe. I think that this is a relatively normal phase. But, I would still like to nip it in the bud. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy hearing “I HATE YOU!” 300 million times a day.

What do the “experts” say? What have you tried? What works? What doesn’t? HELP ME.