Thursday, April 28, 2011

How Much Is Enough?

One morning this week I took my not-quite-six-month-old son out in the rain. Without a raincoat. Or a hat. On purpose. I think he liked it, although his conversational skills are a bit underdeveloped, so I can’t be sure.
My daughters eat cereal off the ground. In fact, I have said things to them like, “Everyone do your part to help clean up. Start by eating these Cheerios on the floor.” My middle child intentionally eats sand on a regular basis.
Sand is yummy!
I never take my kids’ temperatures. If one of them feels really super hot and it’s interrupting their sleep and/or interfering with their daily activities, I will give them a bit of acetaminophen or ibuprofen or whatnot. We almost never go to the doctor for anything other than “well” visits. If they seem really sick, we would, and we have, because I just know, but I couldn’t explain my thought process.
I try not to flip out about the small stuff. Let kids by kids, they are resilient, and all that. I don’t want to be The Parent Who Worries About Every Freaking Thing
However . . . I also don’t want to be The Parent Who Stands Just Outside The Playground Fence Talking On Her Cell Phone And Lighting Her Cigarette

Look out below!
Free Range Parenting sounds good on many levels, in theory. Still, I can’t completely get on board. Talk to anyone over age 30 and you will inevitably hear some story about something they did as a kid, when no parents were around, while they were outside (“until the street lights came on” seems to be a common denominator). All of these stories end the Exact Same Way: “ . . . and I turned out fine.” Really? Fine? You wanna go there?

Helicopter Parenting, on the other extreme, sounds a wee bit obsessive. Eventually I would like my children to be able to function in the world without my day-to-day assistance.
But I’m not raising chickens. Or helicopters. 
I’d like to think I’ve reached a happy middle ground. But sometimes I let worry get the best of me. Usually I’m okay, until Something Happens. Then the paranoia sets in. And it’s hard to let go. 
For instance, my middle child is a bit of a daredevil. I was a lot calmer with J’s antics until one evening last December when she fell backwards off the couch onto her head. And her eyes did that weird, rolling back thing, and she almost passed out, and I yelled at her to stay awake until we could get to the emergency room. (Which, thankfully, is about a 90-second drive.) She had a pretty good bump, but was otherwise fine.
Busted!
I can’t help it; injuries just really freak me out. I am getting better at this, but sometimes I need to remind myself that people survive gunshot wounds to the head, falling off cliffs, and being impaled by tree branches. In the grande scheme of things, this is so minor.

What presses your Worry Button? How has it changed as your kids grow?

Monday, April 25, 2011

What Kindergarten Teachers Know

One of my favorite parenting books is What Kindergarten Teachers Know (2008) by Lisa Holewa and Joan Rice. I found this gem on Amazon for five bucks. Subtitled “Practical and Playful Ways for Parents to Help Children Listen, Learn, and Cooperate at Home,” it’s primarily geared toward parents of 3–6 year olds but includes information applicable for younger and older children as well.

Following are just five of the many terrific tips I learned from this book. I have paraphrased quite a bit, but also included the exact page numbers the info can be found and some personal tidbits.

1. The power of repetition and visual reminders (p. xviii).

The authors include the example of a teacher telling her students to complete three actions: go to their lockers, put on their coats, and get their backpacks. She does this by first saying what she wants them to do, then holding up three fingers as she repeats the requests one by one (touching a finger each time). She repeats the key words another two times each: locker, coat, backpack . . . locker, coat, backpack. 

I find this technique most useful when I need to get everyone out the door to shuttle the oldest to school. It’s not effective to tell a 4-year-old to “finish getting ready”—she needs specifics. I tell her exactly what she needs to do: “use the bathroom, put your book in your backpack, bring me your shoes . . . bathroom, book, shoes . . . bathroom, book, shoes.” Clear expectations + simple to remember instructions = easier transitions. Really, you can use this method with just about anything. So easy. Love!

2. Patience vs. understanding (pp. 12–13).

As a former student of psychology, I found this most interesting: being patient with a young child and understanding him/her are two different things. The implication is your day will be less frustrating if you know where your child is developmentally (and hence, what he/she is or is not capable of) than if you simply withstand the behavior. No, it doesn’t always make it less exasperating in the moment, but it may give you pause. Patience alone is not enough—eventually you run out. Understanding allows you to look at the situation more objectively.

I have a rather, um, challenging just-turned-three-year-old. I need this one ALL the time. I’m learning to keep my expectations in line with reality. It’s a work in progress.

3. Knowing “the procedure” (pp. 84–86).

This section talks about the importance of routine. Specifically, having a routine so well rehearsed it simply becomes How Things Are Done (aka, the procedure). Most folks likely associate routine with bedtime, but routines are useful in many other daily interactions with children. This is not to be confused with a strict schedule to follow; instead, it is a structure that keeps things flowing, an expected and familiar way of doing things. You can have a “procedure” in place for just about any part of your day.

My Eva is all about full disclosure. She *needs* to know what to expect next. She clearly understands the procedure for various tasks, and appreciates an explanation for deviations. By taking this into consideration in our interactions, our days go much smoother. She will also totally call me on it when I do it differently.

For example, for safety’s sake, we have a certain procedure for getting in the car at school pickup. I always park with J’s door away from the street. I open J’s door and let her in first (because she’s the most impulsive and the most likely to dart). Then I set the baby in his car seat and close the door. Next, I walk E one around to the other side and buckle her into her booster. Finally, I walk back around the car and buckle up A and J. If I don’t turn the car around, and it’s facing the “wrong” way, or if I let J hang out by the car while I buckle the baby in first, E objects. It’s not How We Do Things.

4. Don’t ask permission (p. 109).
If your goal is compliance, don’t phrase what you say as optional, or like you are giving an out. I am so guilty of this. Whenever I hear the word “okay?” come out of my mouth at the end of something I’ve just said to one of my children, I cringe a thousand cringes. Relatives of this verbal wishy-washiness include simply repeating your instructions louder and in a more agitated voice, and entering into a debate with your child. (Anybody want to guess who’s going to win that one?) If you intend to give directions, don’t make requests instead. 

I find that I need to consciously think about this every day. I think it has something to do with this ingrained desire to be “nice.” I feel the need to tack on a petition for approval. Ugh. Will be working on this one.

5. How do they see you? (p. 139).

This profound yet simple technique is to imagine yourself looking in a mirror and seeing yourself as your child sees you. Do you like your reflection? Every time?

All I have to say about this one is wow . . . definitely puts things in perspective.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reminders

In my pre-kid days I took a class at the gym that started at 5:30 a.m. (Yeah; I know.) I remember driving there one Friday . . .  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year. For this reason more cars filled the road than usual for that time. Near the end of my drive, I stopped for a green light. I have no idea why, but I slowed down and came to a complete stop at the traffic light. In the moment it took me to think “what the heck am I doing?” a car ran the red light across my path.
One night three years ago, as my second daughter was sleeping next to me, I started watching her chest move up and down gently as she breathed that sweet baby breath. But after a while, it wasn’t moving. Now, I know young babies (she was about six weeks at the time) sometimes have weird breathing patterns, but this seemed like an eternity (although probably only about 20 seconds). I put my hand on her and startled her a bit, she let out a gasp, and then she went right back to sleep, breathing normally, as if nothing had happened. I have wondered what the outcome would have been had we not been co-sleeping.
About two months back I had a “mishap” with the car involving a failed wheel bearing (which leaves you unable to steer properly). I felt for weeks something was just not right with the car, but I chalked it up to paranoia and never mentioned it. Thankfully, all it did was send me into a curb at 15 miles per hour right outside the military base where we live instead of into another car on the highway, into the guard rail on the bridge I crossed over one minute earlier, or worse. Two of my three babies were in the car with me.
I’m not sure if these would be considered “miracles” by most, but to me they were. I think of miracles as confirmation that God is looking out for you: Things that happen in your life that you attribute to God’s provision. When I recognize them (and I admit sometimes it takes a while) I make an effort to consider that perhaps God is trying to tell me something. Any time God speaks to you is a miracle. And if you’re really listening, God is *always* speaking to you.
“Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”
—Author Unknown
My Littlest Miracle
I can remember other examples as well, probably not unique to me. I’m sure most mothers can relate to the following:
When your three-year-old impulsively runs out into the street or parking lot to get something that blew away, and no car is coming at that exact moment, although there were plenty of vehicles around just before and just after. 
That time when you have your hands full, trying to get a toddler up the stairs, and she slips, and your heart stops imagining her flailing down, but she doesn’t.
Being frustrated when your child makes you “late” by being demanding of your time and you come upon an accident at your exit that just happened, that could have been you if you were on time and out there five minutes sooner.
Accept the reminders from God. Listen. Appreciate them, and praise Him for the little miracles in your life.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Love

I was never one to be head over heels for a fetus. Yes, I loved being pregnant, and I loved the baby I carried in an abstract sort of way, but I didn’t really feel any pre-birth “bonding” so to speak. Even after we knew the genders and determined names, I still just felt *pregnant* with her/him instead of *mother* to her/him. For me, it took actually pushing that little bundle out of me to really get it. Actually, with Baby #1, it took even longer.

When Eva was a newborn, it took me a while to feel like she was mine and I was her mother. I had this thought in the back of my mind that soon her real parents would show up and admonish me for being so silly that I actually thought I got to keep her. Mostly this was because I had No Idea What I Was Doing. None. I remember coming home from the hospital two days after her birth and feeling like someone should have given me a phone number to call for help, an instruction sheet, the location of the customer service desk . . . anything. I had more guidance and follow-up when I bought my first car.
Agents E and J meet Agent A for the first time
Eventually, that feeling faded, and with the next two pregnancies and births, I was much more confident much earlier on. However, when I first stared at the stick for pregnancy #2, a different panic swept over me: How do you love two kids equally? How can another little person stir up those exact same feelings again? What if you prefer one over the other?
Well, you don’t.
Loving your children is not like dividing up pie . . . where there’s only so much to go around, and eventually someone takes the last piece just when you were having a craving. No, it’s like candles . . . you can keep lighting new candles from the same flame without one becoming stronger than the others. The exact moment my second and third children were born, I felt the same overwhelming love for them as their siblings.
And I’m sure if there were a fourth Agent (which there won’t be . . . but that’s a whole other post, LOL!) I would feel it all over again.