It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Your baby cries: Gut and Head duke it out over Tears

tears1“Can I wear your lion hat?”

It was October, a long-ago daycare Hallowe’en party. Adults with wine glasses mingle whilst toddlers rampage at knee-level. The tots are in their Hallowe’en finery, among them a lion, whom we will call Cecily.

“No. I don’t want you to wear it.”

Clear enough. He does have a costume of his own, after all. Complete with headgear. Mind you, if Cecily hadn’t been empowered by parental presence, she would have been much more likely to try the old Mary’s-house stand-by “In a minute”. Had I not been politely deferring to parental presence, I might have, while acknowledging her right not to share her costume, encouraged her to be a little more solicitous of his feelings. However, parental authority trumps Mary’s (which is as it should be), and in this case, allows the child to be the autocratic despot in my home that, by all parental accounts and available evidence, she is at home. (Which is not as it should be. Oh, well.) And even at Mary’s, Land of Sharing, it is understood that you don’t have to share things that you wear.

“No, I don’t want you to wear it.”

Other child, who we’ll call Ralphie, bursts into tears. Cecily is irked.

“I’m allowed to say no!” (Funny how they can apply the principles from Mary’s house when it suits them. Sharing goes out the window when parents hover near, but the right to say no? That one is never forgotten.)

Ralphie’s tears spur Cecily’s mother to action. She swoops in, squats beside her daughter. Ralphie’s mother tries to deflect, “No, no, it’s okay.” Cecily’s mother wants to do this, though. Needs to.

“Oh, honey. Don’t you think you could let him have a little turn?” Sweetly coaxing, gently solicitous.

Cecily’s eyes dart, a little anxious, a little defiant.

“I don’t want him to wear it.”

“Oh, but sweetie, he’s sad. Look.” Hearing the sympathy oozing from Cecily’s mummy’s voice, little Ralphie’s tears double in volume. As does his volume. Cecily is not unmoved by the tears, but she’s holding firm.

“I’m ALLOWED to say no!” And then she bursts into tears.

Trapped between two wailing children, Cecily’s mother is flummoxed. No matter what she does now, someone will be unhappy. The children, perhaps sensing her uncertainty, or maybe just hitting their stride, get even louder, and, if possible, wetter.

(This sort of thing happens at virtually every single “let’s have mommy and daddy come!” party I throw. This is why, though I continue to host these gatherings, I always do it with an inner sigh.)

Cecily’s mom attempts further appeasement. She is not successful. Cecily’s dad, with the male “can we please solve this and get back to the party” directness, intervenes.

“I think she’s made her point of view very clear. She doesn’t want him to wear the hat.”

“You think?” Mom wavers, uncertain. She casts a sorrowful glance at Ralphie and his copious tears. “But he…” Her glance shifts to her still-wailing daughter (though the intensity is decreasing now that she senses dad is in her corner).

Ralphie’s mother, relieved, steps in. “He’ll be fine. He has his own costume. Come on, sweetie. Why don’t you show me the craft you did today?”

Crisis averted.

Now for the analysis. Why did this situation arise?
- because a child wouldn’t share?
- because another child wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer?
- because the children were overstimulated?
- too much sugar? party excitement?
- too little sleep?
- the disruption of routine?

While any or all of them could be factors, none of them were the root cause. This situation went from tense to tsunami because a parent fell prey to tears.

There were other issues at play, of course. We do want our children to share, we don’t want them to be selfish. We do want them to develop generosity and empathy, we do want them to be gracious. We want these things for many noble reasons, and we REALLY want them EVEN MORE when we’re in PUBLIC, thankyousoverymuch.

But once again: Where it all went off the rails was not with the children’s behaviour, but with the parent’s response to the tears. None of the larger, more important parenting concerns got a second’s air-time, because the mom was high-jacked by the tears.

Let me underline here that I have a great deal of sympathy for her response. It’s utterly visceral.

“TEARS! TEARS! RED ALERT! CHILD IN DISTRESS! MUST SOOTHE! RED ALERT! RED ALERT!”

The urge to leap in and soothe the tears away is as basic, gut-level a parental response as there is. It’s not about being “nice”, about being “responsive” and “sensitive”. Those are things we tack on after our response to the tears. At base, this urge is about the survival of the species.

Think about it.

You have a newborn. If parents (mothers in particular, being the ones with the food delivery systems implanted on their chests) weren’t hard-wired to respond to baby’s cries, I figure it would take two weeks, max, of severe sleep-deprivation before the poor exhausted woman wouldn’t just soundproof the door and go to sleeeeeeeep. And baby, deprived of those necessary night-time calories, would at the very least be in serious risk of dehydration, if not outright malnutrition.

So. That gut-level “FIX IT!” response to your child’s wails is a biological imperative, put there for the preservation of the species.

Ah, Gut. Remember Gut? We talked about him a few posts ago. Your Gut, which is faster to react than your brain; your Gut, which is PASSIONATE and POWERFUL in all its responses; your Gut does not know that this is not life-and-death, not a matter of survival, not necessary for the continuation of the species. Nor does it care. Your Gut only knows that “Baby cries = Bad. Must stop now.”

And humans, when we have a Gut-level response, we react out of that response. We may rationalize our responses, we may come up with reasons that we’re doing what we’re doing, but in fact, we’re responding from our Gut, not our Head.

However. There comes a time for your Head to over-rule your Gut. It is possible, though it takes focus and determination at first — and the courage of your convictions.

A newborn whose cries for food are ignored is in a life-threatening situation. A toddler who has been refused a lion hat… is not. Just not. (No matter how passionately Gut tells you it is life-and-death! It is! IT IS!) A toddler who is encouraged required to share the damned thing is not going to drop dead from the trauma, either. (Which is not to say that she should have been required to share it. Just that it wouldn’t be life-and-death.)

So, in a clearly non-critical situation like this (and most of them are), you need to step back a pace and consider. Since it’s not life and death, what exactly are the issues?

-The base conflict: your child doesn’t want the other kid to wear her hat; this upsets the other child.
- Social pressures, real or perceived: If you support your child, will that make you look like you’re encouraging selfishness? If you support the other kid, will your child humiliate you in public by throwing a full-blown hissy fit? Will either option make you or your child look bad?
- Character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be kind, considerate, generous, empathetic.
- Competing character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be confident and self-assured with clear personal boundaries.

It’s complicated! It’s not simple, and I’m not suggesting there is one right resolution to the situation. There are several, each based on different situational realities and parental priorities. Each response has pros and cons, each response will satisfy some and aggravate others.

So. No one perfect response. (There rarely is, darnit.) What I am saying is that you can’t come to a clear and reasoned response, a response which will address even one of the issues listed above, if you’re reacting out of your Gut-level “RED ALERT!” reflex.

What I am saying is that “Good Parenting” does not necessarily mean soothing the tears away. In the process of raising a happy, responsible, well-adjusted, just generally nice-to-be-around human being, tears are pretty much inevitable. A lot of the time, they’re not (or needn’t be) the focus of our attention. A lot of the time, in fact, they’re a distraction from what really needs to be accomplished.

Get high-jacked by the tears, (as we all do, at least sometimes!), and you miss the real parenting opportunities.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | manners, parenting, power struggle, socializing, the dark side | , , | 11 Comments

Mary did a (kinda) bad thing

I’m percolating a post on Tears and the Compassionate Parent (or something), which I plan to have up tomorrow. In the meantime, you can get your fix of Mary here, where I disclose how I inadvertantly maligned and harrassed my (in this case) undeserving son.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids, parenting | Leave a comment

He’s not lyrical, but…

balletThe luscious, gracious strains of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty waft through my living room.

The children dance.

Noah and Tyler jump, cavort and giggle. The concept of “beat” is a bit beyond them, but they’re loving the music in their own ways.

“I’m a fairy!” Anna exclaims, sweeping her arms from side so side in front of her. Gracious, smooth swoops in response to the gracious, swooping music.

“I’m a princess!” Emily extends her arms and swirls them through the air. Gracious (mostly) smooth twirls in response to the gracious, swirling music.

“I’m dancing like A AIRPLANE!” Timmy bellows.

Airplane?

But yes. Timmy stands carefully on one leg, then leans forward, extends his arms straight out from his sides, and lifts one leg a few precarious centimetres off the ground behind him. A wobbling, precarious, ungainly, but undeniable… arabesque.

Guess which one has actually watched a ballet?

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Emily, individuality, the cuteness!, Timmy | , , , , | 3 Comments

Expectations

Emily stands in the kitchen, lower lip juuust about touching her chin, the tears rolling down round cheeks.

“Emily, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want the puppy ‘in a miiiiiiinute’!”

Emily wanted the stuffed toy in Anna’s hands. Anna had very cheerfully told her she could have it ‘in a minute’. NOT good enough!

But what’s gotten into Emily? Calm, steady, preternaturally-reasonable Emily? Emily the fabulous sharer? Emily the empath?

Well, today is her first day back from a day off with a tummy bug. She’s not her normal self yet.

And the response? A soothing cuddle? Well, yes… But just because you’re not feeling well…

“Emily, come sit on my knee.” I scoop her up and cuddle her. “I think you’re tired, hon. You’re tired, and you don’t feel like waiting. But you know how it works. You can have a turn in a minute, when Anna’s ready to share, or you don’t get a turn at all. That’s how it works.” Calmly, comfortably, not accusing or harsh. That’s just how our (secure, predictable, safe) world works. And then, quickly, before her tears are accompanied by wails, “Let’s read a book. Which book do you like? The Hat, or Bonnie’s Big Day?”

“Bonnie’s Big Day.”

“We’ll read that then, and when we’re done,” — meaningful glance cast at Anna — “I’m sure Anna will be ready to share the puppy.”

And we enjoyed our book, and Anna shared, and all was well with the world.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Emily, health and safety, manners, socializing | 2 Comments

Natural consequences and the Adult

Each child at Mary’s has a cubby, a little storage bin in which we stash crafts to go home, notes for parents, and, most critically to today’s story, a change of clothes.

Teeny babies require at least one spare outfit for every venture out of the house, no matter how brief. One just never knows when a blow-out might occur. As they get older, you can dispense with the spares to a large degree.

But really? When you’re sending your child away for the entire day, five days a week? That other spot, it needs spare clothes, too. Seems obvious, no? Yet in every group of parents, there is always one who doesn’t really get this.

Yes, I get the spare clothes at first. They we use them. I send the soiled outfit home, and… it’s just not replaced. Well, not replaced with the EFFICIENCY required. Why? I dunno. Absent-minded, busy, distracted? All those are possible, plausible. Sympathetic, even, because we know how distracting toddlers are, and we know how hectic mornings can be… but most of the parents, despite having MORE THAN ONE CHILD, some of them, manage it. Because eventually, you KNOW your child is going to need another spare outfit. You know it.

And yet some small percentage of parents (despite reminders) just don’t ante up the spare clothes in anything like a timely manner. Which means that, inevitably, there comes the time when we need a spare set of clothes (AGAIN! Imagine!) … and it’s just not there.

My standard way of dealing with this is twofold. I borrow clothes from another child’s stash, so as not to send the unequipped child home half-naked, and I keep the soiled clothes. The parent thinks I’m doing them a favour, and I get Provider Brownie Points for being so thoughtful, when really I’m just covering my ass. Well, no. I’m ensuring their offspring’s ass is covered. It is less trouble to launder the clothes myself than it is to nag them for replacements.

(Why do I not keep a stash of spare clothes myself? Well, I’ve done so, and, over the years, this sub-group of parents has wandered off with my spares, too, never to return… So now I don’t do that any more.)

The other day? The other day, one of the children, who will remain nameless, wet their pants. No problem, sweetie, we will just get your spare pants from your… oh. Of course. This is one of Those Parents. Okay, then, you can borrow from your almost-same-size friend.

Which worked just fine until almost-same-sized friend had a wee accident herself an hour later. Huh. Well, you know what? Those are her pants, she gets to wear ‘em. We now hit Problem #2: Nobody else’s clothes come anywhere near to fitting.

The upshot was that Child Number 1, the nameless one, ended up going home with a diaper (it was a way of giving him/her/it some sort of rearward coverage) and socks inside his/her/its snowpants. Because that’s what there was.

I have the tots dressed and awaiting when the parents arrive, so I told parent what they’d discovered when they peeled the snowpants off at home.

“Oh,” said parent, a little surprised. “Couldn’t you have borrowed from almost-same-sized child?”

Which is a little presumptuous, don’t you think?

I explain.

But, I’m thinking, as parent heads home with half-dressed tot, this is certainly natural consequences. You don’t provide clothes for your child, your child goes home half-naked.

Which is why, prompt in the morning the next day…

they didn’t bring a back-up outfit.

*sigh*

February 24, 2009 Posted by | parents, Peeve me, the dark side | 15 Comments

Ooey-gooey fun!

I found a recipe for finger paint online the other day…

Here’s what it looks like, thickened and ready for the colour:
fp1

And here we have the coloured version:
fp2
(Note to the wise: though the recipe suggests tinting with food colouring, the smart adult will use tempera paint or powder. Food colouring, though non-toxic, is a DYE, and will stain everything.)

You can expect the children to be a little tentative at first:
fp3

But with a little time, they’ll get into it!
fp4

Oopy-goopy goodness!

This is one of those projects that is more about the process than the product. This little fellow’s “painting” was more like sculpture when he was done, causing the paper to curl, and, when it was dry and we tried to flatten it, it crackled and bits flaked right off the paper. Now, we were using waxed packing paper rather than proper fingerpaint paper, which may well have been a factor.

It doesn’t matter, though, because they all had a whale of a tactile time.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | crafts, eeewww | , , | 5 Comments

Baby Meme, THIRDborn!!

The original meme was for all you mothers out there about your firstborn. This one is for me, about my third.

1. WAS YOUR PREGNANCY PLANNED?
Very much.

2. WERE YOU MARRIED AT THE TIME?
Yes.

3. WHAT WERE YOUR REACTIONS?
Unmitigated delight.

4. WAS ABORTION AN OPTION FOR YOU?
No

5. HOW OLD WERE YOU?
32

6. HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE PREGNANT?
Home pregnancy test.

7. WHO DID YOU TELL FIRST?
My then-husband, father of the child

8. DID YOU WANT TO FIND OUT THE SEX?
No

9. DUE DATE?
Can’t remember! (She was my third. It was SIXTEEN years ago. The details get fuzzy…) She did arrive sooner than she was due, that I recall.

10. DID YOU HAVE MORNING SICKNESS?
No. Phew.

11. WHAT DID YOU CRAVE?
Nothing in particular.

12. WHO/WHAT IRRITATED YOU THE MOST?
Nothing. How about that?

13. WHAT WAS YOUR THIRD CHILD’S SEX?
Female

14. DID YOU WISH YOU HAD THE OPPOSITE SEX OF WHAT YOU WERE GETTING?
Absolutely not. I wanted a healthy child. Period.

15. HOW MANY POUNDS DID YOU GAIN?
Oh, it was a long time ago… 30, I think.

16. DID YOU HAVE A BABY SHOWER?
No

17. WAS IT A SURPRISE OR DID YOU KNOW?
No shower, no surprise. Or not.

18.DID YOU HAVE ANY COMPLICATIONS DURING YOUR PREGNANCY?
At first my GP thought it might be an ectopic pregnancy, so sent me to an OB (who was a complete and utter arrogant asshole), who gave me the ROUGHEST internal I have EVER experienced, told me it wasn’t ectopic, then, despite MY instructions to the contrary, instructed his receptionist to schedule my ultrasound.

Asshole.

And I did NOT have the ultrasound.

19. WHERE DID YOU GIVE BIRTH?
Riverside Hospital Birthing Centre, Ottawa, Ontario (which no longer exists, much to the impoverishment of expectant women who wanted a kinder, gentler alternative in childbirth)

20. HOW MANY HOURS WERE YOU IN LABOR?
Nine. Sixteen hours with the first. Slightly under an hour and a half with the second. Nine hours, I tell you all now, is the IDEAL labour.

21. WHO DROVE YOU TO THE HOSPITAL?
The father.

23. WAS IT VAGINAL OR C-SECTION?
Vaginal.

24. DID YOU TAKE MEDICINE TO EASE THE PAIN?
No.

25. HOW MUCH DID YOUR CHILD WEIGH?
Eight pounds, one ounce.

26. WHEN WAS YOUR CHILD ACTUALLY BORN?
July 11

27. WHAT DID YOU NAME YOUR CHILD?
Emma

28. HOW OLD IS YOUR Third-BORN TODAY?
15.
Years, that is.

February 21, 2009 Posted by | memes and quizzes, my kids | Leave a comment

Good, Bad… and nothing in between?

tearsYou’re not nearly as rational as you think you are.

That’s okay. Neither am I. None of us are. Even those who are sure we go through our lives guided by only the most rigorous of analytical thought have merely suppressed their emotions. Just because they don’t acknowledge them doesn’t mean they’re not influenced by them. In fact, given the suppression, I’d say it’s more likely they’re affected. They just don’t know it.

But really, that can be said of any of us. Research proves over and over that “feeling actually happens prior to any conscious thought and because it comes first, it shapes and colours the thoughts that follow.” It’s what we all learned in Psych 101: we have the emotional reaction first, and then we plug our reasons into it. This happens at an unconscious level, mind you, which is why some of you out there are even now denying this with firm assurance that YOU are a rational person. We’d like to believe this — I know I do — but we’re just not so reasoned as we’d prefer to think. Our conscious mind is blissfully unaware it’s being emotionally manoeuvred.

Moreover, if our Gut response is “Yeah! Good thing!”, we minimize all risks associated with it. If it’s “Boo! Bad thing!”, we exaggerate them. The idea that something can be unpleasant but beneficial is as foreign to our Gut response as it is to the toddler you’re trying to siphon those antibiotics into. In our Heads we know better, but Gut steers the psychological ship far more than we’re aware.

Here’s an example. Crying. Crying, particularly the tears of our children, is a Bad Thing. Therefore it is Bad for the child, and there is no benefit to be had from it. Therefore, tears are to be avoided at all costs.

And where does this “reasoning” lead us?

To the idea that children are psychologically damaged if they are allowed to cry now and then. To the idea that the parent-child bond can be torn asunder if a parent doesn’t always leap to close the floodgates. To the idea that anyone whose child cries is a Bad Parent.

But what this reasoning completely and utterly misses is this ironic fact:

If you avoid your child’s tears at all costs… You create children who cry more.

I have a lot to say on this topic. I’ll be back!

February 20, 2009 Posted by | controversy, parenting, power struggle, tantrums | , , | 9 Comments

International relations move forward

harper1“Why are there helicopters, Mary?” Emily and Timmy are peering up and out through the living room window as the chucka-chucka of the helicopters thrums through the walls.

“We are having an important visitor in Ottawa today, hon. Mr. Harper is the leader of Canada. Mr. Obama is the leader of the country beside ours, and he is visiting with Mr. Harper today. “

“And he is coming in a helicopter?”

“No. He came in an airplane, but now he is driving to Mr. Harper’s office downtown. The helicopters are watching Mr. Obama’s car to make sure no bad guys try to hurt him.”

“Are there police mens in the helicopters?”

“I would think so.”

Emily nods, satisfied.

A few hours later, Emily and Anna build intricate block-cities on the kitchen floor.

“Who is that on the radio, Mary?”

“It’s Mr. Harper, Em.”

“Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama?” It’s been five hours since our conversation this morning. What a smart little cookie this girl is!

“Yes. They are taking turns answering questions.”

obamafamily“And when Mr. Obama is done talking on the radio,” Anna declares, “he can come to my house and visit. My daddy will make dinner for us all.”

“I don’t think so, Anna. When he is done answering questions, he will have to go home.”

“He can come to my house and then he can go home.”

“No, lovie. I bet he would like to meet you, because he has two little girls of his own. But he has to go home and be with his girls.”

Anna’s brow furrows, then clears.

“That’s okay! They can come, too! My daddy will make more dinner for them! And their mommy can come, too!”

So there you have it. Barack and Michelle? You and the girls are invited for a home-cooked meal here in Ottawa, any time you can fit it in your schedule. I can vouch for Anna: she’s quite the charmer. You’re sure to be entertained.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Canada, Ottawa, the cuteness!, the things they say! | , , , , | 6 Comments

There’s sad and there’s sad

newt1I am baking brownies for dessert. Which, if you knew our family at all, would tell you we’re having guests over to dinner. Tell my children we’re having company, and the response is not “Who’s coming?” but “Yay! Dessert!”

Timmy and Anna are playing quietly at my feet. They have woken up a little earlier than the other children, and are thus allowed to play in the kitchen (the furthest end of the house from the stairs), and QUIETLY. If they don’t play quietly, they must go lie down again until the others wake.

Thus, they are playing quietly. Which is little short of a miracle, since they are my two loudest children. Though, come to that, Tyler is emerging as a considerable auditory force. Once he gets some actual vocabulary, the windows, they will be a-rattling. (And my eardrums, oh, mercy me, my poor eardrums.)

They are playing quietly, and I am making brownies. And, because these are brownies for guests, and, because our oven is stuck at 400 degrees (as it has been for the last four years), I am diligently cutting off the slightly-too-dry edges. (The hostess double-standard: For my own family? They can crunch their way into the centre. For company? Perfectly soft’n’chewy brownies, from edge to edge.)

Apart from crunchiness, there is nothing wrong with the centimetre-wide strips of brownie I’m left with…

Lucky Timmy and Anna.

“Here guys. You want some brownies?”
(That, boys and girls, is what is called a “rhetorical” question.)
“Now, be careful. Chocolate is bad for dogs. You mustn’t give any to Indie. It could make her sick.”
“And maybe even DIIIIEEE!” Which could have been said with far less exuberant relish, perhaps, but the content is accurate enough.
“Yes, Anna. Enough chocolate could even make her die. That would be very sad.”
“That would be very sad.” Timmy is showing a more appropriate level of concern, perhaps because he’s had some personal experience in pet-bereavement. Or, as it turns out, second-hand experience. “My mummy’s newt died, and she was very sad.”
“Your mummy had a newt?”
“Yes, and it died. And she was very sad.”
“Not as sad as for a dog, I think.”
He doesn’t lose a beat.
“No. Prolly not.”

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Anna, food, health and safety, the dog, Timmy | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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