Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mommy Confession

On the heels of Mother's Day, I thought I would throw you all "what is she thinking?!?" post. It's been awhile since I've caused gaping mouth reactions from my readers.

There are moments that I have a hard time "liking" being with my children.

I see the first draft of the virtual petition to forcefully exempt me from Mother's Day this weekend. 

Whaaa??? This coming from a girl who drives to work every day coming up with outlandish plans to start her own boogie belt company so she can be a work from home mom while still avoiding bankruptcy?

Let me explain--bear with me.

Colicky babies (I had one, so I have license to run my mouth about the struggles) can try the patience of any parent. Never before until Felix was in the height of his colic did I understand how a parent could EVER shake a baby. (It's still a heinous crime, but there is now a part of me maybe does not condone, but understands how you don't have to be walking around with a balloon of heroin sticking of your arm, an empty flask falling out of your pocket, and cocaine dust adorning your nose to be the "type" to feel compelled to squeeze an inconsolable new one.) Now, before the next 10 people sign that petition, I NEVER shook or aggressively manhandled my babies. Never Ever. And never even felt the desire. But there were moments of tears and even some nights I would look at Felix and say (okay, kinda scream through tears) "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY WON'T YOU STOP CRYING?" And I read over and over the best strategy was to put your baby in a safe place, and walk away. (Or pass him over to the best husband on the planet to deal with.) Folks, that's good advice.

And you know what? It translates to toddlers, too. With a colicky baby, as hard as it was, night after night, to go through the hours of agony, I just loved him more and more. He was helpless, new, small, and clearly not mature enough to manipulate. (And I also think dealing with an undiagnosed raging double ear infection. Guilt! Damn the Pediatrician for not seeing my babies from months 2 to 4!)

Toddlers lie and manipulate, people. (Good thing they are cute.)

It happens right close to 3 years old.

And mine tends to throw tantrums as his horses' doovers to the feast of fibs and manipulations.

And yes. Take away my Mommy license, but during some of the worst episodes, I do not like being around him.

I confess.

I'm sort of all over the place with discipline/gentle direction...or whatever you call it. (Read: I have not yet plunged into the excessive library of behavioral books.) I think I had a big brain dump back in November 2010, and have a hard time reading through a full J.Crew catalogue at the moment. I'm bloated on baby, sleep, and mothering books from the last 2 years and am on a temporary hiatus from anything written by someone with an MD or PhD behind his/her name.

At our house, we do the "uh, oh...bad decision...off to a quiet chair" waterted down version of love and logic/natural consequences (I think some of it is way too ridiculous.) For the boys, it works okay. And yes, I'm pretty militant about manners and apologies. I run the risk of diluting the meaning, but much like saying "I love you," I think repetition also breeds acceptance and understanding.

And I want to make clear, that I firmly believe that after every moment my children have to sit alone, or deal with consequences of their actions, I ALWAYS make sure to say I love you, and give them hugs once the dust has settled. I never want them to feel as though we do not love them or will not protect them. But that doesn't mean we accept their behavior.

But recently we've gone into new territory--where quiet moments and zen like parenting is no longer cuttting it.

Miles is willfull. And dear God help me...because Felix is going to be stealing my car keys and running off with upperclassman girls to make-out in a Friendly's parking lot.

Miles loves his way, and when he doesn't get it, it can be like full blown dissolving. Luckily, he isn't violent, doesn't hit, doesn't do self harm, doesn't spit, and doesn't say mean things (yet). He just wails.

I know his triggers. And I also have the sense that as an extremely introverted, intense, and shy little boy who will probably forever be a second adopter and not a trail blazer (which is okay!), asserts himself in environments where he feels safe--and that is home. At home, he can let loose and unload any of the day's pent up fear.

Recently, it's been lots of "I can't DO it! No, Daddy--Mommy do it!" It's like as he started getting closer to 3, he started pretending to be more helpless--and that I am the only one who actual has parenting skills. And I won't lie...I fear that this Mama's boy shtick will turn into full blown Freudian pathology--Ha!

Sometimes, it makes me kind of chuckle when Felix pushes your hand away when you try to help him walk, and then in tandemn, Miles collapses at your feet, saying he cannot walk--his leg is broken and he needs help. And then sometimes, especially when I relent, I get visions of him as a teenager, sitting in a hammock while I fan him and hand feed him grapes with the skin peeled off. And I get kinda frustrated.

But we *try* to draw the line. The kid has 2 parents, and Daddy is just as capable, especially now that nursing is out of the picture. So, sometimes there is a lot of ignoring going on in our house. And a lot of "Are you done crying? Let us know when you are done and ready to play." And sometimes, there is even "Miles, I cannot be around you right now. I'm going into the other room to get away from you."

Yup. I say that. Ask my Mom. I did it in Boston the day we were leaving when Miles, I think overtired from a ton of travel and picking up on the stress of the journey ahead, just couldn't keep it together over a piece of pizza. I walked outside on the front steps and removed myself from the situation. Just like with a colicky baby.

I don't like those moments.

We are not yellers or spankers or hitters in our family of 4. But here's the rub--when we are out and traveling, not only does Miles put on an extra thick layer of infantilizing himself, but we are not in a position to as easily "draw the line." So much of the time, we acquiesce, and I see the manipulation blooming. I know, you all are like, "he's only 3! He is helpless!" Yes, at times, but he's also a dramatist and slowly starting to understand causal relations. (The worst is when he throws a fit, gets me all worked up, and then instantaneously forgets about it, say, when a truck horn blares outside and he calmly asks, "What's that sound, Mommy? What's that truck doing?" I'm all--wait, weren't we just in the throes of a tantrum?? You cannot just disengage so fast--I'm still pissed!)

But for the first time over break, when Miles was at a peak tantrum while in Maine, I said to Eric, "I know it does no good, but I want to spank him."

I DIDN'T! But I said it.

I just felt trapped--in someone else's home--and I couldn't remove him to a more familiar environment and do what we do at home when he acts up. I felt helpless.

And in order to enjoy Mother's Day (if you all are so willing to let me), I need admit these moments. Allow myself the opportunity to be human and frustrated, and work toward remaining calm and firm in the future.

Every day there are tests. Toddlers can be, well, trying as they say! Miles is old enough to have a beginning sense of power, and I know he is starting to explore what that looks like.

Mom: We cannot go to Kroger with Daddy because you said you didn't want to change your diaper on the way out of school today when I said you needed it changed before going to the store. You asked to have it changed at home. Sorry, but that was your decision.
Miles: No! I want to change it at school. And then we will go to Kroger.
Mom: Nope. Sorry. We are in the car already on the way home. I gave you a chance on the playground.
Miles: We go home. Change my diaper and THEN go to Kroger. Please?

And so begins the bargaining tactic.

And another confession, at times I resort to bribing and taking away priveleges when things hit fever pitch. "If you don't get calm, we are not going to play with cars at home--Uh, oh, only 2 stories tonight if you don't sit down in the bath--Miles, if you wait until your clock turns green, that means your a big enough boy to go to the Dr Suess play."

I know my strategies are flawed...especially because although he waited until his clock was green today (actually, he woke up when it was green... I cannot give him that credit, yet), he didn't yesterday. And we are still going to the Dr Seuss play tonight.

Empty "threats" are dangerous territory...enter, "Mom doesn't mean what she says."

I try to be consistent, even tempered, and still loving. I try.

And sometimes I fail.

But perhaps being a good Mom is about acknowledging these difficult moments. Cutting yourself a break, but also committing to consistency.

And no matter where you fall at the end of this post (petition signer or not), I have to end with a defining moment that I replay over and over in my head because it gives me a moment of great pause and reflection. And validation from one of the most important people in the world:

My Dad and I are "close," but I wouldn't say have that traditional "father-daughter" relationship where we tell each other secrets and I would curl up in his lap and have him tell me how beautiful I am. And Dad--that's totally okay--I probably would have laughed and asked to go play basketball outside. But on our way to the airport last week, as he dropped us off (and yes, I was crying prior to leaving because 1. Miles had a tantrum that drove me bananas 2. There were impending tornadoes hitting the southest that we were scheduled to fly into, and 3. I didn't want to go home and already missed my family) he gave me that standard Bob/Dad hug, but squeezed extra tight and said:

"You're a good mom."

Cue: tears.

Thanks, Dad. And you are a good dad. Love you.


  1. I will not sign the petition.
    You are a good mom.
    My child is just not the type to respond to time out, removing toys/play time, or anything else. I don't BEAT her, but I spank her once or twice on the behind if all else fails. I'm not the type to say that spanking parents are awful people. I was spanked and I think I turned out pretty darn good. I love my mom to peices and I would never change a thing about my childhood...telling your child "don't run in the street, or I'll take away Elmo" is not sufficient. If I tell her stop and she doesn't, I have to do something totally drastic so that she gets the point that running toward the street is categorically NOT ok!
    That's my opinion anyway.

  2. I will not sign the petition either - been there, done that. I applaud your honesty and perception, Alison.
    First, only mothers of colicky babies can relate to the desperation that results from being totally sleep deprived and unable to comfort your child night after night. It's anguishing.
    When you note that 3 year olds can be manipulative and untruthful, I reference my wise co-teacher who always reminded our parents that the job of young children is to figure out how the world works, and much of their inelegant manipulation and obstreperous behavior is in pursuit of figuring out how things work and how they operate in the world.
    You're correct about children misbehaving in circumstances in which they feel comfortable. We worried more about children who acted out at school with us teachers than those who tested their parents.

  3. Part II:
    When you are feeling trapped in a public setting or someone else's home, kids sense that discomfort and react to it (not well). There are times when you just know that they will not act ideally (to put it mildly), but try to remember that things will return to normal once you are home again. You do your best, but those times stink! Instead of faulting yourself for removing yourself from situations when you feel out of control, pat yourself on the back for having the sense to remove yourself (unless of course you're leaving the kids playing in traffic or something!). You are modeling a non-hurtful way to deal with your emotions (I always thought that's what bathrooms are for!!)
    I had to chuckle at Miles' trying to renegotiate the strictures about when to change him. Children are so immediate and intense. They want what they want now, not being able to think ahead to the eventual consequences (think about it - teen pregnancies are the result of such inability to think things through). That is why it is important to think carefully about the threats you make. Try not to threaten something that either you can't carry through or that will punish you parents as much as it will the kids.
    As far as not having time to read all the parenting books, I wouldn't fret. There are a myriad of theories and practices written about, and not all of them make sense. Your intuition and common sense are valuable influences. If you have a particular issue to address or identify an author whose work really resonates with you, then it would be worthwhile taking a look at it. The wisdom and experience of other parents is most helpful, too. Your parenting will be fine.
    I am impressed with your innate wisdom, courage and honesty. Your Dad is right, Alison - you are a good mother. Lucky little boys.
    Happy Mother's Day!

  4. I. FEEL. YOUR. PAIN. And, I think Zoe and Felix are cur from the same cloth--totallycute but totally trouble in the long run. Thank god for small, sweet moments that lodge in the memory bank! I give you credit for knowing when to walk away and venting in a safe space here before losing it.

  5. You should enjoy your Mother's Day!

    I totally understand what you are saying about just not being able to take any more. Miles is at a tough stage. It does get better (and by better I mean easier). Hang in there. Don't beat yourself up.

    This too shall pass. I am the best mother for my children. REPEAT.

  6. Coach Ali Heintz, Happy early mother's day!! You're doing a wonderful job =] Hang in there, there's still teenage drama to come!

  7. You ARE a terrific Mom. And remember: being loving mom also means delivering tough love. That means pointing out to Miles that he made a decision and too bad. That's okay. It's also okay when you lose your patience to take a step away and say, "Miles, we need some space right now," or, "Miles, your behavior is frustrating me." Toddlers, whether they completely understand your answers/reactions or not, respect your consistency and honesty. They also respect your boundaries and structure.

    Funny thing is, talking to toddlers, 3rd graders, middle schoolers, high schoolers, AND adults requires many of the same lines.

    You are doing a terrific job. On little to no sleep. On a full time job. While trying to run, cook, be social, and knit.