Saturday, April 26, 2014

All Joy and No Fun

After I started reading Jennifer Senior's recent book about modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, I figured I would never need to blog about parenting ever again.

She wrote it all.

It's all been said and done now. Her thoughts were a thousand times more articulate and illuminating than my own and I found myself nodding, chortling, and grunting in agreement pretty much non-stop throughout.

For example, her section on "flow" and the parent. Part of why parenting infants/toddlers is such a miserable experience is because there is no sense of "flow"--defined as that sensation of being totally absorbed and "in the zone", where an hour can feel like 5 minutes. Flow requires the perfect balance of stress and boredom--just challenging enough to keep you engaged and not too challenging that you're feeling high anxiety.

But parenting is like the opposite of experiencing flow. You are either bored out of your mind or stressed out of your mind.

First, the boredom--because babies can't talk, because reading Hop on Pop for the 50th time blows, because helping someone stumble around the park and not get to their destination for 30 minutes is mind-numbing, because tossing a ball back and forth, shaking rattles, playing peek-a-boo, labeling objects, and all the other stuff you're supposed to be doing for your baby's early development is, let's face it, completely boring after the first 90 seconds.

Second, the stress, which for me (and most parents I would imagine) comes from a very simple source--crying. Some people can tolerate a lot more crying than others, but we are all hard-wired by Nature to have a true physical stress response to our children crying. Heart rates are elevated, cortisol levels rise, blood pressure goes up, everything in you feels horrible.

So there you have it--the yin and yang of parenting small people--extreme boredom or extreme stress. No wonder in large national surveys mothers rank spending time with their kids less desirable than doing the dishes or other house chores. Hard to believe if you've never spent more than 8 hours with a small child, but I'm here to testify--that shizz is fo realz people. Fo realz.

Don't let the cuteness fool you!

Because the author was so dead on in capturing life with the 0-3 set, I was really excited to read on as she laid out life with school-age kids and then life with teenagers. Maybe this would give me a little road map toward what awaits and for once in my parenting life, I could get ahead of the curve!

Although I did find it somewhat helpful, alas, it didn't prove half as insightful sounding as the first part, maybe because she herself has only experienced motherhood up until age 5 (the age of her only son). All I gleaned is that kids between ages 4 and 12 are intensely over-scheduled and the parent basically morphs into a taxi driver. I'm thinking this might become irrelevant for me as Google develops the driver-less car any day now.

But aside from these little peaks into the horror and hells of parenting, I have to say my favorite part of the book was the last section in which the author explores the Joy of parenting. After all, the title does promise that it's "All Joy..."

Her descriptions of the deep and abiding joy in the midst of the pain of parenting were so poignant I teared up, a lot. In particular, she noted that single moms are by far the most stressed out people on the planet, BUT they are the least depressed. This seems counter-intuitive since you assume intense stress causes mental breakdown and depression.

But the author notes that depression is essentially a function of disassociation. When you feel like you have little or no attachments to the world around you, that is the key to depression. And parenting is the ultimate antidote. For the first time in your life, most likely, you feel the ultimate attachment. Never have you committed to someone to the degree that you commit to your child. And infinitely more so if you are his/her only, single parent.

To be on the hook, to be forever committed, to inextricably link yourself to another such that it is simply impossible to feel happy if that person is sad, is a monstrous burden--but also the gateway to paradise. As I've quoted before in reference to parenting--To love another person is to see the face of God.

And to that also, I can testify. That shizz is def fo realz too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Learning to Read at Age 25

This is the story of how I learned to read.

Growing up, I don't remember a single instance in which someone read something to me. I struggled to find age appropriate books and I largely failed because no one helped me find age appropriate books.

When I was 7 I overheard that the Chronicles of Narnia were "really good". So I checked it out at the library and was stymied at the very beginning. It kept referring to a wardrobe. What the heck was a wardrobe those crazy British people? Did it have something to do with war? Or robes?

Reading was confusing, bewildering, frustrating and fruitless. If I were more patient, I supposed I could've made use of a dictionary. But my experiences with dictionaries were equally frustrating. Often the definition included words I didn't know so it was an endless hunt down farther and farther rabbit trails until I forgot what word I was even looking up in the first place.

But once in a great while, I was so drawn to a topic that I actually made the effort to read. In particular, princess fairy tales. I couldn't get enough of them. The enchantingly beautiful protagonist. The cruel and unjust things that she suffered. Magic. And of course, The Prince.

But eventually I got tired of the formulaic genre and haven't read another fairy tale since 5th grade.

I also loved Roald Dahl. He is the only author to ever make the child-me feel like I wasn't actually reading. I was in his world.

And then in college I met a reader. My then-boyfriend, now-Spouse, had (and still has) an unholy love of all things books. For a miserably poor college student he had an unusually gigantic collection of books spilling over every surface of his tiny living space.

Somehow we got along. It didn't bother him that I didn't read. And it didn't bother me that he had way too many books. He read his books and then we talked about them and it worked out very well that way.

But one day, I don't even remember why, he suggested that I read a book. Not in a mean or condescending way. But more like, hey, do you want to try to do this thing that's actually really enjoyable once you learn to enjoy it?

And I resisted. Books are boring. I'm too busy. I don't know where to start. What should I read? Nah, like I said, books are boring.

Why don't you just pick one book from my bookshelf? he said. Here, this is a thin one. How about this one? Why don't we just start with reading one page. Together.

And so we cracked open Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and read one page. And the next day we read another. And the next day more pages. And soon I was hooked. I got lost in the story.

The apartment in which I learned to love to read.

It took at least another few years for me to finally say that I love to read. But now, 10 years after first flipping through Siddhartha, I realize I've completely transformed into one of those people I thought I'd never be--a reader.

How dim and dark my world would be if he hadn't taught me to read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Last Saturday the day started off pretty well. I took the kids to an Easter Egg Hunt sponsored by a huge local park and it was everything you could ask for in a kiddie event.

The Spouse wasn't able to come but thank goodness a dear friend came along so I didn't have to schlep everything by myself and try to run after 2 kids at once going in the opposite direction--and bonus, she took some great pics for us!

I was more excited than the kids, this being MY first egg hunt too.

There were booths full of free swag, including law enforcement booths. Judah has been obsessed with policemen since age 1.5 but when he met actual officers he hid behind my back. Pity.

Brave enough to stand next to the car, but too shy to stand next to actual officers.

There was a free bounce house and face/hand painting. Judah was very insistent that glitter be applied to his artwork.

Judah proudly shows off his abiding love of law enforcement.

There was some creepy mute giant bunny, which Noah wisely wanted to get the hell away from.

Noah says "That's okay Mom, I'll just stand over here."

Noah would not have it. Not even for a second.

There was some arts and crafts and sidewalk chalk.

Pastel graffiti--lovely little signs of joy.

And of course, the piece de resistance, an egg hunt by age cohort. Noah got to go first in the 0-2 category which included adult accompaniment. I thought it would be cool to let Noah mosey around, leisurely picking up eggs, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Noah, on the now empty field. Egg hunt fail.
 All the parents steam-rolled through the lawn like locusts in a wheat field and cleaned that puppy out in 20 seconds flat! One parent had pity on Noah's empty basket and dropped him a couple so he wouldn't end up empty-handed.

Look mom! One pity egg!

Judah got to go next in the 3-5 age group and managed to grab 3 eggs before they were all gone. Not a huge loot, but all the better since they were filled with candy.

Of course my kid is the one who doesn't know how to use a basket.

Preschoolers, preschoolers everywhere!

"I don't know who ate all of Noah's candy."

Noah, however, does know who ate all his candy.

The kids had fun and zonked out in the car trip home. But apparently one big adventure was not enough for that day.

In the evening Judah was climbing up a tall step stool to wash his hands and stepped where there was no step and crashed his chin down onto our granite counter top. Although there were no sharp edges involved, apparently the impact was so great it split his chin open about an inch and a half.

We took one look at it and instantly agreed that stitches would be needed--Judah's first stitches! At the ER Judah was actually in pretty good spirits as we waited for the doctor. He was a chatty Cathy and enjoyed being read his Justice League comic book.

Thank goodness for comic books.

The doctor came in and told us he'd have to get a numbing shot and get stitched up, which required him to get pappused (too lazy to spell check)--basically a straight jacket for kids--while 2 nurses held him down.

Judah gets pappused!

I will forever feel guilty that I mistakenly informed him about the numbing shot. I thought, and I told him, that they would shoot him near the wound but not actually in the wound and it would just be one quick shot. I could not have been more wrong.

The doctor stuck him right in his wound--SIX TIMES! Wow, that must've hurt! Of course that started Judah on a scream-a-thon that didn't end until he was released from his pappuse 10 long minutes later. Judah was also really offended that a bright light was being shone right in his eyes and a surgical paper was covering his face the whole time. Poor terrified kid.

You are all lucky there is no audio accompaniment for this pic.

The whole time I tried distracting him with made-up stories about Batman, much to the amusement of the medical staff. Alas, Judah was screaming to loudly to hear much of my story.

All stitched up! But still a little traumatized.

Happily Judah bounced back really easily and quickly. He went right to bed and woke up as if nothing ever happened.

I'm dreading when we get his (eight!) stitches out this Friday, but until then, we're doing great, all things considered.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Every Day

Every day Noah wakes me up at 6:30 am, screaming as if someone is choking the lifeblood out of him. His wake up times have risen steadily over the last month and I'm afraid he'll start waking at 6:00 am soon if I go to him immediately when he cries. And so I wait until 7:00 am to relieve him, the whole time, my bones aching with stress and sadness at the sound of my wailing child. "Good" morning.

The bane and boon of my existence--all joy and no fun.

Every day I face a mountain of dishes. And I heroically tackle that mountain, only to find another, even higher mountain materialize after lunch. I tackle that one with all the spare time I can muster. And then I tackle the Mount Everest of them all after dinner. I've learned that emptying the dish drying rack is just as crucial as washing dirty dishes. And surprisingly, it takes just as long.

Every day I look at piles of laundry in various stages of unwash and feel defeated.

Every day I rack my brain trying to figure out what to feed Judah, The Pickiest Eater on Earth. Noah is not a great eater either. Whenever meal time rolls around I have a mini-panic attack.

Every day Noah naps for 40 minutes and then cries indefinitely until I hold him for the rest of his 2-hour nap time. Of course I can't be holding him for an hour and 20 minutes each day so I let him cry. And again I feel like dying a thousand miserable deaths.

Every day I look around the house and frown at all the things that are not in their rightful place. Why is my toothbrush on the couch? How did Noah's shoe get under the kitchen table? All the upstairs things are downstairs and the downstairs things are upstairs. And I ask myself The Question--is it worth the effort to set it right only to have the kids mess it up again in an hour or so?

Every day I look at the dry rough patches and open sores on Noah's body--where his lower ears connect to his face, his chin area, his knees and calves, his feet and hands, the back of his neck--due to his eczema and I feel like a failure. Each rough patch whispers silent condemnation--you've failed. You've failed to cream him as much as you should. You've failed to figure out the right combo of creams to use. You've failed to adequately care for your baby. But the worst feelings of failure by far is when I open up his diaper to find that a huge, slightly acidic dump has started to eat away at his skin because I didn't know he had a dirty diaper for God knows how long. You'd think I would smell those suckers from a mile away, but I have honestly lost my sense of smell.

Every day I am doing house chores, washing, cleaning, picking up, setting right, activities up until my 10:30 pm bedtime.

Every day I feel like an over-educated domestic servant.

Every day I pray for sleep. And I thank God for mercy. I thank God I got through another day in which I did not too badly emotionally scar my kids (I think, I hope) by yelling my head off and shaking with rage at the end of what always feels like a looooooooong day.

Every day my will is thwarted. My desires are frustrated. My ability to have any meaningful control over my day is mocked. I have mini-tantrums and seethe that I never get my way.

And I feel like a stone being pummeled and worn down by the massive, unrelenting, magnificent ocean waves. And I am changing...into what, I do not yet know.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On Life and Death

Recently Judah's been asking me a lot about death and dying. I guess it was inevitable given all the killing that goes on between superheros and villains, his current obsession for the last 6 months.

He asks things like
Mommy, are you going to die?
Am I going to die?
Yes, Judah, everyone dies someday.
When are you going to die?
I don't know, nobody knows.

Apparently he's talked to the Spouse about it as well because he comforts himself (and me) by saying: Daddy says after we die, we will become alive again and then we will never get sick or die anymore. So it's okay if I die.

I told him that it is okay, but I hope he has a long life.
Why Mommy? What's a long life?
I hope you get to grow up and become a big boy like Evan (who is 8), and then a teenager, and then a grown up like daddy, and have your own kids, and then a grandpa.

And then Judah became distraught when I had to explain that he might not have a long life because no one is guaranteed that. He teared up as I explained in concrete terms that we could die any day. That Mommy could die tomorrow and I wouldn't see him again for a long time after that.
Mommy, my eyes are almost crying, he said.

The next day he asked how he could have a long life. I told him that was out of our control but we could pray about it, so he did.

And today, a week later he said
Mommy, I already have a long life.
You mean 3 years?
Yeah, 3 years is a long time.
When I told him his dad has already lived 37 years his eyes bulged in disbelief.

Judah, just 3 hours old, a "long" time ago.

But of course, he is right. Even 3 days is a long time if you count up every second of grace.