Archives for October 2010

Toddlers and Hitting

One day when Hannah was about 2 1/2, as we picked her up from daycare, we looked at the photos of her classmates. The images lined the walls – the kids were all smiles, playing together and appearing to have fun. She pointed at one child’s photo and said, “That’s Brayden*. Brayden hits his friends. We say, ‘No hitting, Brayden.'”

I was familiar with Brayden. When he was younger he’d bitten Hannah on the arm, twice. And I was familiar with other kids like Brayden. Kids who Hannah couldn’t play with unsupervised, because they would hit or kick or push or bite. Kids who, when provoked, acted out physically. Or kids who used aggression as a sign of affection. I was just grateful that I didn’t have one of those kids.

Except that now, I do have one of those kids. My 2-year-old Jacob is one of those kids. He chases his sister around the house with the drumstick from his percussion set. He runs up to other toddlers at playgroup and pushes them over in an effort to get their toy / break the ice / crack a joke. He tackles kids who are much older and bigger than he is, and because they have impulse control and empathy, they rarely retaliate.

Jacob and I arriving at the pumpkin patch
Jacob and I in a calm moment

I’m not too worried about Jacob’s behaviour, most of the time. I realize that, at his age, he doesn’t understand the impact of his actions on others. I try to be consistent about telling him that we don’t hit, showing him alternatives, and removing him from difficult situations. And I know that we’re not modeling hitting for him in our family. He will, eventually, figure it out. I’ve seen many other kids go through the same sort of thing – hitting their friends as toddlers, but growing out of it as they moved into the preschool years. I suspect that Jacob will do the same.

But for now, I can no longer be the mom who sits and chats with the other moms at playgroup. I have to be the mom who shadows her toddler constantly. And sometimes I have to be the mom who carries her screaming, flailing child out of playgroup after one too many incidents. And then I have to be the mom who reminds herself that her kid is not a bad kid, he’s just a normal kid. A normal kid who expresses his enthusiasm physically, in unacceptable-yet-age-appropriate ways.

Jacob loves rocks
Throwing rocks is another one of Jacob’s unacceptable-yet-age-appropriate behaviours

I really hope that Jacob grows out of this soon. Because as much as I disliked watching another kid hit Hannah, I dislike watching Jacob hit another kid even more. I don’t want my son to be the one that his classmates point at and say, “That’s Jacob. Jacob hits his friends. We say, ‘No hitting, Jacob.'”

Have your toddlers gone through periods of physical aggression? How did you handle that? I’d love to know. I’d also love to hear that this is totally normal, and not a sign of future anger management issues. Help a mama out!

* Not the child’s real name.

PS – As you may know, I have started including a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. My October review will go live at 6am Pacific on Monday, November 1. If you want to play along, write a post on or before November 1, come here, and link up!

Parenting is a Learned Skill

There’s a sentiment I hear sometimes from friends who want kids, but don’t have them yet. It’s a sentiment that I’m sure I conveyed myself, back in the hazy, sleep-filled days of life before kids. It goes something like this: “I can barely take care of myself, I’m not sure I’d make a good parent.”

This is simply not true.

If you don’t want to have kids, don’t have kids. I’m not here to convince anyone to procreate. Whether you reproduce or not is your own business. But the truth of the matter is that pretty much no one is a good parent before they have kids.

Going Home!
Me, taking Hannah home from the hospital – I had no idea what I was doing

Parenting is like any other job. You become more adept as you gain experience. Practice makes perfect, after all, whether you’re talking about molding young people into respectable citizens or being the best bookkeeper on the block. And when you feel like you’ve got things in hand, there’s a big re-organization and you have to re-adjust your tactics. Parenting two children is not the same as parenting one child – for one thing, there’s another kid. Plus, the other kid is a different kid. Parents don’t magically know how best to parent each new child, just because they’ve parented others.

You can read parenting books (I certainly did), and hone your skills, and develop philosophies. You can talk to other parents, and pick up tips and tricks. But it’s only when you’re actually in the trenches that you can really figure out what works and doesn’t work for you. Just like I have a sewing style, and a programming style, and a writing style, I have a parenting style. They are all unique to me, and they’ve all developed through time I spent doing the thing.

Happy parents
With newborn Jacob – we thought we knew what we were doing, but we didn’t

Taking time to think about parenting before you’re a parent is useful. Just like you would take time to think about any big task you’re undertaking. But while you’re still just contemplating kids, you don’t have to have it all figured out, and you don’t have to be a good parent. You’ll pick it up as you go, and your baby will teach you. And teach you again. And teach you some more.

I’m still learning to parent my kids, honestly. I consider myself a reasonably good parent to my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old, but I know nothing about parenting an adolescent. I’ll pick that up when I get there, because I don’t have to be a good parent to a 15-year-old today. Today, I have enough on my plate with the never-ending process of not really toilet training a toddler, and trying frantically to get my 5-year-old’s Halloween costume finished. The future will have to take care of itself – just as it always has.

Did you worry about your lack of parenting skills before you had kids? Or were you pretty laid-back in your approach? And how much of parenting do you pick up as you go? I’d love to hear!

Home Improvement

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! October’s theme is home and the other places you inhabit, shamelessly stolen from inspired by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom. Because the space you live and work in can make a huge difference to your mental state. In the past few weeks I talked creating your space, making a retreat for yourself and the search for the perfect home. This week I’m going to talk about home improvement.

This house that we live in now is the first home that my husband and I ever bought. Before we moved here, we lived in rental apartments. When we moved here, we were filled with youthful dreams of home ownership, overcome with the possibility of having a house of our very own. I wanted colour on my walls, raspberries in my garden and front door with a doorbell. We embraced our vision, and bought a house that was fairly affordable, but required some work. We thought that it would be a good way to get our house, and make it our own at the same time. How hard could it be?

Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Even seven years later, I have a hard time laughing about it. It turns out that home improvement can be very hard. Contractors don’t call you back. They uncover stuff that increases the cost of the project at every turn. Supplies don’t arrive on time, and you end up living without a kitchen for weeks on end. The bills mount, the projects drag on, and you and your husband become snippy with each other. Whose idea was this house, anyway? Why didn’t we just stay in our rental apartment? And when will we have an actual kitchen sink? Because that, my friend, is when I can get you a drink of water. Hmph.

It turns out that home improvement does not bring out the best in me. It upends your life in a major way, and I don’t like upending. There are people coming and going in your space, there’s noise and mess and there’s the period between taking down the old and putting up the new when you have no primary bathroom. And on top of all that, it’s super-expensive. It is not cheap to have someone else fix your bathroom. And if you do it yourself you run the risk of paying even more to have someone fix your mess. Especially if you’re as generally non-handy as I am.

In spite of all of the pain and money that came with renovating our house, at this point I am glad that we did it. We got a great house out of it, that was within our price range and really feels like ours. We learned a lot about what goes into creating and maintaining the space that we live in. Looking back, in many ways I would compare the renovation to giving birth. It’s messy and painful, but relatively short compared to the time that you live with the results of the whole endeavour. While I wouldn’t want to do it every day, in the long run it’s worth it.

All the same, if we knew what we were in for on the day that we signed the purchase agreement, we might have made a different decision. We would have paid a little more for a house with fewer problems. But we didn’t know then what we know now, and that’s the nature of life. When you take on a big project for the first time, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself in to. The best you can do is guess. Other people can share their stories, but your story will undoubtedly be different. In the end, we’re all flying blind, whether we’re creating a space to live in, having a baby, starting a business or getting married. There’s only so much that’s knowable in advance. And because of that, you have to act with a certain degree of faith.

When I walk around my house today, I see the baseboards that I put in, the towel rack that I installed and the walls that I painted. I see the new railings we had put in when 10-month-old Hannah pulled up on our old, loose ones and we realized we couldn’t put that project off any longer. I see the peeling ceiling in Jacob’s room, which leaked when he was 8 days old, letting us know we’d need a new roof. I see my own sweat poured into making this home, and I see all the money I’ve spent. If it wasn’t my home before all of that, it became my home afterward. Effort and financial investment have made it so. Blood and sweat and tears have made it so. The bright blue walls and the IKEA furniture have made it so.

This house is now a big part of my life. My two babies were born while we lived here. One pet died here, and another came home to this place for the first time. I learned that I lost my job while sitting in this house. It’s filled with memories, starting with the home improvements, and ending with the home. It’s part of the life I’m creating for myself, and I’m glad of it. Even if the floors aren’t level and we really need to fix the peeling ceiling.

What about you? Do you enjoy home improvement projects? Is painting your idea of a good time? And do you have any home improvement stories to share? I’d love to hear! I’d also love it if you would play along in my link-up. Include a link to a post you’ve written anytime in the past about home, or the other spaces you inhabit.

Halloween Mess

In case you’ve been living under a rock or something, I am here to let you know that it is Halloween this weekend. It’s a fact! All of the kids will be out roaming the streets in their costumes, collecting candy and generally enjoying themselves. Because Halloween is fun for kids. You get to dress up! You get free candy! There are parties and sometimes even fireworks! Yay Halloween!

Me on the patch
Me, doing the pumpkin patch thing

I am glad that my kids enjoy Halloween. I’ve managed to teach Jacob to say, “Trick or treat,” and it’s about the cutest thing ever. I have the kids’ costumes all planned out (Dorothy Gayle and a scarecrow companion). I’ve bought the stuff to make the costumes. We’ve visited the pumpkin patch. We’re all pumped, man! And … that’s about where I am. Still mostly in the Halloween planning stages.

Checking out the turkey head cut-out
Jacob, playing turkey in the kids’ play area at the pumpkin patch

Halloween is in four days. Between now and then I have to:

  • Sew three costumes (it’s a long story, but Hannah needs a crow costume for school).
  • Carve five pumpkins – with ‘help’ from Hannah and Jacob.
  • Bake a cake for the school festival.
  • Sew a pillow using a piece of embroidery that Hannah did.
  • Do my other work.
  • Keep the house from being condemned due to extreme lack of hygiene.
  • Not run away screaming.

Hannah, caught in a spider web
Hannah, caught in a web at the pumpkin patch

When I agreed to all of this stuff, it didn’t seem too bad. I was sure that I could pull it off. It all came just one thing at a time. Could I bake a cake? Of course! Could I sew the costumes? No problem, I always make Hannah’s costume! And we love to carve pumpkins! But looking at this list now, I wonder what the heck I was thinking. Seriously. What the heck?

That’s right, I said heck. You know I mean business now.

Two men and their wheelbarrow
Two men and a wheelbarrow

This is how people get overextended. It’s not so much that someone says to them, “Here are 87 things that need to be done yesterday!” It’s all one little thing at a time, until you’re pretty sure you’ll never get it all done. It kind of sneaks up on you like that.

No matter how I got myself into this position, I need some good thoughts. I need speedy baking vibes, and smooth sewing vibes, and easy pumpkin-carving vibes. And I need to know that I am not alone.

The kids with our haul
The kids and the pumpkin haul

Do you over-extend yourself around holidays? Do you always bake for the school bake sale? Or do you harbour grand visions of family togetherness as you massacre squash, which never quite play out the way you hoped? Tell me all about it! And next year, around October 1, tell me to check out Craigslist for some second-hand costumes. I’ll thank you come October 27 when I’m not way overextended and generally difficult to be around. And so will my family.

PS – October’s Crafting my Life series is about home, and the other spaces we inhabit. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be tomorrow, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on home or other spaces, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

Boys will be Boys?

I have a 5 1/2-year-old daughter, Hannah, and a 2-year-old son, Jacob. I try to parent them as gender-neutrally as possible. I’m not perfect – I keep my son’s hair cut short and I don’t tend to dress him in pink. And I have a weak spot for really cute ‘girly’ shoes for Hannah. But, on the whole, I try to respect my children’s own expressions of gender, including what they wear, what they play with and how they behave.

Sometimes, my kids cross stereotypical gender lines. Hannah preferred watching NASCAR to most anything else on TV as a toddler, and Jacob likes to have his toenails painted and enjoys ‘nursing’ his baby dolls. Other times, they fulfill every gender stereotype in the book. My daughter plays princess and refuses to wear anything other than pink party dresses, and my son is all about diggers and airplanes and playing catch.

Fighting Bucks
Photo credit: nickdryz on Flickr

Lately, I’ve noticed some physical aggression from Jacob that I haven’t seen from Hannah. He goes toe-to-toe with other kids when he feels wronged in some way. If you take a toy from Jacob, even if you’re a full year older and a full head taller, he is going to the mat to get it back. In contrast, Hannah opted for the ‘cry and seek out mama’ approach. As my son very deliberately stares another kid in the eye and moves into his space, I’m reminded of a pair of bucks facing off over a mate.

It’s possible the differences I see between my kids are just normal personality variations, unrelated to gender. But maybe not. Maybe there are intrinsic differences. Or maybe they’ve been socialized differently, without my awareness. As Jacob headbutts me and chases his sister with a stick, he does seem kind of like a little testosterone monster. But maybe that’s just what I expect to see.

Jacob on the playground
Jacob sporting a bruise after engaging in some risky behaviour

I decided to do some research, and see what I could find. Here are some observed differences between boys and girls:

There are physical differences between boys and girls – it’s how we tell their gender in the first place. Starting in the womb, boys secrete higher levels of ‘male’ hormones and girls secrete higher levels of ‘female’ hormones. As a woman who has experienced puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and birth I know that hormones have a big impact on how I behave. And as a person who attended Junior High I know that social pressure also has a big impact on how I behave. I can’t even separate the two for myself, let alone my kids.

Hannah rocks her new cowgirl hat
Hannah LOVES pink

Even given the differences (which, let’s face it, are generalizations anyway), it still doesn’t answer the question of why they exist. Children are aware of gender from a very early age. They are also aware of the different ways that males and females usually behave from an early age. There is simply no way to separate nature from nurture, given the complexity of human behaviour. The studies I read acknowledged as much. Big help there, studies.

Regardless of their cause, I see some gender differences between my children. I don’t believe they are entirely in my head, or entirely the product of my parenting. But maybe I’m wrong. There’s really no way of knowing, because I can’t go back to the beginning, change the conditions and re-run the experiment with the same kid. What I can say for sure is that I will continue to love and support my children regardless of their gender identification, and how they choose to express it.

What do you think? Are there are real, inborn differences between boys and girls? Or do you think any differences are the product of socialization, and possibly even our own observer bias and what we expect our kids to do? I’d love it if you weighed in!

Bliss

Today was One Of Those Days. 2-year-old Jacob had a poo disaster on the couch. He threw all of his toys on the floor, and poured out his water at lunch. He chased his sister around the house with a stick, and laughed as she cried. He tried to escape from the stroller 3 times on the walk to kindergarten, and then arched his back and cried so that everyone stared as I buckled him back in. I may have resorted to plying him with mini marshmallows when, after refusing to nap all afternoon, he decided that 5:30pm would be a good time for a rest.

Finally, Jacob gets to play some soccer
Jacob, making off with a ball at soccer practice

Yesterday was One Of Those Days, too. My husband Jon had a meeting in the evening, so I had to take Jacob to Hannah’s soccer practice. It happens in an elementary school gym. All the parents, and the other toddlers, sit on the bleachers and watch. But not Jacob. Jacob wants to play. But he doesn’t want to kick the ball in the hallway with me – oh no. He wants to play with the 5-year-old girls. He wants to steal their balls and push them over and interfere with their drills. And when I try to remove him from the gym, he lays down on the floor and kicks and cries so that everyone stares. One lady tries to distract him. He will not be distracted.

When I think about it, I see that almost every day can be One Of Those Days with a 2-year-old. Toddlers are hard, sometimes. Very, very hard.

Hey, Mom, give me a hand, will you?
My boy

But then, at long last, night falls. It always does. I lie down beside Jacob to help him fall asleep. At first he tosses and turns this way and that. He kicks his little legs and tries really hard to stay awake. But he is tired, and he can’t fight off sleep forever. Lying in the dark beside him, I hear his squirms diminish and his breathing relax. And then, just before he succumbs to rest, he rolls over and throws his little arm around my neck. He sighs, and then he is asleep.

This moment? Bliss.

Autumnal Thoughts

The other day I planted garlic. It’s actually tremendously easy. I buy a few bulbs at the farmer’s market, so I know it’s suited to my local climate. I break them into cloves and plant them sometime in October. The shoots come up before the last frost, and by late spring the scapes are ready. Finally, sometime in July I harvest the garlic. Easy-peasy. And who doesn’t love garlic? Except maybe vampires.

Planting garlic makes me feel introspective. It’s one of those things that I do as I set about winterizing my garden – putting it to bed for the year. I pull up dead squash vines and lay down leaves for mulch and generally bid farewell to the fruitful bounty of summer. Nature is going dormant. I feel kind of like I want to go dormant, too. I want to curl up inside with a blanket and some hot chocolate (or maybe some tea and Tim Tams) and ride out the dark and cold. It’s time to hibernate.

Our squash harvest
Baby blue hubbard squash from my garden

Gardening is one of those things that ties you back to the earth in a tangible way. It forces you to mark the seasons, and follow their guidance. You can’t plant lettuce in January and expect it to grow. You can’t harvest pumpkin in March. Nature is on her own timeline, and you’re merely along for the ride, doing your best to work within the constraints she sets for you. And yes, of course nature is a woman. She is fertile, she gives life and she’s … full of slugs? OK, maybe the metaphor doesn’t hold in all cases. How awkward. Ahem.

Hannah holding up our huge sunflower
Hannah holding the one sunflower we got to before the birds did

Fall is rife with contrast. My pantry is full, and so is my deep freeze. I’m surrounded by the bounty of the harvest. And yet the world outside feels very stark. The leaves are falling, and the trees are going bare. The tomato plants are withering, and the flowers have disappeared. The abundance of summer has moved from the outdoors to the indoors, as the world around me slowly fades. It’s all canned peaches and pears and frozen blueberries in my kitchen, and shriveled vines in my garden.

Home-grown pumpkin
Look, we grew a pumpkin, honest and no joke!

If I were more evolved, I’m sure that I would see some greater wisdom. We all need time off to rest – why should nature be any different? It’s all very circle of life, death-rebirth, in order to create we must first destroy, that kind of thing. But I am going to admit that I don’t like destruction. I don’t like death. And I don’t like cold, dark days – mystical significance notwithstanding.

So I draw my blanket around myself. I dig out the warm hats and the winter coats. I stock up on hot chocolate and mini marshmallows. I plant garlic and lay mulch. And I hold out for spring. It can’t get here fast enough for me.

What about you? Do you have a favourite season? Do you enjoy the descent into winter, or are you a summer person like me? And do you have any warm socks you can lend me? Tell me in the comments!

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