Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Tornado Tai Chi (aka Parenting)”

Guts and Pastels

​In honor of Mother’s Day, a message to me from the version of my mom that lives in my intuition:

Beyond the pain and mess
After the harsh words and forget-me-nots
There lingers the warmth
From which we all came.

That warmth is more important than getting it right.

Share your soul-fire with them
Let its imperfect authenticity
Envelop them
As you once did.

Nothing is more raw than motherhood.
The blood and mucus at birth are no anomaly:
Resist the urge to pull crisp linens over them.

Your time will come to fade like cut flowers.
Until then, use your roots.

————-

Something about Mother’s Day has always slightly unsettled me. Too many pastels, not enough guts. This poem, siphoned from the incredible woman who warms my memories, steadies that wobble for me. I’m a little more ready for the onslaught of sweet chaos that will be my tomorrow.

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A Gift Moment

Owlet has been sick. A fever that hit 105.2 at one point yesterday, to be precise. She’s doing a bit better today… Better enough to be grumpy with her little brother for running into their bedroom to see if she wanted to play outside.

“Go away!” She shouted peevishly. “I’m trying to sleep!”

Thor and I had just asked Platypup not to pull on the curtains while playing “I’m a jertain in the curtain,” jump on the bed where baby Cria was lolling about, or use the windowsill to climb the wall above the bed. His sister yelling at him was the last straw, and he thumped sadly down the hall away from his family, giving what Owlet last year affectionately dubbed his “choo-choo train” sob.

Thor tried to go comfort him but Platypup yelled at him to go away so after a few tries he and I switched places; he flopped down next to a chipper, chubby, rolling baby and tried to keep her from the edges while I followed the howls toward a tear-stained face peeking out from a tightly wadded blanket.

He let me share his blanket and sobbed into my armpit. As we snuggled, I said all the right things for once, about how hard it must be not to be able to play with Owlet and how he must miss her and be worried about her, and that gave him words to then articulate those things back and cry it from his system.

The tears soon tapered off. We sat up and had moved on to an animated discussion on the dietary habits of walruses (as googled for him by Daddy at daybreak) when Owlet came in and joined us in our blanket nest.

After a companionable lull, Platypup mumbled, “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“That’s ok,” she said with that odd mixture of frustration, chagrin, and deeply abiding love known to parents everywhere. “I wasn’t asleep. I was just trying to fall asleep.”

“I wanted you to come play with me. I miss you,” he added quietly.

She grinned at him. “Want to play now?”

He instantly lit up, and off they scampered.


That is far from the way most of their arguments go, of course. They are four and six, after all. But I was able to just sit there, doing nothing at all, and watch them make up with as much grace and honesty, if not more, than I have ever done.

This is a gift moment, I thought as I sat there, stunned, a glimpse of their future selves. This is one of the most useful skills a person can have, and they have already managed it once. The day will come when they or someone they love has really messed up badly, and this is how they will show up.

Shoes

I see your shoes there, discarded in the doorway, a microdune of sand beneath the right one, laces tumbling from the left. I must shrink to the size of a mouse so I can fit all the way inside.

It is dark, darker than I’d expected. And smellier. Turns out the flashy colors are only on the outside. In here it is dim, musty, with only a small circle of light near the opening.

How often am I the one shining more brightness into this space? How often am I instead casting shadows?

From the outside, a shadow upon a sneaker is an unnoticeable blip. Inside, it is an eclipse.

Why is it so hard, in the moment, to stop, shrink, and enter?

Your mere presence demands this of me.

I demand it of myself.

And yet it is only after the words have flown that I remember.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Even when I am unrested, unclean, unbalanced, unheeded.

Even when you are a tornado of irrationality.

The shape is a little different, and the size. The colors, especially the outer ones, and the smell; they are different, too. But the feeling — oh, I know it.

Like the back of my hand.

Like the sound of my mother’s voice.

Like a well-worn shoe.IMG_20160324_074305770 IMG_20160324_074216880

Refining Our Scholastic Balance

School decision making may be the most nerve-wracking of all the parental dilemmas.

Our country prides itself on being chock-full of choices (but without so much as a pamphlet to see us safely through). If you’ve ever been concerned about the toxins in your beauty products or the protein content in your pet’s diet, you know the time sinkhole that is internet research.

Now pretend that choice might make or break your child’s future happiness, their eventual career(s), the very wiring of their brain, not to mention all of your familial relationships, and you begin to grasp the enormity of what we parents are asked to do, not for ourselves, not on behalf of an adult or a teenager, but for a child just beginning to sprout, whose needs and desires are still partially obscured.

Way worse than shampoo or dog food. The columns of pros and cons run off into the distance like Platypup’s favorite number: infinity.

If you’ve been coming ’round these parts for awhile, you know I’ve been here before. Three years agoTwo and a half years ago… And most recently this past fall, when we actually enrolled both Owlet and Platypup for the first time.

If I’ve written at least five (six, now) posts on the subject, you know it’s been mulled over endlessly. Thor and I frequently discuss school matters using the semi-coded, intentionally complex language of parents within earshot of their children: “I got a phone message from the scholastic institution in the style of my early childhood and after we submit the appropriate forms on behalf of our male descendant we can observe the occupants in their native environment.” (Translation: the Montessori school says we can tour after turning in some initial paperwork for Platypup.) My friend Kula and I sip tea, commiserate, and take turns as sounding board. Her daughter is right between Owlet and Platypup in age and our opinions on educational philosophies and the various local schooling options always track closely in tandem; no one bears witness to my “what feels right?” soul-search better than she. I sneak-attack interview complete strangers whose offspring are homeschooled or who attend a school on my list. And of course when the moon is full, the cats noisy, or the children restless, I lie awake at night and relentlessly chart and rechart potential courses until I force myself to yoga-pee-meditate back to sleep.

Then a couple months ago, a new chapter in Owlet’s schooling jumped out and threw itself across our path.

Owlet began in the fall at a partial homeschooling program, which we enjoyed but quickly realized was probably not our home long-term due to its tiny size and undeviatingly standardized curriculum. As we explored other options, we came across another hybrid program that seemed much more our style. We applied in November to transfer (this year if possible or at the start of next school year if not) and waited.

We had resigned ourselves to the luck of the lottery for Fall 2016 and were in full on, baby-anytime mode when we got the call: there was an opening if we wanted to take it.

Thor and I tore our hair out a little over the timing of it all (a couple weeks before my due date) but we toured and adored it, took Owlet for a trial day at which she had a blast, and officially transferred… On what turned out to be two days before Cria’s birth.

Bam! Huge life transition times two.

It could easily have backfired, but the combination turned out to be perfect for Owlet. As much as she loved her new school, she was really, really, really sad to leave her first teacher, and a tiny baby sister was an ideal distraction. Her class of fellow kindergarteners and first graders has given her a wealth of friends — and Thor and I a pack of like-minded parents! The curriculum is whatever we want it to be, with expert guidance to take the hassle out of homeschooling. Instead of the worksheets and textbooks that prompted alarming statements like “I hate science,” we have interest-driven projects and research and games. Because the curriculum is so perfectly tailored to the individual student, I can say without hesitation that all three of our kids will thrive here. Maybe there’s a curveball in our future, but for now, this fits us to a T… I know, because my midnight agonizing on the subject has ceased, and with all the newborn nursing sessions and cramped co-sleeping configurations, that’s saying something!

  

   

The Red Light Green Light Experiment

Owlet and Platypup are over the moon about their baby sister. Truly. Platypup even says she’s the one he loves most in the world. (The rest of us try not to feel like chopped liver about it.)

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But that doesn’t mean this is a seamless transition from four to five for our family.

Cria is an easy baby thus far: she nurses, she sleeps, we change her diaper and take her to the loo, she nurses again, she sleeps again. There are moments of minor fussiness that quickly resolve. Usually the solution is burping… or spitting. And then more milk.

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Even an “easy” baby is still a major upheaval for older siblings, though, especially those who are toddler/preschool age. Platypup may be the sweetest, gentlest big brother *with* Cria, but with the rest of us chickens he has become an irrational short fuse on a powerful set of lungs. To make matters worse, he is more sensitive to others yelling and screaming than the average kid… And Owlet’s typical response to any perceived slights against her is to — yup, you guessed it, yell and scream. (At least at home. Hardly anyone believes me because she’s a model citizen out in public.)

So they’ve both been doing their best to ensure Cria develops the ability to sleep through at least 120 decibels. Which will surely come in handy later, but Thor and I may go mad in the meantime if we can’t turn this train around and find the mild-mannered sweethearts we fear we have inadvertently swapped for banshees.

Enter red light, green light.

We are far from the first to apply traffic signals to parenting. But during the course of a surprisingly cordial family brainstorm session on restoring the peace, we came up with a promising take on it.

Instead of “no” or “stop,” both of which are apparently rubbish within the confines of our home even though they continue to work perfectly well outside of it, we are trying to adhere to the following:

Step one: say “red light.”
[Person stops. Hopefully. Otherwise skip steps two and three and go straight to cacophony.]
Step two: explain why.
Step three: when the issue is resolved, say “green light.”
[All is peace love and puppies.]

It’s worked for the hour between implementation and bedtime this evening. How long will it last?

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I dunno. Wish us luck!

And Baby Makes Five

Fourteen days ago this enchanting imp made her grand entrance: 

 

She built up the suspense with two days of painless “warmup” (more frequent than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been experiencing for months, but definitely not yet active labor) during which I optimistically visualized dilation occurring and stockpiled sleep and food like the apocalypse was looming.

My first labor was a day and a half. My second was half a day. Both natural births, neither of them abnormally difficult, but both involved a sleepless night and more than two hours of pushing. I was hoping for shorter and easier, of course, but preparing for endless.

I began bedtime with Owlet and Platypup pretty certain labor was almost upon us but still able to read to them and sing a few songs. Then singing during contractions became more challenging so I put on some music and sat at the edge of Platypup’s bottom bunk until he fell asleep. I kissed an engrossedly reading Owlet goodnight in her top bunk and headed out to the living room. It was a little after 8pm.

I pulled out a favorite book I was rereading (Destiny’s Song, by Audrey Faye) in anticipation of tackling its newly released sequel during the nursing marathon that is the newborn period. Contractions were closer together and no longer ignorable, but I was still able to read through them awhile, and then read between them until I finished the book around 9pm.

Next I entered what I think of as the “restless” period. Contractions were… Bothersome? Not painful exactly, but just… irritating, and I wasn’t able to settle into a groove of coping with positioning or visualization or anything the way I remember doing in my first births. I stood, I walked, I sat, I leaned, I squatted, I crawled, I reclined on my side, I used the birth ball and Thor and the back of the chair. I even did a few half sun salutations — mostly to ease my mood a bit.

I stopped being able to simply draw long slow ujjayi breaths through contractions and began to make low, quiet moaning sounds. Thor had been keeping an eye on the clock and asked a couple of times whether I thought we should call our midwife yet. I was grumpy, completely unsure whether this was even active labor yet, and each time said I didn’t know. Then I threw up, a common sign of labor well underway. Thor went ahead and made the call.

Soon after, my water broke a bit. Fictional births almost universally cast this as the first sign of labor, and for a small percentage of laboring moms it is. But not for me! With Owlet, the midwife broke the bag of waters manually late in first stage to help a long slow labor accelerate, and with Platypup, it leaked a bit toward the end of the first stage and then exploded suddenly on my midwife mid-second stage. In other words, for me, any amount of water breaking = baby coming.

And the tornado hit. So fiercely that I felt I had no coping skills at all. I anchored to my breath and held onto its well-practiced steady undulation for dear life as contractions seemed to overlap, with any brief potential break in the action obliterated by an impatient babe who seemed to be attempting to tunnel out. Her every movement seemed to pummel the same spots that bore the brunt of each contraction. With each contraction I filled my core with deep, resonant sound that could almost but not quite drown out the pain. I had dropped to hands and knees when I felt my water beginning to break (I was actually able to warn Thor in time for him to slip a waterproof pad underneath first) and that is where I stayed, all ability to move having vanished.

In the time it took our midwife to drive from the next town over, I went from waffling on whether it was time to call to unquestionable certainty that she should already have arrived.

The midwife agreed. She opened the front door at around 10:30 and immediately called the second midwife based on my voice alone. Then she came into the room, checked the baby’s heart rate, got the rest of her equipment into the house, and at my request checked my dilation.

I was completely dilated other than a small lip.

A couple of contractions later my body begin to push on its own. A few more and I could tell the baby’s head was already crowning. Thor got ready to catch with our midwife’s assistance and as her face emerged they were both surprised to see the caul still around it. I was able to stop actively pushing and just breathe instead (a feat that was frankly impossible in prior births) to ease her out gently. Moments later she slipped free into Thor’s waiting hands.

It was 11:08pm. A mere three hours after I’d put our two children to bed, we now had three!

I held our new daughter sitting back on my heels after she had been passed up to me and was able to change positions without needing major support. Getting comfortable was another matter, but the last two times I basically became jelly instantly post-birth. I was glad to feel I still had strength left.

Our second midwife arrived minutes later. After the initial postpartum activities (checking us both out, cleaning multiple meconium explosions, inspecting the placenta, pushing super hard on my belly to help the uterus shrink — the usual) Thor went to bring in the big kids.

Owlet was instantly awake. Platypup would not be roused right away so Thor brought Owlet in first and went back to try again.

Owlet came in all wide-eyed and hushedly excited:

  

Platypup stumbled blearily into the room, spotted on the floor the white and black couch cushions we designated as the ones that must stay on the couch (the others can be played with), and apparently his sense of order was offended, because he immediately attempted to rectify the situation (fortunately without putting them directly in a pool of blood) without so much as glancing around for the baby. I managed to draw Thor’s attention in time for him to rescue the pillow in question. Then we reminded Platypup there was a new baby sister to meet!

    

Eventually we all migrated to bed together: Baby “Cria” in the middle, Thor and I on either side of her, Owlet and Platypup on either side of us. We sang to Cria for the first time; Platypup asked for Rainbow Connection and Owlet requested Onawa’s Waltz. Sleep was fragmented, Platypup kept me far too warm, and my escapes for water/bathroom breaks were acrobatic feats, but our first night as a family of five is already etched in the rosy hues reserved for memories most beloved. One sweet, cozy, crowded family.

   

  

  

  
 

  
First outing: going to sushi to celebrate our two week old!

Helping Kids Say No

An after school care provider allegedly sexually abused at least one small child at a school in our area.

I can barely allow my mind to tiptoe the slightest bit toward this idea. My entire being revolts against it. But it reminds me that I’ve meant to recommend a book for awhile, a really well-done book on a very important topic: helping our children say no.

  
The book is called I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private. It is co-written by a boy and his mother from the son’s perspective and manages to be thoroughly informative and practical without being scary. Both Owlet and Platypup like reading it and talking through the questions/discussions sprinkled throughout. They request it routinely, and reading it over and over together gives me increasing confidence in their ability to recognize and hopefully avoid or escape a potentially abusive situation if possible and if not, to tell a trusted adult as soon as they can.

The book is full of nuance that is nonetheless still appropriate for preschoolers and kindergarteners — it addresses common childhood curiosity about the opposite sex, differentiates between treats and bribes, and even walks through what to do if someone who should unquestioningly be a safe “green flag” person (such as a parent) turns out not to be. It does not shy away from how common sexual abuse is; rather, it uses that fact as a route to healing, to emphasize that it is not their fault if it happens to them.

I am so grateful to Kimberly King for transforming her son’s close call into an empowering guiding light. Until sexual violence ceases to be a pillar of our society, I Said No! should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Oasis-Hopping in the Melodrama

This past month has been a deluge of preschooler melodrama. Platypup, maybe from the new autumn schedule with less time at home or by observing other kids’ behavior at school or just because it’s what three and a half year olds do, has been driving Thor and I slowly insane with his increased wining and aggression and rudeness. It may be settling down a bit these past couple days. Or I may just be leveling up to the new normal.

And yet, like koi in a murky pond, there are these moments, these irreplaceable delightful little gems that are more than making up for it:

The night of the eclipse, we left our house at bedtime to see if we could spot the return of the moon from beneath the earth’s shadow, which, according to Thor’s mildly malfunctioning but still fairly trustworthy constellation app, had definitely made it over the horizon enough to be visible above single story rooftops. In bare feet and pajamas the kids traipsed along the twilit block, followed not just by Thor and I but also by Pickle, the noisiest of our cats. After perhaps a half hour of fairly pleasant but fruitless loitering, we decided to head back home without seeing anything. We must have been quite a sight with our stereotypical 2.5 kids and operatic cat in tow. Once at home, we discovered the moon had risen enough for its rusty specter to peek over the backyard fence, conveniently and irresistibly visible from the hot tub. Plans for bedtime abandoned, we clambered in for our own private eclipse-viewing pool party.

   
 – – – –

Lying in bed last week, Thor’s hand curved around my ballooning abdomen, patience is finally rewarded with tiny thwumps while Owlet and Platypup riot on the other half of the bed, apparently pretending to be wrestling kittens. Quintessential third baby moment.

– – – –

After a month’s lapse from structured musical activities (for pregnancy-sanity reasons this school year I am taking a break from teaching my little kid music class and elementary-school-aged beginner orchestra class) Owlet and Platypup resumed music play, first with renewed interest in the piano separately from both and then with an epic show for an enthusiastic audience of one (who also doubled as the announcer). After I hawked her upcoming appearance, Owlet would play the first song in her violin Suzuki book, I would applaud, and then I would herald Platypup as “the dragon who is going to jump and roar for us!” Repeat with each Suzuki song in order, punctuated by three roaring dragon jumps each time. Eventually there was improvised, dancing violin to accompany the dragon. After a month off from playing violin at all, and a few months at least since the last time several of the more advanced songs were played, I was astounded by Owlet’s rock-solid memory and tendency to sing the tune to find the fingering in trickier spots as well as Platypup’s ability to take turns with enthusiasm.

– – – –

Owlet was arguing with Platypup about pronunciation (I no longer remember the word) and so I listed a few examples of words with multiple pronunciations and then pulled out Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” They both snuggled in next to me, listened attentively to every word, and laughed uproariously at some of the goofier parts.

– – – –

Owlet straddles her bike with pregnant me hunched beside her gripping the back of the seat. She shoves off with her feet while I push, tries to find the pedals fast enough to gain momentum as I lumber along, and then I let go and jog beside her while she zooms a few pedal-strides before making friends with a neighbor’s shrub. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

– – – –

Platypup this morning, with an entire story completely out of the blue: “Once upon a time there lived a family of carrots. They went into a pirate ship and one said, ‘we are pirates!’ And one said, ‘we are fired!’ And one said, ‘yes, yes, we are fired!’ And then they were dead. And then they looked confused.”

Announcing… Ninja!

Thor and I had always planned to have two kids. And when I say always, I truly mean from the first moment we discussed the possibility of ever reaching that very far-off seeming point. Two. For sure. Two and only two.

And then Platypup was born… And within days I knew I wasn’t done.

Thor was not convinced, possibly because his hormones were not in a blender on high with the top off. So I figured we should wait to officially debate the issue until Platypup turned three. It seemed as though we would have a better sense by then of what it felt like to leave the baby/toddler phase behind, catch up on sleep, and decide whether to sail onward into middle childhood or give round three a try.

Well, this past May our Platypup turned three, and, like clockwork…  

 Halfway between Thor’s birthday and Father’s Day we learned the good news. Above is that quintessential “what am I squinting at?” ultrasound photo used to estimate a due date. Turns out our little Ninja is due in February — clearly already determined to distinguish his/herself from the rest of the family, who are all lumped together in Gemini territory.

Us parents are excited. The kiddos are over the moon. This is going to be awesome. Bring on Baby No. 3!

P. S.  This is totally how we dress all the time. The proximity to our Talk Like a Pirate Day party (Sept 19th, one of our family’s sacred holidays) is just coincidental.

   Aaarrr! Now that I’m not nauseous all th’ bloody day, I’ll have yer guts fer garters iffen ye don’t rustle up some grub!

  Avast! Hold on just a bloody minute, if’n we be havin’ another set o’ hands on deck, ’twill it mean our kitchen’ll ne’er again be swabbed’n stay swabbed?

 Yaaaar! I’ll soon ‘ave two wee bilge rats teh do me bidding!

 Ho ho, I won’t be th’ lowly cabin lad anymore!

The second first day (in a row)

Platypup’s firsts are invariably so different from Owlet’s. Partially this is because for us parents, everywhere the first child ventures is uncharted territory. Second children feel less stressful overall (though they certainly have their moments, especially when they deviate from the map you made based on your first child’s path and you’re all “wait a second, honey… I think this says ‘here be dragons!'”) but mostly this is because in addition to two parents, Platypup has Owlet. Think the world’s best combo of friend, comfort object, and parent-in-training. So where, for example, her initial experience with day camp last summer was a huge adjustment for the whole family and we stayed over an hour or so that first day before she could stomach us leaving, he was ready to wave us off in minutes.

Big sister’s here. See ya!

He was a little apprehensive this morning for his first day of preschool (and also sad because Granny was heading home after a fun-filled visit) so I gave him lots of snuggles and a pocket stone in case he needed something to help him remember we loved him and would be back to pick him up soon. But we weren’t there more than a few minutes again before he was settled in and happy to stay.

   
(Just arriving)

 (Done with photos, guys. Geez. Always making a big production out of everything.)

I keep checking just in case it only seems that he rolls easily through territory I distinctly marked as bumpy the last time around. But he is very clear about the things that do distress him: not being able to do the top button on his shirt, for example, or the presence of inedible things on his plate (seeds, shrimp tails, bones, bay leaves, all must be evicted promptly). Or his sister going somewhere exciting like kindergarten without him.

I worry that maybe we are, in fact, horrible parents who aren’t making a big enough deal of these milestone occasions with our second born. And then I have to remind myself, no, we are just meeting each child where they are. If he needed more from us to ease his transition to preschool, we would be giving it without hesitation.

  
(Seriously, this is moments after arrival.)

Of course, it helps that his school is such an awesome place to play, who wouldn’t want to be there?

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