Hanging Out With Friends (Who Don’t Have Kids!)

I feel very fortunate (dare I say privileged!) to have found many wonderful friends and acquaintances during my *relatively* short time as a mother. This week has been particularly populated with such visits and get togethers. Good for the kiddos, good for the parents. We all flex our social muscles a little bit, reminding ourselves how to share and take turns, with toys and conversation. So thank you to everyone who falls into this category. You are making my life better. But…this post isn’t about you. That was my disclaimer. Because I’m about to talk about how much I also enjoy hanging out with my friends who don’t have kids…

The good news: having kids can strengthen friendships with other people who have kids. The other good news: if you had good friends to begin with, even if they don’t have kids, it can strengthen those friendships too!

So I have to claim luck again when I say that my friends sans kids still want to be friends with me!! And even want to be friends with my kids to some extent!

It’s lovely having people who can commiserate with me about the fun and the fury of being a parent to small children, but it’s also lovely to be around folks who, frankly, don’t want to hear about it that much. I had brunch with just such friends this past weekend. It was great. We drank a little. We swore a little. And we often ignored the fact that two kids were there with us. It was heavenly.

Since I tote these kiddos with me most everywhere I go, sometimes being in situations where they are not the center of my attention (or of the kind passersby on the street), is freeing. I am so infrequently without them that invariably, if I show up somewhere childless, I am greeted with, “Where are your kids?!” Folks are quite naturally concerned that maybe I forgot them somewhere.

It’s nice to be able to shed the mom label for just a little while. And though it’s difficult to do when your kids are around, it feels easier when I’m with friends who don’t have their own kids. Maybe it’s that they knew me before I had kids, so they can remember many of the times when I was irresponsible and would have been “unfit” for parenting (maybe that’s just a euphemism for hung-over?). Whatever the reason, I treasure these times when I think of myself as a friend first and as a parent second. Yes, I still have to wipe noses and butts, but then I can get back to the conversation that doesn’t ever mention having to do such things. Refreshing!

Again I say to you, friends with kids, I look forward to every hangout we have (truly!), but sometimes it’s just the thing to see some folks who are living lives very different from my own. Ahhh.

The Myth of my “Capability”

There are three levels of intensity involved in my parenting life.

#1- I’m calm on the outside and on the inside. I don’t need to remind myself to take deep breaths during this lovely stage. I’m breathing just fine.

#2- I’m calm on the outside but not on the inside. I’m doing a good job of keeping my emotions from getting the better of me, but I’m having to manage them behind the scenes.

#3- I’m not calm on the inside or on the outside. I’m being what I ask my kids not to be. Er, I’m losing my shit.

After some close reflection (and much wild guessing), I’d say that I am only #3 intense about 7% of the time. And as we all know, these times are bound to happen. Everybody loses control sometimes & the valuable lesson that we teach our kids when we lose our shit is really how to find it again. Yes, yes. Wonderful moral to that story Katie, but that’s not what has got me a little flummoxed today.

So if I’m losing my shit 7% of the time, this means that 93% of the time I LOOK CALM. I will say that this is what I’m going for. I like to be calm as much as I can be. I like how it feels. And I generally like how I parent when I am calm. The problem that I have is that working toward this calm doesn’t mean that I’m not having emotions under the surface.

I think that much like in my last post, my vanity has a lot to do with me working to appear calm. I am, after all, supposed to know something about parenting, right? How can I make any worthwhile contributions to the already crowded parenting sphere if I’m generally looking and feeling like I’m at my wit’s end? So, I look, to the outside world, as someone who is ‘capable,’ not very fussy, no-nonsense, ‘balanced.’ And, to get back to my percentages, I think that I really am some of those things about 40% of the time. But this leaves…53% of my life (more than half?!) falling into category 2. I’m managing my emotions rather than basking in them. Ack!

I’ve only started to figure out that sometimes these “breathed through” emotions are coming back to haunt me. Just because I no longer feel overwhelmed (while appearing calm) doesn’t mean that that feeling didn’t leave a little residual stress somewhere inside me. A little trauma (as I said to a fellow mom earlier today). I find this to be most true when I get to the end of a day, a day in which I have generally behaved ‘admirably’ and ‘capably’ & I get pissed off at my husband for very little reason. It seems crazy that I’m only realizing now that maybe that happens because I haven’t actually dealt with the stressful emotions that I successfully staved off during the day.

And since I generally appear to have my act together, it comes as quite a surprise to others and myself when I let off some of the steam that I’ve gathered up during the day. I’ve even got myself fooled.

So while it’s cool to look like you’re keeping your head, it can have this ugly side effect of making you and the folks around you forget that you are actually feeling some things that you might have to deal with. Phew. Maybe I’ll go have a good cry now just to air things out a bit.

Too Early to Expect (Some) Self-Control?

Permission to dislike me for what I’m about to write. I have produced two kids who like to sleep. Nighttime, naptime. No sweat. They even are so obliging as to take simultaneous afternoon naps everyday. Hence, afternoon blog posting.

But today, instead of drifting merrily off to sleep, my two year old daughter decided instead to galavant around upstairs after I repeatedly tucked her into her bed. Ha! So much fun! Plus it makes Mom come back upstairs to see me! She sleeps most often in a twin bed these days so that the crib will be vacant when it is needed for her younger sister. So I put her back into her big bed 2 or 3 times before saying that if she kept getting up, I’d have to put her back into her crib…which is where she is now.

Now I have funny ideas about limiting my kids’ access to naughtiness. What the heck does that mean? Basically it means that I’m not super happy about putting her back into her crib to sleep. I don’t like putting all of my “breakables” away since I now have a kid who can reach them. I don’t want my house to be child-proofed in the way of fencing my kids in to a designated “safe” play area. I want my house to look like I live here too! I want to have access to things that I want throughout the day. Even though I sometimes find my chapsticks (strategically placed throughout the house) with fingernail gouges in them (which I find so damn irritating!), I don’t move them away. I WANT MY CHAPSTICKS WHERE I PUT THEM! I dislike chapped lips, but I dislike moving from the comfy couch even more!

So the question is, is it foolish of me to expend energy working to place imaginary boundaries around the house when I could simply construct real ones? Is it too much to expect my kiddo to show some self-control?

I think the answer for me is that when I had only one child, the invisible boundaries were put in place partly to start teaching her things and partly out of vanity. I wanted to show others and myself that even though my life had totally changed since having a kid, I didn’t have to totally change my life once she was here. Does that make sense? But now that there are two of them, it’s actually pretty important that my bigger kid have some self-control, otherwise she would never be able to interact with her little sister. Right now she has the ability to squish, hurt, maim my three month old. If she couldn’t control those “powers,” then I could never step out of the room while the two of them were in it. I’d never be able to take a shower when I’m the only one home with two awake kids. But she would also never be able to show her little sister how much she loves her. If she didn’t know how to control her body a little bit or what’s ok to touch and what’s not (eyes are off limits! as is the china cabinet!), she could never give her sister a hug goodnight.

I still wrestle with how much self-control I should expect from my older daughter, but I think that I’m right in expecting some, yes? At any rate, she’s definitely sleeping in her “big” bed tonight!

Making Our Kids “World-Friendly”

I have mixed feelings about the term “kid-friendly.” I know that for many parents of young kids, these two words are a must. Now don’t get me wrong, I like going to the Play Cafe and I value restaurants that offer highchairs as much as the next person. I’m just not super interested in turning my life into something that’s totally “kid-friendly.”

Since I’m at home with my kiddos, plenty (and I mean plenty) of my life revolves around them- their nap schedules, their hunger, their playtime, etc. I’m glad to do this. I love them. I want their general daily experiences to be low stress and at least a little pleasant. But here’s the thing, I also want those things for myself! And by limiting our outings to only kid-friendly ones (or avoiding outings altogether), I am also limiting the chances that I’ll have a pleasant day. Hmmmm.

So how can we meet somewhere in the middle?

My thought has always been to make my kid(s) more world-friendly, rather than trying to mold the world to be more kid-friendly. All of us grown-ups know that it’s pretty difficult to change the world. It’s difficult to change atmospheres and environments and cultural norms. This isn’t to say that there isn’t room for a many-pronged movement to normalize breast-feeding in public or to make paid family leave a reality across the country- to make changes that are really family-friendly.

But on a much smaller scale, I want my kids to know that different places have different rules and not all of them will allow/encourage them to run around and let all of their energy out. Playgrounds are great for that! Museums are not. But that’s not a reason to skip museums. In the same vein, if we only ever eat at restaurants that have a kids’ menu or offer coloring supplies, we won’t be giving our kids a real sense of the world. At many restaurants, it’s our job to entertain ourselves while we wait for our food and to find something to eat/try something new! These same rules apply to us as grown-ups too.

Helping our kids see that the world is not going to change itself too much to accommodate them is an invaluable life lesson for them. In later life, due dates on schoolwork will have to be adhered to because why wouldn’t they be? If they don’t get the part they wanted in the school play, they’ll just have to live with it. Bummer. They’ll learn that their parents aren’t going to step in and “fix” things for them. There won’t be very much smoothing of the way for them. But they also won’t need it because they’ll be used to the world as it is…not the world as they’d like it to be.

Now some of you may say that taking your kids to places that aren’t explicitly “kid-friendly” means that parental stress levels go up exponentially, so why even put yourselves through that? My response to this is that sometime in the future, you will have to go somewhere that isn’t kid-friendly- a friend’s wedding, church, a doctor’s appointment, etc. When you do, you’ll want your kids to have had as much practice being “world-friendly” as possible. The more practice they get at behaving in places that don’t let them color on the walls, the better! If they never get the opportunity to show some self-control in public, then of course they’ll be bad at it! Give them that chance! Extend a little trust to them and to the general public! Help change the world a little bit by bringing your kids out into it! Make everywhere family-friendly!

Anybody want to join us out in the world? Well, after nap time of course.

Calming Down (for ourselves & our kids)

I’ve been the only adult at home with my two month old and my two year old for the last 4 days. Things have been going pretty well- better than I expected them to, which is why it was about time for me to lose my shit. So that’s what I did this fine Saturday morning.

Without enumerating every ridiculous problem I had (that given more patience, wouldn’t have been a problem), I’ll just tell you about my awesome reactions to the “mischief” that my 2 year old was making.

I put her on the bench on our enclosed porch (our version of time-out) while she stared through the window at me as I fumed.

I explained myself, at length (!) and why she was making me feel frustrated…this to a 2 year old, mind you.

I told her that I didn’t want to talk to her.

I told her to stay in the basement while I went upstairs…while she was crrrrrrrying!

Finally after more than 30 minutes of trying very unsuccessfully to manage/calm both kids and myself before we left the house, I realized that I needed a complete reset. Every little deviation was pissing me off at this point simply because my bucket of patience was already running pretty low.

And then I had it, a desperation epiphany! As I stood in the living room listening to both my kids cry (one in my arms & the other still relegated to the basement), I realized that I WAS THE ONE WHO NEEDED TO CALM DOWN! I know it seems a little silly to write that in bold AND CAPS, but it seemed totally ridiculous that I hadn’t already realized it.

I yelled down to my sad, sad daughter that she could join me upstairs. Then I told her that I had been acting too upset (even though she was the one with snot allllllll over her teary face) and that I had to take some time to breathe and calm down before I could talk to her properly. So I rocked my two month old as I stood with my eyes closed and took deep, audible breaths. To my surprise, the snotty sad sack that had been my older daughter became just a regular kid again while I worked on myself. She stood still in the room with me and just looked up at the ceiling, presumably breathing a little herself.

Once I felt better and thought I had given her enough time as well, I opened my eyes and apologized to her. It was not the first or the last time that I would apologize to her today. And this was not the last time that I would see tears from her, but for a few minutes after this exercise, we both felt better and could see and hear the other person more clearly.

The day wasn’t “solved” by deep breathing, but after forgetting and forgetting and forgetting my own advice and losing my temper over and over again, it felt reassuring to know that I could get things under control if I really needed to.

I wasn’t being kind to my kid(s) or to myself. And while I’m certainly not always kind, I’d like to always know where I can find some calm when I need it.

Hi-Fives (And why I won’t give them to just ANY kid)

There’s little I like more than conversations in real life that make me think about and question my thoughts on kids and parenting. And usually when I’m in a speculative mood, I find that writing about my thoughts helps me to suss them out fully.

Welcome to the suss.

This conversation started with a passing comment about my friends’ son hi-fiving other patrons in a restaurant that they were eating in. And I, being me, immediately said that I wouldn’t have given him a hi-five. Now, for the record, I would have hi-fived their kid because I know him, but in general, with a stranger kid, I would try and keep my hands to myself.

I was asked if my reticence was due to kids being so dang germy. And while that’s a good reason not to touch them, that was not why. I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly I felt this way until thinking about the question over the next couple of days. And finally, I had my aha moment. So here is my explanation for being a grinch about hi-fives (and, as you will see, many other things).

I don’t want to be the stranger who “allows” your kid to do things that you’d rather they not do.

You get what I’m saying?

I have met such nice people over the course of my parenthood who would seemingly let my daughter take food from their plates. So nice of you, really. Except that I don’t really want her to get into the habit of taking food off of other people’s plates- especially because that would most often be my plate…

When you ask your kid not to do something and a stranger says, “That’s ok” because it has something to do with them, it doesn’t actually make it ok.

Hey stranger, my kid wants to rifle through your purse. Oh great, you’re ok with that? Have at it then kid! Now you get what I’m saying, right?

As some strangers turn into acquaintances and friends, I will gladly let them dictate some rules around their own interactions with my kids. If I know the other adult’s first name, then they can more readily decide if they’re going to stop my kid from stealing their dinner roll from their plate. But if I don’t know them, then that dinner roll is off limits even if ‘kindly stranger’ doesn’t mind if that roll goes missing.

So with this “rule” in mind, I do not want to ever play the role of the undermining adult. If I hear a parent asking their child not to do something, even if it’s ok with me for them to do it, I’m not going to encourage them to. For instance, if we’re at the library and I’m reading a book that another kid would like to see, even if I don’t mind giving it to them, if their parent asks them to leave it with me, then I’m going to hold on to it. Saying, “I don’t mind” isn’t a terrible thing to do, but I’d rather support the other parent, even in small ways, than satisfy their kid’s immediate impulse.

Sometimes I take this grown-up solidarity to even more adult levels. If I hear a stranger parent telling their kid that it’s time to leave the playground and that kid is playing near me, occasionally I’ll say, “I hear your dad calling you.” Ew!! So gross!

Maybe the power hungry part of me that wants to keep control of my own kids is acting out a misaligned version of the golden rule. I’m hoping that by being a stick-in-the-mud, other parents will return the favor. I’m just sending those behaviors out into the universe, hoping that they’ll come back to me.

Since I don’t ever want to be in a situation like, “Please don’t have any more cookies love. They’re for everyone at the party.” And then hear, from some nice stranger, “There are plenty of cookies to go around! I don’t mind if she has a few more!” Great! Except that I do… And as we know, c’est moit qui decide!

So if I meet a little kid dispensing hi-fives in a restaurant, I’m going to think first about what his parents might be wishing he were doing. Maybe everybody is enjoying this sharing. Very, very, very possible! But if I don’t know those parents, I’m first going to wonder if they wish he were back in his seat eating dinner with them. So I’ll hold off on sharing those hi-fives just in case.

Glad Holiday Tidings

For lo, I bring you good tidings of great joy.

Happy Holiday Season! As 2015 draws to a close and we look forward to the coming year, I am here to share some super good news with you all! Now that I am a very practiced parent of 2 (ha! 3 weeks and counting), I have come to a very definite conclusion, if only to assuage my own feelings of concern for the immediate future. I have decided that most everyday decisions that I make at this point will not permanently scar my kids! I’m almost sure that this is true.

How have I reached this conclusion? With your help my friends! I know a lot of adults and I must say that many of them are fairly normal people (awkwardness notwithstanding). Most adults that I know give me some hope for my own kids’ adult lives.

For instance, you don’t meet many adults who only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders. And you don’t meet many adults who still need a pacifier to get to sleep. Or folks who are grown but still aren’t toilet trained. Similarly, for my younger daughter, I have yet to meet a 1 or 2 year old who can’t hold up their head simply because they didn’t have enough tummy time when they were very young.

This is not to say that the cumulative parental decisions that we make don’t add up to a “finished product” in our kids, but many of the small things that give us pause simply won’t make as much of an impact as we think. There are certainly things to focus on and work toward, but they generally revolve around helping our kids to be a little bit nicer or a little more patient or a little more thoughtful or a little more resilient. I think that we can let go of some of the concerns about aiding development and providing opportunities for learning, etc.

So this is my Christmas present to myself. I’m letting myself off the hook because in the coming weeks junk food will be consumed, TV will be watched and feelings of greed will most likely spike. These things are “out of the ordinary” for our family, at least for the younger member(s). But I am not going to worry that I’m turning my daughter into a media monster or an attention hog or a sugar eating maniac. It’s going to take a concerted effort, but I’ll give it a go.

Merry Christmas to me!