the boredom curve

I’m going to admit something that is going to make me sound like an inattentive mother. I’ve gotten exceptionally talented at ignoring my kids. No, no, hear me out. Like millions across America right now, I am home with my children. Unlike before, there is no out-of-home activities to cart the littles to. In the past, a great distraction in the day was a trip to the local park or the library. These days are no more.

So now my days are predictable and routine. Life revolves around snack time and meal time, and I prioritize my workout time (thank you, Peloton). Beyond that, there isn’t rules. My fourth grader is excellent at keeping to his school schedule, but the littles have free reign on the house.

I have learned a secret trick to parenting them. When they say they are “bored” and have nothing to do, if I just sort of ignore their cries and leave them be…. they find something to do. Luckily they have each other as playmates. So, without fail, within a few minutes, they distract themselves and play.

It seems like a revelation to me. How many lists and schedules and ideas are we sending to each other at this time, trying to fill this void of sheltering in place? And, for the most part, all this planning is for naught. Sure, I give the kids some direction, but for the most part, I can be totally hands off. There might be whining and a few tears, but they are very good at entertaining themselves. I don’t have to fight them, I don’t have to say platitudes like “Only boring people are bored”. I just let their cries wash over me and then watch the miracle of free play and creativity come out.

***

My neighbor and I had a pseudo-play date yesterday. It was gorgeous here in suburban New Jersey, and after a family bike ride we saw them in their front yard playing with sidewalk chalk. The kids did an excellent job of staying 6-feet-apart from one another, and I had some much needed, in person, adult communication. (for reference, my husband is currently out of state for training, he worked last week quite a bit, and wont return home until this weekend)

I admitted to her that my kids don’t seem bothered by all this societal change. Because, they don’t. They haven’t begged to leave the house beyond a bike ride or a walk in the neighborhood, and to them going in the backyard is just as great as a field trip to the park. The other day I had to force my eldest into the van with his father to get take out food, I assumed he’d miss riding in the car since it’d been 3+ weeks since his last outing, but he didn’t care.

My neighbor said the same thing. It made me think about all the distractions and events we are always carting our offspring to don’t really matter. The kids, at least my kids, are just as happy at home with us around all the time. We have a way of over scheduling and over stimulating our kids, and it might not matter. Maybe we are over complicating everything and this return to just sticking it out at home is good for us, like a juice cleanse for ourselves.

My eldest is sad about not seeing his friends. He misses school. My littles say they miss preschool as well, but, they just accept than they can’t go right now. The kids are handling this social change much better than I am, and most adults I know. They are so amazing at just living in the moment, not looking into the past or future, and this life outlook is something I try to keep during these “troubled times” (as they say).

Life is slower right now, but we all have our health. We are happy in our self-appointed quarantine and have everything we need right now. Our boredom is a privilege and as my kids show me every single day, boredom isn’t something than needs fixing. If I’m feeling anxious or like acting out, if I just let the emotion ride and then dismiss it as quickly as it comes, I too am on to the next thing.

potty training blues

A few months ago my son stopped breastfeeding. I nursed him longer than any of my other kids, few months past 2 years old, and it was time. Around the same time we stopped giving him bottles as well. My last baby was a full fledged toddler and I was okay with that. Especially since I decided it was time to potty train him.

He’s incredibly smart. He’s also super stubborn, but he acts like such a big boy and wants to copy his brother and sister so I figured he was ready. I searched through my email for the nearly-decade old attachment someone had emailed me for my firstborn, the infamous “3 Day Potty Training Method”. I decided the next day was his day. We were stopping diapers and converting to underwear fully.

We used this method with our other two kids and they had great success. My oldest was just over 3 years old when I trained him, and my daughter was probably 2 years, 7 or 8 months old. So, I knew H was a little young at 2 years 5 months old. But, he seemed ready. Or so I thought.

The first few days were a major struggle, as expected. He just didn’t seem to get it. He’d pee and not even notice. Poop was the same. But, as with the other kids, by day three he seemed to understand. He’d hold himself, at least, and would pee whenever we’d put him on the toilet. We went back to our normal daily routine, which consists of trips to the gym or parks or shopping.

After a few accidents on the road, I bought pull-ups. And now, here’s where it gets bad. I started putting him in pull-ups even just around the house. Because, my highly verbal son seems to be unable to express the words “I have to go potty”. No amount of bribery seems to work, no candy, or prizes. He just won’t tell us.

If we catch him grabbing his crotch and rush to the toilet, he will go and there’s no “accident”. But, if it were up to him, he’d never tell us and just piss everywhere. It’s so frustrating. I can’t believe we are relying on pull-ups in this way, and I curse myself for not sticking to a plan. I know consistency is key and my own laziness is getting in the way.

I probably should have waited a few months before forcing this upon him. But we are 2 months in and I can’t very well fully give up, yet. I was just ready for the diaper days to end, you know? A he just doesn’t care. I think he’s told me “I gotta potty” only three times since we “trained” him. Like I said, he can hold it and tries to hide if he has to go…. but my husband and I are at a lost on how to make that final cog just click and have him WANT to go potty in the toilet, not his pants.

Having two other kids is great for the grand perspective of things. I know he won’t still have these bathroom issues in a year or so. But this is a perfect example of the day to day drag of raising a toddler. These little missteps and accidents add up throughout the day and the frustration I feel about it builds too. You’d think by child number three I’d be a pro by now…but it just goes to show that every child is different and things don’t always end up how you intend.

Diagnosis: Princess Power

It’s happened.

I swore to myself it wouldn’t; the day she was born someone put a silly pink bow hat on my daughter’s head, and it was then I vowed; I’m going to keep her away from the girly stuff. All the frilly, lacy, pink stuff that is having a little little girl just isn’t my style and I wanted to raise my daughter to think independently and not conform to the standard stereotypical gender role of “little princess”.

It worked, for a bit. I mean, prior to age 2 and prior to her having the ability to form an opinion and express it clearly, it was pretty easy avoiding Disney princesses and crowns.

But slowly, the princess culture seeped in to her life.

She’s the only girl out of eight cousins on her father’s side of the family, so for every birthday and Christmas, our generous extended family has fun buying her girly toys. I get it it. Superhero’s and Star Wars for seven nephews/sons/grandsons is tiresome and any break from the routine is welcome. So she can get a poofy dress up skirt and parade around in it with joy, no big deal … as long as we don’t highlight the word princess, it’ll be ok, or so I thought.

And last year she went through a serious butterfly phase. Around the time she started wanting to choose her clothes everyday, she started demanding only butterfly shirts. That was a fun indulgence. Before we moved she wanted her new room to be a butterfly room, which gave me a lot of fun options to decorate with. In my mind, while butterflies are girly, they aren’t as “bad” as a princesses.

But sometime this summer my little girl dropped the obsession with butterflies and moved straight onto the princess train.

Sigh.

What do you want to be when you grow up, Lu?

A princess.

What do you want to dress up as for Halloween?

A princess!

What do you want to play when we are at the playground, sweetie?

Princess Luella!

She’s obsessed. Any paraphernalia we purchase with a cheap Disney synergy tie-in gives her glee. She’ll just sit and look at books with the darn princesses for hours. And nothing, nothing, lights up her face more than when we call her “Princess”.

And that’s my struggle. I want her to be a strong, independent, kind person in the world, and want her to follow her passions but also be a hard worker and someone who values inner strength and beauty more than outer, yet …. the pleasure on her face when I indulge her and call her Princess while tucking her in at night, man, that’s hard to fight. She was absolutely adorable dressed up as Ariel over Halloween, and if I can give her a sticker book with the princesses in it and it entertains her for hours, what’s the harm, really? What am I fighting, exactly?

She’s three. This phase should pass, eventually, right? Shouldn’t I just let her have this phase while it’s still pure and just because they’re pretty, now, while she’s little? Why and I trying to force my own distaste of it all on her? Her being into princesses doesn’t mean I, the mom, am raising her to literally think she’s an actual entitled princess… she will still work hard and be empathetic and know her smarts are far more important than her looks because those are the values we are instilling in her.

So, I’m okay with it. I’m going to smooth her hair, call her princess because it makes her smile, let her pretend and dress up and let her enjoy all the stupid plastic Disney crap because she’s a child and this is just a phase. And trying to control what she likes isn’t the type of mom I aim to be.

Playground Politics

*This goes out to the parents out there* …. Think back, to your days before “parent” was a label applied to you. What were your thoughts on children, moms and dads, and discipline? What sorts of behavior would you witness with rolled eyes and scoffing?

*This goes out to the parents of multiple children out there* …. Hey! Remember when you had one child and they consumed your world? Every moment you had eyes on them, you knew their quirks and had no doubt of their brilliance and uniqueness? Remember going to the playground and following their every step, every triumph of a ladder rung climbed, every round on the slide? Did you ever see some random, disheveled child pushing your precious out of the way and wonder aloud: “Whose kid is this??”

My personal answers to the questions above are probably pretty obvious.

Before I had E, I didn’t think about parenting at all. I had very little interaction with children beyond the ones I encountered at work, and I usually observed every scream or whimper or booger-streaked face with disgust.

That is, until I had a baby, and my entire life revolved around just E. I thought I had it figured out. I brought him to the playground every single day, rain or shine or wind or snow…. I hovered and hemmed and hawed over him at all hours of the day. I’d see sloppy looking moms parading their multiple offspring off and watch in horror as they pushed, shoved, and ran amok. And, I judged. Oh, how I judged.

But then I had two babies in a little under two years. Suddenly, the playground as a destination because a “trip”, a big “deal”. Beyond that, I started to see the play areas as a place for “them” and the benches along the side of the structures as “my” place. The luxury of sitting back and watching them do whatever it is they wanted seemed like a no brainer.

And my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of “parents of one”. I don’t judge them, because I was them for four and a half years, but looking through the playground scene with my new lenses of a “mom of three”, I started to realize how different I was from them. Usually its Mom and Dad following every step of little Jr and their adventures in the structures, with lots of “Be Careful!” And “Oh look at you!” Meanwhile, I’d be in a corner, trying to appear forgotten. I want my kids to play, but I don’t feel the need to follow them everywhere.

This brings me to today; another playground trip on a warm November afternoon. The sun was bright. I have a quiz to study for and three kids under my watch (as the hubby is flying for a few days) so I foolishly thought I’d have time to look over notes at the local playground. I forgot it’s a weekend. I should have realized every other parent in our suburb had the same idea as me: enjoy the sun while we can. And I should have realized that while I’m perfectly okay with watching the 2-year-old climb up a slide the wrong way, the vast majority of parents out there (especially the ones with only one kid) frown upon such behavior.

So, what should have been a relaxing escape from our house, became an internal struggle of my own. I don’t want to be “that mom” whose children are causing issues, I don’t want someone to see my little L and H seemingly alone and assume their parents aren’t mindful of the abduction risk of unsupervised children, but I also know that particular playground, being fully fenced, is pretty safe. I know that kids want to climb up slides backwards and I know that they don’t need me there “just in case”. So it becomes a show, and I have to act. Because I care too much about what everyone else thinks. Their frantic anxiety becomes my frantic anxiety.

After an hour or so I was sick of chasing H so I told the kiddos it was time to go home. To play in our own backyard. And guess what? In the privacy of my own home, confined in the fully fenced back yard, I can sit and study over the pulmonary system and even read a novel without worrying about H and L taking turns going upside down, down the slide. I guess it’s true: there’s no place like home.

the joys of a little boy

Holden is my baby, the youngest of three, and my second son. But in so many ways he’s my first “boy”. My eldest, Eli, was a shy, studious toddler with a fixation on doors and trains and books and was quiet until he was 3. Literally. He didn’t really start talking until then, and this was after 18 months of speech-language therapy. Compared with our second child, Luella, Eli was easy as a toddler. Luella has her moments of drama and misbehavior, but she is also capable of focused play and is a pretty good listener.

But Holden. Man, Holden.

He’s that toddler who climbs. Climbs up high and dances at the top and dares you to stop him from repeating it once you drag him back down. He really enjoys pushing stools up to the kitchen counter and grabbing whatever he can reach, which is quite a lot. It’s terrifying to admit, but I’ve turned my back to him for seconds only to come back and see him brandishing a knife that I thought was out of reach. His grin as he waves it at me is mischief defined.

As I’m typing this out I’m realizing I just should ban him from the kitchen forever.

It’s just so obvious to me that he delights in naughtiness. When I tell him “no” his face lights up and he looks absolutely pleased with himself. He’s the first kid of mine to actually want to play in the toilet and the dog bowl and with the cleaners we store under the sink (which is child proof but he grabs for them whenever he can slide his quick hands past us when we open the cabinet doors).

He also enjoys carrying toys around and hitting me in the face with them, or his sister or brother if I’m not around. “Holden, are you going to hit me with that?” I’ll ask and he’ll wind up his arm and say, “Noooo” right before taking aim.

Okay, now I’m making it sound like he’s just this terror of a child who likes violence and danger and obviously there’s way more to him than that; it’s just funny to me how much of a boy I’ve got on my hands here. He needs limitations and constant supervision and this Mom has had two older kids who didn’t need a hawk-eye kept of them all day long, so the adjustment for me is hard.

Plus, for all his trouble-making, he’s insanely sweet and cute and those moments seem more tender because of his other stinky side. For example, today at the library program, whenever there was a toy prop for a song (like bells or bean bags) he’d bring me one first, before getting himself one. The kid’s not even 18 months old yet but he’s spoiling his mom. He hands me the toy and I swear winks before turning back around for one for himself.

And he’s just as likely to plant spontaneous kisses on my face, randomly, as he his to try and beat me with a metal toy truck. The kisses far outnumber the hitting and there’s nothing quite like having my rascal toddler bring me a book to snuggle up on my lap with. He melts my heart faster than butter on a frying pan with these moments.

They say every child is different, and this is true. My kids are all individuals but I never really thought my sweet baby would turn out so much more “boy” than his older brother, and even this, my third-time go-round with a young toddler, it’s a different ride and trip daily. My Holden is exasperating and funny and thrill-seeking and sweet and I finally have an understanding of what those moms who use the hashtag “boy mom” are all talking about.

Oh Holden. Stay my little sweet menance forever, sweet boy.

rainy weekend days

Need I type more?

It’s miserable and dreary outside; my kids are driving me up the wall, my dog is afoot at all times just pleading with me for a walk, yet the wind and the rain bluster on and it’s so vile out CPS will visit if my neighbors see me dragging three kids and an excited dog outdoors.

I could google “100 million ways to entertain your kids indoors” but I’m pretty sure the activities won’t inspire much beyond making a mess and ending up with me grumpily yelling at them for “not having fun”. I’ve already told E a few times today “Only boring people complain of boredom” but he doesn’t seem to care. Oh, and the number of times he’s said, “I’m Hungry, Mom!”. Not even 20 minutes since the last snack and he’s begging me for something else to eat. Out of boredom. Let’s make boredom and snacking fuse together in his brain, that’s a great healthy habit for his future, isn’t it?

E spent so much time home this week anyway, plus, this is day 5 of my husband being away, so I’m at my wit’s end. We’ve been spoiled by decent sunny weather the past few weeks so this bleak day is really throwing me off.

Anyway, complaining officially #over. Thanks for listening, interwebs.

earning the stripes

This weekend I took three kids to a county farm 50 minutes away and rocked it. I mean, I really did. It was easy, even. All by myself I navigated and educated and culture-ated the kids. I strapped two babies onto me, and my six-year-old walked along with me and we took in the baby animals. No fits. No screaming. No stress.

During these moments I feel like “mom-ing” is easy and I’ve got it down to a science.

Then someone up there decides my pride is growing at a cancerous rate or something and I’m knocked back down.

I got a call from school yesterday – my boy had an accident. Like, a bathroom accident. We didn’t hear much info beyond “it was bad” and he needed a change of clothes.

So, I entered the nurse’s office and found my poor child sitting on one of those puppy-training pads with a garbage bag tied around his leg. The nurse informed me his shoe was full of feces and the feces was all over his legs – ok, this is rapidly becoming explicit and not in a fun way so let’s just finish the paragraph with this: I’ve never before seen anything like this, and years of cloth diapering paid off just in that I didn’t add to the bodily fluid messes by vomiting. Spraying the poop of my two-year-old’s down the toilet made cleaning up my boy’s mess not seem as tragic or gross.

We came home and I took a garden hose to every piece of clothing he had worn, he hopped into the shower, I was informed via phone from the school that due to the explosive nature of what he did he wasn’t permitted back at school for at least 24 hours. We spent the afternoon outside, (E is fine by the way. I’m not sure what happened, really. He’s not sick in the least and hasn’t had a repeat) and internally I whined about having an unexpected weekend day with him home the next day.

It’s terrible.

But when he’s at school I have a routine set with the babies; gym-shower-lunch-nap-time. E is a great kid but him being home a full day adds a level of “what are we going to do now?” to each moment. Especially on a school day.

Anyway, said powers above punished me for my unkind thoughts in more ways. First, I made the dumb choice of brewing iced tea in an antique glass pitcher – I swear I never before knew the elementary-level thermodynamic rule that boiling water and glass don’t mix, so I was shocked and appalled when the gorgeous heavy pitcher literally exploded, staining the kitchen with red passion tea. Beyond destroying precious family heirlooms, I also managed to stub my toes and knees on various doors and furniture several times – stone cold sober I must add.

Basically, it turned into one of those days where I feel I couldn’t win and while my kids ran circles around me fighting and screaming and the baby needed constant attention I just wanted to give up, but, as every other mother knows, you don’t get to give up. Ever. Especially when your spouse is a pilot and away for days at a time.

I will finish this by saying today has gone much better. I got in a great spin class at the gym, we had a healthy lunch as a family together, and my little boy hasn’t said “Mommy I’m bored” even once, so that has to count for something. Days like today make up for days like yesterday, those days when you are reminded just how hard this whole parenting thing really is.

 

for the love of junk food

I remember the first time my oldest son ate a chicken nugget. We still lived in Brooklyn and he was not quite walking yet, so around the one-year-old mark. I used to push him in a stroller down the streets of Bay Ridge and that particular afternoon I was hungry so we went to McDonald’s.

I sat him down in the high chair and gave him a nugget. I felt the eyes of judgment from everyone around me. The shame of feeding my baby something genetically modified and greasy and unhealthy washed over me. I could barely look up for fear of eye contact with someone else. I was like a dog who’d made a mess on the rug and didn’t want to look at my owner.

Serious. I really felt this way.

E, for his part, ate it with no drama. He didn’t appear to love it or hate it. It was food. I justified it to myself by reminding myself it was a rare occurrence and surely other parents fed their babies fast food daily and so in comparison I wasn’t that bad…

I kept this snooty attitude up for many more years. We’d go to a playdate and I’d secretly roll my eyes when I’d see other moms pulling out cold McDonalds to feed their children. Why do we do this? I’m not usually a judgy person, so I am embarrassed to admit it. It seems like moms fall into two camps: the ‘real’ deal moms who embrace feeding their kids junk and don’t think much about it, and the sanctimonious crunchy moms (like me) who shame other moms and then on the sly feed their kids’ junk with a healthy side dish of remorse.

I’ve obviously relaxed since then.

I’m on the other side of it too. I remember talking with a passenger back when I was a flight attendant and his proclamation that his 5-year-old had never ever had McDonald’s prior to that day; that day of course due to weather delays there was nothing else at the airport to feed her so he tried to give her McNuggets and she absolutely refused to eat them, choked on them, and he was so proud of her.

What a pretentious asshole I thought. And, honestly, I hope he doesn’t ask me if my son has ever had a McNugget…I don’t want to admit to it….

Just last year, at the ‘bucks, a young pretty Mom came through the line. She was holding one of those fruit pouches we sell and asked in a rush, “Do you have any more of these?”

I searched and searched the labyrinth of boxes and cabinets for her, and told her no.

“What am I supposed to do?” she pleaded.

“Kids like Cake Pops” I offered.

She turned red. I could see the stress starting to build up inside of her. “I. Can’t. Feed. My. Kids. Chemicals.”

I really didn’t know what to say to that – I mean, chemicals sound scary and all, but I’m pretty sure the processed fruit gunk in the plastic pouches contained “chemicals”, and besides, what did she think, just because the pouch says “Organic” it meant a kindly old grandma was hand crushing the strawberry and apple puree in small batches?

Ok, I’ve gone off the deep end here, so if you are still reading, HI! The real reason and inspiration for this post is I had a moment of weakness at my favorite place, Costco, last week, and bought my kids garbage cereal. Like, junky, colorful, sugary crap. I don’t know what came over me. My kids eat plain old Cheerios like they are jelly beans, yet I’m opening the door for them to realize there is a whole other world of cereal yet to discover.

In my defense, my husband is gone for 10 days (away at upgrade training $wohoo$) so I figure the 90-odd servings of processed fructose can distract and buzz them up well enough on this long stretch of solo parenting.

Anyway, they are now requesting the “good Cheerios” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and while I’ve managed to only let them have it for dessert, these moments of indulgence brought on a slew of emotions.

First, guilt. That terrible, specific to first-world-mommy-guilt. As I pour them a bowl of fruity colored “Froot Loops” and watch their eyes light up I start to question my every parenting choice and wonder if I’m leading them on a path to obesity.

And then I catch myself in that spiral and chastise myself. Kids have eaten cereal with cartoon characters on the boxes for decades and it’s totally normal and not going to harm them. Besides, I tell myself, it’s not like it’s an everyday occurrence.

And then I catch myself justifying it and feel guilty on top of that… and then start thinking about mommy wars and the rising waist sizes of society and how I wish I was disciplined enough to have my entire family on a paleo style diet and it all builds up. All this thought, worry, and emotion over a box of cereal. That my children love. And rarely have.

Like most things, a little in moderation is fine. I’ve even poured myself a delicious rainbow colored bowl for dessert the past few nights, and my kids and I sit around the kitchen table together happy and slurping and you know what? There’s something to be said for small indulgences like these, especially when you consider a simple bowl of kid’s cereal can make your kids so happy.

responsibility

It’s 8:20am. I am on the floor of my living room, pumping milk. H is near my feet, L is scampering around as she does, and E is by the front door. Tieing his shoes. His hat is on, his coat is zipped up, and his backpack is already on his back.

School starts at 9:05, and we generally leave the house somewhere between 8:40 and 8:50. We can see the school from our front yard, it isn’t far.

Besides the fact I worry this anxiety he has about “being late” is unhealthy for his psychological health, I have to laugh because E has me pegged. Every school day morning he’s my motivator, my morning-life-coach, urging me to get out of bed- the transcript of his morning looks something like this:

it’s time for breakfast mom,

mom, you gotta dress the babies,

you gotta get yourself dressed, come on mom!,

we only have 10 minutes left, you haven’t moved in a while, mom!

Mom! Mom!!!

This morning, at about 8:40 as I put in my contacts and put on my workout clothes, his little voice reminding me we didn’t have much time left, I realized this walking-alarm-clock that is E is this way due to my own lack of motivation and responsibility in the morning. Heck, on weekends when I don’t have to get out of bed by a certain time, the kid gets his own breakfast, feeds his sister and even completes some household chores all while I snooze in bed with the baby.

(in my lazy defense, I have a young infant who still wakes up 2-3 times a night to nurse. According to my FitBit, I haven’t gotten over 8 hours a sleep in a single night in well over a month. Heck, I barely get 7 hours on average)

So this responsible little time monster that is my six-year-old, it’s a monster of my own creating. And I depend on it.

How pathetic is that?

On the otherhand, he is insanely competent and responsible at such a young age so those are skills I’m glad he possesses. Maybe this slack lazy parenting in the morning is a good thing, right?