Monday, January 21, 2013

Good Day, Sunshine

This made me happy today:

* Yesterday I told the kids to each put a tupperware container of water on the back porch.  This morning when they got up, both were frozen solid.  This amazed them.  Linden actually said, "Mama, it's AMAZING!  I made ICE!"  The ironic part being, they come from a place with much colder winters than we have.  But I guess they themselves have never MADE ICE before.

*The kids wanting to hug me goodbye when they dropped me off to have coffee with a friend.  They both leaned into me for a minute.

*Having coffee with a friend.  How often do I get to do that?  I think this is the third such event in almost seven months. 

*Hearing that a mutual friend has gotten engaged to her girlfriend.  They're hoping that by the time they get married, it will be legal in the whole country.  So am I.  If not, we are conveniently located across the river from a state where it's already legal. 

*When the kids and The Winemaker came to pick me back up from my coffee date, he sat down to chat with my friend too.  Oak was being a jerk not very regulated, so I took him for a walk.  When we got back, he drew a nice grid of 12 squares, then filled each one in with a little drawing.  Butterfly, star, owl, flower...One was of our family, and when he was explaining each sketch to me, he pointed at the heart and said, "This one because our family," for that too.  AND when he draws the family, he makes the adults bigger than the kids, which our therapist tells us is almost unheard of in her practice.  Having to do with power and authority and all.

*Then we went to family swim.  But we were early, so we played a game where we took turns kicking a ball at a wall.  This was great on so many levels--the family play, the turn taking, and the awesomeness of The Winemaker having packed a red rubber ball in the trunk in case of emergency.

*Family swim.  Great fun. 

*I dove off the diving board.  I haven't done that in years.  All I can do is your basic dive, and it was a pretty low diving board, but it was still a great rush.

*The Winemaker also dove a few times.  I missed one of his dives, and he was disappointed, so I promised to watch the next one.  He did a somersault dive.  Can I just say that when a 41 year old man who's been married for 11 years shows off to impress his wife, it's about the most charming thing in the world?

*I carmelized onions.  Only I forgot I was doing it, and let the oil smoke away on the stove until my husband called me in to ask what I was planning.  What's good here?  He totally didn't make fun of OR get exasperated with me.  And then I refocused and actually carmelized the onions, which is always a good thing.

*I also made cookies.  I love baking.  I'd imagined that baking for and with my kids would be one good Mom thing that would come easily to me.  My kids like sweets, but 9 times out of 10 prefer ice cream or cheap candy to baked goods.  So I don't bake all that much after all.  But I did tonight, and the kids had ice cream for dessert, and I'm about to bust with a belly full of chocolate chip cookies.

*Story time was good tonight.  Good choices all around.  We started reading to them as soon as they joined our household last summer, using nearly wordless books (Goodnight Gorilla), and simple picture books that I'd translate really badly.  It was kind of a bonding thing in itself, trying to guess what I was trying to say, and tell me how to say it more correctly.  We branched into slightly more complex stories that I'd tell in a mishmash of their language and English.  It was August when I first read "Blueberries for Sal" to them that way, and the next day, I heard Oak say, "Kerplink, kerplank!" when he heard something hitting a tin cup.  Now we read to them in English, and we mix "early reader" type books with more complex picture books.  Over winter break I tested out a chapter each from Little House in the Big Woods; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and House at Pooh Corner.  They stuck with me, but kept trying to turn the page early to find pictures, and weren't interested in going back to them.  But then Oak came home with a Magic Treehouse book, and we read it over four evenings, and it kept their interest.  I had my first "Please, one more chapter!" moment.  Now we're reading a Captain Underpants book, and it's the same way.  I think I'll have to wait a little longer for the more complex (and less illustrated) books, but we're making progress. 

*This is part of the previous point, but after I read Oak's two chapters of Capt. UP and his picture book, and Linden's three picture books, I read three "bedtime" books I'd chosen, and they both leaned sleepily into me as I read, sagging more deeply, struggling to keep their eyes open enough to see the sweet pictures of sleepy lambs and calves...

*It was sunny today.  I live in the Pacific NW, so sun in winter is always a mood lifter.

Our therapist is fond of telling us that the fun part comes after the kids are raised.  Today wasn't perfect--Oak and I butted heads several times, and I didn't respond with zen calm, we let them play too many computer games so we could get some wine bottled, my friend was clearly horrified when we assigned Oak pushups for being defiant--but most of the day was a lot of fun.  I had fun with my kids, I had fun without my kids, I shared a few fun moments with my husband.  So there, therapist.  Or maybe that's her goal--to get me to look at the fun times as a wonderful treat, instead of something I'm entitled to. 

On Being All Judgy*

An old friend is in town for the weekend.  She has bags of hand-me-downs for my kids, and wants to meet them.  We head across town to her parents' house, and spend three hours with her, her two kids, and her husband.  I think my kids are doing pretty well, but I can tell the other adults don't agree.  We dine casually in the kitchen, the boys at the island and the girls in the nook, and when Linden gets up to see what the boys are laughing about around the corner, my friend's husband says, "Sit down and finish your meal." His tone is pleasant, but clearly he expects to be obeyed.  I resist my impulse to roll my eyes at Linden. 

After we eat, my friend and I chat while the kids play.  Again, I think things are going fine, but the second time her husband interrupts us to tell her (why her?) that the kids are getting wound up, I realize it's time to go.  What's "pretty good" for me is clearly stressing this poor guy out.  I am mortified.  And annoyed.  With them, for not knowing how they are expected to behave in this stranger's house.  With him, for being tense and judgemental.  With myself, for not knowing how to handle either aspect. 

Along with the bags of clothes, her 11 year old daughter had set out a couple of dolls and a pink travel suitcase for Linden.  Oak becomes distressed when he realizes the dolls Linden is playing with are hers to take home, and he calls me aside to tell me he's going to ask the son to give him something too.  I say no, he says, "But Linden asked!" and I explain that no, the toys were already set aside for her.  His eyes fill with tears.  I tell him that they also gave us two bags!  Of clothes!  And since the son is closer to his age than the daughter is to Linden's, he will most likely have more that fit!  I know as I'm saying it that this is cold comfort, but he accepts it.   He pesters Linden to play with her doll in the backseat as we ride home, and frustrates her by playing "wrong," whatever the heck that means.  I let it slide, because I am so proud of him.  He has come so far.  Last summer, we spent a delightful and chaotic evening at the home of friends who have five kids.  (There were no nervous interruptions from that dad, no sirree!)  As we left, they spontaneously handed Linden a clipping from a hydrangea bush, using a tin can as the vase.  Oak wept all the way home.  "Why did she get a present?  Why didn't I?  Can we go back and ask them for a present for me?  Why not?"   He knows life is not fair, he knows he and his sister are different people who get different things at different times, but he has such a bottomless pit of neediness in his heart that he only knows how to express in a gimme gimme gimme manner.  So this was HUGE for him.  He still had the feelings, but he wrestled them into the background, he made pleasant and friendly goodbyes, and he took his misery out in low-grade sister torture instead of tears and tantrums. 

My friend will likely stick to play dates in the park next time she's in town, and her husband will probably avoid joining us.  I could be embarrassed about that.  But my kids did fine.  I am proud of them. 

Oh, and here's something I haven't thought about in YEARS.  When my friend started dating this guy, she almost broke up with him because he told her he had herpes, contracted from a faithless college girlfriend.  This is not the kind of thing one needs to know about friends' husbands, but she told me because she was so upset about having to dump this guy.  It didn't take her long to realize that if she loved him, she could work around this, and she asked me to NOT let him know I was in on his STD history.  I wouldn't ever say anything, of course, and I understand it's not anything he should be ashamed of.  But hey, Mr. "My Kids Stay Seated and Follow All Instructions The First Time" guy--from here on out, you're just "Mr. Herpes" to me. 

*I know Judgy isn't a word, but I just discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer last spring, okay?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sleepless. Not in Seattle, so at least we avoided that cliche.

Last night I was heading to bed, and as part of that routine, I went towards Linden's room to take her in to the bathroom one last time.  It seems less inconvenient than changing wet sheets.  But before I got there, her door popped open, then she sort of staggered back to the middle of her room.  I went in and scooped her up, thinking she must have already wet her bed, but she was dry, if sweaty.  "Did you have a bad dream?" I asked.  She shook her head and mumbled something.  I said, "Well, while you're up..." and took her into the bathroom.  She did her thing, and I asked again, "Were you having a bad dream?"  She shook her head again.  "So...why did you get up?"  I asked.

"I don't know!" she said, in a surprised little voice.

I'd been in bed about another hour when The Winemaker suddenly leapt out of bed and walked out.  I was too tired to figure it out, but in the morning found out that he'd heard Linden crying, and went in to soothe her.  That time she did say she was having a bad dream.

Tonight I got her to sleep after lots of cuddling and singing and talking and cuddling.  The Winemaker was doing the manly version of the same with Oak.  It usually involves drawing pictures on each others' backs, making the stuffed animals play hide-and-seek, and reviewing the day's highlights.  I came downstairs to waste time online relax, but half an hour later, I head what can best be described as hollering from upstairs.  I hit the steps running, and went in to find Linden sitting up in bed, sobbing.  Again, she seemed unable to tell me what was going on, and her mumbling was so unclear that I'm not sure if she was awake at all.  I took her in for her potty break, and rocked her a bit before laying her back down.  She rolled over, then sort of yelped and half sat up again, then laid down again.  The Winemaker stuck his head in to see how we were doing, and asked if I'd be willing to trade for awhile.  At 90 minutes past his bedtime, Oak was still not able to get to sleep.

I went in and offered to sing lullabies.  I heard his breathing deepen, and was feeling all smug and successful, when he suddenly broke into John Denver's ouvre with a "Mom!  I'm still scared!" 

"Of what?"
"The same as always!  Monsters and zombies!"

The kid sleeps with a nightlight on, the hallway light on (and door wide open to the hall), and with a parent next to him until he's sound asleep.  The closet door must be shut.  The shades must be closed tight.  All his stuffed animals must stand guard around his head.  We've discussed the not-realness of monsters and zombies both by daylight and in bed.  He looked at me with red, teary eyes, and I knew that even if imaginary creatures are just stand-ins for his real fears, he's still terrified.

I tried tickling him.  I tried turning on the lights and pointing out that just like every single night for the last six months, there are zero bad guys lurking in his room.  (Turns out The Winemaker already tried that, and even explained about makeup artists and costumes in movies, then switched to the illogic of someone dressed up in a monster costume breaking into our locked house and coming upstairs just to scare an 8 year old.)  I tried suggesting my favorite 'can't get to sleep' trick*, and I tried having him imagine pleasant scenes from his recent past. 

Then his sister started yelling incoherently from the next room, and he sat bolt upright, returning to frightened bunny stage.

I'm supposed to be asleep, as I'm the one who gets up the morning to go earn us some money.  The Winemaker is camped out with a pillow and blanket on the floor between the kids' rooms, so he can be available as needed to both.  This is only acceptable to Oak because we are letting him leave his bedroom light on.  Still, he occasionally whispers, "Daddy?" in a tense voice, just to be sure he gets a reply. 

I know lots of kids have nightmares or sleep problems.  I know my kids have specific reasons why nighttime is scary and hard.  I find it very interesting that after months of pretty trouble-free sleep (yes, Oak needs nightlights and parental presence, but that usually allows him to drop off pretty quickly), both kids are struggling at the same time.  Is there some anniversary we're not aware of? I hope it doesn't last long, for selfish as well as loving reasons, but in a weird way, I feel like it's all okay.  If they need to process stuff, they can.  We've got it.

 I REALLY should be in bed instead of writing, especially if I want to justify handing off floor duty to The Winemaker.  Good night and sweet dreams.  Somebody should have them if we don't!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In Which I Stop Wallowing

Today, January second, marks the second day in a row I did not lose my shit.

This is due to a few deliberate changes.  I mention this only because some days are just good days, but I can no longer just hope for those.  Other times, I do the right thing through tremendous will power, and I don't want to count on that, since it's not always there when I need it, obviously. 

I am deliberately not rough-housing with my kids.  I think it revs up something feral in me.

I am deliberately asking my husband to step in when I feel my stress level mounting, instead of waiting until I explode before I ask for help.

I am deliberately watching the signals they send. 

I am using deliberate words of love and joy.  I didn't see Oak for several hours today (emergency visit to the therapist followed by almost as needed cup of tea with my sister, who'd babysat Linden for us), and when I came in the house, I made a point of sitting with him and listening to him and telling him how glad I was to see him again. 

One thing our therapist said, which I've read before, is to praise them from your specific point of view, not generally.  The idea is that kids from hard places firmly believe that they are worthless pieces of crap, so if you say, 'You are so wonderful and special!' they conclude either that they've managed to fool you, so you're not very smart, or you are deliberately lying, and not to be trusted.  But if you say, "You are so special to me," or "I really liked the way you did XYZ," there's nothing for them to disagree with.  This evening, I was reading with Linden, and we we paused, I said, "You are so special to me."

"Actually," she said (a new word she is using as much as possible these days), "I'm not special." 

I love it when my therapist is proved right.  Makes me feel like she's worth the time and money.  I also love how transparent Linden is with her thinking.  Oak never in a million years would have said that, but he might have suddenly started shouting goofy noises, or throwing thing, or something, to make the same point.

"You are special to ME," I said firmly.

"But not to me," she replied, a little sadly. 

She remained cuddled in my arms throughout this exchange.  I smoothed her hair away from her face and kissed her cheek.  "I am really happy to have you with me," I said.

"Me too," she agreed. 

Another thing our therapist said.  The Winemaker was asking her if he had done wrong by telling Oak recently, "I have no idea what to do about this."  ("This" being four hours of crappy behavior, defiance, and tantruming.)

"Oh, I used to say that kind of thing all the time," she reassured him, which is a very polite way of saying, "No, you're not supposed to do that."  She went on to suggest that instead we say something like, "I am really struggling right now, and I know you are too, but we are going to get through this."

That's how I feel today.  We are struggling right now.  But we are going to get through this. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Afraid to Resolve, but I Hope to Suck Less This Year.

What I should be doing right now: going to bed, so I'm reasonably well rested for whatever tomorrow brings.

What I should not be doing: sipping citron vodka and desperately searching the interwebs for another adoptive mother who's doing as poorly as I am, so we can bond. 

Which I'm actually doing: take a guess. 

I will, this time, spare you my parenting failures of the day.

Yesterday something went right--I knew The Winemaker needed some time alone at home to do his annual venture into beermaking, so I organized a series of errands both mundane (the pharmacy and bank) and fun (my sister's house to walk her dog, the library).  As a bonus, while the kids were distracted, I secretly packed a picnic, complete with hot water and cider mix, blankets and a camping mat for sitting on, and then we made a surprise stop at a giant outdoor Christmas tree.  I felt like a real mom, despite Oak's lamenting that he'd hoped for sausages at Costco. 

And there's this.  Oak had quite a day today.  It went on for hours, and only calmed down when I got him into the bathtub just before bedtime.  I am still being crappy, so his behavior got some pretty exciting results.  But we would walk together to calm down, storming down the streets in the cold air, just enough snowflakes to make you miss snow, and he would suddenly lean into me.  "I'm sorry Mama, I'm a bad boy."  Once I had to force myself, but the other times, I let go of my mad right away, knelt, hugged him, reminded him that he's not bad, he's learned some ways to defend himself and those ways aren't working so well now. 

Oh, and I made therapy appointments.  We got a double session Wednesday for both of us, and also booked two different family members to babysit.  Plus I got four emergency 8 am sessions in the next month.  This is kind of a big deal, since I just went back to work a month ago, and now I'll be taking half days all over the place, but I have to face this and get better. 

There are, on a side note that may actually be a main point, some wonderful bloggers out there who have decided that focusing on their own families is too self-serving and narrow, and who are boldly taking on stuff like child slavery, adoption corruption, and world poverty.  I admire them.  I would like to be them when I grow up.  But I also think that right now, anything besides fixing Scary Mean Mama is just procrastination, denial, and hypocrisy.   Keep fighting the good fight, people.  I will be over here repeating "Gentle voice, gentle hands" to myself and keeping a close eye on how fast I drain this vodka bottle.  The last bottle lasted almost two years, so that gives me a gauge for normal. 

Oh, and seriously?  When I say, "Wish me luck," even if you think I'm an unfit mother or an overwrought newbie, a "good luck" in the comments would be bolstering.