Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Dozen Things I've Learned So Far

I've been reading a lot of adoption blogs lately, for obvious reasons.  Some are really well written, which kind of kills me.  I'm just flailing around here, and while it means enough to me that I find the time to write (and read!), I certainly don't have time to craft my words.  And saying that, of course, is purely sour grapes.  I like to write; I have a pretty solid writing voice; but I'm just not that great of a writer.  I can't plot fiction, and I can't really make MEANING out of this narrative meandering.  As an avid reader, I am deeply envious of those who can do those things. 

Some of my favorite bloggers (see right column) take what parenting has taught them--about themselves, about life--and make it universally applicable.  See here and anything by Stacy at Anymommy to see what I mean.  I am too much in survival mode to see any such bigger picture.  But at 10 months in, I've learned a few things that at least apply to my own tiny world.

1.  If a kid does a chore, it will not be done as well (or, most likely, as quickly) as if you just did it yourself.  However, a half-assed job beats an undone job, and sometimes I just can't force myself to clean the damn bathroom find time to keep up on everything.  Plus, you can comfort yourself by saying you are giving your kids the chance to practice valuable life skills.  This is related to the marriage lesson that there are actually TWO right ways to do most jobs, and sometimes letting someone else do it their way beats having to do the job yourself.  Make that "most of the time."  Possibly "always."

2.  I spent most of the winter months hating myself for how much time screen time my kids were getting.  Now that the weather's better, I'm struggling with how obsessed they are in playing outside with the neighborhood kids.  I know, that doesn't sound like a bad thing, but we are still working on attachment and bonding, and our kindergartener doesn't even want to come home for a snack after school--she gets off the bus expecting to head over to her friend's house and is furious each time we say no.  Two lessons here: one is that things go in cycles, and the other is that it's an ongoing process to decide which things need addressing and which can be waited out. 

One thing that helped with screen time was building in the Quiet Box part of the day.  One thing that's helping with the blurry lines between family and friends is using really clear language to talk about it--"We're having family time now, so let her know you can play tomorrow."  The other is establishing some rituals and rules that prioritize that family time.  If the time between dinner and bed
includes doing dishes, doing homework, having dessert, brushing teeth, and reading stories, then there is only time to play outside with friends if we've had an early dinner or if we ate leftovers and don't really have dishes to wash.  This clearly all leads to...

3.  Routine, baby. I have ALWAYS sucked at this, even as a classroom teacher. I'm more like, spontenaiety! Woo-hoo! Who needs the 'organized' in 'organized chaos' anyway? So when it was the first warm evening of the year, and the kids wanted to play outside 'just a little longer,' I let them play. And then bedtime was an awful, awful experience for all of us, involving tantrums and misery and defiance. So the next night, another beautiful evening and this time not even a weeknight, I call them in at the regular time. They whine and ask for more time. I say, "Nope!" in a cheerful voice. They come in. Bedtime goes beautifully. Duh. EVERYTHING we develop a routine for goes better. Especially when Mama actually follows the routine.

4.  Now that screen time isn't stressing me out, I'm finally accepting--make that gleefully accepting--that our weekend morning routine is the kids get up, come into our bedroom and whisper, "Can we watch a movie?", get permission, and let us sleep as long as we want.   Electronic babysitting has its time and place, and we have found the perfect one for us. 

5.  Therapy rocks.

6.  I've finally found an up side to being so freaky mean sometimes.  It makes me far less likely to stress out and feel guilty about "normal" mom failings--the snappish response to whining, the reluctance to play My Little Pony, serving packaged food.  Occasional flashes of insanity give me great perspective on regular ol' humanity.

7.  Little girls can make a mess peeing in the toilet too.  It took me awhile to realize that it is often her, not him, that needs to come back and dry off the seat. 

8.  Of course, don't judge other parents.  While it's amazing how easily I STILL do this,  I have gotten better about not judging strangers based on the snapshot that I see in public.  The horrific scene my family created in the Heathrow airport on our way home burned that lesson into my mind. 

This also means respecting that the parent knows their child in ways nobody else does.  Yesterday a friend was asking if I could recommend a therapist for her boy.  Part of me wanted to do that, ''Oh, he's fine!" thing.  Because seriously, he seems fine to me.  But I've heard that from others, and it's maddening.  Who's going to be a better judge of whether or not this kid needs therapy, his mom, or his mom's friend?  Hmm.  I told her I'd ask our therapist if she had anyone to recommend.

9.  Affection breeds affection.  The more I pour on kind words, warm hugs, and quick smooches, the more my kids start to develop the same tendencies.  The other night my almost-nine-year-old jumped off the bed into my arms and started dropping little love pecks on my neck, just like I do to my kids whenever I get a chance.*  I about dropped him, I was so startled.  Then I felt a huge rush of love and pride.  I TAUGHT HIM THAT.  Another recent evening, the Winemaker headed out on a quick errand, and both kids bolted out of their chairs and tore out the door after him.  "Wait!"  they hollered.  "Hugs!"  This is all such a change, and one of the few instances where we can already see that what we are doing is having a positive influence. 

10.  It's important to recognize the internal signs that you are about to Lose It, and get help pre-emptively.  I did that twice this weekend.  Once, the Winemaker stepped in and took over kid stuff while I pulled myself back together.  The second time, he pulled me aside for some encouragement and shoulder massage and let me cry a little over my own hurt feelings.  For the longest time, I thought my freaky rages came out of nowhere, but I'm finally starting to see at least some of them coming, and head them off with his help.

11.  Which reminds me: single parents are fucking amazing.  Just sayin'.  Is there a Single Parent Appreciation Day?  Becuase I think they deserve one. 

12.  I need to get to sleep.  I'm thinking of getting that tatooed somewhere.  "Up too late" is the only time I get to myself, though, so it's a tricky trade-off for me.  I stuck my head in a bucket of hose water today, because that's how hot Cinco de Mayo was in the Pacific NW this year, so I guess that means I don't have to take a shower tomorrow morning, right?  That'll let me sleep at least six extra minutes in the morning.

*(The little kisses, not the leaping on them from the bed. That would crush them, which would look bad on our post-adoption reports.)


  1. Hi! I linked over from a Good Kind of Messy. Thanks for sharing this; we have a lot in common it seems. Parenting these kids is hard work and my worst moments are typically when I have failed at keeping myself together. We adopted siblings almost 2 years ago and w our older child we have many challenges remaining. Over here we too love therapy, and Karyn Purvis and those small moments when you see glimpses of who these kids can be when their trauma isn't overwhelming them...Keep up the good work! Meg