A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: child development

What To Do with a Day?

Little Man’s behavior…around me, at least…has become phenomenally better over the past several weeks. He’s three-and-a-half now. Maybe that can account for it? I can’t say for sure, but it’s lovely…at least until Daddy arrives. At that point, he’s excited and all bets are off. Some Wednesdays ago I wasn’t able to think of a decent activity plan. I was simply drained. I decided we would stay home for the day, which I never do. I went into it thinking it would be such madness because my son is so much more difficult to manage when I keep him in. I fought through copious guilt, and determined Mr. Man would be vegging out in front of the television all day, so I could be left alone…to grieve…exercise…for some quiet…whatever.

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(Obviously, Interesly also enjoys vegging out in front of a television all day.)

Eighteen-month-old Warrior Queen still takes two substantially long naps, so my planning consisted of calculating my time to be left alone.

I’d prepared in the most absurd way. I asked several friends for permission to even consider this agenda.

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(Without a doubt Colourbox understands a day of television requires copious amounts of planning and color-coded, alphabetized spreadsheets…)

I begrudgedly accept that my son watches about two hours of brain rotting television nightly. It’s a compromise that I don’t want to get into, but it bothers me. It’s the only media he encounters. My phone is not for his use, nor is the computer. He doesn’t play games or tinker with fancy apps.

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(Are Big Bad Baseball and I the only ones worrying about the effects of too much Puppy Dog Pals, PJ Masks…or whatever other stupid ass shows that are peddled to my son when I’d rather watch the news?)

I’m extraordinarily cautious about media exposure. People come up with all sorts of rationalizations and excuses, but the fact of the matter is that technology and devices impact brain functioning at all ages, particularly in the arena of social skills and empathy. It’s strange because there isn’t a lot of direct acknowledgment of these two key social issues. Almost all of the documentation focuses on every other conceivable skill, yet ignores the way in which we exist as social creatures. At best there are rumblings about social media exposure and texting for adolescents, but so much of our learned behavior in the world begins at the sponge stage.

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(I guess Care.com also heard that referring to small children as sponges is associated to their perseveration on toilets.)

This is not to say that I am emphatically anti-technology. It’s a tool, and a marvelous one. But, it’s just that, a tool. It is not a replacement for engaging with others or forgoing the commitment of the often irritating and tiresome process of teaching offspring to be reasonable people in public. Admittedly, my kids are very young. Who’s to say? Maybe they will grow to be total twatwaddles under my parentage, but I can’t imagine cultivating my style exclusively around the functions and interventions of media will swoop in and save the day in the event my kids are a consistent embarrassment when they are definitely old enough to know better.

I probably think too much about this singular issue. It isn’t out of nowhere. I’ve spoken of my concern that my children will inherit my brain. Consequently, it is a concentrated focus of mine to ensure they have a background knowledge and general reserve of strategies for social navigation and situation comprehension. As is, if they have my brain both will be in an unavoidable quagmire of struggle. It’s gut wrenching to consider, so I try not to think of its impact. But, it’s important to me…as their primary caregiver…that I teach them whatever strategies I can to counteract as much as possible. I don’t believe in the fool’s errand of striving to ensure my children are happy. I have no control over such a thing, and part of life is about learning how to navigate the unhappy times; that also begins in early childhood. My role as parent isn’t the happy-maker; it’s teacher and home…and ass-wiping aficionado.

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(Sketch Club captured how ripped my arms have become wrestling Warrior Queen into the car seat she suddenly started abhorring a month ago.)

Circling back to planning for what should be a typical Wednesday…untypically at home. I managed to give myself the permission I needed as personal self-preservation…It’s been a colossally shitty six-months with devastatingly insignificant amount of time to myself. I was all prepared…talked myself through the day…what would happen and when. The three of us played together in the morning; the two surprisingly entertaining themselves to an unexpected degree. A smooth transition to Warrior Queen’s morning nap; Little Man was looking through some books, and continued without distraction when I returned downstairs. I decided to leave him undisturbed, and take care of some emails for my volunteering gig. I managed the entire list of correspondence; no concerning noises from the other room. Mr. Man was playing, not asking about the television. I carried on with my stuff, even managing to do a bit more exercise. I actually couldn’t believe he left me alone to do it. He usually insists on annoying me throughout my entire routine until I give-up and tend to whatever issue he forgets as soon as I’m available.

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(XDA Developers get that EVERYTHING is imperative to Little Man provided I’m busy doing something else.)

I kept waiting for Little Man to ask to watch the favorite boob tube, but he didn’t. He entertained himself all day, even when Warrior Queen rejoined the festivities. I couldn’t believe what an easy day it was…without cartoons or inquiry of any kind. As the day wrapped I was feeling pretty good as a parent. I’ve learned to take these wins as they come without questioning or second guessing.

A couple weeks later a similar predicament. I assumed I wouldn’t be as lucky, but figured I had television time bank. Warrior Queen went for her snooze, but my son didn’t immediately inquire about the television. He wanted stories, so I read to him snuggled on the sofa for about 45 minutes before I needed a break. He tinkered for a few then asked for cartoons. I don’t know if I fully thought out how much he would watch that day; I guess it was a play by ear kind of thing, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Such an approach wreaks havoc on my anxiety and general rigidity with routines, but I’ve simply been shit at organizing these kinds of things lately.

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(Sure, no probs…I can totally go with the flow…easy peasy lemon squeezy…)

Mr. Man ended up viewing an hour longer than I’d hoped. I’d watched the minutes tick away as I was discussing the creative writing program I designed with a colleague of sorts. It was an important conversation for me to have, and it wouldn’t have been possible that day without my son distracted. Fifteen or so minutes, sure. But, and hour-and-a-half conversation was an impossibility. As it went Warrior Queen was becoming challenging to manage for the last thirty minutes of the discussion.

For the longest time I spent my parenting time finding patterns and consistent interventions. Now that my daughter is more of a little person every day, consistent pattern pursuits is just one more fool’s errand to forgo. Some semblance of routines and procedures are definitely important, but at this point I have a whole range of interventions in my mind’s catalogue for just about every growing moment of my children’s lives. I can feel my brain’s plasticity as I do whatever works in any given moment before moving onto the next moment.

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(Pinterest concurs; I’m a BOSS!)

Part of what works in my life’s bigger picture is seizing moments that give me feelings of some kind of positive boost…usually unrelated to parenting. I consider it a momentum thing where the result encompasses everything else in my world, particularly how I interface with my children. That was this phone call.

I’ve come to understand that our Department of Corrections doesn’t value creative writing programs…not as a platform of self expression with no direct career implications anyway. There might be some literature attesting to the value of writing, but doubtful there is anything conclusively praising its prevention of recidivism. And, when resources are tight, results matter. I get it. I don’t like implementing squishy things, but anecdotally I know writing to be a tremendous benefit and outlet, even if I don’t have the concrete data of a study to support it. I was told that various individuals have been trying for twenty years to reinstate a creative writing program to no avail…until mine was approved…the one I ran at our maximum facility this summer. So, a local and prestigious university is running my program this term. I’m still not entirely clear how such a thing came to fruition, but it’s pretty groovy…humbling…unexpected. I’m a stay-at-home mom who toils in stolen minutes with things important to me. I rarely talk with peers, even more rarely do I meet with anyone pertaining to something within a professional realm. I have my passions, and I strive to make a difference; but in this field I’m often blind to my impact. I just do my thing, but surprisingly often over the past year I’m dumbstruck by feedback of some marvel of a task I accomplished.

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(Desktop Nexus Nature never envisioned its role in my time occupations when I’ve had a good day.)

The conversation I had this day was with the individual teaching my creative writing program through the university, updating me and strategizing…comparing notes from my class over the summer at the same facility. We are in the beginning stages of developing a systemic writing program that will eventually join with a larger national writing group with ambitions to extend their reach in our corrections system.

I’m grand at dismissing and minimizing my accomplishments. This program is no different. I always assume that anyone can do what I do…anyone can create what I can…anyone can achieve the results I do. Often I question the results themselves. It’s rare I get a clear window into the quality of my skill in any given capacity. Even these months later I’d been feeling insecure about how my class ran over the summer. I’ve received feedback that the class was a great success, but I’ve had a significant amount of difficulty believing…or accepting such notions. Intellectually I kinda get the way things went down; the issues out of my control and the barriers to teaching…intervening with incarcerated populations. But, I perpetually strive to do better. Unfortunately, my time is not my own so I likely will not have an opportunity to be better until the spring or summer of next year. It’s painfully long to try out the interventions I’m considering. But, this small moment that I needed in the midst of a horrible six-month period when my threenager watched too much television…my toddler toddled around while I mostly ignored her…I could tend to myself. I seized an opportunity to give myself a needed boost that I certainly deserve if for no other reason than I am a human in this world tramping along like anyone else.

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(Toddler was left to her own devices, but totally worth it, right Encounters with Cinema?)

I can’t say that things are consistently easier at the moment, but I have something important to smile about and focus on when another wave of sadness hits or I feel my control slipping. In the days following the phone call, I had a little more patience with my son…much of the time. I was little more interested in the snuggles Warrior Queen provides. I’m a believer in moderation in just about everything. I’m a believer in experiencing moments. I’m a believer in connecting to people in real time. I’m a believer in most of our learning is not through images on a screen. But, these days I’m focusing on the belief that at some point something has to give, and a rare day of wasted time can yield future moments that aren’t.

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Lazy Weekend Mornings…

My three-year-old little man didn’t wake especially early, but the rest of the house was still asleep. I’d been up for an hour enjoying the easy quiet of the house…wasting time as Mommies do when no one is around. It was too early for me to be roaming the house, but the lure of no one else around was too strong, and that’s why caffeine exists.

Eventually, my son treks downstairs, eating his banana in front of the sofa where I continue to lay. Upon finishing the prelude to his breakfast, he walks to the bookcase housing almost the entirety of our children’s reading collection, and chooses his latest passionate obsession.

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Mr. Man climbs into my arms, snuggling close. My son has the tale mostly memorized…at least the first few pages, so he begins until it is my turn to take over. In a relatively hushed utterance I read each page, my son rapt. He periodically stops me to inquire about the illustrations…the reflection in the water…the rings around the fishing birds’ necks…asking if Ping looks happy. Small inquires like that are typical to my curious little boy. My son continued to burrow into the snuggle, telling his love for me during breaks between the repetitive story renditions.

Little Man and I agree to change his diaper after I read one of his favorite pigeon books.

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But, just as the story concluded and Mr. Man sought the solitary image of the eaten hot dog among the tantalizing complete ones on the back cover, he heard Daddy stirring upstairs. The spell was broken. My son rushed to meet his hero. Simultaneously, Warrior Queen announced her awakened state with cries to join the morning rumble. I guess the diaper will wait…

Read Along

My soon-to-be-threenager loves a story. Scratch that, he is absolutely passionate about a story. It doesn’t matter the quality; Little Man does not discriminate. I read to him so often that he has the entirety of his bookshelf memorized. I don’t remember him on this front when he was Warrior Queen’s age. Newly mobile, she is too consumed with exploring to sit for a tale. My best shot is when she is partaking in a bottle or solids meal. I have her feed herself a bottle in her car seat bucket with a towel supporting the bottle for when she has difficulty maneuvering her beverage. It’s become her preferred bottle method, the independent sprite she is. I came to realization yesterday that phasing out the use of her bottle in a scant month or so will be a nonissue. My daughter much prefers non liquid foods, and would gladly do away with bottles altogether if she knew what to do with the sippy cup.

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(We use a Munchkin sippy cup. It doesn’t cause the same transition or dental issues as a typical sippy cup.)

I imagine she will get it once the time comes. I’ve stopped fretting on such things, as my kids always manage to do things like this in their own time as long as I don’t get in the way of their progress. If I’m a strong enough Mommy to let them be independent, they usually rise to the occasion, and it breaks my heart a little every time.

But, I digress…meals are the only time Warrior Queen will attend, unless her brother is reading to her…Mr. Man will take a tale whenever. It is a common site to have baby sister in her high chair, and big brother on my lap. We will all be snacking or nibbling something, and I will be reading from a collection my son chose and carted over to the kitchen table. Little Man will have a selection of certain favorites each week. Some of the books so practiced he will “read” them after my run through. Sometimes we alternate pages; sometimes he will recite sections randomly before requesting me to continue. I’m surprised of my love for a read aloud, even when the repetitions are tiresome. The best stories are the ones with an easy, rhythmical cadence; and I have to say I’m quite a good story orator.

I’ve found that Little Man quotes excerpts from his stories randomly throughout the day. One particular prized usage is from one that is tops on my list.

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Basically, the pigeon in this series is a toddler…and hilarious…because I don’t have to discipline him. My son’s preferred quote to throw at me is from this book, “It’s not fair. Ducklings get everything.” Usually the life context is correct even if there is no duckling…or cookie involved. If he isn’t particularly distraught with his situation, he will continue a bit further with the dialogue.

Several months back I schlepped a box of books up from the basement. Our shelves were becoming cluttered, so we temporarily retired some of the books I read to my son when he was a baby. Since my fierce sprite is older, they were called back into service. Mr. Man was absolutely delighted and pilfered the selection on the regular for a couple weeks.

The bucket feedings, however, are the purist opportunity for me to read to a captive baby audience, even if she demonstrates no literature preference just yet. The other day is an example of a moment I want to recall easily for the remaining days of my life. Warrior Queen was in her bucket enjoying her bottle. I was sitting on the floor next to her, Mr. Man on my lap. He chose two among the week’s favorites, and as I read Brown Bear my son bobbed his head to the predictable rhythm of the words each and every time I read the story.

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When I read Llama Llama Red Pajama, he laughed to himself at each of his favorite parts of the book.

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Warrior Queen was rapt on the pictures, drinking peacefully. It was such a small memory, one that would likely evaporate in my family’s story. But, I have these words, and one day when I sit with my mug of tea, I will come across this, and the clearest picture will rush to my mind’s eye. For that brief moment my children won’t be quite so independent…quite so distant.

It’s Never All Bad

I don’t like leaving things on sour notes, so perhaps it’s time for some sweet news.  As I wrote many posts ago, my son is receiving speech and language services.  His therapist thinks it is an issue of motor planning.  From her characterization I’m inclined to agree although I don’t have an array of selection understanding.  He likes her.  He likes the toys she brings, and seeks opportunities to pilfer her giant monogramed bag immediately upon her arrival.  I have to say I like her too.  She is the right mix of knowledge of her craft with honesty of research and literature deficits.  She stated that motor planning typically resolves on its own, but the purpose of the intervention is to help it correct in a good way (i.e., He doesn’t start avoiding certain sounds or develop other unhelpful habits as a result.).  I can buy that.

It hasn’t been much time since he began, but I think I see positive shifts in his language development and behavior even though he continues to point and gyrate his needs as his primary mode of communication.  He’ll get there at some point, and it will likely be repetitions of my snarky commentary that he will choose to recite when it is least appropriate as his grand awakening to the art of speaking.

Little Man reached the point in his treatment length when a brief behavior assessment is administered.  There are no concerns, but there was a specific question that made me feel better about something that I mull over whenever I take my son somewhere he is allowed to explore on his own to some extent.

Having a professional emphasis in children and families, I’ve taken several classes discussing attachment theory and the various child development assumptions.  I’m lousy with all of them, especially really understanding the implications of attachment theory.  Actually, the only area in this academic arena that makes sense are Piaget and Erikson, but I wouldn’t harken me for a lecture on their specifics.

Part of what I have clear recollection of from my two graduate programs is this notion that toddlers my son’s age trot off, but frequently check back to ensure their parents are present.  Mr. Man just trots off.  If I set him down at the mall, he just goes never looking back to me for assurance like I’ve heard in so many classes over.  I haven’t been concerned per se, but I wondered what that meant.  I described to the therapist this behavior following a specific question from her assessment.  She looks at me and says, “Wow, he has really strong attachment.”  Toward the end of the day’s lesson, Mr. Man backs into my nonexistent lap without looking…like he always does.  I think nothing of it, but the therapist notes almost to herself, “He just knows Mommy is there.”  I still don’t understand attachment theories much less their implications, but I’ll take whatever good news I can after a time span of stuff that I can’t believe has only filled a week.

At the end of the day it was pleasing to see my little man using his coy manipulations with his therapist to get what he wants without actually participating in things that are required; He’s quite ingenious, actually.  I liked having a professional in the room who chuckled at his antics, and that would have been enough, but she says, “His cognitive abilities are really advanced.”  I don’t know what that will mean for his future, and it isn’t like I thought differently about my son’s intelligence prior to her comment, but since the idea of him I’ve been determined not to think of such things, asserting that I have no issue setting high expectations, but they will be for him, not me and my desires for his future.  But, when everything is an avalanche of bombardment, it’s quite pleasant to have good things pointed out for me because of the extra burden it is to retrieve them among the issue cacophony.  I still don’t spend too much time considering my aspirations for my son that are more his responsibility as he grows, but I like hearing other people notice the things that make me smile.

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