Friday, January 7, 2011

Day 5: When You Win, I Win

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
Jackson is newly DVD obsessed. This was a tough one to log under the negative-into-a-positive category. I like to do things "right", and a two year old watching DVDs isn't right in a black and white world. Before Max came along, I could do almost everything right, and that meant Jackson had no screen time whatsoever before he turned two. Once I started trying to juggle two kids along with running a household and working from home, I ran out of options. I couldn't give him my undivided attention or fill his day with child-centered outings anymore, nor could I expect him to entertain himself for hours on end.

Cinderella's ball gown
It started innocently enough. We would only watch a DVD if Mommy had to work longer than 45 minutes. Then we hit a rough patch with naps and we added 'when his body needed to stay restful and Mommy couldn't sit and read books' to the parameters. Then it turned into a way to keep him occupied while I put Max down for a nap, and before you know it we're watching Cinderella almost daily. Only Cinderella, by the way. Don't try to suggest anything different, he's not interested. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's where we're at. Having two children, especially this close together means that sometimes we do what we have to do to get through the day, not what's ideal.

The positive is he's not satisfied with plopping on the couch. He draws while he watches, he talks to Gus Gus and Jaq (I'm proud to say I know it's spelled that way because we also read the book, haha!), or he cooks while it's on. The other positive is that he's able to use it as a framework for imaginative play. He's constantly pretending we're the step sisters and Max is Cinderella, or that we're Jaq and Gus and Max is Lucifer the cat. Or that a homer hanky is "Cinderella's beauuuutiful ball gown." Just like with books, he can take elements of the story and create his own version.

The DVD is no substitute for independent play or interaction with me, which he still gets plenty of, but it's not ruining his life either. At least he isn't getting sucked into becoming a screen zombie, even if it is on more than I'd like.

I will choose acceptance over resistance.
With Max in the sling, I pushed the car seat on the stroller with one hand and held Jackson's hand in the other as we walked through Target. He had found a foam sword in the $1 section at the front of the store, and I decided it was a dollar worth spending to keep him occupied while we shopped sans cart.

We miraculously made it all the way across the store without incident when we came to the toilet paper aisle. There I saw a large section of empty, ground-level shelving next to the Charmin. There he saw a veritable wonderland with bears to talk to while they watched him...excuse me...while they watched "the King and the Grand Duke" play with a sword. (Why yes, that is another Cinderella reference.) I let him play while I agonized over a toilet paper, then a kleenex purchase before coming to him to explain it was time to go. This is where the struggle of wills usually begins.

I explained why we needed to keep moving, that Grandma DeGia was going to be waiting for us at our house, that we couldn't take our sword home until we paid for it, things I thought might internally motivate him to come instead of imposing it on him. No such luck today.

So do I drag him to the front by the hand crying? Maybe if I pick him up and carry him it won't be so bad. He's not so big, maybe he can still fit in the infant car seat...

When I stopped trying to devise a way to force him into what I wanted him to do, it dawned on me... Maybe he can tell me what he needs before he's ready to leave. So I asked. Turns out he needed to say goodbye to the bears before he ended their picnic, and he needed to be assured we would go see the leprechaun on our way out (he gets a kick out of walking down the cereal aisle to check out the Lucky Charms box). It was that simple this time.

So instead of resisting him and subjecting the store to a tantrum and him to the trauma of being deprived of power over his own body and life, I got to accept that he had needs that were as valid as my need to leave the store and meet them. Through the cooperative lenses I try to put on over my black and white eyes, this is an obvious example of how meeting everyone's needs is possible and doesn't require sacrificing the "win." Even through my competitive default lenses that say when one person gets what they want the other loses, I'd still call this one a win-win!

I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
If we stayed home for all of Max's naps and Jackson's nap, we would never leave the house. Until recently, Max could sleep in a sling pretty much anywhere, but it seems this is slowly changing. At best he'll fall asleep after we're out for 30-60 minutes, which usually means he only gets to sleep a very short time before he's woken up to go back in his car seat and head home.

This is quite inconvenient since a tired baby isn't all that much fun. But I will instead focus on the fact that he is giving us a window into his developing personality. He's curious, engaged and loves to observe. He's learning as he watches and listens, and he wants to be an active participant in his world. At four months, these are very cool qualities.

I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.
I often have to stand face to face with my past mistakes because I'm the mother of a child who never forgets. Literally, never forgets. In the past I've let this be another catalyst for beating myself up and feeding the cycle. Today I celebrated. 

In the middle of a happy and peaceful breakfast, with no prompting at all Jackson suddenly blurted out, "Mommy, something happened when someone yelled at me." So I asked, "Who yelled at you?" and got the dreaded but expected answer: "Mommy." I followed up with the obvious, "What happened when Mommy yelled at you?" And was met with the even more horrific, but still expected, "I felt scared." 

Now I know he gets scared when I yell, even though he doesn't act like it in the moment (heck I get scared when I yell) and we've talked about it and I've apologized after every single time it has happened. But there was something about the spontaneity of this pronouncement that cut me to the core like never before. That those feelings stick for so long and are so pervasive that they effect him days and weeks later is sobering. 

The celebration came after the devastation passed. He trusted me enough to tell me. He trusted me to understand and honor the way I made him feel, not blow it off as something in the past or something that didn't matter. He trusted me to be able to handle hearing something honest about myself and respond with love and acceptance. And he followed up his observation with the declaration: "Mommy would never hurt me, and she loves me even when she's angry. I'm always safe with Mommy." I can only hope that he internalizes those words along with the fear that I've caused, and that I can internalize the lesson he taught me today. This will be a catalyst for change, not for wallowing in self-hatred.


  1. Hou, the last one hurts. I try not to, but sometimes I can't check myself in time and I snap and yell. Now I know my children probably feel scared too. Hm. I had not thought of that, honestly (probably I did not let myself think of that !). That is good for motivating me to try and keep me under control more, or find ways to deal with my frustration that won't make them feel scared of me.

  2. The TV began the same way for us: he got to watch a show while I wrote. He would sit and I would write and it seemed to work. We have had our ups and downs, but I will say I have noticed the same thing: the TV has given him more pieces to add to his imaginative play.

    It makes me wonder how much TV is actually the problem and it's all the other stuff + TV that is the problem. Perhaps TV really isn't that bad for a kid who lives in a world steered toward imaginative play in every other aspect.

    It's so hard to keep asking them what they need to do to be done with their games when they are out. I am going to use your story as a reminder to continue doing this. I make excuses not to, because my son seems to never finish things, but I need to approach it with more patience and look at each time as a new opportunity for both of us to learn instead of a battle.1

  3. Meredith - I am enjoying catching up slowly on your blog. You are lucky to be doing this work while your children are so young, even if it is hard :)
    Kathrine also never forgets. She still will randomly remember things that happened when she was 2 years old as well as all the years in between, although not everything. Its comforting that at this point the things she chooses to remember are generally positive.