To wake, or not to wake

Here we are, nearly at the end of Benjamin’s second year of preschool, and I still don’t really have a strategy for mornings like this one.  In order to get B to school at his regular time (Dan usually takes him in if he needs to be there early), I have to be up by 7:15, so I can get the boys up by 7:30, so we can leave the house by 8:15 and arrive at school by 9:00.  Usually, this poses no problem, because the kids almost never sleep past 7:00 in the morning.  Before this morning, I can’t remember the last time I woke up to my alarm clock rather than my kids.  And that’s fine — we usually get up a bit early, have time to enjoy breakfast and the kids even get to play a bit before it’s time to get dressed and get out the door.

And then there are days like today, and I don’t know what to do.

Today, my alarm went off at 7:15, and I actually hit snooze (which I never do) so I didn’t get up until 7:20.  At 7:30, it was time to get the boys up, so I went into their room turned on the decorative star lights, left the door open and went in the kitchen to make coffee (which is pretty noisy).  On the very rare occasion that they’re still asleep at 7:30, this always does the trick — at least one of them wakes up, who then typically wakes the other one up, and we get up and go about our morning.

Not today, though.  All of my light turning on, door opening and coffee making yielded no response from the children.  Nothing.  I went in the living room to drink my coffee, and figured that at worst, we’d be a few minutes late to school.  At 7:45, I went back in, got their clothes for the day together (opened and closed drawers and such).  I wasn’t quiet about it.  Still, nothing.

Waking up sleeping children goes against pretty much all of my motherly instincts, so I wanted to let them sleep.  On the other hand, rushing groggy kids through a morning routine, only to be late, doesn’t sound like a good plan, either.  At 8:00, I finally gave in and went in to wake B.

He was not happy.  He was tired, he was crying, he wanted to be held (so that’s what I did).  Since he was so unhappy, and I was holding him, we still weren’t making any progress towards getting to school.  Liam still wasn’t up (even though B was making plenty of noise).  I vowed never to wake B up again to get him to school, unless it was really important (in the fall, he’ll be limited to how many absences he can have, but right now, it doesn’t matter too much).

And that’s when I got really uncertain — should I wake Liam?  Go through the same unhappiness from him?  Should I just let B skip a day of school?  Maybe Dan could come home and take B in to school?  But wasn’t that kind of silly?  Probably, Liam would be up in a few minutes, anyway.  I knew that this was not a life-changing decision — we would all be ok whatever I decided, but I couldn’t let go of my angst about making the right choice.  I became completely stuck.  At this point, we were going to be late no matter what.  B was unhappy.  Liam was obviously tired.  It was raining and windy out.  I went back & forth in my head, again and again, and couldn’t figure out what to do.  I felt paralyzed.  B kept saying he wanted to stay home.  He also kept saying how much he likes school.  I had no clue what the right decision was.

By 8:45, I’d gotten Benjamin dressed for school, but Liam *still* wasn’t up.  I gave up.  I decided to keep B home for the day.  I went back in their room, turned off the lights, closed the bedroom door, and let Liam sleep a bit longer.

I have no idea why I got so stuck over such a (relatively) small decision.  I don’t know why I became so paralyzed about doing the “right” thing — really, whatever decision I made, there would be positives and negatives, and none of them earth-shattering.  But I just couldn’t make a choice.  Sitting here, hours later, thinking about it, it seems so silly.  As it was, we had a fine day.  Liam slept until 10:00 (which is pretty shocking — he must have really needed the sleep) and we had a nice day at home.

Tomorrow, B will go to school.  He only has 15 days left this year, and I don’t want him to miss out on anything fun.  Starting in July, both boys will be home with me each day, so they can get up whenever they want . . . which will, of course, probably mean 6:00 every morning.  (Why doesn’t this “sleep until 10:00” thing ever happen on a Sunday when we have nowhere to go?!?)

What’s so great?

I feel incredibly fortunate to be the mom of two wonderful, sweet, amazing little boys.  I tell them that, all the time — I tell them I love them more than anything in the entire universe, I tell them I feel lucky to be their mom, I tell them I think they’re the greatest kids I ever met.  I mean all of it, very sincerely.  The other day, as I was telling them how great I think they are, Benjamin responded with, “But why, Mom?  Why are we so great?” and I answered rather lamely, with something about them being MY kids, and how all moms love their kids more than anything, and about how special and wonderful they are.  And though all of that is true, it’s kind of beside the point.  Of course I love them more than anything in the universe, and yes, all moms feel that way about their own kids.  And they ARE really special and wonderful.  But I can do better — there are so many more specific reasons why I feel like the luckiest mom in the entire world and why I think they’re so fantastic.  Here are some of the ones I’ve thought of over the past few days.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but it is some of the reasons why I think they’re so great.

To Benjamin & Liam —

Benjamin — I think you ask the BEST questions.  Not only are you smart and clever, but you’re really thoughtful.  You think about things, and when you have a question, it always gets right to the heart of the issue.  You ask me questions that make me really think about the answers.  You also notice EVERYTHING.  You don’t miss anything that we see or that we do or that we say.  You pick out tiny details of something and put information together in a profound way.  I think the way you like to work together with your friends and family is pretty spectacular — we make a great team!  I am constantly impressed by the way you love us all . . . especially the way you love and look after Liam (even though he drives you crazy sometimes and always wants to play with your toys).  You are such a willing little guy — you are naturally thoughtful and cautious, but you are also willing to try new things, and you always trust me when I say things will be ok.  You are a great listener — whenever I need your attention for something, I know that I will have it ( . . . ok, maybe not ALL the time, but MOST of the time).  I love the way you can be so funny and silly, and I love how excited you are to learn new things and share them with everyone.  You also do an AMAZING job of articulating how you think and feel — you are very wise about your own self, and you express yourself very, very well.  I think the way you can be focused on something that has captured your attention is very cool.  And I am thrilled to see the joy that you carry through your life.

Liam — I don’t think I have ever met anyone, in my entire life, with the enthusiasm and exuberance that you have.  Whatever you do, you do 100%, with no holding back.  You are bold, you are brave.  And we always know how you feel about things — you have strong opinions, and you let everyone know what they are.  You are not afraid to think and feel however you do, and you don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about it.  And you are so, so sweet, especially with Benjamin.  You always check to see how he’s doing, and make sure to tell him “everything will be ok” if he’s upset.  I think it is so wonderful that you love to hug and cuddle, too — you are a super snuggler, and a very loving guy.  And you are such a smart guy!  You learn things that none of us can ever remember having taught you.  You see so many details in the world, and you make great conclusions about the things you experience.  I love that when you see something interesting, you want to investigate it right away.  You love to share the things you see, or the things you’ve learned, with everyone.  I think it is so cool that you are so independent — you like to try things for yourself and do things on your own.  You love to be outside, because it gives you the greatest freedom to explore.  You’ve loved to hike since you started walking — uphill and off-road are best.  You are funny and joyful and happy.  It makes me so happy to see the way that you embrace life.

So, that, my guys, is a little bit of why you’re so great.  And even when you’re NOT all of those things (or any of them) I love you more than anything in the universe.  I’m your mom, and I will always love you, no matter what.  But I consider knowing you in the way that I do to be a massive privilege and outrageous good fortune.  I am really lucky to be your mom.  You guys are great kids.

The Orange Rhino project

Sometimes I have a hard time not losing my temper with my kids.  In my case, that usually means getting fed up, irritated, overwhelmed and then saying something that I wish I hadn’t.  It’s one thing when that comes from something frustrating, irritating, rude or just plain annoying that the kids are actually doing, but I have found, so often, that the root cause of my bad mood comes from something or somewhere or someone else, and it just comes out in the direction of my kids.  And I find that unacceptable — there’s no reason I ought to use my kids as a place to vent my bad temper.  I am not proud of it, and, in fact, I’ve spent a lot of energy since becoming a parent trying to figure out how not to do it.  I’ve improved a lot, but I still stray over the line from constructive discipline to throwing a bit of a tantrum myself sometimes.

I’ve learned about the kinds of things that give me a short fuse:  not getting enough sleep, getting too hungry, not showering, not using the bathroom when I need to.  Basically, if I don’t take care of myself, it’s hard for me to take care of my kids.  Being in a bad state myself means I can’t handle normal kid stuff in a good parent kind of way.  So, I make that a priority.  But that isn’t the whole picture.  I snap at my kids more often when I’m angry at someone else — Dan, the landlord, someone who was rude to me on the bus — it could be anyone.  Being angry at another adult, and not addressing it, puts me in a prime situation to lose my temper with my kids (which is totally not cool).

I don’t want to be a mom that can’t handle her own emotions like a grown up.  I don’t want to be a mom that says something too harsh or too critical, and who says it too loudly or too angrily.  When I do, I feel terrible.  It hurts my kids.  I apologize, and I know that helps, but it doesn’t erase it.  And, when I lose my temper, it negates any reasonable consequence I might have imposed for a legitimately inappropriate behavior on their part — the focus becomes on my anger instead of on what they’re doing.  And then, not only am I being a crappy mom in that moment, no one is learning anything.

I’m working on it.  I’m all about self-improvement.  But I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time getting helpful advice on this.  It’s hard to talk about.  There isn’t really a good time to say, “You know, my kids make me crazy, but it’s not always really my kids.  Sometimes I’m just tired or overwhelmed and I snap at the kids and it makes us all feel terrible” during a playdate.  I’m ashamed and embarrassed that I get angry with my kids.  And, I have to assume that other people feel the same way, because I don’t think I’m the only mom who struggles with this, and no one else is talking about it, either.  I think that normal, reasonable, generally kind moms don’t like to admit that they lose their temper (in whatever way it manifests for them) with their kids.  But I’m a good mom, and I do, so I figure other good moms do, too.  Since it’s hard for me to admit, it’s something I don’t really talk about, and I just try, really hard, not to do it.  (Which doesn’t seem to be working all that well.)

I don’t think I have to be a “perfect” parent — I think there are always going to be things that kids do to inspire frustration, irritation or anger in their parents.  And I actually think that’s a good thing — sometimes, when you do something you shouldn’t, people get mad.  Life is like that.  And I even think it’s ok for the kids to see the process of a parent being inappropriately upset, recognizing it, apologizing for it and correcting it — that’s how they’ll learn to manage those situations themselves.  But I lose my cool too often about the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and I want to do better.

A few days ago, I read an essay that a friend linked to on Facebook.  And it struck a nerve.  I’m not a yeller — I rarely raise my voice with my kids (except when one of them is doing something dangerous, in which case I do tend to shriek a bit, but that doesn’t actually bother me).  I doubt that the kind of anger I have would result in my kids being afraid of me (but I can’t guarantee it).  I think, instead, that the kind of overwhelmed, “That’s it!  I’ve had it!  I just don’t care!  I can’t do this!” kind of moments that I have could hurt their self-esteem, make them feel responsible for taking care of me, and undermine their confidence that I will take care of them.  And I don’t want that.  What she said gave me hope, because she used to yell at her kids, and she learned not to.  I want to learn to improve myself, too, I just don’t know how.  At the end of her article, the author linked to The Orange Rhino.  And I started reading.  She sounds a lot like me.  And she felt just as crappy about losing her temper with her kids as I do.  And, most importantly, she made a committment to herself and her kids to not yell for an entire year . . . and she did it.

And I want to do it, too.  I can only imagine the kind of example I could set for my kids, and the kind of comfort and confidence I could give them if, in the next year, I only got upset about reasonable things and only at a reasonable level.  Besides, I would feel great.  I would actually *love* to have a bad day that didn’t end with me being a big meanie.  How great would that be?  How much better would we ALL feel?  She’s just a mom that wanted to do better for her kids, and I am too.  And after reading a bunch of pages on her site, I thought, “Oh, if she can do that, I totally can too” and I went away, feeling inspired.  And 24 hours later, I lost my temper again.  (We were taking Bailey outside, and Benjamin was leaning on a grumpy neighbors car, and I kind of freaked out about it — “What are you doing?  Come over here!  Right now!  Don’t do that!” when I could have just said, “Oops!  No touching other people’s cars.  Let’s go over here . . . “)

And so I went back to the site, feeling less arrogant and more humble, looking for more advice and inspiration.  And I saw that she’s redoing a month long “yell less” project for moms who want to parent better.  And, perfect timing — it starts next week.

So, I signed up.  It starts Monday.  So, just in case there are any other good moms out there who sometimes lose their tempers with their kids and wish that they didn’t, you’re not alone.  And I have no idea if this will help, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

When I grow up

When I grow up, I want to be a tow truck driver’s assistant. I want to sit in the front seat and tell him where to go next.

This is the job that B has picked out for me when we grow up. He’s going to drive the tow truck and help people with flat tires or broken cars. I’m going to come with him and be his assistant. Dan and Liam are going to work in the office, answer the phones and then call us to tell us where to go next.

When B tells people he wants to grow up and drive a tow truck, most people smile and say, “For now!” or “Ah, very ambitious!”

But I hope it happens just like that.

The liberation of anonymity

For most of my life, I’ve been a pretty self-conscious person.  I’m constantly judging myself, and I imagine (much more than is probably true) that other people are judging me, too.  I have spent years of my life evaluating every little thing that I did, trying to see if it was “right” and adjusting it if it wasn’t.  I spent many years trying incredibly hard to be, do or say what I was “supposed” to or what was “expected” or what (I thought, probably incorrectly) would make people like me — I denied who I really was a lot.

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Bonked head

Both of my boys are currently of an age where they get lots of (thankfully minor, so far) injuries.  Liam is great at walking, so now he’s trying more ambitious things, like running, jumping and climbing on the furniture.  Benjamin has entered the phase of maleness where he believes he is invincible (which, as I understand it, will last until he’s nearly 40, at least).  Consequently, they get their share of bumps, bruises and bonks.  Just a few weeks ago, B had to go to the Emergency Room (the Accident Department here) for an x-ray to rule out a broken nose, and today, Liam fell and got a bad bonk to the head.

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