Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Experiment in Silence

I survived. The house didn’t burn down. My two-and-a-half-year-old didn’t eat my ten-month-old. I got out of the house for a walk. I had three meals and four visitors, and I discovered how little my words are actually needed in parenting.

This past week I went one day without speaking. I allowed myself to say, “Thank you,” “Okay,” and “Please,” to use sounds as signals, to read books and sing songs. And no, I didn’t sing my way through the day, making up songs about going potty or getting your shoes on for a walk. If a neighbor greeted me, I could return the greeting, although I found a wave worked just as fine. If someone called, I answered. And if people came over I would speak but with simplicity, not worrying about filling the silence or complaining about the day’s trials or qualifying my statements to manage what others might think of me.

Monday was my test day. I tried speaking as little as possible. And when hand motions or sounds wouldn’t work for Lee, I created lists of tasks with pictures. I explained each task to him as they came up: taking a walk, eating, napping, bathing, and going to bed. Each completed set of tasks earned a sticker. Three stickers earned three mini marshmallows.

Tuesday was my day of silence.

On both days, the trial run day and the day of silence, Lee said numerous new phrases, describing things he saw and filling the silences with what I would usually say. When he nearly lost his balance on a stool, he said, “Don’t fall.” When he refused to put his foot into the sock that I was holding open for him, he said, “No sock. No walk.” After he ran away from me on a walk, and I told him he would be spanked for this, he said, “Being naughty. Whack a bum bum.” 

As you might imagine with anyone who has lost a faculty, refraining from speech caused me to see and hear more. I noticed the many expressions on my children’s faces: puzzlement or excitement in their eyes, gnawing of their teeth/gums, or longing gazes outside. I heard the wind through the trees, and realized how quite our neighborhood is.

I discovered the power of being singularly focused. When Lee tripped running, I couldn’t say over my shoulder, “Ouch! That must’ve hurt,” and then continue on with whatever I was doing. Instead I had to stop, acknowledge his hurt with a concerned look, and if his pain was long lasting, I comforted him with a hug or back rub. For those few moments, I did nothing else. I suppose that made his pain feel legitimized. 

I also discovered the power of simple and swift punishments. When he began to do something unacceptable, I would make a Na’ah sound. If he persisted, I would hand signal a flick to the hand. If he still persisted, I had to follow through. I couldn’t tell him why I don’t want him doing this or that. I couldn’t emphasis the dangers of what he was doing. Nor could I tempt him with some other activity. 

This kind of parenting was a relief to the laborious and exhausting method of hoping that a clear explanation, a warning, and a threat will curb a desire to do evil. Less talk. More action. I like it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween Under Construction

I'm starting to think Halloween was invented for parents rather than children. Can anyone get enough of their cute kids in costumes? I can't stand it! He's a construction worker in case you couldn't tell.

 Rose blended in with an old onsie that used to be Phil's when he was a baby.

Highlights of the evening were: building the bonfire with the Daddy man.
 Eating candy for perhaps not the first time, but definitely a rare occasion in this household.
 And welcoming Lois Thorpe's troupe of Korean foreign exchange students who enjoyed trick or treating, smores, and hot apple cider for the first time. They were dressed in the most interesting attire (a nurse, cop, maid, Santa, and bunny), all of which looked like they'd come from A Touch of Romance.

Best costumes of the night were a pyramid, a cook, and three confident teen boys dressed up like bananas. Phil did the old toss-a-stick-into-the-fire-in-order-to-get-candy-routine, which was a bit hit for both the young and too-old-to-be-tick-or-treating. The rain came right as we started packing up, and we're enjoying the puffy clouds today and weather to bake by.

Meat Tenderized

Motherhood has acted like a meat tenderizer to my heart. I'm not talking about that white powder that you sprinkle onto beef. I'm talking about that mallet with the spikes. I'm in shock. Everything is so sore and sensitive.

I suppose Lee would say the same about being two and a half. It's hard learning how to close your eyes so shampoo doesn't get in them and learning how to pull off your socks starting from the heel. It's frightening passing big dogs on the sidewalk and standing in a room of loud talking strangers who speak to you in high pitched voices and want to poke your cheeks. Rose would agree, although she wouldn't mind the strangers so much as long as Mommy is holding her. She's more uncomfortable with having shirts put on and off her head every morning and night and sometimes in the middle of the day. And that whole bit about being left alone in a crib three times a day, no fun at all. Who made up this game anyway?

Every decision I make for Lee weighs heavily on my shoulders. Do I reprimand that toy throwing or let it be? Do I put a pull-up on him or take a risk in the car? Do I put him down for a nap at the same time as Rose? Do I make him eat all the food on his plate? 

Thank God, Lee's trailblazing has made me more calm with Rose. Yes, she ate a tuft of carpet, a few podocarpus leaves and an apple sticker. Oh well, it'll go right through her. She's crying in there still. That's okay. Let's wait another 15 minutes. Her onsie is damp with potty? Oh well, it won't hurt her. 

And things that were once a chore are a privilege: grocery shopping, writing an email, and pooping all by myself with no one in the room are such luxuries. A day without potty on the floor, a morning without protests, a walk down the street without skinned knees, sparkling kitchen counters for a few hours, a vacuumed rug, a fridge full of food. Such blessings that once wouldn't have given me a rise are now little treats.

Yes, and instances of grief cut me right to this twitching nerve in my back: his bit tongue, spilled milk, and the inability to reach something or go to the park or eat cookies in the morning. The disappointment at not being able to play with the whole wheat flour or bury Rose under a pile of laundry or run into the house all dusty from the backyard. Tears. Tears. Tears. 

It used to be simple, knowing how others ought to handle their misbehaving children, but that was because I wasn't feeling the battle inside, the overwhelming desire to keep my boy from hurting or struggling or being disappointed. To save! A mother wants to save. To stand back and allow the consequences to come or to inflict the punishment and then comfort is stinking hard. It'd be so much easier to do it for him. And yet . . . I can't. Not if I want him to grow up to be a man. 

DARN, those spiritual analogies! They're so obnoxiously obvious!

I thank God for the surprises, those unexpected instances, which I think are the reason why people say that this work is worth it in the long run. Again, moments that mean more because my heart has been tenderized. Prior to having kids, I would've just said, "Awww, that's cute." Now I haven't words to put to these joys, just gasps and smiles and a grabbing for my camera. Did he just do that? He did! It's like getting a medal for running a marathon. I suppose a round hunk of metal wouldn't be worth much, if you hadn't run at all. And let me tell you, mothers run. We run the heck out of each day.