it's not about the broccoli.

Monday, February 27, 2012

So much of our role as mother hen, is to TEACH.
To love.  And then to teach.

It’s not easy to do both.  But we do one because of the other.
Does a balance, a level playing field between tough and loving, exist?
I strive for that daily, as I try to do this job.

And I am the mother that seizes EVERY opportunity, sees just about EVERY free moment as a ‘teachable’ moment.  Practically SHOVING teachable moments down my kids' throats.  It’s out of hand.

But trying desperately every second of every day, to make sure my kids are learning SOMETHING from me they can take in to the world, the things their REAL (and better equipped teachers) can’t do or don’t have the time for.

Not how to read, identify an E from a 3, a b from a d, or to raise their hand before they speak,

but the even BIGger stuff.

That there will be consequences to a poorly made choice.

Punishment for 'bad' behavior.

Time spent alone, for hitting, throwing or pushing.

As early as 18 MONTHS (which I laugh at now, because I was a different mother then,)
I would put Jack in a ‘time out’ in his pac n’ play if he hit me or threw something.  I only had one kid, so life and my baby seemed easy to control. . .the only thing I had to do and focus on.

How asinine, I think now!  To put my BABY in a time out?!

But I did it, because I thought it was the 'right' thing to do, wanting to teach him early, that he was not in charge.  Teaching him gently, that those kinds of behaviors would find him separated from me, from fun, his toys, playing freely on the floor.
I remember having an eight hour stand-off with Charlie when he was just shy of a year old.  We had a trip coming up and he had YET to take a bottle.  He is my third, so, you know, you get a little more lax in your child-rearing.  When his pediatrician was encouraging me to get him to take a bottle now and again, so he would if I needed him to, I ignored.

"Why would I do that?!  He’s my baby.  I breastfeed.  That’s it.  I just won’t leave him or go anywhere until he’s weaned!"

But of course the time came when we had to leave.  And I hadn’t done what I was 'supposed' to.  I panicked.  And now had to do things the hard way, withhold the boob so he'd take a bottle.
In anticipation of our trip, I designated a day to do just that.  A full day at home, bracing myself for a few hours of discomfort, but something doable.   
But he was strong and stubborn and of course, not something you can easily introduce in to a babies' life in one day.

I normally nursed like clockwork, every few hours, planted well into parent-directed feeding, a routine as familiar and comfortable to both of us as being home.  
As beautiful as anything and a part of the job I looked forward to.   
To sit and just be, doing the one thing that came naturally to me.

But for this one day, I stepped out of sync with what was right, having to offer up some SERIOUS tough love for both of our sakes.
And the stand-off began.  Every time he wanted to eat?  "Sorry buddy, you have to take the bottle."  He’d spit it out, push it away, angle is head sweetly and then angrily towards me, wondering what the hell was going on.  “It’s right there, lady!"  I could hear him saying in his head.  "Just pull up your shirt!"  But I couldn’t!  That would be giving in!  So hour after hour, I pumped, I watched him squirm, I attempted to push the bottle in to his mouth and he refused.
By 3pm that day, he was so confused.  So sad.  He was just looking at me with these tired, tear-filled eyes from his bouncy seat, as if to say, “What are you doing?  Are you trying to kill me?  I’m starving!”   
And I cried in response, bawled actually.  Sitting in front of him, PLEADING for him to just take the damn bottle.  EIGHT hours later, Brian walked in to an emotional circus ring.  “He hasn’t eaten all day!  He won’t take the bottle!  We can’t leave!  I hate this!  It’s all my fault!"  (And isn't it always.)
As if not introducing him to a bottle the first nine months of life, I’d ruined him, sentencing him to a life of  despair and disappointment.  
I remember Brian picked him up as I headed upstairs to sulk.  And he sat down with him, without saying a word, and Charlie drank.  Sucking away from the bottle, like he’d been doing it every day.  I collapsed with relief, but wondering why we had to go through such agony to get there?  Was it really necessary?

With each child, my laziness has increased, my motivation to control and discipline deflated from bigger, more serious life circumstances, always wondering, does it matter?  Does it REALLY matter?  Are these little battles we wage each day as mothers against these little people, are they REALLY going to make that big a difference in the outcome of their lives?
I have to think so. . .hope so, at least, for all the effort we put in to it.
Every so often (um, actually when the velociraptor’s in town,) I go a little ape-sh**, take advantage and try to display some power over this house I rule.  
I had a broccoli standoff with Grace last week.  My failings as a mother and serious lack of teaching skills were starting to surface at school. . .the be-all-end-all of our failings as parents. . .school, where our worst nightmares come to life. . .where the shortcomings of our parenting skills display themselves front and center on a stage made for the finest actors, for all to see in the confines of our childrens’ classrooms, under the microscope of their teacher's watchful eye, education and expertise (more on that in a second. . .)
This summer I excitedly enrolled Grace and Jack in our fantastic local farm school, and they were equally as excited.  But the second day, Grace was asked to try something (something lame, like an apple,) that most 5-year-olds have all tried and LOVE by now.  Not grace.  She's picky.  And if she's asked or told or feels pressured to do something she doesn’t want to, she retreats.  She doesn’t know how to cope.  She kicks and screams and sobs.  For some reason, it  traumatized her.  $300 some dollars and DAYS spent trying to get her out of the car, proved worthless.  A disheveld mother left to ask, "what the hell is this about now?!  and then nothing to show for it but a shattered ego (both mine and hers.)  
And now, in kindergarten, the same behaviors surfacing.  If she doesn’t want to do something or is afraid of something, she retreats.  She cries and sobs in a corner, refusing to talk to anyone or explain why she's upset.  It unnerves me to no end, but of course makes me question what I’m doing wrong.  Why can’t she cope?  She’s 5, normally sweet and loving and kind and fabulous. . .but.  The girl doesn’t do transitions.  She doesn’t like change.  Like her mother was when she was a child, she thrives on sameness, control and finding safety and trust in the familiar.  Has anxiety when she's not in control.  She doesn’t like being told what to do, how to do it, or why. 
CLEARLY I’ve missed the boat on this, her summer 'episode' just the prelude of more to come.  So my frustrations with her current behavior and my lack of disciplining her came to head over a broccoli stand-off around the contours of our kitchen table, now a ring of UFC fighting.
In a bad place, myself, I said, "THIS IS ENOUGH!  SHE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND THAT LIFE ISN’T ABOUT HER!  THAT YOU’LL EAT WHAT I’M SERVING!"  And not just that, you'll do what you're told!  There are life rules to follow and you will, like everyone else!  I’m DONE catering!"
It's exhausting doing that. . .and we all do it at one point or another, as mom's.  
We cater to their every need, from a place of love, but also from what our parents didn’t do or what we THINK we should do, so they’ll love us and think we’re amazing. . .we cut their crusts, their cheese and sandwiches in to new and exciting shapes, give them the bowl they want, the right color cup, the right crackers, water WITHOUT ice. . .it gets old.  And what is it teaching them?  That they can have whatever they want, whenever they want, HOWEVER they want it.  That is where my frustration lies. . .as I’m guilty of it as well.  

So it’s time, I thought.  Enough’s enough.  She will learn that you will eat what I’m serving.  And the bigger lesson to be found in that.  That it’s not about the GD broccoli, it’s about the fact that in life, you will have to do things you don’t like, try new things, and be in situations that make you uncomfortable, angry and frustrated and you just do your best to accept.  But that at this age, you won’t always get choices.  And we give them too, TOO often!  
I wasn’t asking for the world.  Just asking her to eat TWO small pieces of broccoli (covered in cheese and salt, by the way,) and she refused.  For TWO straight hours I made her sit at the table, by herself, by the light of one lamp, to stare it down.  To show her.  This is life, sister.  And she sat there, SCREAMING.
It was brutal.   
Too late?  Too harsh?  Maybe.  I doubted my approach from beginning to end.  As I sat in bed tense as could be, on the brink of tears myself, because I couldn’t be around her and wasn’t up for the fight anymore, angry at myself for putting this off and allowing the sloth-like tendencies I hold close to my spine, to get the best of me and my parenting skills these past months, but sad for her confusion and exhaustion.  
But as a parent, especially in these early years, I keep thinking, I HAVE to have the upper hand.  I HAVE to take advantage of this time, to help mold and shape their little minds the best way I know how, with intensity and consistency.
But again, let's concur, it's exhausting. 
All the little things we teach, that are simply par for the course. . .

the daily lessons and rules, which, in my home are long and adding up. . .  
we don’t hit, we don’t make fun of, we don’t call each other stupid, we don’t throw toys, we don’t rip books, we don’t pee on carpets, we don’t eat like barn animals, we don't use the word fat, oh!  and we DEFINITELY don’t sass!!!  We only have juice at breakfast.  We only get one treat a day and if you don’t finish your dinner, you'll have no treats at all.  If YOU make the mess?  YOU pick it up.  Brush your teeth.  Say please and thank you.  I continue to add on.  Bombarding my kids with more rules.  Wear a belt with your pants.  Hold the door open for women.  When someone asks you a question, you answer them.  Apologize.  Speak up.  

So I teach.  I teach that the garage roof WILL play catch with you, if you ask it.  I, on the other hand, will not.  I have a mess somewhere, to clean up.  Other children to care for.
I teach that I'm not here for your entertainment.  That you WILL find something to do on your own.
There are SO many moments in motherhood, not just the (above) daily lessons I work to lasso in to their lives, but the crazy insane moments where I feel the need to prove something not just to them, but to myself.  That I am in control!  Capital I!  That "as long as you are in this house, you will obey MY rules!"  A fist slamming down on the kitchen table with authority!  Because this is my job.  I am the mother.  And their father, is not.  It's really all on us, right?

You will love me.  You will respect me.  You will honor me.

But in pushing for those things, I'm afraid I'm pushing away.  
Most days, feeling like I'm shoving myself in to a little black dress that JUST isn't flattering and just a TAD too tight.  In to a role and a position that doesn’t feel right.
So what do I know?  What have I learned from a three-hour broccoli standoff?

Our children are unique.  Each one of them special in their own way.  They each bring a quirk, a behavior to the forefront of our lives at different ages and stages, leaving us bedraggled and baffled.  That whole, “just when we thought we knew them. . .” awaiting us at at every turn.
It keeps us on our toes, never allowing for one dull and boring moment.  Causing us to second guess our abilities as parents but to try a different approach with a different child.
We learn, ultimately, that there is NO RIGHT WAY.  
We can see and view how other parents are doing things, and judge.  Think we can do it better or ARE doing it better.  But at the end of the day, none of us really knows.  The most well behaved children from the most loving of families, become disgruntled teenagers that shoot up a high school.  The most quiet and awkward and unattractive fourteen-year-old blossoms in to a natural beauty, exuding grace and confidence with the greatest of ease.  The most obnoxious and seemingly troublesome kid could lead the country!  We just don’t know.  
All we know, is we do our best.  We do what FEELS right for each of our own children.  But keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to new ways of doing things, trusting in the end, their outcome is not really up to us.
Remembering although sometimes it's smart to just 'let the kid be,' sometimes we have to teach them through setting an example.  We have to be tough in our teaching, but loving and kind and gentle as well.

Eventually, they figure it out.  And so do we.  They learn, we learn.  That again, there's just as much power sometimes, in doing nothing.  Not engaging at all, then in doing something.  With time and patience, we get it. 

Our quest to mold them in to the perfect children, the most well behaved, the smartest maybe even the most beautiful, we get further and further away from allowing them to be who they are SUPPOSED to be.  The people God INTENDS for them to be.
That is a hard pill to swallow, from a woman who has spent much of her life trying to be in control and wanting to control everything.  I love a quote from one of my favorite authors, Karen Maezen Miller.
“I’m not suggesting you be cavalier about the serious issues before you, or careless about your child’s health and security, I am warning you that as soon as you arrive at an ironclad rationale about anything, the target practice will begin.  Slings, arrows, potshots, splattered tomatoes, pies in the face. . .we tangle ourselves in convoluted reasoning, bog ourselves in doubt, bury ourselves in fear, and then we complain about the working conditions.”
This gives us permission to be flexible.  To be consistent, but go with the flow.  That we're not going to know it all or have all the answers, but neither is the mother next to us.  To simply learn to trust ourselves and our abilities.  That it's okay to not want our children running around the world naked, with cake and cookies smeared on their face, cursing like their mother does at whoever, with no repercussions.  To have rules and enforce them as often as possible.  To draw boundary lines, but sometimes in pencil.  
Teaching them, ultimately, they are not alone in this world.  That it’s NOT all about them.
To pick our battles wisely, even if it involves broccoli.

That we don't have be hard core nor totally neglectful either.  To just practice being present and parenting intuitively and then committing wholeheartedly to whichever road we take on any given day.
I love this photo from this past summer.
A true testament to the side of parenting we don't give enough credit to.
The days, despite how awesome we are (or THINK we are,) in our parenting,
that we're really not.  We're not that great.
How simply letting go of who we THINK or NEED to be as parents, 
letting them be, whether it's right or neat or clean,
makes us a little better.
I thought in this moment,
Wow.  I've totally hit rock bottom (not because of the helmet and crocs and lack of clothing, but because there was poop running down his leg. . .had neglected his diaper for one two many hours.  And I photo-shopped that out to spare you.)  
But after a deep breath, was okay with it all.
Reassuring myself, SOME days, my job is SIMPLY to love them.  To teach them, when the time is right, but give them a little (just a little,) more freedom to learn how the world works.
Finally realizing the idea, that there is only ONE way to parent,
is false. 
And how beautiful and freeing that truth is.
Allowing their journey and ours, to be that much more fulfilling and invigorating.


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