My initial response to this news was shock because, how did she even know what that meant and where had she heard it before? (I’m choosing to blame Good Luck Charlie since she loves that show)
My second response was amusement. Did we really just hear that? A four year old, stomping her foot and dramatically claiming that her life was ruined because I wouldn’t make her a pb&j before bed? I thought I had a solid ten to twelve years left before the claims of life ruining started to fly.
Here’s what I know. My daughter is full of emotions. A lot of emotions. They are coming out of her eyes and mouth and heart at a rate and speed that I often feel unprepared to manage.
But we have also learned some tactics for helping her with all these feelings. We redirect her a lot. We empathize with her. We talk about right and wrong ways to express ourselves.
For instance, instead of saying, “Leave me alone!” she has learned to say, “I need privacy, please”
She loves to tell me, “Mommy, you aren’t mad at me but you are frustrated, aren’t you?” (Truth moment, I get “frustrated” a lot. I work on being a patient and flexible mama every day, but just like Everly, I have a long way to go.)
We focus on helping our children feel like they have some control by offering them choices. One of Everly’s favorite things to ask when she has to do something she doesn’t want to is, “What are my options?” Option 1 and Option 2. She is happy because she feels like she made the choice and we are happy because we made the options.
Brent and I are reading a lot of books and blogs from parenting experts and picking and choosing what parts of all of these philosophies we think make sense for our family. There are some great ones out there (Here are some posts that are inspiring me right now: Gateway Parenting, Pyramid Discipline, Love and Blogic) I’d like to share more thoughts on Love & Logic later as we are reading a whole series on this philosophy now.
But beyond that, we are doing our best to think on our feet and hang on for the ride. Sometimes by the very tips of our fingers.
I don’t know if it is a boy thing or an Arlo thing, but at two and a half, he hasn’t given us much trouble. I know Everly really kicked the emotions into high gear around three, so perhaps we just haven’t rounded that corner yet with him. Arlo is pretty black and white on what he wants and what he needs. Now that he is able to verbally communicate, he is laid back and easy to please.
But our Everly, she is fire and drama and emotion. She has been this way from a very young age. We are told often that Everly is mature for her age - she understands a lot of nuances and subtle contexts in her interactions with others that really surprise us. But she is still very much a four year old with a four year’s old ability to process and express her feelings. We pull from our patience reserves on a regular basis with her, and often we still run out.
For all the ways that I feel like I am fumbling along at times, there are a two truths that we feel really work for our family.
1. We can’t solve all of their problems and we’re not supposed to. In Everly’s case, we are here for gentle guidance and to let her know she is loved and supported but sometimes life just doesn’t work out the way we want it. Learning to deal with disappointment is part of learning to be a functioning adult. Learning to problem solve on our own is even more critical.
2. In this family we talk to each with respect. All of us. Our children towards us and us towards our children. We reinforce this a lot. When Everly shouts a demand at us, we remind her, “I’m sorry, but that’s now how we ask for things in this family.” We don’t respond until she asks us calmly and respectfully. We use “in this family” a lot. In this family we eat dinner together. In this family we don’t slam our doors and scream. We are constantly trying to reinforce that we are a unit, the four of us, and the actions we take impact us all. We are in this together.
And yet, there are plenty of days when I am still ruining my daughter’s life. Because it’s not always easy when you are four and you don’t get your way. And sometimes all you want to do is kick and scream and say something mean.
One thing that I’ve found laughable in so many parenting books is that they act as if following their 5 simple rules or using three easy techniques will solve all your problems and result in well behaved children who never argue and always eat their broccoli.
That’s just not our reality (and honestly not our goal either - I’ll talk about my thought on raising kids who are sometimes willing to challenge us later). Some of those rules work and others fail miserable. One of those techniques makes our life easier but the other two are downright laughable. We live in periods of calm and days of chaos. We fail and we nail it, over and over again every day.
The needs of each of our individual children are so specific and are constantly evolving. So the only plan we really have is to spend the rest of the years that Everly and Arlo live under our roof tweaking and improving the way we support and guide them. It is a road unknown and a map we are drawing as we go.
There are no parenting experts in our house but we are doing the best we can. We go with our gut and our hearts and a healthy dose of humility (because nothing will humble you over and over again, like children). Last night I ruined my daughter’s life but I hope one day she will look back and realize just how much we are trying to do the exact opposite.
Brent returns this evening from a week in Nicaragua. I hope he will share his perspective of his time there on my blog, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk a bit about what’s been going on here on the home front.
I have enjoyed a rare and precious experience this week - an entire 7 days of my son’s time and attention. Arlo typically only wants his father to hold him, put him down for bed, or comfort him.
Both of my children went through phases at about 18 months old where they preferred their father. It was a given, considering their stage of development and the fact that Brent has been their primary care giver.
I remember sobbing over the situation a few times when Everly was small. “I’m her mother and she wants nothing to do with me!” But shortly after she turned two, she began to seek me out and now at four, we are attached at the hip. She is my little companion and always ready to go anywhere and do anything with me.
When Arlo started his daddy preference, the change felt particularly hard because I had just weaned him the month before. When I stopped nursing him, I felt like I was out of tricks in my bag. I would try to hold him and he would resist. I would go to him when he needed comforting and he would push me away. “no mommy, daddy!” he would cry at me during bedtime. Sometimes, after a busy day of caring for our children, Brent is in need of a break. Every now and then, he just needs someone else to handle the tears or offer the comforting, but our son just won’t take it from me. It can be hard on all of us.
I don’t flinch when Arlo pushes me away these days. Even now that he has gotten more verbal and says things like, “I don’t want you mommy! Go away! Leave me alone. I want daddy.” Despite his preference for Brent, I still put him down for bed one night a week because I ache to do it and also because I’m a little afraid that if I just give in and never put him down to bed, then it will just push him further away from me. So I sit on the end of his bed, and swallow the hard knot in my throat and say, ” Arlo. Mommy is here tonight. I can rock you and sing to you if you want. But if not, I’m just going to sit on the end of the bed. I’m here and I’ll be here until you go to sleep.” Most nights that I put him down, he cries and protests for a bit before settling down to sleep, but some nights I can entice him to want to spend time with me by making up a game in the dark with a flashlight or making funny voices for his stuffed animals. The nights he agrees to snuggle up to me, I lay there way past the time he has fallen asleep, just soaking him in.
I don’t want this to sound like my son doesn’t ever want to be around me - he does. He will say to me in the morning, “Nuggle me mommy” and we will curl up together on the couch. We play a lot together when I get home from work and in general, we have a warm relationship. But whenever it comes to those moments when he is hurt, or tired or wakes frightened in the middle of the night - it is never me that he wants. So many times I have attempted to go to him when he is crying in the middle of the night and he will howl louder and say, “Not you! Daddy!” and I just stand there feeling helpless as Brent shuffles by me to pick up our son and end his tears.
Right after Christmas, Brent came down with a stomach bug and moved to the upstairs bedroom in an effort to keep his germs away from the children. Arlo awoke in the middle of the night, crying for his father. I went to his room and he told me to go away. I explained that daddy wasn’t able to come get him tonight and so he went walking around our house, crying hysterically and calling out for him. He wouldn’t let me hold him or comfort him and any attempt to do so would cause him to thrash and cry harder. So I sat on our living room floor, my head leaning against the couch, and made the same “shhh shhh shhh” sound I used to make when he needed comforting as a baby. It was the only thing I could do that didn’t make him cry harder and I hoped it would remind him that I was there next to him. I resisted the overwhelming desire to just hold him because it’s not what he wanted. It took almost 45 minutes before he quieted. He laid down on our couch and defeated said, “Nuggle me mommy”. And so I did. We slept there until morning.
I didn’t know how he would react this week with Brent gone. Would he roam the house every night? Would he let me comfort him when his father was not there to do it? I prepared myself for a sleepless week.
The first night Brent was away, Arlo cried at bedtime for about 5 minutes. When he woke in the middle of the night, he whimpered for his father a few times, but willingly climbed into my arms and settled down into our big king sized bed to sleep.
Every day since, whenever there has been a bumped head or a scratch he has come calling for me, accepting my kisses and comfort happily. Every night as we squeeze together in his tiny toddler bed, he has turned immediately towards me, resting his forehead against my cheek and rubbing my arm with his small hand until he falls asleep. Not a single tear or a “go away”. Just contentment and rest, which is all I could ever wish to bring him.
I have been a sponge for these moments. Filling up my reservoir and feeling hopefully that perhaps this week’s routine will continue once Brent returns.
In as much as I find fulfillment and joy in the work I do outside our home, it is this challenge with Arlo specifically that is the one thing that makes me question if it is all worth it. It feeds an insecurity in me that despite my best efforts, I’m not giving my little boy enough. What kind of mother can’t even comfort her own child? This is the first time I’ve ever said these things outloud, even though this fear has fed insecurities in the dark spaces of my mind for some time.
I keep reminding myself of how upset I felt when I went through these feelings with Everly and how those fears were short-lived. And I keep holding my arms out to Arlo, again and again, in the hopes that he will reach back for me. I’m also hopeful that maybe even when daddy returns tonight, Arlo will be more willing to let his mama comfort him too. Maybe his bedtimes with me will come with a few less tears. Maybe.
Brent keeps reminding me that there are so many stages when it comes to our children. That they will change their minds and their desires a thousand times as they grow up. And I know he is right. I’ve seen it happen again and again. But this feels like a particularly long stage in my son - I can’t help but feel eager to once again have the closeness that I share with his sister and once had with him. Getting to experience that feeling again this week with him has made me particularly emotional as I realize just how much I have missed out on with him over the past year.
I don’t know how to end this, so I will stop here. All I can really do is wait it out and never stop trying to comfort him. They come back around sometime, right? I sure hope so.
1. Serve others. Spend less time thinking about my own needs and more time thinking about how I can love and support others. I want to be less selfish and more selfless. Newsflash: the world doesn’t revolve around you, Melissa.
2. Get Stronger. Most people have an exercise resolution, but it’s something that has been nagging me for awhile now. I tried running (hated it) and workout classes (liked them okay) in 2013 but neither felt like the right fit. In 2014, I’m going to start exploring yoga and I’m hopeful that it will be the right outlet for me to get my body strong and healthy. If all goes well, I’ll add “challenging others to arm wrestling matches” as 2015 resolution.
3. Put down the phone. Sounds simple enough, but it will require a lot more conscious effort than I care to admit. (That funny vine video can wait until the kids are in bed.)
4. Grow closer to God. 2013 was an incredible year on our walk with the Lord. As a family we all grew closer together and closer to Him, but our hearts desire more. And on a personal note - I want to be able to share my heart for God more openly and freely. I have a dear friend who, when she prays outloud and around others, always talks to Jesus in such an intimate and natural manner. I love it so much and I long to be able to do the same. My personal time with God is always natural and warm but whenever I pray openly with others, I am always so nervous, worrying more about how I am saying it instead of what I am saying. Tear down my walls Jesus, and let me share my joy for you without inhibitions.
5. Open our doors wider. We host a weekly homegroup at our house and love to throw a good party every few months, but I long for our house to be a place where others can come to fellowship and celebrate and have fun. Dinner parties with neighbors I haven’t yet met, playgroups to get to know the other parents in our children’s preschool and more opportunities to get our friends and families together under one roof. Let’s get this party started!
6. Give Grace. I want to do a better job of withholding judgement and quicker to show forgiveness. In general, I just want to be the kind of person who assumes the best and leaves others feeling loved. In particular I want to show grace to my husband and children. I want to be more thoughtful and purposeful in the every day ways that I interact and respond to them. Oh, and less road rage. I have the patience of a NYC taxi driver when it comes to dealing with other drivers.
Do you make resolutions at the start of the new year? I don’t always - but this year, I spent some time really thinking about the things I’d like to improve about myself. Putting it out into the world will keep me accountable. I haven’t always followed through with resolutions in the past, but I’ve got a lot of focused energy and determination to help me see it through this year. I’m printing this list off and putting it on my desk at work and another copy in my bible. This is my year to do better!
My girl is four. Four sounds so officially “little girl” to me. I have watched my daughter grow from an infant to a toddler to a preschooler, and now when we cuddle up together, I can barely believe she was ever the tiny babe I study in photographs. As the years have gone by, her birthday has been something I’ve tried to make really special and specific because it comes right on the heels of Christmas. I never want her special day to get lost in the blur of the holidays.
This year, we started talking about what kind of party she would like to have back in the fall. Everly’s very favorite bedtime story is The Princess and the Pea. We have read it together so many times that both of us can recite the words with our eyes closed. When she told me she wanted a princess party, I wasn’t surprised. The princess phase has been a long one in this house. ”I want princesses like in the pea book and a tea party!” She told me. So off I went to figure out just what that might look like.
Everly had been in a state of anticipation since we took down on our Christmas tree. She knew her birthday was next on the list and she could not wait to celebrate.
This year, we nixed the monster sized party we usually host for a small get together with a few of her little friends. Five girls and their mothers came over last Saturday morning to celebrate.
We hosted it upstairs in our playroom and I pulled out all of the random, mix-matched china that I’ve collected over the years.
I was able to reuse a ton of stuff from last year, including some of the big tissue paper flowers and the Happy Birthday banner. The tissue paper centerpiece, tulle banners and all of the fun costume jewelry came from BirthdayExpress.com. For her party, I bought some different clearance section fabrics at my local fabric store and wrapped books up to look like a stack of mattresses. I made a little pillow, blanket and ladder to complete the look. I also used the remaining fabric scraps to make the fabric banner over the window.
Everly requested “pink lemonade cupcakes”. I’m not much of a baker and had no idea how to make them, so I decided to use yellow cake mix and add strawberries to it. I made homemade lemon curd buttercream on top and decorated them with little gummy “mattresses” (from trader joes) and “peas” (green chocolate sixlet candies) and paper cutout princesses from Meri Meri.
I had two crafts set up for the girls. The first was a decorate your own crown with rhinestone stickers and the second was stringing “pea” beads onto a bracelet. The girls loved the crowns but they weren’t really interested in making the bracelets.
I kept the menu to kid friendly foods - turkey, ham or chicken salad sandwiches, orzo and pea pasta salad, fruit wands, kettle korn, and carrots with dip. We served sparkling pink punch to drink (pomegranate juice & sparkling pink lemonade). It was so nice having the moms there because each could make a plate for her little girl and help supervise the meal. The girls had so much fun toasting one another while they ate.
For the grown ups, I served champagne and strawberries and we ate while the girls finished up their meals. We also had Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen tunes blasting the whole time.
Each little friend came over wearing her favorite princess look. It was so adorable to see them all, gathered around the table together in sparkles and tiaras. Everly’s beautiful princess dress is available here. (She has worn it nearly every day since)
We sang happy birthday to Everly and then gathered around for story time. The Princess and The Pea book version that Everly and I usually read is really short and to the point, but while searching around on Amazon, I found a Princess and the Pea story that had awesome reviews and gorgeous photos (here). I bought it, thinking it would be great to read at her party. Turns out it was WAY to wordy for the group and one by one, the girls wandered off to play during the story.
About four pages in, I was cracking up that there was only one little girl and all of the moms paying attention, so I paraphrased the rest of the book as quickly as possible. They all cheered loudly as I said, “THE END!!”
My friend Amaree is a beautiful violinist. She is the reason that Everly has become smitten with the instrument. Amaree graciously agreed to play a few “royal ball” songs for the group and that had Everly scurring off to get her own violin so that she could play along. It was the cutest thing to have Am playing these beautiful classical songs while Everly’s little violin was scratching along next to her. At the end of the performance, both girls took a bow.
One group picture before the fun ended. I think the moms had as much fun as the girls! We sent each little princess home with a goody bag full of jewels, a tiara pen, and a scented lip smackers chapstick.
We continued the party later that evening, with a big pot of chili and tea party leftovers with family.
The next morning Everly draped herself across my legs and looked up at me. “Mama,” she said, “yesterday was the best day of my life.”
While all the princess party decor was fun, I know the real reason for her joy was being surrounded by so many people that love her. What a wonderful day to celebrate our sweet girl.
Happy Birthday Everly Veda!
I am way late in blogging about our Christmas, but with all this glorious time off, I’ve found it harder than ever to sit down in front of the computer. As I write this, it is Sunday night and tomorrow marks my first day back at work since the day before Christmas eve.
Our list of places to be over Christmas was extensive. Brent and I both come from divorced families so there are a lot of stops to make so that we can have Christmas with each of our parents plus our extended families.
We were thrown a curve ball this year when the kids were diagnosed with RSV the day before Christmas eve. It was a nasty virus with both children running fevers for five days and terrible coughing fits that would wake them up at night and caused Everly to throw up. It pretty much shut us down over Christmas. We didn’t go to Christmas eve church service, or the live nativty or to see the Gainers at the annual Chicken and Waffles brunch on Christmas day. We had to cancel or postpone visits with family and so we spent several days nestled in at the house and making the most of our quarantine.
But not even a respiratory virus could put a damper on the kid’s excitement over Santa’s visit. We put out cookies and milk and for the first time, tucked both kids into the same bed to fall asleep. When my brother and I were small kids, we always slept in the same bed on Christmas eve. We would stay up until late at night chatting quietly with anticipation and excitement. Even when we became teenagers, Wayne would sleep on the floor of my room so that we could continue the tradition. I sort of hope that Everly and Arlo might do the same as they grow up.
Everly had a few specific requests from Santa this year: A pink violin topped her list, followed by an American Girl doll and “lots of shoes”. Santa and I decided Everly was still a little young for an America Girl doll - they are expensive and she’s not entirely out of the “strip all her baby dolls naked and occasional give them a crayon face makeover” stage. So Santa picked out this much less expensive baby doll instead and Everly was just as happy with her on Christmas morning.
Arlo really wanted a bigger, balance bike. He loved his Chillafish Bunzi so much last year, Santa bought him the bigger, BMXie from the same brand this year. It was a huge hit! He also got a robot, a super hero costume and a new play helmet (he’d been wearing his bike helmet as part of his “motorcycle man” costume for months)
After a rough night of coughing, they both slept later than usual. I had time to get up, put on water for coffee, turn on the Christmas lights and some Christmas music before they started to stir. Is there anything more joyful than the excited faces of children on Christmas morning? I think it surely must top the list.
This is a bit blurry, but I was impressed with how seriously Everly has taken this whole violin business. She carefully places it in and out of its case and loves to carry it around on her back. Seeing the way she has treated her violin has convinced me that maybe she is on her way to being ready for a fancy babydoll after all.
Policeman Arlo patrolled the house all morning.
While the screech of a violin is certainly one that takes some getting use to, she has taken it out several times each day to “play” it. My friend Amaree is going to work with Everly on holding it appropriately and learning how to draw the bow across the strings.
Putting on all her pink at once. New boots, New dress, New Violin.
After presents, I cooked a mini brunch for our family of four. It was a quiet Christmas day, but we came to realize that the silver lining was in the slowing down of everything. There was no where to rush off to and so we spent the entire day just playing with new toys and eating well and relaxing.
That was a theme over and over for us in 2013. Let go. Give up control and just embrace the circumstances for what they are. It was a hard lesson to learn sometimes, (especially for me) but here we are, entering a new year feeling more versatile and fluid than the one before. I think in the long run, that lesson was probably my greatest Christmas gift.