Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tantrum of the day

It's always nice to start the morning with a steaming hot cup of tantrum, don't you think?

Danny's latest repetitive request is to "look." This morning, he pulled a step stool up to the counter so he could "look" at me cutting fruit for breakfast. No problem. I put the fruit in a cup for him to take to the table. I strapped him in his booster seat and then began cutting more fruit for us. I brought him the fruit in a cup.

That was a problem.

He screamed several times "Look ... get down" before dissolving into hysterics. He then quietly handed me the fruit piece by piece and said calmly "put back." I took it back to the cutting board. He began screaming at me to "look." I got him down and let him hand me more pieces of fruit to cut. Apparently he needs to watch me cut EVERY piece of fruit he eats.

I live with a schizophrenic toddler (or is that phrase redundant?).

By the way, the baby is doing great. Since she's not the squeakiest wheel in this house, I'm not writing much about her. Here are some photos.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Danny Do'gain and the terrible tantrums

At the park yesterday, I watched several mommies of younger, more compliant children, and thought, "I miss those days." And then, of course, I cackled (on the inside) because they have no idea that their sweet little baby will soon turn into a demon-possessed toddler.

We've noticed a marked increase in the duration, intensity and volume of Danny's tantrums in the past week. The trigger can be anything from a desperate need for grapes RIGHT NOW to his reluctance to nap, come inside for dinner, leave the park, go to bed or just do anything that's not his idea. We had been ignoring his tantrums and carrying on with whatever action he's protesting. Now he comes after us, hurling himself at cabinets and onto the floor, wrapping himself around my legs or trying to hit me, screaming and spitting at us.

These days, even bedtime has become a battle. This used to be the easiest part of the day. He would collect Dennis the monkey and blankie, plunk his smoothie cup in the sink and we would all go upstairs as a family and say good night to God. Now he hurls himself at the television when Curious George ends. He's figured out how to turn the TV and the tuner back on. He alternately screams and dawdles. Once upstairs, the whining begins - water, that special matchbox, a round of do 'gains. After tucking him in, all is quiet for a few minutes. Then we hear chirping, yelping, barking, screaming and banging on doors and the gate for the next half hour. Luckily, he hasn't figured out how to climb over the gate ... yet.

I usually stay far away from people with this level of emotional intensity, so being in close proximity to this is more than a little jarring. I'm torn between whether I should ignore this behavior or help him deal with his torrent of emotions. I did remember and employ a technique today in the battle against do 'gain. There's really no telling how long this game of "do it again" with a toddler can last. I don't have the time or energy to find out. So instead of refilling his watering can again and risking him drowning our plants or a meltdown for refusing the request, I told him to pretend and made water pouring sounds. It actually worked.

Today has been a rare good day, which means that I've been different not that he's been any better behaved. And that's what I always come back to. I'm the adult here and the one who (usually) has capacity to modify my approach to meet conditions on the ground. That doesn't mean that we let him run all over us. The rules are the rules, bedtime is 8:30, grapes are not the only food on the menu and the five minute warning stands, among other frequent battles. But if I can prevent some tantrums from ever happening, we're all happier.

For now, I'm going to bed. I must sleep to do battle another day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The best and worst

I didn't really feel unemployed until this weekend, when I would normally be working. In a lot of ways, I feel like a kid who has just learned what goes on after he goes to bed at night. It's a whole new world. There are perks and pitfalls. Here are a few:
  • I can actually go to bed before midnight.
  • I no longer have to get dinner ready by 3 in the afternoon.
  • I can actually go to (free) events on weekends.
  • I can have dinner with friends in the evening like we did Saturday.
  • I don't have to go to work exhausted. (I can stay home to do that!)
  • I can do nothing and not have to stop and go to work.
  • I can spend the entire weekend with my family.
My worst fears, though, are that by being a stay-at-home mom for while I may forget to take a shower or brush my teeth and that my husband might start to think I'm June Cleaver and he's Ward. Of course, the lack of personal hygiene and high heels may tip him off.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First week at home

It's been a rough week and the first week in which I'm not alternately looking forward to and dreading going to work. Usually by Fridays, I was ready for a little alone time even I was just going to work. But my return from maternity leave this time was short lived as I had been laid off. The atmosphere there was toxic and oppressive and leaving my children was no longer a break. In fact, Mondays, my first day off, were a period of readjustment for the kids and I. My last day of work was Sunday and this week was no different. I'm eager to see how the kids are next Monday.

I'm getting a lot of practice dealing with the hurricane of emotions that has befallen my 2-year-old lately. We've left the park early twice and a store once this week because of his behavior and the necessity of letting him know that we mean business. Some weeks he's compliant, other weeks, he struggles for control. I do try to be flexible with him, make sure my expectations are reasonable for each situation and take my own mood into account before responding. It is harder to remain calm and fair when I'm exhausted, though. The emotional nature of toddlers is really quite stunning. I can't imagine going from happy to out of control frustration and back again all within five minutes. Watching these mini-Chernobyls 20 times a day makes me tired.

This week, we also started talking about potty training. Monday morning I put him in training pants and told him to tell me when he had to go potty. I took him to the potty once. We read a book, he didn't go and was ready to get down within 10 minutes. Later, as I sat down to nurse Fiona, he told me he was peeing. I tried to get him to bathroom one more time and he freaked out, screaming and saying "Door open," which means he wants the door closed. Obviously, potty training is out of the question for a while. He's way too contrary and I can't give him the amount of attention he needs just yet.

Other Danny developments:
  • Danny has been saying "Thank you, mommy" completely on his own. It just melts my heart.
  • If he wants something, he will tell me the opposite, like "TV off" to indicate that the TV is off, but he wants it on. Understanding this makes it a lot easier to deal with him. Although, the other day, he told me "Mine. Don't touch it mommy" and then handed me his train. I'm still trying to figure that one out.
  • He's learned how to open doors. Today at nap time, he took a while to settle down, but was quiet enough that I could fall asleep, too. I woke up at 3:30 to muffled crying. He had gotten into the bathroom, closed the door, but couldn't open the door from the inside.
  • At bedtime, he's not falling asleep until around 10. Tonight, he was playing his harmonica. One night, he started throwing toys over the gate at the top of the stairs. He's trying to get one of us to come up there. We don't react.
As for Miss Fiona, she hit a growth spurt Wednesday into today. She has nursed almost nonstop for the past 24 hours. She doesn't want me to put her down. She follows me with her eyes and stares at me when I'm not holding her. It's downright creepy. Right now, she's sleeping. And now, I'm going to bed, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One day only, read all about it

For 15 years, I've been muzzled by my job in the news media. Most of you have the luxury of putting a bumper sticker on your car, a cause on your social networking pages or a political sign in your yard. I haven't. I couldn't so much as donate to a political cause or sign a petition.

I've never been inclined to broadcast my views loudly or widely. I want to be free to have my views and live my life and let you do likewise, as long as our views and lifestyle don't infringe on each others' rights. But I haven't been free to even express my views in public. Today, I'm once again free to do so.

Fifteen years is a long time to stay silent. So here are a few things I'd like to get off my chest publicly:

  1. There's nothing to debate about illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants who carry signs saying "I am not a criminal" clearly don't understand the English language. If you broke the law to come here, you're a criminal and the USA should deport you. Hell, even the French are deporting their illegals. This view does not make me a racist and I am not engaging in hate speech.
  2. I support the Constitution and that includes the right to bear arms. There will be no freedom in a country where the only people with guns are the authorities and the criminals. In fact, if guns are restricted to use by the state, then we would all be criminals just for owning a gun. This does not make me a right wing extremist or a gun nut. I don't even own a gun ... yet.
  3. Too many people, businesses and institutions in this country rely on the government for their survival. Much of what the government does today was once taken care of by the community, churches, states or the free market. I'm not a fool or a dreamer to believe we can get back to that. My desire to return to smaller government does not make me a selfish, hateful, uncharitable person or a right wing extremist.
  4. Diversity extends beyond ethnicity and lifestyle choices. It extends to political and religious views that you may not agree with, too. If you want me to respect your political or religious views or lifestyle, don't label my views hate speech and me a racist.
  5. I believe abortion ends a baby's life and it makes me extremely sad that some women feel they have no other options. Someone or something has failed these women. We can do better. If you think this statement is judgmental, that's your problem. This does not make me a right wing extremist.
  6. Drugs should be legal. Not everyone who does drugs is an addict. But those who become addicts should be treated as sick people who need help and not as criminals. The war on drugs has ruined more lives than the drugs themselves.

I was going to reveal my vote for the last election, but I remember that my parents wouldn't even tell us who they voted for (though I'm pretty sure it was Reagan). Some things should just stay private. I wonder how much more civil the political discourse in this country would be if we were more tight lipped about our votes.

Of course, now that I'm free to express these views, Homeland Security could very well show up on my doorstep and brand me a terrorist threat.

Monday, April 20, 2009

For everything there is a season

They say confession is good for the soul. And confess I must, even if it is to the few who read this blog. Not only did I leave my job for the last time last night, I intend to step off this career path and wander for a while. So here's my confession: I do this without any of the anxiety that many working mothers feel about losing their identity in the world.

You see, I never really wanted to be a career woman. I did what was expected, though, and got that college degree, chose a career and got busy. But, truth be told, I always wanted to be precisely where scores of women decided they didn't want to be all those years ago: at home. Today and to me, it seems horribly short-sighted of them to have compared apples (men) to oranges (women) and then decide they wanted to be apples. Nearly 40 years later, I'd rather be an orange. And, leaving my so-called career last night, the only bitterness I hold is that one generation's clarion call became my generation's cross to bear.

Today, I and other women are imprisoned by the unintended consequences of the very movement that aimed to break women from bondage. Yet some of us didn't feel like our home was a prison with the children and husband as the wardens. Society now expects me to want to "have it all" when I'd rather be with my children full time. Society now makes it difficult financially for families to choose to have a parent at home. Please don't mistake my feelings for a problem that needs to be solved by the government. The last thing I, and likely other libertarian-minded mothers, want is for the government to craft an inane "solution."

Will I work at outside the home again? Probably. If it's sooner rather than later, it will be out of sheer financial necessity. If later, it will likely be a more well-thought out reentry that fits a job around my family; not the other way around.

What I truly wish, though, is that women had the wisdom all those years ago to understand that, in the words of Ecclesiastes, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." We live our lives in seasons and are meant to enjoy each one in the present. My season of all-consuming motherhood is so very short relative to my entire life and, for now, this is my identity.

Friday, April 17, 2009

From shameful to shameless

There are some quirks that will probably never leave me when I leave the news business next week. I'll always prefer reading copy in a narrow, column format. And I'll probably always call what I read "copy." I'll always stop reading and find a pen whenever there is a grammar, spelling or punctuation error. I'll always "edit" my words before speaking and mentally correct grammar in every conversation. I'll always use the shortest word available; you will never hear me say "utilize." In fact, some words and phrases will always make me visibly shudder. I'll always want to know more than what's written in a news story, too, just because I know the information is out there. I'll always be grateful for learning how to ask the right question to get what I want.

Unfortunately, what I'll also hold on to is the notion that promoting an idea is somehow shameful. In college journalism classes, you learn that your job is to present the facts and leave the readers to draw their own conclusion. This is quite the stumbling block when you suddenly have to present your case to a prospective employer or client. How to get from shameful to shameless, and still respect myself, is a dilemma. Shameless is most often used to convey that someone is a conceited donkey rather than a person who just isn't ashamed of themselves or whatever idea she espouses. I do think of my resume as if it were a news story about my career - a just-the-facts accounting that should speak for itself. As an editor, my belief has always been that fewer words often make the biggest impact. So how do I promote myself without seeming conceited?

Recently, I read an article from a professional group on tactics for shameless self promotion at work. Most of the advice I'd heard before. One bit that I hadn't heard is right up my ally. It said to develop an elevator speech - two to three sentences that communicate who you are and what you can do. Bingo. To me this is like Sudoku but with words - challenging but fun. At least it's a starting point.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thank God it's Monday

There was a time when only grand-scale human tragedy tugged at my heart. Years of working in the news industry had desensitized me to all but the most heinous of crimes and stunning of natural disasters. September 11th mentally unglued me. Hurricane Katrina and the south Asian tsunami floored me. The stress of such events left me in tears on my way home from work most nights. Smaller, every day tragedies - the random and not-so-random violence - just didn't grab me.

Now I come home from work on Sunday nights with a heavy heart that aches from the having to read about the deaths, abuse and neglect of mother's children everywhere. Monday mornings I often just lose myself in my children, sit on the floor for hours playing trains and blocks with my son, nursing and talking to my little girl. You see, now that I'm a mother, I tend to see all people, from one to 99, as someone's child - a child whose mother once invested all her time, energy and love in them.

These days, much of what constitutes news seems to be voyeuristic and macabre. But just because information is public doesn't mean it needs to be broadcast widely. Does the entire nation need to know every last detail about the death of a child at the hands of a family member or acquaintance? If the perpetrator has been caught, if the crime isn't random, if there's no danger to the community, if there's no underlying issue that needs addressing, do we really need all the gory details? Have we become so desensitized that we can ingest a steady diet of this stuff? Or, worse yet, do we crave the horror because it's the only thing we can really feel?

I'll be relieved when I don't have to pay attention to such things. At work, I try not to read stories about children or anyone being hurt. That's pretty hard to avoid some nights. But after this Sunday night, when I'm free of the news business, I can reset my filters. It's not that I want to stick my head in the sand. I just want to tune out the horror completely for a while so I can believe, maybe for the first time in my life, that the world is not a sad, terrifying, violent, soul-swallowing place. And for raising two children I need to rediscover the good in the world for their sake.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Halfway to a crawl

Fiona has hit another growth spurt, we think. Either that or she's just freaked out that her mommy is working all weekend. On Monday, she nursed all day long it seemed. And by that I mean from around midnight when I got home to 10 o'clock last night. It's on these days I wonder why I bother putting on a shirt at all. She didn't even take a nap. She just didn't want me to sneak way, I guess.

Last night she finally slept. I got seven hours out of her; that's in the normal range. We get anywhere from five to seven hours in the first overnight stretch, three to four in the second. Today, she did take a nap. But what I often fail to realize or just plain forget in the blur of activity here is to give her some time outside of her car seat or my arms or lap or her swing to move around. When I do that, she's one happy camper. Today, I put her on her tummy and propped her elbows up under her. She absolutely loved it. She watched Danny and I play blocks. Then later, she watched him play trains.

Right now, she's trying to sit up in her car seat. Gotta go.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Beyond the bunny

Christian-turned-consumer holidays make me cringe. President Obama may be right. We're not really a Christian nation. What we are is a nation of consumers who use Christianity as an excuse for mass consumption on the religion's most holy days.

As Danny gets older, holidays get trickier. I don't know how to balance the true meaning of the holiday with those seemingly shallow and meaningless activities that actually make up most of my and my husband's childhood memories surrounding Easter and Christmas. One day soon, our son will ask to color and hide eggs and want an Easter basket full of candy and toys. Until that day, we find ourselves wondering which traditions to introduce and which ones can wait until peer pressure foists them on us.

All last week, we danced around the issue of buying Easter paraphernalia. One of us would mention it and the other would sheepishly say something like "Why do we even hide eggs and candy?" Jim went up to the attic to see if we had any leftover Easter gear. He found two baskets and one plastic egg. Good enough. Friday morning, I hard boiled some eggs and let Danny paint them, mostly just as a fun activity. We went to Target on Friday night to scope out what was left. The shelves were pretty bare. We walked out with a few packages of our favorite candies and left it at that.

Our Easter morning was pretty low key. We went to Duke Gardens, where Danny fell into a pond. Jim caught him just in time and Danny seemed pretty unfazed by the whole ordeal. We had a nice lunch of ham, asparagus and sweet potato casserole, which Danny called "cake." Then Jim hid a few pieces of candy around the house, gave him a basket and told him to find the candy. He was delighted, but the whole hunt took all of five minutes. Seems like this would be more interesting for him with lots of other kids around, like his cousins in Maryland.

The whole experience leaves me uneasy, though. I'm uncomfortable introducing a holiday's commercial aspect before its sacred meaning. The Easter bunny story just seems so incongruant with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I'm more interested in what's real. Sure, it may seem like I'm being a killjoy and some would say my son could miss out on the essential experiences of childhood if I don't bow to the consumer gods. But I know better. What happens under our roof every day is what's real. My son wakes up with joy, real joy, in his heart every morning when he comes into our room, chatting away and looking for his baby sister and his mommy and daddy. I don't think the Easter bunny can enhance that joy, do you? For me, buying into the Easter bunny story merely cheapens Jesus's gift, the one that makes our daily joy possible. No gift on earth will ever compare to that. Ever.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Multi-tasking just ain't his thang.

REPORTER: Can we get a quick reaction to the pirates, the Somali pirates?
OBAMA: Guys, we're talking about housing right now.

Um, isn't this the same guy who criticized McCain for suspending his campaign to deal with the economic crisis as it unfolded last fall? I believe his exact response was:

"It is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once."

Don't believe me? Here's the link.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Gardening on faith and little sleep

I have planted a vegetable garden each of the five summers we've lived in our home. Looking back it's obvious that each year I've gotten a bit savvier about gardening. I learn new tricks, fertilize, prepare the soil and plan a little more each year. That doesn't stop me from having my annual garden freak out. I wonder, Did I get a bad packet of seeds? Did the birds steal my seeds or some cat poop in my soil? Do they need more water? Less water? Did I plant enough corn to cross pollinate? Is my soil too poor for my seeds? Will the time and money invested be equal to or less than what I would spend on produce? When, oh, when am I going to see any progress here?

All this and it's been only five days since I plopped seeds in the ground.

Adding to my anxiety are a dog and a toddler who like to dig holes in my raised bed. Being severely sleep deprived isn't helping either. This year, I fear, my poor plants may not stand a chance. And if we had to live on what I grow, we'd probably starve.

Last summer, Danny was around 18 months old and walking around in my garden, shaking leaves, snacking on green tomatoes and green peppers. This year, he's interested in doing everything that I do, exactly the way I do it and without my help. Today he helped plant seeds in the garden. We did peas, spinach, squash and zucchini. (All this was accomplished as Fiona slept in her car seat.) I put some seeds in, covered them, and patted the soil. Danny did the same and reached for more seeds, saying “Try it again, mommy.” Later, we watered. As he wielded the watering can and I tried to guide him, he told me “Don't touch it mommy.” He wants to do it himself.

Last year, he was marginally interested in the bugs, worms, birds and snakes that showed up. Today, he greeted a few worms (“Hi wormy”) and picked up a dead snake we found. And he often points out the robins that show up, saying “Robin red breast.”

My challenge in the next few weeks is to keep the little garden Godzilla from trampling on my beds before the plants are hearty enough to take it. That is, if the seeds come up at all.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sibling harmony

How laid back is Miss Fiona?

Her big brother poured cold water on her this afternoon and she didn't utter a sound. I turned around and she was soaked and grinning at him. The two of them are starting to form a special bond already. And her reaction to his impishness makes me think she'll be a willing participant later rather than the tattletale. In short, they're probably going to gang up on me.

Fiona is quite amused with Danny. She smiles when she sees him. This afternoon, he sat by her car seat and let her "kick" him in the head. He giggled hysterically, she gave him a wide grin. She even lets him stick a pacifier in her mouth.

I know most moms will say that they don't care whether they have a boy or a girl. Well, I'm not most moms or maybe I'm just more honest than most moms. When I first got pregnant, I had hoped for another little boy. Every boy should have a brother, I thought; just like every girl should have a sister.

Now that we have a girl, I do wonder what their relationship will be like. Will he be protective of her like so many older brothers are? Will they be best friends like my sister and I are? Will he confide in her like I confide in my sister? My own brothers are five and seven years younger than me. I'm close to and protective of them, but the relationship with my sister is different, beyond what words can even express. I want Fiona to have that, especially since there's no way I could ever supply her with that level of friendship. And while I can't speak to the relationship between brothers, there must be a similarly deep level of friendship to which no other relationship compares. I want Danny to have that, too.

Jim once said that holding out for a girl was how most of the Meehans ended up with six kids. Now that we have a girl, we could well end up with six kids just trying to set them each up with a same-sex sibling. I've always felt, though, that the very best gift my parents ever gave us was devoting the time and energy to raising multiple children to ensure that we would always have each other.

Of course, after today (see previous post), more than two children seems like a crazy idea. But tomorrow they'll be angels and I'll start daydreaming about having another one. That's how they get you ...

Scarred for life ... or maybe just the next few months

Danny's ankle didn't seem to be getting any better. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse. He was limping more whenever he was tired or had been playing hard. So on Sunday morning, I took him to the doctor's office and she ordered an x-ray which we got this morning. He's fine physically, no fracture or break, but mentally he may be scarred for a while. I may not be able to darken the door of a doctor's office until his third birthday - for his sake and mine.

He screamed and cried at the doctor's office on Sunday morning, especially when the nurse closed the exam room door. On the way home, I bought him some french fries to soothe the trauma. I talked to him yesterday and this morning about going to see a doctor who would take a picture of his ankle with a special camera. We walked into the room, he looked up at the camera and he seemed impressed, not freaked out. As soon as we put him on the table, the fireworks began. He cried and screamed for "Mommy" the whole time despite never being more than a foot from me. When she was done, the radiologist brought over a box of tissues. I wiped my eyes and then his.

Later, when the radiologist delivered the good news, Danny smiled at her and happily showed her his sippy cup. At least he doesn't hold a grudge.