Thursday, February 28, 2008

Responses on Trenches

Wow--I’m amazed at the negative responses to yesterday’s post. You felt much more negatively about it than I did. So here’s some update and clarification:

On Misery
Okay, I did say several times in my post that misery was felt by all. My point is that the immediate aftermath of addressing the problem is misery. Like when someone is sad in time-out. But then, lessons are learned, new behaviors emerge, and everyone is much happier. In the real world of parenting, bad habits do creep up. A bad parent would continue to just deal with the bad behavior whack-a-mole style and be frustrated by it--like nag Logan again, every day to brush his teeth. In my view, a good parent sets up a system to teach and change the bad behavior, with short-term misery and long-term happiness.

Lazy way: Nag, get frustrated, holler at kids. Unwanted behavior will continue.
Harder way: Get in front of the problem. Make a plan. Brainstorm and problem-solve with child. Establish consequences, good and bad. Stand at the ready to deliver said consequences no matter what. After short-term hassle, good behaviors emerge and everyone is happier.

In short, I hate giving my kids negative consequences. But I gird up my loins and do it for everyone's long-term benefit.

On Love and Logic
I feel yesterday’s retrenchment is quite in line with Love and Logic. I shifted responsibility to the kids and offered positive and negative consequences for whichever choices they made. Which, again, though painful at first, is liberating for Mom and instructive for kids.

Here’s a little case in point from a conversation last night when Logan was looking at his list of responsibilities he must henceforth complete without prompting from Mom:

Logan [looking at one item on list]: Uh-uh. I don’t do that. No way.

Mom: Okay. Then you know what the consequence will be.

Logan: Urgh! [pause] Okay. [pause to compose retort] But you can’t expect me to just do everything all of the sudden, I mean, there’s no way to remember...

Mom: The list is right there.

The beauty here is that I’m neutral. Logan can choose to comply or not. Of course I want him to choose the right, but I won’t interfere with his choice. I’ll allow him to choose the wrong if that’s what it takes for him to learn (and for him, that is generally what it takes). And I’ll be there to administer the appropriate consequence, good or bad.

On Negativity
Like Mark (this is my brother, not my husband), I get impatient with blogs wherein Moms wallow in complaints and go on and on about the darker side of parenting. On the other hand, let's get real. Besides, there's a difference between complaining and describing how one works to address problems.

Anyway, maybe I should take the opportunity to tell you how much I love my kids. To me, light just shines from their glorious selves. And it's that love that gives me the energy to absorb their frustration without dishing it back, to let them hate me for a minute so they can learn and grow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Retrenchment, or In the Trenches Again

Every so often in parenting, it goes like this: A child manifests some new misbehavior due to a new developmental stage or obnoxious phase or just the slow attrition of once-established routines and limits. And I must step in, with force and vigor and determination, to beat back the advancing sloth or rudeness or whatever.

Today, I’m fighting such a battle on two fronts, namely, Logan and Levi.

Levi has decided he hates chores, work, and being bossed around. So suddenly he occasionally--or, as time goes on, frequently--mutinies. Just refuses to, say, put on his Sunday clothes, wash his hands when asked, pick up his toys, put on his shoes for school. And today I decided was the time to take action. He mutinied before school and threw a fit rather than dress himself. I ended up carrying him screaming out to the car. Consequence: No movie during quiet time. Much screaming, complaining, and wheedling ensued. And quiet time is my work time, so I ended up proofreading resumes while Levi ran old bills through the shredder next to me--not the best working conditions. In short, everyone was miserable because I didn’t let Levi watch his movie. But I resolved to be unshakable and--this is important--calm and matter-of-fact.

Later in the afternoon he was asked to pick up a bucket of toys he had dumped on the floor. He refused. Consequence: Time Out. He came out of time-out before his timer had rung. Consequence: Fresh clock on the time-out. Repeat four times. During this process, Jesse woke up wanting some snuggle time with Mom. Instead I’m lugging Levi back to time-out--again. And again, everyone is miserable. But I resolved to be steadfast and serene.

Logan, I realized, has succeeded in gradually shifting all his responsibilities to me. He doesn’t get ready for school until I’ve reminded and prompted him numerous times, and then when he does, it’s with muttering and murmuring. Ditto for homework, chores, guitar practice--in short, everything other than play, TV, or computer. So I sat him down with a list of all his daily responsibilities, from eating breakfast to putting on PJs. I informed him that I would no longer provide any reminders. The privilege for completing these tasks sans lip would be his accustomed TV, computer, and friends schedule. The consequence for not completing them or inflicting mouthiness upon me would be revocation of said privileges. He cried bitter tears. He outlined my flaws as a parent. We were all, indeed, miserable. Furthermore, he declined my offers to figure out a schedule wherein not only would he fulfill all his responsibilities but would accomplish them so efficiently he would have extra free time. So without a doubt he’ll fail tomorrow, he’ll end up grounded, and we’ll all be miserable because he’s here and unhappy rather than at a friend’s house and cheerful.

Now I’m off to recharge with an episode of Law & Order and an icy glass of Fresca. Pray that I’ll face tomorrow with a fresh store of determination, patience, and soft answers. And pray for the power of the learning process--even when it involves failure and punishment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eating Issues

This morning I came downstairs a few minutes after 7:00, just like I do most every weekday morning. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, Haley was sitting at the empty kitchen table. She looked up at me and said, “Mom, can I have breakfast?” I heaved a sigh.

A little girl in a flannel nightie asks for breakfast. Not a bad way to start one’s morning, right? Grrr. Our morning routine is pretty solid: After scripture study and prayer, Mark or I serves Haley breakfast. In fact, we do it every morning without fail. And yet our little Haley doesn’t trust that breakfast--or lunch, or dinner--will occur without extra prompting from her. On a regular basis she says things like: “Mom, are we having lunch today?” or “Mom, are you making dinner?” When we sit down to dinner and Mark and I begin serving food around the table, Haley is on pins and needles, she watches with eagle eyes each spoonful served onto each plate. And though she can see us passing food liberally all around, she can’t help but asking, “Can I have some?” And since it has happened, now, hundreds of times, I’m afraid I find it very irritating.

Yesterday before church (we’re on the 11 to 2 schedule--when are you supposed to eat?) I called, “Everyone come for a snack!” The boys trotted in, seated themselves around the bar and table, and nonchalantly continued their conversations while I began distributing graham crackers. I looked up from my rounds to see Haley’s black eyes following me intently. I could read the tension in them--and the question: “Will I get one?” Of course you’ll get one, crazy girl! Would I ever, have I ever passed out food to everyone else and left you out? Would I ever, have I ever let you go hungry? Would I ever, have I ever just skipped breakfast or lunch or dinner? Our household doesn’t operate like clockwork to be sure, but for every single blessed one of the 760 days she has lived here, we have delivered three meals. The pressure of those black eyes was grating. How many days must pass before she can relax and trust?

We don’t know a lot about the day-to-day life Haley lived as a baby and toddler. We know drugs and mild domestic violence were involved. We know we mother loved her and doted on her--at least sometimes. And from incidents like these, Haley’s persistent anxiety about food, her unceasing vigilance about monitoring who is eating and when, I think we know that in her baby and toddler years she was not at all sure food would appear on cue. Her mother must have forgotten sometimes. Or tried to make up to Haley after the fact by plying her with extra food. Or maybe Haley’s constant worry about physical sustenance is a substitute for a deeper, scarier worry about emotional sustenance. Maybe after shuffling from loving but messed up mom, to loving but over-indulgent aunt, back to mom, then finally to foster mom Haley’s black eyes are watching to see if she’ll get her fair share of the love and attention she sees passed out to everyone else.

“Mom, can I have breakfast?” she asked this morning. I stifled the irritated sigh, tried to keep my voice light and positive. “Of course, Haley. Do you want frosted mini wheats or Grape Nuts?” I set the bowl in front of her and continued feeding Jesse, checking my email, fixing a bowl for myself. Twenty minutes later, I looked over and there sat Haley, her untouched bowl in front of her.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nibbled apples, but no black cloud

Today starts another dissertation blitz weekend. Mark left for work this morning at 6:00 and he'll return tomorrow around dinnertime. This is the weekend I get after a long week of sick children and craziness at work.

As a compensatory treat, I hired a young woman to come do housework. She cleaned all the bathrooms and vacuumed all the floors. So this afternoon I'm just revelling in a house that's mostly clean, all at the same time. No stinky surprise behind the bathroom door. No annoying black cloud of encroaching slime. I can enjoy the children in peace. By foisting off some of the consuming and draining drudgery, I can focus more on good mothering. Last time she came, the kids and I all sprawled across my bed while I read them a chapter from A Wrinkle in Time.

Today I step across an expanse of clean floor in each room. Aaahhh!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Kept House

I wrote this poem soon after we bought our first house, in Mesa, Arizona. I think it reflects my feelings about living in and taking care of a place that, for the first time, was mine. It's a little...uh...something, so don't freak out.

A Kept House


I try not to go too long between times.
I know I should do it more, but I can only manage so much.
Sometimes I get tired, I’m so busy.

Mostly I like it.
I like how I feel afterwards.

Sometimes just a quickie is all I can manage.
Other times I take it slow, don’t worry about getting through.

Here’s how I do it—

I go from room to room.
I start with the big areas, high up.
Long strokes.
Not too hard, but not flipping the cloth around either.
Firm. A little slow.
I keep special cloths and oils
that I wipe on.

The wide top shelf
The faces of the cupboards
The ridges down the back of the piano
The spines of books

Think of it this way:

The house and everything in it, they say something about you.
They perform a service.
So now you take care of them.
Pride in ownership.
Protecting your investments.
Your part of the bargain.
Your sphere.

I anoint each precious object.
It’s mine and I touch every part of it.

I move down—
always go top to bottom—
The keyboard, in its ridges
The bottom lip of the picture frame
The curves of the rocker

Then I get into the hidden parts.
The places other people don’t even know are there,
but I do see.
Inside the window ledge
The back side of the blind
Under the vase
Lightswitches and handles and drawer pulls

You have to know the right spots, where the dust collects, where you need it most.

It used to be awkward—
where to start,
how hard to rub.
Now we have a routine.
The rhythm can carry me along even if I’m not paying attention, but I try to anyway.
It’s better that way.
Now I know crevices and folds that no one else does.
The crook behind the door
The crease between wall and lintel
The line
across the mantel

I slide my finger down the groove of the windowsill.
I own it clean.
Now it’s mine.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Squirrels and birds

Three years ago when Levi was two-and-a-half and his first foster sister was one week younger, Mark started calling them squirrels. They did scamper about underfoot making mischief in squirelly ways. Now we can Levi and Haley "the squirrels," though it really doesn't fit now that they've stretched out into lankier preschoolers.

The other day at lunch, Mark and I looked up to see this scene. The other barstools were occupied, so the squirrels improvised, perching like little birds. We pointed out that there were plenty of seats available at the table, but there they stayed throughout their meal.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Parenting Digest

This study from Notre Dame indicates that our children are happy to learn about our religion from us, if we'll only tell them about it.

In our culture, talking about religion is so gauche, worse than talking about money or s*x or gross physical ailments. But unless we do make our religious feelings clear, we'll be drowned out by stronger competing voices.

This one from a BYU study says that oldest children get thousands of hours more attention from the parents--and that's not just when they're babies. The study compared children aged 4 to 13, and the attention difference adds up to 20-30 minutes a day.

My heart has really been pricked by this, and I resolve--among other things--to give my second-born more individual attention when he gets home from school.

A friend told me about this next one, so I can't document. She says the study compared adult siblings and found that the greatest predictor of the closeness of their relationships as adults was not how well they got along as children but how much time they spent together as children. So those hours of bickering bear good fruits.

For other studies that support contentious and messy families, see this post.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Our Valentine Playlist

Several years ago, desperation met inspiration, and our Valentine's Day tradition was born. Mark and I couldn't get a babysitter, and all the restaurants would be crammed with couples displaying we stayed in. We bought Norah Jones's first CD and a cartload of treats from Target and made our own appetizer-and-dessert smorgasbord. (We love pretty much anything by Archer Farms.) We put the kids to bed with direr-than-usual warnings and snuggled up on the couch with a movie. It was divine and relaxing and private and just about us.

We've never gone out for Valentine's Day since, and our annual CD has included Barry White (oh my!), Norah Jones II and III, and Allison Krauss.

This year, we're making our own nostalgia-drenched romantic playlist. Here's the list so far. We'd love to hear your suggestions for additions.

"We Belong," Pat Benatar
Because we do.

"I Never Cared for You," Willie Nelson
Mark admires the poetry of this one. Don't miss the irony.

"Come away with Me," Norah Jones
From our first-ever Valentine's at home.

"Turn Me On," Norah Jones
The anthem for all a happily-married housewives.

"Fields of Gold," Sting
We heard Sting sing this one as an opener for The Grateful Dead in Las Vegas.

"The Way I Am," Ingrid Michaelson
A cozy song (the "sweater" song from the Old Navy ads) for cozy relationships.

"Wild Horses," The Sundays
What we really love is the cover done by our friend Brenda.

"These Are Days," 10,000 Maniacs
I think this was once the theme song of Bill Clinton's campaign. But first it was our song. It came out just as Mark and I were getting engaged and it reminded me then of the eternal import of those days.

"Dream a Little Dream, " The Mamas and the Papas
I've always loved this quirky little tune.

"Touch of Gray," The Grateful Dead
We're sure hoping a touch of gray suits us, because things are definitely heading that way.

"Into Your Arms," Lemonheads
Mark knows there are days when into his arms is the only place I want to go.

"Across the Universe," the Beatles
Mark used to serenade me with this one on his guitar.

"Love and Anger," Kate Bush
An overwrought love song based on the overwrought love of Heathcliff and Kathy in Wuthering Heights. It was on the make-out tape Mark and I used when we were dating. (Fortunately, the tape wasn't long and ended with Nirvana's mood-busting "Smells Like Teen Spirit.")

"Sweet Jane," Cowboy Junkies
How mel-LOW can you go?

"Nothing At All," Alison Krauss
Great for kitchen dances, which we've started losing the habit of.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slices of Life

After weeks of piling snow and bitter cold, yesterday was a balmy 45 degrees. We frolicked in the yard like it was spring, never mind all the mud. Little Jesse was ecstatic-- he probably can't remember ever being allowed to just toodle around the yard.

The other day I walked down the stairs and noti ced this little pile of Kix in the corner next to the piano. Why? Who? When Jesse noticed me crouching down to take this picture, he rushed over to pop a few in his mouth.

For Family Home Evening last week, we cut and rearranged faces in the conference Ensign GA list. To the right you see the homework cubbies. Haley through Roscoe has a cubby for homework, handouts, and supplies. In the middle you see my supplies for planning this week's Primary Sharing Time, including my scriptures. (I saw an article about Mitt Romney reading Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, presumably, the author thought, when he didn't have ready access to the Book of Mormon. The author apparently doesn't know that Mormons always have ready access to the Book of Mormon. We keep copies everywhere. Mitt Romney probably has it on his person on his Blackberry at all times.)

Levi and a cute neighborhood buddy watch afternoon PBS from a sea of Imaginext and Bionicles. (Look, two copies of the Book of Mormon, left over from morning scripture study, lie on the floor next to the blue toy bucket.) I think my children live very happy little lives.

Roscoe got up at 3:30 this morning to go to the temple. At 4:00 he came upstairs in his suit to give me a kiss goodbye. By 7:10 he was back out the door to school in his typical hoodie-and-jeans uniform. When he gets home this afternoon at 3:15, he'll have already devised a plan for completing homework, piano practice, and computer time, which plan he'll begin executing immediately. He'll begin his chores before I announce choretime, and he'll be nagging me to take him to Scouts by 6:45.

Logan's guitar teacher told him to set a simple song to music. Logan was too embarrassed to perform his rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for the camera, so here he's just hamming it up.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Meet Brenda

Our beloved college friend Brenda recently started a blog in and this post she shows why Mark and I have always kinda wished we were in the Andrus family. (Also, you can spend an entire happy day listening to the soundtrack from Brenda's blog.) Brenda's daily devotional is such a great way to keep gospel teaching at the forefront.

With little Haley knowing very little about the gospel and Roscoe ready for more advanced doctrine, gospel study in our house has become a bit complex. One thing that's been working for us is little lunchtime scripture stories. Lunchtime is a good time to focus on the little kids while the big kids are away. While they sit at the bar munching on pb&j, I:

* Tell a story about Jesus, with lots of dramatic pauses and hammy dramatics: "And then guess what happened?... There was a BIG STORM!" [We widen our eyes and gasp at each other.]

* Whip out a picture from the Gospel Art Picture Kit, which every Mormon family should have, and just talk about it. Each picture has a little cheat sheet on the back should you get fuzzy on the details yourself.

* Let the kids choose one of the Book of Mormon action figures. Then we talk about that person and what they did.

I've also really been enjoying doing the Friend's Book of Mormon challenge with Levi and Haley. When they're in bed, I come sit on the floor and read for a while, slowly, with lots of emphasis: "Laman and Lemuel...murmured." [We shake our heads sadly at each other.]

But really the most challenging part of teaching children the gospel is living the gospel, being the gospel. I'm a bit obsessive about nourishing myself with sufficient sleep and exercise and a bit of evening relaxation, but it's all because every day I'm trying to be a bit more than I really am. To have enough peace and light inside me that it pours out on the kids, so even discipline is filled with love. To draw on the wisdom of the Master to know how to balance love and limits, justice and mercy, and to discern the underlying needs behind the kids' behavior. To be strongly enough centered on Christ that there I can stay even when fits rage, tempers flare, schedules collide, bread burns, and husband leaves.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Joy of Sloth

I've been wanting to write this post about sloth since Sunday--so what does it say about my relationship with sloth that I just haven't had the time? A week ago Sunday I was just sick enough to stay home from church. I got the kids ready, Mark picked them up, and I went to bed--where I stayed basically all day long. It was fabulous. I slept and read, and that's about it. The last time I did anything like that was when I was in the hospital with Jesse.

Photographed (but not focused) by Roscoe.

Then this Sunday for some reason I was hit with the urge to throw a Super Bowl party. So I set out a smorgasbord of chips, veggies, pigs in a blanket, and potato wedges. If someone said, "Can I have some?" I said, "Sure, help yourself." And people helped themselves for the entire four hours of the game. We all sat on the couch in an ever-shifting people pile--for four hours!!

Mark and I decided we're big fans of major sloth in infrequent doses.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"That guy doing Potsie is incredible."

Last night my friend craniac pointed out that kids run their own Ocean-esque gags. Here's a sample:

Floppy Divac
After Vlade Divac, the Serbian NBA player. When a child displays a talent for drawing the foul by creating contention or acting the victim.

Russian Peasant
Craniac's name for when children suddenly are starving to death, typically right at bedtime.

When a small child assumes a stiff, board position, making it nearly impossible for you to hold them.

Chinese Water Torture
When a child attempts to win a parent's consent by wearing them down a parent through sheer volume and repetition of requests.

When a child tries to win favor by acting cute and/or plaintive.

Helen Keller
Acting as if dumb and/or mute in order to ignore parents.