Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mostly parenting babbling

I'm trying something different this morning, my wonderful daughter Shanna is cuddled up next to me on the couch watching Fraggle Rock.  I'm going to see if I can usefully write with her in the room.  I'm not sure.  I feel very self-conscious about how often I cry in the process of writing.  Often I'm sobbing the whole time.  I'm kind of weird about crying around my kids.  I do it sometimes, but I go to great lengths to avoid it because I feel so terrible about my moodiness.  I wish I could manage consistency.  I think the only baseline I could have would be anger.

That is what I am having so much trouble with.  I feel guilty that I will never be able to be a placid, mellow, just happy mom.  That's not an option this lifetime.  I am often happy.  I am sometimes mellow.  But I am also quick to anger.  My anger burns hot.  I get very sad.  I may be one of the only women I know who isn't bothered by the term "hysterical".  Even though I know it has nothing to do with my uterus, I really do get a kind of freaked out that men don't get.  At least not in places I can see.  Sometimes it seems like I am the example of what is wrong with women.  I should try to be more stable.  More like the men in my life and all.  Because the women in my life are more stable than me, but not by much.  I'm sure that's not a nice thing to say.

I've been really enjoying reading Austen novels lately.  That's funny because I avoided them like the plague when I was in college for that English degree.  I'm enjoying seeing how very slow their lives are.  It feels like it is giving me permission to strive for less.  If I want to be a developed and accomplished person I need to have a lot of time spent in my house just improving myself.  If I am running around with too many things I am obliged to get done in a day I will spin my wheels in place and not improve much.  I'll be too angry and frustrated to get the lessons from things I want to get.

Writing with Shanna here is different.  I'm being vague and that's funny because she can't read yet.  I'm not trying to spare her.  If I want Shanna to grow up reading I need to read in front of her.  If I want her to grow up being curious and interested in everything she can reach her hands out and touch I have to be free to walk with her and talk about the things she sees.  I have to be non-distracted enough to focus on her questions.  If I'm busy then I snap at her to leave me alone.  I don't want that to be our relationship.

I want my daughter to be one of the blessed few.  I'm not striving for a "normal" childhood.  I don't think I could create one if I wanted.  But she will grow up in this cocoon of love and acceptance and constant education.  That's why I am drawn to Unschooling.  We really do sit and talk about things happening all day long.  I'm learning how much I know as I talk to her.  I know a great deal more about biology than I would have guessed.  I am thinking about getting a few books so I can learn more.

Now I am in the garage.  Calli called for me after that last paragraph and I spent an hour nursing and cuddling.  I got to sit and think about how weird and defensive I feel right now.  I'm often not sure what I am writing about until I am done.  Randomly: last night I was thanked for writing the post about admiring women.  I was weird and awkward and I almost cried.  But I didn't.  Self control!  I have it!

I don't think I know how to be a mother, exactly.  I'm not sure I know what that means.  But I do know how to talk to my children as if they are humans-in-progress and someday, not that long from now, they will know everything I know and more.  I tell Shanna every day that my job is to teach her everything I can so that she can be any kind of grown up she wants, regardless of my preferences.  I talk to her constantly about how different people have different things they like and she gets to decide how much she will agree with my opinions.  I feel weird about how often she wants to be like me.  It feels like a lot of pressure for me to think hard about why I have the opinions I have.  I don't want her to have opinions based on my ignorance and bigotry.  I don't want her to become an angry person because I am angry.

I feel like there is a certain level of anger that is normal and occasional and everyone gets to have.  I have no idea what that line is because I am often derided for any show of anger about any subject.  There doesn't seem to be a consistent scale.  Or, whatever the scale is, it is also combined with the rule "And you are never to express any anger where any one else can hear you."  I missed the rule if it exists.

I often feel like it is perfectly appropriate for me to be angry, but I should probably max out at seven when I express it and I seem to read to other people as much higher than that.  What am I teaching?  The funny thing is, I don't have much desire to change this behavior pattern of mine for the sake of the relationships I'm missing out on because people are uncomfortable with my anger.  At this stage of my life I really and truly have to just be ok with making people uncomfortable, period.  I don't want to teach my children to do the same thing though.  Or, rather, I want them to be able to make a decision for themselves.  I want them to have an understanding that I may get intensely angry but most people don't and most people dislike it.  They get to have their own lives and figure out if they are angry or not.

Calli is at a different stage of development.  She has grown increasingly cuddly and desirous of physical contact with me.  She is starting to imprint pretty rapidly.  She is absolutely copying my physical movements, facial expressions, and tone of voice.  I have to stop yelling.  I don't actually want to live in a house where yelling happens so quickly and constantly.  That places it on my head.

I'm dealing with a lot of my sources of anger.  I am going to decide by the end of today if I think I am willing to do the books for the business.  The answer is probably.  I would like to have a way to be involved with the community.  The owners and managers would become people I communicated with more.  I would be able to go visit when I wanted.  I was told that it isn't reasonable for me to spend my only off-time doing more dishes.  I feel valued.  Thanks D.

I am figuring out my limits with regards to house cleaning and how I will manage that.  I can't live in a big mess and Shanna was born messy.  When I make sure that Shanna and Calli are the only ones I'm cleaning up after, it's a different conversation.  This is my job.  This is what I am doing with my life.  I am caring for my children.  That means I do have the entire obligation for the tornado.  I'm talking to Shanna about why I clean.  I show her how I do it.  I am increasingly asking her for help.  Often she is told, "I will clean up everything but _________.  If you want to go to the park today, you need to help me clean up."  I work hard at encouraging her to play with one thing at a time and clean it up when you are done.  But that's not how Shanna plays.  When Shanna plays the whole damn house is part of the game and every item of clothing and block and blanket and item of furniture is part of the story.  It's amazing to me that she really and truly has an explanation of what everything is doing.  It's not that she's messy.  She is highly creative.  She needs to interact with a lot of items in order to fill her need to manipulate things.  I'm trying very hard to talk to her about cleaning in a neutral tone of voice.  I only manage when I'm alone.

When I'm not alone I'm angry that the other adults aren't helping and it creeps into my voice.  When I'm alone with the kids I don't expect any one else to be doing anything so I don't have a reason to be upset.  I'm just muddling along doing my job.  I care about doing my job well.  When I worked at Ross Dress for Less as a teenager I was a ridiculously good employee.  I kept my areas spotless and I always covered more area than I was technically assigned.  I knew they weren't giving me enough work because they were assigning work based on how much other people could get done.  I have never been able to tell if I have much more energy and ability to work than other people or if other people are lazy.  I think that most of it is that other people just aren't as invested in (thing of the moment) as I am.  I was told over and over and over, "If you are going to do a job, do it right."  And I consider so many parts of life, and therefore work, not optional.  If it's not optional and you have to do a job right... that means you put 100% of your energy into everything you touch, right?

This is hard to sustain.  I feel like I am deficient as a person if I leave a job half done.  I do it sometimes but I beat myself up for a long time.  I'm learning how to put the housework into categories for myself.  Right now the living room is a disaster.  It looks like it hasn't been cleaned in weeks.  The entire house was completely spotless and I vacuumed and dusted and swept and mopped yesterday.  I just can't get upset.  I have times of the day where I am supposed to get up and clean until the house is clean again.  Then I am supposed to stop at a certain time.  The house always has areas I could be doing more in.  I need to deal with filing again, for example.  Right now I am trying to not worry about those things because I have (deleted future stressful event) coming up.  Lots of feelings.

But it's time to get back to where I was before I dropped my basket.  My kids are getting easier to care for.  Calli is still a baby, but barely.  She's very nearly a kid.  I realized this week that I need to get my sign language books out.  She's not going to match Shanna's early learning curve so I need to teach her more signs.  She wants to learn them but I haven't been modeling them this time.  That is something I should do.  Calli clearly has opinions and wants to communicate.  I haven't been giving her enough scaffolding for being able to do that.  I get the impression that her tantrums would disappear if she could just bloody say what she is thinking.  Development is an interesting thing.

I'm developing an increasing appreciation of having two girls.  I think I would have been the kind of asshole who thought they had boys and girls figured out because they have one of each.  Calli is emerging more by the day and I find her so fascinating.  She moves like me.  By which I mean, she moves like my mother.  I see so much family resemblance in her.  I see my brothers.  I don't remember what my father looked like, not really.  I don't see my sister.  She strongly resembles her biological father.  But Calli has the same skull shape as me.  I have a picture of me at thirteen months up on the wall in the hallway.  Right next to Calli's six week pictures.  It looks like it could be the same kid.

Part of the reason this feels weird is because Shanna has always felt like a mini-me.  But Shanna and Calli don't share any of the things that make Calli feel so very startlingly like me.  It feels like a strange split personality situation.  They each took very different things from me.  Shanna has a lot more of my personality.  Shanna acts like me on my very best days.  She is friendly and empathetic and eager to bring joy to people.  Calli looks and moves like me but is much more reserved.  She is very clearly going to be an introvert.  She's seventeen months old and she needs alone time.  It's funny because I have only started to recognize how clearly I need that as an adult.  So Calli then feels like more a reflection of my moody and difficult days.  That terrifies me.

I have a friend who has a very troubled relationship with her teenage daughter.  I'm terrified.  I'm terrified of how I will manage to get through the next two decades of trying to impersonate a stable and good mother so that my adult children will want to know me.  I don't exactly take that as a given.  When I talk about my fears it's funny how people always say, "Your kids obviously know they are loved."  My mommy does love me.  She just couldn't take care of me.  And when she didn't take care of me she told me it was my fault bad things happened to me.  I'm not afraid of my kids not knowing that I love them.  A lot of the reason that incestuous families are so intense is because there is just so gosh. darn. much. love.  I'm not worried about my children knowing that I love them.  I'm worried about my children only being exposed to age appropriate things.  I'm worried about my children being told that they are to blame for circumstances beyond their control.

My children are bright and curious and indulged in activities that encourage both.  That means they are going to fuck up a lot as they figure out how everything works.  I get to decide what their experience of fucking up is.  Do they grow up learning that perfectionist attitude of: if I ever fail I am a Failure?  I think not.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Kids and grown ups alike.  Shanna broke a glass yesterday.  I can't remember the last time she broke a glass.  I think it has only happened once before.  I didn't yell.  I didn't shame.  I didn't say anything nasty.  I said, "Ah man!  Ok, that's why I ask you not to set your glass on the edge of the table.  Can you look around and see how far the glass shards went?  Don't get off your chair!  I'll get the broom."  Then we talked about what it means that we have broken glass on the floor.  We talked about safe clean up.  We talked about where glasses are supposed to sit on the table.  And she got a hug and a kiss and a hope that I got all the glass shards up because I don't want my sweet girls getting cuts on their feet.  I did it right.  I don't do that every time.

But isn't teaching interactions one of those things I'm supposed to be teaching?  Ok.  So I don't do it right every time.  How badly do I fuck up?  How often?  I don't know.  How badly do I fuck up?  Not very.  Not really.  How often?  Enh, depends on what you mean.  How often do I use a tone of voice I regret?  Daily.  How often do I say something I regret?  That's hard to measure.  It goes in bursts.  I'll have like five of them in two days because I'll feel guilty and off-kilter after the first one.  Then I won't have one for a long time.  How often do I do something I regret?  Very rarely.  I don't spank not because of some crunchy ideal but because I don't think I could use it appropriately as a consistent tool and there are much more effective tools out there.  My big punishment is three minutes of time out.  I lost my temper and kicked things where the kids could see once.  And then I dealt with the consequences.  If it happens again then there can be a reevaluation of my monster status.  Everyone gets to fuck up once.

Right now I feel like I am drowning in my feelings of obligations.  I can't have interactions with people unless I am working to earn them.  I'm not sure exactly what the mechanism of this is for me.  But I sure treat it in-my-head like I am required to always work in exchange for someone tolerating my company.  I must be paying for the effort of dealing with me.  I'll make dinner.  I'll wash your dishes.  I'll do the driving even though you are a single person and this is going to be a nightmare for me with my two kids.

I have friends who have helped me massively.  I now have this huge feeling of guilt.  I have been in this needy phase of life for a few years now and I feel terrible that I require so much help and I can give so little.  I will never discharge this guilt though.  And I don't want to pass it on.  I don't want to feel it.  I feel so much less deserving of help than other people.  Other people don't have to rely on their friends so much.  Other people have families.  My family wouldn't really be able to help me even if they wanted to.  Sure, they could provide "babysitting" but it would be in a neglectful and abusive environment.  No thanks.  I feel so much jealousy and rage that other people have families and I don't. To that end I'm supporting Noah's fledgling efforts to introduce our kids to his family.  They aren't perfect, but they are something.  And they want to love the girls.  I don't want my kids to grow up like me.  I don't want them to grow up knowing that there are all these relatives but none of them have any interest in them.

All these feelings around housework and obligation and love and caring for people and physical limitations and support and abandonment... it's all one big mess.  I'm going to be an asshole for a minute and say that acts of service is probably my primary 'spoken' love language.  Having someone see that I am tired and offer to carry my load?  That is a lot of what lets me feel loved and seen.  I'm not invisible.  Yes, I am happy to do all this work because I love you.  But I need to be coaxed too.  I need to be coddled too.  I am tired too.

Noah spent a while last night laying out his timeline on burdening me.  We talked about how it has gone in the past, how it is currently, and how things will go in the future.  Noah went down a long list of reasons explaining why he thinks he needs to just step up and do a bunch of things right now.  Noah specifically talked about the things I have done for him and why he wants to turn around and help me.  I can't ask for that help.  I can't direct it.  I don't know why.  I know that is a failure on my part.  Noah explained in detail that he has learned over time to notice a variety of signs that my difficulty level is much higher than I am expressing.  On one hand it feels kind of weird being decoded and on the other hand I didn't know how much I was apparently hiding or lying about or something.

Yesterday I found out that one person recognizes that I am past my breaking point and I am going to get help.  In the past week I have made it such that I am not going to be providing much help to anyone but the kids any more.  It feels needlessly extreme, but it seems to be necessary for me.  I can't be one of the modern women who gets everything done for everyone.  I don't want to figure out how to rescue an unproductive day.  I want to revel in days where we spend all day lying in the sun talking about all the things I see.  I talk about plants and clouds and buildings.  I talk about how people behave.  I talk about how things are made.  I talk about metal and plastic and rubber.  I talk about what it means to be responsible.  Unproductive days mean I am too busy enjoying what I am doing.  I can live with that.

I want my daughters to learn that for everything there is a season.  Some day they will work.  I will almost certainly work at some point.  I'll get bored without something to do.  But for now what we are doing is learning together.  I have to spend all the time that I can with my kids learning about the world because there is so much to learn.  How will we get it all done?

I have let Shanna have basically unfettered access to the iPad.  She watches a lot of Fraggle Rock, Thomas, She-Ra and then she has her movies.  She is increasingly playing with games.  She is doing the letter tracing.  She's fascinated with youtube and what she can learn there.  I uhhh don't know how she found nail polish and makeup tutorials, but she has had fun playing with those.  I don't let her have access to youtube on the iPad.  That has to be used with an adult because bad links pop up.  I feel comfortable with this now because she uses it for a variety of things and she is incredibly physically active.  She likes to go on multiple mile walks with me.  I keep telling Calli that iPads are three year old toys.  We'll see how long that goes.

So much is in my head and so much of it I can't write about.  Life is really complicated.  I keep telling myself that everything will be okay in the end.  If it's not okay, it's not the end.

From here on out Noah is the person I have lived with the longest of anyone in my life.  With the exception of Jenny and our other housemate, I don't have contact with anyone I have ever lived with.  Ok, sometimes I run into Tom, but our lives have diverged.  Noah is the only carrier of my story.  Noah is the only one I have to worry about being appropriate for.  Wow.  That's actually an interesting thought.  When I'm having my ambient feelings of guilt for my behavior, Noah is the only one I will really have to worry about.  I have the kids for ~17 more years and then they are adults.

That's a lot more pressure than it seems like.  A specific kind of pressure I don't do well with.  I feel I owe my children a decent childhood.  I brought them into a world they didn't make.  I have obligations to them.  I have a very different relationship with Noah.  I owe him nothing but what I choose to owe him.  Yet in every way that matters I would be a fool to not see Noah as "rescuing" me.  I feel like he took a chance on a stupid gutter kid, and this is how I repay him?  By being needy and whiny and incompetent and angry?  I feel like he is getting a bad deal.  And that makes me feel savagely angry that all I have to give is a bad deal.  I am a bad deal.

I was certainly a bad deal for Sarah.  I failed her.  I need far more help than she can give and I can't help feeling angry about it.  That's not her fault.  That's not something she is actually to blame for.  She's not doing anything wrong.  But I feel it.  And I take it out on her.  And that's wrong.  I am wrong.  I don't know why I need so much help.  It doesn't seem like other mothers I know get even as much help as I get.  They don't seem to fail as often.  They seem to be able to handle getting things done in a lot of different places.  I can't track it.  I need to have my responsibilities all lie pretty close to one source.

There are a lot of things I don't know or understand.  Right now I know that the sun is up and the sky is a beautiful blue.  The clouds are all drifting out of sight.  It's been raining for a few days here.  For once I don't hear a bunch of people whining about rain.  Almost everyone who has commented on the weather has been grateful for it.  I feel like for one storm we are all collectively breathing a sigh of thanks.  We need the rain.  The drought is ongoing.  I hope the clouds come back.  We need more rain.  Besides, when it rains I don't have to go outside and water.  I've made a bunch of progress on the front yard recently.  Now that the rain washed all those obnoxious white rocks clean, I should probably take pictures.  It's looking more like a garden.  I don't know when I will get the playhouse made.  I screwed up billpay and we had some unexpected expenses.  The house part of the budget is overspent for many months.  I'm sad about that.  Oh well.  It just means I have more time to dream about it.  My kids are getting the house and yard I would have enjoyed growing up in.  I hope they like the experience.  I'm trying to not be oppressive about it.

Time to go inside.


  1. To focus on a tiny bit of that -
    It sounds like you might teach your girls the thing I wish most I'd had modeling for: how to fuck up and keep going.
    I grew up being shown and told explicitly that mistakes ruined everything good you'd done. My father brought his management styles home, and they were even worse there than in business. So I grew up with the horrible line "One "aw shit" wipes out a thousand "attaboys"."
    Every mistake I made was met with intense lectures. I have all these vivid memories of things from when I was 9 or 10, around there, of picking the wrong answer when I had two bad choices, and getting lectured for hours and hours. (I lied once about looking up the answer to a puzzle. Because "cheating" on puzzles was presented as as big a sin as lying, and I was 9, and I couldn't figure out what to do. And so I was told for 3 hours that I could never be trusted again, until I was a big enough puddle of tears that I was left alone.)
    ... So my point is, that I was raised that mistakes were evil. With the way we did homeschooling, I got to work problems until they were right. All the way up til West Valley everything I got wrong was a Big Deal.
    And then I hit the real world. I was 16 and suddenly I had to deal with tests where you couldn't do everything right all the time. Two years in I got my first B and couldn't cope with it.
    I'm still working on it, really. I've gotten vastly better,'s hard.

    So! Modeling "people make mistakes and THAT'S OK" and working on recovery, rather than being perfect to start with? That's awesome parenting in my book.

  2. As someone who's recently told you that your children are obviously loved, I wish to clarify... ;-)

    I took a shit ton of psychology, child psychology, and early childhood development classes, and put a lot of work into trying to make sure that my children don't end up like me. My parents did the best they good with what they had for models, and I decided 10 years before I had a child that I would do better. I worked as a daycare assistant starting at age 16. Progressed on to teaching preschool, nannying, and running my own daycare. I am 100% convinced that abused and neglected children tell us. Some of them just spit it out in English. Others act it out, sometimes subtly.

    When I say, "Your children are obviously well loved." what I mean to communicate is that your children don't seem to have a care in the world beyond and ouchie wrist, or worrying about whether or not the new kid is going to jack her cape. ;-) You children have a confidence that I've seen only in children who are cherished, taken care of, who's emotional needs are a priority to their parents.

    I know what hurting children look like, even after they grow up. It's part of why I keep getting burned by the people in my life, I tend to be drawn to them and want to help them, and sometimes that bites me in the ass. Anyway... just my $0.02