Sunday, March 9, 2014

Parents Who Appreciate and Respect Get What They Deserve: Love

Claire put me onto an article on Facebook the other day written by a mom who (explicitly) bashed parents who ask their kids to do things, rather than tell them to do things.  No caveats, no exceptions, no special circumstances; her rationale was that, if you ask your kids to do things, you're being a passive parent, and you are [expletive] irresponsible.

As a developmentalist, my head began spinning with reasoning like: cultural differences, shared meaning of an interaction, mutual regulation, and authoritarian vs. authoritative parenting, as a few possible starters.  And yet, for all that, in talking about it with Claire, I feel like my most potent lessons in this matter don't come from book learning or theoretical foundations; they've come from the simple act and cumulative experience of being a parent myself.

As most of you know, our oldest is about two-and-a-half.  She's a gregarious little thing, always smiling, running around, and saying "hello" to just about anything that moves.  Honestly, she's one of the most social little people I've ever known.  Also, one of the kindest.  At two-and-a-half, she uses, unprompted, "please", "thank you", "no thank you", "excuse me", and most recently, even "you're welcome".  She offers to share food and other things that she's enjoying with us.  She seeks out the baby's pacifier and brings it to us when she's crying, saying, "baby cwying?"  There was an instance just the other day when I was just sitting on the edge of my bed, looking out the window and thinking, and she came in, saw me, and asked, "Daddy, y'okay?"  She could see, just from my nonverbal cues, that something was off from my normal demeanor.  This is a toddler.  Now, I don't mean to say that she acts this way all of the time; she still has the occasional emotional tantrum over something seemingly unimportant or easily fixable.  This is still a toddler.  But she certainly has those capacities, and they become more pronounced and prominent every day through practice and repetition.

I think she's so much this way, because of the way that we try to be with her.  We try to model correct behavior and interactions with others, yes.  But, there's an additional layer of richness in what we try to do; we try to acknowledge, respect, and assist her with her emotional experience.  There's a whole body of work on this topic.  One researcher, Peter Fonagy, refers to it as mentalization.  Simply put, it's the capacity of one individual to imagine, respect, and interact with the mental and emotional experience of another.  As an example: consider the richness and complexity of something as simple as the exchange between a toddler who selects her own pajamas to wear and brings them to her parent, who then says, "thank you."  If we were robots, this would simply be the checking of the box at the completion of a task.  All the warm fuzziness of 0's and 1's.  Unfortunately, this does seem to be the way it goes sometimes; busy schedules and a society focused entirely on outcomes work constantly and unceasingly to make us this way.  But, if we were to exercise a little bit of mindfulness, and slow down this interaction, this is what we would see:

The toddler, at two-and-a-half, is incredibly busy.  Just getting her to sit still is a remarkable feat; forget the idea of getting her to actively do what you want her to do.  At this point in her life, she is more or less consumed by two contradictory passions.  First, her desire to be an independent, active agent in her environment, exploring whatever comes into her head, whenever it does so.  Second, her love for and fear of losing the love of you, her mom or dad.  It doesn't take much to imagine the fireworks that happen when these two come into conflict: cue the tantrum.  Except that, in the scenario given above, the toddler has put on pause her own desires to please you.  Chew on that.  Because she loves you, she's just done something that leads her one step closer to the hated bed, because you asked her to.  If that's not love, I don't know what is.  And yet, what do we often do as parents?  It's all too easy to get so caught up in the task (get her in bed), that we miss the subtlety of what just took place (I hate bed because it takes me away from you; but I'll do it, because I love you, Daddy, and you asked me to).  What an incredible disservice we do our children when we fail to acknowledge that act for what it is!  Instead, we take it for granted when our children do what we ask (or tell, as some choose to do), because we think that we somehow deserve it; that we are entitled to their obedience simply by virtue of our position as their parent.  In a way that's true: they love us because we are their parents.  But make no mistake: that love is given, and at relative high cost and effort for a toddler.

The parent's responsibility, in this scenario, is to graciously receive.  The toddler has given perhaps her most precious gift (her compliance), to her most loved person (you), at the eventual cost, in this particular instance, of separation from you for an entire night.  I think, upon viewing the situation like this, that they deserve a bit more gratitude than a perfunctory grunt of approval.

We need to slow down.  As a society, and as individuals, we are becoming so focused on outcomes, products, and results, that we rarely stop to consider processes.  As we take the time to look at what it costs our children, particularly young children, to choose to be obedient, I think that we will naturally begin to be a bit more sincere in our words of appreciation, our words of encouragement, and the confirmation and assurance of our love for them, rather than the continued, incessant, and insatiable demand for compliance.

Back to the article in question: do I think the mother is wrong?  Well, I think she made some good points; sometimes, in certain situations, young children do require a bit more guidance, assistance, and even intervention to do what's right or safe.  On the other hand, do I think she's right?  Not by a long shot.  Only ever telling leaves no opportunity for them to choose to tell you that they love you.  I don't think that respecting the emotional experience of another human being, showing appreciation and sincere gratitude for the gift of their love (by obedience) is coddling.  I call that decency.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Besides a baby

I've finally got a minute to write about the other things going on in our life besides a sweet newborn (that is quickly becoming a not newborn) and an adorable wild 2 year-old.
Career change:
Justin was leaning back and forth between being done with school after his masters degree and going with the original plan of becoming a triple boarded pediatrician for a while and decided that in order to do and accomplish what he wants to he needs to go all the way, so we're going the med school route.  We're moving home in May where we're both going to be starting school at some point, Justin doing 2 years of premed at Dixie starting this summer and me doing cosmetology school at Taylor Andrews.  We're super excited.  Justin wanted me to be sure to mention that he'll be getting a job, as well, as an adjunct at Dixie State.  After he's done with premed stuff, we're going to head up to (hopefully) the University of Utah for 4 years of medical school, then 5 years of residency, after which he'll be prepared to take the boards for pediatrics, psychiatry, and child psychiatry.  THEN we're going to move back to So. Utah where he' something.  We've not decided on that yet.  He may practice psychiatry for a while to get a good start on our student loans, but eventually he wants to have his own clinic where he'll be a pediatrician, but also be able to incorporate development and mental health issues as well.  Kind of a one-stop-shop.  When all is said and done he'll have a bachelors of psychology, a masters of child development, a doctorate of medicine, board certified in peds, psych, and child psych, a certificate of infant/parent mental health from UMASS Boston, plus certified in The Happiest Baby on the Block, NBO, NCAST,  and Floor Time.  Plus any other certificates he decides to pursue between now and then.  Whew!  That made me tired just thinking about it!
Louise is going stir crazy this winter.  Today was the first time we attempted to go out and play at a park for a week or two; it wasn't the greatest experience.  We thought we were good, since the air temperature was nearly up to officially freezing (23 degrees).  Wind chill brought it down to a measly 5.  Also, we were a bit surprised to find that the powdery inch of snow that fell last night covered nothing but solid ice, the entire length and breadth of the park.  It was like ice fishing, without the poles, water, fish, or occasional feeling of success.  So really, just cold.  I wish I could say this was the exception and not the rule for this winter; but, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie.  Louise tried to make the best of the situation, as two-year-olds are wont to do at the park.  Unfortunately, she just succeeded in becoming extremely irritable and impatient without really knowing why (mild frostbite will do that to you, I guess).  So, kicking and screaming, we loaded her into the car with the promise of pretzels and cheese for a snack when we arrived home (don't judge me).  From there, we sought out another Chicago milestone; we got our car washed for the first time since crossing the state line into Illinois and Chitown (Peer pressure is a beast, when you park next to a sparkling black Cadi' and a Range Rover, while your car looks like something that wandered in off of a year-long hiatus on the salt flats).  Louise was none too certain about the wash.
Really, though, we couldn't ask for a better oldest child than Louise.  She's (almost) always so helpful, kind, and polite.  She's extremely perceptive and deliberate; when sleep time comes around, she turns into a cleaning machine, determined to make sure there's a place for everything, and everything in its place.  It's pretty adorable, albeit a shameless stall tactic.  With so much terrible winter weather, we've utilized a bit more screen time than we're happy to admit.  Louise has become quite the aficionado on "pinsince" movies (and their accompanying soundtracks).  We've discovered that her genetic inheritance at this point seems to be equally balanced between the both of us; she not only can quote lines and act out specific movie scenes after only one viewing (located on the Nuckles88 gene), but she also has the uncanny ability to recall "pinsince show" just by hearing a bit of symphonic soundtrack (located on the Chamberlain90 gene).
She's still taking pretty solid naps, from about 1:00 to 3:00 or 3:30, and sleeping from 7:00 to about 8:00.  She talks a mile a minute, and always surprises us with new words that we have to piece together from context, charades, and sheer toddler passion.  She eats like a champ.  I think we're going to have to claim that victory for our own; we seem to wait until she's gone to bed to eat all of our unhealthy snacks, treats, and desserts.  You're welcome, Louise; you can thank us later, when you're running ultra marathons, and we're cheering you on while spilling over the sides of our highly stylized power scooters.  We're only thinking of you, kid.  On that physical note, at her 2-year checkup she was the height of an average 3-year-old.  All of her clothes for the upcoming summer are 4T.  Go figure.
Cora: how does one capture the essence of a newborn in words?  In a blessing that Justin gave Claire toward the end of the pregnancy, it was said that the baby would be, "Happy, healthy, and strong."  Yeah, I guess that about sums it up, for a kid whose entire existence seems to be smiling, stretching her long legs and torso, and doing sit-ups.  Even when she isn't smiling with her mouth, her eyes still look like she's ready to break into a grin.  She's on the verge of figuring out giggling: she can manage these cute, significant, high-pitched intakes of breath so far.  Cooing and mumbling have surfaced in abundance, and she rarely cries.  When she has needs that aren't being met satisfactorily, she simply yells and screws up her face in a grimace, before quieting to see if someone has noticed.  It never lasts long, since she spends the majority of her day either in our arms or in the Ergo carrier on our chests.  She typically sleeps between 8-10 hours per night, and has for two months.  During the first couple of weeks, we really should have woken her up more to feed her at night.  We swaddle her at night, and she bedshares with us, right in the middle, with her head up toward the headboard (With the crack between mattress and headboard meticulously filled in to minimize risk).  Between these and the white noise that we use, she sleeps like a lumberjack in Canada.  We lay her down completely awake and she falls asleep completely on her own after being swaddled and turning the white noise on.  I can't believe how well she does.  Everyone should read The Happiest Baby on the Block Sleep book.  Breastfeeding is going so well.  So much better than with Louise.  I always felt like I was forcing Louise and that she was too distracted and active and always wanted to be doing other things.  I was nervous about it before I had Cora because I wanted a better experience, so I finally read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  It's a wonderful book every new or old mom needs to read at least once.  The authors are a bit extreme in several aspects, but the information is golden.  I read it at the beginning of my pregnancy, and again at the end/right after I had Cora.  I'm so much more calm and relaxed about nursing and less concerned with timing and schedules.  At her two-month checkup, she was the size of an average 4-month-old.  She's wearing 3-6 month clothing.  We're noticing a trend here...
We're so very excited to move.  We've shipped six boxes of books already, have five boxes of other things ready to go, and have more in the pipeline.  We've sold three of our sitting room chairs and have other things listed for sale.  We're going to sell as much of our big furniture as we possibly can, ship as much as we affordably can via UPS and USPS, and then fill the Corolla to bursting for the return trip.  Claire will be flying back with the girls on April 14.  Justin will leave the 30, driving the Corolla.
The Dreamer

The Reality

Our little sleep bundle

"So who's the funky-looking donkey?"

Healthy... (per Dr. Louise)

Strong. (Cora 2 mos., L 1 mo.) 
Just about our whole world in a hug

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Life happens

It seems like we're always playing catch up.  A lot has happened in the last 4 months: a future career change, problems with the land lord, holidays, Chiberia, pipes freezing and bursting, another future career change, mothers visiting, oh yeah, and a baby.
I'm so glad she's here.  It's such a tremendous relief to not be pregnant anymore.  I can actually play with Louise and be a good mother again, because the pelvic and hip pain went away almost immediately after she was born.  The day after we got home from the hospital I deep cleaned my house. :) I've been pregnant and not feeling well the whole time we've lived here, so I was super excited to be able to clean and get it to the way I wanted it (no offense, Justin.  You did a wonderful job and I appreciated it immensely, you're just not OCD).  Cleaning is my happy place.
Right.  Back to Cora. ;)  I had always assumed she would come early.  I think I just have faster gestational periods.  At my 36 week appointment (4 days before December 1st) I was dilated to a 5.  This was fairly alarming because our insurance turned out to not be covering my appointments, so I switched carriers and it was going to take effect December 1st.  If I had Cora before then we'd be up a creek with no canoe.  I told her I absolutely couldn't have this baby before Sunday, to which she replied that I should sit or lay down until then.  This was the day before Thanksgiving and we had invited two other families over to eat with us, so I had a really hard time making Justin do all the work.  He ended up loving it, though.  He was in heaven cooking his turkey (I'll talk about that later).  So I sat in a rocking chair for 4 days giving instructions and reading stories to Louise.  On Saturday I was having some pretty strong, pretty consistent contractions.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure I put myself into labor by worrying about going into labor.  I got a blessing, made several phone calls to the hospital, doctor, and my mom, and we finally decided to go the the hospital.  We got there and told the main nurse our situation.  She said that since it's a weekend our insurance wouldn't be billed until Monday anyway, so it didn't matter that it was before December 1st.  As soon as I was all hooked up to the monitors, naturally the contractions started slowing down.  After a couple of hours of watching we were sent home.  Fooey.  At my appointment a few days later I was dilated to a 6.  A week and a half after that my water broke at 6:30 in the morning, then I threw up.  Did you know that only like 5% of women's water breaks outside of the hospital?  I'm really glad it did, though.  I was praying that I would know for sure when it was time to go to the hospital.  So we called our neighbor to come stay at our house for a few hours, and we arrived at the hospital at 7.  Still no pain.  They didn't check me, because apparently after your water breaks there's a big risk of infection.  The pain gradually started to worsen, along with the throwing up, so I got an epidural around 10, which was a huge relief.  It was fully effective about 30 minutes later, so they decided to see if I was dilated, and I was at a 10.  They hurried and got everything ready, the doctor came in and 10 minutes of pushing later, we had a beautiful, perfect little girl.  Cora Dixie Nuckles.  3 weeks early, 8 pounds, 19 inches (4 weeks later she weighs 10.5 lbs).
Breastfeeding is going so well, another huge relief.  I read the Le Leche League book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding in the weeks before, so I was all prepared.  I always felt like I was forcing Louise to eat, like she would just rather be doing something else and I was interrupting her schedule (hasn't changed much, has she).  Cora is the opposite.  She's so snuggly. :)  And, like Louise, she immediately slept well, by two weeks she slept 6.5 hours during the night.  She rarely cries, also like Louise.  
She really is the happiest little girl.  She first smiled when she was about a week old.  I know what you're saying, it's just gas, but I know they're real smiles because it's when she's awake and we're talking to her.  Louise is the cutest big sister.  A little rough at times, but over all, she's so gentle with her.  The first thing she says in the morning when we go get her is "Baby Cowa?  Baby Cowa?"  And she gets concerned when she doesn't see us holding her and has to go find her.
We just love having two little girls.  In my opinion, it's easier than being pregnant with a two year-old because I'm not in pain and I can put her down and play with Louise.  I think that's why Louise has had such an easy time adjusting.  Life is better now that she's here.  Busier, sure, and it takes much longer and more planning to go anywhere, but so much easier.
I think I'll leave it at that for the night.  More later.  Hopefully.