Monday, January 30, 2012

Bittersweet, but mostly sweet

MB and I would never claim to be perfect parents, but we strive to be consistent. If we tell Nico he has to eat five carrots before he can have a treat, he can't have the treat after four carrots. If we tell him he'll get a timeout if he bellyflops onto the dog and he does it anyway, he has to go to timeout. Sometimes, though, the need to be consistent collides with Nico being two. One night when MB was working late, I asked Nico if he'd like some chicken and sweet potato fries for dinner. He chirped, "Eat some chicken and fries!" so I got them ready while he ate a banana. Once his dinner was on his plate, predictably, he didn't want it. He ate one fry and then played with his chicken while I sat next to him and stewed. Then I realized how stupid it was to be outraged over a toddler's eating habits and turned him loose to play with his toys. Life's too short to fret over uneaten chicken, right?

Another thing we're big on is asking Nico to try new things. He doesn't have to like or clear his plate of every new food, but we want him to try a bite before he refuses it. He doesn't have to go down the slide at the park if he doesn't like it, but it thrills us when he gives it a shot. We really work to find a balance point where we're not pushing him too far too fast but instead are gently encouraging him outside his comfort zone and teaching him that it's okay to take chances because we've got his back. Maybe we're putting too much thought into this considering how young he is, but my gut tells me it's the right approach. We're kind of making it up as we go, but isn't everyone?

This article made the rounds of my Facebook friends' walls a few weeks back and though I don't find my single child particularly challenging, it was good to read that having multiple kids isn't always harder than one. A particular passage really resonated with me:

To become a mother, I had to learn how to care about someone more than I did about myself, and that was terrible. But who I am now is something more terrible: the protector who can’t always protect; the one with arms that are designed to hold, always having to let go.

Dear mother of only one child, don’t blame yourself for thinking that your life is hard. You’re suffering now because you’re turning into a new woman, a woman who is never allowed to be alone. For what? Only so that you can become strong enough to be a woman who will be left.

When I had only one child, she was so heavy. Now I can see that children are as light as air. They float past you, nudging against you like balloons as they ascend.

Only a few evenings before the article made the circuit, I was nearly overcome by despair as I lay in bed thinking about the fact that Nico will be grown and gone in such a short time. That's the goal, of course, to raise a capable and grounded child who can stand on his own two feet as a fully functional adult. But it breaks my heart all the same, to think of my sweet boy leaving, maybe moving across the country and only coming to visit a few times a year. I'll deal with it and survive it and learn to be strong enough to be left. In the meantime, I figure the best thing I can do is try to enjoy my time with Nico as much as possible.

The library where we go for Nico's 0 - 24 month story time also has a Monday morning program for kids ages 2 - 5. We didn't have any plans today other than library time, so I thought we'd stay for the toddler program and see how Nico liked it. He usually needs a few tries at a new experience before he enjoys it, so I didn't have huge hopes. Really, though, it was pretty great. I let Nico decide his own level of involvement and it worked out well. The librarian passed around a touch bag with a stuffed toy inside, and Nico put his hand inside with mine. She read a story about an owl being frightened by bumps in his bed that turn out to be his own feet under the blankets, and Nico sat with the older kids to listen. She had the kids act out the story by sitting in a circle with their feet tucked under the edge of a sheet, and to my surprise Nico sat down and tucked his feet under, too. (He didn't stay for the acting part, but I was thrilled that he tried it.)

The program ended with the kids making a little owl puppet out of a paper bag. Nico hasn't shown much interest in coloring or playing with Play Doh yet, so we haven't really delved into the arts and crafts. He was game to make an attempt, though, and fetched his small rectangle of yellow paper, his larger rectangle of brown, and his glue stick from the middle of the room. When asked to retrieve a black crayon from the tub, he dumped the whole thing on the floor, but he did help me pick up the mess. I let him hold the crayon and guided his hand to make circles for the eyes and smaller colored-in black circles for the pupils. He smudged glue onto the backs of the cut-out pieces and patted them into place on his lunch sack. Once the puppet was done, he was not so sure about it and initially protested when I made it say hello. But then the librarian sang a little owl song that we were all supposed to act out with our puppets, and he decided the puppet was okay after all. He had me sing the song over and over on the way home while he made his puppet hop up and down and flap its wings and lay down to go to sleep. My favorite part was when he held it up and announced "Owl. Mama built it!" I suppose it's kind of uncool to have your day made by a few scraps of construction paper and a lunch bag, but I am okay with being uncool.

Lately, parental consistency and two have been colliding a lot at naptime. After all the new experiences at the library Nico was super tired but mightily resisting nappage. After back pats and cuddling and playing songs on his Scout dog failed to induce slumber, I put him in his crib with the hope that he'd be sleepy enough to drift off on his own. Instead, he sang and chattered away to himself for a solid hour while I read blogs on my phone and pondered what I should do. Make him stay in his bed for the full two hours he should've been sleeping, even though he obviously wasn't going to sleep? Or collect him, put on our jackets, and head to the playground on a rare 58-degree January day?

Sometimes consistency is overrated.


  1. People joke that adolescence is so that you WANT to let them go. I'm finding it kind of true. It was impossible to imagine my little baby/toddler/preschooler/elementary boy Rob leaving me EVER---but now that he's 13 and 5'8", it doesn't seem as poignant. Whereas with my 4-year-old, I don't even want to think about him turning 5.

  2. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Another way of looking at consistency is that there isn't much point in it unless there is a reason behind it--if you are against murder, theft, arson, blackmail, etc., then you want to be consistently against them. Maybe consistency is not necessarily a virtue in and of itself.
    For example, when you offer a child chicken, he agrees, and then you give him a banana, he's being obliging, not consistent, in settling for the banana instead of throwing a fit because you didn't give him the chicken. And in this instance, I would be glad that he was obliging, not consistent.
    Similarly, IMO, lots of other everyday stuff doesn't matter. It's negotiable. Because life happens.

    IMO, your encouragement to try new things is wonderful--and there you are being consistent, not in the sense of "consequences," but in the sense that you do it a lot. Hurray for that consistency!

  3. Excellent points, Anne! Though in my defense the banana was part of the bargain. He said he wanted a banana for dinner and I said, "After your banana, will you eat some chicken and fries?" and he seemed to agree. Hmm...perhaps he's the one being consistent here!