Monday, April 23, 2012

... you won't see....

... the dust bunnies....

A way to pass the morning hours when Mama goes running and Dada has gotten up too early because the girls have gotten up too early and we're trying to delay the inevitable videos....

K: What can we do?
L: Yeah, what can we do?!
me: What about coloring?
K&L: Nah...
me: Read books.
K (like it's obvious): Daddy!
L: Yeah, Dada!!
me (who thought it was a good idea): Where are all the paper planes?
K: I don't know.
L: I know (runs to their small play area) Here's mine. And one of K's.
K: But not the good one.
me (stalling while I fry egg whites): hm... where could it be?
K: Yeah, where could it be?
L: Maybe... at the pool?
me: !?!??
L: Or.... in the washing machine?
me: Or... under the cabinet?
L (throwing herself onto the floor): Yeah, maybe under the cabinet! It's too dark.
me (getting flashlights): Here, see if you can see anything.
K (lying down beside her sister): Hmm... it's dirty... there's dust under here.
L (pleased to now have a partner in the quest): Yeah, it's dirty! There's dust!
me (stirring oatmeal and making an espresso): No airplane?
K (voice muffled): No. But I see some money! (scrambling to reach it)
L: What?! What did you say K?!? I want to see a money!?!!
K (victorious): Here it is Daddy! (arm lifted while still peering into the void beneath the cabinet)
me (still busy): Nice. Maybe there's more.
K: No, I don't see anything else except dirt.
L: Yeah, there's nothing else except dirt.
me (needing more time): What about under the refrigerator?
K&L (spinning around on their bellies): Yeah, under the refridgidator!
me (drinking my espresso): Ah, keep looking.....

Friday, April 20, 2012

... like pulling mussels from a shell...

There are parenting moments when disaster hangs by a thread, and depending on vague and impossible to identify variables, things can either go south or (much more rarely) resolve themselves in a manner that doesn't add stress to the little world in which we parent. And sadly, as near as I've been able to figure, there's no way to control which outcome will occur.

An example from earlier this week:

Scene: two little girls in the bathtub, one father urging them on with their washing.

L: Look Dada! Look! It looks like a pulrl.
me (doing some quick thinking): Like a pool?
K (watching): (silence)
L: No! A pulrl!!
me (starting to see the frustration on L's face and scrambling now to avoid what seems inevitable): Like a... pool? A swimming pool?
L: No!! A PULRL!!!
me (oh shit, this is going to end in tears): A... not a swimming pool.... A pole?
L (about to lose it in frustration, and who wouldn't when communication fails?): No... (a glance at her sister who grins and then, glorious shift, they both start to giggle) A pulrl Dada! A pulrl!! (more giggling)
me (laughing out loud with them, but still scrambling): A 'pull?'?!?
L (a miracle, continued loud laughing, helped by her sister's enjoyment): No! Like... (she's trying to figure out how to explain it to me, to make clear the obvious, and this is a huge step from the pure frustration that usually occurs when we have this sort of miscommunication)... a pull. Like on Mama's pretty necklace!
me (oh shit... oh shi...): A pearl?
L (huge smile, and more laughing): Yes! A pulrl
K: A pearl!!
(all laughing now)
me: A pearl! A beautiful pearl!
L (laughing, egging her sister on): A pull!! A poo...ty. A bumbum!!
me: whew!

Sisters, being... sisters
(not in the tub!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

... i've got tears in my ears...

Anyone who knows me knows that more than almost anything else I love books. And music. And instruments. And.... but mostly books. I blame/thank my parents. And I'm passing the same curse on to the girls. At least I hope I am. We'll see if they continue to love them as much as they seem to now. Who knows if books will survive another 30 years (I suspect they will). Or if K&L will care about them (I hope they will). At the moment we're still reading to them, every night. And K is doing a bit of reading herself, when we ask her to.

L loves to go off and sit with a book. She "reads" aloud, making up the story as she goes, keeping more or less to the plot as she understands it ("And the bird thaid to the lady bug, 'Where are you going?' and the lady bug said, 'I don't know, where are you going?' and the bird said 'I'm going home. Because I'm going home to see my home. Because I'm going home.' And the lady bug said 'Oh. I'm going home too.'").

M reads to L most evenings and I read to K. This has evolved because L hasn't been interested in what K&I are reading. And it's nice because both M and I get some quiet time alone with one child.

K and I have been reading the Little House series, having had them recommended (and loaned) to us by a neighbor. And it's been a great experience for a number of reasons.

  1. it's given me a break from needing to come up with Belle stories
  2. it's given us a lot to talk about (K: What's a corset Daddy? me: Let's look it up tomorrow on the internet.) (recommendation: don't google "corset" while your 5yo daughter is sitting next to you. some *interesting* images come up, and those are the ones she's going to want to see.)
  3. it's been a bonding experience. Together K and I have been through rough winters with Laura and Mary, moves via wagon from Wisconsin to Indian Territory ("What's a pappose?"), wolves and panthers ("It jumped on top of the horse? What happened to the horse?" "Uh, it was fine. It just got a little scrape."), Christmases with few presents, pigs and cows and calves and slaughtering of calves ("What? Where did the meat come from?" "Uh, from the calf." "What calf?" "Uh... one of the calves..." "But not their calf, right Daddy?" "Probably not their calf.")

Most recently we started reading On the Shores of Silver Lake, and let me tell you, that one starts with a wallop.

(spoiler alert - if you have not read these and intend to, you shouldn't be wasting your time with a blog that hardly ever gets new posts)

In the first 5 or 6 pages, we learn that almost the whole fan damily has had scarlet fever and that Mary is blind and there's a new baby and Pa's going to move out west to work on the railroad and it's been 5 years and 2 bad wheat crops and... then Jack dies! Jack, who's managed to walk under the wagon from Wisconsin to Indian Territory, survive a raging river that sweeps him away, to put up with being chained to the log cabin (because he chases Indians), protect everyone from wolves and strangers, walk under the wagon back to Minnesota and then wait out Pa's multiple trips east to work on the crop harvest... that Jack. Jack, Laura's best friend. He can't face another trip and he hasn't gotten the attention he deserves because everyone's been ill and Laura hasn't had the time/energy and she realizes this and fluffs up his bed and he goes to sleep and dies.

I'll confess that it was hard for me to read out loud. It would have been hard enough to read by myself, silently, but here I was supposed to be communicating words, aloud, to my impressionable daughter. It didn't help that we still talk about missing Lucy. Not that she would have measured up to Jack (she would have been sitting right in the center of the wagon seat, pushing Ma off in one direction and Pa off in the other), but she was our beast and we loved her.

So I choke up, multiple times, and K leans in close and cries quietly with me and together we manage to get through it, though I realize about 5/6th of the way into this section that it probably would have been a smart idea to do some slight, on-the-fly editing. Live and learn.

The books, the subject matter, has been growing older as Laura grows older. And I've been taking the approach that my parents generally took, which was that if I was old enough to be interested in something, I was old enough to read it. Obviously K isn't yet reading these (though she's reading bits and pieces from the pages), but I'm pretty much letting her hear them as they were written. There been some reference to "rough men" and "rough language" and "horse thieves." We'll see where this takes us, but for the time being it's gotten us snuggled together every night after bath to read for 20-30 minutes, a wonderful shared time that I suspect I get as much out of as does she.

(happy b-day mom!)

Monday, April 2, 2012

... facts are never what they seem to be....

fact: it's difficult, challenging, to be a parent. in truth, it can sometimes make you feel like shit. which is how i felt last night.

footloose and care free....

to give you a proper understanding of how things went, i probably need to do a bullet point recap of the day (note: a technical writer friend once told me that bullet points are a hazard of technical writing, and it's starting to look like he was right):

5.10a - M gets up to go exercise. I turn over in bed and mentally wish her well while rain lashes at the windows and roof and I bury deeper into the covers.
5.35 - K gets up and comes into the room.

me: what's up monkey?
K: I'm ready to get up.
me: I'm not. You can go downstairs if you want. I'm not getting up until 6.
K: Where's mama?
me: She's exercising.
K: Awwww! Hmph! I want to get up!
me (turning over): I'll get up at 6.
K - turns and stomps back to her bed, leaving the door open and making me concerned that she may wake up her sister.

5.40 - K comes back into the room and wants to know when I'm going to get up. When I tell her it's going to be another 20 minutes she stomps over to the clock and, blocking it from my bleary/blurry view, stands in front of it. Is she changing it? Probably not, but who the hell cares at this point. I want to sleep.
5.43 - K stomps back out to her bed.
5.44-5.52 - I drift in and out of "sleep"
5.53 - K comes back into the room and honks and horks into several kleenexes before going to the bathroom and (loudly) washes her hands.
5.55 - K stands next to the bed and says she wants to go downstairs. I tell her she's more than welcome to do so (please!) but that I'm not getting up for another 5 minutes. She stands there for a few more moments, then wanders away, more quietly than I could have hoped for.
6.02 - I consider for a moment whether or not I can justify staying in bed and decide that, in keeping with my goal of never lying to my children (a goal I have no hope of achieving), I owe it to K to get up. I get up.

K is downstairs in the kitchen and I join her. We get started on breakfast, egg sandwiches are her latest preferred morning meal, so I fry up some eggs and discover we're nearly out of bread and I still need to make L's lunch sandwich. We muddle through somehow and, amazingly, make it through the morning to the point where I leave for work.

5.45p - I get on the water taxi and our neighbor says hello. I haven't even noticed him because I'm too exhausted and worn down by a meeting about a project I'm involved with at work that I don't really care enough about to truly be involved with. Not to mention having been woken up early.
5.50-5.55 - He tells me about a project he's involved with that involves coordinating 70+ individual contributions for a multi-million dollar project, and I feel slightly less negative about my involvement with my own project.
6p - I catch a ride with he and his wife and children since she's come to pick him up. I'm not quite my usual charismatic self due to being exhausted and ... not being particularly charismatic.
6.05p - I walk into the house to loud wailing from L. She's in the dining room and has apparently been crying for 20+ minutes because she is hungry and doesn't like the look of dinner. M looks exhausted, she's not feeling well, but K is eating. Yay?
6.10p - I manage to get L sitting on my lap and she tastes dinner and she decides that she actually *likes* how it tastes.

Victory! I'm already starting to make a difference in M's day!

6.12p - K, who has finished all she wants to eat, is now working on a paper of math problems that M wrote out for her. There are 2 lines of addition, and one of subtraction. She's working through them, doing a good job, until...

K (pointing to a 5+4 problem to which she's answered 9, but has reversed the 9): Is this right?
me: Uh, yeah. The 9...
K: Did I do it wrong?
me: It's right. It's just reversed.
K: What?
M: It's turned around. The number is turned around, but it's fine.
K (starting to melt down): No it's not!
me: Yes, it's good. You got it right.
K (screaming now, and where the hell did this come from?): No! I HATE this!! I can't DO
M: K....
me (pointing): You can cross it out and write it here.
L ("helpfully," from my lap): K, you can croth it out.
K: NO!!!! I HATE this!!!!!
me: L, are you going to eat any more?
L: K's a meth.
me: Hush.
K (trying again to answer the question, writes another misshappen 9): NO!!!!!! I can't do this!!!!!!!
M: L, are you ready for a bath?
L: Can I take a thower?
M (a glance at me, she's leaving me with K in a mess, but I don't feel like I'm getting the shaft. She's been dealing with this all afternoon): Sure.

M&L leave the table and I move over next to K to help her figure out how to deal with this "failure."
me: You can write it here (pointing under the problem). I write my answers at the bottom.
K (full scream-mode): NO!! IT WON'T WORK!!! I CAN'T DO THIS AT ALL!!!!
me (putting my arm around her): It's ok. It's not a big deal.

(parental warning - this is where things go all the crap)

She starts swinging the uncapped marker around, kicking and screaming like I'm murdering her, and... something goes kabloo-y. I grasp for the arm that's got the marker, grab her, she starts to really scream and kick, so I tuck her under my arm and say "It's time for bath!"

I carry her, struggling, toward the bathroom and now she's letting the neighborhood know that things are not going as she'd hoped. As I'd hoped. As anyone had hoped.

I dump her on the floor of the bathroom and she tries to get away. I start pulling off her shirt while simultaneously turning on the bath water, and SHE. IS. SCREAMING. BLOODY. MURDER.

M (appearing in the doorway): I'll do this.
me (unwilling to give in, unwilling to stop "helping out"): Take that shirt off!
K: screaming
M (firmer now): I'll. DO. THIS. LEAVE.

I finally retreat, while K screams that she hates her daddy and M starts picking up the pieces.

Upstairs L is waiting and asks if I'll get into the shower with her. I strip down even though I wasn't expecting to shower, and we do a reasonably pleasant shower. I'm angry, mostly at myself. I suspect that K's meltdown had something to do with the fact that L was throwing a tantrum and got some comforting as a response. The problem is that K doesn't accept the comforting like her sister. Well, that's one problem. The bigger problem is that I just didn't manage the situation well at all.

I get L washed and then we're drying off and I send her in to get her jammies on and I head downstairs, realizing that even though I'm not feeling particularly like it, I need to go make amends. I'm not sure what these particular amends look like, but I'm the adult here and I've got to set the example (like all the other examples I've set so far this evening!). Sometimes having to be the adult sucks. Just saying.

So I go to the downstairs bathroom where, remarkably, K is more or less lounging in a bubble bath and M is sitting on the closed toilet and they're having a normal toned, regular conversation. I hear a bit as I approach:

M: ... and you didn't like that? It frightened you?
K: Yeah.
M: He didn't mean to frighten you.

They seem remarkably calm and happy.

I edge into view. My daughter and wife are silent.

me: K, I want to apologize. I didn't mean to scare you. I should have behaved differently.
K: (something small spoken into the bath bubbles)
me: I didn't mean to hurt you.
K: You hurt my arm.
me: I'm sorry. I apologize.
M: He didn't mean to K.
K: I know. It's ok.

But it doesn't *feel* ok. I head back upstairs to help L with her hair and then M&K come up and everyone brushes teeth and then I'm in bed and K is crawling in next to me and we start reading in The Banks of Plum Creek, and a part of me is still back misbehaving and another part of me is agast at what's transpired and a third part of me can't believe that we're just going about our business like any other normal night. And the fourth part (yup, another part) of me is relieved that K doesn't seem to entirely hate me, at least not so much that she's going to give up on our new nightly ritual of reading in Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

Over a few days I've managed to find a way to feel a bit less horrible about all of it, but it still boggles my mind how I managed to go from "helping" M who was beat down by a long afternoon with needy children to going crazy like I did. I don't often do this, which I'm grateful for, but it means that on those rare occasions when I do, it really unpins me....

I wonder if she's really moved on like it appears she has. Was she really ok settling in there beside me to hear more about Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa? Or is there some small doubt lodged somewhere deep inside that puts a small bit of distance between us (and will continue to do so until she goes through years of therapy and forgives me)?

The subtext is that I worry that I could somehow turn into a monster. When I lose control, it makes me feel... well, out of control. And that's not something I enjoy feeling.

Some part of me understands that all parents lose control at one time or another. And I think M and I do reasonably well as parents. The girls are relatively well adjusted (though they probably both suffer from some of the introspection/introvert tendencies of my side of the family). But intellectually knowing all of this doesn't equal emotionally knowing it. Emotionally I know that I completely failed to 1) properly manage K's meltdown, and 2) help out M when she really could have used the help.

I didn't truly hurt K, but I know I scared her. I scared myself. The best I can say about the situation is that hopefully I can learn from it. Not that I've got any history to suggest this is likely.

not so much