Monday, September 24, 2012

Houston, we have a 4 year old.

My dearest little space scientist is four years old today.

I'm not quite sure how that happened.

Somehow, our little baby boy has turned into an exuberant, constantly conversing little wonder-person who has an insatiable curiosity about the universe and will not rest until all his many questions are answered.

Happy birthday, SuperBoy. We love you "as big as Jupiter if Jupiter ate the Andromeda galaxy and exploded and swallowed the whole entire universe."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Surviving the rain

This week, we had a rainy day with severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches and generally unpleasant weather.

I'm usually a "sure, you can play outside in the rain" kind of parent, but this weather was a little too icky for my almost-4-year-old, never mind the babies. So we were stuck inside.

What to do for nine hours until dinner time?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding perfect joy in the process

I like things to be perfect. If they can't be perfect, I like them to be as close to perfect as possible.

There. I admitted it. I like perfect.

I want my towels to hang straight on the rack and the pillows to be lined up on my bed. I want my cookies to be the same size after they are baked and my petunias to bloom evenly. I match up the lines when I'm sewing plaid things. I turn the hangers in my children's closets so that all of their clothes face the same direction. I get irritated when my 4 year old son rearranges the carefully arranged adhesive polka dots on his walls and lines them up like the planets.

Is that so wrong? Any other lovers-of-perfect among us?

If you are like me, the fear of having something turn out badly can stand in the way of trying new things. We see all kinds of new project ideas on Pinterest, which can be inspiring...but they all look so amazingly beautiful that it can be intimidating to try them.

The philosophy behind Process Art in early childhood classrooms is that it can be just as worthwhile to focus on the process of creation as the end product. Instead of worrying whether the children are putting the windows in the "right" places on their house pictures or telling them that we are going to make jack o' lanterns, we just make the materials available to them and let them create on their own. This gives kids permission to be creative and to play through art. It's great for their developing brains. Most importantly, it's a lot of fun.

Over the years of watching how a Process Art approach helps children create more freely, I've begun trying to think of my own creating as more process than product. Concentrating on what I enjoy about each step as I go along has made my crafting more fun and has helped me shake the fear that things will not turn out perfectly. Along the way, I have made many imperfect items: the quilt with a different border fabric (because I estimated incorrectly and bought too little of my original fabric), the curtain in my bathroom that hangs at a slight angle (still not sure if I sewed it crooked or hung the rod crooked, but it's definitely slanted!), the baptismal cross I painted for my daughter where the lilies turned out looking more like dogwoods, the first baby blanket I knitted where I ran out of yarn while I was binding off and had to crochet back around the edge in another color to be sure it wouldn't come apart.

The thing is, all of these items bring me joy in their own ways, even though they didn't turn out exactly as I had intended. The process of creating them was worthwhile.

I'm reminded of a quilt I had as my childhood bedspread. One square had a pair of diamonds reversed - a slight mistake in the pattern. When I pointed it out to my mother, she told me that Amish quilters often made a mistake in the quilt on purpose, just to remind themselves that only God was perfect and that they never could be.

Perfectionism is the worst enemy of creativity. It makes us think that if we can't do something perfectly, we shouldn't do it at all. This is so wrong. Each of us gains something different from the creative process, and we can enjoy creating even things that are "imperfect." Often the things that make our creations imperfect are exactly the things that set them apart and make them special.

Crafting and making something out of nothing should make us happy. If it doesn't make us happy, why are we doing it? How can we bring more happiness to the process of making things?

Here are my 5 personal rules for creating with joy:

1. Use whatever colors, fabric and materials make your heart light and bring a smile to your face. If gray and yellow isn't your favorite combination, pick something else. Worry less about what is "in" and what you have seen on decorating blogs. Please yourself first with your choices if you want to enjoy what you are making. The project will be more fun if you love the materials you are using.

2. Let go of the fear that your creation will be imperfect. It will be, and that's okay. Part of what makes your creative work unique is that it is yours. You don't need it to look like anyone else's. It will reflect you - the creator - and that is how it should be.

3. Be aware of your feelings as you are crafting. If you find yourself frustrated and irritated while you are working, maybe that isn't the project for you at this moment. Why not put it aside for a while and try something else? You can always come back to it later. Let go of the idea that you must see everything through from start to finish in order to get any benefit from it.

4. Don't be afraid to change plans mid-stream. Maybe the strawberry you started out to paint looks more like a slice of watermelon. Maybe you don't have enough of the fabric you bought to make tiebacks for the curtains and you have to use something else. Be open to changing your original vision - you might come up with something even better than you imagined!

5.  Be willing to try something new. Just because you have never crocheted doesn't mean you won't like it. There are so many different media in which to create - try working with clay, or painting with watercolors, or decorating cupcakes, or weaving. Try a tutorial (like the ones on burlap + blue) or watch a video on YouTube. You might have an undiscovered talent. And without the worry that your efforts need to be perfect, you might have a lot of fun, too.

This quote came across my desk last year, and it inspires me to try new things without being afraid of imperfection:

Best wishes as you craft with joy!

Monday, September 17, 2012

In praise of lower standards

Someone I don't know well recently asked me for advice. She has a preschooler and is expecting her second baby. What does she need to know?

I can really only think of one thing to tell her.

Just go ahead and lower your standards. Seriously. Relax your parenting standards. Then you won't have to feel as guilty when you find they have plummeted on their own without your consent.

Remember how I talked to my first child all the time? Wore him around in a sling at the grocery store and chatted in a lively fashion about all the produce? Counted everything out loud and sang "Old MacDonald" all the time with all the signs for each animal and usually remembered to narrate out loud what I was doing as I did it?

Look, Mama is unloading the dishwasher! This is a cup, see? A cup! This cup goes in the cabinet...

Well, now I have a preschooler, a very smart, well-adjusted, happy preschooler. Good job, me, for doing all those things so well. My preschooler is on the path to a wonderful, successful life.

Unfortunately, my preschooler has also come to expect certain things. Like my constant attentiveness when he is talking. And now that he has so much more to say, I'm having a hard time keeping that up. Never mind that the babies are wailing and that I have had to pee since 7:00 AM. The Boy wants to talk about Pocoyo videos he was watching this morning, and I had better listen. Or he wants to use the computer to research which planets have rings and he needs my help. Or he wants to listen to music and isn't allowed to use the iPod without supervision. Or he wants to paint the bathtub with fingerpaint.

(Okay, I admit those are all my fault. We sometimes bribe him with videos when he wakes up at the crack of dawn so we can sneak a few more minutes of sleep {and Pocoyo is pretty harmless, if you've never seen it}. We also told him that you can find the answer to almost any question you have if you do research on the internet, and now he always wants to look things up. We got him hooked on real music from an early age, so he wants to use our iPods to listen to the Beatles and Queen and Paul Simon. And yeah, I have let him fingerpaint the tub before, so I really have no case for saying "no." I don't feel like cleaning the bathtub, though, so it will probably just stay painted until someone takes a shower in there, maybe later this week?)

My babies are simply not getting the level of supervision, care, and careful attention to their language development that The Boy received. The Belle has ingested all manner of things off the carpet since she started crawling a few weeks back. I pulled a tiny screw, a plastic hangtag, some grass, and a bent Christmas tree hook out of her mouth just in a three-day span. Who knows what she has actually swallowed? She and The Bug have stolen and eaten french fries. They've had ice cream, too, and they didn't have to steal it - I gave it to them. If The Boy is watching PBS Kids, they are seeing it, too. There's an exersaucer in my living room now, and some of the toys on it are (gasp) battery operated. They light up and make noise.

As we have established, they don't even get baths that often. We just kind of wipe them off as long as they aren't really stinky. 

Who would have thought I would become the type of mother that tolerated such things?

The thing is, it's really fine. All of it. I have become the poster child for "just relax, no one is going to die." Honestly, even if The Belle had somehow swallowed that hook, she would have been okay.

I do have my hands full. They are full. And when I get a spare moment, sometimes I like to take a shower or drink a Diet Coke or just sit and stare out the window and try not to fall asleep. I no longer have the time or energy to research the relative comfort of car seat padding and find out which kids' juice company uses the organic farm with the happiest apple trees.

We buy healthy food and we try to keep our kids safe and to provide good experiences for them.

You probably do those things, too.

And I think it's time we let ourselves off the hook a bit.

Raising children the optimal way has become a seriously competitive thing. Brain research has shown that early childhood is a very important part of human development, certainly more important than people used to think. So now, there's an entire market just dedicated to the types of designer products we are supposed to be using to raise the happiest, smartest, healthiest, most well-adjusted kids in the history of the world.

The thing is, all the organic birch teething rings and fair-trade hand-woven cotton swaddling blankets in the world can't ensure that everything will turn out perfectly.

It's not within our power to engineer our children's early years with an absolute guarantee that they will turn out just exactly right. All we can do is the best we can do (which, in my case, varies somewhat from day to day and might depend on whether I had coffee in the morning).

With this in mind, I'm going to trust that God gave my kids the mother they needed when he gave them me, and I'm going to hope that God can stretch what I have to offer so that it's enough on the days when my parenting is not as amazing.

My own mother has a Mary Engelbreit calendar hanging in the guest bedroom (the one we sleep in every time we visit). It's still open to the month of May. I'm glad, though, because every time I see it, I am reminded that "there's no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one."

How true.
(That woman looks pretty perfect to me, though. Maybe it's because she seems to have misplaced her second baby and therefore has a hand free to help hold the book for her preschooler.)

If we have days when we can't be "good" mothers, we can take comfort in being "good enough"...after all, we will more than make up for it on the other days when we are absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Babies- the one-year mark

Sitting in the lobby of the hospital in a wheelchair, arms full of baby, clutching a plastic bag filled with pacifiers that the nurse had just pressed into my hand, I waited for George to bring the car around. I stared at the two tiny, scrunchy red faces in front of me, wanting to shift them around a bit so I could see them better, but afraid to move at all (lest I drop either babies or pacifiers). A few people stopped and smiled, said, "awwww'" or asked questions (Twins? How much did they weigh? Boys or Girls? I've always wanted twins. Better you than me.) I thought about my friend Kara, whose twins were juniors in high school, and how she said she felt lucky to be leaving the hospital with two babies instead of the usual one per person that most mothers got.

I wasn't feeling lucky yet.

In a blur of days and nights and midnight feedings and diaper changes, loads of laundry and lullabies later, the girls were several months old before I started to feel I knew them individually. I remember feeling sad about this, like it was taking a long time to bond with them. Having two new babies is very different than having one. A new addition to a family can feel stressful. Adding two infants at once feels completely overwhelming.

Scrolling through pictures on my phone from the time the girls were born until now is like a movie of someone else's life, filled with moments of struggle and moments of triumph. I've been stretched in ways I couldn't have imagined as a person and a mother. I have cried tears of frustration and desperation. I have learned so much about myself and about my children and about coping. Another twin mom I follow on twitter (Arwen Mosher) once tweeted, "When I had twins it was God saying, "No, you can't do it without me." And every day (hour minute) I have to trust that grace."

I know exactly what she means.

This morning, as I write this post on their very first birthday, I realize that I've been kind of holding my breath for an entire year. From the moment we found out they were twins, things have been multiplied - the joys as well as the stresses and challenges. Everything about twins, to me, seems amplified. Parenting multiples is like parenting one child at a time, kind of...just a lot more intense.

When I go to get the girls out of their cribs this morning in just a few minutes, they will be one-year olds. The first year was hard...and we survived. Today, I feel like I can finally exhale.

And yes, I feel really, really blessed.

On to the next set of adventures. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Free to a good home...

In foster parent training, they always told us that when we discover a child's misbehavior, it does no good to ask that child why he or she did something. Often, he or she doesn't know why, anyway, and asking kids this question really misses the point. It's better to deal with what's happened in a calm and matter-of-fact way, using logical or natural consequences, than to discuss motivations for the crime once it's already been committed.

I know this. I know a fair number of other things about managing kids' behavior, at least in principle. I'm sure these things shape my parenting choices, and I try to keep them in mind.

There is nothing quite like walking into my own child's room, though, and seeing a scenario that could have come off the pages of one of my child development textbooks (bonus points for you, dear readers, if you can identify which of Kohlberg's stages of moral development my child is currently embodying!).

It was really only about 5 minutes this time that he was unsupervised. I was changing a poopy diaper and preparing to get the girls down for their naps. Our guests were just gathering their things to leave after a mutually agreeable playdate. Fun had been had. Snacks had been eaten. Mamas had chatted. It had gone well.

Just then, my friend's daughter casually came into the room and mentioned that The Boy was playing in his fish tank.

I was down the hall before she finished her statement, already counting backward from ten.

Sure enough, there he was...standing on the toy box, soaking wet. He had the fish net out this time, and the tubing that his dad uses to change the water was lying on the floor. The top of the tank was fully submerged in the water, the tropical heater was floating, and two old cell phones (which they had been playing with earlier) were sunk like ships run aground on top of the little rock cave. Uprooted plants and panicked fish were everywhere.

I wanted to ask him why, why, why he would do such a thing...again!!...and yet I already knew he would tell me that he didn't know. I also kind of wanted to shake him. I do, however, have my very own tantrum badge for not throwing a tantrum under almost these exact circumstances last month, and although it probably wouldn't be revoked if I lost it today, I have standards to uphold. This mama can keep it, calm, collected...

I took a deep breath and said His Full Name. Quietly.

The Boy turned around, mouth open, and said, "Oh, I really do not want you to see what I am doing right now."

No kidding, kid.

I sent him to sit in the hall outside his room and cleaned up quickly. It's just water, after all...and if you pretend that farm-raised tropical pet fish haven't been living and pooping in it for months and months, you can just sop it up or wipe it off and say it's clean. I told The Boy to change into dry clothes and take a nap and that I would deal with him later.

I still did not ask him why.

After a few minutes, he helpfully volunteered that maybe we shouldn't have any friends over to play for two days, because having friends over reminds him how much fun it is to play in the fish tank, and he doesn't feel like getting in trouble for that tomorrow.

Unable to stand it, I asked him. "Why? Why would you do that again?" I looked directly at his small face. He raised his eyebrows, held out both hands as if he needed to explain something obvious to someone who might not get it the first time.

"I just wanted to see if I could change the color of the water by adding some things in there."

I would like to volunteer him as a project for child psych, if anyone needs one. He's fascinating. And kind of horrifying.

Puzzle piece, empty food container, ping pong ball, two old cell phones...apparently, the color of the water was unaffected.

After a brief conversation with his dad, who was still at work, I decided the following:

1. The Boy may no longer play with friends in his room without a grownup (which will effectively eliminate his ability to do it at all for now, since the babies can't come in there due to all the small Lego pieces, etc., all over the floor).

2. The fish need to find a new home.

They are nice fish, as fish go - 3 mixed fruit tetras (named Apple, Banana and Cranberry), one red-tailed shark, and one gold gourami. (The snail was never found.) They have been alive for a while and have been stable and disease-free. The red-tailed shark and the gourami are officially "semi-aggressive" (though not toward each other) and the tetras are community fish.

If you'd be interested in being the new home for some or all of our fishy friends, please let me know.

Oh, and if you have any insights into why our son likes to recreate situations in which he got into big trouble before, please let me know that, too. I'm at a loss. Do your kids do this kind of thing? Mom, did I do this kind of thing? (I can't remember ever doing anything like this at all - he must have gotten this from his dad!)