Posted in family life, musings

holding Limerick through a meltdown

Tonight Limerick had a meltdown. He doesn’t have them as often as Rondel, but when he’s tired his big emotions can overwhelm him, and little things will push him over the edge. It’s par for the course when one is almost three years old!

When the meltdowns occur, there are two ways I can respond. First, I can try to reason with him in an attempt to make him feel better and stop crying. I have to admit that this is my default reaction, especially if other kids are awake, because I tend to be a logical problem-solver rather than a savvy emotional guru. However, it almost never accomplishes anything, especially with Limerick. He isn’t the most reasonable person at the best of times, and when he’s tired the sheer strength of his emotions renders his logical mind inaccessible.

The second response, which I’ve learned from parenting experts and cannot take credit for, but which I’ve found through experience to be far more effective, is to simply be present and available. With Rondel that typically looks like pulling him to me and hugging him until he calms down, because physical touch is one of his main ways of communicating love, but (as I’m discovering) with Limerick I usually need to sit a few feet away from him – say, on the floor beside his bed if he is in bed – and let him know that I’m there for him and that he can come sit with me if he wants. Slowly, as the emotional storm passes, he’ll scoot closer and closer until at last he is ensconced on my lap, rocking in my arms, restoring peace in his heart.

It’s becoming more instinctual to respond the second way, instead of remembering it only after I’ve reached the point of frustration and anger myself (I think the Zoloft helps me take that moment to stop and remember who I want to be as a parent, for which I am quite grateful!), and it is so rewarding.

Few things in parenting feel worse than going to bed having yelled at your exhausted and irrational toddler for acting out his exhaustion and developmental state, knowing that you’ve fallen so far short of your parenting ideals that it’s as if you ended up in a pigsty when you had intended to aim for the stars. But few things feel better than holding that toddler in your arms as he sniffles and hiccups away his final tears, gazing up at you as if you were their only solid ground in the middle of a buffeting ocean. No one enjoys a meltdown, but through it one can build deeper trust and connection than play and happy moments can provide on their own.

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Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

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Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application 😉 We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.

Posted in art, family life

finger painting in the new house

One of the best features of our new house is the large, open island counter. There’s plenty of space for chairs to be pulled up all around it for the boys to stand on, and ample room for projects and supplies to be spread out. We’ve obviously used it a lot for baking (so much nicer than my old tiny kitchen for rolling out pizza crust!), but I’ve also been trying to use it for crafts and other messy or artistic activities.

I decided to try out an unattributed edible finger paint recipe I found on Pinterest which was basically cornstarch, sugar, and water cooked together. The boys were just as excited about making the paint as they were about actually painting – they helped me measure the ingredients, and then helped me decide which colors to mix up in each of our little bowls.

The paint had a gloppy, jelly-like consistency – I would hesitate to call it paint, and I wouldn’t recommend the recipe. It was fun to squeeze and mush around, though!

The boys experimented with the paint for a little while on paper, but their main goal was to paint themselves:

Rondel painted himself to look like a bear and even gave me a roar for good measure!

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And of course, since it was edible, we let Aubade join in when she woke up from her nap, to her great delight:

An additional benefit of the whole exercise (besides the creative fun and sensory play) was that the boys agreed to have a peaceful bath afterwards and didn’t even complain about having their hair washed!

One thing I have noticed about the boys with these kinds of projects is that Limerick gets very focused on the process, carefully and meticulously repeating the same motions until he can perform then to his satisfaction; he has a definite goal in mind and won’t easily be distracted until he’s accomplished it. Rondel, on the other hand, is far more exploratory with the medium at first (that was his hand in the bowl of yellow paint above, and he in general loves the tactile sensations of these types of activities once he gets past any anxieties) but seems less self-directed than Limerick. If he has a goal, he doesn’t always remember it or stay focused on it long enough to make much headway towards it. And yet he still seems interested and engaged with the activity, so that’s good. I guess it is just two different ways of approaching the world!

Posted in family life

a run-in with special needs services

A few weeks ago, while I was nursing Aubade in the mom’s room just off of the church sanctuary, I received a text on my phone asking me to please come to where I had dropped Rondel off for class.

This was highly disconcerting. I have known for years that Rondel struggles sometimes in the class environment; I’m not sure if it is the structure, the people, or the noise, but something about it can be difficult for him. Some weeks he’s protested about having to go to church at all, and threatened to hit or kick the other kids; some weeks he’s come out of class and told us about all the things he didn’t like. Other weeks he’s come out full of excited news about the toys he played with or the snacks he ate, however, so it has never been all bad. And this particular Sunday I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, because Rondel had told me on the way in that he was going to do well in class and was looking forward to the story.

When I reached his classroom, a woman I’d never met before introduced herself to me as the leader of the special needs branch of the kids ministry at our church, and told me what had happened: Rondel, perhaps overwhelmed by the chaos of class, the lack of individual adult direction and attention, or the noise of the worship music portion, tried several times to run away from the classroom. Since the kids were in the big music room at this point (all the older classrooms come together for a worship time in the middle of the hour), this woman had been present as well and had assisted Rondel’s classroom leaders in keeping him safe by taking him to the sensory classroom until he was able to calm down. By the time she showed me to that classroom, Rondel was happily and calmly playing with one of the pastor’s daughters, a sweet little girl with autism.

This triggered a cascade of events. Rondel’s teachers told me that they are normally able to accommodate him in the regular classroom because they typically have three adults and one can focus more on helping Rondel cope with the structure, the stimuli, and his own emotional reactions. Apparently this week it was especially difficult because there were only two adults in his classroom, and while the adult to child ratio was the same, they weren’t able to give him the focused attention he needs. So while this is the first time he’d actively tried to run away and needed to be diverted for his own safety, he doesn’t handle the classroom environment like most of the other children can. I’m sure that was hard for his teachers, and I’m equally sure it was hard for him, and was contributing to his complaints about church. Something needed to give.

J., the woman who directed the special needs ministry, set up a meeting with us the following week and asked us to fill out a questionnaire online. After talking it over, we agreed that for now we’d like it if Rondel could continue going to the sensory classroom each week, so that he could still hear the story, learn about God, and engage with other kids, without the stress and discomfort of the normal classroom getting in the way. The last thing I want is for him to associate church with anxiety and stress – and if he’s having to work that hard at emotional regulation the whole time, he’s not going to be learning anything else anyway. Eventually we’d like him to try to integrate back into his regular classroom with a “buddy” – a designated adult volunteer who helps prepare him for class beforehand and stays with him the whole time to help him with focus, impulse control, emotional reactivity, stimulation, and so on. We’re waiting for a few more volunteers though; I think we’re the third family in line for a buddy 🙂

In the meantime, I’ve already seen a marked change in Rondel on Sunday mornings. I asked him which classroom he’d like to go to and when he answered that he’d prefer the sensory classroom I asked him what he liked about it. After describing the swing and how he can push himself, the beanbags that he can crash into, and the Duplos he can build with, he said, “And I like the other kids there.”

I’ve never heard him say that about a group of children before, besides his cousins.

In just two weeks with this ministry my little social boy, my hypersensitive extrovert, had finally found a place where he could be himself around other kids and still fit in and make friends. He had gone from threatening to hurt and fight with the other kids to telling me how much he liked them, even remembering one of them by name.

I don’t know how all of this will play out in the long run. It’s made me simultaneously more worried and more reassured – worried, because what if something is wrong inside Rondel’s brain that is going to make his whole life more challenging for him; and reassured, because it feels like validation of what I’ve been feeling Rondel’s whole life, that something is just a bit different for him, and because I know there are people on our side in this, rooting for him and supporting him. Whatever does happen in the future, however, Rondel and I are abundantly blessed in this moment to be receiving the unconditional love – giving, serving, and non-judgmental – of the body of Christ through our local church. And for that I am unequivocally thankful.

Posted in family life

Aubade at eight months

What do babies do at eight months?

Well, this one is learning about “in” and “out” with her little red bucket and whatever miscellaneous toys she can find:

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She’s playing peek-a-boo on her own, taking the initiative to hide under a box or scarf then pop out eager to catch the smile or laugh on someone else’s face.

She’s noticing silly sounds that don’t match the normal cadence of speech (like the chug-chug of a train) and laughing at them:

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She’s eating every piece of food she can get her hands on and begging for more! We’re doing baby-led weaning so she’s had quite a large variety of foods already, ranging from the standard banana and Cheerios to pesto and spicy cilantro wheat berries.

She’s charging into every splash pad, hose spray, and puddle she can find, with no fear and pure delight!

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She’s solidly outgrown all her 9 month clothes and is starting to move from the 12 month to the 18 month selection (probably has something to do with all that eating!)

She understands and communicates so well; she is her own little person with an opinion about everything, an openness to exploration, and a great sense of humor – more quirky than Rondel’s pure goofiness, as if seeing something funny hiding just under the surface of everyday life:

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She’s bold, tough, independent, smart, joyful, curious, and persistent – I’m only eight months into knowing her and already I can’t imagine life without her!

Posted in family life

to saw or to claw?

Rondel’s imagination and creativity have been accelerating exponentially these days, with the rather amusing side effect of turning him into a small hilarious lawyer with regards to our house rules. Case in point: after watching me saw half an inch off of my closet rod this afternoon, he found his small plastic saw and scoured the house searching for things to pretend to saw. Naturally, one of the things he found was his brother, and he started “sawing” Limerick’s neck with his toy.

Now, I love for the boys to wrestle and play rough with each other – it lets them get their physical energy out and teaches them to modulate their expression of it since being too violent would end the fun with tears and conflict. And I don’t have any problem with them “sword-fighting” with random objects, taking turns being the “good guy” or “friendly monster” and fighting away the “bad guy” or “scary monster.” But I really didn’t feel comfortable with Rondel pretending to saw his brother. In retrospect, I can’t say why for sure! In the moment, however, I asked him to stop and told him he could saw anything he wanted but not people, because real saws would never be used on people.

He acquiesced amicably (he usually does when I have some sort of reason he doesn’t have a comeback for), but about five minutes later I saw the saw come out again in a tussle with his brother.

“Rondel!” I remonstrated. “What did I tell you about using the saw on people?”

“I’m not sawing him!” retorted Rondel. “It’s just that I’m a Therizinosaurus and I’m using the saw to be my pretend claw!”

Well then.

I know this is the moment where I’m supposed to go all spirit-of-the-law… but I just felt proud! First, he was playing pretend, using the props at hand to construct a vivid imaginary world. Second, he was recalling rather esoteric information that we’d discovered while reading together (Therizinosaurus has the longest claws of any known dinosaur) and working it into his play, which is one of the best ways to cement knowledge. And finally, he was cognizant of my request not to pretend to saw people and was actually being quite respectful of it, even while doing essentially the same physical action I had put a stop to before!

And honestly, because it was the thought of sawing people and not the physical act of thumping someone gently with a piece of plastic shaped like a saw that had bothered me in the first place, I didn’t mind what he was doing at all.

Posted in family life

night time fears

Limerick has been having significant difficulties falling asleep, at nap time and at bed time, even when he is obviously exhausted (bags under his eyes, defiant and emotionally-driven behavior, constant yawns, lack of appetite and a desire for milk, etc.). I’ve been having trouble identifying exactly what is causing it; Limerick doesn’t seem able to express the problem when I ask him what’s wrong or what would help.

Tonight, knowing that a general source of fear among the under four set in the family has been monsters lurking in various places, I asked him if he was scared. Instantly his body got calm and he buried his face in his hands. (In the dialogue that follows, note that Limerick refers to himself as “you”).

“You’re afraid of a monster.”

“Monsters aren’t real, sweetie. They are just pretend, just part of a story, from someone’s imagination.”

“But you still think there’s a monster.”

“Well, can we pray and ask God to keep you safe from any monsters and help you not be scared?”

“That won’t help.”

“What if we ask God to send an angel to fight away any scary or bad things while you’re asleep?”

“That won’t help. You will still think there’s a monster.”

Oh baby. The power of our thoughts is so great. I’ve been in a similar place, where I had a belief that I cognitively knew was unfounded but couldn’t let go (mine was linked to my depression), and I know how hard it is to change one’s thoughts – especially when tired, and probably even more so when one is only two years old. Honestly, I’m impressed he was able to articulate his thoughts so clearly, and I’m not surprised he is struggling to overcome his fears with reason.

I asked him if he had ever seen a monster, and he said he had seen one in a movie. Now, he knows the Monsters Inc. monsters aren’t real, and he seemed to have overcome that fear, so I was a bit confused until he said, “You saw one in the snowman movie.” Ah! “Marshmallow isn’t real either, sweetheart. He is just a pretend story.” The relief in his body was palpable, and at last he was able to relax and fall asleep.

Sometimes it is so hard to get to the root of a behavior with a young child, because it can be difficult for them to understand it themselves, much less explain it to an adult. But it is so much better – for him and for our relationship – when I can take the time to discover the fears and thoughts that are going on underneath, instead of simply trying to address his refusal to lie down and go to sleep by controlling his actions.