Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dear Moe (47th Month)

Hello, my sweet little puppy dog.  It is getting challenging to keep up with these letters every month, so I think I’ll write to you every second month, and we’ll go by calendar month rather than your age. Your next letter will come to you at the end of March, and will talk about all the things we did together in February and March. (I will likely also write you a letter on your fourth birthday, but like last year it will be less about what we have done and more about who you are.)

I didn’t write to you about Christmas in my last letter. You brought the joy to our Christmas this year, my love. It was wonderful to watch your anticipation build – you eagerly opened a new box on your advent calendar every day, and we read stories about Christmas (Mater Saves Christmas, and Olivia Helps with Christmas were two popular ones). You came home from Robin’s with great Christmas-themed crafts and a gorgeous homemade gingerbread house! She baked one for each of you. Noah was home from school that day, and asked if he could help you with yours. You both did an amazing job.

You were a big help with wrapping gifts – you enjoyed stepping on the wrapping paper to hold it in place while I cut it, and putting your finger over the paper folds while I got the tape ready. You selected the paper and gift tags for each gift.

You also gave your own gifts this year. We worked together to make some lovely Christmas ornaments that featured your white handprint on a glass ball, and I used markers to turn the fingers into little snowmen. I think people really liked them. I know we’ll treasure ours for many years until it’s time to give it to you for your own tree.

You managed a huge achievement at Christmas, my love, and left all your soothers in a little bowl for Santa Claus to bring to other babies. In exchange, he left you a second gift. I was so impressed with you. You picked the bowl yourself, and put the soothers in, and chose where you wanted to leave it (on the stairs, so he’d see them as soon as he came in the door). The best part is that you have not asked for a soother since. (You did actually ask twice, out of habit, but as soon as we reminded you, you laughed and said, “Right! I forgot!” and said no more about it.) As a celebration (and commemoration), I gave you a tiny little bunny rabbit stuffie and we named it Soother. I am so proud of you. The fact that you were actually sick at the time makes it an even bigger achievement.

We have reaped the benefits of you giving up your soothers. For one thing, it is so much easier to understand you without that plug in your mouth. For another, I think you sleep better because you can breathe better. And finally, you have been forced to learn other ways to settle yourself down.

Yes, we were sick at Christmas. You and I both had bronchitis and it was brutal. We tried antibiotics, but the infection was viral, so we had to just ride it out. We went through a lot of honey and watched a lot of TV. You only really got back to full energy and appetite in the last week or so. Robin was also sick with bronchial pneumonia, which meant that we spent a lot of time at home together.

Christmas, the excitement and gifts (of which you received many – such lovely things!), the lack of structure, and the bronchitis (yours and mine) all worked together to form a perfect storm that resulted in a terrible holiday hangover, in terms of your behaviour. The dilly-dallying, the badgering, and the whining were becoming pretty unbearable, especially at bedtime. You took dilly-dallying and emotional manipulation to whole new levels, small sir. We have worked hard (all three of us) over the past few weeks, and things are greatly improved. Our home is a much more pleasant place to be. Thank you for all the work you have done – I know you have worked hard, too.

Another big milestone for you was that we finally stopped the weekend afternoon nap. We dropped it in January during the period when bedtime was becoming exhausting, figuring that if you were more tired, you would fuss less. It has helped, for sure. It has also opened up all kinds of wonderful possibilities for playdates and outings. You attended an afternoon birthday party this month (Koen’s, and Monkey Around – you had a wonderful time), which would have been unheard of before.

We are still working on finding a routine for the day that helps you manage your energy. I tried the system my mom used for me - a designated quiet time in your room, where you have one or two toys and any number of books to look through. You play on your bed on your own for at least 30 minutes. I like the idea, but I don’t think this is for us. You don’t excel at playing independently when forced to, and it becomes a power struggle that defeats the point of quiet time. So I tried something new last weekend. We snuggled on the couch for an hour, watching Octonauts. We both got to rest, we enjoyed a really fantastic snuggle, and we both felt refreshed and ready to move on to the next activity. 

Finding a delicate balance with screen time can be challenging. We don’t want you to constantly have your face in the tablet or staring at the TV. Having you healthy has helped immensely. We have gradually reduced the amount of TV you watch, and are more strict about how often you can use the tablet. Some evenings, you elect to skip watching a TV show and instead have what I named a “reading extravaganza” where instead of the usual two or three bedtime stories, we read a crazy number like six or seven! I love these and am so glad you do, too. 

Another thing we are trying to reduce is our use of time out. We got some great advice from Robin, and we have been trying other discipline approaches with good results. We will still use time outs occasionally as a last resort, and we will count-to-consequence as a last resort, too, but we are working on less punishment and more dialogue, and for the most part, it has worked well. 

I have also tried hard to get out of the habit of constantly multi-tasking when I’m with you. I’m trying to be more present, focused on the moment at hand and on fostering moments of connection between us. Constantly multi-tasking - both physically and mentally - has been exhausting, and I didn’t realize how much I was doing it and how much it was draining me. I’m pleased to say that I have more energy, which I’m able to use to actually get things done at appropriate times. 

We have had a lot of fun over the past few weeks, Bean. Our adventures have included a sled-ride (you rode, I pulled) to O’Grady’s with a cab ride home, a playdate with Mistlegoo and Proon Joos (PJ's yarn winder was a huge hit), a morning of swimming at Bambi and Simon’s, a plasma-car obstacle-course adventure in Mark and Janine’s new (empty) house, and visits to the Canada Science and Technology Museum. 

You inherited the Cariboo board game from Mistlegoo, and we have greatly enjoyed it playing it with you. It has helped you with taking turns and understanding that you can’t win every time. It has inspired us to look for other board games for you. 

You have been so snuggly lately. One thing you love to do is pretend you are “a little puppy dog” and you make these adorable little puppy whining noises (much cuter than your actual
whining noises) and snuggle up to us and frisk around. It’s so sweet. At one point, you even lay on the floor and asked me to rub your tummy! You just want hugs and cuddles, and it’s wonderful that you are so affectionate with us. You are also finally able to lie down on one of us when we’re stretched out on the couch and stay there for a while, which has been really lovely. 

One of the reasons that we are treasuring the snuggly moments is that you are growing so fast. You hit some big milestones this month, my love. You graduated out of your car seat and into a booster during the same week that I attended Kindergarten Information Night. I’ll be registering you for full-day Junior Kindergarten in a couple of days. The information night was really helpful and I am confident that you are going to love school. 

You said something the other day that I wanted to record because I was so delighted by it. We have often spoken to you about chosen family and extended family. You were colouring at Mark and Janine’s during their “Come See Our Empty New House” get together (which we greatly enjoyed), and you suddenly looked up and realized that pretty much all the other guests were in another room. 

“We’re kind of far away from our team, Mommy,” you said. 

I love that you see all these adult friends who play such an important role in our lives as “our team.” I didn’t realize it, but that’s how I see them, too. 

Moe, I am amazed at your ability to express how you feel, to call me out on things, and to discuss solutions to problems. For an almost-four-year-old, you are incredibly patient, flexible, and understanding. You are generous, caring, affectionate and loving. Thank you for teaching me so much about myself. It’s an honour to work with you to do the same. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

I can't see if the grass is really greener because there are too many toys.

A recent blog post by a friend triggered a discussion on Facebook, which included a comment about how any time a parent says anything deprecating about life-with-kids, they immediately (and somewhat desperately) follow it up with something along the lines of, "but I love them so much, and it's totally worth it," almost as though they are trying to convince themselves. 

While this comment was made with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it coincided with some soul searching that I have been doing lately. And that led to a number of realizations. 

I have spent a lot of time in the last few months feeling incredibly envious of some of my child-free friends. Like, ridiculously, bitterly jealous. And I have gone through a number of things in the last few months that have had me thinking, "This would be so much easier to deal with if I didn't have Moe." 

If I didn't have Moe, I would have been able to spend as much time as I wanted at Reg's bedside, without worrying that I am away from my child for too long, or that I am asking too much of my partner. 

If I didn't have Moe, I wouldn't be sick so often, and I would actually be able to spend a sick day taking care of myself, instead of taking care of my child (who is also sick). 

If I didn't have Moe, I would have money to travel with my husband. 

If I didn't have Moe, I would have time and money for personal fitness. 

If I didn't have Moe, it would be easier to spend quality time with friends. 

If I didn't have Moe, my house would be cleaner and prettier and better decorated and I wouldn't feel overwhelmed by all our stuff. (This, by the way, is completely untrue.)

If I didn't have Moe, I could be selfish without feeling guilty. 

Every time those thoughts have surfaced, in any shape or form, they have been immediately followed by a huge blanket of shame. (And, as we all know, shame leads to self-loathing which leads to anger and bitterness, which leads to the Dark Side.) 

The shame comes from the fact that for years, hearing people complain about life-with-kids was a source of pain for me. I admit now, when people complained about life-with-kids (or particularly, life-with-very-young-kids), my thought/feeling process would go something like this: "Why do you get to have children, and I don't? I want a child so badly that I would never think those thoughts. I am more deserving of a child than you are."  Which of course led to the core belief that to be worthy as a parent, you must never wish you weren't one. 

I wanted a child so badly. I didn't just choose to have a child. I moved heaven and earth to have one. I wept and screamed and felt like someone was ripping my heart out of my body. I went through physical hell. I made a dear friend put her life on hold and then put her through physical hell, too. I remortgaged my frigging house. 

And through the entire journey, the people I love gave me incredible, amazing and unbelievable emotional support. My friends and family held me up through this struggle. 

So the shame that follows any thought about how life would be easier without Moe is also accompanied by the feeling that I'm letting down all the people who have supported me. I'm letting you all down by not being a good enough, worthy enough parent. I'm not worthy of being a parent, and I'm not worthy of your love. I'm not a good person. I don't deserve my son. 

I know intellectually that this is untrue. But I have developed this pattern of automatic thoughts that lead to these core thoughts, and they come from a place beyond intellect. 

So, tl;dr, instead of feeling envious of people who have kids, I'm feeling envious of people who don't have kids. And those feelings of envy trigger deep feelings of shame and worthlessness, which takes the envy and wraps it up in a chocolatey coating of anger and bitterness. 

I'm in the process of making some changes in my life that will hopefully curb the negative feelings I've been having around a number of other issues. It looks like one of the things I'm going to have to do is accept that feeling that the grass is sometimes greener is totally normal and human, and it doesn't make me a bad person or a bad parent. 

I'm working on changing a lot of bad habits right now. Changing several of those habits will help me change this one. It's all intertwined. It's a process. But this little piece of self-examination has brought the troubling core thoughts to my attention. And that is ultimately positive, because you can't change what you don't know is there. 

(And of course, I'm not sorry I had Moe. Of course I love him, and of course it's all "worth it," whatever that means. If you've read even one of the letters on this blog, that should be obvious to you.) 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dear Moe (46th Month)

Hi, sweetie. I’m pretty darn late with your letter; sorry about that. This past month has just gotten away from me in so many ways. 

I have been very tired and sad, but it hasn’t had anything to do with you. I hope you can understand that. I certainly haven’t been the happy, smiling Mommy you’re used to having around. But through it all, you have been a shining light. Thank you. 

It’s hard to believe that when I wrote your last letter, there was no snow on the ground. We have had so much snow in the past four weeks that our snowbanks are almost as tall as I am. The day of the first snowfall, you and I went for a lovely walk in the snow. You brought your little red shovel with you and shoveled up all the pathways as we walked. I remember that you asked if we could go to O’Grady’s, and I said we couldn’t because I didn’t have any money for O’Grady’s, and you said that was okay and offered to pay with the money in your piggy bank. It was very sweet of you to offer to treat us. You and I have been to O’Grady’s since then, my treat.  

You are a great little snow shoveler, and it is so nice that you finally understand that I want you to put the snow onto the snowbank and not pull the snow off the snowbanks and dump it onto the driveway. Snow shoveling is much more pleasant now that we understand each other. There were a few times last year when I nearly resorted to sticking YOU in the snowbank! 

It has been a month of Christmas preparations and getting excited about Santa Claus. Robin overheard some wonderful and thoughtful discussions between you and Gemma about Santa. You were concerned and hopeful about being on the nice list. You were also worried about Santa (and the presents) getting dirty if he came down the chimney. Santa sent you a video message from the North Pole, and you enjoyed confirmation that you would be on the nice list. Several times throughout the month you have asked to write a letter to Santa to make sure he knows you are on the nice list. 

You delighted in seeing the Christmas lights outside on houses on our street. There’s one house two doors down that has these great little light-up snowmen stakes that look like lollipops. You are enraptured by them, and love to recite the colours as they change. “Red…orange... green… blue… red… orange…” You still pronounce them “yollypops” and I love it. Our neighbour across the street put lights up in their tree and you immediately saw a horse shape in the way they had arranged them. I love seeing the world through your eyes. 

Aunt Janine and Uncle Mark came over to help us decorate the Christmas tree this year. You did a wonderful job, helping us. For one thing, we asked you to make sure that only non-breakable ornaments would be within reach of your cousin Caspian, and you took your job very seriously and ensured that the bottom third of the three was Caspian-friendly. The funniest thing, though, was what happened when you found an ornament that you really liked. You had no interest in putting your favourites on the tree - you just wanted to hold them and look at them for as long as you could. It makes sense - once they are on the tree, they are mostly out of your reach! I also brought out the Christmas village for the first time in years, and lit up a lot of the village pieces for the first time. You could not get enough of looking at the different little buildings, and peering through the windows at the scenes inside. It was wonderful to watch you. 

You have enjoyed helping us wrap and label gifts as Christmas grew closer. It was your job to pick the wrapping paper for each gift, hold the paper down with your feet while we measured it and cut it, and put your finger down to hold the folds in place. You also stuck the adhesive gift tags on each gift, which explains why they were all crooked and kind of randomly placed. (Nobody minded.) 

Our wooden advent calendar came out again this year, and you have greatly enjoyed the daily ritual of opening a little box and pulling out a tiny ornament to hang on the wooden tree. I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts - I’m sure it won’t be long until you figure out that there are chocolate advent calendars out there. 

You have been playing a lot with language in the past month or so. You like to create spoonerisms, or repeat a series of words with the wrong starting consonants. For example, if I say, “Please put on your coat,” you’ll say back to me, “No, I’m going to sput on my bloat!” and laugh at how silly it sounds. Unfortunately, these playful sessions often begin with name calling, “Mommy, you’re a (insert silly words here).” I keep trying to shift your energies away from the name calling and toward silly spoonerisms. You don’t even know what names you are using - most of them are nonsensical - but when I ask you if you would like to be called that name, you say no, which tells me that I don’t want to be called that name either. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there. 

This past month, you completed your first sessions as a Komet Kid at gymnastics, and started your second session. You have a new coach, Galaga, who you like, but you don’t seem to have the same bond with her that you did with Pepe. It’s possible that it will come in time. One lovely thing about this new session is that Emma is in your class! Granted, we haven’t seen much of her because you have both been sick, but hopefully things will get back to normal in the new year. 

At the end of your first session, we were treated to a “gymnastics showcase” where we could bring guests to watch your class. You had a whole cheering section, with Aunt Janine, Uncle Mark, Granny and me. We were allowed to take photos, which was wonderful. It was so lovely to see how your confidence has grown in the past weeks. I look forward to marking the same kinds of changes at the end of this second session.    

Thanks to a special uncle with magical technical abilities, we’ve been watching a lot of Mike the Knight in the past month, and you have really finally gotten into the knightly Playmobil set that you got from Robin last Christmas. You love playing with the knights and the dragon. I really like the show, and much prefer it to your other current TV obsession, Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Having said that, though, it is awesome listening to you sing along to the Jake theme songs.

You enjoy singing, and in the last month, have really started to get earworms and show more interest in the songs you hear on the radio or on the iPad. You’ll ask who is singing the song, and what the song is called. We recently rediscovered our wedding CD and you love the song Storybook Love. 

You are also learning how to use a mouse, thanks to the Dinosaur Train website and its great series of games. I’m going to have to get you a nice little mouse that is a bit simpler to use than mine. I think it would help you to have defined buttons to push and a mouse that fits better in your small hand. 

We have had some lovely moments in the past month, darling. But it has been a very hard time for me due to Grandpa Reg’s illness. His health has been in decline for the last month or so, but this month it declined very quickly. He entered palliative care in early December, and I spent most of my time at his bedside. That meant that you didn’t see much of me in the evenings and that Daddy did dinner, bath and bedtime on his own with you most days. I tried to keep things balanced and not be away too often by spending time at the Perley during the day while you were at daycare, and not being away too many evenings in a row. 

It was very difficult for me to explain to you that Grandpa Reg was dying, but I did my best to make you understand what that means. Of course, you are not even four years old, and while you understand the words, it will likely be a while before you understand their meaning. I did my best to prepare you and explain things to you in a way that was realistic without being traumatizing and comforting without being untruthful -- Grandpa Reg was such a big part of your reality that it seemed unfair to keep it from you. 

At bedtime on December 18, I gave you the little red cardinal stuffie that you gave Grandpa Reg last year. You asked me why it was yours, and I said because Grandpa Reg didn’t need it anymore because he died. We talked about it a bit - you asked some really great questions and I did my best to answer them. I told you that we could talk more in the morning, if you wanted. 

The next morning, you told your Daddy, “You know, Daddy, Grandpa Reg died.” 

“I know, buddy,” said your Daddy sadly. 

I asked you how you felt about that. 

“Good,” you said laconically. “Because we can still visit Grandma Joan. She didn’t die.” 

And that weekend, you asked again, so we went. And you asked to see Grandpa Reg’s empty room, so I showed it to you. And when I asked you how the empty room made you feel, you said, “Not good, Mom.” And we went and visited Grandma Joan and you insisted on staying until the PSW came to take her for a bath. And you gave her a lovely hug when we left. 

As I left the Perley that day, walking hand in hand with you, I was very sad, but also so very proud of my wonderful little boy.