Thursday, March 29, 2012

Accentuating the Postive

Earlier today, I posted here about one of my "everyday struggles" of parenthood, which is a recurring theme here.  After that, I spent quite a bit of time reading some outstanding essay contest submissions for a children's hospital fundraiser--essays by parents of special needs children, parents of sick children, and parents of dead children. And I felt like an asshole.

I am blessed with two healthy, fully functioning, mostly happy kids.  So much of being a parent is rewarding and full of warm fuzzies, yet most of what I write here makes it sound like an incredible chore. I don't want to sound like a whiner, because I know that my family has got it good.  We are the lucky ones.

When I write about the challenges and frustrations, it's not because they dominate;  it's because they are the things I need to process and work through, and writing about them and hearing your feedback helps me do that.  When I experience one of those wonderful parenting moments in which I'm overwhelmed with love and happiness for my children, it's not complicated.  I can bask in it pretty much solo, except for those we-made-this(?!) moments with my husband.  The tough stuff requires some effort, and that's why it comes out here.

So, I hope you don't think I'm a jerk or a complainer.  I'm just another parent trying to do the best I can,  trying to put together my village.

Tonight, when my sweet little girl in her fuzzy ballerina nightgown rested her head between my cheek and shoulder as I read Charlotte's Web aloud, and my lovable little boy told me he liked it when I put my arm around him as we read, I took a moment to savor the good things and forget about the worries.  I'm so very grateful for my life, and I love those little urchins, even when they drive me crazy.

Works in Progress

I recently came across the term "asynchronous development."  It is a term applied most often to very gifted children and means that their intellectual, emotional, and social skills develop at different rates.  An example would be a six-year-old who thinks like a nine-year-old, but throws tantrums like a four-year-old.

While this issue can be very pronounced, and quite likely problematic, for gifted children (likely more pronounced the more gifted they are in an area), it's something that I observe in my own children and others all the time.  Reading about it in severe cases was an excellent reminder to me that, not only do kids not develop skills at the same rate, but also that each child does not mature consistently across different skills.  Or, as I like to think of it, sometimes they seem so big, and sometimes they seem so little.

Most of the time, I just marvel at the situation.  The same kid who seems to be growing up and growing away from me one day is the kid who needs Mom's assurance the next day.  The kid who is starting to read the classics still loves the carousel.  It's normal but leaves a parent never knowing just which behavior to expect or how much her child wants or needs her at any time.

Like a lot of parents, however, I sometimes wonder what's "normal" and what's "a problem."  I disdain the hyperparenting trend, yet I want to help my child if something is not up to speed.

I don't know about other people, but I have a tendency to downplay my children's strengths and to worry about their weaknesses.  My kids are both advanced readers, but I genuinely don't assume they are hugely smarter than the other kids.  They are five and eight, and I know that reading skills are developing through the second grade, so I just assume they are developmentally advanced in this particular area.

You'd think I would be able to apply the same logic when it is an area in which they do not excel.  Instead, more often than I'd like to admit, I either generalize it as a weakness or wonder if it's a cause for concern.  After all, my son may not be that interested in sports, but it's far too soon to generalize his aptitude;  he's eight.  I worry that a child's occasional tantrum or emotional outburst is a sign of a larger issue, but perhaps emotional development is just an area which the child is lagging behind, not failing.

I need to remind myself that they are works in progress.  They are not going to develop lockstep with other kids, and they are not going to mature across all areas at the same rate.  Sometimes, I can speak with them as if they are mini-adults.  Sometimes, they are going act like poorly behaved children.  While I'd like to avoid the poorly behaved part, the fact remains that they are children, and sometimes they are going to act that way.  The best I can do is to try to be the parent they need me to be in the moment.

The trick is figuring out what they need.  When my kids were infants, I was often frustrated because I'd exhausted everything I knew--feeding, burping, diapering, rocking, walking, singing--and they still cried.  I'd ask, "What do you want?" even though I knew they couldn't answer.  Now they can form the words, but it doesn't mean they can identify and articulate their needs.   That leaves me continuing to wonder what can I, as a parent, do to care for them and make it better?

Yesterday, my son announced that he was "too mature" to use the word "boo-boo." That doesn't mean he doesn't have them, inside and out, and it's still my job to find those boo-boos and do what I can to make them better and teach him how to help himself.  It's not easy, but it's my job.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Social Interaction

If you're reading this blog, the odds are high that you also are a Facebook friend of mine. If that's the case, I don't need to explain that I am a very active Facebook user--perhaps too active. Many people, my husband among them, fundamentally do not understand the allure of Facebook or, in fact, the interest in sharing so much with others. I'm one of those people who immediately posts new photos (although rarely of myself) and frequent random thoughts as status updates. I'm certain that several of my Facebook friends have blocked my frequent posts from their news feed for my excessive content and their lack of interest.

I've been thinking about what exactly I so enjoy about Facebook and why (not being hyperbolic) I'm quite grateful for it. I think it's a factor of the stage of life I'm in--both my age and the fact that I am a stay-at-home-mom (or "homemaker," as I affirmed to a medical office receptionist this week, almost without giggling).

At my age, with the level of education my spouse and I have and the types of jobs we've held, we are far from home and have moved several times. We have friends scattered pretty widely. If I lump them into buckets of time and place, I have friends from growing up, college, law school, Atlanta, the Bay Area, Chicago, and now Rhode Island. Facebook is a means of connecting, even on a small level, with these people all over the country and the world. I most appreciate having frequent, more in-depth interaction with friends with whom I'd most likely otherwise exchange only Christmas cards or a once- or twice-a-year phone call. However, I also like that I've made contact with some people I'd truly have considered only acquaintances. As long as we truly had some past relationship--and didn't just attend the same school--and they have clever, interesting things to say, I'm interested to hear from them.

As someone who always has been a social person, my generation's acceptance of Facebook during my early parenting years has been a real blessing. Staying at home with children can be quite isolating, and often sharing my thoughts in a quick status update and getting a response from a friend is just enough social interaction to keep me going in the middle of the day. My husband works a fair amount--and, let's be honest, has little interest in the minutiae of my moment-to-moment thoughts that often appear on Facebook--at best I have time to chat with a friend once or twice a week (often with kids running around interrupting us), and my kids are, well, kids. Fascinating in their own right, but hardly fulfilling my craving for witty rejoinders.

So, thank you Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook employees, and all of you Facebook friends who keep me company. You're each adding just a little dose of social to my otherwise fairly quiet existence. Please keep in touch.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In Need of a Village

If I had to describe myself in a single word, I'd proudly say "capable."  That may not seem like the most desirable of all human qualities, but I find that it works for me.  Give me a task or a responsibility, and I will ensure that it is done and done right.

This quality made me an excellent junior associate when I practiced law.  All someone needed to do was provide me a general overview or outline of the task at hand, and I would follow it through to completion, making sure all the I's were dotted and T's were crossed.  For the most part, it makes me a pretty useful person to have around.  I'm certainly lacking in other useful qualities--take creative thinking--but if I surround myself with people who can point me in the right direction, I can get the job done.

I think the fact that I identify myself this way is why I find parenting so hard--I so often feel incapable.  Just when I've figured out babies, I have a toddler.  I figure out toddlers, and I have an eight-year-old.  If I ever figure out this phase, I'm bound to be knocked silly by pre-teens and teenagers. (I shudder at the thought.)  These little humans really should come with an instructional manual so I have some idea of what to expect next.

It's this lack of knowledge that is such a bitch.  I think about how many more pediatrician visits the first child had than the second.  When you haven't seen something before, you don't know whether or how much to worry.  By the second kid...that horrible cough?  It's croup. Seen it before, don't need a doctor visit.  Hand, foot and mouth?  It's a virus, it will go away. Nothing you can do until then.  Fever?  Is it 106?  No?  OK, give some Tylenol and call the doctor if it's not gone in three days.  If I have knowledge, I feel more in control, more capable of handling the issue at hand.  When it comes to parenting, I feel like I'm always playing catch-up. The kids grow, they change, and the things to wonder and worry about change constantly.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not flogging myself for not being perfect, and I'm certainly not competing for competence with the mom down the street.  It's just that I am confident when I feel capable,  I feel capable when I think I know how to solve a problem, and I can only solve a problem if I have sufficient knowledge.  As a result, when I feel insufficiently informed, I don't feel capable or confident.  I feel overwhelmed.    

For this reason, I have a new appreciation for the "it takes a village" theory.  If I can access the collective knowledge of friends, family, doctors and educators, maybe every new phase of child development won't seem so overwhelming.  I'll have some idea what to expect, as well as what to do with the unexpected.  Until I find that instruction manual, I'd better damn well put together one hell of a village.  If you're reading, you're in.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Song

Since I first had the technology, the early signs of spring have made me want to drive around with the sunroof open, listening to loud music.  It is 55 degrees and sunny here in New England in early March, so today qualified as just such a day.  Driving with the sunroof of the minivan open on the way to Target may not be quite the experience I once had, but a girl's got to work with what she has.

It's the kind of day that makes you want to listen to favorites songs you haven't heard in a while, so I was sampling and shuffling my way through my iPod.  I started with A-Ha, moved to ABBA, then Adam Ant and Adele, and realized I'd better let the device select the songs before I caused a traffic accident working through them alphabetically.  I'm so happy I did.

After a while, "But Anyway" by Blues Traveler came on.  It was like a time warp. I was transported back to Duke University on a sunny spring day.   That song is like a spring anthem;  one spring during college it seemed to blast out the windows of dorm rooms all over the quad, where it seems we loitered constantly (did we even go to class in spring?).

After living in the memory for a while, I tried to determine which spring that was.  I haven't checked my facts on this one, but it has to have been the spring of sophomore year, 1991.  I feel pretty decisively about this one.  Off and on since January of that year, I'd been "hanging out" and "hooking up" with (no one "dated" when I went to college) a guy who was a sometimes friend and sometimes more-than-a-friend.  We'd had a special few days together during Duke's annual pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach that May. He'd returned to campus before I did and left for home before I returned from the beach.  When I returned to my dorm room, I found a cassette tape copy of the Blues Traveler album in my room (because I think all of West Campus knew where we stashed our key).

Five years later, the Blues Traveler CD from which the cassette was made would be merged with my CD collection.  Four years after that, it would be legally half mine.  Another four years later, that same Blues Traveler CD would be copied to my computer, put into my iTunes Library and onto my iPod.  Another eight years and another few iPods later, that same file would be playing aloud in my minivan on a sunny early March day in New England.

This is why I have to write down the errands I need to run, lest I run off to a sunny day in 1991 in my head and completely forget to buy socks.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I've been thinking about my grandpa a lot lately.  When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in the same town I did, so they were very much a part of my everyday life.  My grandma passed away right before I got married.  My parents retired and moved to a sane climate a few years ago, and I live halfway across the country, so I don't have reason to be in my hometown much anymore.  The last time I saw Grandpa was almost three years ago.

I will be back home to see friends in a few months, and I obviously should stop to visit Grandpa too.  The thing is--and I'm mortified to say this--but I'd really rather not.  See, Grandpa has been in the memory unit of a nursing home for the past couple years, and I'm fairly certain he won't know who I am.  I know that, and the fact of it doesn't upset me.  It's just not the last memory of him I want to have.

When I saw Grandpa three years ago, he was beginning to have memory trouble.  The day I saw him was a good day, and we had a fantastic visit.  He told me stories, showed me old photos, and seemed thrilled to have someone who was genuinely interested in what he had to say.  Afterward, he told my mother what a nice visit we'd had.  While a big marshmallow inside, Grandpa was always pretty gruff about things, so I took this as quite a compliment.

This Christmas, my aunt showed him our family Christmas card as a means of identifying me as the sender of a particular Christmas gift.  He insisted that the woman she pointed to wasn't me, and instead pointed to my four-year-old daughter and said, "That's Cynthia."  I am incredibly grateful that my aunt shared this story with me, because it meant Grandpa at least knew me at some moment in time, even if that time was 35+ years ago.  At some point, he will not.

The other reason I've been thinking about this has to do with a book I just finished (more on that later).  The book is, among other things, about dementia patients and the effects of the disease on the patients' families.  I paraphrase, but the book explains that families of dementia patients have to understand that the person before them is not the same person they have loved, but someone who still benefits from their love and affection.  One adult child of a dementia patient said he was able to deal with it so well because he said goodbye to his parent years ago and was getting to know the new person brought on by dementia.

Scary stuff.

In this light, I've been thinking that my visit may be less upsetting than I anticipated.  I will continue to think of my grandpa as I always knew him--a lovable curmudgeon who told me "Santa died" (don't ask) and "just say NO" (to boys).  He smelled of Vitalis, beer in a plastic pitcher from the basement keg, popcorn he made on the stove, and Doublemint gum that he kept in his center dresser drawer (and that I was allowed to pilfer).   I picture him seated at his spot at the kitchen table or in a lawn chair getting some sun in the backyard.  I hear his grumbling at my grandmother and the rest of us, and I hear his laugh, which once was plentiful.  I won't let his illness affect the lifetime of memories I already have.

This is about how he remembers me, so it's how I'll choose to remember him.  One of my favorite photos:

The book I read is Making Rounds with Oscar:  The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa, M.D.  The author's son and mine are good friends, and I believe we parents are becoming good friends as well.  While promoted as a book about a nursing home cat that knew when a resident was about to die (which it is), it is really about the much deeper issues of aging, dementia, and end-of-life care decisions.  The book was an easy read containing anecdotes from the author's geriatric practice, but clearly has left me thinking about some very personal and important issues.

Old Favorites

I've been a bit under the weather this weekend.  It seems that, no matter how old I get, I still want my mom when I'm feeling crummy.  Unfortunately for me, she is several states away, but I got my comfort from another favorite--Gone With the Wind.

It has been my favorite movie for as long as I can remember.  Since it is nearly four hours in length, I don't often get an opportunity to watch it and probably haven't in over a decade.  Last night, I made it to Intermission, and I think I'll be finishing it tonight.  Somehow, it was made weirdly better by the fact that I only own GWTW on VHS, so had to watch it swaddled in a quilt in the basement playroom, with the old TV and VCR.  Since I haven't developed a favorite that bears repeat viewing since my school years, VHS felt just right for this one.

I suppose adulthood doesn't lend itself to lounging around repeatedly watching the same movies over and over;  at least mine doesn't.  In high school, we watched The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire.  College was when the obsessive repeat viewing went into high gear, and the hours "wasted" on Bull Durham, Pretty Woman, Overboard, and When Harry Met Sally are too many to count (and too embarrassing to share, if I could).  I'm fairly certain I could sit down and do nearly the full dialogue of those movies from beginning to end, as could my college roommates.

Many of these favorites (GWTW) qualify as excellent film.  Others (St. Elmo's Fire) do not. Somehow, it doesn't matter.  There is something comforting in knowing every scene, every quotable bit of dialogue, and putting yourself back in the time and place when you first began to memorize every word.

If I'm feeling up to it, I really should tidy the house this evening.  It's in pretty rough shape since I've been sleeping most of the last couple days.  Odd are, however, I'll be back at Tara this evening, because as Scarlett says, "Tomorrow is another day."