Thursday, February 27, 2014

Consequences and Coping

Lately, I've been thinking about the consequences of our actions and words, taking responsibility for those consequences, and sitting with negative emotion rather than fighting against it.

My son is at the age when he's beginning to be able to understand consequences. This is hard for me. It's about him pushing limits and as parents being strong enough to follow through on a consequence. For instance, when Munch repeatedly pokes a balloon with something sharp (I mean, not like scissors for God's sake) or lays on top of it and we say he will pop it if he continues, then he continues and pops it, I cannot run out to get him another balloon to stop the ensuing devastation. Actions have consequences.

My mother-in-law has told the story of when Hubs, in a bit of a rage, threw his favorite Garfield toy across the room and the plastic eyes split down the center. Hubs was devastated. He learned, actions have consequences.

Shit happens. And sometimes, we cause the shit to happen. It is hard for many people, myself included, to accept the consequences of our actions, and to "force" others to face the consequences of theirs.

As a mother, as the type of person I am, my instinct is to soothe soothe soothe. And of course when Munch does something dumb and REGRETS it, of course I can soothe him and hug him. But I can't always--and shouldn't always--fix it for him.

When something happens TO him, it will likely be even harder for me. When he doesn't make a team or a friend hurts him, I'm not going to be able to fix that either. I won't be able to remove the negative emotion.

I have an incredibly hard time sitting with feeling bad or angry or anything negative. In my brain, negative = bad = no love. If a family member is angry at me, it used to be, I would roil with anxiety and wring my hands and figure out how to "fix it," even if it wasn't truly my problem to "fix." Now, I'm working on it, trying to be better at COPING.

The ability to cope is one of the biggest gifts I can give my child. The ability to process a problem ON HIS OWN and come up with a resolution or at least lay those bad feelings to rest without pushing them away. This is what leads to a well-rounded adult with a healthy emotional range.

Smoothing out his life will not lead to him being able to cope. Life is hard, life sucks sometimes. He will have to learn that, FEEL THAT, experience that. And know that some problems will be his to figure out on his own, with Hubs and me as a constant soft place to fall when his efforts are not enough and his burdens grow too large. We will be the place to refuel and regroup, so he can dive back in again. This is what I want for my child, what I'm working to give him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The World Closes In

Yesterday, when I picked Munch up from daycare, he was cowering behind his favorite teacher because he was scared that another boy was screaming.

Munch is in a big "scary" phase right now. Over the weekend, we removed a lamp from his room because it cast a shadow he didn't like. Last night, he wanted a Mickey-head-shaped bottle of bubbles out. And right before bed, a book was banished because it was on his nightstand, which is usually clear, and was "scary." All these items were banished to "Mommy Daddy's" room.

And, admittedly, a severed Mickey head sitting on your shelf may not be the most comforting thing.

So when I got to daycare and found him scared, I wasn't surprised. His teacher, whom I really enjoy and who truly cares for Munch, said, "I told him, 'Be a man, don't be scared.' "

And I smiled a frozen smile, bent over, ran my hand over Munch's head, and said, "It's okay to be scared, everything is okay." My standard line.

And his teacher immediately said, "Oh yes honey, it's okay to be scared."

So many people are going to tell Munch so many things. And I can't stop that. So many people are going to influence his outlook. I know that as his parents, Hubs and I will have a huge role in how he sees the world, but others' views will get in there too.

In this teacher's household or worldview, men may not show fear.

In my household, men feel fear and are free to show it because that's what makes them strong men. Not being afraid to show fear or sadness or loneliness or hope.

There will be other things: Right now, Munch loves pink. He invariably picks the pink ball. He gets whatever ball he wants. And I feel myself bracing inwardly because I know, someday, someone will say, "Boys don't like pink. Get a blue ball."

And will Munch brush this off and say, well, I like pink so I'm getting the pink ball? Or, will he tuck something fundamental down inside himself and stick with blue or green or brown?

He will learn things that "society" believes. Skinny is good and fat is bad. Only weak men cry. If you're not first, you're last. Only dorks read. Coloring is for girls. Don't laugh too loud.

And I will run to sweep up the dregs of these bullshit statements, counter them as best I can by modeling strong beliefs and having open conversations and reassuring Munch that if he likes Sophia the First or Cinderella, then BY GOD WATCH IT.

But the world is many and I am one. And Munch will be who he will be.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

There and Back Again

About a week ago, I sat next to my sunscreened husband on a catamaran boat, our legs swinging over the side as we watched the sun set over the Caribbean Sea. The air was warm and breezy, the drinks refreshing, the sea clear and blue.

Hubs and I just spent 7--but really 9 because of travel times--days and nights away from our little Munch. It was our 12th anniversary on February 1, and it was a perfect way to spend it.

Not to sound ungrateful, (bear with me) but this is not a trip I asked for. In fact, when Hubs called me a year ago and said he'd won the trip in a drawing at work, I immediately began to cry.

Because I knew. I knew I would "have" to go. And I knew Munch would not be.

Winning a trip as a mother is not the same as winning a trip as a free-wheeling single lady (disclaimer: I have never been this person, but I imagine it's not the same). First thoughts were not of snorkeling and excursions and how many bathing suits to bring but OH MY GOD I CAN NEVER SPEND THAT MUCH TIME AWAY FROM MUNCH. I felt panicky and scared and sad.

There was a lot of motherly guilt thrown in at the beginning of trip planning: A mother "shouldn't" "abandon" her child to go off on a vacation. A mother "shouldn't" be able to spend 9 nights away while her son was in the capable hands of another. A mother "shouldn't" "want" to do these things.

And I always get a bit of a twinge when I hear statements from mothers like, "In 15 years, I've never spent a night away from my children." It's a bit of a badge of honor but also sacrifice. To not be in that club, well, frankly it makes me sometimes feel like I'm selfish or I must not care about my kid as much. I know these are false feelings, but they are the ones I hear whispering at night.

But. I've talked before about how I am desperately in love with my husband. We want to believe that this is a "given" and a "duh" in marriage, but I've seen enough marriages that prove this is not the case. But I do love Hubs, like love him, and it's always been extremely important to me for our children to witness this love. We love to be together. And while we love to parent together, this is different from "being" together. Relaxing together.

Hubs and I had not been on a Caribbean vacation where we didn't know another person since our honeymoon, 7 years ago.

Through good, hard work and a lot of support from my family (and, of course, my counselor), I put those "motherly guilt" statements aside. I worked to replace them with statements about how important it is for a husband and a wife to spend one-on-one time together, especially when both are working parents. How important it is for our son to see us enjoy spending time together. How important for our son to know he can spend time away from us, have a great time away from us in fact, and learn how that is okay and normal and good. How important for Munch to know that we can go away and come back.

And so we went. My biggest hurdles were the plane trips. I was terrified, despite all my logic-thinking. "Turbulence is normal." "Flying is a safe mode of travel." I was a mess both travel days, until wheels down in our final destination cities. My panic only heightened as we got closer to seeing Munch again--I wanted it so much, I was sure I wouldn't get to. But, of course, we did.

And it was wonderful seeing our Munch again. He was excited, we were excited. He had such fun at gramma and grampa's, and I thank my in-laws to high heaven for taking such amazing care of him--I never once worried about how he was doing, and that in itself is a blessing. We've had some transition bumps the past few days, like at night when he holds my hand and whispers over and over "Mommy, no go leave." Some meltdowns ("Mommy say no to me."). But, mostly all is back to normal. This is good for him to see, but also good for me to see.

I did it! I made it. It may seem strange to feel a sense of accomplishment after merely going on vacation, which I know we were truly blessed to do, but I do feel proud. Now, with a snowstorm bearing down, St. Lucia is a distant memory, almost as if it was a dream. Did I really lie on the beach for 7 straight hours a day? Did I wear my bathing suit and flip flops? Does the resort really exist?

They are memories Hubs and I will cherish, and we're committed to making vacations like these priorities in the coming years. And, similar to how I feel as a working mom, being away from and subsequently back with Munch has made me appreciate him all the more. The way he smiles and jumps 11 times in a row and plays with my hair and kisses our cats. I am thankful and grateful for the time away, and for coming back to my normal routine.
Mama’s Losin’ It