Screeching into the Preteen Years

It was a very quick decision placing (way too many) hundreds of dollars on my credit card to purchase a plane ticket for Super Tall Guy. His aunt and her three boys were leaving five days from that Saturday to visit family in California. She thought his presence might be a helpful “buddy” to her oldest son as they are both early morning risers, love to spend more time in the water than her younger two, and are generally more similar in personality. Super Tall Guy thought it would an exciting time. I thought it would be amazingly quiet without his intense energy for a week.

I think we all were right. What I didn’t think about, though, was how to define communication expectations for him. After texting him for four days and not getting a response (except for one app purchase request which was flatly denied by me), I decided to give him a call. I was driving back from a presentation hours away from home and my sister handed him the phone. Pretty sure there wasn’t even a “hello,” before he said, “I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me alone.”

“Son, I haven’t talked to you for four days. I miss you.”

“Leave me alone,” he grumped.

“You’re not serious.”

“Leave me alone.”

Displaying all 47 years chockfull of maturity, I snapped, “Fine. Goodbye” and hung up.

Then I burst into tears. What had I done wrong? How could my son not want to talk to his mother? Doesn’t he miss me at all? Does he hate me?

I was miserable the whole way home. My sister texted, “Don’t worry about it.” My best friend said, “Yep, that’s just the way these boys are.” (Her boys are eleven and thirteen.) But I was heartbroken.

And then “sad-mad.” It’s one of my favorite expressions from the movie Home. It just captures human emotion so well. I went from sad to mad in minutes. How could he not talk to me?!? Didn’t I just spent way too much money to send him out there?!? How could he be so disrespectful?!? What an ungrateful child.

mat-2-17He knew he was in trouble the next day when I picked them up from the airport. “Sorry,” he muttered. He handed over his iPod when I informed him that since he couldn’t use it as the communication tool it’s supposed to be, he’d have to separate from it until he figured out communication! 😉  He lay in bed that night explaining that he didn’t mean to be rude. He just didn’t know he was “responsible” for talking to his mom. Amazingly, I pointed out, he was able to communicate with his best friend during his trip. There were plenty of texts sent to another person’s device.

And then it hit me. Eric Erikson was right. Super Tall Guy was screeching into the “Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority” stage in which the peer group becomes more important to the child than the parent perspective. He may be ready to enter this stage, but his mom isn’t yet. 

Not only was he changing his focus in communicating, but he had also learned “independence” in bedtime during his trip away. Instead of listening to me drone on and on while reading, he now would rather listen to music. While I can’t begrudge the sudden “free” time I find in the evening, I miss those quiet moments of “Read Mom!” and sharing books together. Now I’m wondering how I will ever get book seven of the Harry Potter series read! 

It’s one thing to have a PhD in Developmental Psychology and to have learned all the stages in fine detail, but it’s another thing to be living them and trying to figure out how to best love my boys through each stage into adulthood, responsibility, independence, competence, self-assurance, wisdom and respect.

It’s a work in progress, but I think I’m learning a lot more than they are.

The True Story of the Beach Vacation

… as told by the 2-year-old….I mean, who else really knows the truth!

  • When you say, “we’re going to the beach today,” is there a way you could have explained hours and hours….and HOURS in a carseat?
  • The words “water” and “waves” don’t exactly convey the truth of a huge expanse of ice bath. And really, “here comes a little wave” greatly depends on your perspective ….because something that hits me squarely in the chest seems a bit like a typhoon.
  • When I say “bandaid,” I don’t mean that you should put one on my badly skinned knee…and I certainly don’t mean you should rip off more skin in removing it. I’m actually trying to tell you that my boo-boo really hurts. That is blood, after all.
  • “Night, night” and “nap time” are NOT two of my favorite words, even if they are yours.
  • You know those two right-footed over-sized plastic shoes I wore the whole trip out because you didn’t pay enough attention to me (kid number 5 – geesh!!) – you think they might have something to do with the wounds on my feet? Or are you just going to label me “Banged-up Seth” and add more bandaids?!?
  • It seems to me that the brothers are making some choices in flavors at Yums Yums Ice Cream and you’re going to give me a tiny bit of vanilla again? I mean, really, is it my fault that the chocolate stained the white shirt? Who put that shirt on me anyway?
  • So it took you four days to “realize” that you had a size 1 wetsuit in the swim bucket that actually fit me? Well, yeah, I look adorable – I’m also finally warm, thank you. Days and days of mind-numbing teeth chattering pain….and now I’m “adorable.”
  • Apparently I didn’t see the big hole that sent me flying into that rock and “owwie” actually means “I’m hurt.” Yes, this is blood on my hand. What….it’s two hours later and you’re going to act shocked that the middle part of my front tooth is missing?!? Really?!?
  • You may think he looks like a nice dentist but I don’t think I need any gloved fingers in my mouth. Okay, Sunshine Dentistry, the balloons are a nice touch.
  • Have you tried to eat a pretzel rod with half of your tooth missing?
  • When I say “gaglassh,” I am not referring to your glasses, nor my desire for a pair of sunglasses, nor a giraffe…or grass….or anything else you’re coming up with.  Why do you tall things think that you know everything?
  • At what point did I not make myself perfectly clear that I don’t want to have my picture taken on the beach this morning?
  • Well what do you think? If you tumbled down a staircase 10 times your size, do you think you might be a bit ouchy too? And you want me to tell you where it hurts?!?
  • Wait – you’re going to refer to me as “23 pounds of spunk”…. ”loud”…. ”stubborn”…. ”persistent”…. “independent” – gosh, look what I have to put up with – 4 rambunctious boys and you!  (see also the older brother’s view a couple years ago: https://middleofthemadness.org/2012/08/14/top-ten-disney/)
  • I don’t really find it funny when you smugly say “I only have to understand half of what he says since he’s two years old.”  Didn’t I hear somewhere that you haveExhausting parents a degree in development? I’d also like to know when that pediatrics degree is going to help me any – let’s look at the bandaid….tooth….stairway incidents, for example.  Who gave you those degrees anyway?
  • So, you think it’s cute to road trip with me wearing a shirt saying “My parents are exhausted.”  It’s more like “My parents are exhausting!”  So happy to be home – put me to bed, “peas.”

Just a little patience….and grace…..and joy.

One push of the pedal…

Two pushes

Three and he was off

Training wheels gone and Micah was soaring…and I’ve heard nothing else for the past two days than “Can we go ride our bikes?”

It’s so fun to see the joy on their faces when they learn something new. Micah knew he was ready to do it this time. Any other time that the training wheels even wobbled a smidge, he would get upset and unwilling to ride his bike. But the other day, it was Ryan’s new bike and it just seemed so attractive to Micah. And there were no training wheels on it so it was the perfect opportunity to try. And he did it – around and around the church parking lot he went, testing out his speed, figuring out how to slow down to make the turns, learning to put his feet down to stop. He was in heaven. I hope he soon learns to use the brakes rather than the tops of his shoes to slow down the tires!

As there was a wrench handy and sheer joy in Micah’s new accomplishments, Noah brought his little bike over and demanded that his training wheels take a hike too. I knew Noah had the balance for it so a few hard twists of rusted bolts, and he was ready to try. His bike is a little big for him so he needed some steadying of it until he got peddling and then kaboom! He was gone. I ran alongside him wondering if I really intended to be helpful in any way should he start falling. Probably not. I shouldn’t have worried – he never even wobbled – and after a few seconds, he said “Next I’ll ride with one hand!”  Tiny little 4-year-old whizzing around on a tiny little bike. With grit and determination and a whole TON of tears, he finally taught himself to start peddling on his own without me holding the bike. It was a mix of his desire and my “planned ignorance” to encourage him to learn.

Such a fun evening for both of them (and they were wiped-out asleep by 7:30!). However, I was not interested in taking them back to the parking lot at 7:10 the next morning and so promised we’d take the bikes to the park after church. Given a little bit of inappropriate running in church (“Geesh, M and N! I JUST told you as we drove in to the parking lot to NOT run in church!!), the bikes were required to spend 10 minutes in the car contemplating their misbehavior before they could get out and cruise around the pond.  Soon, though, the two boys were learning such things as how to avoid casual pedestrians and zippy little toddlers, how to keep their eyes looking forward, and to keep the two bikes away from each other to minimize scrapes and falls. These are lessons that will need to be learned in a very repetitive fashion I can tell.

While the bike excitement lapped the pond, I chased little Seth. As we passed a few people, an older guy caught my eye after he clearly noted the older boys. “Yes,” I said in one of those I’m-the-proud-mother tone of voice, “they just learned to ride two wheels yesterday.” My smile smoldered when he cut “oh, they’re yours, eh?”  I walked on wondering how a total stranger can dash parental joy and wondering what issue he had with the boys (though a few minutes later I noticed him beckon them to slow down and I realized he was probably trying to protect his dainty toddling granddaughter from the vicious bike gang).

It’s amazing how every life is a little thread that goes and goes, intersecting with other people’s threads and getting bumped or jiggled…or totally derailed as a result. My boys’ threads were in the joy of a new skill and the freedom of bikes without training-wheel drag. I rejoiced in their new ability….and “the” stranger’s thread bumped into ours with dismay….but, he does not know their joy. And he does not know that they are still learning. That one day soon they will realize their responsibility as a bike rider to not clip the back of someone’s heel. They will know to keep it slow around other people and kids. They will learn to slow down to make a sharp turn. But yesterday, their thread was so early on in their learning process – they were still working on slight shifts in balance.

As I think about this, I wonder about the times when my life thread bumps into other people and I grump at them or snap impatiently. I knowingly at times or unsuspectingly other times cause a shift in their life. It’s a good reminder to give a little grace as I don’t know where the other is coming from, how far along they are in their thread and what direction they’re actually going in. The word of the month for Micah’s karate class is “patience.” I think I need to work on it a little bit more sometimes.

Okay….the truth….I know I need to work on it more!

So, today I “patiently” lifted bikes in and out of the back of my car (I hate how the wheels turn and pinch your fingers, the grease marks up your hands, and the trunk of the van beeps its refusal to close when it thinks something’s in its way!). And I patiently watched them ride around for another hour.  And I patiently put the bikes back in the garage.

I can’t wait until we get to the beach next week so the boys can walk out of the house, hit the boardwalk, and ride and ride….(and for the sake of innocent pedestrians, I hope they soon learn to dodge people!).

Resetting the independence-o-meter

Many years ago I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen relishing in the rich aroma of an entirely home-grown, home-cooked meal on the farm. My mother and I were deep in conversation about travel plans for my upcoming medical school interviews. She suggested I travel by plane and rent a car. I countered that I’d rather drive and be able to navigate my own schedule and timeline. She replied, “You know, I knew my job as a parent was to raise you to become independent, but you don’t have to be sooo independent!”

I think of that phrase often in my own parenting. My job is to help my boys become “independent” – not needing me anymore ….able to live on their own, cook for themselves, clean, work, love, create, inspire, dream….all on their own. Some days I wonder when they’ll ever be independent! I’d be happy for toilet trained! After all, I have another 16 years before the last one is “technically” independent. Other days, I can’t even imagine them not needing me anymore or what it will be like when I don’t know exactly when they last ate, how much they slept, and whether or not they pooped yet today!

Part of this independence “training,” naturally, is giving them the chance to practice. So, two nights ago when we attended a pasta dinner for a friend’s charity, I gave Micah some “space” to play with the older boys. They ran around the building, ducked in and out of the main eating room, and found their own fun. I thought to myself how wonderful this was….and how nice not to worry about him too much as chasing little Seth (who has absolutely no issue with claiming his own independence at the tender young age of just TWO!) was taking up 97.5% of my attention span, with Noah’s occasional whine requiring the other 2.4%.

When I gathered Micah about an hour into the program to head home for bed, I learned that I probably should have given him more than his allotted 0.1% for the evening. Apparently he had been asked three times by a friendly adult (and friend) to stop throwing rocks from the second floor onto the main entrance concrete stairs.  Ugh.

Not surprisingly, I fell into the parent trap of ranting most of the way home – “what do you mean you were throwing rocks??? Why didn’t you listen when an adult told you to stop?? If the boys told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it??? Don’t answer that!”

So, I decided that he would be “grounded” the next day from going to fun places like the Children’s Museum with my sister and her boys….and instead must stay home. Halfway through the morning, as we were deep in the middle of a hockey game in our tiny back yard, he said, “This is really a lot of fun to be home today.”  I’m thinking the concept of “being grounded” didn’t really sink in, but maybe what he really needed was to spend some time together.

And it was good to give him a test run…and to reset my expectations for just how much independence this boy is ready for.  Zero.

We’ll try again some other day….

….when rocks are nowhere to be found!

(ps, we had no problem with getting lost or wandering off this time though – that was the lecture on the way to the event – “You MUST check with me first before leaving my eyesight!”).

Top Ten – Disney

Top Ten ways my two-year-old tried to drive me crazy at Disney World:

10.  Must touch every open garbage can and/or push the swinging lid of garbage cans which are within a ten-foot radius of one’s steps…or can be reached without Mom stopping me prior to touching.

9.  Must climb up, walk along as far as possible, and then jump off every wall that is, say, under four feet high.

8.  If Mom decides to bridle me with a lamb “backpack” (aka dog leash – I’m no fool!), must pull forward as quickly as possible into oncoming people….or stop suddenly and explore small particles on the ground…possibly needing to taste them to determine identity (again, only if this can be done without Mom yanking on said chain to stop the taste test).

7.  Must manage to outwit Mom at least once by disappearing for a sufficient quantity of time to make her heart thump and nerves explode, say by wandering off at the Dinoland playground area, cross over the bridge, and sit playing happily in the sand until she finds me (hey, don’t worry, it was an entirely closed in area….it’s not like I went out the exit part of the play ground and was truly lost!)

6.  Must attempt to splash in the water of “It’s a Small World”…or any other boat ride for that matter….”Jungle Cruise” can get the same reaction….prior to the harsh tone of “Noah!!”

5.  Must try to drag the “tail” of aforementioned leash into as much dirt and/or mud as possible, or step on it repeatedly, prior to Mom noticing this act and wrapping the tail over the head of poor “lamby” as I walk along.

4.  Important to always resist Mom’s attempt to have control of the said leash, though once she firmly establishes that she is the one who gets to hold that end, should drop the battle without a care in the world…and take off running.

3.  Must attempt to give every single Disney character in each and every parade a high-five, even if that means occasionally stepping off the curb (a definite Disney Parade no-no!) and enduring the reprimanding “N-o-a-h….”

2.  Must remain standing the entire bus ride to the airport, despite the repeated reminders to sit, blabberings about safety this or that, threats of losing life or limb, and/or attempts to knock me into a seated position by swiping my legs out from under me.

1.  And lastly, must without a doubt refuse to fall asleep on the plane ride home, jump over the back of the seats to play with grandpa, climb under seats to retrieve thrown toys, unclick seat belt 102 times (very fun), spill any drink within an 18 inch radius, and squeal as loudly and as often as possible.  This energy expenditure is worth falling asleep at 6 pm and sleeping in clothes and coat the rest of the night.  Thanks for the Disney trip, Mom.

“Good Mommy” vs. “Bad Mommy”

You know it’s bad news when the daycare center calls you within 2 hours of dropping off the kids.  It’s pink-eye.  Oh, is that why the eye was fused shut last night when I tried to roll Micah over at midnight….and then again this morning?  Well, it didn’t look pink to me!.

So, it was an unexpected day off of work with the eldest son.  We went to the doctor’s office and walked out with a couple prescriptions. I told Micah that we could get some popcorn and an Icee at Target when we got his medications filled.  He turned to me with sparkling eyes (one red, of course) and said “you’re a good Mommy.”

I smiled – the promise of a treat makes me a good Mommy in his eyes.  And we did have a nice afternoon.  I bought him his first pair of cleats for flag-football.  I treated him to an Icee and pizza.  And, since it was his “special day” as he soon designated it, we wandered around the pet store for awhile too.

I thought about how Micah calls me the “good Mommy” when I’m treating him – or providing that “special day” for him when he gets to have a say about what we do (“let’s go to the playground”…. “let’s play basketball”….).  But more often, I am the “bad Mommy” – the one who enforces the rules.  The one who tells him to stop yelling in the house and to settle down.  The one who makes him return to the bathroom over and over to brush his teeth or wash his hands.  The one who demands that he uses “please” and “thank you” in his conversations, and now we are working on “excuse me.”

The “good” and the “bad” depend greatly on one’s perspective, of course.  I’ve been thinking about this in the nation’s educational system as well.  I recently heard a news report about the “dumbing down” of our education all the way through college. Teachers are becoming more concerned with teaching to the tests than with actually teaching the students.  College professors who seek tenure only reach that goal if they receive good evaluations from students.  So, they begin to water down their expectations so that the students like them and give them higher satisfaction ratings on evaluations.  This is great in the short-term – the students are happy and the professors get promoted. But this type of “good” teaching gets us nowhere in the long-run.  Now we are graduating generations of students who have less knowledge than previously – and definitely less independent critical thinking skills.  We are graduating students who have not been asked to work hard, who are not held responsible, and who feel entitled to an easy life.

So, it seems to me – if I am actually going to be a “good Mommy” in teaching my boys – a large percentage of the time, I will actually be a “bad Mommy” and will maintain that high level of expectation so that one day they will be strong, determined, independent, and thoughtful adults.  And I will be so proud of them.  So watch out boys – tomorrow it’s “bad” Mommy all over again.