A special kind of stress

I always knew mothers worry naturally; it’s part of what mothers do. But now that I am a mother, I am amazed by the things I can convince myself might happen to my child.

Everything from the entirely plausible (falling off the back deck) to the completely improbable (being accidentally shut inside the dish washer).

I actually see things happening to her all the time. The other day, the Mister and his parents and I were taking Roo for a walk on a trail near a creek, and in my mind I saw the stroller tip down the embankment and land upside down in the shallow water with the baby screaming inside. Then I blinked, and there we all were, walking along happily with the stroller perfectly where it should be.

We know of a family – friends of friends – who recently lost their 19-month-old baby boy because he wandered away from a backyard birthday party and drowned in a decorative water fountain in their front yard. IN THEIR FRONT YARD!!!

So now I’ve become obsessed with a small pond of water created by a drainage culvert at the edge of our yard, and Roo may never go outside unsupervised in her entire life. She may never play around water in her entire life. I might just put her into a bubble and roll her around like a hamster. (At the very least, the bubble would float.)

Also, there is way too much mom guilt in this world, and too many people causing it with their judginess. (WordPress is telling me that’s not a real world, but trust me, it is.)

If you stay home with your children, people make you feel bad for not having a “real career.” If you work, people make you feel bad for leaving your children with someone else. As if you don’t already feel terrible enough about that anyway.

If you exclusively breastfeed, people try to talk you into giving formula in a bottle and convince you that it will make your life easier. Then, if you do bottle feed, people try to make you feel bad about not giving all breastmilk all the time.

And then, heaven forbid you should ever want to be without your child. Even just for a short period of time. Sometimes, when I drop Roo off with her childcare person in the mornings, I breath a small sigh of relief that I now have one less thing to actively try to accomplish. And then I feel HORRIBLE about myself for ever enjoying the moments I am away from her.

I can’t take a personal day from work and enjoy it because if I am with her I am worrying about all the things she needs, and if I’m not with her I’m feeling horrible that I chose to take a day off and not be with her. There is no way to win!

Anyway, long rant cut short is that moms have a LOT of internal struggles with themselves about every. single. decision. they make all day long. Don’t second-guess them. Support them, give advice only when asked for, and offer to clean the house and fold laundry. But don’t make hints that something they are doing might not be absolutely the best thing unless a child’s life is actually, physically in danger.

Just don’t.

Top Ten Thursday – A Crash Course in Toddlers

I recently started babysitting for an Australian family here on the island and I’ve been at their house a lot this week. The girl, who I’ll call Thing 1, is 3 years old and the boy, Thing 2, is 18 months. Thing 1’s little Aussie accent kills me every time she asks me for a “biscuit” (a cookie) or tells me that her “nappie” (diaper, she wears one during naps) is wet. They love to go out “scooting” (on their scooters, obviously. I had to have that one explained to me and I don’t think we have a word for that in American English), but Thing 1’s favorite thing is to wear my “thongs” (flip flops! The first time she asked if she could wear them I had to stop and really think about what she was pointing to before I started laughing.)

Thing 1 has the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar memorized, and I love when she and her brother sit in the floor together and she names the foods that he points to. Precious beyond words. But then ten minutes later she steals his truck and he bonks her on the head and the atmosphere changes dramatically. (Reminds me of me and my brother, actually, and I can practically see my mother laughing as she reads this.)

Which brings me to the Top Ten things I’ve learned about toddlers and about living with toddlers in the last 48 hours.

1. We can watch the same movie every day for a week and it doesn’t get old. In fact, if I sit on the couch with them but play Solitaire on my iPad because I’ve seen Ice Age twice this week already, Thing 1 tells me to “turn that thing off and pay attention!” (I mean, Ice Age, come on! If we’re going to watch something over and over at least let it be a good Disney movie so I can be hilariously entertaining by singing all the songs in different voices.)
2. I’ve watched infants who spit up their baby food and older kids who are completely independent, but the ages in between are impossible to feed. How do you get a child to eat anything when they are old enough to insist on feeding themselves but young enough that they refuse to sit still and eat what you give them? As their father said to me last night, “We’ve resorted to just feeding Thing 2 like he’s a caged animal.”
3. The smallest things can avoid a temper tantrum. Producing a second toy, helping one cook in the pretend kitchen while the other sets the tiny table, or even twirling around in circles and making funny noises can make them forget why they were about to start screaming. But once the screaming starts full blast, I am still at a complete loss on how to stop it. (If they were my kids I’d snatch them up and swat them. But they aren’t, so I can’t.)
4. Parents should never be home at the same time as the babysitter. First of all, it makes me feel like I’m completely incompetent because nothing I do works and Dad has to come out of his office to help; and secondly, the kids know you’re there and don’t want anything to do with me. Or they intentionally work to make me look incompetent, I haven’t really figured out which.
5. The most well-behaved angels during the day can still turn into toy-stealing, sister-bonking, pushing, crying, tattling creatures at about 30 minutes to bedtime.
6. Little kids sleep a lot. Two-hour afternoon naps and then bedtime at 7 for Thing 2 and 7:30 for Thing 1. I haven’t stayed with them in the morning yet, but I’m sort of hoping they take morning naps too because tomorrow (Thursday, so probably as you are reading this) I’ll be here from 7:30 a.m. to lunchtime. I’m sure naptimes are when parents actually get things done, but I’m scared to do anything for fear of waking them up!
7. They will never want to do what you want to do. If I want to play with the kitchen, they want to race cars across the living room floor. If I want to build a tower, they want to have a tea party. Etc etc.
8. Thing 1 will antagonize her brother for no reason at all. Simply to do it, I suppose. (Which, again, I probably still do to my brother.)
9. But then they can turn around and be such sweet siblings. Thing 1 will run to take Dog to Thing 2 when he forgets it. Thing 2 will retrieve a ball that rolled away from Thing 1 and give it back. They will hug and snuggle and Thing 2 will sit in Thing 1’s lap and it’s all very adorable. Until the next change in the winds….
10. There really is no good way to have multiple children. If they are too close together they cause more chaos; farther apart makes one able to help watch the other. BUT, too far apart means they don’t nap at the same times and you don’t get this lovely block of silence in the middle of your day, and it takes you longer to have them all (and then, on the flip side, to get them all out of the house).

I’ve been around lots of children and I’m pretty good with them, but I suppose you can never be expected to know how to handle everything until you have them for yourself.

Do you have any suggestions on how to entertain small children inside the house? Ways to calm screaming meltdowns? What about just funny words your kids made up when they were little?

Top Ten Thursday – Things I’ve Learned From Losing

Ok, so I was going to do something island-related, maybe about the top ten things I’ve said to our puppy that I never thought I would say to anything, but I saw an article on Facebook this morning that’s gotten me on a soapbox, so congratulations, you get to hear what I think (that’s why you’re here, right?).

According to this radio broadcast, the Canadian soccer association in Ontario has eliminated score-keeping from youth soccer. And not only the concept of score-keeping, but THE BALL!! Yes, there is no longer a ball in youth soccer in Ontario. (Doesn’t that just make it a group of kids running around swinging their feet at nothing? We’re not only raising bad losers, but crazy people.) The idea behind this is to teach kids that “sport is not a competition, rather it’s about using your imagination. If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then you are.”

What a load of poppycock.

Are we going to take the football out of the NFL? Or the puck out of hockey? Or the ball out of basketball? We’re going to have to, because all the players grew up imagining they were good at playing imaginary sports with an imaginary ball. They won’t even know how to play with a real ball. And of course, heaven forbid they play with a real ball and lose.

I lost a lot of competitions as a child. I competed in science fairs and didn’t win an award. I competed in a spelling bee once and was the second child to sit down. I played little league softball and lost a lot of games. I spent the most miserable summer of my life between the fifth and sixth grades when a large group of girls that I had thought were my friends suddenly stopped hanging out with me because I somehow wasn’t worthy of their company. But you know what? I grew up to be a successful student at the top of my college class with one of the most impressive undergraduate résumés in my department. I grew up with acceptable social skills; I found and married a good man; I can accept both failure and accomplishment.

I don’t say this to toot my own horn. I say this to show that I am not emotionally and psychologically traumatized by those times that I wasn’t victorious in whatever it was that I was doing. I had good parents who taught me that winning isn’t everything, that it’s ok to not always come out on top, and that when you fall down you find a way to get back up again.

Why is that so difficult for kids and parents today to understand?

Little league sports are just the beginning. If we hand out trophies willy-nilly just for showing up and lead every child to believe that he or she actually won the game, what are these same children going to do when they get to high school and someone else is voted class president? Or they get rejected by their top-choice college? Or they fail a class because just showing up wasn’t enough? And what about the work place – being passed over for promotions, losing clients because the pitch wasn’t good enough, not being hired in the first place? The world is a harsh place and kids who are wrapped in fluffy blankets and bubble wrap their entire lives are going to be the ones who bring automatic weapons to their old high schools or to their workplaces and lash out against those who didn’t let them continue to “imagine they were good enough.”

I could go on and on about this forever, but I won’t. I think you get the point. So here’s my top ten list for this week: Ten Things I’ve Learned From Losing.

1. I’ve learned to be resourceful, creative and self-sufficient. You shouldn’t need to have a constant cloud of people around you in order to make your ideas and dreams work.

2. I’ve learned to stand up for myself and my ideas. I got pushed around a lot in middle school and I hated it, but looking back on it, those kids taught me a lot about choosing friends wisely, standing my ground and not being afraid to be different when different is good.

3. I’ve learned to be on time and be prepared. Have ideas already jotted down when you walk into the meeting because if you don’t, you end up sitting there silently as the others dance professional circles around you.

4. I’ve learned how to take charge and how to delegate. If no one steps up to the plate then nothing gets done and the project fails.

5. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my own actions. If I didn’t listen to my coach and swung too early, I struck out. I returned to the bench. I watched my teammates get to round the bases and I learned to listen the next time.

6. I’ve learned that winning isn’t everything, and sometimes it’s better to lose a few times on purpose than to win every single game and beat someone else’s spirit down. Sometimes you just have to sit a round out and let someone else enjoy the limelight for a moment.

7. I’ve learned to go above and beyond whenever possible. The bare minimum gets you to McDonalds; shooting for the moon gets you friends in high places and connections with corner office openings.

8. I’ve learned to be humble about my accomplishments. When you are lucky enough to hit your stride and have success come naturally, you shouldn’t feel the need to rub it in people’s faces. Nobody likes a braggart or someone who always has to one-up the other person.

9. I’ve learned to choose good role models. If you’re trying to mimic mediocre, you’re going to end up less than mediocre.

10. I’ve learned not to trample on others during my own climb up the ladder. You never know who you may see again on your rise to the top, or who might pass you and be calling the shots one day. And you never know whose skills you’ll need on a team or who might unexpectedly have your back in a tough situation someday. It’s good to have friends at all levels of life.

What about you? What is something you learned from losing? How do you feel about the Canadian soccer changes or the way kids are being taught these days?

From Four-legged Children, on Two-legged Children

I realized this weekend that I completely forgot about having a Thursday post. If anyone noticed, I apologize. If you didn’t notice, my feelings are hurt. But either way, if you’d been part of the week the Mister and I have had, you would understand.

We’re still living in puppy land waiting for our new apartment to be move-in ready. We are a bit disappointed with the way the housing situation is going, since our new landlord assured us that our apartment would not only be cleaned quickly and ready for us to move in over the break, but also that there would be no problems with the unit and that it would come stocked with basic kitchen appliances, utensils, cookware and tableware. None of these things has turned out to be true. She told us the house was ready for us to start moving in yesterday, but when we arrived with a load of our belongings we found the bathrooms in mid-repair, half the house dirty and electrical wires hanging out of the wall in a state of mid-examination. Welcome to St. Kitts, one of the few places in the world where unkept promises and terrible service are both expected and considered acceptable.

We’ve also had three more centipede encounters since my last post, the last two of which were a fully-grown 10+ inches long and one of which bit a friend’s foot and caused lots of screaming and panic on all sides.

But the biggest revelation from this past week is the constant reaffirmation of the fact that the Mister and I are not mentally or physically prepared to have children, third world country or not.

You parents out there will read this post and laugh at our expense, I’m sure. But, to make up for not having a Top Ten Thursday list last week, I will give you a Top Twenty-two list of valuable lessons these puppies have taught me about my parenting future.

1. In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon explains that women are naturally more likely to be woken by high-pitched noises so we will be able to hear our babies crying. I have proven this absolutely true, as I seem to be able to hear the tinkle of a dog tag through concrete walls and floors with two fans whirring and from a deep sleep.
2. There are not enough toys in the world to occupy three children (or in our case puppies, which are basically the same thing). The floor is covered in chew toys, plush animals and tinkling balls of all shapes and sizes, but the only toy worth playing with is the one currently in someone else’s mouth.
3. They will never give you enough sleep. Ever. Even on the one morning they mercifully allow you to go back to sleep on the couch, it will still be an intermittent nap, punctuated by frequent yelps and shouts of “No! We don’t chew on people’s faces!”
4. You have to constantly be making sure they are chewing on something acceptable and not destroying mommy’s best pair of flip-flops.
5. If they all suddenly go quiet, that’s not permission to relax. That’s a sign to get off the couch in panic and make sure you can account for all of them. (See item #4.)
6. You punish them and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And then sometimes it backfires. Like when you swat one for howling senselessly in the middle of the night and you wake in the morning to a pool of retaliatory pee in the kitchen floor.
7. Listening skills deteriorate over time, especially when the listener in question seems to feel that your commands are increasingly irrelevant. Why would I let you take me inside to protect me from a giant poisonous bug when I could be running through the tall grass in the dark getting stung all on my own?
8. Some things in life are certain, like death and taxes. Poop schedules are not one of those things.
9. They are always hungry. Always. Even if they just ate a heaping bowl of food and then stole some from the other children. They will still eat mouthfuls of paper in order to chew into the food bag and find some more.
10. Loud noises are often made for no logical reason other than to annoy the fire out of whoever is in charge at the time.
11. Just because they bark and howl at the unexpected visitor doesn’t mean they won’t run for cover behind mommy’s legs when that stranger tries to touch them.
12. Your dreams revolve around caring for and worrying about them. So much so that you sometimes wonder whether you were ever actually asleep or not.
13. The first few times you lose sight of them outside, you panic and call their names, clapping your hands and running to look around corners. As time goes on, you cease to look and just start to figure they will turn up on their own at some point.
14. When you have three, there will always be one that’s left out. It would probably be easier to have four, that way everyone should always have a playmate. However, if we can’t handle three we certainly should not have four, so we will be stopping at two.
15. They want to sleep all the time…except while you’re asleep. They wake you up at ungodly hours of the morning and then sleep for most of the morning and afternoon and don’t want to go to bed at night. You know that, logically, you should keep them awake during the day so they will sleep at night, but you just don’t have the energy because you’ve been awake since 5:30 a.m.
16. Sometimes they crawl over to be sweet and snuggly. Sometimes they crawl over to let you know they are about to poop all over the place. These actions look EXACTLY THE SAME! Always ere on the side of caution.
17. Sometimes the one you expected to be the most challenging is actually the best-behaved. It’s during these moments when you do a double-take to make sure you still have all the right ones.
18. You become overly concerned with bathroom habits. Who pooped and how long ago? How much? Did it look normal? When did they pee? About how much came out? Etc.
19. Things that never seemed complicated before, like leaving the house to pick up a pizza with friends, suddenly require a ridiculous amount of preplanning.
20. You begin to take an absurd number of pictures and post them online. These pictures will all feature the exact same thing and you will check back frequently to make sure everyone in the online world appreciates them as much as you feel like they should. If they don’t, you will take this as a personal offense and consider using this criteria to clean out your friends list.
21. At the end of the day, no matter how much they’ve driven you crazy, it still breaks your heart to hear them whine about going to bed alone.
22. There really is nothing better than warm snuggle time.

What lessons did your children (or your pets) teach you about parenting? Did you learn anything you didn’t expect to learn?

…Let’s Wait a Little While Longer…

The mister and I became parents Saturday before last.

Well, ok, temporary parents.

A coworker of mine has two little girls, ages 8 and 3, and needed some time alone to pack their house in peace. Enter the Chesnuts.

We picked the girls up at around 1:30, unsure if the youngest daughter, who is typically very clingy, would even let Mommy out of her sight. But, to the shock of her mother, she went quietly – content to ride in the car regardless of who happened to be driving.

After two hours at the city park and another at a McDonald’s play place, the mister and I returned the girls alive and (mostly) well. The baby was actually sound asleep when we got her home, to the joy and relief of her mother. I’m pretty sure we got bonus points for that, even though she’s now limping (it was a short fall and it’s not swollen!).

While we both enjoyed our little foray into parenthood, the mister and I collapsed onto our bed at around 6:30 that night and agreed we had learned several things:

  • Our quiet rides in the car are limited. Once we have children they will never stop talking.
  • It really is hard to concentrate on driving when the little ones are reaching for things, asking for things and messing with each other behind you.
  • The delighted shriek when you pull out Dum-Dums lollipops is both ear-splitting and adorable.
  • McDonald’s really doesn’t put enough food in a happy meal after a long, hard afternoon of playing.
  • My shoulders are too old to enjoy the monkey bars.
  • When you are 8, “base” is wherever you happen to be standing when you get too tired to run any farther.

As I stood at the McDonalds counter and ordered two girls’ happy meals while juggling a baby on my hip and another asking for her drink cup, it occurred to me that, if these children were my own, I would have been 14 when the oldest was born. I wonder how many of the parents behind me were silently doing the same math.

I know of some young women my age who have kids in school. In SCHOOL!! I can’t imagine having a child in utero, much less in kindergarten!

I went through a period of HORRIBLE baby fever this past spring. It was to the point that I couldn’t even play with other babies without crying because I wanted my own so badly. Now I’ve mostly moved on, although I still feel a slight twinge when the really adorable ones go by.

Watching the girls helped reinforce the reality that, while we do want children and the girls were very well behaved, the mister and I are not quite ready to have our own yet. A few more years and several more afternoon babysitting jobs under our belts and we’ll see what happens.