To the Parents of the Screaming Baby In the Restaurant

I recently took E out for sushi at a local restaurant. It was a Wednesday afternoon and we were seated near the bar. As we ordered her favorites and mine, shared some chamomile tea, and chatted like Big Girls, our conversation was occasionally punctuated with loud screams of delight from across the room. In the corner across the restaurant there was a couple with a yearling in a high chair who was clearly delighted about something and felt no need to control her volume as she shared her happiness. We watched them for a little bit, and noticed with each scream more people turned around to give them an angry stare. These people were not mollified in the least by the fact that the parents were, in fact, not pinching the baby in order to make her emit such screams, or even by the fact that they were really trying to shush her the best they could as they scrambled to finish their meal quickly.

After a brief talk with our server (who also had children and specifically also remembered what it was like to have young children) we sent them a secret cookie. She dropped it off at their table and said, “One of your fellow customers remembers what it was like to have a child this age and wanted to say ‘good job being out in the world.'” The angry restaurant patrons nearest them heard and quietly turned back to their own meals, and hopefully found that it didn’t actually prevent them from eating delicious Japanese food for someone else to have a baby in a restaurant. The couple was surprised and said thank you (I think-we were far away and trying hard not to give ourselves away) and then thanked her again on their way out the door five minutes later.

You know what? Parents whose children are behaving perfectly aren’t the ones who *need* to hear that they’re doing well. Don’t get me wrong…I love it when people like my kids. It makes my mama heart swell with pride and contentment. I work very hard with my children to set the culture of our family. We have expectations and try to set examples of kindness, politeness, generosity, honesty, and many other ways of being with each other. It’s an astonishing amount of work, and I don’t mind when people notice that.

You know what else is an astonishing amount of work?

Parenting a toddler who’s throwing a fit because the seam of their sock isn’t hitting their toe just right (not that they can articulate that that’s the problem). When they throw themselves on the ground and start kicking and screaming in the grocery store aisle, there’s some tiny part of me that just wants to do it too as if that would make them stop. In the movie Riding in Cars With Boys, Drew Barrymore has this scene where the baby’s been screaming for hours and she just falls apart. She sobs, “WHY WON’T YOU STOP CRYING?” If you’ve never considered your child with this air of desperation, you’re a better parent than me. Or, at least, this post isn’t about you.

If you have ever felt that way, particularly in public, I just want to say…hang in there and keep doing your best. Parenting littles is no joke and sometimes when it’s the hardest, people judge you the most harshly.

There are ways in which I try to absorb most of the impact of my kids’ public tantrums…I will not go home immediately from the library if my kids are losing it, but I also won’t make the librarians talk to them. I will be the one to deal with my children climbing all over the motorcycle chairs in the kids’ room at the hair salon, but I won’t make a stylist the big bad or insist that she risk her fingers trying to cut my child’s hair as he tries to climb the walls or shriek and run away (having stylishly coiffed children is really not that important to me; especially factoring in considerations of courtesy, safety, and fairness to the people who work in that industry, but that’s just me).

All that aside, those are decisions we didn’t make on the fly. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s nearly impossible to think clearly. It’s hard to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy when someone is screaming in your face, spittle and boogers flying every which way. It’s even harder when you can feel the angry stares from all around; unless you are a very secure person it may be tempting, just for a split second, to want to just run home and stay there. Maybe you should give up restaurants and libraries and really anywhere where people are until the kids are “ready”. When will that be? When they are five? Ten? Surely by college…?

We were one of those brazen couples that took our babies (and later, toddlers) to restaurants with us. And sometimes they even cried there! And we didn’t leave immediately! We learned early that there was a certain percentage of the population which is offended by the audacity shown by those who dare to have children in public. But we have this idea children can best learn how to be in public by, y’know, actually being in public.

So you…yes, you with the twelve month old screaming happy screams into her miso bowl at the sushi place at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday…good job. I remember how hard it was to get out with a kid that age, and I think you’re doing just fine. ❤

The Difference between Zero and Not Zero

When I was a new mom, I went around amazed quite a bit. I don’t mean ‘dazed and confused’, although there was quite a bit of that, too (tired as I was). I was one of those moms who was floored by the most mundane accomplishments of my baby. To be fair to my former self, it wasn’t just my kid I was fascinated by. All babies were able to learn new skills, and I was in a near continual state of wonder about the whole thing whenever I thought about it. Conversations with other parents sometimes went like this:

K: Holy cow! I can’t believe it! E got her fingers in her mouth! Yesterday she didn’t even seem to know she had hands! She’s so amazing!

Other Parent: Yeah, my kid’s been doing that for a while.

K: Oh my gosh! I thought I saw that last week. Your kid’s so amazing!

Other Parent: ………………..

I have to admit that after 6 years and 2 babies, some of the shine has worn off.

I recently read in Some Internet Article (if you know which one, please speak up and I’ll quote it directly…I like to give credit where it’s due) that one of the things that’s hard for me is that I spend a lot of time getting things “back to zero”. This is kind of true. According to the article, my work includes things like making zero dishes in the sink, zero toys on the floor, zero loads of laundry left to put away (hah!), etc. This is often true.

What is NOT true, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, is that the ‘back to zero’ thing does not apply to my children. If I slip into thinking that it does which is very, very easy (because zero diapers to change, zero naps to conquer, zero snacks to give, zero boogers to wipe), then I will miss the incremental progress that they are making. You know, the stuff that used to allow me to hold on through another screaming fit about having the wrong diaper on (even though the right diaper is dirty).

If I stand in my back yard in April and look, I’ll notice the beautiful fence we put in last year, the swingset, and the beginnings of E’s fruit garden. A little closer and I’ll see mud puddles, toys strewn about the yard, and the weeds around the strawberry patch. But a little closer still, and it gets fun again. I can look close enough to see a ladybug walking on a stick. Or the new growth in my herb garden.

I think, parenting-wise, I’m kind of looking at the mud puddles right now. It’s time to focus a little more on the prodigiously ordinary things.

Today E easily sounded out a word that she couldn’t read at all last week.

Today S only had to be told to climb down off the couch 5 times instead of 50 like yesterday.

Today we went on a bear hunt. We were going to catch a Big Bear. Who us? We’re not scared.

Today E got her own snack out of the fridge and I didn’t have to do it.

Today S was SUPER ANGRY that I didn’t give him an apple. He was so upset that he composed a song about it. We sat at the piano and played with our fingers and sang a Very Sad Song (well, as sad as you can be in C Major–I’m not good at improvising).

All that’s to say, these are not the sorts of things that will get them into college someday. But they are things that happened, that would not have happened yesterday. While they may seem small by some estimations, to me they are the difference between Zero and Not Zero.

Balance of Power

Discipline. Love. Respect. Boundaries. Flexibility. Discipline. Relationship. Authority. Attachment.   There are so many different words to describe the way we relate to our children.

I feel strongly that it is important for E. to grow up understanding how to relate to other people in appropriate ways.  For that to happen, she needs to know now that I am the parent and she is the child.  This first experience with authority will shape the way she reacts when she is in school, the work force, friendships…it will color the way she views the world.  Experiencing consistent, loving and reasonable authority early on could give her some tools to form healthy relationships for her whole life.  The way we think and feel about God is also informed by the way our parents relate to us.  The way I was parented led me to think of God as patient, loving and gentle.  Not because my parents said that God was those things (they probably did at some point but I don’t remember that), but because in those formative years they modeled those traits for me.  If there is a God who created me, he is in some sense a Father and it made sense to me that he would be like my dad who was so kind or my mom who was so thoughtful.   I want that for my children.

We have been adjusting to a new level of communicativeness with E.  It is especially hard for J. who was on ‘Daddy duty’  most of the weekend while I finished up a painting project (okay, I primed the upstairs trim almost 2 years ago and finally decided to put the color on).

When someone is a baby, they need everything done for them.  They also don’t argue so much about being put somewhere else.  As that person gets more and more aware, however, they start to have opinions about things.  It has become our pattern to tell her what needs to happen and then ask her if she wants to do it, or if we should do it for her.  This is working well for shoes, getting into the carseat, going inside, etc. etc.  Hmm….correction…was working.

E. seems to have hit a new cognitive stage.  She is pushing back in ways that she never has before.  It is easiest to just start with the ultimatum.  “Are you going to put your shoes on, or am I going to do it?” “Can you hold my hand to cross the street, or should I carry you?”  But that leaves very little room for exploration,or for internal moral motivation.   I want her to be able to arrive at the right decision because she knows it is the right thing, not just because “Mommy said so.”  Some things are more innate than others.  I don’t have to tell her to eat lunch.  She gets hungry, so she eats.  But some things do require some intentionality to set up and eventually become second nature.  Without even thinking about it, when we go to cross a street her little hand reaches out for mine and she holds on tight. “I be safe!”

The tension that we sometimes deal with right now is between when to give her space to explore her world and when to put our foot down.  It’s true that we should not have to tell her 16 times to please come back to the back yard because we are not able to watch her in the front at a given moment.  Maybe instead we could abandon our back-yard project for 2 minutes to smell the lavender, or maybe not.  We have to make each decision in the moment and we do it imperfectly.  I think in the end it comes down to being as flexible as possible, and not giving a direct order unless we are prepared to insist that it be followed.

A lovely bedtime moment

I was trying to get E. to sleep tonight (the rest of family was waiting to watch a movie). We went through her usual ritual; night diaper, pajamas, brush teeth, read Goodnight Moon, have some Mommy Milk, prayer, go to sleep. We did all that, and when it was done we laid for a few great minutes while she put her arms tight around my neck and breathed on my face. Thinking she was asleep, I began to sneak away. As soon as I moved, though, she was quick to notice, even in her dreamy state. She said (without opening her eyes), “Mommy stay here…”
Yes, my girl. I will stay.
Please always ask me to stay.
I love you.

Being a Fairy Princess can make everything more manageable

E. is having a difficult week. If I didn’t know better, and if she wasn’t 2, I would think she was about to start her period. She cries over big things. She cries over things that seem small to me, but must be huge to her. She gets inconsolably angry if I give her juice but don’t give it to her in a big-girl glass.
She is so bright and fun almost all of the time, and I love interacting with her because she is such a people person. This is a tough bit, but it will pass and she won’t always get so frustrated about her glass of juice. My role right now is to try to help her to move through it with as much grace as possible.
This afternoon when I got her home, we began the trial and error. Eventually sitting at the table she wanted, in the chair she wanted, with the right juice (diluted with the right amount of water), in the right glass, E. was still very distressed. So I said to her, “Would this moment be better if you could dress up like a fairy princess?” She thought about it for a minute, and said very quietly, “Yes, Mommy. I wear that.” And you know what? It was better. We sat for a while and chatted while she drank orange juice and enjoyed feeling different. Sometimes (though certainly not always), I think that the key to moving forward through overwhelming bad feelings in a given situation can be simply having the imagination to think about yourself behaving differently.