Saturday, March 22, 2014

Close Quarters

I’m writing this to the sound of drills and hammers and some screaming punk music.  I’d dig the screaming punk if it were mine, but it’s not.  It’s the neighbor’s.  And for some reason he keeps changing the song every 15 seconds.  I want to scream, “Just leave it, you fucker!”  It’s not even shitty punk -- well, okay, it is, but it’s shitty punk that I like.  The problem is it’s not mine and I’m forced to listen to it whether I want to or not.  To be honest, I was feeling in more of a Naked and Famous mood today, not fucking Suicide Machines.

Sorry for all the swearing.  I seem to feel swear-y when I’ve got a sleeping baby upstairs and the neighborhood seems intent on waking her up early.  The construction site next door is extra bangy, the neighbors are extra punky, everyone and their grandmother seems to be out driving their 8000 dB beater around with no muffler.

This is my life.  And I like it.

No, no really!  I do.  I like the borrowed punk music and the arhythmic hammering.  The loud cars I could do with out, I guess -- oh look, there goes one now.  Better go make sure the baby’s still asleep.

She is, miraculously.  She’s finally seeming to get used to the close quarters of affordable urban life.  I wish I could!  Maybe it’s reminding her of her first home, a tight little cocoon surrounded by the constant swish of blood and crush of noisy organs screaming out their daily grind.  The city is just one giant body, our own womb, noisy with the flow of arteries and the deafening beats of life.

Sometimes I feel smothered by all the noise and people and the fact that I can hear the intimate details of the lives of strangers.  And sometimes I feel exposed with the knowledge they can hear all of our fun moments too, like when the baby cries at 4 am or when I fall out of my dancer pose as I attempt a little livingroom yoga (because who has time to go to a real yoga studio!?).  

But sometimes I do see it in a better light.  Those moments when the hammering next door seems to line up perfectly with the punk music on the other side.  When the muffler-less cars sound like they’re at least 3 blocks away and heading in the other direction.  When the sky is blue and the mountains white and the leafless branches of early spring let all of the glorious sunlight through.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about attitude and happiness.  Happiness is a choice, and so is stress.  Most of us have so much to be thankful for these days, but it’s somehow easier to focus on what we don’t like or what we’d like to change and stress and stress and stress about it.  Some people (like me, I think!) are definitely predisposed to more stress, but it’s still a choice.  I can look at the noise of the neighborhood as an affront to my own personal peace, or I can just embrace it as another quirky part of my life.  Which would make me happier?  

I just introduced myself to my neighbor (“Hey how’s it going?  Beautiful day, eh?”), and he actually seems like a nice guy.  (newsflash: people who listen to punk can be nice! :) )  All of my other dealings with him have been “Do you really need to saw wood at 8pm?” or “Can you please turn your music down?” or just eye rolls and glares at the wall that divides us.  I wrap myself in the stressy, smug blanket of pissed-offy-ness and I never actually have to have a real conversation with him.

But, I haven’t been feeling super happy about that.  I actually felt quite happy to introduce myself to him on normal, neighborly terms.  After all, what’s the point of living in such a densely populated area if I’m just going to glare all the other people away?  (‘BitchBus, please keep back 50 feet’)  I’m going to choose to lose the glare and, hopefully, be a little happier with what I’ve got.  Because, what I’ve got actually ain’t all that bad.  It’s actually pretty rad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Byebye Baby, Hello Banshee

“Babe, can you open this?”  I hand the jar of honey across to David, who’s just gotten Ebba settled into breakfast.

He struggles for a half-second, the honey-stuck seal pops, and he hands me the open jar back across the half-wall that divides the diningroom from the kitchen.

All of a sudden, Mt. St. Ebba erupts.  “Brrrllllaaaargh!!!!”  Her eyes bulge out of her red face, tongue waggles like she’s doing some sort of butchered Haka, and she shrieks, pointing at the offending jar of honey.  “MMMMAH!!!  AH!!  BLAAARRR!”

I hold the jar of honey up and say “Honey?  This is just honey for me tea, sweetpea.  Eat your breakfast.  You have egg, yogurt, and cereal.”  I put the honey away.  She sees me put honey in my tea at least several times a week.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

“NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”  She shakes her red head and thrashes in her seat, her wind-shield wiper arms trying to knock her delicious, nutritious breakfast to the floor.  She signs “more” repeatedly, which to her actually means “Give me what I want right now!” (Despite my best efforts as a speech pathologist to show her what it actually means.)

I see we aren’t going to get anywhere fast with this.  Breakfast, as we know it, has ended.  Quickly I run through my rolodex of options.  After all, I’m a child development expert, of sorts, so I should know exactly what to do in this moment, right?  No, not right.  (Or, as Ebba continues to tell me “NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”)

David, my ever-loving husband looks to me for our next steps.  What should I do, I wonder.  Should I refuse her the honey and end breakfast?  Should I give her a little and then try and reign her back on track?  Should I give her as much as she wants?  Should I put it in her yogurt?  Should I force her to eat “just one more bite” of something and then reward her with some of the delicious, delicious stuff from the jar?
I opt for option 2 and give her a small bit of the honey.  She calms, smacks her lips, smiles.  ...And then points for more.  

“All gone!” I say with a shrug.  “Have some egg.  Mmmm!”  

I can see the blood rising in her face.  It starts around her neck, then to her ears, then up across her forehead, and then she’s all open mouth.  “NAAAAAAY!  Moooore!!”  Well, at least she got the meaning of “more” right this time.

Infant Ebba's tantrums were less intense!
I look at this screaming, writhing body in the booster seat and wonder when she arrived.  When did my little baby go?  That one screamed and cried sometimes too, but usually for things I didn’t have to say “no” to, and even if I did, she was easily distracted.  I remember when she was a little baby, I looked forward to when she was “older” and I could “reason with her.”  HAH!

This thing, this newly arrived Ebba, this kid where there was once a baby, she clings to her desires.  A simple “no” can cause convulsions, and attempts to distract her are met with flailing arms and a look that says “are you freaking kidding me!?”  

She’s a person now.  She wants what she wants.  And even though I hate the scream-fests that appear to be increasing in frequency, I’m happy that she’s arrived.  It’s not what I expected, we’re certainly not doing a lot of “reasoning,” but she is so much fun.  And I’m learning everyday.

It happened so suddenly, the switch from baby to person, that I didn’t have time to prepare my responses, to set my stance.  The key to dealing with these outbursts is to set appropriate limits and to be consistent.  Everyone knows that.  But how do you do that.  You need to know where your limits are and trust your judgement.  Don’t question yourself (something I do all. the. time!).  This morning, I was all “maybe I shouldn’t have given her any honey.  Maybe I should have given more.  What was the right answer!?!?  The thing is, it’s not about a right answer.  It’s about the consistency.  So regardless of where the limit is set, you have to stick to it.  (Like...honey. :) )

And then you have to be prepared for the consequences.  A happy baby is a secure baby, or so I’ve read.  And a secure baby is one who has had limitations set in a consistent fashion.  Despite the fact that I’ve worked with the under-5 set for as long as I can remember, for some reason I thought that setting limits would not yield screaming meltdowns.  If a secure baby (one that’s had limits put on it) is a happy baby, shouldn’t Ebba have been happy and smiling when I told her “no you can’t have a whole jar of honey for breakfast?”  Shouldn’t she be elated that I have exercised my parental muscle in order to make her feel safe and loved?

She did not look very happy thrashing about, red-faced on the floor.  But I took a deep breath and steeled myself.  “I’m doing the right thing,” I told myself.  “I am teaching her what breakfast is.  I’m teaching her that I care enough about her to not let her eat only honey.  And I’m learning too.  I’m learning what Ebba responds best to and how she acts when she doesn’t get it.”

I sound like a hard-ass here, but I’m totally not.  I have made it my parental mission to never say “no” to Ebba unless there is a really good reason.  For me, a really good reason isn’t “I got tired of pushing her in the swing so I made her get out,” or “I didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess when she wanted to play with ALL THE TOYS so I only let her take out one at a time.”  But “we have to make dinner by 5:30 so we need to leave the park at 5” and “picking up and attempting to eat discarded cigarette butts from the sidewalk is dangerous” are both good reasons for saying “no” or stopping an activity.  This is my own metric, I’m sure it will differ from parent to parent.

We’ll see how it goes over the next few months (years!) while I work on setting limits for Ebba and learning from her how best to teach her as she grows older.

How have you other newbie-toddler mummies been dealing with the change from baby to kid?

It's not all tears these days though!