Friday, September 14, 2012

Obviously obtuse

Some things are obvious.

Some are not.

Some things that are obvious to me are not so obvious to the kids.  And vice versa.  Such as -

I leave the room for 2 minutes to use the restroom.  I keep the door open so that I can hear if anyone (read: Audrey) starts screaming for any reason (read: Sean tackling her).  When I come back from the restroom, I see that flash cards are strewn everywhere in the living room.

me: What just happened in here?

Sean: We had a party!


Or just after their bath, Audrey is dressed in her pajamas and ready to read books. Sean is still running around the house naked doing the 'happy donkey' dance.  He runs into the furniture, the walls, and then head-butts his sister.  Audrey begins crying.

me: Sean!  I want you to come over here and say you're sorry to Audrey.

Sean hides behind a chair.  As if this makes him invisible to me.

me:  Sean.  I will only ask three times.  I've already asked once.  Now I will ask again.  Please come over here and tell Audrey you're sorry.

Sean still hiding behind the chair.

Sean: nooooo......

me:  Would you want someone to head-butt you?

Sean: noooo....?

me:  Then please do not head-butt your sister.  This is the last time I'm going to ask you.  If I ask you a third time and you still say no, then you will go take a time-out.

Sean:  Nooo!

me:  Then you know what you need to do.  Please come out from behind the chair and tell Audrey you're sorry.

By this time, Audrey has stopped crying so she can watch the exchange between me and Sean.  She watches, tears in her eyes, as her naked brother comes out from behind the chair with his head down.

And then because it wasn't obvious to everyone:

me: Get your hands off your penis and then say sorry to your sister.

Sean: (eyes up, hands up) sorry Audrey.

Or this evening at dinner:

Audrey's water bottle is knocked off her tray by her hand as she reaches for some food.   She looks over the side of her highchair tray and follows the path of her water bottle.  She then looks up at the rest of us.

Audrey:  Uh-Oh!

me:  That's okay, Audrey.  We can pick it back up.

Sean: (smiling and encouraging) You were really nice to Audrey, Mama.

me: HA! Am I not usually nice to Audrey?

Sean: no.

me:  What do I usually say?

Sean: You usually say, "Audrey, do not throw things off your tray.  Things stay on the tray, Audrey!"

me: (laughing)  Yes, that's true, but I usually say that when she's thrown something off on purpose.  This time it was just an accident.


We were taking pictures the other night and Sean wanted to be behind the camera more than in front of it.  He kept asking Tom if he could hold the camera and take the picture by himself.  Many a funny image was born out of this exercise.  Later I inquired about Sean's affinity for the camera.

me:  Hey, Cito, you had some fun taking pictures today, didn't you?

Sean: Yeah.  I did.

me:  Do you think you want to be a photographer when you grow up?

Sean:  (as if this was a silly question)  No!

me:  What do you think you want to be?

Sean: (straight out of a hallmark card) I want to be just like Dad when I grow up.

If we could have played the schmaltzy music, we would have.  It was a touching moment and beautifully sweet.  Looking up to his father, wanting to be just like him, wanting to emulate his intelligence, humor, silliness and integrity.  Perhaps he was envisioning the life of an academic - being called Dr. and Professor.  Educating the minds of young adults in universities everywhere.

Tom: Oh, Seancito.  That is so sweet.  Thank you.

me:  What do you think Dad does everyday?

Sean: I'm not sure.


This morning Sean was throwing a fit about getting dressed on his own.  He ran into the kitchen with only his underwear on, and I was losing my patience asking him to get dressed multiple times.

me: (he lodged his hands inside his underwear on either side of his hips) Sean, get your hands out of your pants and go get dressed.  I will only ask you one more time and then -

Sean: (adamantly) These. Aren't! PANTS!

me: Take your hands out of your underwear, and go get dressed!

Yesterday I was asked - by Sean - to be present in the bathroom while he used the potty.  Though I am encouraging him to use the potty on his own (trying to prepare him for being in school or otherwise), I acquiesced and came into the bathroom.  Since I'm on autopilot with my marching orders for Sean, I went into my usual routine after he finished using the potty.

me: Okay, pull up your pants, flush the toilet, and then let's wash hands.

Sean: (looking up at me, wounded) You don't talk to people like that.

me: How do you talk to people?

Sean:  (on the verge of a whine, trying to muster tears in his eyes) Using kind words! 

Clearly, what was I thinking?

me: Sean, please pull up your pants, then please flush the toilet, and then please wash your hands.  Is that better?

Sean:  Yes.

My own words come back to bite me!  How often have I asked Sean to use "kind words" in the hopes of getting a "please" or "thank you" from him?  How I have longed for him to understand what I believe to be obvious: we must use polite words when dealing with everyone.  These kind words are a directive; these are things I hope become habit, I hope it's obvious that these words are ever-present in our day.  So obvious that I forget to use them myself when dealing with Sean.  And I especially forget to use them when I'm in a rush, or feeling frustrated, or feeling pushed to my limits.

This morning was one of those days where I felt pushed.  From the beginning of the getting-dressed-routine, I tried to lay the groundwork for using kind words, working as team, listening and cooperating.  These are all my usual (and perceived by me to be), obvious buzz words that I use with Sean and Audrey.  It seemed like it was working until Sean refused to use the potty before we left the house:  an agreement we'd struck with each other not 5 minutes before.  Yet he became insistent that he not use the potty (though he was dancing around and holding his crotch, probably trying to "make the pee go back inside"!).  I got so frustrated, asked him my usual 3 times to go on his own, and while still refusing he finally went to time-out.  Then, he slammed his body against the baby gate so hard (the only barrier we have that will keep him in said-time-out-location) that he knocked it over.  This angered me so much, he got demoted to a time-out spot by the front door, and then he melted down to screaming.  It took us a while to come back from this estrangement.

Later in the car, I was trying to get us back on the same page.  I was trying to revert to my more obvious, and I believe to be successful, ways of getting him to join me in what I'm doing. 

me: Sean, are we going to have a good day today?

Sean: (fingering his lip, his usual 'thinking' pose) Yeah.

me:  What are some things we could do that would make the day easier?

Sean: Saying 'ok' when you ask me to do something...

me: That's a good one.

Sean: Using kind words...

me:  I like that one, too.

Sean: Not getting in Audrey's face...

me:  Yes, yes, another good idea.

And then in a moment of inspiration, I derailed from my war-path.  I thought, "I need to focus on something else instead of just hammering home these rules about the day.  I need to focus on teaching Sean something about the world.  Let's look at the trees which are starting to change.  That will make all of us feel better."

me: Sean do you see the trees and the leaves?  Do you see how some of them are changing colors?

Sean: Where?

I slowed the car down, and rolled up next to some trees with yellow and orange tips on the leaves.  I explained that leaves begin changing colors in the fall, and that when winter comes most of the trees will be bare.  Sean and I exchanged thoughts about why that happens, and then in the most crude fashion possible (my science teachers would be embarrassed) I explained why leaves die in the winter.  We had a great conversation about how leaves will grow again in the spring, with the help of rain and water.  Could this be a moment of light shining through the gray clouds of our day?  Could we, like the leaves, be starting fresh?  I will often remind Sean that he can always start his day fresh, no matter what time it is, no matter what's transpired, we can always start fresh.  This moment exemplified that: starting fresh.  They both seemed calm, focused and interested in the conversation.

me: So in the spring, we'll have to watch as the leaves grow back again.

Sean: Yeah!  The leaves will grow out of the branches!

me: That's right!  Isn't that amazing?

Sean: (matching the sound of wonder and awe in my voice) No.

Perhaps I found his negative statement to be too comedically timed, too bittersweet to end our moment of connection.  Tempting the fate of every obvious, obtuse declarative statement ever made, I put myself out there again.

me:  You don't think that's amazing?

Sean: (quietly shaking his head) No.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Close and closer still

This past weekend, I made homemade pizza dough.  Once mixed together, I set the bowl outside in the warm air to rise.  Tom was out in the backyard, mowing the lawn with Audrey in the backpack watching him closely. I was in the kitchen making dinner, and Sean the Cito was running around the backyard "mowing" the lawn with his pint-sized lawn mower.  Once tired of this activity, he walked up onto the deck and saw the pizza dough rising in the bowl.  He decided to open the plastic wrap, get a closer look, and stick his hands in.  Then he scooped some out.  Having figured out that this was a sticky, sticky mess, he immediately began scraping it on anything he could find: the deck, the lawn chairs, the table, under the table, etc.  When he exhausted all of these options, he then walked to the side of the house and scraped some dough on the siding.  It was only when he realized he couldn't get the dough off by himself that he eventually fessed up.  He just wanted a closer look at the dough!

Closeness is a funny thing.  There are times when I long for it.  I love to snuggle with the kids just after they wake up from sleeping.  I like to get close when trying to fit all four of us into a house-made fort in the living room.  I love getting close by sleeping in a tent out in the woods as a family.  I will never begrudge the closeness of having one of my kids sitting in my lap and reading a book.  But there's a closeness that can get too close.  For example while I'm trying to type an email to someone.

Sean: Mama, I want to come stand under your arms.

me: Eh... (only half listening, while also trying to type coherent sentences)...not... right... now...

Sean: (beginning to wiggle under my arms) But I just want to see what you're doing.

me: I'm typing an email, and then we'll get ready to go.

Sean: (whining) But I just want to see -

me: Sean, please do not touch the keyboard!

Sean: But Mama!  (then looking up under my chin and pressing) Hey - you have a boo boo under your chin.

me: Okay, please leave my face alone.

Sean: Why do you have this boo boo?

me: I think it's probably a zit.

Sean: A zit?

me: Yes, please leave it -

That's too close.  Or Sunday when Sean had me take him to the potty in the middle of church because he had to poop.  And he likes to explain to me - while he's pooping - exactly what's happening for him.

Sean:  I think there are two more turds.

me: Great, thanks.

Sean: I think maybe there's one more turd.

me: Ooookay.  Are you finished.

Sean: I think maybe it's stuck.


Our dear Audrey is quite close to many things: she's close to figuring out how to say many words.  Often when we're speaking, even if not to her, we'll hear her repeat words that have just been said.

me: Okay, guys, it's time for lunch.

Audrey: 'unch!

me: All right, let's go inside church.

Audrey: 'urch!

Or hearing a sound overhead while sitting outside:

Audrey: aerpane!

Or learning her manners:


Or upon seeing her brother first thing in the morning:

Audrey: Don!

We keep trying to reinforce the 'sh' sound that begins Sean's name, but Audrey seems content to call him "Don."  Close enough, right?  Whether she gets the first consonant right, the most endearing fact is that she knows his name.  She knows it's her brother, and her affection runs deep.  Equally as charming is that she refers to herself as "Audee" and Sean has picked up on this nickname too.  To the outside observer we have two kids named Don and Audee.  Delightful.

Their closeness to each other grows each day, and for the most part, we encourage it.  However, the tricky moments come into play around nap time.  Being in the same room, they often find comfort in knowing the other one is there.  But the downfall is when they find humor in the other one being there.  After I've left them to quietly go to sleep, sometimes I'll hear shouting, laughter, and then loud thuds.  When I go back into the room, I will find Sean clinging to the side of Audrey's crib, perhaps having just thrown a book or doll into her, and Audrey laughing hysterically.  It's difficult in these moments to figure out whether to laugh (which I try not to) or gently (and sometimes not so gently) reprimand. 

Sometimes I use their closeness to explain to Sean that he's there to teach Audrey things.  Like in the middle of quiet times in church, when Audrey is yelping and Sean is smashing toy cars together loudly.

me: Sean I need you to help Audrey learn to be quiet in church.

Sean:  (loud whisper) Okay, Mama.  I will do it.  I will help Audrey.  I will tell her to be quiet.   (then to Audrey) Shhhhh, Audrey.  Be quiet!  Shhhh, Audrey!

Last week I was called away from my workout to come pick up Audrey.  She was none too happy by the time I reached the childcare area, and there were kids everywhere.  The woman holding her stated that she thought Audrey didn't feel well, which is probably true.  She has a summer cold, new teeth breaking through; I'm sure the girl doesn't feel good.  Thankfully they have this lovely paging system so that they don't have to announce my name over the loud speaker.

Once in my arms, Audrey calmed down. She just needed the closeness of her mother to get her back on course.  This warms my heart.  Even though I would have loved to have a longer workout, I don't mind being called away if she's really that upset.  I'd hate to have her screaming at the top of her lungs for 2 hours.  And when the fix is just some closeness from me, I'm happy to provide.

Then as we got in the car to go home, I began to re-cap what happened with Sean.

me: Audrey had a tough time today, huh?

Sean: Yeah.  She did.

me:  Did you help her at all?  Did you talk to her or play with her?

Sean: No.

me:  Did you tell her it was going to be okay?

Sean: (after a long pause) I fell on her.

me: You what?  Why?

Sean:  I fell on her.  That's why she was crying.

me: Why did you fall on her?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me:  Did the people at the child care talk to you about it?

Sean: No.

me: Why did you do that?

Sean:  (little hands facing upwards on either side of his torso) I didn't do it many times.

And there you have it.  What I initially thought to be Audrey's desire to be close to her mother was not entirely true.  Upon closer inspection, she had been injured by her brother: the one person in the room she trusts more than anybody.  She expected that because she feels close to this person, she should be safe.  And yet, his physical closeness to her in this case actually endangered her creating tears.  Life is a paradox.

The doctor was checking my Vitamin D levels today (clearly with my vitamin D deficiency, I am not close enough to the sun), so both kids witnessed me getting blood drawn.  This was the closest they've ever been to needles without someone giving them a shot.  A good learning experience.  After leaving the lab, a very pregnant woman was in front of us walking to the elevator and when she saw Sean on her heels she backed away from the elevator call button.

woman: (to Sean) Do you want to hit the button?  I have a 3.5 year old, and I know all about the button.  If you want to hit it, I won't.

Sean: Yes. I do.

me: What do you say, Seancito?

Sean: Thank you.

He hits the button with fervor.

me: Nice job, buddy.

woman:  Are you starting preschool soon?  Our son's starting preschool next week.

Sean: Yeah.

me: When are you due?

woman: I'm having a C-section a week from Friday.

me: Oh my, very soon!  Congratulations!

woman:  I don't think I could have made it another two+ weeks, so I'm glad we're having the baby next week.

The elevator arrived, and we all walked in.

me: Is this your second?

woman: It's our third.  We have our son, who's 3.5, and then our daughter died when she was 7 months old.

me: Oh - I'm sorry.

woman:  She would have been 2 in July.  So this baby is our third.  And I was diagnosed with cancer during this pregnancy, so I'm really ready to have this baby.

me: Oh no.  I'm so sorry to hear that.

The woman spoke with no hint of self-pity.  She spoke honestly, directly, and lovingly. She spoke as though close enough to her feelings but not awkwardly or inappropriately sharing with a stranger.  Her words brought us closer in just a brief interaction.

woman: Yeah.  It's been tough.  (smiling and looking at Audrey) How old is this one?

me: Audrey is 16 months.

woman: (placing a hand on her own stomach) This baby would have been named Audrey if he hadn't been a boy.  We're going to have two boys!

me: That's very exciting.  And you look beautiful.

woman: Thank you.

With this the elevator doors opened and we all walked out to the lobby.

me: Best of luck with everything ahead.

woman: Thanks.  Have a great day.  (to Sean) Good luck at school, buddy!

Sean: (waving at the woman, as if she was leaving our house) Yeah!  Thanks!  And if I get enough stickers, I get to go on a special date! 

I don't know that Sean understood the exchange that she and I just had, but he seemed to intuit the newly born closeness between us.  His waving and saying goodbye carried with it a knowledge of that closeness, and then he felt the urge to share with her his news about his special date.  She had no context for this news, and she didn't seem to fully take it in, other than to smile and wave goodbye.

I was struck by the woman's honesty and bravery.  I was struck by her courage facing a new pregnancy after so recently having lost a baby.  I was struck by her warmth to us as strangers and her ability to create closeness without creating awkwardness. 

The other day I was cleaning out our car, and I removed both carseats to vacuum up the cheerios, raisins, bits of dried cheese sticks and crumbled graham crackers.  It was disgusting.  I had this brief moment where I looked at the clean, empty backseat and felt like I could breathe easier with the space reclaimed.  I longed for the days when I could just throw a bunch of stuff back there: no carseats, no kids, no dried chunks of food.  I then had this moment of realizing just how much our kids take up our lives and what it will be like to re-gain that empty back seat some day.  I am so close to these two human beings right now and I love it.  Though there are small trials each day that can send me spinning, I'm also keenly aware that this time is fleeting.  They won't always want to snuggle up in my lap with a book.  They won't always want to come running to see me when I've been away from the house for a couple hours.  So though I may have their carseats filling up my backseat, I have their humanity filling up my life.  With all the laughter, challenges, and growth, I am fond of our closeness.