Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Children

How is it possible that two seemingly opposite truths can hold the same space?  For example: why is it that we got 5 inches of snow a week ago, and then four days later it was 74 degrees?  And why is it, after reaping the benefits of a glorious weekend of weather (dare I say, summertime-feeling-weather?), there are predictions for snow tomorrow.  This means that two drastically different seasons of clothes are needed at practically the same time.  Which is why I'm scrounging the house for summer clothes for both kids while I can't bring myself to pack their snow pants away yet.  Some might call this paradoxical.

I find a similar phenomenon exists in my children: how is it possible that I started the day reprimanding Sean, asking him to "turn his day around" with all the whining, crying, and shouting "NO!" only to have come through the morning with an incredibly well behaved kid?  Why is it that Audrey is sweet as can be and silently devilish while walking away from me, pretending to not hear me call after her, when she has a poopy diaper that needs changing?  (The most logical thing for her to do in this instance is to hide behind a park bench and laugh quietly.  Which she did.  Which pissed me off, because I had been calling to her for a solid 90 seconds.)  Or today, when Sean fell on the driveway riding his bike, scraped both knees and started screaming, he calmed down after I held him for a few minutes.  He calmed down enough to breathe deeply, and listen to my conversation with our neighbor.  Then, it wasn't until I set him back on the ground and he got a look at the pool of blood on his knee that he began screaming again, hobbling around like an old man, and claiming that it "really, really hurts now!"

me: It's been doing the same thing for the past 3 minutes, and you were calm just a second ago!

Sean: (distressed, crying) But it really hurts now!  It really hurts!

After cleaning him up and dressing his wounds with Toy Story band-aids, he hobbled out of the house, nearly winning an Oscar for so truthfully playing the part of a 95-year-old man.

I give him credit: the cuts looked like they didn't feel good.  He had grit and dirt ground into both knees, and the skin was nicely irritated; red and puffy.  But my compassion is at a low with El Cito, because these things happen all the time - an injury - followed by massive amounts of wailing, and then often there is no "injured site" to be found.  For example, the other day he claimed that he'd wounded an ankle (doing what? I can't remember...), and in the bath he made sure that I knew about it.

Sean: Mama, will you please be careful with my ankle, because it really hurts.

His eyes were puppy-dog-inquisitive, his face an earnest complexion of concern.

me: Sure, can you show me where it hurts?

Slowly, carefully he lifted one foot out of the bath water.  He cradled it like a baby and raised the ankle towards my face.  I saw nothing.

me: I don't see anything.

Sean: Oh!  I think it's the other one.

Same thing - slowly lifting the other ankle, he coddled it and brought it up to me.  I grabbed at it, seeing no wound.

me: You are making this up!  There's nothing there!

We both laughed.

Sean: (bashful) Oh, I forgot...

Forgot?  How does one "forget" a non-existent wound is NOT there?

me:  "Oh hey, I have an owie on my pinky. Oh wait. No I don't!" That's you.

More laughter. Sometimes I can become annoyed by Sean's - how shall I say it? - tenderness with his own hurts?  He has so much tenderness for himself that I find myself being callous in moments, which I don't want to be my usual response.  So this moment was a beautiful, playful one - absent of any annoyance.

Even as I look at both of our beautiful children, I see jarring differences that make me wonder how they can be siblings.

The kids had their yearly check-ups at the doctor a couple weeks ago, and Audrey needed to get a shot, while both kids needed to have their fingers' pricked.  I will start by saying that both of them were incredibly brave.  No huge shows of emotion in the office, and they listened really well to the nurse, and we made it out alive.  I was really proud of them.  The differing reactions began, though, as soon as we left the office lobby.  Sean walked out, looked at the elevator and the stairs, and then at his finger with (yet another) Toy Story band-aid on it.

Sean: Mama, I think we should take the elevator.  I think that would be easier on my finger.

me: Ehm... we can take the elevator.  But let the record show, that I don't believe the stairs would be rough on your finger.

Sean: Well.  Actually, Mama.  I think the elevator would be easier on my finger.

Sean then couldn't open the car door because of his recently-pricked thumb.  Then he couldn't open his cheese stick wrapper.  Then he needed help taking off his snow boots when we got home.  He also considered the difficulty and extreme risk involved in washing his hands before lunch because of the pain in his finger.  More than that, as he reached for his water glass, he could only use one hand, while the other hand (out of commission because of his finger) could only offer assistance by way of the wrist.  Throughout the day I received multiple updates about the status of his finger - how much pain he was in, how quickly he was healing (or not), and how brave he had been.

On the other hand (no pun intended), having received a Hepatitis A shot in the leg, AND a prick to the finger, Audrey quietly removed her thumb bandaid within 20 minutes of leaving the doctor's office.  We didn't hear another word about it.  That is until Sean would talk about his thumb hours later (still bandaged, of course), and then Audrey would comment on her own thumb being all better.

Their responses to some situations are... let's just say... different.

For example, when Sean received his first haircut at the tender age of 19 months, he cried through the whole thing.  I don't think anything physically hurt him, but the experience was overwhelming, and he didn't like the tattoo'd man who was chopping off his hair.  Even with the promise of a sucker afterwards the crying continued, and the process felt excruciatingly long.  Though he's had many haircuts since, he still drags his feet when we talk about getting his hair trimmed.  Most recently, he's heard Tom talk about growing his hair a little longer than usual which has prompted Sean to say,

Sean: I don't want to cut my hair.  I want it long.  Like yours, Mama.

Fine by me if he wants to grow longer hair, but he did have a Beatles-style mop expanding on all sides of his head, so we were pushing him to get it trimmed before his birthday party.  Still dragging his feet about it, Tom and I reached a compromise with Sean.  Tom offered to trim Sean's hair here at home.  Sean liked this idea, and so one night we set up a chair in the bathroom, put a towel around his neck, and let Tom get out the buzzer.

Sean started out brave, but as the hair began falling and accumulating around his neck (of course the towel didn't stay in place for very long), his skin got irritated.  I could see his skin turn a bright red, and the more Sean itched and scratched, the worse it got, and subsequently more hair would nestle around his collar.  It was a bad combination.  Sean started crying.  Tom was doing a valiant job of trying to cautiously and judiciously trim parts of Sean's mop, but as Sean moved around and cried, it became increasingly difficult.  At one point, Tom brought the buzzer too close to Sean's right temple, leaving the Cito with Vanilla Ice tracks in his hair.  They remain there today, even after a couple weeks of growing out.

Tom felt awful.  I just smiled.  I was proud of Tom for trying it, and I know for a fact that this is a rite of passage.  Everyone has stories about home hair cuts gone wrong, right?  RIGHT?  Moreover, Sean the Cito was not upset at all by the haircut.  He was mad as hell about the discomfort of the hair trimmings around his neck, but he has not once been upset about the way it looks.  Even still, we felt the need to take him to Great Clips and get the home-trim trimmed.

While at Great Clips, Sean bravely sat in the seat while the woman spoke with him calmly.  He was a champ.  The hairdresser remarked that we would have to just "leave the right side alone for a while."  READ: the Vanilla Ice tracks are here to stay until enough time passes that the surrounding hair can cover it again.  I was holding onto Audrey while Sean got his hair cut.  The woman looked up at Audrey and smiled.

Hairdresser: Do you want to get your haircut, sweet heart?

Audrey: Yes!
Before we knew it, a trip to get Sean's hair fixed became Audrey's first hair trim.  It was minimal: a 1/2 inch off around all sides of her head and slightly around the bang-area.  Audrey smiled the whole time.  When she caught sight of her face in the mirror, she looked even more expectant and thrilled with this new experience.  Sean reassured her, reading the happy look on her face as a mask covering terror beneath.

Sean: You're doing great, Audrey.  You get a sucker when you're done!

I would never want to say one reaction is better than another.  Each child has strengths in their character, and each one presents different challenges to me and Tom as parents.  Yet when placed side by side, their reactions are so paradoxical, so mystifying.

Just today, walking around the zoo, I was captivated by how close Sean sticks by my side, while Audrey will roam without looking back.  She makes me nervous in large public areas, because I think she would bravely wander a great distance without realizing it.  And yet.  Sean is the older child, the more experienced one, and he's the one that can get up against the glass of the gorilla or sea lion exhibit.  Audrey stands behind him, unsure of these large creatures, and when the animals get too close to her, glass or no, she backs away to find me.  They clearly both have a reserve of courage, but they exercise it differently.  They clearly both have their rebellious ways, but they exhibit or hide it from us differently.  They both have hearts bursting with love, and yet Sean is a snuggler and Audrey not as much.

Less than being a paradox, it's just as I started out saying.  These kids are two truths holding the same space.  It's mystifying, maddening, challenging, electrifying, and joyfully overwhelming.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

fixation vexation

We all have our fixations.  Mine is often the fixation of picking something out of the kids' noses, or wiping a runny nose, or getting Audrey's hair out of her face.  I'm constantly thinking about checking for poopy diapers, making sure Sean's pants are zipped, or watching Sean hold his crotch while trying to "keep the pee in."  I fixate on things like Audrey sucking on the child-size Crayola flossing tools because the package says for 3 year-olds and up (what awful things could happen to a 23 month old baby who's sucking on those things??).  I often can't get these fixations out of my mind.

Other fixations are trivial, or at least I judge them to be so.  Sean fixates on the things he can participate in: helping to grind the coffee beans each morning, or unscrewing the milk cap from the gallon jug, where we place his tooth brush at night, or how he must have a glass of water and a towel before he even begins to brush teeth, or flushing the toilet.  Yet there are moments when that fixation changes, and he no longer wants his autonomous participation, but rather fixates on me and Tom doing it for him.  Maddening.

Another fixation is the way in which the kids express their defiance.  Sean is fire-y.  He lays it all out there on the table.  He screams and shouts - sometimes for extended periods of time - and he is in our faces; he is intent upon letting us know about the slightest discomfort, the slightest ill at ease.  He will not rest until we know that he's angry and upset about something.  Audrey on the other hand chooses a quieter approach.

The other day we walked down to the lake by our house, and the kids made the 10 minute walk with full energy.  We marched through puddles and mounds of snow.  I thought I could almost see the pent up energy leaving their little bodies.  I applauded myself for getting them outside and for preparing them for a good night's sleep.  But then it came to the walk home:  both of them grew tired, and each one started to whine about walking.  Sean outright complained and asked for frequent breaks.  Audrey, however, decided this was the best possible time to stop walking, turn around and run in the opposite direction of home....  right in the middle of neighborhood streets, charging through puddles, and laughing hysterically.

When I would catch up to her - my pregnant self not as fast as my non-pregnant self - and I'd scoop her up in my arms she would calmly tell me about her plan.

Audrey: I want turn 'round and go back to the lake. Let me go!

Did she think that going back to the lake would make the walking stop?  Obviously.  After a couple rounds of me chasing her down and getting winded, I decided that was for the birds.  Instead, each time she would stop walking, I would continue walking ahead of her and call to her from over my shoulder.

me: Let's go Audrey!  Time to go home!

At a similar juncture, Sean might have yelled "no" or engaged in an argument.  Audrey held her silence.  When I would finally turn around to see what she was doing, she was standing in the exact same place with a smile on her face.  She had not moved.

me: Okay - let's get going, the sun is setting soon.

Once she knew my eyes were on her, she would slowly, slowly, ever so slowly turn her back to me.

me: Audrey - no more going back to the lake.  It's time to go home.  Let's go!

She would hold that stance for a couple moments longer, just enough to lull me into a false sense of security that she might actually stand there indefinitely.

me: Audrey?  Audrey Claire! Let's go.  I'll give you to the count of 3 and then I'm coming over there.  1... 2...

Then she would begin to run.  Damn it!

Or today, she was told by Tom that she couldn't have an oreo until she finished her vegetables.  When I reinforced this statement and put her vegetables directly in front of her, she said nothing.  She in fact reached for a spoon and the bowl, and I thought she was going to eat her peas, so I walked back into the kitchen to finish the dishes.  Two minutes later, Sean comes running in.

Sean: Mama, Audrey dumped her peas everywhere!

I walked into the dining room to find peas all over the table, all over the floor, and Audrey swirling her arms around the table as if spreading seeds in a garden.  She didn't say a word.  She had also quietly been smashing some peas with her pink rubber ducky, grinding them into the table cloth.  Not a sound from her lips.

What is this to tell me about the difference between my kids as they become adolescents and teenagers?

I turned my back the other day only to hear Sean inform me:

Sean: Uh oh.  Audrey's on the table.

I turned back around, and not 2 feet from me, Audrey was standing - STANDING - on the dining room table, smile on her face, looking me dead in the eye.  Had her brother not announced it, I wouldn't have been any the wiser.  She's stealth like that.  She's fixated on it.

There are moments when their fixation coalesces, and they realize that they're stronger as two than as one.  Audrey didn't like it that I wiped her face after lunch the other day.

Sean:  Audrey, if you don't want mom to wipe your face, you could just eat some more sandwich and then get more jelly on your face.  Then the jelly would be back and mom won't wipe your face.

The fixations turn into vexations when I allow them too much time and space in my head.  When I spend too long wondering if I'm doing all the right things to move Sean out of pull-ups at night.  I can spend much too much time trying to determine if the kids are eating enough vegetables.  I can fixate for days on whether Sean's temper tantrums are "normal" and "developmentally appropriate," but the worry and fixations do me no good.  They just fuel a slew a questions that I have no answer to, but feel I should:  When will Audrey start potty training?  When will we move Sean into a bigger bed?   How will we manage when we have three kids all under the age of 5??  Where are we going to find the best deal on a minivan???

We all have them, these fixations, and we can't escape them.  The best we can do is to learn to live with them.  My best days are when I'm able to smile at them.  Both the fixations and the kids.

Tom's current fixation is Bob Dylan.  It's not enough that he's reading the 700 page biography or watching Scorsese's documentary, or downloading as much Dylan music as possible.  Each time I get in the car, another Bob Dylan CD is in the player.

Audrey: (as music starts) Is zis Bob Diwwan?

At this point that I believe the fixation has gone too far.  And then -

Sean: Mama, why don't you like Bob Dylan?

me: I do like Bob Dylan, just not as much as dad does.

Sean: Why don't you like him as much as dad does?

me: Everybody has different likes.

Audrey: Why don't you like Bob Dylan?

me: I do like Bob Dylan, I'm just not as big of a fan as dad.

And on and on...  You would think I was secretly burning Bob Dylan CDs with the way the kids question me.  And as time goes on, and the fixation continues, there are times when I think of throwing the CDs out the window.  But then imagine the questions from the kids.  These are the good days, when I can smile about the kids' fixations on my supposed music taste.  When I can breathe in and out as the questions continue throughout the next 20 minute car ride.  Me defending my like of Bob Dylan, and resting easy that I spend my days interfacing with these two kiddos and all our fixations.