Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mama, That was too much.

I'm trying to get my kid out the door, attempting to use those skills I've honed over years.
1. Give them plenty of notice.2. Tell them what's expected.3. Stay on track.  Futzing on FaceBook is not allowed.4. Stay patient.5. Think of the younger generation and how you are ushering them into the world.

Frankly, none of it's working.  I've gone through 10 minute warnings.  Five minute warnings. Three minute warnings.  And his shoes aren't on.  They're upstairs.  With his socks.  My patience is low.  We have an Errand to run.  And that's when I issue a Threat.

"If your shoes aren't on in five minutes, I'm going to leave you here with Dada."  That seems to goad him into action.  Somehow he does manage to find his shoes and socks.  He's back downstairs faster than I can say, "Pokemon Snorlax."  But then something happens.  This normally agile child starts to cave under pressure.  His socks seem to get stuck between his toes, and he's not able to pull them up, and then he bursts into tears.

"It's okay," I tell him.  "I want you to come with me."  He sobs harder.

"But you said you're going to leave without me."

"But I don't want to leave without you."

"And then," he continues, "you're not going to buy anything for my party.  And then we're not going to have my party."  He sobs louder.  I get down on the ground and put my arms around here.

"Let me help you," I say.  I can feel my own insides start to quiver.  "I want you to come with me," I reiterate.  "Of course we're going to have your party.  I just want you to put your shoes and socks on."

He pushes back.  He insists he won't have a party.  All I can do is listen, tell him I hear him.

"I got so frustrated," I say.  "That's why I made the threat.  I just wanted you to stop being silly.  I was full to the max on that.  I needed you to stop."

He has quieted down.

"Was it too much?" I ask.

He nods.  And slowly it dawns on me.  My maxing out and the ensuing threat are totally disproportionate to where he was at.  My sweet and tender boy felt railroaded by my threat.  It was no idle threat (he knew that), but it was a non-calibrated threat, designed to make me feel better, not work together with him.

"I'm not sure what to do," I say, "when I'm so frustrated and just want to get out the door.  What do I do?  What can I say, so you take me seriously?"

"Tell me I can't watch Dinotrux today but don't really do it."

"Hmmm . . . but you know if I make a threat, I'll follow through with it."  He knows this is true.  I don't want to say something I won't do - and this occurs in many areas (promises to take him places or do things - unless fundamentally necessary to change).

"What about our code words?" I ask.  We have code words I can use to get his attention: chocolate chip.  He loves chocolate, so saying that word gets his attention.  Plus, it's just silly enough that he listens.

"Okay," I agree.  "And you know, I learned something here about you."  He gazes at me.  "I learned that I don't need to give such heavy threats.  Sometimes just a little thing can help."

He snuggles in my arms a bit more, and we get his shoes and socks on together.  Somehow this feels a lot better than fighting and struggling.  Instead of being pitted together, we are in this together.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mama, May I touch your boobies?

Republished on The Good Men Project. 
For three years, I nursed my son.  I had some many challenges during that time: clogged ducts, low supply, thrush.  I sometimes wonder how I made it through, but made it through I did.  

And then there was the weaning - very gently, deliberating, with lots of child propaganda (books about kids weaning), lots of cuddles, lots of reassurance.

And so, I reclaimed my breasts.  They were mine again.

But recently, my 6 year-old son has been asking if he can suck on my nipples again.  I don't know why this timing (parenting can be so oblique sometimes), but I do know it's not just a one-time ask. 

Don't get me wrong, I love breasts.  I also find them fascinating.  Beautiful, luscious, all shapes and sizes.  On the one hand: profoundly utilitarian, but on the other, sensual and sexual. I have certainly appreciated the aesthetic beauty of breasts (and certainly the women who own the breasts), but I find it fascinating to see my six year old also so magnetized.

Our household is a clothing optional household, so it's not like he's never seen my breasts.  He's seen all of us naked, but breasts . . . He is drawn to mine.

Each time he asks about my nipples, I gently say no.  I let him know my nipples are sensitive. He says he'll be gentle.  I tell him no.  No amount of reasoning seems to quite land for him.  He tells me I can touch any part of his body; this is fine.  It's not a game of tit for tat. (Or tits for tats ;).  

There are times when I'm fine with him putting a hand on my breast, or even a hand on my nipple.  Something gentle, heavy, but I draw the line at suckling.

It is strange these lines we draw with our children.  Where are those places?  When are those times?  What is cultural?  What is personal? What is sensual?  What is arousing?

To be clear, breastfeeding was both utilitarian and sensual to me.  Oxytocin floods the system as the milk lets down.  When I was too tense, my milk wouldn’t let down, but when it did, I felt my body flooded with oxytocin, and it felt wonderful.

It was not the same, however, as having an adult suck on my nipples, which is very arousing.

And herein is the difference.  My son is not a baby anymore.  He’s not a toddler.  He is an articulate child who builds forts, knows how to swear, is beginning to understand the more complex nature of humans.  He’s not an adult.  But, him sucking me gets into a gray area that I don’t feel comfortable with.  My body contracts, and I say no.

Instead of taking it out on him (I don’t), I continually reinforce my gentle no.  I sent boundaries.  I hope that one day he will appreciate that when he is with someone who also sets boundaries around their body.  I hope one day he will appreciate my no.

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's just a toy

It’s just a toy.  

I heard the words issuing from my friend’s mouth towards his child and cringed.  Just a toy.  Wow. These words would reveal a lot to me: about him and about myself.  

Connection and Empathy

For a kid, a toy isn’t “just a toy.”  Toys are such a critical part of their world. They come alive at any moment.  They entertain, teach, get hands to move, enact crazy kid-logical stories, teach kids about to not only be in this world, but to create their own worlds.  

There are many ways to disconnect from a child; this is one of them. Belittle their toys. So many times I have been in the middle of the store with my child.  He’s the one loudly asking if I’ll buy him a toy.  What about this one?  Or that one?  He’s the one who has burst into tears when I’ve said no. And I’ve been the one to sit with him in the middle of the store and really check out the toy he likes.  And you know what?  Transformers are really eff-ing cool.  So are mashables.  So are legos.  So are any number of toys out there.  And yeah, there are some lame ones, but by and large, when I sink into the fact that my son is intrigued by something and try to get why he’s intrigued, then I get it.  We connect.  We talk about how cool the toy is.  Sometimes we take pictures.  My smartphone has numerous photos of Pokemon cards, sticky jellyfish, legos, etc.  At the end of the day, I take my son very seriously.  He gets that I heard him, and then I set the boundary, which is almost always a no to buying random toys.

The thing is, I firmly believe that when he gets that I get him, and I get how much toys mean to him, then he’s able to actually let go of the toy when I say no to it.  

Finding Connection and Empathy in Times of Stress

And herein lies the piece about my friend, which is really not about him at all. It’s about me.  It’s about how I judge parents when they don’t do things the right way.  Good grief I try not to, but I am unremarkably human in this respect.  My friend said, It’s just a toy, and a whole wave of judgment swept through my brain. How does he not get how important toys are?  I mean, he’s a great father, but to not get that??!! And then I saw myself.  I saw how I try to get my son out the door, and sometimes it’s like herding cats on LSD.   At my best, I create games at the drop of a hat, enacting dinotrux in peril, competitive races, imagining being pelted with slime balls - anything to tickle his imagination and get him out the door.  

At my worst, I am impatient, pressuring, short-tempered. My worst is a bitten-through-teeth countdown while  I contemplate throwing him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes.  My worst feels tightly corseted in time constraints.  My worst is saying things like, It’s just a toy. Sigh.  

And therein lies the compassion and empathy - not only for my child, but for parents, for myself, for all of us who are just trying to do our best, and sometimes - just sometimes - our best is unimpressive. These are the moments when I back up. Breathe. Apologize if I need to. Repair if I can. And remember that that kid is just trying to figure out how to live in in this world - and sometimes as parents, so are we.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mama, Can I Say a Bad Word (F*cky Pants and Sh*tty Brains)

He's sitting on the bathroom floor, half-naked.  Somehow this seems to be a state which evokes the most interesting conversations between me and my son.  In this case, we were talking about something that happened at his school.  I don’t remember the details other than to recollect that it was a short episode about kids that I know chained together with “and then what happened was,” which launched him into another rambling episode of something that someone did to someone else.  It didn’t seem to be a particularly good thing, but then again, it wasn’t particularly bad.  Then, my son said, “Mama, can I say a bad word?”  I stopped, contemplated, and nodded.  Why not?
            “He was f*cky pants and sh*tty brains!”
            “F*cky pants and sh*tty brains, huh?”  In all of my almost 45 years on the planet, I had never actually heard the word “f*cky.”  Not once.  I know “f*ck” is an extremely versatile word.  It can be a noun, a verb, a participial adjective,  an adverb.  It’s quite amazing.  But “f*cky.” That was a new one.
            “Yes, f*cky pants and sh*tty brains!”  He was beyond himself in joy and naughtiness.  Here he was with full permission to swear, and he was doing it.  Not only was it okay, it was an adult giving him the thumbs up.
            “I’m okay with you saying it, “ I tell him, “but you know that I never swear at you.”
            “I would never swear at you.  I’m not swearing at you right now.”  We both nod in agreement.
            “Dada and I never swear at each other.  And he would never swear at you.”
            “But he does use bad words.”  We both laughed.  He most certainly did use bad words.  In earlier years, I would admonish him for swearing in front of our son. I didn’t want to have that kid who let out a strong of “Oh my f*cking God! What the f*ck is going on?” in the middle of a store when I accidentally knocked over the display stand of chips, or when someone else did that, or when he did that.  Because we all know that when a kid lets out a string of blue like that, it’s simply because he or she has heard it somewhere.
            No, I wanted my kid to know when and where the appropriate times of swearing were.  In front of grandma and grandpa?  No. At school?  Probably not.  In front of most adults?  Probably not. But with his friends?  I knew he swore with his friends.  After all, that’s where he learned some of his words.  Plus, those friends with older siblings tended to have a vocabulary rich with swear words. 
            In the car once he said, “Mama, tell me all the swear words.  That way, if I hear them, I’ll know what they are.”
            I responded, “Um, no. And besides, I don’t think I know all the swear words.  But if you hear something, think it’s a swear word, and want to know what it means, just ask.”
            Funnily enough, here was a case where he was teaching me swear words: f*cky pants.  Now, that was new.  Five minutes later, and after having repeated it in every possible variation, I let him know I was feeling full.  His face fell slightly. 
            “But maybe you want to say it three or four more times?” Yes, he did!  And he did so with gusto. 
            I knew that I would never have control over him swearing when he wasn't with me, but at least I could hope he'd understand discernment, and that was worth its weight in gold. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mama, What the hell is wrong with you?

Mama, What the hell is wrong with you? 

I was sideswiped by my five year old’s words.  Stunned.  Hurt.  Where had he learned that?  I had never said that to him.  I knew his father had never said that to him.  I scoured my brain.  My parents: no.  His teachers: no.
            I turned away from him.  I was juggling making dinner with his needs, and right now, nobody was winning out.  I couldn’t get far enough making dinner without interruptions, and every need of his was so significant, it “couldn’t wait.”  Now, here we were. 
            I was alternately sad and enraged, but more than that, I froze in that place of hurt.
            “Talk to your father,” I said.  “I can’t help you now.”  While I believe in regulating my own emotions before engaging in sticky situations with my child, at that moment, I was so contracted, I didn’t know where to begin.  In that place, shoving him off on the other parent seemed wise.
            Philippe joined us in the kitchen.  Everything about me screamed contraction.  My stomach, throat, voice, all felt tight and mean.  I started to cry.
            “I can’t believe you said that to me,” I said.  Phoenix stared, transfixed.  It certainly wasn’t the first time he had seen me cry, but it was a rare moment when it was because of his words and actions.  He began to cry as well.  Philippe sat with both of us.  Part of me wanted to torch him with flames, but the other part just felt deeply sad.
            Phoenix wept, and I held him close. Even in those moments, I can usually find that place in me that wants to hold my sweet boy close.  I didn’t want to push him away; I wanted connection.
            “Mama’s hurt,” Philippe said.  And then a small space opened within that tight bad of hurt.
            “Where did you hear that,” I said.  “Who said, ‘what the hell is wrong with you’?”
            Phoenix answered right away, “A--- said it.” 
            “When did he say it?” 
            “He pushed me down the stairs, and when I started to cry, he said, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’”  I felt myself breathe again.   I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath, but I had.
            “How did that make you feel?”
            I nodded with him.  Suddenly it all made sense.  He had felt powerless.  He was testing the words out to see if they had impact.  They had.
            “When you said it to me, I felt really bad, too.  Awful.  Kind of how you felt when A--- said it to you.”  He nodded.
            “Words are powerful,” I said.  “Even when a kid says them.  They hurt.”
            I held him close.
            “Your words are powerful.  Just remember that.  They can hurt an adult.  They hurt me.” 
            We breathed in together. In and out.  Within my body, I felt more opening.   I felt connection, which is what Phoenix had really wanted – and I had wanted, too. If A--- had said this to Phoenix, then who had said it to A----. Maybe another kid.  Maybe his parents.  He probably felt the way Phoenix had felt.  The way I had felt. I didn’t have the power to stop that, but I did have the power to stop it in our family and teach Phoenix how even a five year old has the power to wound and to heal.

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