July 2012 archive

Empathy

When I was about 12 years old, I sat in my kitchen eating raw, frozen cookie dough out of a tub watching Dateline. (Dateline is still one of my favorite shows and I don’t care who judges me. I love justice.) They were discussing this new-age way of parenting wherein instead of punishing a child for hurting another child, you show the offender how it has made the other one feel. The episode showed an older sister whacking the younger one with a plastic bat. As the younger sister cried, the mother held her. The older sister looked on, waiting for her punishment to begin. But instead, the mother brought the two sisters together and asked the older, “Look at the way your sister feels because you hit her. It hurt her, and it probably scared her, too.” The little girl stared at her sister, processing all the feelings. Eventually, she put her arm around her sister and sheepishly told her she was sorry without prompting.

The method for changing behavior was called “empathy”.

I remember sitting there thinking, “This isn’t all that ground-breaking. It seems like common sense.” Almost 20 years later I’m realizing just how little common sense there is in the world, especially when you’re an exhausted, overworked, under-appreciated mother.

Brene Brown recalls a time in her early career when a psychologist she worked with told her, “You can’t change behavior using shame.” Shame is not embarrassment or guilt; those are emotions we feel about something we did. Shame is about who we are.

Guilt: Hitting your sister was a hurtful choice, and it hurt her feelings.

Shame: You make bad choices. You are a hurtful sister.

We often (unknowingly) shame our children in an attempt to change their behavior. We make them feel badly about themselves after something they’ve done wrong. What this teaches our children is to avoid getting shamed again; not  to avoid the behavior itself. This leads to lying, manipulative behaviors, and cheating. And let’s be honest, in the heat of the moment it’s way easier for me to look at my son and ask, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? YOU ARE BEING MEAN TO THE DOGS,” and then smack his hand away from their poor, tired, floppy, abused ears. And I’ve done that before. And when I do (and when I can bear to look at him afterward), Abe looks at me like I’ve just criticized his very soul.

We also shame each other. We shame partners, we shame friends, we shame complete strangers. Instead of addressing a behavior without emotional and reactionary attitudes, we attack a person. What do you say to someone who cuts you off in traffic? “You crazy bitch.” You don’t say, “You just made a dumb choice.” We attack people, not behaviors.

Empathy is not in our DNA. It’s another skill that we have to practice. It can be extremely difficult to practice once you’ve spent years building up a reaction to those close to you. (“He never remembers…”) So start with those who are on your periphery.

Start with the truck driver who cuts you off.
Either he didn’t see me or no one ever lets him in so he felt like he had to cut me off. He wouldn’t do that if he knew how much it scares me.

Start with the Starbucks employee.
I wonder if this is her first job. I remember my first job at Olive Garden when I used to mess up orders and it got me so flustered.

Start with the mom in MyGym.
I’ll bet she is feeling really self-conscious about how her child is acting in front of all of us.

Practice empathy instead of shame today.

…to be continued…

Simple, Fast, Feed Me

I forgot to pull meat out of the freezer this morning for dinner because Abe and I were very busy trying to stay busy. You know how that goes. Plus, I didn’t actually think about dinner until it was time to physically put it in my mouth. Not a lot of time.

I have an abundance of basil in my garden, lots of fresh garlic in the kitchen, a big bag of pine nuts…WHO SMELLS PESTO? I also had some cute little bags of rice and quinoa* (quinoa is a protein, did you know that?). Oh, and some tomatoes that were about to bite the dust. So I made my own pesto (which you certainly don’t have to do, buy some) and stuffed up some maters!

*Please note: it’s pronounced keen-wah. It’s not kwin-oh-wah or kwine-nonah. This is specifically directed at the woman in the health food store the other day who seemed to correct herself every time she said quinoa by pronouncing it a brand new and incorrect way with a super snotty attitude.

I cut the tops off of 2 tomatoes and dug out the middles. I popped them in the oven (365 or something) and left them all empty and lonely for about 5 minutes. 

I made pesto in the Vitamix (my favorite kitchen appliance) and mixed it all up with this 90 second rice and quinoa blend I get at Costco.

When I pulled the tomatoes out, I poured the liquid out of the center and stuffed them with the happy little mixture in my bowl.

 

I popped the tomatoes back in the oven all full of goodness for about 8 more minutes. When they came out they were all golden and brown and fally-aparty. 

 

 

Simple, delicious, easy dinner before yoga that contains all the major food groups and not a drop of gluten. Anytime I stuff a vegetable and then bake it, it’s sure to be a hit. Abe even LOVED the rice-pesto mixture!

Now go practice saying “quinoa” correctly, please.

The Supermom Trap

Every time I hear someone say, “Oh! You are such a supermom!” to another woman, I cringe. I think about what it feels like to be the mother that hears those words spoken to her. First, a rush of ego, thrilled that she has (finally) impressed someone with her mothering ability. Then, a sense of urgency to keep that up; forever. And in the hours, days, weeks that follow, falling into a trap. The Supermom Trap.
There is an INTENSE amount of shame associated with being a mom. As I mentioned before, I’m reading all of Brene Brown’s books (about vulnerability, shame, and living a wholehearted life) and I am constantly blown away at the shame I uncover as a mother. Just the other day I was sitting down with Abe on the floor trying to count the number of episodes of Mickey Mouse I’d allowed him to watch in the past week. I felt incredibly ashamed, embarrassed, judged that he’d watched that much TV. Sure, I needed to mop the floors before they became one large piece of gum, but wasn’t there ANYTHING else I could have done besides put on a Mickey? I should have included him, making mopping a “learning opportunity”.  Gross motor, colors, textures. But I didn’t.
I know moms who feel shame for having grown up conversations on the phone in front of their kids, they feel shame for giving them crackers instead of freshly cut apples, they feel shame for having an argument with their partners in front of their children, they feel shame for going back to work, for staying home all day, for not being able to afford toys, for having too many toys. Trap, trap, trap.
This is all the Supermom Trap. In an oh-so-long ago blog I related nursing to “What Would a Woman in a Tribe Do?” (WWAWIATD), and I got down on myself for wanting to leave my child for an afternoon and allow my husband to give him a bottle of formula instead of breastmilk. A woman in a tribe wouldn’t even HAVE formula, it’s not natural. Then I realized that women in tribes wet-nurse each other’s children. Without a wet-nurse in the immediate vicinity, my next best option was to give my child a bottle of formula every now and again. The Supermom Trap is the same story. We try to do EVERYTHING ourselves without asking for help because that’s what moms are supposed to do. And when we do it, we get rewarded with, “You’re such a Supermom!” But we’re exhausted, drained. We’re not super. If we were, we’d do it all and still have energy to take an extra yoga class and sweep the driveway (because people actually do that).
A friend of mine offered something to me over the weekend that I thought was too much, I couldn’t accept. I told her I couldn’t accept it and she said to me, “Please don’t hinder my blessing.”
Damn.
Moms, there are so many people out there who want to help you be super. When you turn down someone who wants to help you, you hinder a blessing. That’s not super. Stop doing that. Learn to ask for help and then to accept it knowing that the person helping is feeling just as much joy as you are. You are NOT weak for asking and for accepting. You are strong for knowing your limits. That’s the true definition of a Supermom.

 

Green Light

Abe went back to camp today after 2 weeks off. First, let me tell all you moms who work from home and raise toddlers: You’re amazing. Second, let me tell all you moms who raise toddlers alone while partners and husbands go to work: You’re amazing.
I went certifiably insane.
The reason I know I went insane is because today, all day, I caught myself avoiding things all over the house in an effort to steer clear of a tantrum. But no Abe = no tantrums (and he never has tantrums at schools for his teachers, he saves them for me). So here are the things I had to remind myself were OK to do today:
1. Open the door to the garage because Abe wasn’t here to bolt towards the car wheel wells and stick his fingers in the grease while simultaneously getting bitten by the 1,000 mosquitos that reside in our garage.
2. Do the laundry because Abe wasn’t there to push all the buttons and start/stop the cycles while I wasn’t looking causing my clothes to get washed 7-8 times more than necessary.
3. Feed the dogs because Abe wasn’t there to push them out of the way and eat it all himself repeating, “Yummy puppy.”
4. Blend a smoothie because Abe wasn’t here to scream and bang on my legs as if I was blending all of his best friends for lunch.
5. Turn the shower water on HOT because Abe wasn’t here to slip in and out of the shower as he pleased while repeating, “Show-wow. Show-wow.”
6. Eat, because Abe wasn’t here to sit next to me barking, “Mo! Mo! Mo!” and proceeding to eat my entire lunch.
7. Unload the dishwasher because Abe wasn’t here to “help me” (break things).
8. Fold the towels because Abe wasn’t here to unfold them, lay down in them, and snuggle repeating, “Nigh, nigh.”
9. Use my cell phone while within 10 feet of the floor because Abe wasn’t here to rip it out of my hands with the strength of Thor.
10. Drink out of a regular glass because Abe wasn’t here to yoink it off the table, pour it on the floor, and then drop it over and over until it shatters.
Sound familiar?

5:30

Three months after the initial “surgery” (if that’s what we’re calling it, I prefer “back-mangling”) I finally got to go back to yoga. I’d been avoiding it because the thought of re-opening the incision during downdog totally killed my peace buzz. It was A-MAZING. My body remembered everything and even though I shook like a leaf and sweat nearly 17 cups of water onto my mat, I felt awesome.
At one point during my practice our instructor walked over towards me, which I always hate because I know she’s going to correct me or move me into a harder position and I just want to say, “CAN YOU LEAVE ME ALONE FOR ONE CLASS AND LET ME THINK I’M PERFECT?” I immediately tensed up, but instead of adjusting me she just put her hands gently on my lower back. She leaned down and said, “This is the day when you get to say everything you want to say, be everything you want to be.”
Pardon my french, but holy shit. Right?
I’ve been sitting with that. I’m still not completely sure what it means (to me). I’m a pretty open person and I usually say what I mean/think/want. Damn yoga instructor and her secret magical messages.
Anyway, Abe doesn’t have camp this week so finding another time to go to yoga is a juggling act. I pulled up the yoga schedule and asked David if I could go tomorrow at 5:30. The conversation went something like this:
E – Can I go to the 5:30 yoga class tomorrow?
D – Um, sure?
E – Well, will you be home in time?
D – Isn’t there an earlier one?
E – No.
D – Like a 2pm class?
E – No.
D – There’s nothing earlier? At all?
E – There’s a 9:15am.
D – But not like a noon class?
E – No.
(pause)
E – Do you want me to go to the 9:15 one?
D – No. You can’t. I can’t. That won’t work.
E – Ok, then can I go to the 5:30?
D – I’m not sure. I have to check my calendar.
(pause)
E- Are you checking your calendar?
D – What?
E – Are you checking your calendar for the yoga class?
D – When is it?
E – 5:30.
D – Ok. Um, yeah I think I can do that. The 9:15am one, I’ve got a call at that time so I can’t do that.
E – Do you want to try and reschedule that phone call? Is 9:15 better?
D – No, just go to the 4pm class.
E – What?
D – Or the 4:30.
E – 5:30. 5:30. 5:30. IT’S 5:30.
D – Right.
(pause)
E – Ok, so I can go to the 5:30?
D – Probably.
(scene)

Phase 2

Just a little update for those of you following along. I’m now in phase 2 of my homeopathic quest for fertility and health. I’ll be honest: the diet part of my plan has become a little bit like a trip to the post office. You know you have to go and it’s been on your list for days and you’ll eventually get there but it’s just so much easier to stop by Starbucks and get a iced coffee with crackers and cheese. Translation: beer is not gluten free but it’s way easier to drink than red wine at a bbq.
My adrenal glands have re-opened their doors and put up signs inviting the general public to shop again. So this new phase includes a bunch of supplements meant to boost my immune system now that my adrenal glands are back in business. Did you know 80% of your immune system is in your gut? And if you eat things that tear your gut apart or that you have sensitivities to (like gluten for most of us) then your immune system is compromised. Inflammation starts, which causes the adrenals to stop making sex hormones and start making more cortisol to save your body, and your entire endocrine (hormonal) system gets thrown off because you aren’t making sex hormones anymore. Everything gets out of balance and for most people in my position, it’s because of a food sensitivity that weakens the immune system. Crazy, right?
I’m taking probiotics, some crazy powder that is supposed to repair any holes in my guts caused by the gluten monsters, a resveratrol supplement (for immune system), and a few of the same supps as before that help rid my body of all those hormones I’m not using anymore. Then on top of that I’m taking a general multi-vitamin and an extra vitamin D.
SO MANY SUPPLEMENTS.
Then pile in a cleanse I’m supposed to do by the end of the month. It’s only 3 days and includes a crap ton of pills that apparently “gently” cleanse the colon. I don’t know if that means I’ll “gently” be sitting on the toilet for 3 days or what but I’ll let you know.
The good news is that thus far, my body is responding amazingly well. I’ve got more energy. My body changes more rapidly to exercise and I’m not nearly as tired as I used to be. I’m also, it would appear, fertile!! Which is ironic considering Abe’s latest tantrum extraordinaire has caused me to swear off more children forever.

Freedom

Freedom.
You give it up when you have a kid.
Sure, as they get older you gain more and more of it back but you willingly and consciously (most of the time) give up your right to complete freedom when you have a kid. That’s been the hardest part of parenthood for me. I want to run to Target and try on shoes. I want to see a movie, at home or out. I want to walk my dogs leisurely to the park. I want to respond “yes” to my friend’s wedding invitation without even thinking because of course I’m going to be there.

If I don’t get the opportunity to be out, away from my child, enjoying adult things at least once a week, I start to lose it. If I don’t get 30 minutes a day alone, I start to lose it. That’s just who I am. And I guess I’m starting to learn that it’s ok to ask for those things.
Women seem to forget to ask for this stuff because we feel so grateful to our husbands and partners (if we’re lucky enough to have them) for working all day to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. It seems thankless to ask for time to ourselves. I never did. Until this week when I finally approached my husband and told him how important that time away, being 100% myself (including the “f” word and mascara) is to me. He didn’t argue, though he didn’t understand it immediately.
I explained how it is in women’s DNA to be in charge of the baby all the time, and we’re proud we get to have that. We forget how to be ourselves when the kids are little because we are constantly saying things like, “Yes, that is a green train,” and, “Please don’t feed your poopy diaper to the doggies, ok?” These aren’t grown up things to say. We become other people in order to do what’s best for our children. And we’re really freaking good at it. But if we don’t get out and interact with people who don’t show us their bellybuttons once every 5 minutes, we start to forget who we are.
So we made a deal: I get to go out with my friends one night a week and everyday when Abe takes a nap, everybody leaves mommy alone. In return my husband can go to the gym any day of the week and we’ll accommodate his schedule, and I also will continue letting him live despite the fact that he bites his nails throughout the entirety of every show we watch together.

Tantrums or I Refuse to be Scared of my Two-Year-Old

In the middle of a long walk with my mom and Abe over the fourth of July, my sweet, beautiful, thoughtful, kind, loving son began screaming from so deep inside his soul I expected to see the ghost of John Wayne Gacy trickle out his nose. He writhed in his stroller, twisting until he was so irretrievably tangled that he faced the wrong direction while still being strapped in correctly. My mom and I ran home thinking that he was so hot he’d literally lost his mind and this was the beginning of brain damage. But alas, we got inside and instead of relief, his dissatisfaction with life as a whole intensified.
Yesterday while running errands I stopped into a children’s store to look for gifts for upcoming birthdays. The kind woman behind the counter offered Abraham a first-class ticket to the play room behind her counter, completed with a firetruck the size of him and a heaping handful of “caws”. He was thrilled, as was I because I shopped in peace for 20 minutes. Then I told Abe it was time to leave. Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’m pretty sure the woman was cleansing herself with holy water before we actually made it out of the store. I turned on the car, put him inside, and sat on the curb for a few minutes readying myself for the ride home.
Why am I telling you stories of tantrums? Because I now realize why women with children this age don’t want to leave the house. Why it’s terrifying to go to the grocery store, the mall, the gas station. You never know when one is going to hit and when it does, there’s no telling how much of your day is going to rescheduled/ruined in order to save the eardrums and brain cells of the innocent victims casually leading their lives nearby.
Just this morning I drove to a restaurant to pick up lunch (because God knows we can’t actually eat inside a restaurant right now) and I momentarily considered leaving Abe in the car in 105 degree heat just so I didn’t have to risk a breakdown at the cash register while trying not to spill the chicken and dumpling soup. They don’t make those take-out boxes tantrum-proof. And as I held his hand and walked his angelic little self up to the front door I realize that I am approaching the “paralyzed with fear” mark anytime I go in public. This is not OK. I made him, I grew him, I fed him, I allowed him to live past many phases that I’m sure third world countries have no problem acknowledging as “just part of nature” when they toss 16-month-olds into the open jungle. He is not going to scare me out of returning those shoes to Target.
So I have an idea: if you are not a parent or your children are long past the tantrum phase, please take a moment to smile or say, “Oh we’ve all been there,” to someone trying to peel their two-year-old off the misses petites rack in Belk. It’s possible they won’t hear you over the screaming, but at least they’ll know they’re not alone. Because that’s the fear. The fear is that we’re going to bother someone. We’re going to interrupt someone’s dining experience or agitate them while they choose between diet bars. We’re going to make a mess or look like a mess. We’re going to draw attention to ourselves and our terrible parenting skills. Let’s hold our heads high, parents. It’s not our fault, we can’t control it, and there isn’t a damn thing wrong with our kids. They’re just 2. Go ahead: interrupt, agitate, make a mess, draw attention. Let everyone else bear the burden of figuring out how to deal with it.
If you have any good lines for angry patron stares or head-shaking disapproval, share them. I usually try to make a joke about how hard it is to be 2, but just once I’d like to say something really snarky and then walk away knowingly…

Stay Cool

Today my son began drinking out of the dog water bowls…like a dog. I immediately rushed to tell him to stop because, gross, and he laughed and started doing it again. It became a game all day long of him laughing and running to the bowl and trying to drink like a dog. I would pull him away from the water bowl, he would scream, and 10 seconds later he’d be back at the water bowl.
Towards the end of the day I got…frustrated. Short-tempered, if you will. And on the one-thousandth time of Abe trying to drink water from the dog bowl, I told him no and I smacked his bottom. It wasn’t a hard smack, not even close to leaving a mark. It startled him so completely that he backed away from the bowl and from me. He stared up at me with his big, brown eyes as they filled with tears. I looked at him, waiting to decide what my reaction was going to be, too. And after what felt like 3 minutes of us staring at each other wondering what to do next, he began to cry and reach for me, repeating, “Mommy, up. Mommy, up.”
I felt like the worst mother in the world. I picked him up and held him tightly and apologized. I felt stupid for giving in to frustration. Granted he was being a little turd – but he had no idea what being a turd and getting smacked had to do with one another. He just knew it scared him and now he didn’t want to do anything fun, just sit in my lap kind of bewildered.
At the end of the day we all lose our tempers following repeated ornery behavior from our children. How do we keep our cool? That being the first time I’ve ever smacked Abe, and the last, I am left feeling like keeping my cool is more important than ever. The “terrible twos” aren’t just about tantrums over toys in Target. They’re about testing the limits, pushing mama’s boundaries, and finding out that no one is going to budge on the rule (no drinking from the dog’s water bowls) but everyone still loves and respects you. How do we convey all of that before losing our minds?