Questions are starting to emerge. I know very well that they are emotional, reactionary, worried questions. I know the rational answers to them. But they’re still creeping up. I’m thinking of the movie The Matrix – there’s this crumbling, dark, unpredictable reality behind the seemingly organized and sense-making world that I create for myself every day.
That’s how I’m feeling about my relationship to my kids today.
Last night our daughter woke up with night terrors. She was sitting up in her bed, looking right at me, crying out for “Mama!” with this look of terror on her face. She was looking straight at me, but she didn’t see me. Who knows what she was seeing as she looked at me. Such a mystery.
I know that night terrors are common, and I understand the science behind them. I also know that our daughter tends to have them when she’s gone to bed too late and is overtired – case in point last night. But still, after leaving her room, I had to go online and reassure myself, and dig up the Weissbluth book just to see if I’m missing something about preschooler’s sleep patterns. And I made a pledge to get her to bed earlier from now on. Then I started questioning whether she might need a nap after all, and whether I’m allowing her to rest enough. She doesn’t have scheduled activities, and we always dial things down for “quiet time” while her brothers nap. But maybe I need to do more – maybe I need to nap with her, as Weissbluth suggests. Get on some jammies and have her lie in bed with me.
This “really?” question represents the fine line between my perceived reality and the Matrix reality. It’s the line between what I think is best, or appropriate, or necessary in interacting with my kids (the world I create), and what they really, truly need based on their true personalities and temperaments (the reality behind the curtain).
I’m talking about the balance between “Mommy knows best – we’re gonna do it like this” and “how would you like to do it?” I’ve always felt pretty confident in the balance I’ve achieved on this continuum. But these days I’m not so sure.
One of our twin sons, almost 3, has been showing resistance to pretty much everything for what seems like several months. His preschool teacher assured me that it’s “normal”, that kids go through a phase of intense resistance and independence building in the months right before turning 3. Whether it’s potty training, getting dressed, transitioning to a new activity, or taking a shower after the beach, he resists. I often start by taking the choice route, giving him two options to pick from – his answer is “nothing!”. I let him decide his own course of action – his answer is to ignore the task at hand and do something completely different. I use 1-2-3 Magic – he might comply, but only with huge resistance, sending both of our moods swiftly downhill. All of these approaches are very matter-of-fact. They’re not necessarily fun. Aha, and there appears the light bulb: What if I combined my requests with a game, or humor, or a hug? Success. Gosh darnit, Marielle, can’t you just remember to do it this way all the time? Smile, Mommy, smile.
So who’s really resisting here?
I’m starting to fear that I’m not reading my kids’ cues well. I’m starting to fear that I’m imposing my-way-or-the-highway too much. Am I really “seeing” my kids, you know, in that Avatar kind of way?
This wormhole of doubt is creeping into situations that I thought I had mastered. Drop-off at preschool on the first day. Bed time routines. Meal routines. Mediating arguments between the kids. I’m starting to take a fresh look at my approaches and wonder: Is there another way that I know would be easy, but that I’ve lost sight of?
Our same son that I described as resistant also gets very hyper at times. He has trouble controlling his physical impulses and gets incredibly wound up. He was like this today after his first day of summer school (new classroom, new teacher, separated from his brother for the first time, so understandable). We did our usual nap time routine – the boys settle down to sleep while I sit in their room and read. I saw how our son was rocking his body back and forth, trying to calm himself (kudos to him for knowing how to calm himself in the first place). He kept climbing the crib bars with his feet and could not settle down. My usual approach has been to just let him work it out, no matter how long it takes (and sometimes it doesn’t take). But today I asked myself the question: Is there another way? I sat down next to him on his bed and gently rubbed his back. His body immediately calmed down and he was asleep within about 8 minutes.
I don’t think he’ll need this every time, but today I took his cue, and it worked. I want to keep looking and listening for those cues, and reconcile them with my beliefs of “how things should be done” as lovingly and truthfully as possible.