Monday, August 22, 2005

Nobody told me there'd be days like these!



So how many ways are there to eat chocolate pudding? Let's find out!

I've been playing "house-dad" a lot recently: being at home, there is no way to avoid it. Cristina started teaching again last week, and besides actually going to the university three afternoons a week, she has to prepare lectures for two classes that she has never taught before. Once the kids arrive from school, the demand is constant: there is lunch to serve, there is homework to do, there are the after-school activities, and there is Kevin. We try to divide our free-time so we each have some time to take care of our professional and/or personal demands; but even when we are both at home, we have nowhere to hide: the domestic demand is like a gravity well that just sucks us both in.

This is also the reason I haven’t been able to find the time to blog more (or, when do I have the time, I don't seem to have the energy!). This past week, it seemed that, by the time the end of each day had rolled around, I was physically and psychologically drained. Whenever I managed to sit in front of the computer and tried to think, all that I could tune in was some kind of static hum ... pure electromagnetic background noise. I suspect anyone who has kids will know what I am talking about.

It's probably no coincidence that these last couple of weeks have seemed particularly trying. There is a hurricane of change blowing through our lives at the moment, and it's taking its toll on our daily routine. Not that any of the changes are particularly bad ... but change itself can generate anxiety and stress until you adapt to it.

Also, we find ourselves in the middle of Brazil's cold-and-flu season: so last week we had to fit in doctors appointments on top of everything else. Stuffy noses, coughing, and loss of appetites can go along way towards putting everyone on edge.

But there is good news: Kevin's adaptation to school could not have been more successful; he was declared officially "adapted" on Monday, and on Tuesday I left him there by himself for the first time. He ran into his classroom, and, literally, didn't even look back to see if I was still there. It was an amazing moment for me, exceeding the expectations of even our most exaggeratedly optimistic self-delusions. Wednesday was a repeat performance, this time with Cristina leaving him there. Each day, he left for school happy and excited, and came home the same. We had heard stories from people who claim that their kids actually like going to school, but always figured it was just a bunch of hot air.

Of course, with Kevin's entry into this new stage of life, fresh complications have arisen: since he gets out of school at noon, his afternoons are crucial. If he takes his nap too late, it will throw off his bedtime, which in turn will make it difficult to get him up on the following day. Also, since he snacks at school, when he arrives home at lunch time he's not the slightest bit interested in eating. This in turn delays his nap-time and throws off the rest of the afternoon. Combine this with the runny-nose /cough he has had all week and you have a formidable adversary for any would-be caregiver.

The net result of this chain reaction with Kevin was that, on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, for some reason, Kevin woke up around 2 am. This is rare for Kevin: he has always been good about sleeping through the night. But on these two nights, not only did he wake up completely, but he refused to go back to sleep, claiming he was afraid of monsters. On both nights it was 5 am before we could get him back to sleep... just an hour before it was time to get up again. Blech! Thus he missed school on both Thursday and Friday.

Cristina immediately broke out her psychology books: Nocturnal Terror: were these incidents related somehow to his going to school? Was it, perhaps, a subconscious manifestation of separation anxiety? Or was it just a result of his biological clock being out of whack?

Or maybe it's the new PS2 game that James and Christian have been obsessed with, where monsters wage dramatic battles in somber settings (which he watches transfixed, wide eyed, and then imitates the moves, complete with sound effects)?

Who knows..? Whatever the reason may have been, the last few nights have passed without incident, so hopefully we will be able to keep his biological clock running smoothly this week!

****

The picture above shows the consequences of a moment of supervisional distraction, having just served Kevin his dessert. Strangely, for us, one of the toughest things about raising kids has always been knowing when and how to stimulate and encourage independence. We of course know rationally that it is of fundamental importance for a child to learn how to feed himself, pick up after himself, dress himself, etc.. But sometimes it is so much easier just to do it for him. This may be partly because our first child was ... well ... let's just say that, he has always been somewhat challenged in terms of manual dexterity; i.e. he has always lagged somewhat behind what would probably be considered the statistical norm for his age-group.

With Kevin, we were determined to be more assertive in promoting self-reliance. But it turns out that all we may need to do now is avoid screwing him up by holding him back too much: he wants to do things on his own, and his fine motor skills exceed James' by two- or three years.

Frequently, Kevin will fiercely resist any attempt by us to do something for him (for example, to feed him), or to force him do something: but if you let him do it himself, at his own speed, he will go at it happily. I wonder: how many times did we lose an opportunity to allow his older siblings the same chance because they were more passive, or we were less attentive to their non-verbal (and verbal) communication when they were his age? One of the key parenting lessons we have learned is the importance of trying to listen more to what the child is trying to tell us, instead of just steamrolling over him with what we want him to do, or think he should do. Sometimes the best way to win a battle is to fight smarter.

****

Caring for Kevin by himself probably wouldn't be too overwhelming a task if one could dedicate oneself exclusively to his needs immediately upon arrival from school; but as luck would have it, another challenge has presented itself that is proving even more arduous than taking care of a two-year old: that is, homework time, for the older kids.

Elementary schools here in Brazil heap a seemingly inordinate amount of homework on their students. At least it seems inordinate to me ... I don't remember having anywhere near that much homework when I was a third-grader in the USA (but it could be that I just blew it off!). I don't want to go into too much detail on this subject; it's enough to say that the doing of homework has recently been transformed into an almost daily battle. With James, this started toward the end of last semester, when his teacher cranked up the difficulty level of the division problems; and now working with fractions is having a similar effect.

Come on! If I wanted to teach my kids at home I wouldn't send them to school!

****

September of this year will mark our 10th anniversary of parenthood. I don't want to discourage any future parental candidates, but there is no denying: it's been a decade of unrelenting challenge. My personal theory is that anyone who claims that parenting isn't hard work, must be doing something wrong. (Well... I guess it could mean that they are doing something right but I’d prefer not to entertain that possibility!) A two year-old you kind of expect to be hard work: it goes with the territory. But by the time they are eight or nine, you start thinking that things should be different, that you are just about out of the woods (at least until adolescence! argh! Thank God I don't have girls!).

It turns out that every stage in developmental growth puts old challenges behind you, only to reveal new ones.

There are some days in which it feels like you are swimming upriver, and for every stroke forward against the current, you are pushed two- or three lengths backwards. If you kick and swim hard enough, you might just maintain your position with respect to the current; but you never get anywhere. And it is exhausting. On days like these, you may forget all of the so called "rewards" of parenting and you begin to ask yourself: "why???". Why would a sane person actually choose to go through this?

****

On days like these, the frustrations seem to keep building up: lack of sleep has left you on edge all day long. There were sixteen things that you needed to have done today besides being a slave to the necessities and whims of your young charges, but somehow the time never materialized. It's been a long day. The kids sense your lack of patience and are pushing all of the right buttons. The 2 year-old Little Kid napped late and won't be going to sleep anytime soon.

You need to get the older kids to bed for the night, but they are not helping. Tempers are running hot, and you are running the risk of a breakdown. Older Kid has just decided he wants cereal instead of the meal you have set before him. A straw on the already ponderous camel's back. Middle Kid has just spilled his juice all over the table. Another straw. Little Kid is eating his chocolate pudding dessert alone while you simultaneously clean up Middle Kid's spilled juice and lecture Older Kid about hungry children in Africa who would be more than happy to eat the food he is rejecting ...

Little Kid is eating his chocolate pudding alone ...

Little Kid is eating ...

A silence falls as everyone turns to see Little Kid creatively enjoying his chocolate pudding.

You can almost feel the crackle of tension in the air. It's the final straw. There is a simultaneous sound of the sharp intake of breath as Older Kid and Middle Kid wait wide-eyed for the implosion.

Suddenly you realize that you have a choice: you can choose to cry, or you can choose to laugh. The comical aspects of the situation overwhelm the tragic and you erupt in an explosion of laughter.

Tension evaporates. The laughter is contagious. Dark clouds retreat. Soon you move to fix Older Kid the cereal he wants. What’s the big deal?

It’s ok anyway; he’s decided to eat the first meal you set out for him.

Some days, instead of fighting against the current, it's just easier to go with the flow.

Let me get my camera ... this will make a great picture for my blog!


****


Sorry about the length of this diatribe; I know I should go back and edit it, but I'm just too tired.
Please don't seek any particular point or moral to it: it's just the ramblings of a tired parent!

6 Comments:

At August 24, 2005 12:58 PM, Mark said...

This post has been removed by the author.

 
At August 24, 2005 1:05 PM, Mark said...

Hey, man, I can't feel nearly all of what you do, because I don't have three kids. I do have a 2-year-old, however, and we're thinking about having another child, so this entry spoke to me. I recently made an entry about my boy that you might find interesting. Your Simon of Space comments led me here, and I'd like to link to you, if you don't mind.

 
At August 24, 2005 7:23 PM, Jim said...

Sure Mark... glad you liked it! I hope the perspective I presented on having MORE kids wasn't too intimidating!

I'll take a look at your blog; thanks for dropping by!

 
At August 25, 2005 1:03 AM, Anonymous said...

Jim,
You're right, nobody ever told us there would be days like those...but the alternative of not experiencing them does not sound all that appealing either. I'm sure we will look back and remember the moments with particular fondness...and wish we could have them back.

I look forward to sharing stories sometime.

Greg

 
At August 25, 2005 11:08 AM, Jim said...

Greg,

There's no question about that. Our decision to have Kevin was actually not so much the certainty of our desire to have another child, as the uncertainty of our desire not to have another... we knew we would never regret it once he was part of our lives, but we may have had regrets if we hadn't.

I have no particular fondness for the early infant stage (first six-or eight months )... but from a year on up, the investment can be very rewarding (if you don't let yourself be overwhelmed by "days like those"!).

Sometimes it can be overwhelming when we look ahead and think how long a road we still have ahead of us: Kevin will be arriving where James is now in about 7 or 8 years!

On the other hand, there is no doubt that his insertion into our family at this point has been an enriching (albeit tiring!) experience for us all... including James and Christian. In particular, it actually helped de-polarize the older boys relationship; they get along much better than before Kevin was born.

I, too, look forward to sharing stories with you. I hope it will happen before we are both gray-haired old grandparents looking back with fond memories of days gone by!

Wait! I already am gray-haired...!

 
At August 26, 2005 3:48 PM, Anonymous said...

You and me both cousin...and it's getting more gray every day!!

 

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