Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Please Silence Your Cell Phones and Obnoxious Children

I shuffled my tired feet onto the train and settled into an empty seat.  Thankful for it to be Friday, I couldn't wait to get home.  Two middle aged women with a very loud group of five kids enter and sit a few feet in front of me.  I've never been a fan of the railroad seats that face one another.  They encourage communication when most people know and treat the train as a moving library and place of solitude.  I considered changing cars but felt a twinge of betrayal.  These are two moms with a brood of kids.  How can I scoff at them when I too am a mother who needs to go places and has a child unaware of volume?  I decided to stay put hoping the moving train would lull them to sleep and powered up my Kindle.

Moments later I was pulled out of my reading haze by one of the mothers screaming at someone behind me.  I looked up to see that maternal craziness in her eyes as she peered over the seat and yelled,  "Move to another car if you don't like it, they are kids!"   Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, she made eye contact with everyone in the car.  We all stood silent.  As she slid back down to her seat I felt empowered.

This woman stood up for her kids to a total stranger!   She let everyone know that yes, when there should be quiet sometimes there can't be.  That these are indeed kids and should be able to laugh and giggle and have fun on what seems like their first train ride.  That despite how hard my day at work was, The American Girl Place was magical and those euphoric feelings should last until this train pulls into their stop.  I felt taller sitting in my seat, envisioning a "Team Mom" emblem across my chest, showing my loyalty to this group.  I wanted to scoot closer to them, pat the woman on the back and get into a conversation about how no one understands us.

Then I took a closer look.  The kids were older than I thought, maybe between eight and thirteen.  Clearly old enough to go to school and know a certain set of social rules.  No matter.  They are still kids, this isn't school and its okay that they are screaming.  I'll read my book later.

The kids started getting louder and throwing themselves onto each other across the seats.  The mother that yelled threw her hands up and said, "Go ahead kids make all the noise you want!"  Her daughter leaned over and asked what just happened with the man in the back of the train.  "Someone didn't like that there are a bunch of kids on this train," the mother said in a rather snarky tone.  "Then tell them to sit somewhere else!" the daugther replied, her snotty little voice reminding me of my 6th grade lunchroom.

That's when "Team Mom" lost me.  This little girl's response was pure evidence that this mom passes down the values of being inconsiderate and entitled.  I should have went with my first instinct.  No parent who goes to the city during rush hour would subject other people to this behavior.  No matter how tired, cranky, or ready to go my child is, I'm always cleaning up something if we're not home or apologizing to someone for her making too much noise.  I teach her to keep her voice down in the hallways of our apartment and to turn around when she peers into the other booth at restaurants.

I looked at this mother with her arms crossed, continuing her conversation with her friend and felt ashamed.  How could I have turned on my fellow travelers, desperate for a nap or to finish the sports section of their paper?  This mother isn't empowering or a role model, she only cares about herself and has a crappy kid.

The tension in the car remained palpable my whole ride home.  Many eye-rolling glances were exchanged between passengers as the kids continued to throw themselves around, falling into the aisles.  Yet I was amused that, for some reason, the moms kept their voices low the remainder of the ride.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Game of Discipline

I feared a lot of things before and after my daughter was born.  That she would get kidnapped, be bullied in school, choke on food, or never want to be seen with me in public.  Not once did I ever think she'd be the bad kid until this weekend.

We were eating dinner at my parents' house when she took apart her sippy cup and  held the top out to her side.  Dangling it above the floor, she made eye contact with everyone around the table.  We stared her down with eyes that said "Don't you dare," and waited to see if she would make the right decision on her own.  As expected her hand popped open and it fell to the floor.  My husband told her "No" and other assorted things to make her know she did wrong.  She slumped in her seat and peaked at us from behind her wispy bangs.  A few minutes later she wanted my cup.  I told her "No",  and she promptly grabbed her fork and threw it on the floor. 

This wasn't the "I'm-going-to-throw-this-so-my-parents-can-retrieve-it-like-lap-dogs" game which I've learned to not play.  This was pure acting out, which reshuffles the cards and subsequent roles.  I'd still consider this a game as each player has a role and considers his and her moves with precision.  It resembles an old west stand off, with onlookers waiting to see who draws first.

I push her chair away from the table, tell her she is being a bad girl, and to apologize.  She looks down, senses something isn't right, but gets distracted trying to unbuckle her high chair belt with incessant cries of "I stuck."  We all agree to ignore her which leads to abnormal behavior at the table.  My father trying to control his quivering lip with more food, my mother putting on her best "I'm-in-charge-and-mad-at-you" face, my husband playing with his phone, looking heartbroken that his little angel is now turning into a demon, and me trying to finish my dinner and ignore the carb-tastic bread and butter in front of me which would make all of this frustration go away. 

I decide to get her out of her chair and instruct her to pick up the fork and sippy cup top from the floor.  My method of getting in her face and repeating myself in a calm and collective way worked a few months ago.  We had some standoffs but I ultimately won.  But now she is learning how to express her anger and this tug of war just got more interesting as I'm losing my grip.

She picks up the sippy cup top and hands it to me.  I feel victorious for a moment.  Then she throws herself on the floor and refuses to pick up the fork.  I'm tired and can't help but look at how she lies on her tummy with her legs kicking the floor.  I think for a moment how her good form may make swim lessons easy and then remember I should be focusing on my next move.

My brain is compartmentalized when it comes to getting things done, like a colorful pie chart.  One section for work, one for chores, one for my writing, one for exercise, one for time with my husband, and one for play time with my daughter.   Add in another and now I have one for discipline, in turn making everything else smaller in terms of time and energy.  The trouble with this new part is that its an uncomfortable shade of gray amidst bold, certain, colors.  While I can easily make concrete decisions about doing my laundry, what needs to be done at work, and what show to watch with my husband, black and white do not paint a clear and vivid picture of decision making with a toddler.  One decision may not shed enough light on the matter and another may wash out anything else left to consider.

Should I make her stand up, hold her arms and force her to pick up the fork?   Should I try my best to repeat myself and if she still doesn't do it, let it go for another day?  She is still just 19 months old and I'm not all set on a "time out" chair or punishment system.  I'm not convinced she understands that though she does have an idea when she is doing something wrong.  We have to learn how to show love, have patience,  when to discipline, what that should look like for our daughter and when to let go and try again tomorrow.  It must be trial and error, just like everything else we've done. Some instances may be black, some white, and some various, ambiguous, shades of gray.

I try again to have her pick up the fork but she runs behind my husband's chair and so begins her favorite game of peek-a-boo.  Everyone does their best to ignore her but the act doesn't last long. Laughs are poorly muffled and my daughter chuckles with delight.  My maternal authority deflates as I look around at three adults who have been so easily broken.  I shove a piece of buttered bread in my mouth and reluctantly pick up the fork.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Letting Go of The Weight

I often stare at the photo of me the month I got pregnant, longing for a more angular chin and smaller waist.  I know the need to stay fit and exercise isn't just a thing for moms post postpartum, its for dad's too.  My husband complains of the occasional "dead arm" he feels after repeatedly throwing our daughter over his head.  If cringing at the sight of that were a workout I'd be buff, but alas, I too am feeling out of shape and am impatient with lack of speed at which the rest of my "baby weight" is shedding.  

Years ago I dieted, worked out six to seven days a week and at one point, wore a bikini in my mid twenties.  I'd prioritize my workout regimen over anything else. I loved getting into the gym, pacing myself against someone else, plugging into my music without the worries of anything else around me.  My interest tipped the scale into the more obsessed category at times.  I think back to a particular visit after work where I found myself in the locker room, half dressed and having forgotten to pack my sweat pants.  Minutes later I was on the elliptical in my black trouser pants, completely unabashed by the odd stares.  I could've camped out on the cardio machines for days back then, knowing all I'd have to do was go home, throw dinner in the oven, hop in the shower and  join my husband to watch Survivor, cooling down and eating on the couch.

But times have changed. Traveling to the gym, finding a locker, working out,  and getting changed after, are all moments that now take me away from my family.  Minutes I can't seem to spare even though that's considered to be "me time."  No matter how I've tried to figure out how to cut corners, I still feel a little selfish wanting an hour and a half a few days a week for myself.  If I didn't work full time maybe I'd feel differently.  But I'm already away from my daughter for so many minutes of her life I can't bare to be away any longer just so I can fit back into my skinny jeans.  Nor can I justify leaving my husband with her so I can have "me time" when his "me time" consists of making us dinner every night. 

So I am doing what has never worked for me before.  Workout videos.  It's not fun doing Zumba without the fatter and less coordinated chick to my right whom I know I'm doing better than, but its working nonetheless.   Avoiding stepping on Abby or Elmo in my living room is also part of the challenge.  In fact I make cleaning up some toys part of my cool down.  

Finding time for this still isn't easy but I have to try.  So instead of giving my daughter a bath every night, its every other night.  I let her play and conserve my energy for after she goes to sleep and workout then.  I'll do whatever video I feel like.  Some nights its 20 minutes, others its 50.  If I get to do it four times a week I'm happy, but am learning two or three nights is just as much of an accomplishment.   

The overall parental fatigue and feeling that I'm  not doing what I used to to take care of myself often makes me  feel fat and lazy.  But then I think there is nothing more attractive than my husband sweating and exhausted on the floor letting my daughter bounce on his tummy.  And despite my back and forth decision about coloring my ever growing  gray hair, I'm always met with anger from my husband, who claims he  likes the way I'm aging.  I suppose I have to come to terms with the fact that my body and appearance is different now.  I'm different.  They may not have the high, elastic waist but all of my jeans are in fact mom jeans because I'm now a mom.  And health and beauty have taken on new meaning.  So as parents, I think we have to do the best that we can to feel good about ourselves and hold on to the few pieces of the "life before child" that we enjoyed when it comes to our bodies.  

I don't think its about making time because there seems to be no such thing.  Everyone's wish for another weekend day will never come true so instead we have to weed out.  We sacrifice certain things and restructure our frame of thought, like considering carbs were put on this Earth to give us energy and McDonald's is sometimes just more convenient.  We start to believe in and develop new processes, like using the treadmill for its main purpose, not as a coat rack, and understanding a short, brisk walk is indeed exercise.  We adapt to a new lifestyle and wonder how we were never able to do it before with such ease. We understand what's weighing us down isn't just that extra cookie, but pieces of our old life.  The life before parenthood. When we couldn't have understood how someone and something else can be so much more important than how we feel in our own skin.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Happens at Night

I'm mad at my daughter.  There are only so many accidental punches to the face and kicks to the stomach while co-sleeping one can handle before going completely crazy.  She still has a lingering cough left over from the croup. The doctor says this could go on for three weeks conclusively.  Our initial intent of making her more comfortable and allowing her to sleep with us  has now turned into a daily struggle of keeping her out of our bed.  We have had some good nights here and there.  She goes down as usual and one or two nights slept in her crib the whole time.  But as my arch enemy post nasal drip did to me as a child, it is now causing my daughter interrupted sleep unless she is propped up.  She stirs and coughs, with a whiny and pathetic "Oh God" in between breathes that make my husband and I sigh in unison.

Sunday night I was tired and stressing about the week ahead, finally nodding off around midnight.  At 3:30am I hear her cry and cough.  I go to her and she is inconsolable.  She is pointing, crying, face wet with tears and snot, and just wants to go "Inside!!"  I'm juggling her and Mickey as my frustration slowly makes me more awake and my lower back swells.  I walk in the living room and tell her calmly we are going to sit down.  This works for a few minutes and when she starts up again I put on the last five minutes of Fresh Beat Band to calm her down.  We do night time routine again complete with a reading of our favorite book which I have memorized and can recite while trying to rest my eyes.  I get her down and tip toe back to bed.  My husband rolls over and groggily tells me to take my glasses off but I know better.  I prop myself up on my mound of pillows and wait.

Ten minutes later she starts to whine and I know this can go one of two ways.  She will get herself back  down and my prayers to the gods of sleep will have been answered, or she will get up, more angry and awake than before and I will want to board the next train to Canada.  The unmuffled whining indicates she isn't trying to snuggle back into her pillow pet, but is likely standing and stomping her feet.  I give her another few minutes.  Just enough time to piss off the rude neighbors upstairs and find my slippers.

I pull out my bag of tricks again as I pick her up.  Storytime, sippy cup, milk, Fresh Beats and as a last resort, diaper change.  But now she has gotten a second wind and is laughing and pointing.
"Mommy, inside, INSIDE!"
I play dumb.  "We are inside."
She's not having it.  More crying ensues.
I keep saying, "Daddy is sleeping" in hopes my husband is listening and decodes this as "Stay in bed because if you come out here it will be worse." She arches her back which is like baby self defense. I let her slide out of my arms to the floor and she grabs my hand, pulling me towards my bedroom.  The cable box confirms this fiasco has gone on for an hour. My patience disappears, taking composure and empathy along with it. Now its just fatigue and anger left until sunrise.

I pick my daughter up, instruct her with a firm voice to "be quiet!", storm into my room and plop her down next to my husband.   I dissemble my pillow mound to make room and head to the kitchen for a cookie since I'm naturally hungry now that I've been up and expending energy.  I come back and she is chattering away.  My husband whispers to her softly to go to sleep.  After a few minutes of me trying to do the same, I lean towards her in the dark and in my new found Mom Voice say, "Do you want to go back into the crib?!"  I don't know, even care, if she understands cause and effect or ultimatums yet but I need to feel in charge for half  a second.   Her body is still and she is silent.  I am relieved for a moment but then she flops around again.  I get her into a head lock slash, cuddle and then she asks for milk.
"No more milk!!" I say through gritted teeth,  but get up after a few seconds when her request turns into screams.  I throw her the bottle and turn to the night stand.  My alarm will be going off in less than 50 minutes.

I'm so frazzled when my cell phone alarm goes off that I accidentally text someone instead of disarming it.  I'm late and wake up feeling worse than I did at 3:30am.  I curse myself knowing the one rule about getting up too close to the time your alarm goes off means a deeper sleep and in turn a sleep hangover.  I contemplate anyway I can call in sick or take a vacation day and fight back tears as I stagger to the bathroom.  My body feels like its both dragging and floating as I shower and get dressed.  My thoughts are jumbled as I try to make an omelet and toast.  I scarf down my food while emptying the dishwasher and throwing out the garbage.  Determined to control something in my environment amidst the chaos I feel.

My daughter is laying in bed with her feet in my husband's arm pit as I leave.  He is balancing on the edge of the bed while Mickey and an empty bottle take up my side.  I kiss them while they sleep, noting the angelic face of my daughter masking the nocturnal demon I was fighting hours ago.

The quarter mile walk to the train is cool and brisk.  Its a sunny day and I start to feel less crappy with each step though I work through all I have to do in my head until I'm back in bed.  I make the train with minutes to spare, find my seat and am already annoyed at the heat and people around me before we pull out of the station.

I look for my iPod and remember my daughter took it to use as a phone and it is now missing.  I close my eyes as my husband texts me, apologizing for a bad night.  I wonder what, if anything, we are doing wrong.  How when we go with our gut we feel it has negative affects later.  How everything we implement we feel like we have to later un-teach. We exchange I love yous as he sends me a picture. It's of the two of them snuggled in bed, smiling at the camera. I see the sleep in their eyes, the soft smile of my daughter with her rosy lips and as I sway with the movement of the train, somehow all is forgiven.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What We Have Here is A Lack of Consideration

My father taught me the word considerate when I was six.  He said it meant to be kind to other people, though the examples he often used illustrated the lack of consideration people had.  Most often when we were driving somewhere or in traffic. Shortly thereafter I saw a boy in class throw garbage on the floor. A sense of superiority came over me as I marched over, nose in the air, armed with my new found vocabulary and chastised him for not being considerate. I turned on my heel and headed back to my coat cubby with a victorious huff.

That kid likely grew up to be one of the people whose lack of consideration I face daily.  The one who leaves his coffee on the floor of the train and takes up two parking spots.  He walks through life as though the rules don't apply to him.  I've hated him for years, which is why I am both angered and deeply ashamed that I've become him.

I'm now the one who leaves things in the grocery store making a passerby confused as to why a box of cookies is laying with the meat.
I'm the person who doesn't pick up the trash that clearly missed the can in the restroom.
The one pushing the shopping cart into the empty parking spot and doing the walk of shame back to her car.
The one leaving messes under tables and sugar packets poorly reassembled in their container at restaurants.
The tired woman bumping into people with no regard.
The frantic lady with her child covered in vomited milk, leaving most of it on the mall floor.

I try to be considerate, I really do.  But when I became a parent my daughter's needs became top priority, my own second and everything else fighting for last place.  So while my brain is focused on the task of getting through the store before she has a fit, getting her strapped into the car seat with one knee on a sippy cup and one on a moldy banana, and trying to remember what it was I forgot at home,  I become a little reckless.  

I was ashamed by my behavior until I dropped a tray of my family's burritos on the floor at Moe's Mexican Grill.  I had so many things in my hand as I looked for a table while my husband took our crying child to the bathroom.  Tables of people looked at me as my face burned red with embarrassment and anger, but no one got up to help.  My husband and hysterical daughter returned,  giving me no choice but to leave the heap of broken nachos for the wait staff to clean up.

So although I often feel foggy and scattered, knowing every once in a while I need to apologize, I don't.  I have a kid.  Though she isn't my excuse for being inconsiderate she's my "inconsiderate deductible."  She warrants many inconsiderate moments before she is old enough to catch on and I have to start teaching her how to respect the world around her.

Until then I'll leave a bigger tip, run away from the mess a little faster, shrug my shoulders, and learn to play dumb.  All in the name of my family and those like me who are just doing our best to survive and make it to the next cringe worthy moment.