Fierce. Feisty. Funny. Fearless.
Happy, happy birthday, sweet Vivi, my bunny-bunny girl.
Fierce. Feisty. Funny. Fearless.
Happy, happy birthday, sweet Vivi, my bunny-bunny girl.
I owe Mother Nature a gift basket and a thank you note.
Many folks are lamenting yet another soggy series of days that have us in boots and long pants. “It’s spring,” is the constant refrain. “It’s May!” is another. “Where’s the sun?!” Trust me, it’s coming.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this rain. The rain cleared the pollen and it cleared my schedule. I was planning on doing a number of thing outdoors today and once the sky started leaking, I said, “Yessssssss!” The rare chance to clear my schedule of the “have-to’s” in order work on the “want-to’s” presented itself. I threw my arms and legs around it and held on for dear life.
First things first. With the outdoor stuff tabled for another day, the logical choice would be to move onto the indoor stuff. The laundry, the dishes, the trashes? All of that can wait.
I grabbed my coffee, the mug stained with rings of various levels from the number of times I’ve poured out, refilled, and reheated cup after cup. Next, I collected my tools: notebooks, pencil box, journal, planner, and laptop. That simple act got the creative pilot light lit, sparking my brain into a explosions of thought.
Oh, you should work on that blog post from three months ago.
Remember Black and White Wednesday? That was fun.
Where’s your camera?
Oh, wait! You need to do work on V’s birthday collage.
That’s gotta be done by the 18th.
Then you can tackle the end of year teacher gifts for the preschool for the 25th.
Did you even pick an end of year teacher gift for the preschool?
Well, if you’re going on Pinterest anyway, it would be a waste not to look at 10 ways to create a capsule wardrobe, right?
The temptation to be captain of Team Do the Most was so great. I mean, my mama didn’t raise no quitter. BUT, I had to focus because I did not want to be doing the most only to realize I didn’t really do anything by the time carpool pick up rolled around. So, I reheated my coffee (again) and made a decision. Today, I’m writing.
Puberty is attacking M like a rash that flares up every time you think you’ve got the symptoms under control. Our relationship as of late has seen more ups and downs than Oprah’s weight. Remember when your kids were toddlers and it was like living with a small, foreigner who didn’t know English? The tweenage years are like living a larger foreigner who knows English, but refuses to speak it, preferring to either screech injustices or demand that you read their mind.
There wasn’t a chapter about this in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Believe me, I’ve looked.
Blessedly, I’ve got wonderful sister-friends who are mothers and are willing to share the tools in their toolbox. Enter the Just Between Us Journal.
This gem of a journal is a way for mothers and daughters to communicate that takes some of the angst and embarrassment out of face to face interactions. The concept is simple: mother and daughter write honestly and openly in the journal using idea prompts or free spaces. They exchange the journal on a mutually agreed upon day or period of time. What goes in the journal stays in the journal, so no, I don’t share with the Hubs whatever it is M has written (unless it’s harmful to her or her family) and she doesn’t share what I’ve written to her (i.e. yes, M, you really are my favorite) with her sisters or friends.
We’ve been exchanging the journal for about two weeks now and while we’re still figuring out the routine, I’m feeling better about our interactions.
Rather than waiting until bedtime when I’m running on fumes to ask me, “What’s a hymen and why do a I have one?” (#truestory) or “Who was your first crush when you were in the sixth grade?” (Eric Hazelcorn), M downloads into the journal on her own time and then leaves it on my bed. I then read her entries, whether it’s a page with prompts about firsts (first time I was home alone with infant M, thoughts on her first day of school) or a free space where she’s written freely, and respond.
When we are in the eye of the storm (after school, dinner, practice, etc.) and she is trying to express herself, it’s hard for me to give her the time and attention she needs right at that moment. Chances are my responses are going to be clipped and
tinged colored with impatience. Okay, not chances are. My responses are clipped and colored with impatience. Okay, not clipped but bitten off and not colored but smeared with impatience.
This journal, though. I have been given the gift of time because I can think, process, re-read what she has written, before responding calmly and thoughtfully. This has been the biggest gift. I’m confident that with continued practice, I will able to transition that skill into real life. In the process, we get to learn more about one another and manage these pubescent flare ups with more grace and patience, together.
And bonus! I get to write.
Soon, I’ll be complaining about the multiple days of rain just like everyone else, but for now, I’m going to enjoy the pattering of droplets on the windows. I’ll reheat my coffee (again). I’ll read what is going on in the mind of my middle schooler. I’ll sharpen my pencils and let her know that it’s rain that makes the flowers grow.
I have a bad habit of telling the girls that we will do something and then when time runs out or I have to get dinner started or someone spills apple juice down the front of her clothes just as we are about to walk out the door for school, I have to go back on my word and say, “You know what, we can’t do it now.”
As a mother, I try to not to say “No” or speak in negatives. I don’t want to disappoint my girls, but I want to keep them safe and healthy and growing towards fully functioning, well adjusted adults. Sometimes a firm no, followed by a “Because I said so”is needed. Lately, it’s felt to my own ears that I’m always saying no. No is my factory preset. And interestingly enough, no is never easy. I mean, by saying no, I’m leaving the window open for a swarm of tears, tantrums, foot stomping, and fists balled up at rigid sides. Every time that happens, that critical inner voice wraps her arm around my shoulder, points to the maelstrom of misbehavior happening in front of us and says, “This could have totally be avoided if you had just said yes, like most other mothers do. You know, mothers who aren’t so uptight and anal retentive.”
The thing is, though, sometimes no is needed because it will save on disappointment in the long run. The more I say “yes” and then backpedal to a “no”, I’m forming a pattern that my children will internalize. Get your hopes up, get your hopes dashed.
Our morning routine exists in a finite sphere of time. We have 75 minutes to get three bodies up, dressed, fed, and packed up for school. An hour and 15 minutes sound like a lot of time, but it’s really not. The girls like to have breakfast in the morning, but they don’t like to have the same breakfast every morning.
Choosing between Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch takes time. Choosing between toast and bagels takes time. Don’t get me started on the OJ vs. apple juice vs. cranberry juice debacle. Breakfast preparation and consumption eats up the majority of the 75 minutes. They’re dressed in 15, they can wash their faces, brush their teeth, pack their bags, and still find time to plop down on the couch with a book before we have to load up the car at 7:30. Between 6:30 and 7:00am, though, we’re totally moving in slow motion.
“Stop giving them options, Hilary with one L,” I hear you say.
“Make them get ready the night before,” I hear you say.
“Set a timer. Put their shoes by the door. Give them a chore chart.” Yes, I have done all of the things prescribed by parenting mags, mommy bloggers, and my own mother, but we’re still not firing on all cylinders.
Blessedly, we have eliminated one time suck that used to cripple our forward progress to being out of the door on time — hair. The girls get their hair braided every few weeks which means, there aren’t any heads to do in the morning (all the awards go to Regina at Tiny textures). When we are in between appointments, especially when the girls’ styles are looking a little more worn that I’d like, I have them unbraid one another. If you see them rocking two puffs or a high puff, chances are a new appointment is on the horizon.
This is where we find ourselves today. M’s braids had to come out; she looked as though she had been sweeping the floor with her head. C’s braids had to come out; hers looked as though she mopped up whatever M had swept up. My plan was to unbraid, wash, detangle, and throw their curls into a high puff. Easy peasy. The girls had other plans.
“I want to wear my hair in an Afro. Like you.” M announced as she finger detangled apart sections of her hair.
“Me, too!” C piped up, her curls winging around her face, wavy and free.
I don’t know if it’s ironic or hypocritical or what, but despite everything I know and love about natural hair, having my girls wear their hair in afros is a pain my can.
I’m a horrible teacher. Teaching M and C, both of whom have completely different curl patterns, lengths, porosity, and degree of tender headedness from me (and each other), how to care for and appropriately style their hair makes my hair go straight.
They want to learn. I want them to learn. I just don’t have the patience to do it. Mostly it’s because when they’re ready to wear their hair loose, we’re trying to get out the door.
Thankfully, they can wash, condition, and separate their own hair into two pigtails. The two strand twisting, pineappling, and bantu knotting has yet to be mastered. I’ve explained to them that in order to wear their hair loose on a Tuesday, they’re going to have to prep their hair on Monday night. We’re talking time management. When the siren song of a new book or friends playing outside or screen time or dessert penetrates the airwaves, any thoughts of hair evaporate.
M and C both said they wanted to wear their hair loose. The night before, they had washed and parted their hair. C slathered gel onto her edges before she braided (yay!) but in such copious amounts, the take down in the morning was destined to fail. Before bed, I (mistakenly) told her that if there was time in the morning, I’d look at it and see if we could work it into a loose style. I know full well there is no time in the morning! I knew it as the words were coming out of my mouth, but I couldn’t gobble them back up. She heard me and took that for bond.
The next morning, M’s hair had dried misshapenly to her scalp. I had to rinse her out in order to bring the shape back to life. The whole while, I had one eye on the clock and one ear cocked to the kitchen to make sure V hadn’t set anything on fire. C, who had already reminded me several times of what I had said the night before, was standing in doorway, eyes wide. “What about my hair?” might as well have been in a thought bubble above her head.
We didn’t have time.
We didn’t have time for me to be fooling with M’s hair to the extent that I was, but I was.
We didn’t have time for me to honor what I’d told C, but I did.
We didn’t have time, but I acted like we did and then got mad when things didn’t work out the way I wanted.
I got mad because I KNEW we didn’t have time, but I pushed through. I wanted to do this for my girls because they want to wear their hair flying free. They love their hair. I want them to love their hair and if I say, “No, you can’t wear it in an afro”, what the hell kind of message is that?
So I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, which means M gets her afro big and her curls popping, but the back of her shirt is wet.
I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, which means I’m pulling C’s pigtails down, trying to break up the gel that has her hair cemented to her scalp like Magic Shell. I’m sticking her head under the faucet, vigorously washing and finger detangling. Here comes V, ambling into the bathroom asking for apple juice.
I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, and finally realize, SHIT, WE DON’T HAVE TIME. So I part C’s hair and give her two afro puffs, each one bigger than her face.
Her face, her beautiful face, that crumples into frustrated tears because this is NOT what she wanted. Through hiccuping sobs, she uses my own words against me, reminding me that I said. I said she could wear it loose (let the record reflect, I said, “if there was time in the morning, I’d look at it and see if we could work it into a loose style”).
And the combination of her tears, my rapidly cooling coffee just a fingertip out of reach on the counter, and the fact that it is now 7:20 and NO one has washed their teeth, brushed their face, packed their shoes, or put on their bag hits me like a bag full of angry cats.
So I do what any mother trying to be SuperMom does.
I start to over explain. I try to back pedal without going back 100%. I justify. I get mad at myself for being in this situation of trying to be Supermom and getting thwarted. I’m Atlas holding up the world and here comes Life skipping on by to sweep my legs out from under me. And that inner voice clears her throat to inform me, “If you’d said no, like moms who have their shit together, you could have avoided this.”
Here’s the thing. I have always maintained that if I’m wondering whether or not I’m doing a good job at this parenting thing, I probably am. No bad parent is going to worry if they’re a bad parent, right?
I’m doing my best at changing what doesn’t work for us into practices and family rules that do. I’m finding the balance between “yes”, “no”, and “maybe”. It’s easy to say “yes” when they ask for one more story. It’s easy to say “no” when they’re trying to see who can shove the most number of goldfish in their mouth without dropping any. It’s easy to say “maybe” when then ask me if I’ll tell them where babies come from.
Eleven years in, three kids later, and I’m still figuring out this parenting thing. Will I always get it right? No (obviously). Will I go crazy in the process? Maybe. Will I keep trying? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Got any parenting tips or tricks? Tell me about it in the comments.
When I sat down to write today, I was going to tell you a V Story. A V story is me relaying yet another instance where my youngest child has left the rest of us crying from laughter or shaking our heads in disbelief over the things that come out of her mouth.
My parents live for these stories. They end up telling their neighborhood friends, who have often check in with my folks just to see what V’s up to. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that V 1) reminds them of Olivia from The Cosby Show 2) reminds them of Rudy from The Cosby Show or 3) needs a show of her own, I could probably sustain my Starbucks habit for the foreseeable future.
So, while I do have story to share, as I was organizing it in my head, I started marveling at the mystery of birth order (that is definitely another post for another day). My older two girls are nothing like V — were nothing like V at that age. M has been a line towing, straight shooting, literalist from the beginning. C was the baby of the family for 4 solid years, fully embracing her role as the class clown. Her comedic chops were rivaled only by her sweet, sensitive nature. And then V joined the party. She’s a party unto herself.
I’ve got three incredible daughters each of whom possesses their own super strong personality.
Nowadays, when people ask me to describe the girls, I immediately rely on one of two examples.
Example 1: M is “What have you done for me lately?”, C is “What can I do for you?”, and V is “I’m about to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.”
Traditional sibling roles? Absolutely.
While the first example is pretty succinct, the second example is chock-full of context that really adds some weight and texture to the framework.
Question: How would you describe the girls?
Example 2: So, if the Hubs and I ever left the girls home alone while we went out of town, and they got it in their heads to throw a party where the police are called in, here’s what would happen. M would be standing in the front door, hands on her hips, telling the authorities, “I told them not to do it. I told them it was a bad idea and that I wanted no parts of it. I said [insert Dixon family rules and regulations as stipulated by Mom and Dad]. They wouldn’t listen to me and I told them not to do it.” She’d be singing like a canary as she slowly crossed the threshold from inside the house to just behind the adults who’ve arrived to shut it down, offering directions as to where to find the most egregious offenders and suggestions on what punishments should be meted out and how.
“Firstborns bask in their parents’ presence, which may explain why they sometimes act like mini-adults. . . They excel at winning the hearts of their elders.”
— excerpted from “How Birth Order Affects Your Child’s Personality and Behavior” by Jocelyn Voo, Parents.Com
Reliable, conscientious, cautious, controlling, and achievers — those are words often used to describe firstborn children. M is a first born, through and through.
C, on the other hand, would be in the kitchen, giant trash bag in hand. She’d be furiously shoving red solo cups into the bag, unclogging toilets, wiping down counter tops, pulling clothes off of lampshades and ceiling fans (in my imagination, this is an epic teenage throw down. Like, any John Hughes’ movie plus House Party plus Neighbors). C would be saying over and over, “We can fix it. I can get it cleaned up. It’ll be back to the way it was in no time.” Or, she’d be in tears because: sensitive.
In general, middle children tend to possess the following characteristics:
Sweet, sweet, C — classic middle child. My sensitive soul desperate to make it right, shoulder the blame, and keep everyone smiling. I gotta toughen her up.
And then there’s V.
I mean, those of you who know her are probably laughing already. Go ahead. She’s a piece of work, I know.
Rounding out this trio of Bacchanalian celebration would be V, hanging out a second story window in an attempt to flee the scene of the crime, or rolling up in the driveway with a pack of friends, taking about “What’d I miss?” because she’d have snuck out of the house unbeknownst to anyone. Snuck out like two days ago because: V.
“Youngest children tend to be the most free-spirited due to their parents’ increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards parenting the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) time around.” — Jocelyn Voo
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times V has done something and I have just shrugged like, “Third kid,” and kept it moving. To say the attitude is laissez-faire? Ce n’est pas une surprise. The year V turns 16, I will be turning 50. Yeah, let’s roll that around for a minute. I’m already tired for my future self with that one. Last born kiddos also have a bag full of characteristics that make them easily identifiable as such.
These should have been printed on a notecard and included along with her birth certificate and discharge papers from the hospital. Then maybe we would have stood a chance.
So, back to the my V story.
Yesterday, V was upset when I picked her up from school. Pick up time for her is usually at the end of rest time (where the kids get to watch a video) or the beginning of snack time. Your girl had her knickers in a knot because although she got to stay for the whole video, I was coming to claim her right at snack time. Never mind that she could take her snack to go. She was going to miss out on the post-nap round table snack time discussion. Shame on me, right?
V is giving me grief as we walk to the car. She’s walking slowly. She’s mumbling “It’s not fair” under her breath. She’s really laying it on thick. We get in the car where C is engrossed in a book and M is knitting. In typical Dixon girl fashion if one is bent out of shape, the other two go above and beyond being Pollyanna. M turns to V and sings out, “Hello, V! How was your day?”
Through gritted teeth, V says “I don’t want to talk about it.”
M persists. She tries to engage V in some Q&A until I implore her to stop antagonizing her sister. V is clearly not entertained (although I’m giggling because she’s biting off answers like she’s got gristle in her mouth). M persists. She modulates her voice to what I can only imagine she thinks a therapist sounds like, and says, “Tell me about your day, V.”
Me: M, stop it. Leave her alone.
M: What? I’m just asking about her day! (to V) Tell me what you think about when you see my face.
V: I think to destroy it.
I mean, what’s really left to say after that?
“I will not be participating in the Pinterest Olympics on February 14th this year.
Good luck to all the glue gun gladiators out there.”
–Sarah F., my friend and the real MVP.
Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and I have tried to sit this one out. I’m not a Valentine’s Day Hater, honestly. I’m barely recovered from Christmas and simply not ready for any holiday hoop-la.
The girls are foaming at the mouth in anticipation of stuffing their faces with conversation hearts, chocolate kisses, and all manner of Cupid themed sugar love snacks. The Valentine paraphernalia has been out in prominent display at most retailers since, December 27th (not joking), so my girls are pretty much at the frayed end of their ropes as they wait for another chance to get crafty and get candy.
In the past, I started making the girls Valentine goodies, with a little input and help from them of course, the girls and I figure out what kind of Valentine they’d like to hand out. Every year that they’ve handed out little homemade love notes, I’ve been compelled to make each subsequent year a little cuter, a little craftier.
I know, I’m an idiot.
Truly, Valentine’s Day has become the Craft Olympics, sponsored by Pinterest.
We did the photo with the lollipop one year.
We did a photo booth with Hershey kisses.
2014 saw us put together Swedish Fish with a request: “Will You ‘O-Fish-Ally’ Be My Valentine?”.
Two years ago, we did Kool Aid and Crazy Straws.
Last year two things changed: 1. M and C didn’t want to do the same thing. 2. V wanted in on the craft-tastic action. So, I took to Pinterest and came up with three separate Valentine cards (*facepalm*)
Smartie Pants Valentine’s for C.
You Blow Me Away Valentine’s for M.
You’re All Write Valetine’s for V.
I’m even more tired just looking at these.
Which brings me to this year — I’m to doing it. I’m not making Valentine’s day crafts for the girls or with the girls or having a hand in any form or fashion to spread love on the 14th. I’m out like Obama.
And why? Why am I being such a hard-hearted Hannah? That’s easy — a sista is tired. Yup, I said it. I AM TIRED.
For the past handful of years, I have done the most. While I do enjoy crafting and while I do enjoy the challenge, this year, I just don’t have the gas. There are no conversational candy hearts in my tank to power me through the cutting and pasting. Add to that all of my crafting stuff is in various totes and boxes scattered around the third floor because OFFICE NOT FINISHED (sorry for yelling). There is’ not place to spread it out. Shoot, I don’t know what I have. I don’t want to raid AC Moore only to find out now I have three glue guns, two FISKARs straight edge cutters, and enough glue dots to bring the total up to 105 Dalmatians.
What I decided to do instead was take the girls to Target and let them pick out whatever they liked to give to their friends. I tried to sway them into valentines that had stickers, tattoos, or scratch pads. In the end, because I don’t want to make everything a battle royal (but mainly because I’m tired), I let C get Airheads and V get lollipops.
M is middle school and evidently, exchanging valentine’s is passe. Instead, there’s middle school dance the Friday before the 14th. M was on the committee, and “Oh, by the way Mom, I have to bring refreshments, so can you make some cupcakes or brownies like on Pinterest?”
To which I replied, in my head, “Nah”. Out loud, it went more like, “What else can you bring? Chips? Done.” Comes the night of the dance, and off M goes, in head to toe pink carrying bags of Doritos for the masses.
But back to the Valentine’s for the younger ones. On one hand, I have mother’s guilt bubbling up for not doing the crafty card. I’m letting down the sweet-faced kiddos who like the punny, Valentine sentiment. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m feeling guilty for not doing it because I don’t want any Judgey McJudgerson (real or imagined, but mostly imagined) giving me side-eye. Yes, I care what other people think! I admit it! And yes, I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it!
Why do I do this?
Oh wait. . .I’m Type A. I forgot.
And while I may have forgotten that, I have picked up a useful skill along the way. I’m learning to identify what my limitations are. Saying yes to Valentine’s crafts is a limit. A hard limit.
This is me going rogue, people! I’m stepping away from the glue gun! Store bought Valentine’s today, store bought Valentine’s tomorrow, store bought Valentine’s forever!!