Friday, June 25, 2010

The Little Things (Babble)

I’m in a good place.  The new house is so much easier to function in than the old house that I’m calmer in general.  No one is sick (except Aden has a cough and Quinn tells me his stomach hurts at odd times and Mona has some bug bite on her shoulder the size of coaster, but you know, the baseline for sick in a household of kids is different than for normal people, so none of this counts as anyone being sick in my book).  Work is good, kids are happy, and I’m hearing from Ian a little bit now and then and that’s always nice.  I even got a letter this week letting me know that an essay I submitted to the ‘This I Believe’ series on NPR is being published in a collection due out in the fall.  How cool is that?

It probably sounds like I’m setting myself up for karmic disaster by admitting to hogging too much of the good at one time, but I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.  Because the really nice thing about that ‘calm and everything is under control’ feeling is that the little things aren’t getting under my skin.  When I’m pulled too many directions and I’m anxious I tend to snap at my kids a little too quickly, which makes me feel guilty, and then I’m just not nice to be around. 

Right now?  I’m the fun mom on the block with extra kids from the neighborhood hanging out and staying for lunch and we plan paper mache projects and paint and bake cookies with mini M&M’s in them.  That’s so much more satisfying than being the mom who is always yelling because we’re late for somewhere and no one listens the first ten times I tell them to do something.  It’s summer.  I’m not even enforcing a bedtime.  I can’t get upset about them not following rules when there are almost no rules to break.  The big ones at the moment are:  Don’t come downstairs naked, don’t leave the yard without telling me first, keep the back door shut (that one they are bad at), and when the fireflies come out it’s time to come home.

There are still important codes of conduct that apply, but they don’t feel like rules.  Occasionally I have to remind someone that at our home no one may be excluded from playing any of the games going on, but that seldom comes up.  I would clamp down on any of the kids if they were being rude or mean or overly careless, but those times are rare.  As long as everyone is being nice things are easy.

There is one funny side effect, though.  Mona craves either a little more structure, a little more conflict, or both.  I’m not sure which, but it manifests itself in her choosing periodically to punish herself.  Aden and Quinn do that too from time to time, but with Mona it’s more dramatic.   Aden at around Quinn’s age once famously told me when she was angry (I think the offense was we weren’t going to go someplace because it was closed) that, “FIne!  I won’t eat sugar for a whole day!”  I just looked at her and said, “Okay” which made her more angry and she upped it to a week.  Last night Quinn was so tired by the time we got home from work that when he asked me to open a chocolate milk for him and I pointed out I’d already done it, he was furious.  He said, “How could you do that?  I didn’t ask you yet!” and he stomped off as loudly as possible and collapsed on my bed and passed out.

But Mona is in a class by herself.  She has what I think of as her Garbo moments when she wants to be alone, and I don’t have a problem with that, but she can’t expect to be alone in a public space.  She can’t, for instance, claim the play structure as a place to be alone, or the TV area, or the kitchen.  That’s just not fair.  I will clear people out of the music room for her, or give her my room, or even clear kids out of the toy room for awhile if she wants it, but today she tried to use the computer in the middle of the dining room and tell her brother he couldn’t look on.  I told her that wasn’t nice and she took great offense and banished herself to her bedroom screaming, “Fine then I won’t have breakfast and I don’t love you anymore.”  She stomped up the stairs (the new house offers much better opportunities for noisy stair stomping apparently) and when she turned around at the top of the banister to add something else I was fed up and raised my voice and told her to be quiet and go to her room already if she couldn’t be nice to her brother.  She wailed that she hated me and moped on her floor under a blanket.  After some cooling off I went in and told her I was sorry I yelled.  She told me I should yell.  I asked her if she wanted me to punish her more often and she said, “Yes.”

Poor girl is serious.  The thing is, she doesn’t really do anything bad.  She does what I ask of her and volunteers to do things like crack eggs or set the table.  She’s not perfect, but she’s six.  I correct her or explain things when necessary, but other than trying to shake her little brother off her tail once in awhile (which I get) she is a very good kid.  There isn’t much I have to tell her ‘no’ about, and maybe that’s a problem for her.  It reminds me of a quote I heard from Fred Rogers in an interview a long time ago where he said he thought it was a very cruel thing to do to children to never tell them no.  No was a way of outlining clear boundaries for children in a world where they needed to feel safe.  No was a way of showing them you care.  Maybe I need to take Mona to a place with broken glass and poisonous snakes so I can clutch her close and say, “NO!  Don’t touch!  Keep your shoes on!  No snake petting for you!”

Could this be a deployment thing?  That she has fears and frustrations and she needs an excuse to vent about them and she can’t find a good one lying around?  Maybe having daddy away feels like a punishment and she wants it to have a name.  Or maybe she’s crazy.  In any case it doesn’t happen frequently, but when it does happen it’s loud.  After about an hour of self-imposed exile in her room she drew me a love note on her magnadoodle and placed it outside her door for me to find.  She was all squeaks and cuddles again and she told me she loved me.  The dark cloud had passed.  Don’t know when I’ll see it again, but it’s scarier than the tornado warning we lived through the other night so I hope not soon.

But other than those odd moments when the kids are trying to get a rise out of me, everything else I’m able to take in stride right now.  It’s nice.  I first noticed how much better I was handling the little things lately when I had cluster of scheduling problems and it just kind of made me laugh.  The refrigerator was making a buzzy-screamy sound one morning, and since our house came with a home warranty I called them about it.  The soonest they could get someone in was three days later right smack during the time we had dentist appointments for all four of us scheduled.  It was painful to cancel those dentist appointments, but we couldn’t keep living with the horrible noise in the kitchen so it had to be done.  Do you know how hard it is to get four dentist appointments together on one day?!?!  Hard enough that the new ones are in October.  I had to think about the kids’ school hours for the reschedule for crying out loud.  In the meantime we’re on a waiting list so if people cancel and I want to sneak each of us into the dentist one at a time over the summer we can, but ugh.  Anyway, to accommodate the refrigerator guy I also had to move an appointment at the violin store and change my plans for grocery shopping.  Fun all around.

But that’s not the best part.  The best part is when the refrigerator guy got to our house, examined our appliance for twenty seconds, and then told me the fridge was fine, it was the doorbell box mounted above it that was screaming.  Apparently the heavy rain we’ve had here affected the wiring on the doorbell on our side door and triggered some kind of doorbell alarm mode.  A friend was kind enough to come out and disconnect it later in the day.  A couple of months ago I would not have found this funny.  Nowadays, well, it’s just not enough to bug me.  The dentist appointment thing is annoying, but no one’s teeth are falling out that shouldn’t be falling out, so it doesn’t really make any difference.  Life is fine.

Also, the freedom I have since Aden is around to help watch Quinn was unexpected.  I was thinking with the girls out of school for the summer that it would be more work, but it’s turned out to be less.  Aden is old enough (and a kind enough big sister) that instead of me having to help Quinn every time he has a computer problem or wants a piggy back ride or needs someone to push him on the swing, Aden can do some of that too.   When we’re all at the violin store and I need to work, Aden is wonderful about assisting both of her younger siblings with whatever they could use help with, and it’s really nice.  Quinn is crazy about his big sister and would prefer to do things with her most of the time anyway, and Aden thinks her little brother is adorable and doesn’t mind having him tag along.  This is also contributing to that sense of calm I’m currently enjoying.  (At least when Mona is not literally asking for a time out.)

This is not to say I still don’t have panicky moments when I worry about Ian in Iraq, or that there still aren’t a hundred projects I’d like to get to, but I can’t do anything about Ian and the war so I try not to dwell on it, and I remind myself how lucky I am that my biggest source of frustration is that I have too many choices of great things to do. 

I did get thrown for a loop the other night when I was watching an episode of Friday Night Lights on my computer before falling asleep, and the last scene was of soldiers showing up at a character’s door to inform the family that their soldier had been killed in Iraq.  I was not expecting that and wouldn’t have watched the show if there was any way to know that was coming.  I was pretty shaken up and didn’t sleep well that night. 

But those moments are few and far between right now.  Quinn’s smile always sets the morning right no matter how badly I’ve slept.  Mona makes me laugh.  Aden touches my heart.  How can I complain?  The little things that used to get me down are outnumbered.  I’ve got enough little things around that make me happy that right now every day is a good day.  I’m doing my best to appreciate that for all it’s worth.

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