Archive for the ‘Week 6: The Crucial C’s’ category

The thing is …

November 30, 2010

What? What is it? What is the thing that will help me connect with my daughter today? It might be the same thing as yesterday. Or it might not.

This is the second most valuable take-away I got from my recent workshop with Vicki: connection is a moving target. Kids grow and change every day. And since “connect with my kids” is the single most important item on my daily to-do list (it’s the foundation for everything else in the relationship), this was an important a-ha moment.

What I love about this new awareness—that the thing that worked yesterday may not work today—is that it encourages me to pay more attention, be more present, stay more curious. I get to work on my relationship and figure out what makes my daughter tick today. Right now.

It reminds me of kids and food. Haven’t we all at least once uttered the words, “What’s the matter? You liked it yesterday!” And, puzzled by our total frustration (having loaded the pantry with said food item), the child says simply, “Yeah, but not today.”

Yes, moving targets can be frustrating. There will be days when it seems out of reach. But now my eyes are wide open. What might it be today? I have to watch and listen or I might miss it.

Yesterday with Charlotte it was asking her to teach me how to play her favorite video game. Afterwards she cuddled up to me and with a look of pure satisfaction said, “It’s funny mom, after I taught you how, you won three times!”

With Fenner it was looking at catalogs together and chatting about the different items. After about 10 minutes she looked up at me and said, “Thanks, mom.” “For what?” I asked. “For everything.”


Pancakes again

May 16, 2009

Yes I have yet another pancake story for you. (Weekend pancakes have turned out to be rich fodder for this journey!)

Ellen came into the kitchen and sat down heavily on the stool. It was after 8am, Jerry’s out of town until tonight and nobody had eaten yet. “Mom, you’re not teaching us how to do stuff, you’re not showing us stuff anymore!” “What would you like to learn?” “Well, I still don’t know how to make pancakes. Daddy doesn’t really teach us, he just does it for us, and mine are all just big mess-ups!” “Hmm. I saw you make your own pancake last time.” “No! I made one and daddy scraped it into the sink.” “But after that one, I remember you pouring the batter and you made the next two pancakes yourself.” “No! Daddy made the ones that were good, mine were all mess-ups!” “That’s not how I remember it.” “Well that’s how it was … I remember!”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this because Ellen really did make two pancakes by herself last weekend. So she was either changing the story to get me to make them, or she had actually convinced herself that Jerry made them instead. Either way, it was useful information.

Ellen had stomped out of the kitchen into my office and closed the door. I stood there and thought carefully about my next move. It occurred to me that having Jerry away could be helpful because then I could play dumb about making pancakes and ask Ellen to help me. First I should explain that Ellen doesn’t like just any kind of pancake, she likes what she and Jerry call “paper pancakes.” These are very thin pancakes, likes crepes, and I honestly had never made them before. But I did know that they require some very thin batter.

I opened the door to my office. Ellen was sitting in my chair slumped over with her head down on my desk. “Ellen I’ve never made these pancakes before, will you help me?” I asked. “I don’t know how much mix and how much milk! But you don’t use oil or eggs, just the mix with milk.” “Oh! I didn’t know that. I would’ve used oil and eggs …” I walked back to the kitchen. I put some mix in the bowl and added just a small amount of milk so the batter would be very thick. Ellen came in and stood beside me. “Ok, like this?” I said. “No, mom! That’s way too thick!” “Oh, ok, so what do I do?” “You have to add more milk.” She got the milk and poured some in. “Now stir.” I did. “No, that’s not right either, now that looks just like water…have to add more mix.” She pushed me aside and started adding alternate amounts of mix and milk. This was not a neat process, the mess was getting bigger and I worked hard to stay quiet and not intervene. “No, it’s still not right. It’s not bubbly. Sometimes you have to add just a little bit of water … there. That’s it!!” Her mood was getting perkier and perkier. “Now … Mom?! Get the pan down!” “Which one?” “That one!” She turned on the burner and I gave her the pan.

She then proceeded to make not one, not two, but four or five of these pancakes for herself. She threw one away because it folded up into a big blob, but that didn’t phase her at all. She kept at it, and Fenner joined in and made several for herself as well. They even made one for me, and then I said I wanted to try and they talked me through how much batter to pour and how to flip it over, etc. Then I went to make another one and said, “Oh! I didn’t spray the pan!” “That’s ok, mom,” said Ellen, “it’s just a little harder to flip that way.” And when I managed to flip it, Fenner said, “Yay, mom, you did it, good job!” Then Ellen had another turn and she said, “See mom? Unlike you, I remember to spray the pan! … And there we go … and flip it … and that’s how you make a paper pancake!!” She danced a little jig and her face was positively glowing. “Look at this, mom, this is the best, most perfect paper pancake in the world! Come look!” I did, and it was.

Later when we were eating at the table together, Ellen said, “Fenner! Mom’s batter was terrible! It was so thick it was like cookie dough! … Mom! Your batter was terrible!” “I know! Ellen, I couldn’t have done it without you.” I meant it. And I could see it written all over her face: connected, capable, count, courage.

Seismic shift

May 16, 2009

One of the biggest changes I’m feeling this week in is myself. I used to let myself be tired and crabby just about anytime I wanted because … well, I deserved to be tired and crabby! I was taking care of a lot of people and not getting a whole lot of thanks for it. But this class has given me new information and new awareness: time is ticking; I am responsible to my girls, not for them; and the attitude I embrace each day, each minute even, matters. It matters a lot. I don’t get to just act put-upon anytime I want. It’s not ok anymore to do that. I want my girls to feel wanted, to feel valued. So I’m starting by consciously behaving as though I want them here. No matter how crabby or tired I might think I deserve to be. I need to dig down and remember that I do want them here. They’re amazing and wonderful and not here with me for all that long. And I need to—I’m going to—make sure they know that every day.

That doesn’t mean I’ll act happy all the time now. Mostly I’ve noticed that it means I shake it off faster. I say to myself, yeah, there’s that crabbiness. I’ll let myself feel it for a few minutes, and then it’s time to move on. And instead of looking forward to my next moment of peace–of escape from the relentless, thankless job of motherhood—now I shake it off and I tell myself it’s time to scan for the next opportunity to connect, or encourage, or invite, or observe. Because now I know how much it matters that I do that. It matters a lot.

Moved on

May 15, 2009

This morning I braced myself for a scene. Would she refuse to go to school because of her hair? We’ll see, I thought. But after a good night’s sleep she seemed to have moved on.

I heard them downstairs. Charlotte was making her lunch … loudly. “Charlotte are you still mad about your dumb haircut?” asked Ellen. “No.” “Then what are you mad about?” “I’m just crabby.” “What are you crabby about?” “I don’t know!”

A few seconds later I heard the sound of crackers spilling on the floor. “Mom will clean it up,” said Charlotte. “No she won’t!” said Ellen. “How do you know?!!!” Charlotte yelled back. “Because we’re responsible for cleaning our own messes!” (Wow, really? I thought.) Ellen continued, “Charlotte, no!!! You do not put goldfish back in the bag with your dang feet! … I’m not ever eating another goldfish until that bag’s all gone and we get a new one!”

Then Fenner chimed in, “Charlotte, you’re really gross, you know that?” “Well I have to catch the bus.” “Well you’d better hurry, you have to leave in five minutes.” “Do you know why I’m late? … Because you were asking me questions and slowing me down. Stop talking to me.” They did.

Charlotte finished getting ready and headed for the door. “Bye, Charlotte!” I said. “Bye!” she answered and then paused, “Mom? What day is it?” “Friday,” I said. “Ok, then, pick up from school,” she said to herself and left — right on time.

As she left I noticed her “News-book” that she’s supposed to have on Fridays still on the table. I opened my mouth to say, “Charlotte, do you want to take this?” but I stopped myself. Oh, well. I don’t want that job. I trust that she’ll figure that one out too.

Bad hair day

May 14, 2009

“Mom, I finally took a bath!” said Charlotte as I washed her hair. She wanted to watch a movie badly enough that today my “Yes! As soon as …” worked like a charm.

After the bath I said, “Charlotte, I’m going to cut off some of your hair so it doesn’t get so tangly.” “Oookaaaay,” she said reluctantly. She hadn’t brushed her hair in two weeks. It took me a good 30 minutes to get a comb all the way through it while she sat, absorbed in the movie. I don’t like spending half-an-hour combing hair. I got the scissors and started cutting off close to two inches worth. Even then it still came down to below her chin. This will comb out much faster, I thought, and it’s good for summer too.

After the movie it was time for bed. I headed up first and lay down in our bed to wait. They came up soon after and I heard Charlotte say, “Mom cut my hair short!” Then about ten seconds later she started to cry. “I look ridiculous! You cut my hair too short and now I look ridiculous for school! Thanks a lot, mom!!!” I felt all the energy go right out of me. I didn’t respond. I just lay there feeling sad and tired while she cried. The voice in my head started talking: Oh, great. Now this. And after all I do for her, now she’s going to complain? How ungrateful can you get?!

I ignored the voice and it died down. Then, to my surprise, Fenner tried to help. “Charlotte, it doesn’t look bad! … Ok, well, can you still get ready for bed so we can have mommy time? Please?” “No! I don’t want mommy time!” “Ok, well, can you please get ready for me and Ellen? And then you don’t have to have mommy time. When mommy comes you can just tell her to go away.” “You guys get ready and then I’ll get ready after.” “Ok.”

After saying goodnight to Fenner and Ellen I knocked on Charlotte’s door. “Do me last!” she said. “You are last.” “Ok … come in.” I stood near her, took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry you don’t like your hair. I guess it’s shorter than you expected.” “Next time tell me how short you’re going to cut it!” I thought for a minute and then said, “The problem is it took me half an hour to comb out your hair because you hadn’t brushed it in two weeks. Show me you can take care of long hair and next time I won’t cut it so short.” “Well I don’t know how!!!! You have to teach me!! I’m not a grown up! It takes practice! I’m just a kid. You don’t just walk away and say do it without teaching! My teachers at school don’t just say ‘Do your work’ and then walk away!” “You know how to brush your hair. I’ve seen you do it.” “Well I don’t know when to do it!!!” “Most people brush their hair every day.” “Well I don’t have time in the morning, I have to catch the bus!!! Do you know why I do that?!!! Because I want to help the Earth!!” (That’s new information!) “You don’t have to do it in the morning, you can brush it at night.” “I don’t have tiiiiiiiime….!!” Ok, I thought, this doesn’t feel useful, and I’m not joining this pity party. “Well, we’re out of time now. … Do you want a hug or a kiss?” “No.” “Ok … good night.” I walked out and closed the door.

Downstairs I could hear her talking loudly to herself, “I wish I only had a daddy … not a mommy! … I don’t want to go to second grade! … This is the worst day ever! ….”

Yeah, that’s a tough way to end the day. Can’t wait to see what happens in the morning…

Tough love

May 13, 2009

Remember when I said Fenner seemed happier lately? Well, today not so much. Lots of ups and downs and some nasty, nasty fighting. In a nutshell: Stop!/Go away!/Shut-up!/Stupid-head!/I hate you! And hitting and shoving, etc. … (And on top of that I couldn’t seem to figure out what it would take to get Charlotte in the bath. Oh well, another day, another greasy head.)

On the upside, Charlotte, Ellen, and I managed a fun game of Frisbee on a truly spectacular spring day. That felt great.

But Fenner seemed to be struggling. So before bedtime I asked her to show me her new gymnastics moves in our basement exercise room. We went down and she showed me her back walkover and then she slumped down on the floor. I sat down with her.

“Mom, why did you have to have Charlotte? She’s not a good addition to our family, because Charlotte and I don’t really get along.” “Mm. Yeah, I remember when Sloane and I had a hard time together for a while,” I offered. “And why did you have to take that stupid parenting class? It makes it seem like you don’t care what we do. … And I don’t like that you don’t help us anymore,” her eyes filled with tears. “I see. … Do you understand why we’re not helping you as much?” “No.” “Well … you and I won’t always be living together. Someday you’ll be out on your own and I won’t be there to help, so you need to know how to do stuff by yourself.” At that the tears started flowing faster. She tried to rub them away. I put my arm around her. “So when you think about that it feels kinda sad and scary?” She nodded. “Well that’s why we’re doing it now, so we can be nearby while you learn all these things. … And we’ve still got a lot of years together to go.” “Yeah…” she whispered (she starts whispering when she’s trying hard not to cry).

Just then our cat, Cleveland, walked in. Fenner laughed as we watched him explore the fort Charlotte had built earlier with the exercise mats. That helped her relax and get her voice back. We talked about other things for a while, like her favorite parts of her favorite TV shows, and then it was time for bed.

During my bedtime visit in her room she asked, “So what’s this week about?” I explained about the crucial C’s and how I thought it would help our family. “Well I don’t like it and you can’t change that!” she said. “No, that’s true, I can’t.” There was a long pause and then she said, “I just want to know, when are you going to care more? When are you going to start caring about what we do and what Charlotte does?” I wasn’t sure what to say. “Mom, you’re not answering my question!” “Honey, we do care, we do… We’re working on it.” She frowned and looked at the floor. Our visit time was up. “I love you…goodnight,” I said as I closed the door behind me.

Ok, I thought, she’ll be ok. And tomorrow’s another day…

Erase. Begin again.

May 13, 2009

“Honey? … What happened here?” asked Jerry, pointing to the scratches on the desk he made in college,”What is this?” I took a deep breath and put my hand on his shoulder. “That … is what revenge looks like.” He paused and then said, “Do you know when it happened?” “Remember when we all went into my office to finish talking and shut Charlotte out?” “And she came in here and did this?” I nodded. He ran his fingers over the scratches. “Hmm,” he said.

Later we were all in the living room and he said, “Charlotte? … Charlotte, honey? Daddy made that desk in college…” I touched his arm and said softly, “Don’t guilt her.” He whispered back, “I was just going to tell her that we need to take care of our things.” I didn’t say anything and he paused and looked back at Charlotte. Then with an upbeat tone he said, “Charlotte? Let’s see if we can get rid of these scratches.” He went to get some furniture oil. When he came back I said, “Charlotte, would you like to help daddy fix the scratches?” “No, thank you,” she said quietly. “Ok,” I said.

Jerry wet a rag with the oil and ran it over the scratches. It did the trick. “How’s that?” he asked. “Much better!” I said, “I can’t even see them anymore!”

I stared at the desk and thought: now there’s a clean desk for the living room, and a clean slate for us.