Friday, February 26, 2010

Excuses, excuses

I just wanted to pop in quickly to explain my current bloggy absence and to say that it may drag out for a while. You see, I'm writing my first novel!

The idea to write a novel came about quite suddenly- one day I'm the midst of an existential crisis and the next I've decided that I was going to write a novel. It's been an amazingly enriching process, but I won't lie, it's hard to find the time for it. I'm not saying this because I'm a busy mama, oh no, there's more to it than that! Over the last two weeks I've had a very sick husband and little girl in the house. Matt is going on being sick for TWO weeks and it isn't letting up. Poor sweetie. Iris's illness was fairly quick, but it left me housebound with one sick kid and one hyperactive kid for more time than I really wanted. Despite all of this, I'm finding time to be creative and have written more than 11,000 words (over 50 pages!) so it's all coming along nicely. Matt has done a first round of editing for me, just guiding me down the right track at this point. I can't lie, it was pretty exciting to hear his praise over the work I've already done! Of course, he has to say that, I'm married to him, but I very much believe that he's not going to fill my head full of fluff just to make me feel better. I don't think I would be able to do this level of writing without my very own in-house editor.

The story I'm working on is based on actual events from my teenage-hood. I went through some pretty insane, difficult stuff (over a boy, of course!) so I felt that telling the story would make for a great young adult novel. Going back and focusing on some of these memories that are close to 20 years old now has been quite a trip. Once I got over the tears and sadness about reliving it the writing hasn't been as hard, emotionally, as I thought it would be. What IS hard is cramming two years worth of heavy drama in to a normal length novel! Stephenie Meyer I am not, as much as I would like to be!, so there will be plenty of editing down my thoughts.

Everyone is sleeping now, so off I go to do some more editing and writing! Thanks for sticking around. I am still keeping up with my Twitter account, so follow me there at http://twitter.com/SybilRyan. This is a change from my previous Twitter handle, so make sure you're following the right account!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Weekend activities

Despite a bit of illness running through our house this weekend, we still managed to get out quite a bit and enjoy ourselves.

On Saturday we headed out on the bus to check out the Chinese New Year celebration that was being held in the International District. Unfortunately it was raining most of the time we were there so we stayed hidden under the one smallish tent and did a few crafts. There wasn't a whole lot of opportunity for me to take my camera out, out of the rain, so here's the best I could do for the afternoon:




Yesterday, Valentine's Day, was pretty low-key. The girls and I took off for the morning to let Matt get peace and quiet at home. First we hit Target to get some special Valentine's gifts for the girls and then headed out to lunch before hitting up the toy store and returning back home.

Today it was a spectacularily sunny day and I was itching to get out of the house for a little family adventure. I decided that a visit to Snoqualmie Falls would be just the right trip to get out of the city for a bit so we got dressed, ate some lunch and jumped in to the car.

It was a perfect little hike down to the base of the falls where we scrambled around on the rocks before climbing back up the trail to our car.










Sunday, February 14, 2010

The one where I become a reader

About a couple of weeks ago, or so, I decided to finally pick up "Twilight"-the first of the Stephenie Meyers' vampire series- that my friend loaned to me. She actually loaned me the entire Twilight saga and I set them on my ledge where they stayed for quite some time, taunting me with their sheer size. I can't recall that I have ever read a book with 600+ pages and knowing how long it took me to get through the last book I read, which was maybe half the size of one of the Twilight books, well, I was nervous. So I finally opened "Twilight", determined to at least get through that one before giving in.

Like most of the rabid readers, I couldn't put the book down. I read "Twilight" at a pretty rapid pace, at least for me. I won't lie, it was a pretty easy read, but so, so fascinating. As soon as I finished the book I found out that our local theater was showing a "Twilight"/"New Moon" double feature for Valentine's weekend. What a perfect goal for getting through the next book in the series! I asked my good friend if she would like to be my date for the movies, she just so happened to be reading the books at the same time, and then flung myself in to "New Moon". I had mere days to finish the hulking volume. Not surprisingly, I finished it with plenty of time to spare thanks to a couple of marathon reading sessions. Edward leaving. Bella sulking, the werewolves! I couldn't believe I was falling in love with this series, considering how much I had mocked everything Twilight related ever since the phenomenon broke out.

On Friday my friend and I sat through our double feature (fueled by snacks and plenty of alcohol) and had a great time. I will admit, the movies were a let-down, but unless each one was several hours long, the story had to be cut down substantially to fit in to the Hollywood mold. Of course, I won't lie, there was some serious eye candy in the movie that made even the less-than-stellar acting pretty damn enjoyable. You better believe I'll be fighting off the 15 year olds to be the first in line to see the next movie when it's released!

I decided to give myself a Twilight break before starting "Eclipse". Well, that lasted less than 24 hours. Last night I was up until 2:00 am tearing through the first few hundred pages. Yum.

On a side note, last night I was looking up YouTube clips of the cast talking about the movies and watched one of Robert Pattinson on the Ellen Show. When he came out for his interview the crowd screamed and screamed and screamed, causing Robert to giggle and blush for several minutes. And then-- then-- he referred to the women in the audience, all about my age, as cougars. Oh my lord. I'm officially a cougar. Ouch.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parenting Seminar, Week Four

Hoooo-weeee. We had a doozy of a class Tuesday night. After feeling a little defeated and annoyed the week before, I was going in to the night's class with less enthusiasm than I had before. However, the topic was a good one for me-- we talked about moving beyond rewards and punishment with children. I have heard this theory before, and even tried to muddle through Alfie Kohn's book 'Unconditional Parenting' but I never really connected with the information. I got the theory behind it, which is, to empower your child (soon to be adult!) to find intrinsic value in having the power to make the choices they need to be responsible people in the world. By rewarding and punishing you are teaching your child to value consequences and rewards over relationships and it takes away from their power to understand what the real issue is.


The main idea that we focused on were not rewards or consequences, but SOLUTIONS. Solutions that need to be related to the problem, reasonable and respectful of the child. Sometimes solutions can be consequences, in an example like, your child gets upset and throws something, then they need to come and help clean it up. That's a logical, related and reasonable consequence. However, if your child throws something and then you yell at them and send them to their room-- the consequence it designed to "hurt" the child but not to help them understand what they did wrong, how to make it right, and how to do it differently next time.


We discussed that when punishment has the outcome we would like, what you get is a child stops the behavior-- but even in this best-case scenario, that's all you end up with. You don't have a child that has learned anything, or who feels respected, or really (when you think about) has a true desire to not do it again-- other than being fearful of being punished. I think we can all agree that in most cases we don't want our children to operate simply out of fear of punishment. Of course, I would venture to say that likely many of the parents in my generation, and certainly generations before mine, were raised this way. It's extremely difficult to break out of the mold of the way that children have been raised for many, many years. Unconditional parenting is time-consuming and requires a great deal of thought, but the rewards are immeasurable.

The other side of this is rewards. Like many people I know, I have tried sticker charts with my kids. It really didn't work for us, something I have lamented on more than one occasion. Some kids respond extremely well to sticker charts-- that is, they do what they are supposed to do, earn a sticker for doing so, and then, when they accumulate enough stickers, they get a prize! Wee! Sounds great, right? Well, let's turn the table. Let's say your spouse said to you "honey, every night you make dinner this month I'll give you a sticker! THEN when you have enough stickers you'll get any prize you want!" Sit for a moment and think about this. Do you still feel like making dinner? Do you feel valued for your contribution? Probably not. You may really, really love the prize you'll get, but the enjoyment and value of doing that task is completely gone. Rewards, like punishments, are a quick means to an end, but they aren't teaching our children anything but to work for an extrinsic motivation. The goal should be, instead, to help our children become intrinsically motivated. No small task, right?

That last main lesson that I will leave you with (though I have plenty more!) is to stay calm. Our children mirror our actions, not our words. We need to model calmness, to keep our lids from being flipped, so to speak (from my first parenting class that I wrote about HERE). There are different ways to practice this. You can make a plan. If you know that certain behaviors "flip your lid" then make a plan-- write it down and post it on your wall!-- and then you have something to refer to to help you through those hard times without freaking out. If you have your partner in the house at the time, you can ask him/her to step in and help you while you cool down. You can put yourself in a "time out". Say to your child "I'm really upset about this, I need to go sit down for three minutes and breathe before I can come back and deal with it". Even just visualizing the idea that I posted after my first seminar-- imagine keeping your lid closed. Hold up your hand with your fingers curled over your thumb as a reminder! You can teach your child the hand sign for keeping your lid closed and practice it together.

So I have been practicing some of these this week. I am in no way saying that I've become a perfect parent or that I'm under the impression my children have somehow become magically well-behaved overnight. It's just an instance that I used the tools I learned and it worked. Who knows for next time? We have a little problem in our house, I'll try to explain without being too gross. Sometimes when Iris uses the potty she doesn't flush. Then sometimes she doesn't put the lid down. Then, sometimes, when our dog notices this, she, um, steals things out of the toilet. I am sure your imagination how disgusting of a mess this makes. When I discovered that this happened I immediately wanted to start screaming. YUCK!!!! Instead, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and walked to the living room and let Iris know she needed to help me clean it up. I got us gloves, sponges and a bottle of bleach spray. She sprayed the floor and toilet seat, wiped, and then dried off the floor when it was clean. And then you know what she did? She got a huge smile across her face. She was proud that she helped and I think it made an impression on her. When we were done she was happy, I was happy, the mess was cleaned up by more than just me and life went on. I taught Iris the lesson about this one thing without yelling, without punishing and without getting mad or making Iris mad.

I would love to hear your examples of moving beyond rewards and punishment for your kids. What has worked? What hasn't?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

How do I love my parenting partner? Let me count the ways.

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Love and partners!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing about how a co-parent has or has not supported us in our dedication to natural parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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So I'm sitting here, at my computer, a mere 1 hour and 20 minutes before the submission deadline to join in February's Natural Carnival of Parenting. Procrastinate much?

To be honest, this a really easy one. I have a kick ass parenting partner in my husband, Matt. I could extol his virtues in the ways he supports me all day long and still not run out of examples of the way he's stood by me (or gotten out of my way, as sometimes the case may be!)

For a little history, when I became pregnant with Iris, our five year old, Matt and I weren't in a committed relationship, and we weren't until Iris was close to six months old. Not that Matt had NO say in how things were handled at that time, but being a single mama for a while, I quickly fell in to my comfort zone of doing things my own way without discussion, agreement or interference from anyone else.

To a certain degree, I would say that is about how things still work in terms of the parenting choices we have made. I pretty much discovered what basic parenting style was going to work for me, which has been natural birthing, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, blah blah blah, and Matt has supported that. I can honestly say that I've never come right out and asked Matt if he agreed with those parenting choices, but given that my convictions were so strong, and that he didn't really care either way, and I feel like (or at least choose to believe) he saw the benefit of the choices I felt very strongly about. For the most part I was/am the one reading the books, doing the research, talking to friends/family/doctors, visiting message boards, so I had quite a list of reasons why I chose to do things the ways I did-- but Matt trusted, and still trusts, me. For me that's what it all boils down to, is that I have a husband who doesn't undermine my decisions, even when they are crazy and outlandish seeming, he has never raised a serious concern. To my recollection the one thing I can remember Matt disagreeing with me on was the issue of vaccinating our girls. I don't think we'll ever see eye-to-eye on it, but even then, it was something Matt knew I had my convictions about and he was/is okay with letting me make that final decision.

Not only does my husband support my choices, but his eyes never glaze over when I launch in to dissertations about why I think something should be done a certain way. He might already agree with me, or even just not care, but he still listens. He has always given me his attention when I need to talk about the most random of parenting issues, even when they are as mind-numbing as rattling on about something I read on a message board one day or about how some random parent was doing some random thing. I mean, NO ONE cares about this stuff, but he always acts like he does.

So hopefully I've gotten the point across how many buckets of awesome my husband is for supporting without question my parenting decisions, but here's the other MAJOR thing: my husband 110% supports my desire to be a stay-at-home mom and does everything in his power to make it work and is committed to continuing to do so as long as I want to be in this role. He has never, not ONCE, come home from a long day at work to a disgusting house and sneered "what did you DO all day?!". He fully understands what life is like for me as a SAHM-- at least in the way that he knows I'm not sitting at home dusting bookshelves and cleaning baseboards all day long. He knows how hard I work parenting our girls and being our family administrator and he knows that also doesn't mean our house is spotless all of the time (or geez, even most of the time!) and that our kids aren't perfectly behaved because I am some uber-mama all day long. My husband works his butt off for us but I don't think there is anywhere else he'd rather have me be than at home, where I love to be. It does take quite a bit of the stress off of him to have me home and handling all of those day-to-day activities that get lost in the shuffle of a busy work outside of the home lifestyle, but mostly, if I'm happy, he's happy.

It's true that like most couples, Matt and I have our fair share of issues, but in this way, in this one glorious way, he and I have a really lovely thing going for us. We are fantastic parenting partners. We can't put a piece of IKEA furniture together as a team to save our lives, but through every amazing parenting moment and pitfall alike, we can co-parent fluidly and gracefully.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated Feb. 9 with all the carnival links, and all links should be active by noon EST. Go to Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama for the most recently updated list.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

The perfect storm

Pardon my foul language, but oh my lord this morning's drop-off was a total clusterfuck.

It's not news to anyone who knows me in real life, follows me on twitter or reads my blog that separation been hard for Iris, and by extension, me. This morning when we got to school we were told that Iris's teacher had called in sick and the sub would be coming. Not terrible news in and of itself as Iris loves and trusts this sub because she is a mainstay in the school. But the sub wasn't coming for a while and the art teacher would fill in until she got there. I walked in to the classroom with Iris and there was no adult there, just parents filing in and out, overlapping enough when kids were dropped off to always have somewhat of an eye on things. I quickly realized there would be no quick drop-off for Iris like that-- she needs to attach to her teacher, or very occasionally to her best friend at school, so that I can leave every day. So I waited. Then the art teacher came about ten minutes later. Iris begged me to stay until either her best friend was there or the sub was there. I didn't know what to do because the art teacher had launched right in to circle time and I knew if I tried to leave Iris would flip out and completely disrupt class. I sat down and decided to wait some more.

The best friend never showed up. Shit. Once the circle time was done and the morning chapter of a book was read to the class the art teacher directed the kids to start on individual work. It was about 40 mins in to class at this point and I overhear the art teacher say to a student that the sub won't be there for over another hour. Whoops. I lean down and cheerfully say "okay Iris! It's time for me to go!" (inside going "please please please just be okay with me leaving!") and of course she started crying and begging me to stay. I try to reason with her, which never, ever works, but I was stuck and frustrated and sad. I looked around, the art teacher was working with some kids. I was standing with a sobbing Iris. Shit.

I had no idea what to do. Should I just leave her? She would run out after me. Should I take her home? That would pretty much solidify her refusing to ever come to school again. I decided to walk out of the classroom with her and take her to the director's office and ask for help. I sat out on the chairs outside of her office with Iris on my lap telling myself "don't cry when you open your mouth to talk" over and over (I later learned a better self-soothing phrase would have been "I'm calm and collected and I can handle this"). I asked the director to help me with Iris and she put her arms around her and shuffled her off to class while Iris screamed "mommy!". I walked out of school with my head down to keep everyone from bearing witness to the stream of tears running down my face. I was sad. And freaked out. And dejected. I wanted to run back and grab Iris and I knew I couldn't, or shouldn't.

A sobbing mess, I immediately grab my phone and called my dear friend, who also happens to be going to school to become a family therapist. She listened. Offered great advice. Comforted me. I hung up and left a message for Iris's therapist. I eventually calmed down and later heard from the school's director that Iris had, as well.

It felt like one of those situations where every single piece was wrong and there was nothing there for Iris to hold on to and feel comforted by at school. Even on the very best of days she has a difficult time separating from me, and this was like, 100 times harder. It was all a matter of chance and bad luck-- certainly no one is to blame, it was a stressful morning for everyone involved, but Iris, nor I, had the tools to deal with it effectively. We were both lost and floundering with the upheaval of the routine we usually face at school drop-off.

I'll be meeting with Iris's therapist on Wednesday to brainstorm ideas for what to do should this ever happen again and just how to make a game plan in general. I am hoping to eventually have a sit down with Iris's teacher and the school director to talk about what's going on with Iris's separation anxiety and make sure we're all a unified time in helping her with it.

As I sat having coffee with my therapist student friend today, I said "I'm not a confident parent" and I'm just not. I'm never convinced I'm making the right choices for my kids. I struggle knowing that some of Iris's anxiety comes from me not having the strength and conviction that she needs to feel safe in the world.

I later posted on my Facebook status: Motherhood isn't for wimps.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Forced Separation

I swear, half the time I think Matt and I should just separate and each take a kid-- solely to keep them apart from each other. I have absolutely ZERO skill at helping my kids to get along. Hell, I would even take not screaming at and beating on each other at this point.

I know there are theories that siblings who are all filled up on their parents are better able to get along, so along those lines, I expected Iris to be a perfect angel this afternoon. You see, I spent the morning out with Iris visiting the art museum, having lunch and then hitting the toy store (complete with letting myself get suckered in to buying toys that I never planned to). Eloise spent the morning with some a friend.

So, Iris and I got home, followed quickly by Eloise, and her friend, being dropped off. Iris has proceeded to spend the entire afternoon calling her sister names, hurting her, screaming at her, refusing to let her play . . . it's incredibly obnoxious. A few times at the park I had to have Iris go sit down in a time out so I could focus on Eloise and her friend.

I have no idea what to do about their sibling relationship. Sometimes it's awesome and they get along really well, but even at those times, it's often because Eloise is letting herself be bossed around by her big sister.

The kicker is, of course, that both of my girls are just little dolls when we are with them one-on-one.

Has anyone else been struggling with this?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Third parenting seminar class

Last night I attended my third parenting seminar class. While the information I am learning is overwhelmingly positive, I become less and less a fan of the teacher as the classes wear on. I found her to be down-right condescending at times, which was quite off-putting. Last night she made a snide remark to Iris's teacher and I kind of wanted to punch her in the face over it. She also told a parent, I kid you not, that the parent's 3 1/2 yo child needed to get an allowance to buy his own Thomas the Train socks.

The other thing that really bothered me was the instructor's response to a suggestion I gave that works for me. We were talking about disarming kids who were in the middle of having issues and I said that one thing I do is I sometimes start to fake cry and say "I'm hurting!" if Eloise says something hurtful to me or physically hurts me. 100% of the time she immediately smiles and comes over and hugs me to see if I'm okay and we carry on. SO-- when I said this to the class, the teacher basically responded as if the idea was ridiculous and said "you don't need to act like that, you can just say 'that hurt me'". I was like, oh, okay. Then as I sat with it I remembered in our very first class we spent a long time talking about how we shouldn't be doing things for our kids that they can do for themselves. When a child started screaming about wanting you to put her underwear on, for example, you can act like you have no idea where the underwear goes. On your head? On her head? On her arm? And act like you're totally incompetent so that the child realizes she needs to do it herself. So I'm sitting here thinking, you advocate going on and on with this long scenario of feigned incompetence with your child but I can't fake cry to quickly and effectively get my point across to my kid that I'm hurt? Hmmmm. Anyways. It has obviously bothered me. I feel like she has a really rigid set of criteria as to what is the best way to parent--and I do think, for the most part, that the ideas are right on, but sometimes am really left scratching my head.

But I digress. I have focused for most of the past 24 hours on a handful of annoyances, the class is incredibly helpful. The group is about 30 parents, mostly women, and holy cow are we a funny group. I swear someone is cracking a joke that gets the whole room laughing at least once every few minutes. But in a good way-- in an appropriate way. It feels so relaxed and like we all are truly in it together.

In last night's class we did a bunch more role-playing and it was fun because I definitely learn the most from either being a role-play or watching other parents in one. We didn't discuss a whole lot of new information and we didn't get any hand-outs, just built off of the last couple of weeks.

A few ideas really jumped out at me, some suggestions that I want to try, are:

First, to spend an afternoon taking pictures of the girls doing all of their steps to their night time routine, get them printed and then put them up on a poster, labelling the steps. Our instructor talked about letting the routine be the boss and I feel like, with my kids, the more I can follow a routine the better off we all are. The problem is, I am sooo not a routine person. I do very little in a routine of my own volition, but it does help my girls. So, we'll make a poster that we can always refer back to (and refer back to again and again and again!).

The second thing was one little nuance of language-- when you need your child to do something, like get on her shoes, one of the tools that mostly works in our family is to give her a choice: "do you want to wear your boots or your crocs?" but I can add on "it's your choice" to the end to really let her know SHE is in control of make the choice she wants. These kinds of choices give children a level of control within the confines of what needs to happen. We need to get out the door to go to school, but it can make that happen with input from my child on how it's going to work out.

And lastly, to remember the idea of "connecting then correcting" my children. Children are acting out because they are looking for connection, so the best thing I can do as a parent is provide them with the connection they are striving for before attempting to correct the behavior.