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My Own Mortality

At C'est Naturelle
Levi, like most kids, knows exactly what to do on a farm. He runs around and chases chickens!

It went like this.

Me: “I’m sorry you had a bad dream about the Dinotrux last night.”

Levi: “I don’t remember that one. I had a dream that you died.”

Me: “I’m sorry… ”

Levi: “And Daddy got married on a boat.”

Me: “Where was I?”

Levi: “You were dying a few years after I was born. And, I was getting a new mommy.”

Me: “Well, was your new mommy nice?”

Levi: “I don’t know, I hadn’t met her yet.”

Levi was so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Like it was the most natural thing in the world for me to be dead, for Peter to remarry, and for him to get a new mommy.

I was surprised we were having this conversation. A few months ago the conversations were more in line with Levi pleading for me to not die, and that he was afraid I would. And, now suddenly for him to have this Zen like awareness of the changes of life was … interesting.

Mostly though, it’s made me reflect on my own mortality  I have sort of assumed, bad habits and all, that I’ll make it through to his high school graduation. That is, I plan to live to at least 49. I have some vague idea that I’ll be around to help coach him through the troublesome twenties. I am curious if he will have a partner and offspring of his own. I’m curious what they will be like, and if I’ll like them. I’m curious if we will be a close family into Levi’s adult years. I’m curious if we’ll be in the same city, or will Levi do as Peter and I have done and move across continents so that family excursions become the annual vacation.

Foam Core Art
Levi making his sign

I’ve never considered, seriously, that I won’t be around for those happenings. It’s not like my family is unaware of dying young. So, I don’t realistically count it out. Anything could happen… my poor habits could catch up with me, and I could become diabetic and die of disease related conditions. I could make a wrong turn or not pay attention when I’m driving and get hit in a horrible accident. I could be standing outside and a freak lightening bolt could zap me into nothingness. I don’t know when my number is up, but I’ve assumed it’s far away. I’m hoping my genes are more in line with my mother’s and that I live into my 80s.

I have plans for when I’m in my 70s. I’ll be retired. I’m going to move back to Portland (at some point we’re going to have to move out of Portland). I’ll get a nice condo-apartment downtown, either near where I now work or near the museum. My first volunteer priority will be as a docent at the museum. I’ll sign up to audit classes at PSU. I’ll take the streetcar or walk to the farmer’s market to get my weekly groceries.

But what if that is all just that… a dream. What if Levi’s dream is more a premonition. What if I’m dying more rapidly now than what I assume? What if I don’t make it until he’s in first grade? How does that change my view of things?

Operating under premise that I’ll make it into my 70s, I postpone crafts and reading with Levi. I pawn off walks to the park to Peter. I try to balance both Levi, Peter, and all my work and volunteer obligations. I choose to make bread and answer emails instead of chatting with my family.

But, what if I didn’t have this dream of time? What would I do?

I don’t want to focus on that what if. So, I think I’ll do as I’m doing… try, very hard to be present. I think this works 70% of the time, during the week. Focus on getting us ready in the morning, set Levi off to school, then, go to work. I can mostly focus on work while I’m at work, but household and parental things always crop up. After I work, I try to concentrate on driving, then getting Levi. Once I get Levi, we have two hours to ourselves. That two hours, though, is filled with a quick dinner between 6p and 7p. Then, it’s get ready for bed time. I try to have Levi in bed by 8pm, sometimes it’s just after – like tonight.

Is that quality enough? He can’t be up later than that or he’s miserable at school the next day. I do have obligations, no matter when my number is up, and I can’t work on an unknown.

So, really, what we’re left with is sadness over the concept. It makes me sad to consider that I might not be there to watch him grow. It makes me sad to consider I might not be able to be his advocate  It makes me sad to consider that some new mommy might be tucking him in and reading him books. It makes me sad to think there might be a different family getting his first pet and teaching him how to care for another. It just makes me sad. And, it makes me sadder how nonchalant he was about the whole thing, while at the same time I admired the zen like quality of this view of a new mommy.

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Growing Up Is Hard to Do

It’s happening again. That is, we’re having troubles at school. I have lost count, now, how many times we’ve interacted with the principal and his kindergarten teacher over behavior. The behavior started out as not sitting still and not keeping his hands to himself. The behavior progressed to hitting, PUNCHING and HITTING classmates. It sounds like it’s impulse control or acting out instead of using his words when he’s mad or frustrated. It sounds like it’s developmental. Regardless, no one is really happy with the situation, and we’ve called in the professionals.

It’s all matching up with what I’ve read. It’s like I’m living the labeling theory but for school administrators instead of for my son.

Let’s understand one thing first. Hitting and not controlling aggressive behavior is unacceptable.

Let’s get another thing straight. Sequestration or punishment without assessing triggers is equally unacceptable.

Levi has gone from play based learning to rigorous academia, wildly criticized at being a mismatch for boys. And it is especially frustrating for our kinetic learner. When he’s bored and uninterested in a subject, he acts out. The behavior is treated with sequestration or alone time with an adult. It gives him attention and reinforces the bad behavior.

The first time we were called, like last year when we were told our son did these terrible acts, our first thought was, “That’s not our son!” Last year Levi’s offenses included choking two boys and repeatedly locking himself in the bathroom. Our popular boy turned into the new kid, and he wasn’t adjusting well and the teachers didn’t know what to do. It was also unclear what they wanted from us. We are at work when these incidents occur. We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face at home, but this stuff is happening at school. So, what about the environment is enabling this behavior?

Levi turned around at the half-year mark, around his 5th birthday (according to Gesell, going from disequilibrium into equilibrium). The rest of the year was fine.

Now, we are in disequilibrium again. Again, we’re at a new school. And, again, he’s acting out. Our little boy, who used to be the receiver of aggressive acts, is now being witnessed hitting another boy with a plastic bowling pin and punching his classmates when frustrated.

A friend said to me, “Michelle, this screams environment.”

I know. I know it does. But, we can’t afford the $10,000 a year tuition (for NINE months no less) at the nearest Montessori. It’s amazing how limited our educational opportunities are given how abundant they feel in this metro area of more than 2 million people.

(At the same time, my boss has the audacity to state that I don’t know stress. Admittedly, before I told him what was going on. But, seriously.)

So, why is our son, now in his third school NOT using his words when he knows he should? Why is he taking his friend’s arm to hit another friend when he’s bored in music or Spanish? Why is he losing interest in PE at the point when the other kids finally get the game, then going off to make his own rules and disrupting the natural order the teacher (and students?) want?

Recently, I had a conversation with a sustainability specialist. He got into sustainability after spending years in behavioral change. He mentioned this story after I admitted I want gentle pushes, mocking servant leadership, to make a green society because I have found that behavior change is too hard. He said to me that he has found the same. Instead of bending someone’s stubborn behavior, we have to make the environment work for what we are asking. So, if we’re asking people to recycle instead of throw things away, we need to put the recycling next to the trash, not down the hall.

To find out how we put the good behavior choices next to my son, we have hired an behaviorist  The behaviorist was referred to me by my chiropractor. (The one who diagnosed my thyroid problems pre-blood tests.) The first thing the behaviorist suggested was taking Red Dye out of our son’s diet. So, we did. Then, he had the best three days of the year. This was followed by Gummy Bear treats and two more aggressive days, which while unfortunate proved to my husband why we are calling in the experts.

The first observation date is scheduled for November 8th. I am concerned that we are going to drop between $400 and $2,000 to teach teachers and administrators about reasonable expectations. Yes, I recognize it’s all for the greater good, but it’s no less frustrating.

Onward, we go.



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Tuesday, May 22nd

Birthday Cupcake Ideology (Photo credit: alexis22578)

I have moved the computer to the kitchen. One light bulb is out, and the orange glow in our soon to be outlawed incandescent lights is disturbing my visual field. The dishes need to be put in the dishwasher. The floor still needs to be mopped. We have grocery bags that don’t have a great home, scattered among the chairs. Levi is in bed, whining for his squeezy bottle.

Tonight was one of those interesting parental evenings, where the child needs some semblance of attention and is manifesting that want in ways that are not comprehensible to the parent (me).

I picked the child up from school tonight, thankful for a low traffic night in this resurgence of rain and 60 degree weather. He was waiting, coat on, backpack on. As soon as I got to the door he was there with his teacher. A far cry from the night before where I could not find them. They ran an errand just as I arrived. Mind you, I was pushing the 6:00 clock pick up with my 5:58pm arrival. (I’ve been sick; I was trying to nap.) So, tonight, arriving twenty minutes earlier, they were ready for me in more ways than one.

The child was fairly pleasant. He removed his backpack immediately upon my arrival, claiming he now needed to get his snack. (I usually let him get it out after we get settled in the truck.) This was an amusing feat, regardless, for myself and his two teachers. I signed him out, and we resettled his backpack.

All was chipper.

We were low on a few grocery items that I don’t procure from my buying club (cheddar cheese, sour cream, yogurt, pasteurized milk, deli meats), so we ventured en route to the nearest grocery store.

The child continued with his chipper, playful, obedient mood. All this, to the pleasure of his mother (me).

We have an uneventful trip at the crowded grocery store, collect our items, and a new toy, and head out. The grocery store trip was accompanied by the 5-year-old being able to ride on the cart (in ways store staff don’t always approve) most of the trip. I was comfortable with this mode of transport as it 1) let me know where the 5-year-old is always and 2) kept him occupied in a pleasant way. All tactics aid to keeping the 5-year-old chipper, avoiding meltdowns, and allowing said child to remain obedient. All these things make mother pleased.

Once we are loaded into our car, backed out of the parking light, where full-trendy-grocery store parking dances commence (the car next to us pulls out, another pulls in, we pull out, another pulls in behind us, while dancing around drivers who quickly turned to pedestrians whilst navigating said parking lot and dance), and on the road — I tell the 5-year-old what’s for dinner. It goes something like this:

“So, when we get home, we’ll have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. Okay?”

“Ooh, and I can have gold-fish crackers too!” replies the now excited 5-year-old.

“Yes! You can have gold-fish crackers with your grilled cheese sandwich.” I assure the 5-year-old, relieved that tonight, we can forego the nightly dinner argument.

Fast forward to being home, having groceries put away, the 5-year-old watching a Barney-Thomas the Train-Bob the Builder DVD on loan from the library, me grilling the sandwiches away. (Mine is more gourmet adorned with the deli meat and swiss cheese).

Note: Our microwave broke several weeks ago, beyond repair. We are down to a puny heel of bread. I brought two, very frozen loaves up from the deep freeze. They are now (3 hours later) thawed to a usable stage.

I let his small, grilled cheese sandwich cool, cut in half, on a plate while mine finishes. I mention to the 5-year-old that his grilled cheese sandwich is nearly done. I will even let him eat in the living room. (I don’t want arguments. I want easy dinner time which should transfer to easy bedtime.)

I hear no reply and mistake (yes, mistake) that for continued acceptance of before mentioned and vetted dinner menu. The gold-fish crackers have already been consumed.

The 5-year-old walks to the kitchen. The 5-year-old notes that these are indeed grilled cheese sandwiches.

“But, I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Grilled cheese is too dirty!”

Get it? Grilled cheese is toasted, crumbly bread, after it is grilled appropriately. It makes more crumbs than a fresh loaf of bread (one that is not available due to our no-microwave-fresh-from-the-freezer-state of bread).

I insisted that this indeed for dinner. After a 10-20 minute whine-fest in his room, the 5-year-old comes out. (The rule is that the living room and kitchen are more or less “happy zones”, any other inconsolable fit must be had in his room. He is allowed to return when he is in a better mood. We have found this to be a good tactic toward self-soothing.)

He says, “I can eat the grilled cheese sandwich in the living room, right?”

Ah, the life of a parent. It’s never-ending, unpredictable roller-coaster ride of developing minds.

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Working Mom

But Mommy's coffee works there?
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Whenever I describe work, I now say, at “work” or “my work”. Always in quotes. Because I’m a mom. I’m always working. Even when I’m not working, I’m working.

It was a dual identify and dream. I want to be a mom to do things differently than my mom did. I want to be a mom to share the culture I learned, the experiences I have, and the joy I see with another burgeoning being. Once I became a mom it was seeing joy through another’s eyes. Spiders, for example, really are cool. And, tonight, I learned that you can be popcorn by crawling off a share, crouching down to heat up, then jumping up and down.

But, I always wanted a career. Figuring out my purpose in life has been central to my existence. I have not done things because I couldn’t figure out how they coincided with my belief system. What does it mean to be Catholic? Why should I get confirmed? Why do I want this Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy Degree or later, this Social Science major with a minor in Sustainable Urban Development? What will this learning provide? What skills should I get to do what I want? What do I want?

The idea of becoming a mother flowered for a small while during my twenties, but it passed onto other things. The thought was consumed with school, my ideas for a career, and simply me. Add those years onto my growing up years, and most of my life has been centered around … well: me. My self. Self. What I want, and how I am going to make it work.

During my final year at Portland State, while I was beginning to learn how to be a wife and figuring out what it means to be a mother, I started looking for career type jobs. I knew what I wanted to focus on, but I didn’t know what that would look like. I applied for jobs both of which I was over and under-skilled. While I was enjoying a summer of gardening, reading for pleasure, and starting some volunteer opportunities, the housing market crashed.

I took the path I took not because it was the most efficient for a career, but rather having a career I can believe in is the most important thing when thinking of this concept of paid work. With the market crash, I couldn’t find paid work. So, I learned how to work at home. I started a play group, remembered how to make bread, figured out for a time how to feed my family on $3 per person per day (we should get back to that margin but haven’t). We visited the library, we read, we sorted legos, we played. We went on bike rides as a family, played on the slides at the park, and went for long walks around the block with our then 18 month old. We took pictures and videos and knit them together for family across the continent.

The work really comes in though in the staying up, tending to the moods, figuring out the owies, deciphering the language, constantly explaining, framing, repeating. The work is in thinking how to start the day to accomplish what you need to accomplish, again navigating the moods, the particularities, the unexpected.

With my career goals in mind, I’m always reluctant to say not to a project that can further that goal. So, the multitude of hat wearing is magnified. I was a volunteer for a hot-line. I volunteer for the church. I volunteered to write, edit, and design a book. This on top of the volunteering I did as a housekeeper, laundress, chef, and child care provider. Bouncing between play dates, volunteering, and making bread and dinner. And, as if I wasn’t busy enough: I helped start a food buying club, an organization that has flourished into a business of sorts with aspirations of community organizing.

So, I’ve always been a working mom. Now, I just go someplace else for a while and get paid for my time there. I have linear responsibilities that offer a reprieve from the sometimes chaos of home life with unpredictable preschool needs. (Some days blueberries are yummy but don’t count on them 3 days in a row. Day 3 might result in a meltdown with their suggestion.) My Midwest work ethic encourages me to stay longer at work and try to minimize the projects in the in box, but familial demands call out too.


What is it really? It’s “work.”

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Me at Work

Eating lunch.
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

This post is for Kristina who commented that she would like to see a more elaborate post of me at work.This post will represent a mix of both the hoped for norm (now currently served twice a week) and the norm.

Wake up at 4:15am, make the husbands lunch. Wish the husband off well, make coffee, make mine and Levi‘s lunch. This time usually takes between 30 minutes and an hour depending on how much puttering on the Internet I do.

At 5:00am wake up Levi, turn the TV on, set out banana for his breakfast. Ask him if he’d like a banana or yogurt. Get workout bag prepped with towel, flip flops, make up bag, and wrinkle-proof work clothes. Get Levi’s going-to-school bag ready with a few extra changes of clothes and his lunch. Prep my lunch bag that also doubles as snacks-for-Levi-in-the-car bag. If you have any hints on some chewy but not noisy kids bars (from Azure), please let me know.

At 5:30pm check on kiddo, try again to wake him up. This time leaving on the light, giving him more kisses. On good days he would have woken up on his own at 4:45am. Jump in shower.

Notice I haven’t had my coffee or my breakfast. I like to have eggs at this stage and pack oatmeal in brown sugar with raisins for work, for after the work out.Hopefully Levi has gotten up whilst I was showering.

Leave the house between 6:30am and 6:45am. This is a flexible time with the best time leaving the house, thus far in this new pattern, being 6:47am. We take the northern route to avoid most traffic. As long as there hasn’t been any land slides or train derailments, it’s a good ride. Fewer cars means less stress, means a more manageable ride to work.

Between 7:00am and 7:15am, drop off kiddo at school. Put his items away: water bottle on table, sheet and blanket and rabbit in cubby, coat and bag on hook, lunch in kitchen, kiddo in the drop-off-the-kids-before-school-really-starts classroom.

Arrive at work, signal arrival to co-worker/gym-accountability partner. Work out for an hour and 15 minutes including getting ready for work.

Arrive to work. Drink coffee portioned out in adult-sized sippy cup otherwise known as a travel mug. Remove items from bag. Planner to the left, files up and right or left, pending need. Tuck bags under desk, remove oatmeal and food items that need to be refrigerated. Make oatmeal, return to desk. Log onto computer.

Open planner, change date. If it’s a Monday, mark next Monday three-weeks out with clear page finder. Assess appointments, make task list. Check coworker calendars. Check email. Browse through email for missing tasks.

Work Snapshot
Work Snapshot. A snapshot of how my "virtual" work space normally looks.

Begin day.

The day includes an assortment of things like getting items done on the task list which includes writing, making appointments, arranging events, data entry, mailing, making copies, sitting in meetings. I’ll peck away at my task list, get interrupted, adjust the task list, and go on. I keep a lot of things in my head (input strength), although I certainly have my limits. It’s great that there is a lot of cross-meetings to help keep people on top of things. Occasionally, I even remind people of where they need to be.

If it’s Tuesday, we’ll have Lunch Club, where a group of people agree to make a meal a week for those who participate. This is a good social time and allows some fun food creativity. After lunch, I resume the task list.

I never used to be so task oriented. It started several years ago, really back in high school, and morphed into its current form through trial and error and being introduced to Franklin Covey. They have a good handle on what works and some nice tips on how to frame your day. Encouraging, the whole way, to plan your day so you control the controllables and set yourself to manage interruptions gracefully.

When the day is done, I put everything away, restart the computer, and pack up my bags. I collect the kiddo, which takes about 20 minutes, and then we head home, usually going back the way we came. He will ask for an assortment of snacks which will either be answered with here are your two choices or I’m sorry I don’t have anything else.

End the portion of the day where it’s “Me at work.” Now begins the “Me at home” where the next tasks include making dinner, doing laundry, reading and putting the kiddo to bed.

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The Simple Life

Hiding with rabbit.
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I should probably say the simple-ish life. My husband commented tonight how much he appreciates our modest lifestyle. I absolutely agree.

Where we are not modest: we own three cars, we have two computers, we own a digital camera, we eat out monthly, we like to buy things like tools and books. I’m sure a simpler person could comment on all our lavish luxuries, but I’ll focus on those.

The cars, first, are all paid off. Two are identical in color, year, make, model. One was purchased as a parts car a few years after we purchased the first as wedding gift to ourselves. The third was a vehicle my husband needed at the time, so he splurged on something he wanted. He made the last payment on the modest loan a year before we got married.

We live in a 966 sq ft house on a 50’x 100′ lot. It is more cluttered inside than I like, and it’s not as cluttered as what my husband is used to. The funny thing is, we both have places of employment where our work spaces are nearly pristine and free of clutter. I feel a splurge on shelving/organizing tools could be beneficial for the home life. But, regardless, it is modest. I am using the $10 desk purchased before I met my husband, which is on a computer that I bought myself before I met my husband that has been swapped with parts from my father in law and redone with Ubuntu. Read: re-purposed computer with open source software. The digital camera was a gift. Our cell phones are hand-me-downs. Our table, that we love, was a Goodwill special that came with six chairs.

It would be a lie to say we don’t aspire to nicer things. But, we’re trying to keep our priorities in check by making sure my husband has the tools he wants/needs for work before his student discount goes away. We’re trying to keep those priorities in check by paying off my school loans a little bit at a time.

Much of the clothing for us or our son is gifted, from volunteer events, or second hand stores. (Save things like the Drunken Prayer t-shirt my husband must have.)

Lately, my husband has been riding his bicycle to work, which means Levi and I have been taking the car instead of the SUV. We’ve been taking the non-freeway route as it offers fewer encounters with other cars. These steps lessen daily stress. These steps encourage not wanting more. (Although, I do crave a VOLT if GM would get them out to the mass market.)

Levi got birthday/Christmas money. We haven’t let him spend it all in one spot. First, how many toys does a kid really need? Second, I received different budgeting lessons as a kid, but I want to make sure Levi’s are more obvious. So, we’ll stagger the spending.

Our neighbors use small space much more efficiently than we do. But, we certainly don’t really crave or seek the new tv, tivo, dvd, extra special system. I think in part it’s due to our location where thrift in many ways is more celebrated. This is one of my fears when we go back to Michigan (read: five year plan) – that the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality will seep into our subconscious and consume. Instead of getting tvs for free, as I have historically done, will we find ourselves wanting to purchase one?

I sure hope not. I hope we can remember the stress-less-ness of this supposed simple life.

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Eventful – Managing Stress & Balance

Sisters by Blood & Marriage
Sisters by Blood & Marriage (Image by alexis22578 via flickr)

This is me decompressing. Writing. This is me thinking about the kitchen that I would like tidied, the floors swept, and bread to make tomorrow. This is me thinking about the new tasks I’ll be asked to perform at work. This is me anticipating the challenge. This is me trying to embrace the details and think of organization that will work for me so that I don’t lose the details. This is me, the one who’d rather be in bed, reading.

The next several months will prove to be interesting if nothing else.

I caught Gabrielle Hamilton interview with Charlie Rose the other night. She’s the recent author of Blood, Bones & Butter, a book many local foodies have recommended. She told Charlie in response to a balance question that she gave that up long ago. One day the restaurant got the best of her. The next day her family got the best of her. And, the day after that, her writing got the best of her.

To me, that is a sort of balance. When I define balance, I don’t mean every day in perfect proportion. In fact, that’d make me crazy. I mean, my time is devoted to everything that demands it in ways where needs are met. That means Levi gets the attention he needs. That means my husband gets the attention he needs. It means my paid work gets what it needs, while my volunteer projects get what they need. My volunteer projects and work are in part for me – but the thing I often forget about – is me. This is something many mothers claim as a trait. So, lastly, ensuring I get what I need.

This means raising self-awareness within myself and my family. It means realizing, recognizing, and enforcing boundaries. Balance, to me, is learning all those things and more.

I am excited to see how the next few months will challenge me. I need a new challenge. This is when you should be careful what you wish for.

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Parental Gray Areas

Levi's 4th Birthday

There is so much in parenting, for me, that is a gray area. Even when it comes to time outs. I live on the fence in many other areas of life, so why not in parenting too? Yes, we have our rules. Yes, we implement boundaries. We are known as the stricter parents in our small circle of friends. Regardless, I find this constant balancing of when to say yes, no, and tomorrow, very interesting and especially challenging.

We just got back from vacation (more to follow on that front). We visited family, friends, and especially cousins. Levi has three. A new baby girl, an almost three year old girl, and a four going on five year old boy. Reyna, Owen and Levi spent at least 6 days interacting, 3 of which were full days. Levi loves his cousins. He got on especially well with Reyna.

Levi got to know his grandparents even more. His Grandma Lasley was like a permanent playmate. She played trains, legos, and toured her yard with him. How much fun is that? Your own personal playmate, dedicated to you, giving you undivided attention? All these people fawning, gushing, hugging, loving you – and then you come home.

We flew in last night. We were more or less settled at home by 9pm. Levi fell into a deep sleep in the 20 minute ride from the airport to home. He was so dead to the world, when Peter got him out of the car – he didn’t move or fuss or cry – or anything. This is an unusual feat. When I went to wake him up this morning, he sternly spoke, “Close the door!” Close the door? What? Usually this bug wants the door open. It was then I made my decision. We are staying home.

I did not tell him of my decision for a little bit. First, I consulted with the husband. Second, I continued to ready myself. I approached the small fry again, only to find similar disdain.

He’s four. He’s not thirteen. “Buck up and go on with life” is a lesson we will layer on. Now, is not the time. He’s been with his cousins twice in his entire life. I can still count on one hand the number of set visits he’s had with each grandparent. He’s four. When I was four, my grandparents were a staple in my life. We spent so much time with my cousins they were like extended siblings who simply lived in another house.

Yes, it was our choice to live across the country. But, my dear four year old doesn’t have to completely pay for our choices. So, enter Parental Gray Area. I chose to play in the gray line. I forgot to tell one person I wasn’t coming into work today, too, while in this gray area wondering if I was making the right choice. Family comes first, though. No matter what.

I find this gray area ironic since in many ways I like to or wish I could see things more black and white. So many things are clear. You cannot hit another person to express your frustration. That will get you a time out. There are ways we behave in the store and there are ways we do not. You will be removed from the store (when parental choice, that is the both of us are in the store) if you do not behave correctly. There is a way to behave at the dinner table, with friends, at school. If Levi chooses to deter from this path we’ve laid out, there will be consequences.

I do not believe this is corporal punishment. I believe this is an education into how the world works and a protection of my sanity. I cannot be the parent who coddles and manages and is gentle all the time. I try. I do. My husband asks me often if I am okay likely because I have the same guarded game face on all day long. Keeping opinions in check. Keeping thoughts in check. Giving the benefit of the doubt. Putting myself in the others shoes.

But so many things are not clear. Life is a negotiation. He needs to learn not to hit, to use his words, to be polite, etc – but all in one sitting? Learning is like peeling the layers of an onion or studying art history. You see the big picture first, then you spiral down until the details blur and clear up before your eyes. Putting myself in another’s shoes. Putting myself in my son’s shoes. Four. Missing all the glory of the last two weeks. Not understanding vacation times, job obligations for his parents, and why his visits were so short.

In these shoes, it was not fair for Levi to go to school today. Shocked, sad, frustrated that he could not visit longer with his cousins for circumstances beyond his control and perhaps his understanding. The gray area won out.

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Potty Training

Little Levi Sunshine
Peter reading a "Little Miss" book to Levi. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I blamed the frequent night-time urination for the reason we stopped using cloth diapers. But, in retrospect, I think it might have been the poop.

I hate poop.

Let me repeat myself.


Hate it. Really really hate it.

If it’s dried out in a bag labeled “steer manure”, I can dig it. A bag of bull shit is good for the tomatoes.

But poop, that you have to clean off with your hands, or a brush which in turn you need to clean off the brush with your hands. And, where do you put it all? It all doesn’t float all nicely in the toilet. Oh no. You have to scrub it. A lot. You have to treat it. You have to soak it.

Yes, in retrospect, I think it’s the poop. The poop is why I changed to disposable. I wanted the sanitized throw aways where my hands didn’t need to get near the poop. Sure, I soaked the cloth diapers – but after we were in Michigan for 4 weeks, something changed. My patience lessened, and I just couldn’t deal with it. Either way, we were looking at a cost for a bigger investment in cloth or a more expensive, easier to budget cost of disposables. We chose disposables, and this retrospect thinking encourages I pushed it for avoiding poop.

Now, enter potty training. Today, Levi is four years and six weeks old. He began potty training in 2009. He was 26 months old when he started. Right away, he picked up on the mechanics. Unfortunately, the daily ritual daycare provided only lasted two months. Exponentially, from when he left daycare, his interest in going potty declined. Peter and I, perhaps, expect too much of our young person, and we wanted him to feel the urges to go and go, right away. He knew the mechanics, so what’s the big deal? Oh, how short our memories are.

Confession. I still wet the bed until I was in 4th grade. I am not sure of my husband’s potty practices, except that I do know we both go when we have to go as adults. The whole definition of being “potty trained” I find interesting. Especially wrapped in with when I stopped wetting the bed. What does fully potty trained mean? Going to the bathroom on your own 90% of the time, even if 80% of the whole is under the guise of peer pressure and constant reminders to go? Does “fully” mean when we’re in adulthood and 99% of the time we are without accident? What does it mean when we age and we’re back in diapers? Does “potty train” simply mean an adult isn’t burdened with wiping our butts? How far does this spectrum go – because it is a spectrum!

Well, Levi would fall into the he knows the mechanics, but needs to be reminded constantly to listen to his body. We’ve been reassured countless times by peers and his pediatrician that he will go when he is ready. After year 3, bribes (stickers, candy, chocolates, other rewards) are moot. We are heeding part of this advice. After one of these poopy-in-the-underwear incidents, I asked Levi why he won’t go in the toilet. I had to reword this query three times. He answered my suspicions: he likes being changed. I don’t know what about it he likes. If the poop is on his bum longer than a minute, he breaks out in these awful hivy, localized bumps. The only cure is diaper cream and a baking soda bath. So, I proposed a bribe. If it’s quality time he wants, there are a million ways in which we can have better, more interesting, more fun, and less gross quality times. The standard should be one book a night before bed. So, every time he goes potty at home (at school he’s dry all day and often comes home in underwear), he will get an additional book added to the nighttime ritual. If he poops in the potty: two. So, if he pooped once and peed three times in the potty, he’d get an additional 5 books for six books total.

It’s been working. Now, mommy and daddy need to be consistent in the enforcing of this bribe. Right away, the reasons bribes don’t work was showcased as he tried to exploit the rule. He peed in his potty and turned around barely having his pants pulled up to pee again, AND, then said, okay that’s two books! No… one full incident. What a concept to explain!

We are still with accidents, but again, this whole thing is a spectrum. If we can just help encourage the listening to your body so he can poop in the toilet instead of his underwear…. well, that’d make my day.

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Mantra – What?

Levi Cooking
Levi Cooking

Breathe. No, don’t fume. Breathe. I had to give pause tonight as I tried to find parking near Papa Murphy’s. I’m a rule follower. I just am. And, I do get irritated when others don’t follow the rules. So, tonight, I found myself being tested by all the little tidbits I posted about yesterday. How’s that for Karma?

7:21 am – We made it out of the house! We have a choice: freeway or a different way. I asked Levi which way he wanted to go because, one I think it’s good to give him choices, and two, it is a lot easier than explaining sometimes why we’re going one way over another. Sometimes he gets confused if we don’t go over x bridge and y road, so – if we give him a choice, then it makes the explaining easier.

7:26 am – “Where’s Rabbit?” Not in the car, that’s where. I look about, and we’ve been cut off by the dude I was able to pass with the traffic stop lights. You know, the things that make traffic drip onto the freeway. We’re stopped. We haven’t even approached the next exit. “Let’s go get him. Where is he? Is Rabbit in your bed?” Yes. Get off freeway at next exit. Drive home.

7:30 am – Leaving the house for the second time. We are going to go the different way this time. Primed the small fry.

7:36 am – We approach the bridge. This is good timing.

7:50 am – We arrive at the pass.

7:59 am – We arrive at preschool.

8:02 am – Sign small fry into preschool. Go to room, drop off bag, remove coat, remove lunch from bag. Realize we forgot his picture which he was able to bring home yesterday as a nice thing since he’s been having a hard time leaving preschool now that we’ve gone full time. Walk out of preschool, into car, get picture. It’s bent. “Why’s it bent?” questioned in a whiny voice. Is this something I can console? “We can fix it.” Leave small fry with “collection classroom.” None of his classmates, namely his favorite classmate, have arrived. Small emotional frustration as we try to navigate this stream. Small fry finding something to do. Go back to classroom, leave picture.

8:10 am – Seated in car, car started, drive to work.

8:13 am – Log into computer at work.

— WORK —

4:02 pm – Time check. Should I wait about 20 minutes so small fry is able to do whatever the next afternoon task is that he will enjoy in order to ease the trauma of leaving preschool?


4:16 pm – Watch goes wonky. My wrist, bent, must have reset it. What the… ? Reset watch.

4:28 pm – Call preschool, inform them I am about 10 minutes out, so they can give adequate warning to small fry that mommy is coming.

4:37 pm – Sign out small fry. Slowly approach classroom. Notice the room is rearranged. Children seated in circle on letter rug being read too. Scan room, fill-in teacher, regular teacher, small fry next to wall. Small fry looks up, immediate melt down commences. Regular teacher picks him up to console. Small fry kicks feet. Feet are near miss to female classmate. Small fry is scolded by teacher (rightfully so) reminding him to be aware of himself (in words he should be able to understand) and a reminder of where his feet were in relation to female classmate’s face. Small fry and I go to moved “library.” Small fry wants to stay at school (again). He is sad and frustrated. No further information revealed. Possible fact finding, picking up immediately after snack could be beneficial. Possible realization, whatever activity they are beginning he wants to continue. As we read our own picked library book (Mike Mulligan‘s Steam Shovel, Levi, this is one of Elliott’s favorites), I notice his neck is red. He is breaking out in hives. Realization: shirt is changed but pants are not. More fact finding. Shirt was soiled. This was the only replacement.

4:58 pm – Make doctor appointment, change from hive-creating shirt to Grandma knitted bicycle sweater. Relief this was the easy task. Able to leave, get small fry in coat, finish packing up belongings. Play with trains. Re-convey late morning arrival to front office. Pack into car, check in with husband, take “different way” back home.

5:40 pm – “Different way” traffic jam commences. Check in with husband. Desire to cook black eyed peas has gone. Order pizza for dinner.

6:13 pm – Arrive home, convey day to husband.

6:22 pm – Pick up pizza. Arrive at another traffic jam (in pizza parking lot). Park one block away since people cannot follow the rules (parking in no parking, entering lot the wrong way, and my favorite, parking in a bus spot after entering the lot the wrong way). Wait patiently in line. Get pizza. Leave. Go back to car. Breathe. Remember that “Mantra” post you posted yesterday? What were those things you coached yourself?

Life has a sense of humor.

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