Thanks for all your support and encouragement following my last post, about my twins’ speech issues. Flying high with the momentum provided by your comments, I followed up with the intervention team, and we had a meeting on Friday. The news was good: the boys’ speech errors are age-appropriate, but they will be part of a group intervention in their classroom next fall.
(I don’t totally understand how their errors are age-appropriate but they still qualify for therapy, but I’m happy.)
Speech issues aside, my P has demonstrated significant growth recently. Since babyhood, he has been terrified of dogs. I don’t know why — he’s never had a traumatic encounter with a dog — but from the time he could walk, even a small dog resting quietly 50 feet away could reduce P to a screeching monkey, howling in fear and climbing my body like a tree.
This has made things like parades, trips to the park, walks in the neighborhood, and even playing in the yard, challenging and emotionally fraught.
We live two houses down from an enormous Irish Wolfhound mix named Max. He’s very calm and loves children, and his owner is patient when the children want to pet him for a long time. P has gradually worked up the nerve to pet Max, and now he stands there stroking Max’s giant head with this peaceful, dreamy look on his face, for as long as we let him.
Also, P has always been uncomfortable with the sensation of being lifted, and with the weightless, falling feeling you get in an elevator or on a ferris wheel, or when swinging on a swing. He’s afraid. He asks not to be pushed very high on the swing set, clings to us in elevators, and cried on a kiddie ferris wheel last summer until the operator stopped it. But several weeks ago, when a teenaged cousin offered him a piggy-back ride, he accepted. And when the cousin lifted P onto his shoulders, I started to rush to P’s rescue as his face blanched and his cheeks turned splotchy. But even as I started to say, “Wait! He’s afraid of…,” a brave little smile emerged. I watched in shock as my sweet boy held on tighter for two trips around the house, smiling the whole way.
He is opening like a flower, and I’m so lucky to sit back and watch him bloom.
The weather has been lovely here, and the children have had spring break. My boys know how to pump on a swing, but still beg for a “starting push” to provide a bit of momentum. As I pushed my 3-year-old and provided intermittent starting pushes for the boys, I realized this will probably be the summer they master the swing set, once and for all. By fall, I don’t imagine they’ll need my help with this.
It wasn’t long ago that pushing the boys on the swing set was my art form. The slow effort to get into cadence. The satisfaction in eventually gaining momentum, getting them going just right, the three of us in an intricate repetition like a train engine — me the coupling rod between the driving wheels moving in rhythm. But we’ve gotten smaller, my boys and I. We’re no longer the overbearing locomotive with our quad- or double stroller. They skim along on small red bikes with training wheels, which will probably come off this summer as well. And I follow behind, with my one unobtrusive toddler on her undersized plastic trike.
When my kids were babies, I felt like moms of older twin boys were somehow very different from me. It wasn’t only that their children were older, their lives easier — or less immediate. At the time I couldn’t identify what the difference was. But on a quiet afternoon, standing in the warm spot just outside the shadow of the swing set, I quickly understood how they differed from me:
They were harder.
I think I mean that in every sense of the word. They were the kind of moms who intimidated me. Loud, athletic, tough, seemingly self-assured, unafraid.
And now I understand that quite possibly their twin boys made them that way.
It was easy to hide behind my gigantic strollers and live in the immediacy of twin toddlers. But now my boys aren’t adorable mischievous babies. They are gangly 5-year-olds who will use any stick, crayon, or tube of chapstick as a gun or sword, and when they chase each other their laughing sounds like a pack of hooting monkeys. It is hard for me to be still and allow the behavior I have decided to allow, if that makes any sense. I find myself wanting to admonish them to sit down, be quiet, sit still, stop saying that, etc. But at the same time, I love their energy and exuberance, and if they can’t laugh and chase and hoot like wild monkeys when we’re at a park, then what has the world come to?
So, I raise my voice in public. I chase them down if I have to. I pretend none of it bothers me – that in fact my plan for the day included precisely this. 7:15 – Yell for chasing to remain within certain boundaries. 7:24 – Stop mulch fight. 7:27 – Physically restrain two children. 7:30 – Casually pack up following soccer practice and head to the minivan. Yes, all according to plan.
They’ve toughened me up. I’m still uncomfortable with the stares, but I pretend I don’t notice them as I wrangle my kids. It doesn’t feel like a well oiled machine, but I’m hoping we look the part.
The boys were cleaning their room, as I had asked. I was clearing the dinner dishes. I should have recognized the relative calm as the freakishly low tide just before a tsunami surges in.
I heard G, my firstborn twin, making his awkward way down the stairs, touching both feet on each step before descending. “Mom!” he shouted. “Mom! Phe is yeavin’! He is wunnin’ away!”
Sure enough, there was P on the steps with a bag of play food — two pretend pizzas and a foam orange. His feet were bare. He said he was leaving because I am always so mean. Apparently he’d resented the clean-up more than I’d realized.
I was calm. I told him I hoped he wouldn’t go, and I asked that he at least wait until tomorrow, since it was cold out. I opened the front door for him, and he stuck out his chubby hand. Feeling the northern Ohio chill, he decided he’d wait until tomorrow morning. I congratulated myself on having handled the situation so splendidly, and began hustling the kids up to bed.
Abruptly, P changed his mind. He grabbed his bag of play food and announced he was leaving, and that from now on he could be reached around the corner at his friend Timmy’s house. The other children commenced yelling and wailing. The chaos got the better of me, and I called his bluff.
“Fine. If you’re leaving tonight, it’s time to go,” I said. “Otherwise, you need to get upstairs and put on your jammies.”
“I’m yeavin’ tonight,” he said.
“All right. We’ll miss you,” I said, as I swung open the door.
As we stood on the threshold, 30 degree air flooding into the house, I felt a twinge of regret. I knew he wouldn’t leave, or if he did he wouldn’t go any further in his bare feet than the frigid sandstone sidewalk, but I shouldn’t have painted him into a corner.
“Won’t you please wait until tomorrow, at least?” I asked.
Grateful for an out, he agreed he would, and we headed upstairs where I found G huddled against the wall, wedged between the bed and the nightstand, sobbing. He was inconsolable. He truly believed P was going to leave. His grief was so fierce that I began to feel I might be sick.
While I tried to console G, P sat on his bed quietly wiping tears from his eyes. No babyish sobs or sniffles, just his hand across the bridge of his nose, banishing tears with a swipe of his thumb and forefinger. I whispered in G’s ear that I’d never really let P leave, and even if he left I’d go get him, but G didn’t respond except to continue howling. After a while he sobbed to his brother, “What will you eat? Where will you live?”
And P replied that he now planned to go live with his aunt, and she would take care of him. He wanted to live with her because she is never mean. He said he’d leave in the morning and run to her house.
Again seeing an opportunity to bring this to a close, I suggested that he wait until that weekend and make the four-hour car ride to her house with us. He was agreeable. G sobbed harder. “And den we will YEAVE him dere?”
“No, no,” I whispered in his ear. “No, I would never leave him.”
I started to sense that the twin factor rendered useless all of the preschool runaway strategies employed by my parents.
After a while P backed down and said he wouldn’t really stay at his aunt’s. I showered him with kisses and love, borne of my relief that this ordeal was at an end. I told G the good news, and patted the bed for him to come over and be tucked in.
“No, I’m sleepin’ on the floor because my heart is broken,” he said.
“But he’s going to stay with us,” I cried, desperate for this hour-long standoff to end.
“Half of my heart is healed, but the other half is still broken so I don’t want to sleep in bed with P,” he explained.
P began to cry anew, and once again threatened to leave. G started crying again. “Will you at least stay until I can make us ‘Best Buddies Forever’ goodie bags?” he begged. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
I cried through most of this exchange, myself. In G’s begging and in P’s quiet, determined sadness, I felt not only the heartache of today, but the separation they will one day endure, and the heartbreaks that will come when they are too big for me to hold them.
I convinced G to come lay in bed with me and P. I held them both, their heads leaned against each other like when they used to doze off nursing. P put his arm around G, and G rested his head on P’s chest and shoulder. “Are you still gonna yeave?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” P answered.
Jen is the married work-from-home mother of 7-year-old Miss A, 5-year-old boys G and P, and 3-year-old Haney Jane. She also blogs at Diagnosis: Urine.
I’ve been thinking about the title of our blog. I feel that I need to pass along wisdom about “how I do it” but lately I’m not sure that I’m doing it very well.
My husband and I got through pregnancies, deliveries, infancy, toddlerhood, tantrums and potty training. We knew it would all pass (although we were pretty sure he would walk one of the girls down the aisle and tell the groom-to-be that she wasn’t potty trained yet). But now I find myself at a new challenge in parenting and I feel like a newbie all over again.
You see, apparently aliens came recently and stole my lovely 12 year old daughter and replaced her with this creature who doesn’t listen, obey, pick up, bathe, or. . .you get the picture. It’s positively scary around here, not knowing how this person who looks a lot like our former daughter will behave.
So I’ve been thinking of plunging into parenting books again, and seeking advice for myself. I’ve also been thinking of advice I’ve heard from wise women that is resonating again with me. These two things may help someone else, so I’ll repeat them to you as I repeat them to myself.
Little people, little problems; Bigger people, bigger problems
This came from a mom I worked with many years ago. Her children were much older than mine. That simple statement has often helped me get perspective. When kids are little, tantrums and potty training can seem very stressfull. Hang on, you will all survive and confront bigger issues. When you look back in the future, this all wont seem like such a big deal. I’m sure I’ll survive my current worries to face the stresses of my daughters driving and dating.
Pray, and trust
This came from a mother friend in Church, and I wont begin to try to convert anyone to prayer here, but the sentiment rings true – have some faith that things will work themselves out. I was picky about some foods when I was a kid, and now I love them. My sister and I fought, and then grew very close. Release worries to a higher power and know that some things will change with time. You can only beat your head against the wall so much, sometimes you have to let go.
If I were a teacher at Hogwarts, I’m sure I could get my kids to behave by a wave of a wand and a few choice words. Being mortal, however, I have to rely on carefully chosen words alone.
I’m a firm believer in not negotiating when something absolutely must be done. There are times when the parent should assert themselves and be the parent. One technique that’s tried and true is counting to three to get the kids moving. There’s a great book that talks about using this method called “1-2-3 Magic.” What the author makes clear is that you cannot dither – no counting “1, 2, 2 1/2, 2 3/4. . .” The child knows he has a good long time until you get to 3 because you’re giving him that out. He’ll ignore you almost indefinitely. You must firmly and steadily count to 3.
But the author also describes a twist on the technique that works fabulously for me. Count backwards instead. In my house, all I have to say is “3. . .2″ and the kids jump to do whatever I’ve asked them to do. It’s like a bomb about to go off.
The irony? They don’t have any idea what might happen when I get to 1, and I’ve never thought of what I might do. Just counting backwards is ominous enough. In fact, I usually just say “3” and off they go.
The other magic word that I use very sparingly is “FREEZE!” The kids know this is the word of imminent danger. Moms say “stop” and “please don’t” enough that kids easily tune them out. Freeze is the word to use when a child is about to chase a ball into the street in front of a moving car. I use it so rarely that the kids know it’s important enough to really stop what they’re doing.
These magic words work for me. I’d love to hear what works at your house.