Cooler Keester Prevails

Cooler keester!

Sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do. A while back, I wrote about our frustrations with potty training my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Rose. For eight months, we’d tried to get her trained. After four months it looked like she’d graduate, and then she backslid and I had to pull her out of potty-trained-kids-only summer camp.

When we first started her potty training, we tried positive reinforcement. My psych degree kicked into high gear designing her reward system. We had a sticker chart, a candy reward for each success, and cumulative rewards — a marker for every 10 successes and a Barbie for five days without an accident. read more


The Eye of the Beholder

What is a four-year-old? Well, almost four, anyway. If you asked me and you asked my husband, you’d get totally different answers. Of course, I think I have a much better idea of what a normal almost-four-year-old is than he does, and he thinks his estimate is more accurate.

Why? Well, lets’ take a look at a recent incident. Matt was holding Christian, our one-year-old, walking through the living room where he stepped on a Hello Kitty metal box of band-aids that he’d given Rose. Immediately, he said, “Rose, I stepped on your Hello Kitty box.” She started to cry. He yelled, “I wouldn’t have stepped on it if you didn’t leave it in the middle of the floor!”

Then I got mad and yelled something about how sick and tired I was of him always blaming her. But that’s not the point. The point is Matt expects that a normal almost-four-year-old can refrain from leaving her toys in the middle of the floor. This from the man who leaves dirty socks on the couch. But again, not the point. What almost-four-year-old cleans up after herself? She’s old enough to learn to start cleaning but she’s not old enough to do it without our prompting. Most of the time when I ask her to clean her room, she gets so overwhelmed that she doesn’t do anything until I help her. I “help” by telling her, “This goes there, and this goes in the box and this goes here,” and let her do the actual work.

He also thinks that Rose’s reaction time should be that of a 26-year-old international air hockey champion. This morning Rose was touching the lawn flamingoes that Matt had just repainted. We thought they were dry but Matt had just gotten some paint on him so he told Rose “Stop touching them. Stop! STOP!”

I said, “Take your hands off of the flamingoes.” I’m not sure who got through to her but by the time she was moving her hand down, Matt was angrily launching into, “When I say stop, you STOP!”

I learned a long time ago that a toddler doesn’t know what to do when you say “stop.” Instead, you’ve got to tell her what to do instead. So instead of saying, “Don’t touch the hot stove!” you should say, “Move away from the stove,” or something like that. I’m not sure that rule is still in effect with preschoolers, but it sure seems to work that way. I’ve told Matt several times about directing her to do something instead of directing her not to do something, but he says she needs to learn to stop when we say “Stop!”

She was sick this week, and we tried to contain her germs. Matt asked me to retrieve Christian’s pacifier from the floor, and Rose, trying to be helpful, started toward it. We both screamed “NO!” as if she was about to pull the plug on a lifeboat, and she burst into tears, but she stopped in her tracks. Then Matt said, “I said Mommy! Not you!” He mellowed as she continued to cry and said, “Honey we don’t want him to get sick too. If you touch his paci, he might get sick and then he’ll cry all night. Would you like that?” She shook her head. Sometimes we both forget. Sometimes we put too much emphasis on preventing things that can easily be fixed. We could have washed his paci if she touched it. Instead we made our little girl cry.

So Matt’s not the only one who’s got to learn how to better parent an almost-four-year-old. But we’re adults. We get used to doing something one way and if our way works, we don’t change it. But the essence of parenting is adapting to new circumstances. Kids change as fast as mutant viruses so the antidote you used a month ago doesn’t work today. Our methods lag behind our child’s capabilities.

It works in reverse too. Rose has the conversation skills of a six-year-old and we often overestimate her reasoning skills. We expect her to understand that her germs will contaminate objects and pass her cold to others. We expect her to think about contamination as she goes about her activities. But she can’t. Even if she remembered, four-year-olds are impulsive. She’s not capable of thinking about everything she touches any more than we’re capable of policing her every move.

We tend to think that having grown from childhood for adulthood qualifies us to be parents. But parenting is so much more than that. We’ve got to know what’s typical of a four-or-five-or-whatever-year old, then we’ve got to take our child’s individual development into account, and we have to account for our own strengths and weaknesses. When I signed up to be a parent, I thought labor was the worst challenge I’d ever face. But they have drugs for that. But there are no anesthetics for growing pains. My mistake was that I thought that the kids suffered them, not the parents.


Wardrobe Malfunction

D-d-d-d-de-Dora!

I don’t know what I’m gonna be for Halloween. There, I said it. I’m ashamed, but I said it. Halloween’s my favorite holiday. Not for the creepy stuff. Just for the costumes. Usually I decide on a Halloween costume on Nov. 1 of the previous year, but this year I’ve slacked off. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was burned by last year’s Halloween.

It started out great. We took a cruise in April and Rose had just gotten a bob haircut. She was wearing her backpack a lot and when we took her to Camp Carnival, the counselors said she looked like Dora the Explorer. Well, a lot of people said she looked like Dora, really. It wasn’t just the counselors. She loved the attention and she loves Dora, so she ate the whole thing up.

When Halloween rolled around, Rose decided to be Dora for Halloween. Excellent, I thought. Orange shorts, pink shirt, purple backpack – done. We wound up switching the shirt to purple because the backpack was already pink, but you get the picture. Easy costume and mom’s happy. Rose does not have the luxury of an expert seamstress at her disposal. My mom designed and sewed crazy elaborate costumes at my whim. She’d always complain that she hated to sew but when she cranked out a shark or a Pillsbury Dough Boy costume you could see she was great at it.

Dora was more my speed. I just bought some Mighty Mendit glue to repair damaged clothing, rather than subject our wardrobe to my sewing “skills.” Naturally I was thrilled when Rose wanted to be Dora. I bought the shorts, we had the shirt and backpack, and Matt made a “Map” to stick out of one of the pockets. I even got her hair cut in a wedge so she’d look more like Dora.

Rose’s school has costume days – several so the kids who don’t come every day get a chance to dress up. So the first dress up day, we dressed her in her Dora outfit, Map at the ready, and brought her to school. We took a few pictures and the school took some and she had a great day. The next day she wanted to wear her Cinderella dress-up dress to school. Fine. She did and she had a wonderful time.

When Halloween rolled around, Matt and I got into our costumes. I was an Old West hooker and he was Sheriff Bullock from Deadwood. He had even grown and tailored his facial hair for the costume. We dressed Christian in a monkey suit, so he could be Dora’s monkey, Boots. Then I said, “Come on, Sweetie. Time to put on your costume.”

“Okay,” Rose said, running to her dress up pile while I picked up her shirt. We met in the hallway, her with a Snow White dress in her hands, and me with her Dora costume.

“I’m gonna be Snow White,” she said.

“WHAT? No, Baby, you’re going to be Dora, remember?”

“Nooo, I want to be Snow Whiiiite!”

“But Sweetie, we said you were gonna be Dora. We got your hair cut and everything. And your brother’s Boots. How is he going to be Boots without Dora?”

“I’m gonna be Snow White!”

I clenched my teeth, “Fine. Put on your costume and we’ll go.”

Snow White -- aargh!

So we went trick-or-treating and she was Snow White. And everyone at the doors said she made a beautiful Snow White. I was so mad. First she decides against Dora and now people praise her for it. This happens when she decides to wear her sun dress in the middle of winter too. I tell her how inappropriate it is, we have a fight, and I say fine, wear it and freeze your butt off. Then everybody she sees tells her what a pretty dress it is, reinforcing her choice. Why doesn’t the world cooperate with me? It takes a village, people. You’re making me look like the village idiot.

This year, Rose wanted to be Ariel, the Little Mermaid, “with the tail.” I bought her the costume, but I’m worried. On the first dress-up day at school, she wore her costume. I didn’t even have my phone to take a picture but she was adorable and very happily dressed up. The second costume day, she told me she wanted to wear regular clothes. I said okay, and she said she didn’t want to wear a costume anymore. Trouble, I thought.

“What about Halloween on Monday, Sweetie? That’s another costume day and you have to get dressed up to go trick-or-treating,” I said hopefully.

“I just want to wear regular clothes,” she said. Crap.

Who’d have thought that having a kid would ruin Halloween? I thought it was going to be fun. She’d be all cute in her outfit and we’d take her trick or treating. I’d inspect the apples for razors and she’d flit around on a sugar high. Halloween the way it’s supposed to be. At least now we live in a trick-or-treating neighborhood. For Rose’s first Halloween we walked for blocks and blocks looking for friendly houses and we only got to about three. And here everyone goes into town and trick-or-treats at the shops downtown. I’m a Halloween purist. You trick or treat in your neighborhood and that’s what we’re going to do.

I don’t know what to expect from Rose this Halloween, and I’ve made up my mind not to care if she doesn’t wear her 30-dollar-outfit-that-I-bought-with-a-gift-card-that-was-supposed-to-be-for-me-because-I-didn’t-have-enough-money-that-day. No, I won’t care.

I’ve invited some families to join us for trick-or-treating and more importantly, drinks. Because if I’m gonna get through this Halloween, I’m going to need some help. I am looking forward to the company and the drinks and I’ve decided I’ll focus on that instead of costumes. I do have my Old West hooker costume to drag out in case I want to dress up. I know I’ll get the urge that day. But this year I’m going to ignore my Halloween control issues and just let kids be kids.


Whom it may Concern

“I’m concerned about this relationship,” my dad told me, upon hearing that we would stay with my birth mother during our visit to New York.

“What are your concerns?” I asked.

Offering some clarity, he said, “I’m just concerned.” I prodded some more but he didn’t come up with anything but, “She gave you up forty years ago.”

I had the opportunity to hear his objections again, but I blew it. We were at his house, visiting him, discussing sleeping arrangements, when I told him we did not plan to stay with him as he thought. He had even removed the cover from the daybed, offering the sheets that had been on the mattress since we slept there two years ago. Instead we would be going to my birth mother’s house the night before our flight.

“Let me tell you something!” he began.

“Let me tell YOU something,” I countered. “She’s five minutes from the airport. If we stayed here we’d have to leave at four in the morning to make our flight.”

That shut him up. At my expense, I realized. I wanted to know his objections to my relationship with my birth family but I was so used to arguing with him that I just jumped on him at the first opportunity.

It wasn’t until we were at lunch that I asked again what his concerns were. “Think about it from my point of view,” he said.

“Well, they don’t want money or a kidney,” I said, knowing that he thought my birth family wanted his money. My dad just looked at me as I told him how they’d been giving us gifts all the time. So we dropped the subject. He remained quiet during the rest of the meal, and didn’t talk to us when we returned to his house. He wasn’t being spiteful. That’s just the way he is. He doesn’t feel like he has to talk to people who’ve traveled thousands of miles to see him. We went back to his house, and when the silence got to be too much, we left.

As we drove away, Matt explained my dad’s point of view. “He sees you’ve got all these new people and he thinks you don’t need him anymore. He’s old and you’re the only family he has left. He can’t say that, but that’s what he means.”

“Ohhhhh.” I said stupidly.

“Maybe you should ask him for money. That would show that you need him.” Matt can always make me laugh.

I wouldn’t have understood my dad’s position in a million years. I’ve always seen him in a perpetual state of annoyance, so I have never given him credit for having any other feelings. We once had a huge fight during which he said “You hurt me!” I was shocked to find out he had feelings in the first place and even more shocked that I’d gained access to them. I thought of it as an accomplishment. After all the times he’d hurt me, I’d finally gotten to him. Plus, saying I hurt him was the most intimate thing he’d ever shared with me.

I figured I’d hurt his feelings again, so when we got home, I called him. I told him that I wasn’t replacing him or my mom, and that he’d always be my dad. He listened and talked about how my birth mother had abandoned me for 40 years and how difficult I was to raise. Then he said something that I’d never expected to hear.

“We’ll I’m glad she gave you up because we got to know you.”

That is, without a doubt, the nicest thing my dad’s ever said to me. Since my teen years, I’ve gotten the impression that he thought my whole adoption was a mistake, until he told me that. I’ll hold on to that sentence forever.

I’m sure my dad isn’t having warm thoughts about my birth family, but that’s just the way he is. I am glad that I was able to clear up his confusion and address his concerns, though. And I am really grateful that the whole discussion sparked such a warm (for him) sentiment. It’s true that meeting my birth family is opening a whole new chapter of my life, but hearing my dad say something so nice was the climax of our chapters so far.


What Might Have Been

Last week I wrote about visiting family – the lies we used to tell, the ways we kept our distance. This week, I met some new family, and I can’t believe the difference. I went to New York to visit my birth family. They’re not like the family I grew up in. Nobody had to lie. We didn’t have to stick to safe topics of conversation. Everyone was very warm and welcoming. I know that if my own mother had ever had a baby as a teen, out of wedlock, she would have done all she could have to keep it secret from our family, and this kind of reunion would never have happened. read more