Mine, all mine!
At preschool, Claire had a tendency to hurtle into tears if a small thing didn’t go her way, or if she perceived some other child’s behavior as a slight. My response typically had been to croon, hug, and comfort. For instance, one day she brought a stuffed animal with her. In circle time we sing hello to everybody. When we sang hello to her and went on to the next child, she wanted us to sing hello to her animal. When we didn’t, she was more than crestfallen; she was crushed. She burst into sobs, got up, and came running to me.
Claire worried a lot about the other kids not liking her. She thought they might laugh at or make fun of her. (At this age, the kids are only just starting to play together, and she was worried about that?) She was moody. She wanted to control and direct the story of all the pretend play with other kids (and Mommy and Daddy). On the days I was working at the school, she wanted all of my attention. Especially when it came time for me to be in parent discussion.
I began to feel less like a mother and more like her pawn. The neediness in her was insatiable, and her behavior more like a tyrant. I talked with her teacher about it, and she suggested I back off a little. As an example, she talked about the day we didn’t sing hello to her animal. The teacher said, “Your response was to cuddle and reinforce the sadness. But another way to respond is to say, ‘That’s just not what we do here! We sing hello to the students, not all their toys!’ And to help her to lighten up and see it isn’t a big deal.”
And that’s when I realized something. I was teetering on the brink of overcompensating for my own childhood. Not every occasion of disappointment requires deep empathy. Part of my duty as a mother is to prepare Claire to ride with changes, to be flexible. I also had not realized how frightening it must be for Claire to have as much power over me as she did. When she was a baby, she needed all of me, and I gave it. What she needs now, as she moves into the world, is to need less of me. So I began to set more boundaries on what she could have of me. One day she forgot a toy in the car that she wanted for show and tell; it had been her task to remember. When I would not take her back to the car to retrieve it — since we’d gotten to class — Claire gave a world-class demonstration of temper. But I held firm, and she survived and learned a lesson about responsibility.
I continued to heed the teacher’s words that “what you pay attention to grows” and gave more attention to joy than sorrow. Remarkably, within a couple of weeks I, the teacher, and other parents noticed a significant change. Claire began to play with the kids more and less by herself. She participated more in circle time, singing and dancing. She didn’t intrude on me during discussion and instead after snack said, “Bye Mom!” and went outside to play for the last hour. She didn’t attempt to check on me, to get my attention or tell me “something important.”
To sleep, perchance…
When Claire turned three she attempted to stop napping. Her doctor expressed concern about this, because, she said, three-year-olds still really do need a nap. It was true. Claire only slept 9-10 hours at night, and I could see she benefitted from her naps. After a week of refusing to nap, Claire was falling over with exhaustion and emotionally explosive. She also got really sick with a high fever the day before we took a big trip.
Doctor suggested I offer incentives, e.g., “If you nap, you can watch a show after.” (Or whatever special treat might work for Claire.) The bribe of extra t.v. worked until it didn’t — about one week. I tried quiet time, during which she wouldn’t fall asleep but would rock and listen to music for an hour, but this still didn’t provide her the rest she needed. So I returned to the way we handled naps for the first seven months of her life. I rocked her, sang to her, and held her for the duration of the nap, dozing with her.
This worked well. We had preschool two afternoons a week and it was clear those took a toll, but over the school year her stamina increased. And with the steady increase of stamina came the resistance to nap again. I was able to override her refusal most of the time, sometimes by cajoling, other times by threatening (I’ll leave the room and close the door).
When I went away for my getaway weekend, Claire didn’t nap, of course. And when I returned, I allowed this to remain. She is adjusting. She is slightly more tired during the day than she used to be, but it seems a steady state. Her night sleep has increased somewhat, and the quiet hour rejuvenates us both. Best of all, a new world is opening up, the one where we can be unconcerned about “getting home in time” for the nap window. And rather than a two-hour semi-nap sitting up with a crick in my neck, I get one blessed hour to meditate and read while she rocks and listens to music.
So skinny she hula hoops with a cheerio
In April we took our cat to the vet for a blood test, and Claire happened to step on the huge dog scale for fun. The scale read her weight as 28 pounds. I was shocked. It couldn’t be right! She weighed 29 pounds at her annual visit last September!
I’d always fretted about Claire’s nutrition and eating habits. Except for bologna and hot dogs, she eschewed meat. She refuses all forms of milk: cow, soy, almond, flavored, regular, etc. She doesn’t eat much yogurt or cheese. She eats veggies, but only mostly raw. She eats fruit, but only a certain few. Meals involved me asking her what she wanted to eat and trying to please her. Dinners meant cooking something I knew she’d eat, but her whims changed. For awhile I even fed her separately.
Yet here she was weighing less. So we went to her doctor. I learned she had grown taller — 2.5 inches since last September, and since she hadn’t been gaining her growth curve was a little skewed. Her BMI is 13 (what I wouldn’t give for that). Overall, the doctor wasn’t worried because growth occurred. She suggested I take the PAMF Feeding Your Preschooler class for ideas I might use. I came away with a huge list of food Claire does eat and saw that for the most part she is eating well. I learned that my concept of portion sizes for kids was distorted. I learned that we’d be better served if I quit offering her snacks (even salad veggies) to eat while she watched PBS before dinner.
So I relaxed. We have all meals and snacks at table now. I established a firmer schedule and held to it; if she doesn’t eat snack when it’s snack time and decides she’s hungry before lunch/dinner, she just has to wait. I decide what to offer and she either eats or not. I sit with her for all meals (it’s no fun to eat by yourself). I’ve cooked more foods I like despite knowing she won’t probably eat them. Every meal now has bread on the table along with salad, so she’ll get something in her. And guess what has happened? Claire is trying more foods! She has decided she likes pepperoni pizza (previously only cheese would do), cherries, and breakfast sausage.
This combination of releasing the worry and desire to control and establishing parent-driven meal times and menus has freed us. I do my job: offer healthy foods at appropriate times. She does her job deciding whether and what to eat. Talk at mealtimes now focuses on topics other than food, and “encouragement” to eat more. I don’t think she’s gained weight so far, but I see now that I can relax and accept my little petite “Eclaire” and enjoy her. We enjoy each other and our meals more now.
The last step of toddlerhood
I want to keep potty-training stories to a minimum in consideration of Claire’s privacy. Suffice it to say that she’s been ready and resistant for some time, but in part her resistance reflected my own. There have been attempts to use the potty since she was two, but I didn’t push because I feared a power struggle. But last week Claire declared she wanted to wear panties (for the second month in a row, the first being April but she quit after a weekend). And I said okay, and that it meant the changing pad, diaper pail, and all Pull-ups were going away forever. (She hugged her changing pad good-bye.)
The first few days were rocky, and I despaired. But we have persisted, and I’ve devised a way to encourage and reward her daily for her effort and increasing competence. She knows she will be enrolled in swimming lessons now, and that after our trip east she’ll get a “princess bike” she yearns for. For shorter-term rewards, she’s getting smaller things. She wanted pink “tap shoes” (Mary Janes), and so this was her gift for completing one week of using the potty. She also lately pines for “princess bubble bath” and, of all things, an American flag, so her gift for the end of the second week will likely be those. They are small, tangible reinforcements of her success. Not too far in the future I see the sticker chart, small candies, and weekly prizes will fade as this function just becomes a routine in her life.
Momma is all grown up! At least for now, for this age and stage and minute. And Claire? Well, she jumps for joy!Buddhism, Community, Education, Journal, Motherhood, Nature, Science, Social Science