To Owen On His First Birthday

Shortly after Aiden turned one, I wrote him a letter chronicling his first year in our lives and capturing for posterity all of those little details that we so often forget as parents. It is something I have saved for him that I hope he will one day cherish. Well, Owen hit the milestone of one year a little over a month ago and I wanted to do the same for him. Although the letter is for him, this is a safe haven for it to live and a place where, hopefully, he and I can touch the lives of others in similar places in their journeys:

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To my sweet, spunky little man,
What a year it has been! You, my darling little Owen, have been and will always be my baby boy – but this first year has also changed you into quite a feisty little kid. I am constantly amazed by the differences in you and your older brother. When Daddy and I decided to have you almost two years ago now, it was partly because we felt confident in the place we had gotten as parents. We felt strong and stable. Like we had done it once and done it pretty darn well, so why not do it again? And from the very beginning you have broken every mold and shaken everything we thought we knew as parents, demanding that we learn again and learn differently. Insisting we see you as your own person. And we love you for it. Although we did not anticipate the level of the challenge, we are becoming stronger because of it. We decided to have you by planned c-section and assumed this would make the birth process much smoother and less traumatic than it was for Aiden. Little did we know that you would decide you wanted to come out 5 weeks early! I went into early labor and then on bed rest for a month to try to protect you, Tiny Small, and keep you safe till you were ready to take on the big world without help. It was an amazingly difficult time, but also amazingly eye-opening as many friends and family stepped in to help us through. They brought food, came to stay and help with Aiden and the house, made me stay laying down for your sake, and some even gave money to help while I was off work. They are part of the reason you are safe and healthy today. Then, when the day finally came, it was beautiful! It was indeed much less traumatic and I felt so very connected to you in those first days in the hospital. It was precious and intimate. And all I kept saying was how happy I was. You completed our family and I could feel it from the beginning. You were a nursing champ, just like brother. But that’s about where the similarities stopped. You never wanted a passy or sucked your thumb. You were a booby baby and you loved (and still love) your little monkey lovey. Not just to snuggle, but to eat up. It is always soggy but you don’t seem to mind. You have never been one for schedules, much to Mama’s chagrin. But I think this will serve you well later in life – develop into a sort of easy-going, go-with-the-flow kind of nature. I think this schedule aversion may be due, in part, to the fact that we sold our house when you were 1 month old and moved a month later. Right around the time Mama went back to work. You can imagine the chaos all of that change added into your very new life and routine. But you took it like a champ. I guess when the entire world is new, a new home filled with boxes and strangers and work is, well, nothing new!  This schedule aversion also led to a very tired and frazzled Mama because it was nine months before you consistently slept through the night. Sometimes you just wanted to nurse and snuggle. Other times you were ready to be awake for hours from 1:00 to 4:00 in the morning. But as harrowing and exhausting as those times could be, they also contained some of the sweetest memories. There was nothing quite like nursing you in the dark in your room. Calming your fears, quieting your cries. Letting you know you were safe and loved. By four and a half months, you learned to sit up on your own but it was still weeks before you could roll over. This was when you and Aiden started really developing your bond because you were able to be a more active part of your environment. Laugh and respond to his interaction. In this first year, you two have developed something special that I LOVE to watch. No one can make you laugh as easily as he can. Of course, no one can frustrate you quite as easily either, but what are older brothers for, right? Currently your most frequent words to him are “Don’t” (said like DOAN), “Bad” (BAH), and “No, no” (Nah Nah), but your most frequent reaction to him is giggles. You started crawling at 8 months, just after your first Christmas. We celebrated at home and it was quiet and lovely. At 10 months you got your first teeth and since you waited so long to do it, you decided to go ahead and do it right – pushing through 6 front teeth in 2 days, poor guy. At 11 months you realized that moving around on your hands and knees was for the birds and you started walking, MUCH sooner than Brother did. The promise of running is yet to come, but you still chase each other around the house doing all manner of crazy things. Just the other day you painted his room and yourself red while I was fixing dinner! You always march to the beat of your own drum. Although you like Mama to hold you an awful lot, you also like to call your own shots. You will very independently march yourself around the yard, experiencing things with all of your senses (even taste) and fear for nothing while Aiden asks for help washing sand off of his toys ;) Your favorite toys seem to be both balls (you’re quite good at throwing for your age) and all of your various weapons. We never let Aiden have guns when he was little, but when we finally relented and got him one, we always cautioned him to “never shoot people.” Well, apparently my “boys will be boys” philosophy has gotten the better of me because now you run around shooting all of us with a loud, “BOW” and we simply play along and fall down dead. You think it is hysterical! For your first birthday we had a monkey themed party, in honor of the previously mentioned soggy monkey you love so much, and it was a great success. Many friends and family came to help us celebrate you. Although you seemed rather bewildered, you didn’t cry for the happy birthday song as both Daddy and Aiden had done for their first birthdays. I think you take a bit more after Mama in few ways – your propensity to take risks, your strong, independent (yes, stubborn) nature, and your looks. This warms my heart a little bit, since Aiden has always been a little copy of his Daddy in so many ways. I used to ponder before you were born how it would be possible to love another child as much as I loved my first-born. You proved the age-old truth that love does not divide, it multiplies. I still love Aiden every bit as much as before, but you thoroughly squashed all of those fears and wrapped me around your tiny, chubby finger from the moment you looked into my eyes. I loved you instantly then, more now, and immeasurably for the future. May every year to come be as rich and full as this first one has been and may we always remember to count all the joys and forget all the pain.
With all of my heart, always,

Mama

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Overlooking the Bad – Empathizing with Toddlers

One of the dominant principles of positive psychology, which I speak about often, is the concept of acknowledging the good and beautiful things around you, no matter how small, and learning to appreciate them as integral parts of a bigger picture. Another key principle, which I don’t address as frequently, is the idea that we must also learn to overlook the negative, not so lovely parts of our daily lives and refuse to let them bog us down or preoccupy our thoughts. These two go hand in hand. It is very hard to successfully accomplish one without the other. I am more prone to seek out the good – acknowledge it, fight for it, hold onto it. Overlooking the bad does not come quite as easily. I am a natural worrier and am far too easily bogged down in everyday struggles. I know this about myself, yet I find it difficult to overcome. And sometimes it’s murkiness clouds my barrage of affirmations.

Recently, I realized that I have this same struggle with my son. I do not think I am negligent in any sense of the word in praising or affirming him. I constantly point out when he does something well or try to get him to notice all of the unusual and beautiful things that surround him every day. Together we discover all sorts of new ways to appreciate life. But when it comes to ignoring the bad, that is where my positive parenting philosophy too often breaks down. Toddlers whine. It is what they do. There are two ways to feed the whining and give it attention – by giving in to whatever is being insisted upon, or by constantly scolding and correcting the whining. Even negative attention is attention. So either way we teach our toddlers to crave the attention they get by whining at us. When really, as many behavioral psychologist will readily tell you, the best way to curb excessive whining is just to ignore it. Overlook it. Don’t let it preoccupy you. Go about your business. This, however, is VERY hard. Studies have shown that whining is one of the most annoying and distracting sounds in existence. Go figure. Most of us who are parents didn’t need scientists to tell us this. But sometimes even separating myself from the whining, giving both of us time to recoup, collect, and move on, I find it hard to walk away and ignore the screaming tantrum that ensues because I’ve asked my son to play by himself in his room for a little while. Every fiber of my being wants to tear into the room, put him in his bed and put him in his place. I mean, HOW DARE he scream like that at me! (As if it was ever even about me.) But this course of action accomplishes nothing. It makes him combative and yell back. And then how can I, in good conscience, tell him not to yell, when I’ve just finished doing the very same to him. Any child witnessing this reaction, with their vast stores of untapped intelligence, will know immediately that you are a hypocrite. So what should I do? Walk away. Not let it overwhelm me. Go back to him immediately when he has regained composure and praise him for doing so. Remember that very few, if any, of his behaviors have anything to do with  me or my parenting. Just as it is true in my own life, I know that all of the positive things I consistently share with him would mean so much more and sink so much deeper if I could simply overlook the bad and refuse to give it the credence it doesn’t deserve.

Instead of featuring my son in some of his less than flattering moments, I decided to feature myself! It somehow seems more fair.

I have to continually remind myself that toddlers lead frustrating little existences. They are still in the process of discovering their entire world. Every day they encounter new things with no box created yet to put them in. Every action is a science experiment designed, in their minds, to figure out ALL the rules. What will a nice big spoon of spaghetti look like if I drop it on the floor? How will the cat react if I try to ride him? What sound will my fork make if I drag it across the glass table? How high can I balance this stack of Mom’s books before it falls? If it’s fun to jump off a stool, wouldn’t it be even more fun to jump off a table? Very little, if any of the stunts they pull have any malicious intent. Toddlers aim to please and jump at every opportunity to help. And yet they have these giants following them around and constantly correcting them for no real reason that they can understand. No, sweetheart, don’t drop your spaghetti on the floor! STOP, you can’t jump off the table! Don’t sit on the cat, you’ll hurt him! No, no, NO! I always said that I wanted to say yes whenever possible because there are SO many reasons to say no. I had no idea! And these poor little people are forever thwarted in their experiments to better understand their world – and then told not to show any signs of disappointment, frustration, or anger. What gives?!? This is what I try to remember while dealing with whining and tantrums. I try to put myself in their shoes. Empathize. Show them a better way to express those emotions instead of mirroring their own tantrums back at them. I try. I do not always succeed. (For more thoughts on this concept of empathy with toddlers, check out this wonderful article by Melissa Sher. It was my inspiration for many of these thoughts.)

“Say what?”

Balance. Life, parenting, work, psychology, they’re all about balance. Often the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another before it finds a peaceful middle ground. I’m hoping that by the time my boys leave the house, I might have this parenting thing figured out. Or at least the pendulum swing won’t be quite so dramatic. It’s a long road getting there . . . but I think I’m ready for the ride.

“What is that thing he’s pointing at us and what is he doing?”

The Development of a Sense of Humor

I am continually amazed (and amused) at my 2 1/2 year old’s development of a sense of humor. It’s astonishing to me that in such a short amount of time he has gained enough of a grasp of reality and the world in which he lives to understand irony and a sense of the ridiculous. It began with a firm grounding in language that enabled him to recognize which were “real” words and which were “siwwy.” He would then make up the most absurd combinations of words such as opisnook and manganash and as soon as he said them he would bust into hysterical laughter. He didn’t need anyone else to confirm that it was funny. He knew. And we could go back and forth for half an hour making up outlandish words in turn and breaking for bouts of laughter. It is so refreshing that something so simple and silly can make even a grown up laugh.

Then, as his handle on the world grew even stronger, he began to appreciate the foolish hilarity of slapstick. Recently, as I was making him lunch, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street on Netflix. As I was getting everything ready I heard him start laughing in the other room. The laughter grew into a rolling, un-self-conscious, un-contained giggle as though someone was tickling him mercilessly and he was about to fall out of his chair. And what was causing this display? Grover continuously tripping on a banana peel and it eventually landing on his head – the first door leading to the world of the Three Stooges, Mr. Bean, and even Jim Carey. And as I watched him from the doorway to the room, I was struck by the independence of his humor. No one was in there with him giving him queues about what was “supposed” to be funny. No one was making him laugh with tickles or funny faces or any of the other gimics we’ve been using since before he could see our faces clearly. He just knew, deep in his belly, that Grover was being ridiculous and it was funny!

And last night, before bed, he told his first joke. Daddy read him a story that had a joke in it and he remembered it and told it to me when I came to tuck him in. “Who goes to bed with their shoes on?” I don’t know Aiden, who? “A HORSE!” Bahahahahaha! I know, I know, it’s a terrible entrance into his world of joke telling, but he was so proud of himself, I couldn’t help but laugh with him. I fear we are in for many more corny jokes before Daddy teaches him all the subtleties of a dry wit.

The development of a sense of humor is not one of those things you see on developmental milestone charts at the pediatricians office or in popular parenting magazines and websites, but it is one of the most sophisticated changes I’ve seen in him so far. One that marks him distinctly as an individual and a kid, and not just a needy baby or toddler. I am excited to see how it grows!

Never Alone

I had a remarkable “ah-ha” moment yesterday. One that perhaps should have been obvious before then, but in the silly simplicity of the moment in which I had it, it finally sunk in. I am not, nor will I likely ever be alone. I am SO lucky.

I was having an emotional afternoon (which I will blame on pregnancy hormones even though they probably had nothing to do with it) and feeling rather isolated. My list of friends has been dwindling over the last couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this – Hello! We are not in college anymore; lives change; people grow apart; kids enter the equation – restricting time, energy, and emotions; jobs; hobbies; busy . . . busy . . . busy. I do not pretend to be faultless in my predicament, but never-the-less, I am bothered by it sometimes. Particularly at times when my husband, who is my best friend, has to stay at work till 9 or 10 at night and 90% of my conversations over the last few days have been with a toddler whose biggest concern in life is that he HAS to eat broccoli. Enter yesterday’s “ah-ha” moment:

Not wanting to be stuck at the house all afternoon, I loaded up my son and headed to the outdoor mall where my hubby works to window shop, let Aiden see his daddy before bed, and pick up some food. This is a common past time of ours, satisfying Mommy’s need to shop, Aiden’s need to run around outside, and both of our needs to see Jonathan. However, yesterday I decided to break with tradition and actually go in some of the stores – dangerous territory for someone so broke, I know. But enter I did, with toddler in tow. We went into Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and White House, Black Market. And then, since it was only fair, and since he had been so patient with his silly, clothes-shopping mama, I took Aiden into a sports apparel store called Sand Dollar Lifestyles, that I thought he would enjoy a lot more than what we had been browsing. Inside, there was very little that peaked my interest, but Aiden saw something that completely rocked his world. He didn’t know what category to put them in. Shoes with TOES in them, like gloves!

He kept saying, over and over again, “What’s THAT?” I would tell him and he’d ask again. I figured the best way to satisfy his curiosity was to show him. So we sat down on the bench, measured our feet with the funny rubber foot measurers, and tried on some toe shoes. He stood on the floor giggling hysterically as he pointed at my feet, “Wook, mama!” I would laugh right back at him and tell him to look at his own silly feet. And then it happened. I looked at him as we both sat on the bench trying on shoes, and I realized – I liked hanging out with my son! As a person, an individual. He is now old enough to be a companion and a friend and we have fun together. No longer just a bundle of need, he gives back. Granted, he still takes a lot more than he gives, but he gives! The moment I had this realization, I spoke it out loud to him. “I really like spending time with you, Aiden.” And he replied, “I like you too, Mama!” And I was not alone. I may not be able to have deep philosophical discussions with him (yet), or rousing debates about politics and religion, or toss around ideas about parenting and hobbies, but we can have fun. We can inspire one another to be happy. And that is what’s important. Yes indeed, I am very lucky.

Designing Daydreams Come True!

A couple posts back, I mentioned that it was really time for my big boy to have a big room to match his big personality.  (I know, I know . . . that’s a lot of big.)  It was becoming more and more obvious that, whether or not we were able to sell our house, Aiden needed his own space that was not the nursery he had occupied since he was born:

The Nursery

We decided to go ahead and move him into the other room, since we are planning for another kiddo sometime in the near future.  This room  was initially the guest room and looked like this:

BEFORE: The Guest Room

I have spent the better part of my long, labor-day weekend transforming it into this:

AFTER: Aiden's new room!

I know the sports theme is a bit out of character for us, but Aiden loves sports and balls and I thought this could be really fun.

These chairs make the room! And when I found them for $20 each, it was the last push I needed to go ahead and decide on a basketball theme.

I'm pretty sure Aiden likes them too!

As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure he likes the whole room.

And he liked helping me decorate it too.

All in all, I think we scored a “home run” with this one!  What do you think?