Friday 20 August 2010

Me and Charles Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Mr Dickens was writing about revolutionary France, but recently I've been wondering whether he was really trying to explain how it feels to mother a one year old.

At the moment, I'm having to eat every word I've ever said or thought about toddlers. Our babies aren't walking yet, but suddenly ,they are so different. They might not be officially toddling, but those proper baby days are definitely over. Suddenly, we're seeing behaviour that I wasn't prepared for, and it seems that I have no way of effectively dealing with it. I keep reading books that glibly advise 'a firm "NO" ' as the answer and I find myself thinking 'are you KIDDING me?' Our boy is utterly impervious to the word no. He understands it, but he's not interested in it. Instead, I need to pick him up and physically move him away from whatever it is he isn't supposed to be touching, and that causes a nuclear meltdown. I didn't realise such a small child could have such a big tantrum. And if I'm honest, I didn't really think that any child of mine would ever have a tantrum at all.

After about 8 weeks of training, I think that he may, possibly, have learned not to eat snacks from the cat's food bowl. Possibly. We'll see how tomorrow goes. But that's it for parenting successes. I find myself astonished, every day, by how little I can do to manage his behaviour. I always assumed that children's behaviour reflected their parents' actions, and now... I think I was wrong. OK, I hope I was wrong. "Loving consistent boundaries!" I said to the social worker, and I meant it. And do manage to do it, pretty much, by the grace of God, generally. Mostly. I think. And I try to make as much of the house as possible a 'yes-zone' where it's all safe, nothing is out of bounds, and the potential for conflict is minimised. But wow, it turns out that this is a child who can have a tantrum when I offer him a sippy cup of water. I should say here that, as far as I can tell, I don't think any of this is adoption related. I think it's human-condition related, and that's even more unfixable. The two things I say most often in frustration are "Baby I! Mummy is not making you eat it! I'm just offering it to you" and "It's not healthy to sit in poop all day! You really do need a clean nappy, I'm not doing this for fun!" but the rage continues and I'm all at sea.

The thing is, along with all of this, we also have a child who does behave like the children in the books. A firm "NO" in her direction is enough, and sometimes more than enough. If she was my only child, or if I had other children like her, I would think I had this parenting thing sussed. But it's extremely clear that I don't. I get so frustrated with him, and with my own lack of patience. Because I was doing fine, really, when they were smaller. It was hard, hard work, but I felt like we were all on the same team. Now it doesn't feel quite so much like that. She's banging her head on things and needing my attention and I want to give it to her, and play with both of them, not fight stupid battles over sippy cups and onesie poppers. It's hard to be patient and I'm having a hard time getting used to the fact that right now I am that parent with that child making that noise in a public place. That's not how I like to think of myself. It seems this is yet another lesson for me in dealing with my pride. I know that God's grace is sufficient, but I want to be sufficient, and instead all I do is fail fail fail.

And yet. They are both crawling at about the same speed, so they often chase each other around the house, at a hilariously slow pace, giggling until their whole bodies shake. Their hair is growing, and they now have the most astonishing spirally curls. I never thought two human beings could be so beautiful. They are learning, learning, learning. They seem to have mastered their first abstract concept - they have started waving goodbye when someone leaves, without any 'wave' prompts. They sleep on their tummies, with their bottoms pointing heavenwards. His babbling has changed so that he now sounds like he is having a real conversation, with modulated pitch and pauses. She ate her first spider. They continue to worship the cat. They are both absolutely crazy about pancakes; if I let them have pancakes at every meal they would surely explode. When I stand, they pull themselves up, one on each of my legs, bounce dramatically and shout at the top of their lungs, like noisy happy barnacles.

It is the worst of times. It is the best of times.


  1. Oh I hear ya! I think i have revised just about every single thought I ever had about managing children's behaviour. I was never going to have one of 'those' children and now I have 2 of them and the third is showing signs of going in the same direction! AAaargh!

    If I'm brutally honest with myself I realise that I wanted to be the mum that other mums came to for advice (oh L your kids are so great .. how do you DO it? Please tell me how my kids can be as wonderful as yours) and I would be able to share my pearls of wisdom and feel a warm glow in my heart, having (gently) corrected their many errors set and set them on the right path.

    Oh boy that so does not happen. I think I'm the mum who the not-yet-mums look at and think (oh why doesn't she just do x y or z with that dreadful child? It's so obvious what she should do - why doesn't she just DO it?).

    Motherhood is a painful journey of humility for me. (As well as being a fabulously fun ride in other ways). Also I think that my children are proof that God has a sense of humour (and that he's having a laugh at my expense!).

  2. One of the hardest parts of adopting a toddler for me was that there is NO WAY to make a toddler do something he/she doesn't want to do. You learn to pick your battles.

  3. "She ate her first spider." may be my favorite line, ever.

  4. I like the noisy happy barnacles!! Great mental image! From a notyetmum who tries really hard to not have the I-know-better thoughts (though sometimes, it is really hard to listen to the critter's chest when the child is trying to pull the stethoscope out of your ears! and those thoughts slip in! ;)

  5. I actually thought that crawling was miserable and that when they walk it gets a little better. Crawling was just one long episode of eating and licking things on or near the floor (or the floor itself), not to mention how much it cost me in pet food. Walking was better because it was novel in itself and it led to running which made my son ecstatic with joy. Maybe your son is frustrated, wanting to walk and talk and that is what leads him to this ornery behavior? Just a thought.

    You could make most of the house a "no-zone." Just kidding. I once saw a show about a couple with septuplets and the kids were in one room, a pretty much empty bedroom which had baby gates on the door all the way to the top, much like a jail cell. The father would walk in and pour a box of cereal on the floor and the kids ate the cereal from there. I shit you not, it was startling. I don't know what I would do with seven babies, but I pray it would be better than this zoo-like condition. Don't know why I shared that, I knew you would think it was funny, I guess.

    More pics!!!! Please!!

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  7. I, too, have one of each, although at ages 12 and 10 the battles have become less trite and more far-reaching. Certainly it has taught me a good deal about my own inadequacy and dependence on the grace of God; if I had only the one, I'd think I was a horrendously unfit mother; if I'd had only the other, I'd believe myself to be the baby whisperer. It's difficult, for sure. Hang in there... remember the best of times when you're in the midst of the worst!

  8. Actually today for the first time, I can answer that YES< I have done something with my hair :) In a fit of frustration this morning, I called the hairdresser and said, "please tell me you can squeeze me in today" and so my hair is manageable for 4 - 5 days.

    But about your FABULOUS post... Gosh, I love it. I'm linking to you and I told my hubby to read it too.

    I don't know why I love it so much but this one line keeps standing out to me...

    "I know that God's grace is sufficient, but I want to be sufficient, and instead all I do is fail fail fail.

    I so get wanting to be sufficient and as you know, I so battle to surrender and just let go.

    You're not failing and this is how I know: usually one of the twins will behave as they should :) That's what keeps me going.

    I will say this - with my two, they got happier and happier the more mobile they were, especially Crabby Connor (remember I used to call him this at 9 and 10 months). I think they're frustrated because they want to DO THINGS and feel limited by their bodies. Poor things.

    Anyway, thinking of you and again, FANTASTIC post!

  9. Hi...I'm stopping by from Marcia's blog.

    I've read a few of your posts, and I love your heartfelt writing. It's very clear how seriously you take your job as a mom.

    I have 19-month old twin girls, and they are very different from each other in some ways, and that often makes me think about nature versus nurture. If I only had one child, I would probably lean more towards the "nuture" side of things...either thinking that my parenting style was brilliant because my child was so well-behaved; or doubting my prowess because my child was not so well-behaved. Having what sometimes seems like one of each reminds me what a role "nature" must play.

    Definitely an interesting topic! :) :)

  10. Preach it cuz I am hearin ya! Toddlers are haaaaarrrddddd and gloriously cute and fun. I have 2 strong-willed girls and my nerves are shot almost every evening (and throughout the day on "those" days). The only thing that has ever helped me was the "Teach Me To Do It Myself" Montessori philosophy. And it makes life much slower b/c tods can never ever ever ever never ever be rushed (or pay the price) and always want to do things themselves (or watch out) and they have much fewer tantrums if they try, then realize they can't do something, and then they ask for help on their own. But boy, that is not always possible or easy or even relative to the situation. I often tell my girls, "It's a good thing you are super cute." Haha. Hugs to you! And I loooooove the descriptions of what your kiddos are up to...the spider eating and then the slow crawling race....BWAHAHA! Love it!

    (and ya know, but I have to say it b/c blogger won't...I'm now at

  11. My hair is sad. Because I am purchasing really cheap drug store products. Because my baby girl's hair is costing me approximately $40 every time I go to shop for it. Which is several times/month as we are in the midst of a hair crisis. (Seems to be getting shorter rather than longer!!!)

    That aside (and thanks for asking) I HEAR YA SISTER!
    I so thought Ariam would be perfection. Because obviously I would be a perfect role model. The first time we had a friend over she stood up, slapped him in the face with a toy and proceeded to scream in horror and anger every time he touched ANYTHING in HER room. Sort of funny. Sort of mortifying the amount of hitting that she did. He cried. I apologized a lot. The more I said no the angrier she got. Oh it was awful.
    No has ZERO effect on Ari as well. We only have one no (I gave up LONG ago on saying no to the dog's water bowl) and that is "no hitting mommy's computer." Any time I say it she hits harder while staring me down maniacally. And bursts into tears of hysteria if I remove her or it. Sigh.
    The other day she threw a real life tantrum. Can't even remember what it was about. Jeremy looked on in horror and asked me what was going on with her. I had to tell him about terrible twos and how it can sometimes last from age 1-3. He was not so happy about this.

    I can't fathom two. Unless they truly did slowly crawl chase each other. That might make it all worth while.

  12. I love your honesty. But I hate that you're so hard on yourself. I don't have any concrete advice b/c everything parenting in my life is abstract and theoretical at best, but I know you love them fiercely and that's a fact for sure.

  13. What Julia said, too. And lastchanceivf.

    Also: "I am that parent with that child making that noise in a public place." Oh my - that's just so very me.

    Love love love this post.

  14. Having had my twins for about 3 months longer than you, let me share my wisdom :-) They seem to flip flop personalities about every 2 months. We have proof in our post placement reports. In one she was clingy and couldn't be set down while he would sit for hours reading on his own. Next visit w/ SW and he was a screaming meanie every time I left his side and she was content to focus on her dolly. Luckily only one is a pain at a time :-) But in the omg category--BOTH of our kids are touchers. They touch EVERYTHING. And lick most things too...She licks our car wheels. I'm not kidding. So the walking + touching is hard...just to warn you. BUt then they hold hands through the crib and it's all worth it again. Dickens (and you) said it right :-)


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