Tessa Observed

It is spring break and Tessa is too young for camp. So I work from my couch and she entertains herself.

It goes better than you’d think. Too young for camp is just right for her dollhouse and the train tracks and the coloring books and the puzzles and all these other toys we’ve managed to accumulate over the years. 

Her pretend play interests me to no end. There is lots of “Mommy” and “Daddy” and “Baby,” with plenty of animals and Frozen characters thrown in for good measure. Her chatter goes something like this:

“You want hot dog? Yes, Mom. I want two. Okay, two hot dog. You want hot dog, Kitty? Yes. Okay. Why you leaving? Because. Over there hot dog and train. Put on coat. Okay put on my coat. Aaahhh I falling! Oh, I sorry.” And on and on. 

It says a lot about where she is right now. There is lots of “why” and lots of “because.” Lots of “please” and asking politely. Lots of “hello” and “bye bye.” 

Being more aware of the world around her means sometimes she gets shy and quiet and even clingy. She still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning or picked up when we’ve walked for a while. But she’s also finally started talking about herself more as a “big” kid and less as a baby, which she pronounces “beebee.”

She has a silly disposition that Graham didn’t have at this age. He is just learning to love jokes, but she is already all about making funny faces. 

Two months into school and while I still don’t get anything resembling a reliable report of what happened from her, she does reference her teachers by name and takes great pride in her art projects. 

She does not sing at school but she will do hand motions. She will only sing at home if no one sings with her.

She often refuses to hold my hand even when she has no choice in the matter. But I usually let her hold Graham’s hand instead, and she’s always up for that. 

Like Graham, she went through a long period where she refused and avoided cuddling and hugs. But she’s getting past it. It’s not uncommon for her to hang on my leg when I’m sitting down and requests to sit on my lap are common. Even sometimes when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she just reaches out and waits for me to sit with her and hold her for a few minutes before she’ll go back to sleep.

Sick kid nap achieved! I'm 1 for 2 but I'll take it.

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Tessa is stubborn… but easily distracted. She’ll stand her ground for a couple of minutes, then you can almost always get her to do the thing she was so strongly against seconds before. 

She is not exactly toilet trained. She is happy to use it on her schedule, which is usually just once or twice a day. This morning, with both of us home for the day, I thought we’d give underwear a try. She was down with it for five minutes, then cried and asked for her diaper back. To her credit, she said maybe she could try again tomorrow. While I won’t miss the diapers, I will miss the little crinkly sound of her walk. Assuming we ever get there.

No longer an easy eater, but not picky either, she often just won’t eat her dinner at all. There’s not a huge fuss, she just won’t do it. And every success is usually followed shortly by failure. Like the pasta with cherry tomatoes I made on Sunday, which she ate enthusiastically (3 bowls!) only to reject it with tears on Monday.

She is still, in most ways, my easy kid. Graham cannot let 3 minutes pass without asking for something. Tessa does make requests, but there’s usually 20-30 minutes between them. She forgets about the TV, forgets about snack, forgets about a promised outing. It’s a pretty great deal for me, since 2 kids asking that often would probably make my head explode. 

Personal space. Nope.

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She likes pink and hearts and butterflies and princesses. She also likes dinosaurs, Spiderman, and trains. 

I used to think of her as bold and fearless. But she is becoming more cautious as time passes and I haven’t figured out yet if that’s good or bad. Graham offered to let her try his balance bike and she sat on it only to immediately get off. I think it’ll be a while before she tries again.

She still falls asleep in the car if it’s afternoon or evening and we drive for more than ten minutes. 

She calls Graham “Grammer” or “Graham Cracker.”

Some mornings she can be plagued by a funk of feelings, but it happens less and less. She can get stuck sobbing, but it happens less and less. I still have to say “Use words, please,” but it happens less and less.

 

Somebody's unruly hair got her a bob and bangs so many of us get at this age.

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This is the go-with-the-flow child. This is the child who doesn’t make requests about what we eat for dinner or where we go for the day. She is the classic younger child in that way. If she did get it in her head that she wanted one thing and then we end up doing another, she usually responds by thinking for a second and then saying, “Later?” I tell her, “Yes, we can do it later.” And then she says “Okay,” and she’s fine.

There is still a lot she doesn’t understand. She’s made so much progress in the last year that I forget that a lot. But I’ve officially made the switch from assuming she doesn’t understand me to assuming she does. 

She is called Tessa and Tessy and Tess. I’m still not quite sure which one she’ll feel most herself in, but for now, at 3, getting to be such a big girl, she is Tessa to me as long as she’ll have it.

Two of Them

I can’t say when it started. Of course, when Tessa was an infant, Graham was a quiet and anxious 3-year-old. He had little patience for her. When she moved into toddler years, she wasn’t talking while Graham became more and more chatty. 

But some time in the last year things have shifted. And now these two have become a team.

Riding Bikes 3 Two of Them

Edited 8 Two of Them

resized 2 Two of Them

GT Two of Them

For several months I’ve been noticing how well they get along. As Tessa is a little older and more talkative, they’re able to play together and have conversations together. 

But it’s not just that. It’s not just that they get along. They’re a duo.

Maybe it’s because they’re always together even though they go back and forth between two houses. Maybe it’s because their brains are similar with their matching diagnoses. Maybe it’s just that magic that happens sometimes between people. 

 

New rule: no one's allowed to get bigger.

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Birthday lunch shenanigans. Tell me they'll always like each other this much. #happytessaday

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Helping. #bosnow

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We like watching TV up here. Because no bugs can get up here. Except ladybugs.

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The Grocery Store: the happiest place on earth.

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Good times and bad times, they’re in it together.

I realized a few months ago that we’d hit this new phase. It became most obvious in the weeks before Tessa started at Graham’s school. He started asking about it all the time. He talked about what it would be like when she came. He talked about playing at recess together and introducing her to his friends.

And you know what? She’s been at his school for over a month now and he’s still just as excited. He walks her to her classroom in the morning. He sits with her at breakfast. He tells me how she did at lunch. They get to do the same art projects. 

They go to bed at the same time even though Graham tends to fall asleep first. We sit together and read books for a while. Then the two of them lay down in Graham’s bed, their pillows side by side. Tessa may sit at the foot of the bed for a while or roll around on her side. But it’s been months since they’ve changed this routine. Tessa rarely sleeps in her own bed anymore. And Graham doesn’t seem to mind that much when Tessa, a very wiggily sleeper, wakes him up or steals his covers. 

If Tessa sees something, she immediately says, “Grammer!!” (Which in her 3-year-old mouth comes out “Gwammuh.”) And Graham returns the favor, showing her anything he thinks she should see.

They play games together. They play different things, but often stay next to each other. 

They fight sometimes, but it never seems to last long. 

They happily take turns choosing and pass off from one to the other.

Honestly, I’m a little stumped.

My siblings and I clashed more, our relationships were always tumultuous and it never seemed like things were quiet or calm. So I’m not exactly used to this. 

But this is exactly why I wanted to have more than one kid. I always wanted them to enjoy each other’s company, to have a real ally in each other, and to develop a relationship that would last their entire lives.

I know it’s early days. They’re just 5 and 3, after all. We’re still figuring out who Tessa is and what she’s like. There’s so much left ahead. 

And yet. I can’t help but wonder if this is just how they’ll be. I hope it is. I hope they always find this much companionship in each other. 

As you can see from the pictures in this post, it’s ridiculously easy to get pictures of the two of them together, happy. If school drop off wasn’t such a madhouse, I’d have snapped their picture every morning as they walk down the sidewalk, holding hands. 

I know it may not last. But I can hope.

Mommitments and Changing the World

I spent my first days, weeks, and months as a mom sure I was doing everything wrong. My baby wouldn’t breastfeed, wouldn’t nap, wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t stop crying. 

There was formula feeding. There was crying it out. And I kept quiet about it most of the time.

I was terrified to talk about the things that were so hard for me because I knew I was supposed to be happy. I was supposed to be doing everything the best way possible for the sake of my baby and people would see that I was failing.

A lot has changed since then. I’m not too scared anymore. I got a real baptism by fire in my first couple years of parenthood that opened my eyes to a lot of things I wouldn’t have realized so quickly if I’d had an easier first baby. 

And then, of course, there was the second baby. Where all the rules changed and everything I thought I knew went out the window.

Because there’s no one way. We’re all just doing what we can. We’re different. Our kids are different. It’s a huge world out there.

I was recently chatting with some people about the problems you run into when you say you like doing things like X and anyone who prefers doing them like Y is immediately offended that you’re judging them for their choice. It’s tricky. 

One person suggested a “You are Free to Think Differently” disclosure, so that people are aware that you’ve made a choice just because it works for you and not because you think it’s superior. This, I think, is something that should catch on. YAFTTD could change parenting. Could change Facebook. Could change the world. 

Next%2BLife%2BNO%2BKids%2BI%2Bmade%2Ba%2B%23MOMMITMENT%2Bto%2Bend%2Bmom%2Bwars%2B300 Mommitments and Changing the World

My friend Julie has started a push for the #Mommitment, where moms decide to opt out of the mommy wars. You know, the constant bickering, the judging. Whether you’ve thrown stones or had them thrown at you, it’s hard to parent without getting in the middle of these fights. 

The last thing I needed in my difficult early days as a parent was a war. I kept breastfeeding long after I should have quit simply because I worried that I wasn’t enough. I didn’t need someone telling me I didn’t try hard enough, I needed someone to tell me it was okay. I caused myself a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering, weeks of it, because I was trying not to be a disappointment. What we need most when we’re stuck in those tough times is the help and support of other moms who have been there.

So I hope you’ll think about joining Julie’s Mommitment and think about your own part in the mommy wars and what you can do to stop them. 

The Future

“What is the future?” Graham asked.

This came right on the heels of yesterday night’s bedtime when he asked in the middle of storytime, “What is inside the earth? How did the earth get made? And how did space get made?”

Five years old at our house has a lot of big questions. I don’t mind the big questions. What scares me isn’t explaining the future but looking at our road ahead.

We talked of the future and the past and time moving forwards. 

Then we came home and it fell apart all because of 8.

These big things we can do, I find a way to talk about them and he finds a way to understand. But then we hit a small thing like 8 and we hit a wall.

“I cannot write an 8,” he cried. 

“Okay,” I said, “let’s practice so you can make an 8.”

“You do it,” he said.

“Graham, I’m  not going to do your homework for you,” I said. “I will help you practice an 8, though.”

“But I’ve already practiced an 8 so many times!”

“It’s okay, we can keep working on it.”

“No, we can’t! You  just do it!”

It continued like that. If you’re a parent, you know. If you were ever a kid, you know. 

Graham was a perfectionist since he was a baby. Things must be just so and if they’re not his anxiety kicks in. As we’re starting to look at reading and writing and these big important new skills, he’s running into his perfectionist issues in a big way. He doesn’t want to try to sound out words, he doesn’t want to try to write things down, he’s afraid to do anything because he’s so afraid to fail.

It’s the future, it’s the problem we will have to solve over and over again for years and years to come. And it’s beginning right now.

I have to teach him to try. He doesn’t want to. And suddenly it is a battle of wills.

The kid digs in and refuses to budge. The parent digs in and refuses to budge. These are the moments as a parent where you find your zen place and disengage and wait it out.

These are the moments as a kid where you start bringing out the big guns.

“I don’t love you,” he said. That was first.

A while later came “I don’t like you.” He’s a smart kid to realize that’s a separate offense.

And finally, the worst one, a card that has never been played but will most likely make regular appearances for the next 13 years:

“I don’t want to live with you anymore.”

This is a special card in the kids vs. parents deck that only children of divorced parents get to play. It hits us in our most vulnerable places. 

Every week when they stay with me, at some point the kids ask, “When are we going to Daddy’s?” I tell them and they say, “Yay!” And every time I wonder, do they ask about when they’re going to come back to me? Do they get excited to see me again the way they do about their dad?

Of course, parenthood isn’t about getting your kids to like you. It’s inevitable that at some point they really won’t want to come to your house and they really won’t want to see you. That’s true whether they live at your house full-time or part-time. But. 

It’s the future, it’s a tool he’s going to use again and he’s going to get better at it. I don’t know if I’m going to get any better at hearing it. I’m okay at the zen stuff, I’ve endured years of meltdowns so I’ve gotten used to it. But will I ever get used to this?

For years I’ve said I can’t wait for my kids to get older. People told me it would get harder. I’m still not sure that’s true. I still think I’m better at these older kid skills. After all, I’d rather have Graham’s breakdown over an 8 than Tessa’s breakdown over anything.

Tessa’s vocabulary is building every day. She often uses multi-word sentences and even though she’s hard to understand, she’s making great strides. But when she gets anywhere near wanting or needing or angry or upset, she stops speaking. She goes straight to a whine with no sign of a consonant or a word to be found. 

Tessa’s breakdowns require a similar parental zen, except instead of ignoring her and waiting for her to calm down, I have to sit there and say, “I can’t understand you,” and “Tell me what you want,” and “Use words, please.” I am so tired of this. Having a child that won’t communicate has been my struggle for years and communication is everything to me. 

I’d rather hear Graham tell me something mean than have Tessa tell me nothing at all.

That may not be normal, but that’s how it is. 

But, of course, the future is never quite how you expect it to be when you get there. Just like I never see Graham’s big questions coming, or how to explain The Big Bang to a child whose Science curriculum is the Five Senses.

It’s never going to be easy, this parenting thing. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking to the future.

Weekends, My Nemesis

It’s not yet 9 am on a Saturday morning. There is a long day stretching out ahead and another long one following it tomorrow.

I am the worst at weekends. 

On the bright side, I only have the kids every other weekend.

But the not-so-bright side has a pretty long list. We can’t afford any lessons or activities to break up the days. Likewise we can’t afford most things that charge admission or sell tickets. Our last museum membership is about to expire and since I’ve been dragging the kids to them for years now we don’t get much mileage out of them anymore anyway. In the summer I can just go to a new park and set them loose, but winter gives us very few options. We don’t get invited to playdates and our house is never clean enough to invite people over. The kids can play together, but lately Tessa’s increased interest is causing Graham increased anxiety. 

And, of course, there’s my own parental weaknesses. I am not the best at sitting down with them and coming up with games, nor am I particularly patient with joining whatever games they’re playing. I want to be good at this, but I honestly can’t stand it. Then again, my kids don’t always engage in normal pretend play and I’m not sure I’m always welcome. Tessa, for example, has spent most of this morning putting flash cards into a box one at a time. This is her preferred type of activity, something methodical, putting in or out, matching, lining up, etc. It’s not exactly full of opportunities for fun and togetherness.

But if I leave them to their play, they get antsy and then there’s a request for TV, and there’s the constant calls for snacks, and on and on and all that. That is the worst.

It makes every weekend a challenge. 

Sometimes I have a plan, there is an event or two that we work around to fill up the time. 

Then there are weekends like this one where I’ve got nothing.

I often find myself wondering how other parents fill their weekends. I know there are commitments and errands and all that. We don’t have any commitments, we don’t have invitations, and I try to take advantage of my days flying solo to squeeze in errands. (Because really, who wants to take kids on errands? A fate worse than death.) But everyone else’s weekends seem to be so busy and I envy that. 

I have no idea what we’re going to do today, not to mention tomorrow. Boston is not exactly full of free family fun. Everything costs money here, and when I run across free activities they’re often for older kids or the kinds of activities my eccentric kids won’t tolerate well.

Oh, and there’s also the fatigue. Getting through the week is exhausting. Get up, get everybody fed and ready for the day, drop offs, work, pick ups, get everybody fed and ready for bed, bedtime, repeat forever. With young kids who need structure, there is no room in all this for relaxation. And their kind of fun is all about activity and motion. 

There’s a good 3-4 months of cold weather left and a lot of weekends to fill during that time. 

I don’t have a pithy closing line or anything here because, sadly, it’s still only 9:30 and there’s a long couple days ahead and I still don’t have an answer. Good luck to the rest of you and fingers crossed for me.