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.

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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. 

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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.

Merry Merry

The kids spent Christmas Eve at their dad’s and then came home, just waiting to get to bed. They opened their Christmas pajamas (which I remembered to wrap just in time before they came back) and headed upstairs at 7:30. “You should close the door,” Graham said. So I did.

I think the real miracle of Christmas is kids volunteering to go to bed early and then staying in their room quietly. 

That left me to do the dirty work. I felt under the weather, I’d woken up with the cold that Graham is recovering from, so I was extra tired. 

Okay, let's wrap some presents. #whitechristmas #binganddanny4ever #thankyounetflix

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I turned on Bing and Danny, made myself a hot toddy, and set to work. It was more than wrapping and assembling, there was also plenty of housework to do but I didn’t get much farther than tidying up the living room enough to make room for the new stuff.

It only took a couple hours to wrap the presents and fill the stockings. Then about an hour to assemble the new dollhouse. The assembly was not without hiccups. Nothing quite fit together right until it got screwed in. And even then, one piece of the roof has the pegs that go into the walls too wide-set to fit. I have no drill so for now the right roof is just kind of hanging on. 

I got to bed around 10, not too bad, but still later than I wanted in my sick haze. 

It was not terrible, it wasn’t even bad. It was just quiet. And while it wasn’t bad, I was acutely aware that this first year that I really get to do Christmas for my kids, I’m all alone. I’d always imagined it being different. Fun, funny, a little tipsy, with snacks and drinks and jokes. Just like the kids have waited for this day, I’ve waited for this night and it’s not quite what it was supposed to be. At least, not this year. But Bing and Danny were there, and it was familiar and I nibbled on Santa’s cookie and felt happy for the kids.

Those delightful children woke up at 6. In my sick state, I could’ve sworn it was around 3 a.m. I held them off for a bit, then went downstairs to get everything ready, grab a little breakfast, and make coffee. 

The kids waited until they heard the music. Perhaps the happiest I got this whole season was finding the Christmas album we always listen to on Spotify so I could turn it on for the kids just like my mom still turns it on at their house. I got kind of misty as I turned it on and watched the kids come down the stairs. 

Then I let them at it.

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Since they were up before dawn, the light was less than ideal but we got by.

Given all the time they took to wrap and shop for, it took surprisingly little time to open them.

At the end of the day they each had a shirt, a book, two toys, a couple stocking stuffers, and the big house to share. Thanks to Grammy and their Auntie it even looked kind of bountiful when all was said and done. And even a few presents can leave wrapping paper for days. 

I’d planned to start a new tradition with Christmas breakfast. This was a ridiculous idea. I was tired and feeling like death so the kids ate jelly beans and Pez for breakfast and couldn’t have been happier. I’m thinking this is a tradition worth keeping. At least it gets me off the hook for a while.

It only took a few minutes for Graham to request television, insist he wasn’t in the mood to play with his toys, didn’t want to read his book, and then finally chill and start actually playing.

Christmas magic for my kids is all about the anticipation, I think. Christmas morning was not filled with talk of Santa the way the last few days have been. Graham asked to turn the music off. There were no pronouncements of the magic and joy and wonderful toys. They were a lot like they usually are. I admit, I expected a little more from them given the excitement of the last few days.

Parenting these two is a lot about learning the same lessons over and over again, expecting them to be something else and then remembering who they are. Maybe I’ll figure that out eventually.

Right now it’s barely past 9 am and it already feels like we’ve been up for eternity. I have caved and let them watch television, but am restricting it to holiday movies. 

Soon they’ll head over to their dad’s house and tomorrow they’ll be off to visit family for a week. Even though it’s Christmas I’m still feeling the weariness of having them in the house for 5 nights in a row, my fuse shortened as it usually is after I have them for a stretch (especially one that had Tessa home every day since day care is out for the week and Graham at school just one day). 

But it was still worth it, it was still nice, it was still a new Christmas just for us. Merry merry to all of you, too.