Motherhood is full of the best highs and the worst lows. Parenting can present impossible challenges and incubate such guilt-ridden anguish. It’s hard to come out unscathed. When the yarns start spinning and the decibels of my preschooler escalate, my parenting skills dangle dangerously over an abyss. The hypocrisy ignites and my worst patterns emerge. I cringe as I hear myself parroting all the ugly cliches to Lake: You’re too old to be acting like this. You’re being so naughty. I criticize and criticize the poor rascal. Lake is in tears. I feel positively terrible. He feels positively terrible. This is certainly not what is meant by positive parenting. I’m ensnared in this trap again and again. Even though I know the trap is set by stress and fatigue and baited with a hollering baby, and even though I know the trap can be avoided by a taking deep breaths, keeping a healthy perspective, not taking it personally, and swimming around with a joke and a sense of humor, I fall in the pit over and over. These low moments of parenting act like quicksand, and I sink lower still through self-loathing. How could I be such a terrible parent, yelling at my sweet yet infuriating five year old? At the end of the day, this is the reality I must reconcile with both myself and my children. When I’m calm I apologize and hope that my willingness to be honest, humble, and admit fault partially erases the toll my hot temper must have on my innocent and not-so-innocent, but doing-their -best children.
While Lake has been with Nana and Baba this summer (And what could be better than time with grandparents?! Just look at these gorgeous scenes!) I’ve had a bit of time and space to do the work of bolstering my parenting tool belt: strengthening my emotional foundation, and building up my emotional resilience. It’s a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy tool belt full of intelligent alphabet soup and helpful acronyms, aimed at reducing emotional suffering, improving communications, and being more present in life. This handy tool belt of parenting skills is all reinforced for me through listening to The Skillful Podcast, where hopefully the repetition serves to build familiarity and bring the skills to the fore when I’m really confronted by a hot torpedo. The ABCs are for Accumulating positive emotion, Building mastery, and Coping ahead. The PLEASE skills of physical health are: PL treating physical illness, Eating balanced, Avoid Mood Altering substances, Sleep, Exercise. I’m reminded to investigate the truth of my anguish-inducing thoughts through Root Cause Analysis: What am I feeling? What’s causing the emotion? and to Check the Facts. Is there another way to look at things? I challenge myself to make an emergency preparedness plan incorporating different Skills: STOP (Stop, Take a Step Back, Observe the situation, Proceed Mindfully using another skill), TIPP to physiologically calm via slowing my heart rate (Temperature (ice water dive, really an ice pack to the eye sockets), Intense Exercise (jumping jacks, deep breaths, planks!), Paced Breathing and Paired muscle relaxation) then proceed to Distract as long as needed until I can proceed with Opposite Action (eg humor instead of anger). It all comes down to Radical Acceptance, and I’m reminded of The Serenity Prayer, which I repeat over and over like a mantra until some of the distress begins to melt and gives way to the possibility of finding my peace and joy amidst the kid and life chaos.
To be sure, the kids can be a bowl of laughs. The “torpedo” is softened to “impishness” and the cherub sets my heart on fire. When she reaches her arms around my neck to give me a hug, there are no words. When she crinkles her nose or waves goodbye, joy crescendos and time stops. The other day we were all in hysterics over lunch. As a family we’re amused by wordplay and Lake has absorbed this trait and skill without exception. Lake especially loves to make rhymes.
“Tomatoes and Topedos! Tomatoes and Topedos! Tomatoes and Topedos!” Lake trilled as he subbed in “topedo” for “potato.” Later he couldn’t even recall the word for potato. “What is that topedo called, again?”
Madeline found it particularly funny as topedo sounds like how one says “torpedo“ in German. That’s an apt descriptor for Lake, he can be a bit of a torpedo of action and fun!
“Never give a nosy person room for a comeback. Humor is the great escape,” writes Frank Delaney in Tipperary.
Lake was asking me what’s the word for a doctor of research. “A PhD? A professor?” I said, trying to read his mind. “No.” He began to get frustrated. “If you don’t know it, I will never be able to know what it is,” he said. The pressure mounted.
“Can you give me some context? Is it a type of career that one of your LEGO figures has?” I said desperately fishing around in the dark. “Is it a scientist?” I ventured.
“Yes!” he said with sheer and visable relief.
“Yes! A scientist! These guys, they science the water,” he clarified.
Lady Kitty is a surely some special category of scientist engineer. She scienced the water to me the other day. She was sitting in the sink bath and wanted her water bottle. She was pointing to it and making little grunt noises. I was being a bit obtuse on purpose because she wasn’t pointing exactly at the water bottle and I am not crazy about how much water she drinks. Thirsty as a fish. She loves that water bottle. Then: sopping wet diapers. Finally she pointed to the water coming out of the tap, then in the general direction of the water bottle. Okay, I capitulated.
While they might both be sciencers of the water, Lake tends to be the imp while Lady Kitty plays the cherub (at least for now–I could see this changing. Lake is proving to be a devoted and tender big brother. And that crinkly nose mischief face of Lady Kitty !!) Auntie Kendra from Alaska writes of our this years’ Father’s Day get-together: “It was so great to finally meet Lady Kitty. I like her immensely ❤ And I also really enjoyed getting to know Lake better. I can see that he is endlessly amusing.” She deals us a solid. As only an auntie could see the truth in a heartbeat.
Lake said, “Want to dance? I’m good at balleting. I’ve seen it so many times I know exactly what to do, and I grew up to spin. I love spinning around.”
He’s a very imaginative storyteller which he likes to narrate with his stuffies and Legos and Octonauts. Sometimes when I’m working in my home office I get to eavesdrop on his antics. “Once upon a time there was an octopus who didn’t have a home but lived on a baby giraffe. One terrible day they met a seal…” And another time I overheard him say, “They’re out attacking the unvisable [sic] ghosts…”
Lake can be an imp and he can also be an absolute sweetheart.
One morning the sweetheart said to me,
“You’ll always be here for me.” I raised my eyebrow, or what I thought might pass as a raised eyebrow. “Oh?”
“But the thing is,” he added with with clever diplomacy,
“I’ll always be here for you.”
And we are. We’re all here for each other through the hot days and the cold. That’s the beauty of family.
Last month Lake said of Lady Kitty, “I think she really likes the life of living with me. I think she really likes living with me. When you do that thing of moving to another house [growing up and moving out]. She would be really sad. I’d have to bring her with me. I think she loves me.”
She does. I’m certain. (To be fair, Lake also adores Lady Kitty!) Lady Kitty is a genuine sweetheart. She is a lovely conversationalist and has a richly nuanced vocabulary consisting of about three words. “Ba” – for “regard, there”. “Da,” for agreement or assent, “Out” for outside. Although recently she has added “Mamamamamama!” with both arms up; roughly translated as “There you are. Finally. I’m dying for milk!”
I continue to be enamored with the ingenuity that the kids show with their imagination and vocabulary/anecdotes. I wish it were always a bowl of laughs, and that’s really what rings most true at the end of the day. But it would be dishonest to say we are always laughing. Taken all together, these days of family life are still the perfect days, and I’m glad I spent them with you. Stay cool in the heat, loves, and as Lake said when I got out the fans, “You get your cool air time!”