Saturday, February 21, 2015

Triumphant peacock.

I am not the sort of parent who thinks her kids are the best. I tend to err on the side of underestimating them. Duchess danced her peacock dance at the Lunar New Year celebration at her school last night, and I was concerned that it would be a boring flop. She had worked on it a LOT under the tutelage of her Chinese teacher, but what I had seen looked pretty uninspiring, like a listless, jerky aerobics routine. She's not terribly graceful or coordinated, and she's really not concerned about stuff like attention to detail. (See?) But she's also a person who does stuff, as we know, and doing a solo performance (a solo DANCE performance!) is just a thing that people who do stuff... just do. She was nervous, but not terribly so, and she just took it all in stride. My concern was tempered by her casual attitude; I figured that if it was a disaster, she'd take that in stride, too, as she does with everything.

Anyway, she did her dance, all by herself, at the end of a typically boring but mildly charming bumbling-kid show, in the hot, crowded cafeteria. She did great. She didn't look nervous, though she also didn't smile or engage the audience at all. She just seemed like she had the whole thing in hand, like she was just doing it. Even a doting mom wouldn't say that she looked like a gifted or experienced dancer, but she looked like she had practiced, and she absolutely did not embarrass herself. And then her performance was over, and she was beset by friends and their parents congratulating and complimenting her, and she LOVED that. I think it might have been the best moment of her life so far.

(This, by the way, is a classmate and friend of hers. Not all of her friends are built on such a different scale from Duchess, but this is not unusual.)

(Skipper, of course, took this all as a personal affront. She was very worried that Duchess would humiliate herself, and then when it all came off well, she got really pissed that Duchess was getting so much attention. Poor kid - another lose-lose.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Things I overheard Skipper say to Cook today

"Achew! THAT was the sneeze I was waiting for!"

"Dad, what's a seizure? School is so boring! All we do is talk about friendship. I don't want to talk about friendship! I have lots of friends; I want to learn about seizures!"

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sorry about your five feet of snow...

...the weather here is gorgeous.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

there wuns wus tow grls

I just ushered Cook and the kids out the door - he's taking them to gymnastics (and running errands while they gymnasticate). Skipper yelled and cried for the preceding 15 minutes, and Duchess yelled and cried for 5 of those minutes. I was very glad to see them go.

Cook and I are both finding it difficult right now to be with our kids a lot of the time. A lot of the time, it is not pleasant or restful or joyful to be with them. Duchess is pretty happy right now, generally, but also very reactive, and her reactions can be very unpleasant. Her default response to any kind of challenge to what she's doing (such as, for example, a mild advance notice that she needs to get off the couch and get ready to leave for school) is to lash out verbally. She can be very nasty and self-righteous.

Skipper is, as I wrote before, often similarly nasty, but for her it's kind of a general approach to everything. She seems to feel most comfortable when she's feeling wronged and aggrieved, so she sets up every situation as a lose-lose scenario every which way. Say it's time to go to swimming, and she freaks out and screams "I don't want to go to swimming!"  - if I then say "Okay, let's not go to swimming," she immediately makes an about-face and screams "I want to go to swimming!" - there's no way any of us can win here. She doesn't feel safe expressing (or, I think, even feeling) enthusiasm or positive expectations for things, because that would make her vulnerable to disappointment or to what she perceives as humiliation, being made to feel a fool. She doesn't really seem to have a natural groove in her temperament for optimism, contentment, or for feeling good about the way things are going, and she has some very deep grooves for anxiety, defensiveness, anger, irritation, and scorn, so it is easiest for her to just file all her life experiences into those grooves. That's a tough, painful way to live, and it's also painful for the people with whom she lives. I think that this acute misery right now is partly a developmental stage, but it's clear that it's also rooted in her temperament. We try to coach her in identifying and naming her feelings, and in any coping techniques that we can muster up, but I don't think it's working. I'm not sure how much can be done, honestly, other than to support her as she works out for herself how to live her own life.

Extracurriculars are hard with her. I have signed her up for extracurricular activities (three separate activities a week, at the moment) because I feel like it's really important for her to get started early on a few things in which she can be a beginner with similarly-aged kids, and gain mastery that will make her feel competent. This seems like really important experience for someone who is afraid of trying things for fear of failure. However, now that she's thrown a tantrum before gymnastics three weeks in a row, I don't really want to keep taking her to gymnastics. With every kid, a big part of parenting seems to be figuring out how hard to push on what, and with Skipper I have no idea even how to see the line at which I need to stop pushing. She says she wants to keep doing all three of her activities (gymnastics, taiko, and swimming), and she clearly enjoys them and feels good during and after the activities, but she's pretty much a turd about going to them.

This week, she was super-stressed about going to taiko. The teacher had (apparently) given them a casual "homework" assignment to come up with a rhythm and make it active. Skipper wasn't sure what she was supposed to do, and I gently suggested a few approaches she could take (based on my personal experience that if you can't figure out what you're supposed to be doing, it's usually better to wing it and do SOMETHING rather than nothing), and she reacted with predictable angry tears. She couldn't wing it, because she was so paralyzed by her fear of doing it wrong, so all she did was worry and worry and worry and worry and worry, and by the time Wednesday rolled around, she really, really didn't want to go to class. I said she absolutely had to go - she could quit after that class, if she wanted, but she had to face the problem. So I more or less dragged her to class, walking half a mile holding her hand while she wailed and sobbed, and then I more or less shoved her into the classroom. (I was not nice about all of this. I can only imagine what a stranger observing us would have thought about my parenting skills.) And, as it turned out, the teacher never even mentioned the "homework" at all (I'm not even sure she ever actually assigned them anything), and Skipper was so relieved and happy after class, and said class was "really fun." I don't know what we take away from that.

I don't mean to imply that it's all rage and beastliness around here. Duchess, as I said, is pretty happy and is on a good trajectory, and Skipper, for all her assholery and misery vortex issues, seems to be feeling relatively comfortable at school and aftercare. She's usually great when you have her one-on-one. I took her by bus to swimming this morning, and she was really good company.

Report cards came home yesterday. Both girls continue to be academically successful by report card metrics. Unsurprisingly, most of the things in which Skipper rated "often does" rather than "consistently does" have to do with participating out loud in activities. Skipper tested at a Developmental  Reading Assessment level of 16, which is more or less the baseline they want all the kids to hit by the end of first grade, news which allowed me to relieve her of her apparently-long-held and totally unfounded anxiety that she's not going to be promoted out of kindergarten.

Skipper has been reading up a storm, and seems more willing to actually commit writing to paper. (Where it might be judged! And found to be less than perfect! This is a big step for her.) This is a piece of writing she started before school on a recent morning. I don't know what the two girls were going to be named, and I also don't know what's up with the small character she drew.

Also, here are some bonus photos of Duchess, waiting with me outside Skipper's taiko class two weeks ago.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The fifth-most popular name for baby girls in 2009

Skipper yesterday reported that she's been playing a lot with Ava and her best friend Ava, both kindergarteners. Also with her other friend Ava, who is a first grader, and Ava's friends Eva, Ava, and Anya.

I was unable to ask follow-up questions because I kept getting the giggles.


I am still alive! Everything is fine. No big news. I've been busy, and distracted by other forms of navel-gazing.

First, news of the kids:

  • Skipper can read. 
  • Duchess is currently pretty much delighted all the time (except for breaks for door-slamming tantrums) right now. She's got a potpourri of good stuff going on.
    • Her "Battle of the Books" team is doing very well and providing a lot of really joyful socializing (which was very timely, as she had been very sad for a few weeks about her lack of friends) at her team's "practices." 
    • She has been hanging out more with her best kung fu friend, which makes her also feel much better about her social life in general.
    • She and her best kung fu friend are officially starting to prepare for their next big promotion.
    • She's been getting more playdate invitations lately, from unexpected quarters, mostly from boys. I think she may be the practice Girl for many of the boys in her grade, as her temperament (flexible, enthusiastic) and her activity choices (electronics, frisbee, basketball, running club) have made her the girl that most of them know the best, and as they look ahead and realize that they are going to have to start having actual human relationships with the girls they know, Duchess seems like the easiest entree. I am crossing my fingers that being the practice Girl will turn out well for her. 
  • Skipper is angry a lot lately, and blames everything on everybody else. We're weighing whether we want to try to figure out a therapy route or just wait and see how it goes. Being a rage monster seems like a bad strategy for life, but therapy seems like a big, time-and-money-consuming step that may or may not be helpful. 
  • We've all been sick this week, with some kind of cold/flu thing.
  • We busted out the extra twin bed, so now the girls have three beds in their room. Duchess sleeps in the twin bed (which she fills alarmingly full - it won't be long before we have to invest in an extra-long bed) and Skipper has moved to the upper bunk of the bunk bed. This means that Skipper no longer gets a parent lying down with her at bedtime, which is kind of a big change. It has gone very smoothly, and she is very pleased with her new sophistication. Duchess is also pleased with what she feels is her new sophistication (a bed of her OWN!), and they're both excited to host sleepover guests in the empty bottom bunk.

News of the adults:

  • Cook decided he needed a project, and is accumulating the parts he needs to build himself a bike, which is pretty cool. 
  • I've made self-improvement my project, and have added a daily half hour of exercise to my life, which is also cool. The main reason I kicked off my project is that lately I've been feeling like I had a little more agency in my life, and this seemed like an important way to deploy that agency.

Talking to a friend last fall about the experience of being unemployed, under-employed, and tenuously-employed  (not to mention employed with an abusive boss who considered me to be useless), I realized fully for the first time how destructive that has been for me. It left me feeling like I could not change anything about myself or my environment, like I was an inert, useless person to whom things just happen willy-nilly.*

Having now been employed for nine months at work at which I am successful and where I am appreciated and welcomed by people I respect, I think that I have been slowly rebuilding my feeling that I am NOT actually a useless failure of a person. I'm at the point now where I feel like maybe I can make small gestures at changing things in my life that aren't working well.**

I'm not going to write about my exercise program here, because I am well aware of how incredibly tedious that is.*** I will say, though, that starting an exercise program at my current advanced age is really different, and much less rewarding than starting an exercise program 14 years ago, so it's requiring every bit of that feeling of agency. Further behavior change will have to wait until my confidence is bolstered more.

*Weirdly, the symbolic representation of this helplessness for me is my teeth. The last year has been an ongoing misery of fillings for me, along with dire warnings of future misery to come. I have tried to do everything I have been told might help, but the cavities keep coming, and I don't see a way to make them stop.

**Even more weirdly, the symbolic representation that started making me feel like maybe I can change things is that I've been doing self-care for blepharitis.  This involves putting a warm washcloth on my eyelids, and then wiping my eyelashes, so it's not exactly the most empowering or exciting lifestyle change, but it is a thing I can do that actually improves something about my moment-to-moment life. That's kind of powerful.

*** Yes, even more tedious than keeping an unremarkable blog about one's unremarkable parenting of unremarkable (but much-loved) children.