I want to be his hero

This morning, while I was grabbing a quick shower, the boys spotted one of Aiden’s birthday presents at the top of the cupboard. I explained that Aiden’s birthday wasn’t for another week and that he couldn’t have it now, but Cam was determined to get it for him. 

While I was getting dressed, Cam kept trying. First he fetched a stepladder. When that didn’t work, he collected pillows from throughout the house and tried to build a tower with those. 

As impressed as I was by his persistence, I was about to get annoyed with Cam for disobeying my instructions. But then he turned to Aiden and said, ‘I’ll get it for you Aidy. I won’t let you down.’ That stopped me in my tracks. 

I took Cam aside for a little chat. I told him that it was lovely of him to help his brother but we needed to wait for Aiden’s birthday. And then Cam said, ‘But I want to be his hero.’ I couldn’t shut that down. So I grabbed the ladder, lifted him up to the top of the cupboard, and victoriously, he presented the prize to his brother. 

And I’m thinking, this is one of those teachable moments parenting gurus are always going on about. Delayed gratification is an important lesson for my boys to learn. But relying on each other? Helping each other? Being heroes for each other? That’s important too. 

I could leave this post here. I could end off by saying there’ll be other presents on Aiden’s birthday, but maybe this one will make a lasting impression for more important reasons – for both of them. But even as I congratulated myself on imparting wisdom to my offspring, even as I basked in the glow of my wonderous parenting, they started squabbling over the trains. Then Cameron started asking for juice and within moments that had escalated to a full-blown meltdown because I said he couldn’t have any. That lesson on delayed gratification involved tears, foot stamping and door slamming, before evolving into a tantrum about not going to school that lasted the entire drive there. 

I stand by my decision to let Cam get the present for Aiden. I hope it taught him that when one is persistent for the right reasons, it pays off. That he got a warm and fuzzy feeling inside from seeing Aiden’s delight, and that it showed him that putting others first makes us feel good. I truly believe his intentions were noble, that I saw a bit of gold in him and went after it. 

And the fight about the juice? As emotionally exhausting as it was, I had to do it. I know it’s just juice, but I hope he learnt that he can’t get his way just by throwing an almighty tantrum. That sometimes the answer is ‘no’ and we just have to accept that. But I always find these stand-offs leave a bitter taste in my mouth – maybe because they push me so close to losing my temper? 

As I sit here enjoying a quite moment while Aiden naps and Cam’s at school, I marvel at how much these little people pack into our hours. Golden moments followed by tough ones. Smiles followed by tears. It’s exhausting. It’s an emotional roller coaster. And there’s no getting off! I’ve just got to hang on and try to enjoy the scenery as it whizzes past. 

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Project Parenting

As I mentioned in my last post, Cameron’s sleep habits aren’t great and we decided to hire a sleep consultant to help us. We met with her yesterday and tonight ‘Project Sleep’ begins, but the process has already got me thinking about a whole other topic – the expectations I have of myself as a mother.

It started when I was filling in the forms for the sleep consultant. There were pages of questions about every element of Cameron’s life – food, sleep, illness, birth, routine, environment, feeding. As I waded through it I had a growing sense of failure. I found myself trying to justify my answers because I knew there was a ‘better’ one. But another part of me was also asking why I felt like a failure? And my conclusion – too much information!

In this day and age, we are bombarded with information about how to raise a child. And frankly, I don’t think it helps. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about ante-natal classes.) I love the way Steve Wiens put it in his post ‘To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud’:

We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom with Cameron, I worked in project orientated fields. We had clear targets, deadlines and processes. I get a kick out of that sort of thing which is great because sometimes a systematic approach is needed. Take ‘Project Sleep’ as an example – the timeline is two weeks, there is a clear process for each eventuality (naps, bedtime and night wakings) and we have a chart to map our progress. (All this quite aside from the fact that ‘Sleep Consultant’ looks great on a business card and just screams ‘corporate culture’.) But for every day mothering I’m learning that this is not how to approach parenting. For me, all the information can make me feel like raising a child is some sort of project. All those handy month-by-month milestones just get me asking questions like ‘Am I meeting my deadlines? Is Cameron on target? Am I performing well enough as a mom?’ Talk about pressure I don’t need in my life!

In the same post, Steve Wiens goes on to say:

…maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next President who knows how to read when she’s three and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

I think this is good advice so I’ve stopped reading the books. It’s nice to know they are there if I have questions, but mostly I ignore their existence. I only subscribe to blogs that inspire and encourage me. And I reject those failure feelings each time they raise their nasty heads.

The thing is, that as well as info overload, we also live in a culture where perfectionism is celebrated. To use ‘Project Sleep’ again, one of the reasons why I’d love Cameron to sleep better is because I suspect that if I could just get a bit more rest, I could be one of those cookie baking, home decorating, meal conjuring, craft creating super moms who make sandwiches look like dinosaurs. But again I question myself – ‘Why do I feel like I need to be?’ That stuff isn’t necessary. Yes, it’s nice to do if you like baking and creating and making sandwiches look like dinosaurs, but those activities should be added extras, not a source of more pressure. Those things can be fun creative outlets but there is a huge problem if I feel like I need to be doing all that stuff to succeed as a mom.

Writing posts like this makes me realise just how much motherhood is changing my perceptions and ideas. Maybe it’s got to do with having so little time – I need to make sure I use it well! So I’m prioritizing differently. I’m living at a slower pace. And most importantly, I’m redefining my expectations.

A dose of perspective

Last night Col and I watched What to expect when you’re expecting which is a movie following the journeys of five pregnant women. Aside from being some light hearted entertainment, it made us realise just how much we’ve grown in the last eight weeks. Things that would have intimidated us a few weeks ago now elicit a wry giggle instead. It was also interesting to think back on that weekend that Cameron was born. I went to bed last night with a feeling of intense gratitude to God for how He carried us through that experience.

It was also a great way to end off what was a really good week with Cameron. I’ve managed to establish a good routine with him and I think we crossed the line from ‘adrenaline based survival’ to now continuing with our lives but with a baby in tow. I started expressing milk for a bottle once a day and Cameron has taken to it with consummate ease. This gives me a bit more freedom, but also allows Col more bonding time as he gets to do a feed. Another unexpected benefit is that Cam has started taking his dummy which makes getting him down at night much easier.

We have had a number of successful outings in the last few days. On Thursday I took Cameron with me to the shops and he slept very peacefully in his carrier the entire time. That evening Col and I had our first date night which was awesome. On Friday night we went out for dinner with Col’s mom. Cam came with and slept in his pram completely unfazed by the noise of the restaurant. On Saturday Col’s mom baby sat while I went to have my hair done – something I have been dying to do for weeks and which made me feel like a new person. That night we went to a braai at which there were four couples – us with our eight week old, the hosts who have a three year old and a second on the way, the third with an eleven month old and a fourth expecting their first in three months. What was interesting about that was that the kids are now par for the course and not the main event. We put our sleeping babe down in one of the bedrooms, turned on the baby monitor and had an adult evening. To end off this flurry of social activity we went to a first birthday party yesterday and then my aunt, uncle and cousins came over for tea in the afternoon. (Recounting this now, it’s no wonder I was so tired yesterday! A sleep in this morning and afternoon nap have left me feeling much refreshed today.)

All of these adventures have really highlighted what a well behaved little boy we have. His routine wasn’t affected by all the activity, Col and I really enjoyed showing him off a bit and we’ve got a bit more confidence in terms of taking him places with us. There have been a lot of tough moments over the last two months but they are by far outweighed by the extent to which Col and I have grown in our roles as parents. Even when we are bleary eyed and half asleep, Cameron’s blue eyes gazing up at us never fail to melt our hearts. And there has not been one second when we have not been oh so grateful for his presence in our lives. The level of fulfilment and joy that having a child brings is so elemental that it’s a very hard thing to put into words. But it flows into everything we do and has changed us forever. Yes it’s been a roller coaster so far but it’s an exhilarating ride and the occasional stomach plummeting moments only make it that much more fun!