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Posts Tagged ‘parental struggles’

The day is not off to a good start.

Part of it is actual, part of it is mental, part of it is diet-al.

Part the first: I have managed to make my child simultaneously hate school and believe that her teachers are going to be mad at her if she isn’t perfect. We had parent teacher conferences last week, and her teachers mentioned a couple of things Carla needed to work on. And I mentioned those things to her, and we talked about some strategies, and she got really cranky and irritable with me and then we moved on. We had a lovely weekend. This morning, she waltzed into my room in one of her signature amazing ensembles (purple pants, pink shirt, faux leopard fur vest, sparkly headband) in a happy mood and snuggled with me until my alarm went off. I reminded her this morning about what we had discussed, and it was like flipping a switch. All of a sudden she was hot and would I take her temperature. No fever. She was really tired and naptime at school is way too far away so she wants to stay home. She doesn’t want to go to school. She’s NOT going to school. I tried to figure out what the deal was – she LOVES school; over the weekend, we drove past her school and the parking lot was full and she said “No fair! Those kids get to be there on the weekend!” – and eventually got out of her that she thinks she won’t be able to do what we discussed and her teachers will be mad at her. So. No school. She’s done.

Well shit.

I tried everything in my Mommy Toolkit to persuade her: Assurance: We don’t expect you to be perfect, we expect you to try your best. Your teachers love you. Here are all the wonderful things they told me about you at the conference. Here are all the things for which your father and I are so proud of you. Bribery: If you go to school today, you get to do X! I will let you bring your horse in the car on the way to school! If you still feel bad at school, you can go to the nurse and she will call me to come get you! Logic: School is your job, you have to go. If Daddy didn’t want to go to work, what would happen? It’s a law that kids your age have to go to school. Mild threats: If you don’t go, here are all the fun things you will miss. If you stay home, you will be bored; no TV, I have work to do so I can’t play with you. And – bringing out the big guns – I will make you go on ERRANDS with me. She was undeterred.

Finally, after assuring her for the ten thousandth time that neither her teachers nor I would be mad at her, that none of us expects her to be PERFECT, that we just want her to TRY… After singing her the Daniel Tiger song about “your best is the best for you”… After coming up with some specific strategies to try with her teachers… FINALLY, I got her out the door. We were thirty-five minutes late.

And then, when I was telling her teacher about the strategies we had discussed and explaining what had happened, I of course burst into tears. Because nothing makes a Bad Parenting Morning worse than leaking it all over your child’s poor teacher. The only saving grace was that we were so late, there weren’t many other parents lingering in the halls to see me blubbering.

Man, I really screwed things up. And I don’t know exactly HOW, or exactly how to fix it, or how to do it differently. And she still needs to work on the things she needs to work on, although obviously they are not DIRE. (Though I managed to get poor Carla to feel that they ARE dire.) And my heart just feels so RAW for her, because she is working so hard at growing up – so, so hard – and she wants to please us and her teachers so badly, and she is so much more sensitive than sometimes even I realize. And of all people in the world, I should be the one who KNOWS what she needs and understands how to get through to her without screwing her up and I DON’T.

So that’s the actual.

The mental is the crushing certainty that I am the absolute worst choice of person to be a parent. And that nonetheless I have to do it anyway. And at stake are my child’s PERMANENT HAPPINESS AND WELL BEING.

There is also the outward spiraling, wherein I begin to feel that everything else in life is terrible too: our house is falling apart, I can’t keep up with the to-do list, I am failing as a writer. You know. One bit of the scaffolding gets knocked in and the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Then there’s the diet-al, which is stupid and I should just QUIT because it’s making me miserable. I have a constant headache. I feel nauseated and my brain seems to be going at half speed. I am not particularly hungry or missing foods all that much, but I do have a rather abnormally intense fixation on Diet Coke.

You can see how this all adds up to a bad morning so far.

Two things I am using to try to pull myself out of this negativity quicksand:

  1. The diet is over as of Thursday morning. I will be celebrating with a big bowl of pasta and a thick slice of cake.
  2. I have a pedicure scheduled with a friend for Friday, which should be relaxing and my friend and I will get to chat and catch up.

And between me, my husband, and Carla’s teachers, we should be able to figure out how to redirect her perfectionism… somehow? Right?

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Poor Carla is just off  lately. Saturday she ate practically nothing – some bacon and a tomato from her BLT at lunch, a handful of fries; a peanut butter sandwich at our friends’ house that night – and then she ate a great lunch yesterday but literally NOTHING for dinner. Not a single bite. She requested instead to go to bed. But then she woke up at 11:30 and could NOT fall back to sleep. She was up until well past two. Two a.m. in the morning. And if by “she was up” you are assuming that maybe I was sleeping, no. I was reading Harriet the Spy and playing YouTube “spa music” and fetching water and taking her temperature and reading old favorite picture books and giving her Tylenol because her “neck” hurt when she swallowed and making a “nest” in my room beside my bed and lying quietly in the dark and hissing at Carla in my most soothing way to just be STILL and close your EYES.

No surprise that she was dragging this morning. She didn’t eat as much for breakfast as I thought (hoped) she would – most of her smoothie, one French toast stick – and was just kind of slow. Which could be tired slow. Or not-feeling-great slow. Or just plain old Kindergarten Slow. Who knows.

Why is so much of parenting so unknowable? That’s what I’m bemoaning this morning. I mean, I get it. There’s no handbook. No two kids are alike. Yada yada blah. But I have had this particular kid for nearly six whole years so you’d think I’d at least have the hang of dealing with her by now. But you’d have thought incorrectly, I’m sorry to say. (Mainly sorry for me, not so much for you and your misplaced faith in my supposed parenting “ability.”)

There are so many QUESTIONS. And I have answers to SO FEW of them! Sure, some things, like “should she be holding that sharp knife?” and “should I give her a hug?” have simple answers. But so many do NOT.

Some of the questions for which I do not have answers just TODAY:

  • Is “not eating dinner” a totally acceptable thing once in a while, or does it indicate something is WRONG?
  • Does a repeated claim that a child has a headache indicate an actual headache… or is it a bid for attention… or is it a parroting of my own not-infrequent headaches and therefore a cautionary tale against complaining too much about my own minor aches and pains… or is it a way to divert attention away from the not-eating?
  • And if there IS a headache, is it a normal Everyone-Gets-Headaches-Sometimes headache or does it indicate something is WRONG? And how do you know the difference?
  • How in the world do I stopper the effervescent frustration of Slow Child Not Moving Quickly Enough When We Need to Get to School on Time FOR THE LOVE before I burst forth with a Mean Mom snarl of PUT YOUR COAT ON OMG?
  • If there is no fever, and no REAL reason to keep a child home – especially when everyone seems to think that a snow day or two is imminent this week, based on predicted temperatures – is it really okay to send her to school? Even though this guilty feeling keeps nagging me like a staticky sock stuck to a pant leg?

This is not to mention all of the day-to-day questions I have, including but not limited to:

  • How much screen time is REALLY acceptable? And if my kid squeezes it all into the weekends, does that make it better or worse?
  • How am I ever going to get her to tie her shoes? I don’t want to buy shoes with laces until she knows how to tie them; cod knows I’m not going to tie them for her. But how is she going to learn until I buy her shoes with laces? DILEMMA.
  • Should we be FaceTime-ing with relatives more often?
  • Is my kid’s behavior around other adults totally typical of her age, or something I need to be more on top of correcting? (Things like not answering when being spoken to, sticking out her tongue or otherwise being playful, ignoring them totally and wandering off…)
  • Am I preparing her well enough for Real Life? While still allowing her to enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood?
  • Is she really going to lose ALL her teeth? And how am I going to handle the horror that is a piece of my child’s bone hanging by a slim bloody tether from her gums MORE TIMES?
  • Do I read to her enough?
  • Do I play with her enough?
  • Does she have enough time to play?
  • How many stuffed animals are too many stuffed animals?
  • Are my expectations too high? Not high enough?
  • Am I giving her enough intellectual stimulation? Social? Physical? Creative?
  • Am I teaching her good eating habits?
  • Am I a good enough role model?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Is she happy?
  • How many ways am I failing her?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this parenting thing is EXHAUSTING. It’s like taking a midterm exam every single DAY and knowing that you haven’t studied enough and you are pretty iffy on big chunks of the material. But you don’t get a grade now  – oh no, you have to take 4,560 more exams just between now and when your kid presumably heads off to college. And they’re really important but there’s no way to know if you’re just squeaking by with a C average or totally bombing. That’s the hardest part, right? I could be TOTALLY SCREWING HER UP and I won’t know until she’s an adult.

I am going to go treat this bout of parenting angst with some melted cheese and maybe consider a nap. How’s that for being a role model, hmm?

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I had no idea that one of my biggest side hustles as a mom would be trying to find a babysitter. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone – especially if you have nearby relatives who are happy to take a kiddo for a few hours – but man it has been true for me: I spend a ton of energy trying to find and keep babysitters.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to feel comfortable leaving Carla with a sitter AT ALL. Our first regular sitter lived down the street. She’d just graduated college, she had a bunch of siblings and a history of taking care of kids in the neighborhood. Plus, she was a former lifeguard so I knew she was a) CPR certified and b) schooled in handling emergencies.

At one point, she was always busy when I asked her to watch Carla, so I stopped asking. (Who knows – maybe she really wasbusy. But if she was just uneasy telling me she no longer wanted to babysit, I wanted to take the hint.) That was a sad loss.

I tried one of those websites where you can find a sitter… but I have to be honest. I freaked me out. Too many options, and too much potential risk, I guess? I know many people have used those sites with great success. But it’s not my thing.

A neighbor mentioned that her high school son would be interested in sitting for Carla. But… Carla is scared of him for some reason. Maybe not scared, but totally apprehensive at the idea of having him watch her. So that’s off the table. (And, I’m sure, so is asking his older sister; talk about insulting!)

Finally, we found a sitter who worked at Carla’s old daycare. Again, I was delighted! She and Carla knew and liked each other. She’d been vetted by a place whose very business was taking care of kids. Plus, I just liked her. But she moved out of state. Before she left, she recommended one of her former colleagues from the daycare, who was also a great find. But then she had a baby and I never heard from her again.

Just a year ago, I felt flush with an abundance of sitters. Carla’s swim instructor was happy to babysit. And one day when she was unavailable, she recommended a friend who is a speech pathologist and works with high-needs kids. We met her and she was excellent. So that’s TWO sitters to call on if we need it. But they are both really expensive, which is a factor.

So when Carla literally picked up a sitter at camp this summer, I was over the moon. (I showed up in the car line on the last day of camp and Carla dragged this young woman over, and the young woman said, “Hi! Can I give you my number so I can babysit Carla sometimes?” Um. YES.) She was Carla’s swim coach at camp. She was a high school student, so she commands a lower fee than the two adult professionals we’d been using. And she was wonderful. Full of energy and obviously deemed capable of wrangling a bunch of five year olds – in the water, no less – by Carla’s school. We had her over to watch Carla and Carla had a blast and keeps asking when she can come over again.

My husband and I haven’t been on a date in MONTHS, so I am ready for one. And I want to sign up for this Sur la Table class so I can cross it off my to-do list. So I texted the sitter… and she hasn’t responded. I am going to give it until this weekend to follow up (she’s in class during the week, obviously), but I am worried about how best to contact her. I could email her… but do kids these days email? Or I could call her… but do kids these days use the phone? (I doubt it. I don’t use the phone and I’m a billion.) Probably I’ll just text her one more time and then if she doesn’t respond I will begin the grieving process. Because I don’t want to badger her.

Did I ever tell you about the horrible babysitting experience I had in grad school? I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here. As with most of my past (a phrase that makes my earlier years sound unnecessarily mysterious; they were not), the incident is kind of fuzzy. I have a truly dreadful memory. But the broad strokes and the pervasive dread have stuck with me.

I had a professor that I loved. He taught a class on my all-time favorite author, and we spent the semester reading books I loved and delving into the author’s craft and I loved every minute of it. Much of the reason I loved it was the professor, too. He was engaging and smart and he seemed to value my contributions – slim though they were; I once got an A- in a class I otherwise excelled at simply because I didn’t speak up enough – and I really liked him.

One day, he asked if I would babysit his two young kids. I can’t remember if he put the request out to the class or if he asked me specifically. But I said yes and gave him my cell number so he could send me details. I sat for the kids one time and it was… rough. I’m not much of a kid person as it is; I don’t really know why I said yes in the first place. I have a very blurry recollection that maybe the professor was in a bind and I said yes reluctantly just to help him out. I’m pretty sure I told him right then that it was a once-in-a-while deal, that he should not count on me as a regular sitter. But maybe that’s one of the tricks your mind plays on you, after the fact, filling in what youshould have done. Maybe I was eager to help out, at the time.

So I sat for the kids and then I was done. Once was enough. Again, I don’t have anything specific to hang that reasoning on. Maybe the kids were unruly or mean or fought a lot or cried a lot. Maybe I felt overwhelmed or realized, yeah, I don’t like kids. Maybe the parents were late coming home or I felt uncomfortable in their house. I have no idea.

But he asked me again and I said no, I couldn’t do it – blaming it on some other commitment, feeling horrible for leaving him in the lurch.

(A little part of me can empathize with him, now that I’m well-versed in trying to find a sitter for my own child. You find someone you like, and you want that person to be Your Person Forever. When you have no other options, you might be a little more willing to be annoying in pursuit of getting what you want.)

And then he called me again, to ask me to babysit. And I declined again. And then he asked me again. Did I go back and sit for the younger kid, one more time? I think maybe I did, but maybe I wanted so badly to say yes and stop the badgering that I invented that memory. In any case, he called again. And again. I stopped answering my phone when he called. I felt guilty about not wanting to help, and uncomfortable about lying about my other commitments, and awkward about having to see him in class.

And then, in class, he started telling us stuff that struck me as really inappropriate. Stuff that maybe you shouldn’t share with your students. But it sounded like he and his family were going through a really rough time – my memories here are more specific, but I don’t want to share the details because a) they aren’t mine and b) if I ammisremembering, that makes sharing them even worse; suffice it to say it was really, really disquieting stuff – and so I can understand that he might have been so consumed by what was going on that he lost his sense of judgment about what he should and shouldn’t share. Or hey, maybe it was perfectly reasonable for him to tell us what he was going through, and my particular high-boundary personality coupled with my strained relationship with him is what made it seem out of line.

He would talk about these things they were going through, and how desperate he and his wife were to figure them out, and how they had all this time they had to spend away from the one kid while they were struggling to help the other kid.

In any event, it made me feel awful. Sad for him and his family. But also like he was guilt tripping me about not babysitting for them. In front of the whole class. He and his wife neededsomeone to help them out. The younger kid neededsomeone to be there for them, while her family’s lives were in a tumult. And I couldn’t even be bothered to babysit???

I realize that a lot of this is my own personal interpretation. And you weren’t there, and you aren’t getting his side of the story. But I hope you believe me when I tell you I felt a tremendous amount of pressure. And I felt I couldn’t do anything about it, either. I couldn’t drop out of the class – it was too far along in the semester by that time. I didn’t feel that couldn’t go to anyone in the department, because it’s such a small department and he had such standing in it that I didn’t think anyone would believe me that it had become a bigger issue than a stupid babysitting request. I didn’t even tell my closest grad school friend about it, because I was afraid she’d say something and I’d get blackballed by the department.

Writing it out even now, it seems ridiculous. How could an entire semester be ruined for me because someone wanted me to babysit his kids and I didn’t want to? And of course, I’ve lost (or blocked) the details so I can’t lay it out for you to fully examine. Instead, you get these shards and fragments. How can I expect you to form a clear enough picture that you understand?

Well. This is all I’ve got.

And it did ruin the semester for me. Worse, I haven’t picked up a book by my once-favorite author since.

Like I said, I do have some empathy for him. Now. After the passage of many years has softened the anxiety and discomfort I felt at the time. And knowing what I do about the singular desperation a parent feels in the face of losing a perfectly good babysitter.

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