Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adventures in Story-Time

For the last couple months I've been trying to make taking Zoe to story time a part of our "Girl's Day" ritual. It gives Zoe an opportunity to interact with kids her age: sing, dance, play, and listen to a story. I like to make it a big event for her: I get her up, put her in a cute dress, attempt to do her hair and then we go to Starbucks for a special treat before we head to the "main event". Last week, we had Finnegan with us since their 3rd grandma (a very special lady who has become our kid's surrogate grandma since we have no family here in Bakersfield) was taking a much deserved week off. I was a little worried how it would all go since Zoe is used to it being "our thing" and well, I wasn't sure how Finn would be with the large crowd.

First stop: Starbucks. We forgo the drive-thru and always go inside on our "Girl's" mornings. It gives Zoe a chance to be more independent. She's very friendly with all the customers and baristas and loves the attention she gets. I'm loving how well behaved she is and her usage of "Please" and "Thank you" without being cued. I feel like it's important to expose her to new situations and let her flex her growing social skills.

Finnegan was chill:

Along for the ride

Zoe loved her treat:

1st Stop: Starbucks. Special treat for ZoZo

Then we jump back in the car. The important thing is to keep the energy up, so I put on crazy music for us to sing and "seat-dance" to. We also play roller-coaster whenever the mood strikes us, usually after we've been stopped at a red light or stop sign. I especially love when she tells her brother, "Throw your hands up, baby!" He has yet to oblige her, but if his yells are any indication, I'm sure he wants to.

When we got to story-time, I parked Finn's stroller in safe spot that was out of the way and carried him to where Zoe and I usually sit. I like to sit close to where Zoe is going to be at this point because she still needs my guidance on when to sit or stand and I know she feels better having me closer. She now ventures off my lap to mingle with the other little ones, but she likes to check back frequently and occasionally snuggles up to me if she's feeling insecure or nervous. Having Finnegan there with us this week, added to her confidence. She was very proud of him and kept telling everyone, "Look, my baby brother!" He loved seeing all the kids and watched them all very closely.

Here are some observations about this week:

- Some of the other mom's and dad's look like they really do not want to be there: glazed over faces, scowls. It makes me laugh inside because I remember when taking Zoe seemed so exhausting. I was a nervous wreck every time Zoe ventured away from me and I was sure she was going to somehow disrupt story-time with her antics. I've come to realize I need to just relax and let Zoe be herself. I make sure she sits when she's asked to sit and I ask her to be quiet when the story is being read, but I've given up on trying to completely control her. I think most of the parents struggle with that, but there is a clear separation between having fun and misbehaving. Story-time should be fun, that's what will encourage the kids to continue having a good relationship with books. I'm also a firm believer that if we don't give children the freedom to be independent and possibly make some mistakes, they will never learn right from wrong. I mean, it's not like they're beating each other up.

- That said... I thought I was going to lose it when a girl about 4 or 5 kept pushing Zoe. And I mean really pushing, hard. Zoe would be standing there smiling or singing along with the lady who runs story-time, and this little girl would come barreling toward her like a tornado and shove her. The first time it happened, I was shocked. She was out of Zoe's space as quickly as she had come into it. But then it happened again. And again. And my little girl was running to me with her finger in her mouth and eyes turned down - which is her signal that she is either very sleepy or very upset. I comforted her and she gently patted Finn's head and she eventually ventured towards the center again. When the little girl went after her one last time, Zoe managed to get out of her way and the girl found someone else to run into. The thing that got me was, the little Tasmanian Devil's mom was oblivious to it all. Laughing, chatting it up with other mom's while her kid bullied mine. Giving your child freedom is one thing, but there should be limits. Story-time (and other children's activities) shouldn't be an excuse to ignore your kids/let other people watch them while you socialize.

- A few minutes later a sweet little girl standing next to Zoe started sobbing out of no where. Completely unprovoked, she was just having a toddler moment... but the lady in charge didn't see what happened - and it's no wonder! Since most parents sit back while their kids crowd around this woman, it is impossible for her to know who is pushing whom and really, it's not her job to keep track of the kids who misbehave. All she knew was that she had an upset girl on her hands, so she stops what she is doing, bends down to Zoe, looks her straight in the eye and says "No, no, honey. We keep our hands to ourselves." My daughter gets her hyper active sensitivity from me and I could see instantly that her feelings were hurt. Already, it is very important to her that people like her and are entertained by her, so having someone who she truly enjoys seeing every week, think she'd done something wrong... well, my heart broke for her a little bit. Zoe immediately sticks her finger in her mouth and puts her head down as she walks to me. Her little eyes welled up with tears and she nudged her head into my neck. 1. I was confused. I hadn't seen Zoe do anything. 2. The lady that runs story-time is awesome and extremely patient, (my daughter just adores her) but reprimanding Zoe when she hadn't done anything wrong after Zoe had been enduring Tasmanian Devil Girl's attacks was just almost too much for me at that moment. As I watched Zoe try to hold back her tears, I also held back my own... feeling very much like a protective mama bear. I thought there was a chance I'd missed something, (I realize my daughter isn't perfect) but another mom turned to me and patted Zoe's back, "It's OK, sweetie. We know you didn't touch her." It was a relief to know that someone else realized what had - or hadn't happened. As Zoe and Finnegan and I were leaving, I made it a point to say hello to the mom of the girl who had started sobbing and to let her know that I thought it was just a big misunderstanding. I wanted Zoe to be able to make friends with the little girl - and I didn't want the mom to think my baby was a bully. Besides it was either that or use that time to brawl with Tasmanian Devil Girl's mom. I also made it a point to hang back a few minutes so Zoe could have a moment or two to interact with the lady who runs story-time without all the other kids crowding around. While a part of me wanted to tell her Zoe hadn't done anything wrong, I knew by watching them that all had been forgotten and there was no point in bringing it up again. After all, kids are more resilient than we parents sometimes give them credit for, and I know in story-time lady's place I might have done the same thing.

Aside from a few issues, the three of us had a great time. I'm looking forward to next week... even if my daughter did decide that hitting and pushing her mama seemed like a good way to express herself when we got home. Part of me can't blame her... the little girl who pushed her got away with it while Zoe got reprimanded for something she didn't do. I'm not so sure that she realized the injustice of that, but she did take away a greater interest in new ways to "push" people's buttons. We're working on teaching her that isn't how to behave and so far there haven't been anymore incidents. I'm hoping that continues, because I bruise easily.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Milestones

My son is sitting on the floor in front of me as I type. And that seems like such a monumental thing, because days ago I was asking my mama friends on facebook for advice on what to do with this son of mine who refuses to be happy unless he is in my arms. I wasn't used to this type of baby as Zoe was independent and happy almost all the time. Friends said things would change once he was sitting up on his own and while I was grateful for a light at the end of the tunnel, I didn't believe them. Not really. I was convinced I was doing something wrong even if I knew that was ridiculous.

Quite pleased with himself for sitting on his own

Finnegan has been sitting up on his own for a week now and he thinks he is the coolest baby ever, you can tell by that arched eyebrow and the huge grin. He's not like other babies I've seen, who slouch and struggle to hold their heads up. Nope. He sits up straight as an arrow and waves his arms around, yelling and laughing. Last week at Zoe's dance class I sat him in front of a little boy just a day older than him. Finn had never been so close to another baby before and he was very interested. They reached out and touched each others feet and fingers. The other little boy cooed and grunted and my son responded with loud yells. Friendly yells, mind you... but loud. Emphatic. And then he started waving his arms and somehow lifting his bottom almost like a little jump. He was obviously telling a very important, dramatic story. The other baby frowned. The other baby whimpered. The other baby made the most pitiful little frown you've ever seen. Clearly, the other baby did not like Finnegan's story. I said, "I think your baby is upset." And then Finn let out one last yell - his finale, maybe? - that sent the other baby into hysteric tears. And then I scooped my little bully up and said we'd try again next week. Gah!

tough boy

But now, he's sitting at my feet. No worries about who he might upset with his excited grunts and yells, he intermittently bangs on a toy piano and then turns to a toy laptop. Every once in a while he looks up at me with that beaming, happy face, and gives me a loud "MAMAMA" as if to say, THIS is what he's been waiting for. What a happy, happy, dare I say INDEPENDENT little boy.

My little sweetheart

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello Again

I think - aside from the worry you feel when your child is sick - right now the hardest thing for me about being a mother is remembering that I am more than Zoe and Finnegan's mother. Does that make sense?

What I mean is, sometimes, I feel myself getting so wrapped up in the children and the act of mothering them, I forget that I am more than that. I forget to nurture the other facets of my life. I forget that I am also a wife, a friend, a daughter, a creative. I forget to take the time to take care of the things that make me who I am. I forget that I am the sum of ALL my parts and that ignoring any part for too long makes me antsy, frustrated, and less proud of who I am.

Now, clearly... having two children ages 2 and almost 7 months means you have less time for other stuff. It means that these two little beings depend on you for everything and that other things take the backseat. I understand that. I embrace that. I am so happy that I get to stay home with these kids. When the choice between staying home with my kids every night and going out to rehearsals and hanging out with fellow actors became necessary, I chose to stay at home until the kids were old enough to do shows with me or until I felt like the time was right. There was a slight sadness, but not a moments hesitation because I know that theatre will be there for me again someday even if the parts may be different or smaller. But now I know that if I don't have theatre, then I need to spend more time doing the other things that have made me feel proud, creative, like my own person.

So, I'm exploring that.

I need to find a way to make photography blend into my life with the kids. I'm anxious for this damn heat to subside so I can take them out shooting with me. I'm looking into taking the steps I need to learn more and develop my skills into a small business.

And then there's my writing. I'm not the fiction writer my husband is, but I definitely have a passion for putting my thoughts into words. I enjoy sharing my stories and perspective. I love that I have a blog to look back on and see how much I've grown as a person. It makes me happy that someday my kids are going to read my words and learn more about who their mother is... that they will have a record of their beginnings and that when I am gone, they might still hear my voice through the words on paper. I've neglected my writing for a while now, and I need to find a way to make time for it again.

There's more, but just as Finnegan is slowly getting more mobile - as of today he now can sit up on his own! - I need to take baby steps in figuring out how to make time for me.