April now. Fat, white flakes swirl, cluster, and gather on the window pane. They coat the car, the driveway, every surface. I’m less than happy about it. I’m less than happy about a lot of things right now.
Forgive me this post. Emotion demands that we go in before we can get through. Feel it; don’t think it. When depression knocks I hate to open that door. Like a homeless cousin, I’m afraid that if I invite depression in it will stay for a long time… but I don’t want it hanging around outside of my door either. I want to be a person who talks about hard things. I am trying to get unstuck.￼
I’ve been asking people why we feel so down. No end in sight. Boredom. Isolation. Loneliness. Nothing to look forward to. We’ve been living with COVID-19 for a year. You’d think we’d be used to it. Vaccinations are happening; we might start to feel a measure of safety and normalcy. Yet all I have is questions. Can I go inside of stores and restaurants now? Are you going? Will all this new activity come down on my kids?￼￼ Have you been vaccinated? Can I ask that?
So much has happened since the new year and also so little. Avery is going to bed more easily. The brothers have ten teeth between them. Sleep is precious. I have gone from regretfully ignoring my old dog to unabashedly ignoring my old dog.
Over spring break I traveled out of Alaska; it was my first trip in a long while. For two weeks I enjoyed sunshine, flowers, and family. Avery’s behavior was awesome and it was a nice little vacation from my problems. But now, I’m back.
Back to the stress of waiting. For Avery to outgrow tantrums. For our family to figure out peaceable conflict resolution. Back to another friend long-hauling with Covid. Another friend with cancer and a go-fund-me site. (Why is this the way we fund healthcare in this country?￼!) No produce in this town. I put some alfalfa seeds in water to sprout on the window ledge. How long will that take?￼
One of the things I have learned on this becoming-a-better-person journey called parenthood is that chaos is short-lived. When the house blows up with voices, crying, agitation, food on every surface, etc. I don’t panic. Fifteen minutes, I think. It will all be over in 15 minutes.￼ I can buy myself a little time without freaking out but that is my limit. My boundary. My max. If chaos exceeds the time allowed, I crash.
When Covid started, I gave it a year.￼
March was a marker, but of what? We can no longer look over our shoulder and see where we came from, but visibility ahead is also poor. The horizon holds no promise of resolution.
Even when the threat of this illness has past there will be the social reckoning. So many difficult conversations are left unresolved. Mask-wearing and social distancing added visible fuel to an already mile high fire.￼￼ We can’t take back what we know.￼
So, we wait.￼ Even as everything has changed, and with evidence to the contrary, we trust that spring still follows￼ winter.
Give that sock back! Give it back nooooooeeeewwwwww! She is laughing, running around the bedroom, tossing this purple and black striped sock into the air. Is this why mama it’s always the last one dressed and out of the house?￼
Chase, laugh, repeat. Just days ago I would’ve grabbed said sock and made sure we moved on in a timely fashion. But I have a new goal: Make Avery giggle every day and keep it going.
The figurative Puritan farm wife in me has never allowed for enough joy but my new goal is helping. Also this week￼: Airplane rides. Grandpa walks.￼ Special Time and the The Don’t Do It game. I discover that I know a surprising number of silly songs about horses.￼￼￼ Tickle chase in a grassy field substitutes for the workout I never seem to get.
Why would I ever shut this down?￼
Last week was rough. “Don’t wake the brothers,” I said as Avery climbed into the car after school.
Avery and I have been in a terrible cycle. She’s been aggressive towards the babies, seeking attention through negative behaviors, and generally wound up for months. If you say, One more time and I’ll... she’ll get right onthat.
Ruptures within our family are never about one incident. Major conflicts fall on top of years of broken sleep and “normal” household chaos (this morning I found play dough smashed into the rug and half-eaten tomatoes in my daughter’s bed).￼ Even if I maintain through offenses A, B, and C, there is no way I will make it through to X, Y, and Z. I have been mad, yelling, slinging consequences, and even spanking.
Already we suffered a string of conflicts this morning. If the babies stay asleep then Avery and I will get some desperately needed one-on-one time before her nap￼; but I am hoping for the impossible…
“Hi Eirik!” She yells into his face. Two little blue eyes blink open.￼
With three car seats across the back of my SUV, car time offers Avery unsupervised access to the babies that I find impossible to avoid￼. Eirik gets the worst of it. At times she has pressed a thumb into his fontanelle until he cried or finger-popped the side of his mouth and made him bleed.
“Hi Eirik!” she yells again, this time poking at his mouth. As she reaches for him now, I go ballistic.
I am a good parent; meaning I am committed to the process. Communicate well. Lead by example. Each of us takes responsibility for our role in a conflict. Focus on the beauty. I hold this vision￼ for the long road￼ and offer myself forgiveness in all the moments.
Every now and then I stumble upon a hard topic to write, which also means that I have to do it. This is that topic. Conflict within our family. My child’s overwhelming behavior. Trying to be on the same page as my spouse. The role I play in all of this. It might take a few posts.
At times, Avery’s love for the brothers recalls the curly-haired Animaniacs character Elmyra who gathers the animals into her arms, saying, “I will kiss you and love you and squeeze you all up!”
Parenting is insane and whoever says it gets easier is a filthy rotten￼ liar. The twins get a lot of press, but what makes our family functional or fraught is Avery’s behavior. I wont divulge too much lest I shut down reproduction for the human race, but this list is a pretty good summary:
Avery isn’t a toddler anymore; but Preschooler = Toddler with more brain and muscle. Since I’m the one who’s talking people worry about me but that’s not the point. Please, pray for us all.
It’s sad what a big kid loses when she gains a sibling (or two). She had mama entirely to herself for three years and must now compete for my attention (aka take turns).
I remind myself that I am the guardian of Avery’s sense of security, and she expects me to model what reasonable interactions look like. I want to harness her “creatiful” energy for the greater good and find a way forward where I am not mad all the time￼.
Avery demanded the full hippie swim-up bar until she was two-and-a-half. Watching two babiestethered to my boobs is too much for her to take. If I don’t want a baby at each breast and a jealous kid wrapped around my neck then I nurse in my bedroom.
While I hide behind a locked door, Avery finds outlets for her angst: Sewing needles scattered across the floor. A stick of butter nibbled at the corners.￼￼￼ A spool of thread woven through the house like a mad spider’s web. Furniture covered in maxi pads. Wet washcloths wrapped in toilet paper and carefully placed in the freezer. Framed art askew. Electrical fixtures swinging.
Isolating her from her family isn’t what I want to do. It’s bad enough that the other four of us, plus the dog, sleep together in one bedroom while she sleeps alone. (We tried rooming the dog in with her but he couldn’t take the pressure.￼)
I have an idea. Next time I nurse on the couch and ask, “Want to play hide and seek?” Without waiting for me to finish, she runs away to hide. I count long and slowly then I go find my girl.
My sense of safety is renewed but it’s a bit like tossing a steak for￼ a troublesome dog. There must be a better way.
Time to use a lifeline. My friend E has the same constellation of children only she is a year ahead. She recently spent a long weekend with friends who have preschool-aged only-children and was amazed at how much attention those kids got. “We have to remember our daughters are still really little,” she says.
Knowing what not to do does not help a parent to know what to do.￼ Thankfully, my desperate late-night Google searches yield new ideas at ahaparenting.com.
The blog is written by Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. She talks about fresh ways to be in relationship with children that shift parenting away from consequences and towards fun. In all the margins, I see my daughter￼.
She writes: Laughter relieves stress as much as a tantrum, and it’s so much more enjoyable for everyone. Laughing not only reduces fear and anxiety; it also releases bonding hormones like oxytocin so every time you laugh with your child, you’re building trust and connection.
Peaceful Parenting has three parts:
1. The parent commits to regulating his or her own emotions.
2. The parent prioritizes strength in the parent-child connection, the relationship, which is the reason children cooperate.
3. The parent loves the child unconditionally. No withdrawal of love around undesirable behaviors. No rewards or consequences to manipulate the child into doing your will. Only loving guidance and opportunity for everyone to learn how to manage big emotions￼ together.
All of this takes a lot of effort. But as one playful dad, V, once told me: “I find I have to put in the effort one way or another.”
Kids (and grown-ups) act out when they have big feelings they can’t put into words and don’t know how to express. When our needs for attention and power (two big needs behind undesirablebehaviors) go unmet we get whiny, controlling, aggressive, and territorial.
At first I couldn’t imagine a world without consequences. Do the crime, do the time, right? ￼But then I realized that punishment doesn’t really accomplishanythinghelpful. Remember the last time someone yelled at you. Did it increase your respect? Bolster your relationship? Make you want to please them? Improve your behavior in the future? Nope. Me neither.￼
From a kid’s perspective, there is no need for discipline; only for connection, listening, and stress relief. Kids need insightful adults who imagine what’s going on inside of them. They need us to understand their intentions, believe in them, forgive them, expect the best from them. That’s the adult I want to be.
For the first time in a long while, I see positive change in my child’s behavior and it isn’t because I found some magic wand to wave over her. I started with the only behavior I can change: Mine.
In doing away with consequences, I committed to figuring out what my daughter is trying to tell me. The message was obvious: Avery needs to know she hasn’t lost me.
I’ve been slow to understand all the forms separation anxiety takes. That’s why we’ve struggled so much at bedtime. That’s why time outs make her behavior worse.Avery has a case of the mamas and she’s willing to drag a brother around by his arm if it means I’ll come running. She wants to be with me, glued to me, no matter my mood. This is also why she continues to think I hung the moon and stars even on my yelling days.
I am having fewer yelling days. I’ve been reading, thinking, talking about my intentions, screwing up, apologizing, seeking accountability in my friends and support in my husband, doing it all again.
After several months of hard work, I rarely use punishment and consequences anymore. When I am proactive; when I cuddle my daughter and make sure not to leave her on the back burner, the behaviors disappear (okay not completely) on their own. When they surface, at least I know where they are coming from.￼
What fills the void? Singing of show tunes and whispering of silly things in each others ears. Saying yes when other adults make excuses. Rip-roaring, out-of-control, rolling-on-the-floor giggle fits that allow me to see more of my daughter’s beautiful spirit and my own.
Early December brought a downpour to Southeast Alaska that the National Weather Service described as a 1-in-200 year event. Twelve communities were affected in all. Haines suffered the most extreme damages with 6.62 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. There were landslides, sinkholes, roads washed out, loss of nine homes, dozens of people displaced, and two fatalities.￼
The rest of our communities hardly make news. It’s rain, after all. Y’all are used to that, right?￼
I’ve never experienced anything like it. On the second day, flooding begins. Gustavus gets almost 4 inches of rain; just under the 24-hour record set in October of 1994. Eleven inches fall in the City of Pelican in 48 hours. Eleven. Southern California is lucky to get that much rain in a year.￼
For these two communities, last month was the rainiest December on record and second only to October of 1978 for the rainiest month of all time.
My neighborhood loses power in the late morning. Someone from the utility company stops by all of our homes to explain that a transformer is underwater. They are waiting to see what additional flooding the high tide will bring. “Hopefully power will be back on tomorrow,” he says.
I love a good power outage. When I was a kid we lost power to wind storms all the time. Mom would get the kitchen glowing with kerosene lanterns and warm us with the blue flames of our gas-powered stove. It felt very pioneer. We ate cereal and listened to AM radio. Gusts to 60 mph. French toast sticks for school lunch. We suited up into snow pants and jackets and went to the bus stop. No big deal.
Fast-forward thirty years and I feel dramatically under prepared. My husband is in Juneau. I have a range top and a wood stove, but no heater and no oven. Without the booster I can’t text or make calls. We have water in the reserve tank but it will run out soon.
First things first. I make a batch of play-dough and dig through the Christmas decorations to find two LED candles and enough AAA batteries to power them.
I place one of the candles on Avery’s nightstand as I tuck her in at naptime. “This is your candle,” I say. “Keep it with you until the sun comes up tomorrow.￼”
During her nap I prepare for nightfall. I mix a quick soup, put out oil and popcorn, place an empty bucket under the downspout, scoot living room furniture aside to create a sleepover scene, prep the laptop and DVD, and gather thematic books.
Avery wakes up and walks out in her light shoes click, click, click. Pink and purple fireworks with every step. She is carrying her candle. “Mama?” she asks. “It’s 6 p.m.?”
She wants to know if it’s time for the episodes she watches in the evening while I put the brothers to bed. “Not yet,” I say, and we read Dinosaurs before dark by faux candlelight.
My ability to slap a silly solution on a somewhat serious situation is my strength as well as my weakness. Maybe I should dig deeper, plan harder, think bigger; but that’s not where my brain goes. If the kids are safe and happy, if I can manage to make this into another one of our adventures, then that’s good enough for me.
It’s time to drive into cell-signal land and call daddy. I load the kids into our old truck and brave the flooded driveway.
I dial my husband from the library parking lot. For a few minutes everyone is copacetic but then Toren starts in with his metal-on-metal scream. My husband is irritated. “Why don’t you call me back when everyone is settled?” he asks.
I get out of the truck to tell him how it really is. That making this phone call took a journey. That all I’ve got to get us through the night is popcorn and light shoes.
Covid-19 makes this strange storm even stranger. At another time people would be visiting, playing games, and waiting together for the weather to clear. But for the millionth time this year, there is nowhere to go. So we go home.
All of us are dealing with multiple stressors: People have too much work or too little work; too much time or too little time; anxiety or boredom; friends or family. We have nothing left to give, but keep giving anyway. We get out of bed in the morning, get along with others, pay the bills, get some sleep, and do it all again tomorrow.￼ It’s not our best work but it will have to do. We forgive ourselves. We call it giving ourselves grace.
This endless rain at the end of an endlessly rainy year taxes whatever stamina remains. I wonder what kind of resiliency I have left. Six p.m. finally comes. With Avery plugged in and the brothers asleep, I sit down to eat soup and reevaluate. ￼￼A generator, I think. Tomorrow I will find a generator.￼￼￼
Just then, a neighbor rolls up with venison steak, fun lights, and a generator.￼ Turns out my husband made a few calls of his own, and Covid-19 doesn’t stop everyone.
Sometimes we have what we need; other times we don’t. Maybe resilience lives in the community collective: A place where even when people are tired, someone has the energy to make a difference, knows what to give, has the right thing to give, and the truck to get it there.￼
The evening begins anew. We eat and play. I run the generator for a bit of light and comfort before turning in. “You might hear me up in the night,” I tell Avery. “I’m adding wood to the fire. Call Coo-ee! and I’ll come tuck you again.”
The pounding rain keeps me awake. I remember another time, far from this life, when I pretended the wind rattling my metal roof was the Southeast rain and let it lull me to sleep. This is not that rain. For the first time, I wonder what constitutes a monsoon.￼
Daylight makes everything better. I pack everyone up and drive to a friend’s home where I sit on a couch, drink tea, and feel normal. People joke about their new lake-front property. The power comes back on.
But the rain continues. After three days the volume drops to a normal sort of torrential angle-rain that continues through days four and five. On day six my friend H texts me: How is it still raining?
After a week, the sun comes back out. My husband flys home. We cut a Christmas tree. I ignore the wet things haunting my crawlspace. M spends three days evicting voles from our garage.
The New Year offers an opportunity to exhale and celebrate all that we have come through. With the last full moon of 2020, I spend a quiet moment letting the past year go and making room for the year to come.
Resilience sometimes shows up as a reserve: A full tank of gas. ￼Love handles. Money in the bank. Good health. People who pick up when you call. A shiny new degree. An adequate resume. A reliable vehicle. The padding we hold onto for tough times.
But rather than a fullness, resilience might be a space. A capacity for looking ahead to a challenge and wondering, How might this change me for the better? In lean times a reserve can be exhausted. But a space can grow and deepen forever.
I talked with a friend in Haines today who parents an almost 2-year-old from before sun-up to long after sun-down. He is also remodeling a kitchen, emotionally supporting his partner who is a pandemic-era medical professional, repairing his home after national disaster-level flooding￼, and with each day addressing that relentless question, What’s for dinner?￼
“It feels like a little too much,” he says.
Yet I know this man to be highly resilient. Even under stress, he loves. He knows ￼his gifts and gives of them generously.￼ He cultivates an attitude of gratitude. Kindness is a prerequisite. Play is a priority. He lives by values, rather than resolutions.
Resiliency requires imagination. It says we must not expect life to behave predictably and we must not despair when everything crumbles. There is always a new chapter waiting; another chance to rise from the ashes. What is the point of living as less than we are?
On the brink of a new tomorrow, resilience is resisting the urge to rush back to the safety of everything you’ve ever known. It is singing our sorrows with lifted voices; even if we can’t carry a tune. It is the courage to look out over the edge, and fly.