Sorry for the radio silence, readers. I’ve been buried under a dissertation chapter, but I got the draft finished on time (read: in time to meet my self-imposed deadline- must stop setting those) so things can ease a little now until later in the semester.
There have been about a billion posts I’ve wanted to write over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve just never had the time to sit down and put two thoughts together. Posts about how much fun E. is at the moment, even with the emergence of tantrums and ever-increasing daily frustrations we both experience when I put the vacuum away, or tell him he can’t have crackers for breakfast, or ask him to put away his toy car and come inside because it’s lunchtime. E. remains very even tempered and mild mannered, but he is definitely starting to realize that he can exert his own will, and his opinions about his day-to-day existence are becoming ever more set in stone. Then there are the usual posts about trying to balance motherhood and the PhD. Posts about parenting and how to get on the same page as one’s spouse and how to express to one’s spouse that tantrums are developmentally normal without making said spouse feel judged or criticized (actually I probably still need to write that one). Posts marvelling at all the things E. is doing right now that make him add up to be his own little person: he pushes his ride-on car everywhere and refuses to sit in it; he chooses his own bedtime stories and knows the order he wants you to read them; he’s starting to request particular foods for breakfast rather than just eating whatever it was we decided he might like. A post about how clean my house is now that all E. wants me to do is vacuum and/or sweep ALL.DAY.LONG, with hysterical weeping ensuing if I either put the vacuum or broom away or refuse to get them out in the first place. A post about cooking and baking with a toddler, complete with a picture of E. instinctively knowing that when one has wooden spoons covered in zucchini bread batter, the only thing to do is lick them.
I just haven’t had time to get to them. And in some ways I haven’t felt a real need to write them. This blog has been, for years now, my outlet, my place where I get out my fears and my anxieties, where I ask for support, where I look for answers to a problem. I noticed ages ago that I tend not to post very much when I’m happy, when I feel things are going well.
And right now? I am SO happy.
I realized a week or so ago that I was a good mum to E. as a newborn. Even with all the anxiety and the worry and the reading of parenting books, I think I managed to stay above minimum standard. E. grew and thrived. I was an even better mum in the second half of his first year- more relaxed, more willing to follow E., better able to draw what was useful from the parenting books I was still reading and discard what was not.
What I realized a week or so ago was that I don’t think I was all that suited to parenting an infant, and I definitely wasn’t suited to parenting a newborn.
But a toddler?
I’m just coming into my own.
I don’t know if it’s a result of the newfound confidence in my own parenting I developed after E’s first birthday, or if it’s more from E’s own developmental leaps that have made him such an amazing and interesting little person, but I am LOVING being E’s mum right now.
Scratch that. I have always loved being E’s mum. I just haven’t always loved the act of mothering. I haven’t always loved the jobs. I haven’t always loved what being E’s mum has required of me.
But right now, I love it all. Every single bit of the package.
Maybe I’m still high from getting enough sleep every night (which has literally changed my life), or I’ve been given a new burst of energy from E’s amazing naps (now that he takes only one nap he sleeps for longer during the day than he ever has in his life. Go figure.) but frustrations and issues and wonky developmental leaps that would have sent me into a tailspin in the first year now barely register. E. wakes up two nights in a row in the middle of the night and won’t go back down for two hours? Whatever. It’ll pass. E. only takes a 90 minute nap and is fussy and whiny and on a short fuse for the rest of the afternoon? Tomorrow’s another day. E.’s still not saying anything other than “Dadee” and “mama”, much to my MIL’s chagrin? Ah well. He’s on his own developmental arc and there’s so clearly nothing wrong with him I can’t bring myself to get worked up about it. E. is lying on the floor weeping hysterically because I suggested we go upstairs for a diaper change? Whoops- guess I didn’t give him a clear enough transition. We’ll read a couple more stories and then see if he’s ready.
I can’t stop thinking that I am unbelievably privileged to watch this little person develop, right before my eyes. It’s hard some days to pass him over to Q. so I can get some work done on the dissertation.
When E. is hard work, when he’s arching his back and screaming or lying on the floor weeping, I can usually tell what the problem is, and if it is something that could be easily fixed, or whether he will have to learn to manage his frustration. The crying doesn’t bother me anywhere near how it used to when he was little. If I can’t figure out what the problem is, I can keep asking him questions and making suggestions until I finally say the right thing. And E. himself is becoming very adept at explaining what he wants. The other day we went to a drop-in. E. had a meltdown on the front steps because I wanted to take the stroller and not his ride-on car, because I knew he wouldn’t ride in the car but would insist on pushing it, which would mean we would get three houses down the street rather than to the drop-in. Eventually he calmed down, we got out the stroller, and off we went. At the drop-in I was reading E. a book and there was a picture of a car in it. E. started pointing at the car, signing more, and walking to the door to get his fleece. I finally asked him, “Do you want to go home and push your car around?” and got a hugely enthusiastic yes (or E’s version thereof). We stayed for circle time, then we went home, and he pushed his car around for another hour or so. It was a great morning.
I can see my role now, my place as guardian of this little spirit, my responsibility to nurture it and protect it and yet also give it the freedom it needs and demands and longs for so that it can grow.
I can see E. making sense of his world ALL.DAY.LONG. It is mind-blowing. We go for a walk down our street with E. pushing his little red car in front of him, and me wandering casually at his side to make sure he doesn’t suddenly pop off the sidewalk into traffic (as he is wont to do), and he’ll stop and pick up leaves and rocks and sticks and hand them to me for safe keeping, and then he’ll abandon his car and trundle off down the sidewalk as fast as he can go, and I just watch him and the love that I feel in those moments is overpowering.
A few weeks ago I did an online quiz to determine my “mothering style” (a quiz loosely based around the Myers-Briggs personality tests). I came back as Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, or the type they classified as the “Responsibility” mother. Here’s what the website had to say about her:
The ISTJ mother has a highly developed sense of responsibility: for work, home, family … particularly her children. Whether she’s overseeing daily baths or insisting on a 10 p.m. curfew, her efforts are largely focused on providing her children with order and routine. She wants them, regardless of age, to be able to count on her and the structure she provides.
In carrying out her commitment to her responsibilities, the ISTJ mother is organized, industrious, and detail-oriented. Because her focus is the day-to-day realities of life, her children are likely to feel secure and well provided for.
The ISTJ mother also sets a good example and provides her children with practical guidance on being a productive, responsible individual. Still, with all her seriousness, she may delight family members with her quick wit and observations about the details of life.
I’m not going to lie. When I first read this, I was horrified. Yes, I love my to-do lists, and yes, our household works best with a routine that Q. and I work hard to protect, but the sort of person they were describing in their analysis was NOT the way I wanted to mother. There was no room in that description for flexibility, for silliness, for imagination, for seeing the individual in the child, for following the child.
Six months ago that quiz would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have been heartbroken at the result and would probably have started searching for parenting books that would promise to infuse a bit of spontaneity into my relationship with E.
After I’d digested the results, however, I was able to see how I ended up with the label that I did. The quiz would ask whether something described me well, somewhat, or not at all. I tended to mainly choose somewhat, unless it was something I felt very strongly about. And because I know I do well with instituting routines, and because routines are important in our household, those questions tended to be ones where I chose “well” with confidence. There were other questions where I felt I wasn’t sure I could choose “well” yet, as I didn’t feel I’d had enough time with E. to choose one way or another. The end result must have been that my parenting was skewed towards the Responsibility mother.
I’m not saying the results were totally inaccurate. Anyone who has read this blog would know that in a lot of ways the Responsibility mother does reflect the way I parent. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, not by a long shot. There’s no room in that description for the Mum who sweeps the main floor over and over again because it makes her son smile, or the Mum who sets her son up on a chair so he can help her with dinner or with the baking even though that inevitably slows down the process and makes a mess. The Responsibility mother doesn’t have the imagination I know I do. The Responsibility mother, I feel, would struggle with handing over responsibility for eating to E., something which I’ve mastered most days (even when all he wants to eat is carbohydrates). Most of all, the Responsibility mother doesn’t seem to have room in her highly organized day for her child’s own ideas.
Maintaining order and a routine is important to me. We’re not the sort of household that would do well flying by the seat of our pants, especially not with Q. and I trading off with E’s care. We’ve struggled a bit with balancing our need for order with E’s own needs, especially in the early months, but I think we’ve figured it out. Yes, we do try to protect E’s naps and bedtime, but that’s because he responds really well to this- the few times he’s had a really late bedtime we have paid for it with night wakings, early risings, and general misery all round. And now that he’s down to one nap, it’s simply not negotiable- I won’t go out to a playdate when I know he would normally be napping. So it does matter.
But it’s not the focus of my parenting. The focus of my parenting is E.
And that, I think, is how it should be.