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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Things I Learned While Playing With My Sons

Today, as we spent most of it at the Urgent Care trying to take care of this month long ear infection and pink eye outbreak, I realized that I was overwhelmed. I was tired. Heck, it's been a month (exactly) since I got a good night's rest. A month since I have had a puke free day. A month since I've done something for myself. And, in turn, it's been a month exactly, since my boys have truly been kids. They've been fever ridden, couch bound, in pain, crabby and tired. They have told me that their "ears are falling off" and that they are "just too tired out".

So today, as we approached the third hour of the Urgent Care visit, the boys "sat" in the exam room as I waited on the phone with our provider trying to get approval for Theo to be seen. While I answered the redundant questions by the operator, the boys destroyed the room. Literally: they tore the paper off of the exam table, and not in one clean rip, about a million tiny pieces of paper. They threw teddy grams in the air as they tried to catch them in their mouths. They played some sort of racing game as they pushed one another on the rolling stool and then, for a brief moment, they were calm as they counted each item in the dull room. But then they realized they could count better if they touched everything as they counted it. Inevitably, they knocked everything off the counter and onto the floor.

Frustrated and annoyed, and after three days by myself with them, I was done. I sat them down and begged them to be quiet as we got the insurance stuff sorted out. They agreed for about 30 seconds. When we finally left the exam room, we had to wait for paperwork and instructions on the medicine, and for some reason, the staff asked me to walk back and forth around their office and expected that my two and three year old sons would behave. Instead, they crawled, tackled and laughed as we paraded through the office. I'd had enough, but what was I going to do? Yell at them in front of a dozen sick people? Ignore them? It had been three hours?! I was antsy!  All I wanted to do was go outside and enjoy the sun on this beautiful 55 degree day as I sipped coffee in silence and looked at the mountains. Instead though, I was trapped. I escorted them to the car and buckled them in as the nurse sorted out some issue with the meds. I walked back into the waiting room, I could clearly see the car and since I had rolled down the windows, I could see them laughing hysterically as they peered back at me. I wondered what they were laughing about, nothing had been that funny. The nurse was taking too long so I walked back outside. As soon as I came to the door, the boys were silent. Their faces long. They expected me to yell. I didn't. I told them that I was disappointed that they didn't listen to my directions and that we were almost done. The nurse met me at the car and gave me the final paper work. At the three hour and 22 minute mark, we were done with that place.

I got in the car, I was silent. "Mom, are you mad?" Henrik asked. "No, I'm not mad, I'm frustrated that you guys won't listen to me. I'm annoyed that you do things that you know are wrong, but you do them anyway just because Theo does it. I just want you to behave. I don't want you to be a follower, I want you to be a leader." I could see Henrik through the mirror. He was thinking something. We were silent in the car for a bit. When we pulled into the store where we could get medicine, food, and reward toys (for getting eye drops). I said, "Alright, if you two behave while we eat, we will get reward cars. If not, we will go straight home." They agreed and we went in. As we ate, Henrik exclaimed, "Hey Fee-o! We're behaving for mom!" people stared, then they smiled. "Fee-ooooo, we're eating all our food and behaving! Mom is going to be so happy!" I was. I gave Henrik a smile. "Mom! I'm teaching Fee-o how to do all of the right things by using good words to him!" His smile was huge. It broke the ice on my sour mood and made me get up out of my seat to give him a kiss on the forehead. "Thank you, Hanky". He touched my cheek and smiled back.

Once we got home, Henrik was in the greatest mood in the world. I was exhausted and just wanted him to sleep, but I couldn't force it, I got him a project to do at the store and he wanted nothing more than to paint "real toy wood cars". So, we did that. We talked, painted and just enjoyed one another. It was then I realized that I had to put everything aside, I had to make this lame, ruined day (Theo's birthday party was supposed to be today) and turn it into something fun for these kids who were desperate for some kid time.

I had been working on some lesson plans about Europe and decided today was the day we do them. I moved the table, created a fortress, gave them some cardboard swords and shields, we made crowns, got out our super hero capes, and I told them to get on the table to the top of their castle. They looked at me like I was nuts, and I think by now, I am. But, in a royal, booming voice I told them to step up to the top of their kingdom. Theo looked at me like he was doing something bad, but when he got to the top I told him to raise his sword, and I struck some powerful pose and the boys started laughing. I laughed too. They beamed as they stood there. They yelled some super hero/king phrases and we started to play "Kings, Knights, Super Hero, Cobras" I'm not really sure what the game was about, but we were playing it together.

It was then that I learned a little bit about myself and my boys. I learned that no matter how exhausted I was, there was always enough energy to let loose and play dress up. There's always enough time to run around the house with play swords and chase away cobras and pumas, and there's always enough time to hid under a table while we dodge wolves and protect a million baby dolls.

But there was more, I play with my kids a lot, but this game was something new. It was the first time I handed out swords: they've been dying to play with them, but I've always come up with a reason not to have them. Today, they got to be protectors. They got to be boys. They got to be dangerous. I told them that if they had a sword fight the cardboard would break, but they could pretend, and that was good enough for them. They were glowing as they hoisted these swords up in the air and marched around the room with one arm on their waist and capes flowing behind them. As I announced them as I put their construction-paper crowns on their heads, they beamed with delight, "I now pronounce you, King Batman Henrik Cat Face Ehn. The ruler of the kingdom, the protector, and most brave king in the world. And you, I now pronounce you, King Spartan Cat Face Theodor, the strongest spartan in all of the Ehnlandia with a heart of gold and an attitude like a Thornado". They giggled and then got into character.

 Then, our game began. I followed suit as they ran around chasing away cobras and komodo dragons, and when I asked to be saved, Theo responded, "Step back mom. Take a deep breath, you can do it" and went on playing in his own world. And when I urged Henrik to come save me he said, "Mom, you're fierce too, you don't need to be saved". I was surprised. Not because I expected them to save me because I was the mom or a girl, but at their insistence that I was an equal in whatever game we were playing. Whatever we were doing, we were all in it as competent warriors: equal in strength, brains and leadership. The boys played together, not side by side one another. They got along. They understood the game, it was me who was out of the loop. When one of them needed help carrying something else into the castle, they helped one another. When a new intruder came in our paths, we worked together to figure out how to elude them. It was confidence boosting, encouraging, and healthy play. It was not violent and egotistical.

When I finally tried to figure out who needed to be "saved", Henrik told me we had to protect the babies. Once the baby dolls were in our castle, the game changed a bit. Theo wanted to protect the babies as Henrik rounded up the cobras and took the sick and injured ones into his care (he was adamant about protecting the cobras from the hawks). Then, slowly, their crowns and swords went away. They were now care givers, I asked if they wanted their swords back, and was told by Henrik, "Nah, I'll be a super hero, they just need their hands to help people and animals". I watched as the boys fed and cared for snakes and babies. I watched as they pretended to be the daddy and big brother and suddenly, I was out of the game.

I watched them for a good thirty minutes as they traded off their time from "working" or physically moving things like chairs, trash cans, boxes and whatever else they could pick up as they made their castle better, and caring for the sick cobras and babies who needed attending to. I thought, not about the mess, but about how different this game was than the one I played with my sisters. We always worried about order and structure and what the rules were. We were concerned with the normality of playing house, like having a mom, a dad, some kids, a dog and a cat and we never really "played". The boys weren't just playing house, they were creating a world around them in our dining room. They, just like Max from Where The Wild Things Are, indulged in their imagination and turned their costumes into a persona and a way of life. It was magical. Every once in a while they would look up and ask me to assist in some matter, but mostly, they were playing peacefully around me.

Today I learned about who my sons were, or at least what they aspired to be. When all of the costumes were gone, they were themselves, "just Henrik" and "Just Fee-o-door" as they played. Not super heroes, not kings, not anything else in the world, they wanted to be themselves and use their own bodies and tools to help others. They wanted to surround themselves with people who were equally as brave and strong as they were, and they wanted to work together to solve problems. They wanted to be daddies and brothers, they wanted to be together, not apart. They needed me to bounce ideas off of, but didn't need me to guide their adventures any more.

And in return, I learned that no matter how stressful taking care of two sick kids is, or how annoying insurance companies can be, or how "wild" my boys get in public, I learned that I have two, really  amazing kids that were growing up before my eyes. I have always taken pride in my children and what they know because I believe I take an active role in what they learn and how they learn it, but today, I took pride in who they were as individuals and who they were choosing to become. I was proud to watch them as they made everyone an equal. I was proud to see them care for the injured, sick and young. I was proud to see them work together and aspire to the greatest jobs in the world: Dads and brothers, not kings or super heroes.

It's easy to get caught up in life, especially when things are difficult. But today was a great reminder of the important little things life has to offer. We didn't need to spend money or go somewhere to have fun. I didn't need to be doing anything else in that moment except be with my kids. All I had to worry about was if the cobras were ok, or if the mean ones were in our way. And while it was fun pretending to be someone different, it was more fun to be ourselves (in a table and chair castle with snakes, babies and komodo dragons) and to be together. It was extremely important for me to see past the trashed doctor's office and the rumpus pile happening in the waiting room. It was important for me to see who the boys were becoming without me. And while I do have to worry about Theo's safety as he considers joining a fraternity, or Hank's as he becomes a rally racer, I don't have to worry about who they are as people because I know now that they will be okay in this world as I watch these two and three year olds before me play out some of the most important morals and human characteristics as I sit back on the sidelines and witness the greatest show in the world.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday, Theodor

Dear Theodor,
Today is your birthday. When you're 18, you'll get a copy of all of your birthday letters, but for now, I write this to your two year old self. It probably won't mean much to you when you are 18, but it means a lot to me to write and remember all of your years.

2.5 months
When I say "Happy Birthday" to you this year, I say it in disbelief. I cannot believe, even for a second, that you have been a part of this family for two years already. It feels like you have been a part of it since I met Daddio.

 On the other hand, this has been the longest year of your life, at least on my end of things. You started your terrible twos at about 15 months and you've been going strong since. Not that you always throw tantrums, but that you are always doing things by yourself, challenging every word I say, and taking your own path in this great big world.

June 2013
You are an explorer, you're up to any task, you are determined, you're brave and strong (unless we are standing next to a giraffe, ironically, your favorite animal). You are physical and dominate. You're hardly ever quiet, but I mean that in the nicest way. Your smile is larger than life, your laughter is joyfully overwhelming, and your squeals and sounds make a room stop and think about the wonderful, little things in life.

June 2013
You can be the most gentile and caring person in the world, you give better hugs and snuggles than anyone, and your perfectly timed but unexpected "I love yous" make my heart skip a beat. 

You can also be the biggest little bugger around. You'll destroy your brother's "work" or toys in a second, you think it's funny when you demolish train tracks, and you throw just about anything, oh, and you make messes just to make a mess. But we're working on channeling those things in a more productive way: your golf swing and slap shot are more impressive than Daddy's and he played college hockey! You have a natural physical athletic ability and you show that in just about everything you do.

May 2013
I have to say, while you and I butt heads in just about every aspect of life, and I fully expect this to be true for many years to come, you bring so much joy and happiness to my heart. I understand you. I see that you're like me because you are passionate about everything that gets into your heart. I see that you're like your Dad because you are determined, and  have goals and dreams that I can see through those big, beautiful, blue eyes. I know you will do wonderful things with your life. And I know that if YOU decided you want to do something, you WILL be the best at it.
September 2012
If I could have one wish for you in your second year, it would be that you learn how to control your emotions. I know, you're two. You're supposed to explore those now, but it would make my life a lot less referee like and more relaxing if you could control those a bit better.

 I feel like you and I have the relationship like the mother and son in  Love You Forever: you have thrown everything in the toilet, you terrorize the house and the dog, you destroy just about everything in (and out of) your path, and you even make me want to send you to school! But at nightime, when you get sleepy, as I sit in the rocking chair during bedtime waiting for you to drift off to sleep, you climb into my arms, place your head on my chest, raise your soft, chubby hands to my cheeks and caress them back and forth while I rock you. 

It's the most wonderful feeling in the world for me. It's moments like that, that make the "crazy" of the day worth it. To know that, in the end, you are sweet, calm, loving and, well, down right peaceful, makes me think that you and I can get through anything. And to know that I created it/you, is just...magical. 
November 2013
I fully expect you to read that line and want to vomit, but when you have your own two year old, and you sit with them at night, you'll understand exactly why my heart is so full of emotion and love. 

Despite our disagreements, our fights and even our yelling matches that we've had, I wouldn't change you in any way. I am proud to have a son that takes charge of his life, a son that defies the odds and takes on challenges.

October 2013
Theo, you are my baby, and it's going to be hard to let that go, especially in this year of your life as you stretch and push me away so you can be "bigger".  But, I promise, I'll try. I'll try, really hard, to let you do things your way and let you make your own choices. 

I'll try to stop calling you "baby" because, you really aren't. You do anything a five year old does (and most of the time, better than them)! You are no baby, and you never wanted to be one: you started to sit at three months, you started crawling at six, walking at 10 months, and running a week later. You started climbing and dressing yourself, getting yourself snacks or drinks at 14 months and you never looked back, actually you did, with a devious but charming smile. 

March 2013
 You are wearing your brother's clothes, you are only two pounds different than him, and you're just inches away from being the biggest kid in our regular play group, and you JUST TURNED TWO! You are no longer the "toddler" or the "baby" you are a kid. A full blown kid who has been riding a bike for at least four months, a kid who literally climbs mountains, and a kid who can take a shower by himself, wash his hands and use the toilet.

And honestly, as much as I want to hold on to those baby years, the truth is, I cannot wait to see what you become, (though I am worrying already about your college years) because I know you are going to excel at everything you do. You have already shown us that.

Happy Birthday, my Teddy Bear.

Love,
Mom




PS. 
When you were born, we told your brother that we were going to take pictures of you for your newborn photos. It was Henrik's idea to put you in his dump truck. On the eve of your 1st birthday, I happened to take the second picture. And now, because I can, I took this third picture of you and your brother on the eve of your second birthday. I cannot believe how much can happen in a year. 




Saturday, January 18, 2014

Not My Finest Moment

It's not a secret, Theo is a hitter.

He hits all the time. Sometimes it's because he gets upset or frustrated, sometimes it's just to hit. It is quite possibly the biggest thing that challenges me as a parent.

I've read just about every article out there on how to stop this. I've put him in time out, and when I do that, we make eye contact and I made sure to tell him that he was in time out because he hit. Very straight forward, very to the point and sometimes, I add in how it makes me feel: sad or upset, frustrated etc. Sometimes he says sorry right away. Sometimes he just stares. Sometimes he just cracks this smile at me that makes my blood boil.

I repeat myself over and over saying that hitting hurts, that it's not nice, that people won't want to play with you. I've purchased children's books about not hitting. I've pretended to cry when he hits me, I mean, this list just goes on and on. I've done everything. When time outs stopped working because he started laughing in my face, I started to hold him tight so he can't move. He actually hates that, but he hasn't stopped hitting yet.

I've tried bribery, it worked for one day. I've even tried spanking, but I don't like that. When I do spank, I don't say "Don't hit" it's like the biggest contradiction out there. Instead, I will spank and say something like, "Didn't that hurt? See? Doesn't hitting hurt? You hurt other people when you hit". I always apologize for hitting him too in hopes that he will do the same. I always make him apologize for hitting and he has to say, "I am sorry for hitting you in/on the ______". But lately, he's just been on a hitting spree.

After days of Theo attacking everyone, mostly his brother, I witnessed Theo trying to push Henrik out of a chair that Henrik was in minding his own business. Theo came from the front, but backed up into him and just started this shoving thing. Henrik was worried about falling backwards so he started to push Theo off. He used his words properly, he then started using his hands to defend himself from the hitting whirlwind that was happening. Theo was getting more physical so I told Henrik to hit Theo.

Henrik looked at me like I was crazy. Actually, I can't believe I said it. But, again I said, "hit him. Right on the arm" just as calm and clear as day.  Theo continued to push and hit, and Henrik got this twinkle in his eyes. I could tell Hank wasn't sure if he'd get yelled at after he hit his brother, but then he gave me a little smirk and smacked Theo right on the cheek. Not what I expected, but Henrik was so proud of himself, I could tell this was something he wanted to do for a long time, but he knew that hitting wasn't allowed.

Theo instantly cried. Actually, he wailed. He screamed for a long time and through snot and tears he asked me to kiss it, to hold him and kept saying, "Buh Buh hit me!" I looked at him seriously and said, "Theo, I will not hold you. I will not kiss it. Henrik hit you because you have been a bully too long. Hitting is NOT OK. It hurts our bodies and our feelings. You may not hit." He looked at me in shock and kept crying. Henrik wasn't sure what to do. He was proud of himself but also was sure that when I walked into the other room and called his name to follow, that he was free from trouble.

I sat Henrik down. "How did that feel?" I asked. Henrik shrugged. "Hanky, I know I told you to hit your brother, but is it nice to hit?" "No" he replied. "Look, I don't want you to start hitting, and you may not hit anyone. However, IF your brother keeps hitting after you ask him to stop, and you do loud and clear, and he keeps hitting, then you can hit him, one time, on the arm."

Theo walked in the room as I was telling Henrik this, "No! Don't hit me Hanky!" he yelled and started to cry again. I picked up Theo and placed him on my lap. Henrik was still there. "Look Theo, you cannot hit. If you continue to hit your brother, he will hit you. It will hurt. You will be sad and your body will hurt. But that's what it's like when you hit him. You have to understand that." He just looked at me. I know, he's not even two yet. But this hitting thing is getting out of control. Today he walked up to two of his friends and a random kid and just out of the blue hit them. It would be age appropriate if he did it once or twice, but all day long?  Even after we tell him to stop? Even when we remove him, take away toys or even spank, he still is a hitter.

I don't really know how I feel about this incident. I guess that's why I'm writing about it. It's not the finest parenting moment I've ever had, and I never thought in a million years these words would come out of my mouth, but I had to do something. And I especially had to do something for Henrik who has been bullied and hit by his brother day in and day out all day long. Henrik uses his words and continues to be hit with train tracks, hands or have toys thrown at his face. I had to stand up for him too, right? And I don't want him to be submissive and just take a beating. I want him to defend himself, but I don't want him to throw the first punch.

I am not sure what to do, but today, for the first time EVER, I saw my oldest son stand up for himself with pride and gave me a look where he understood that I was actually on his side. I saw my youngest son in shock that his brother would actually hit back. Most kids don't. For once, Theo got a taste of his own medicine, and guess what? He didn't like it.

Writing this makes me tear up. I have one kid who deserves better and one kid who is causing a lot of problems in this terrible two stage. I can't let Theodor be the "baby" any more and let up on his punishments, or even ignore it. He's almost two. And I can't let Henrik think that I don't care about him or that using your words is always going to work, when obviously it doesn't. Clearly, I can't let a punchfest happen every time my boys disagree, but for now, at least while Theo is in shock over his brother fighting back, maybe it will change the way he acts. Maybe it's just shocking enough to make a difference.



If you have any advice on what to do, please comment.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Our First Night Away

I've been a mother for three and a half years, and in that time, I've had two children, and have never left them for the night. Well, I guess that's not totally true. I've spent two nights away from Henrik while I gave birth to Theodor and stayed in the hospital, but I hardly call that a vacation or a "night away".

Eric has been away from them, a lot actually. His job since we've had children has required over night shift work and travel, and my job has been to care for them while he was away and to provide some sort of stability in our life. I think, if we lived closer to family, I would have been ready to leave them much earlier, but as a nursing mom, it was difficult, and I just wasn't ready to have someone else, a baby sitter, stay with them over night.

This Christmas, Eric and I gave each other the best gift: a night away! It had been much too long since we got to just be us, were able to forget about the kids, and be adults for more than a few hours. And, because we were in Michigan, where all of our family lives, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to let our boys spend some time with their grandparents (and people I trusted 100%) and for us to escape as we enjoy the last year of our twenties and pretended that we were "young".

The whole day leading up to our check-in time at our hotel I was nervous. I prepped the boys PJs, made their beds with all of their special blankets and animals, prepped milk and juice, and located key toys, diapers, and wipes. I tried to hide my nervousness, I'm not sure how well I did as I gave my Dad and step-mom the run down of their routine, tips and tricks to dealing with Theodor, and how the boys like to go to sleep. I actually wasn't worried about them caring for the boys at all. I was worried about Theo. He's developed a huge separation anxiety these days and throws hysterical fits when I leave to go to the gym or the store without him, so while I knew he trusted and loved his Gam and Pal, I wasn't sure how he'd respond to me not being there with him. And the last thing I wanted was for my parents to deal with one of his stubborn fits.

When it was time to leave, I took a deep breath, said my goodbyes, gave a few extra kisses and hugs and left without drama, an ordeal, or looking back.

On the way to the hotel, Eric and I were kind of silent. I think he didn't want to push me because he knew I was nervous about leaving the boys. Or maybe he was nervous too. Once Eric and I checked in, we honestly didn't know what to do with ourselves. When we usually check into a hotel we have to re-arrange furniture, unpack about four bags and head to the pool. But this time, we carried a small bag and nothing else. I felt naked and awkward as I carried in a purse instead of a bag full of diapers and cars.

We looked at each other and looked at the room a few times, talked about what we could do, and looked at each other again. I laughed. It was so funny, so foreign and so not what our life has become. We had a few choices, turn the lights down low, sleep, or head out for a night on the town, all things that would be highly desired and wonderful but funny to think about as we stand there looking at one another trying to decipher what the other person wanted.

At dinner that night we actually avoided talking about the kids and talked about US instead: about our goals, our interests and our future. We laughed, we actually made each other laugh instead of laughing at what our kids said or did. And then, just like that, it became less foreign, more comfortable and we fell right into our groove again. We were Eric and Abbey and not parents.

We got back to the hotel and ordered room service, watched  TV geared towards adults, and laid in bed without a kid in there with us or the worry that a kid would walk in at any moment. It was peaceful, comfortable and right.

I got a text update when the boys were asleep (without any problems, of course) and could sleep easy knowing that this mini one night vacation was worth every penny. I kind of thought it was silly to take a night away in a hotel with my husband. But after doing it, I realized it was exactly what we needed to re-connect and discover why we loved one another.

When you deliver a child and you see your partner hold the child for the first time, you fall in love in a different way than when you decided to be with one another. This new parenthood love is MUCH different than the romantic, I can't spend time without you love. It's more tame, it's more polite, it's more respectful, it's more careful. Getting away for a night with Eric let me see him in the romantic kind of love again. I didn't see him as a partner in taming the circus, or a person to help me fold laundry or clean up toys. I saw him as my love, my friend, my soul mate, the 17 year old boy I fell in love with and the man he's become over the last 12 years of our life together. It's funny what you miss out on when you are chasing kids around.

If you ever have the opportunity to spend time without your kids for longer than a date night, I highly recommend it. It was the perfect way to end 2013 and move into the new year as a new couple with a new respect for one another.

In the morning, we decided to meet my parents and the boys for breakfast, it was our last few hours with my parents before we had to leave Michigan and I wanted to spend it with them. The boys were happy to see us and greeted us with open arms and huge smiles, and I was happy to see them, but I wasn't as emotional about it as I expected I would be. Which is a good thing. Of course I love my children with every essence of my being, but knowing that they were in good hands, and having the time of my life with Eric for more than three hours was good for the soul and good for me. And yes, I am very much looking forward to our two night stay away this Summer.