Thursday, July 14, 2011

dinosaur yoga

As I've become more committed to yoga this summer (especially thanks to my weekly practice group), Gabriel has become more enamored of playing dinosaur yoga with me. He's the expert on dinosaurs in our family, so it affords him the rare pleasure of exerting his knowledge and authority. Dinosaur yoga is also the place where his dinosaurs and my asanas overlap, coming together in a unique, creative mishmash. Plateosaurus, corythosaurus, and ankylosaurus all make appearances on the mat. Yesterday we pretended to be a pair of pteranodons soaring above water (blue mat) and land (green mat), arms stretched in a T, one leg behind us (think warrior three), scanning the surface below for prey.

I've been trying to be more mindful about spending time with my kids. You'd think that wouldn't require quite so much effort and intention, considering my very part-time work schedule and my love of writing about family life. At the very least, I need material to work with, right?

And yet. One-on-one time together is a rare occurrence. I have less child care this summer than I do during the school year, and so I am squeezing in work email-checking and freelance pitching while the onions are caramelizing or while Frances is momentarily absorbed in a book. Plus there is the garden to weed, the weekend trip to plan, the insurance company screw up to investigate, the grocery shopping to do, the clothes to fetch off the line before the rain starts. And so it is remarkably easy to spend a day together with my kids without ever truly being together...I distract, I manage, I tell them to wait five more minutes. Let me finish this phone call, and then I can help you with your bathing suit.

Frances has been especially difficult lately. It's as if she has been living life with her toes lined up at the edge of a precipice, and any discomfort or unexpected obstacle life throws into her path can send her right over the edge. A lost hair band, a tricky shoe buckle, a request to put her clothes in the hamper before we can read together - all potential reasons to scream, to panic, to begin the descent into emotional free fall. Relax, we say. Take a deep breath, we say. She responds as if we are nuts: people, I'm falling over the side of a cliff here, and you want me to relax??

Talking about it isn't helping. Yelling at her isn't either. (Oh but I do it, all the time, and I am ashamed). I made an appointment last night with the child therapist that I talk to occasionally, and put out a desperate plea for book recommendations (more are welcome) to help guide us through this challenging moment with our intense, brainy, sensitive child.

But my intuition says what Frances and I need is some dinosaur yoga. Or her version of it, whatever that may be. We need one-on-one time doing something creative and fun, something we both care about that engages our bodies and feelings and imaginations. Reading together on the couch during Gabriel's nap just isn't cutting it these days. We need something outside of usual life, and we need to do it together.

These moments of parenting, when I realize myself to be at a complete loss, are humbling. I can so easily fall into painful doubts about my ability to provide my kids with what they need to grow and flourish.

I really like to be good at things. (So much so that it's kind of a problem sometimes). In previous jobs, I enjoyed positive feedback and the satisfaction of successfully completing concrete tasks. But this mothering job is all about process, about moment-to-moment shared experience, about the accumulating days and ever-shifting colors that make up family life. With the exception of a nicely executed birthday cake or Halloween costume, there is no resting in the uncomplicated happiness of  a job well done. The job is never done.

And yet, most of the time the small beautiful moments that catch me unawares - sweetening a chaotic morning and opening me anew to life's wonders - are more than enough. Most of the time, my cup overflows...except when it doesn't. Sometimes life with a beloved someone who is small, vulnerable, amazing and infuriating can really hurt.


Amelia said...

We've been going through something similar, and the family slowdown that we planned for July has really helped with Henry's attitude. I've been a lot more patient and relaxed and we are not rushing around as much, and that has changed the family dynamic. I also actually explained to him that he needed to try to be more empathetic, and acted out a few situations with him, and darned if he hasn't been nicer! When we see the behavior slipping, we can point it out and he can reel it back in, unless he's really tired. (Mind you, just Saturday I was saying to Michael that I thought we needed to see a child psychologist. That triggered my "empathy" discussion with Henry. But since then, a big improvement.) It's a lesson to me, and I'm going to have to see how I can hold on to this improvement when life speeds up again.

Emily Rogers said...

I think that it is not unusual to seek out the kinds of discrete successes that have rewarded us in every endeavor up to the point when we are at home with our children. I hope Dinosaur Yoga or its Frances equivalent works! Then you can write the book to let the rest of us know how to navigate these waters.

LaLa said...

OK. Yes, I know I am biased. I am your mother. But I have to tell you how impressed I am with your mothering. You are a splendid mother. You are filled to overflowing with love for your little ones and they know this. You continue to give them the best gift in the world - unconditional love.
But there are those days of trial.....oh, yes indeed there are those days. If I lived down the street from you you could just shove them out the door and say - Go to Gramma's house. Give me a break. Alas, that's not the case anymore. But I would do that for you if I could!
Courage and Strength for the long haul.

Meagan said...

Thanks to all of you for the excellent feedback (ah! see! I managed to find some positive feedback!) - Amelia, I would like to talk with you about your empathy training. The child therapist I like here has said to me before that I need to "give her the script" -- give her the words to say, show her how it's done, rather than explain or punish. I forget how mystifying the world of relationships can be, and how she is still a child and limited in her understanding. And Emily, I think Dinosaur Yoga sounds like a good parenting book. I've got to work on the gimmick angle...And Mama: thank you. How I wish you were down the street (though I'd never let you move here!).

Diana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana said...

Hi there! Just perusing your blog posts this morning... Lovely to visit with you in this way. What you write about Frances here is so familiar in our household too. That said, I do feel like Tessa has somehow been in a more peaceful place these past few weeks--more flexible, more able to go with the flow, less needy. (Well…except for the crying/screaming fit I heard she had yesterday when the carseat configuration coming back from camp did not involve her sitting next to her friend Pharoah.. But this is the exception recently not the rule and she had recovered by the time I came home and was a rockstar all evening.) For what it's worth, my theory is that this little peaceful patch may have something to do with (1) losing a tooth (and feeling grown up) (2) beginning piano lessons and having this new thing in her life that is challenging and beautiful and orderly--I think it both calms her and makes her feel proud of herself and (3) being in the "big kids" (ages 6-9) section at summer camp this summer and, according to the counselors, really holding her own and fitting in. None of these things could I have foreseen would have these effects and who knows if I'm even right... These things usually shift anyway as soon as I start to think I have figured something out! Wishing you a sunny patch with your six year old soon!
(Sorry about the deleting and reposting... Don't usually post on blogs and still figuring out how it works! :) )

Anonymous said...

Hi Meagan, I think your mom was so right when she wrote that there just are days of trial. I can't tell you how many times I wondered what the heck I'm doing wrong and asked my husband in despair if he thought we should go to a doctor (because if this is normal, how does anyone survive?) Sleep almost always helps and it also helps to have a theory to get you through. Mine is that when their brains are going through a rapid growth period and the synapses are firing like crazy, it's going to a roller coaster ride for the whole family. Your post sounds so familiar. ~Anna (of dutchhillfarm)

Meagan said...

Anna, I am reading a parenting book now (something I almost never do, because it makes me anxious!) and I am reminded all over how having a theory - any theory - helps enormously. I don't even think it matters what the theory is. That's how we've gotten through other hard moments; not knowing what to do is the worst, but once you feel like you have a take on what's happening the situation becomes manageable. I'll attribute this to rapid growth and wacko synapses - makes sense to me. Hope things are more peaceful in your house!