By Meika Rouda
Last Friday I did something I never thought I would do. I signed up for a parenting class. It isn’t that I am against advice; I have a whole library of parenting books including “How To Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” “Parenting the Difficult Child,” and “The Wonder of Boys.” Still, no matter how much I read, no matter the arsenal of tools at my disposal, I still get frustrated, exhausted, and impatient. The newest cause for alarm is that my almost two-year-old daughter is talking, in full sentences. This has drastically altered my son’s world because before, when they would play together in their room while I was doing dishes or cleaning up or doing other mundane household chores, if I heard Asha crying I would only have his story to depend on for what happened. “Kaden, what happened?” He looks at me, big eyes, innocent stare “She fell down!” Then I would pick up the crying baby and console her, wondering how she “fell down” when they were playing on the floor and take her into the kitchen with me. Now, when they are playing and I hear crying I go in and I have Kaden’s version “She hit herself on the head!” and her version “Kaden hit me!” It is clear who is telling the more accurate account. I am troubled by him not telling the truth which I think all kids do when they have done something wrong and don’t want to fess up to it. When I get to the bottom of the dispute it usually has to do with the same theme, she got in his way while he was playing cars or she took the car he was playing with so he had to pry it out of her iron grip. I feel like a broken record reminding him “use your words” instead of force. She is stubborn and strong, traits probably mastered by having a big brother and needing to defend her space, but I would like to feel like they can play together, which they do often and happily, and not worry that it will always result in crying. So the workshop I signed up for is “Siblings Without Rivalry.” This is my hope for the workshop, that I will have special voodoo powers that make my children stop fighting with just one look or that they listen to me, the first time, when I ask them to stop fighting and yelling at each other. Or when my daughter sits on my lap, gives me a hug and declares “My mommy!” My son won’t run over, yank her off my lap by the neck and then sit on my lap yelling “My mommy!” Then they both start pulling at my arms screaming at each other “My mommy!” “No! My mommy!” My hope is that after this workshop they will both share my lap and hug me taking turns and say “Our mommy!”
Is it possible? I’ll let you know after my class tonight- stay tuned!
By: Meika Rouda
I was stunned. It actually stung me to the core. I had never heard him say the word “hate” before. Lately he has been telling me “you are mean” when he doesn’t get his way, something we are working on but truthfully in his mind, I am being mean when he wants a second ice cream and doesn’t get it. But hate is a new level. Does he know what hate is? Has someone said this to him? Where do I begin to address this? And since we try to follow a philosophy of talking about feelings, expressing how one feels, how do I incorporate hate into his vocabulary in a positive way?
Since I was being reactionary I first told him hate is a strong word. That we don’t use that word for people and that it hurts my feelings when he says that. I then tried to explain what hate is. Hate is a a word for things that you strongly dislike. It is an angry word, often said when one doesn’t really mean it. But then I felt like I was arming him with a word he will want to use, he now knows it has a strong meaning, that it does hurt me. Then I told him that I love him no matter what, even if he thinks he hates me.
Later in the kitchen after our son finally went to bed, my husband told me how surprised he was to hear the word hate come from our son. “I never in my life said I hated my parents.” My husband comes from, ironically, a strict yet hippie background where feelings were not expressed and yet children were treated like adults from Day One. He was raised in a mutually respectful home where the word hate was outlawed. I, on the other hand, have yelled at my parents countless times as a child and have even said I hated them when I was an unruly teenager, seeking love and attention. I don’t think my 4-year-old has any idea of what the word hate means. I know this is just the first of other incidents where he will be upset with me and express himself in hurtful ways. And I want him to express himself, it is vital that he tells me how he feels, that he puts a name to his feeling but I have to remind him that when he thinks he hates me, he is actually just frustrated that he isn’t getting another book. Or when I am mean because I am not buying him a toy, he is actually feeling sad or mad or a host of emotions that are difficult to navigate at his young age. And I have to remind myself not to take it personally even when it hurts.
By Meika Rouda
I have been struck by the duality of age recently. On the one side, I am watching my kids get older, and with each day there is something new: an inch to grow, a new word to learn, a bike to ride. On the other side I see my parents aging: saggy skin, muscles that don’t work they way they used to, dying friends. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, one side ascending and the other descending. Yet they both greet each new day with delight, happy to be here, to be alive.
My parents are 78 and in wonderful shape physically and mentally, but time has chiseled its imprint on their bodies and they are slower, less energetic. They have ailments like chronic coughing and digestive problems. Nothing major but things that remind them they are approaching a later stage in life, where they have outlived many of their friends and other family members. I am grateful my parents are alive and they are not sick or struggling, that I get to see them often, that my children spend time with them and have gotten to know them. And yet it makes me sad to see them change, to know that maybe in the best case scenario there is only a good decade left before they leave us. To wonder what it will be like to not have parents anymore or worse perhaps, to lose the parent I know while they are still living. I am fearful of them having dementia and being captive in bodies that still work but minds that don’t.
I’m not ready for my parents to die. I have never known life without them. They are the people I call with good news and bad. The ones who I have leaned on many times in my life and have always comforted me, reassured me, supported me when I have needed it.
And now I am a parent and filling this role for my children. My children who too are aging and it is a joyful aging process, from babies to toddlers to kids.
I am in the middle, middle age, neither young nor old, bridging these two generations watching one decline and the other rise.
My dad has a saying that helps me keep it all in perspective. If you ask someone if they would like to live forever, most people would say yes. If you ask that same person if would they like to live forever but no new babies would be born, they all say no. If no new generations were to grace the earth in order for them to continue living, it would not be worth it. And that is what I see when I look at my children next to my parents. A full circle, a full life, another day to celebrate.
By Meika Rouda
I had something shocking happen yesterday. Asha and I were in music class, happily singing “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care” in a circle with the other moms and toddlers. Asha usually meanders during class, dancing around in the center of the circle, walking over to sit on other moms’ laps, or to hug other children. During the middle of the song, just as we were getting into the crescendo chorus, Asha walks over to a little boy, younger than she, and gives him a big hug. I felt a surge of joy in my heart watching her love this little boy. Her hug kept going and she started to squeeze tighter. The little boy was no longer enjoying the hug. Our song continued “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care…” and by now Asha had wrestled the boy to the ground and he is lying on top of her. She would not let go of him. He was crying now but her hug continued; she was unphased by his discomfort. His mom and I jumped up, attempting to release Asha’s iron grip and just as I was prying her arms off him, she turns her face to his cheek and bites him. Yes BITES HIM. The boy started to cry. His cheek was bleeding. I was in shock. “Did she just bite him?” I ask the other mom, as the song continues in the background, “Yes” she says matter of factly.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Asha is crying, livid that I have released the boy from her grip. I take her out of the class and into the lobby. The other mom is in the bathroom cleaning the boy’s wound. I tell Asha, NO BITING. She stares at me blankly. She is 16 months old and expressing emotion in any way is a top priority, even if it means biting. I calm her down and check on the little boy. The mom is nice and reassuring “These things happen, I know she was just trying to love him.” I sort of felt better but I was also embarrassed and I had to go back into the class with my daughter, the biter, and finish singing. Yikes.
The other mom returned to the room before me, with kleenex attached to her son’s cheek to stop the bleeding. After a few more minutes I return with Asha. I sit down, away from the little boy, and resume my singing, trying to contain Asha and keep her on my lap. She will not sit still; she needs to wander. She headed right back to the little boy. The mom picks him up to protect him from the biter -aka my child. Asha walks over to another little girl and the mom delicately picks up her daughter. “Shit”, I think to myself. Her reputation is ruined, no one wants their kid near the biter. I continue to sing and act as normal as possible. Whenever Asha wanders off I follow her and pick her up. I spend the rest of class monitoring her every move. After class I apologize again to the mom and boy. She is understanding but I also know she will never let her kid be near mine again. My only comfort is that the class ends in two weeks and I don’t think I will be signing up again. I see the teacher and apologize for the interruption. She assures me biting is a normal process of development and happens all the time. She reminds me that toddlers just don’t know what to do with all the emotions they feel. She also says Asha is a very smart girl and very loving and I shouldn’t worry at all. The bite was not malicious, it was just an emotional surge. I feel slightly better.
Our biggest job as parents is to protect our kids so how do we do that when you feel like they are being maligned? What makes it worse is that Asha can’t talk, she can’t tell me what she is feeling, she can’t directly apologize or acknowledge that what she did was wrong. I hope her biting isn’t a habit, it is hard to watch your amazing child physically hurt someone. But it wasn’t on purpose and I know in her heart she wants to express her love, she just needs more tools for that. I am not sure what music class will be like next week but I am not going to worry about what the other moms think. If they don’t want Asha near their kid that is fine, I can’t say I blame them but I also think as a group we can do a better job of helping one another teach our kids and act like a village instead of alienating a toddler for acting like a toddler.
By: Meika Rouda
I just finished the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. It is unlike any parenting book I have ever read. Chua is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and has three sisters; she and two of her sisters have multiple Harvard and Yale degrees and her youngest sister, who has Downs Syndrome, holds two international special olympic medals. You get the picture. She comes from a driven family, a family with a strong work ethic, a family that practiced “Chinese” parenting.
When Chua refers to herself as a Chinese mother, she is over generalizing but the main theme is the idea of the virtuous cycle. That through hard work you become competent at something and that instills self confidence and the desire to learn and do more. Competence and confidence go hand in hand. Her method does not nurture, respect individuality, or allow children to make any decisions themselves. It is a tyrannical form of parenting, one that produces virtuoso piano players (her eldest daughter preformed at Carnegie Hall at age 14) and straight A students who are accomplished violin players (her youngest, who ended up “rebelling” from her).
I admired a lot that Chua said. I know I am lenient as a parent; my son pushes boundaries all the time and I give in. He is isn’t even potty trained yet and he is four because he constantly says to me “I’m not ready.” Western parenting says not to force him, this will have a negative impact on him, let him decide when he is ready and one day it will happen. It is vital for him to be in control of his body, to do things on his own schedule, that is how to build confident, healthy children with self esteem. After two years of battling the potty with him I am beginning to wonder.
Chua admits she is not good at enjoying life. Her average day starts at 6AM where she runs her dog, drops her kids off at school, teaches a full course load at Yale, picks her kids up, has piano and violin practice with each child for two hours a day (that means four hours of practice), then she works on her book or papers and helps with homework. She obviously doesn’t sleep or eat. Maybe I need more Chinese mother in me as I never get anything done, but Chua manages to get everything done. She is a super human. I have a feeling I might not like her much if I met her in person.
But I do think she has a point. While I am quick to let my son decide not to continue swim class because he doesn’t want to, I realize this only hurts him. He can swim if he tries, he just doesn’t have the confidence because he is afraid of the big pool. I know if he tried he could swim. I have seen him do it before, yet I don’t force him. I let him dictate his swimming evolution. If I pushed him I know he would succeed and that success would lead him to try more new things like, maybe, the potty. That if he knew how much I believe in him he would have confidence to take risks and work hard to learn new skills. Perhaps he could get caught up in the virtuous circle.
I come from parents who never pushed me to do anything. They sat back and let me make most of my young adult decisions, sometimes to disastrous ends. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have a parent who really believed in me like Chua does her daughters. Who doesn’t let me quit because I don’t feel like practicing the piano that day. Who forced me to get straight A’s and be great at everything I do instead of mediocre and uninspired. I consider myself a bit of a late bloomer because of this. I just started writing with some dedication a few years ago although I have long loved to write. I plan on taking an intensive Spanish class to become fluent in another language, another longtime goal. But I also feel there is something to be said for making mistakes and being an independent child. Maybe I am not fluent at Spanish or haven’t written a book yet but it is just taking me longer than the Chua girls. And I can say that I had a lot of fun figuring out life on my own even if it meant experiencing heartache and navigating social situations with horrendous teenage girls who were out to get me. There is something formidable about me because I know who I am. I know who I am because I was able to make choices to become who I am.
I don’t know the Chua girls. Perhaps they are well-adjusted teenagers who are also amazing overachievers, but there is something to the saying “let kids be kids.” We have our whole lives to work hard and achieve greatness, do we really need to start as toddlers?
So how can a Tiger Mom mesh with a Mama Bear like me? I don’t have the answer and neither does Amy Chua but I am going to do a little more pushing with my son. I don’t expect him to be a concert pianist as a teenager but I do expect him to be potty trained by four and half. ROAR.
By: Meika Rouda
Almost a year ago, when our son turned 3, we flirted with the idea of potty training him. We bought him fantastic new underwear with cars and spiderman on them. He delighted when he tried them on and then insisted he wear a diaper underneath. We bought him his own potty, a small blue one that fit just right, then we upgraded to a more advanced “cars” themed one where the “flushing” sounded like a car revving and the seat was padded. He loved to sit on it, play with it, even have his stuffed animals sit on it, but never did he take his pants down and try to use it the way it was intended. It became another toy around the house. So we upped the ante and put M&M’s next to the toilet, I bought little gifts and wrapped them up and stacked them on the back of the toilet, our bathroom was over crowded with gifts, sweets, and an array of small potties to lure our son into the destined milestone of going diaper-free. We had incentives galore. This is what we are supposed to do, right?
A month ago, after our son still showed little interested in the toilet, we decided to go commando and spend the weekend at home with no diapers. We told our son days in advance that the “diaper fairy” was coming to take his diapers away. This technique worked great with his pacifier so we were feeling confident. This was going to work! On Friday morning I left a big present for him at the foot of his bed from the diaper fairy and stashed his diapers in a closet. He woke up and was so excited to see the present. He was ready. It was on.
He went diaper-free all day and I kept asking him, “Do you have to use the potty?” “No,” he would say. I would insist he sit on the potty “just to see if anything comes out” but he cried and protested. He didn’t have to go, he didn’t want to sit on the potty, none of them. Several hours went by, still nothing. He was clearly holding his bladder which is made of steel apparently because as the day came to a close, still nothing. I was worried. What was going on? Is he that freaked out by the toilet? I asked him if he wanted to pee outside in the bushes. Still no. I put him on his little potty and he cried. Finally I put him on the big potty. He cried harder. We watched the movie ” Once upon a potty” and sang the song “I’m going to a potty party” but still nothing. I fed him m&m’s and gave him presents, just for sitting on the toilet. Still no action.
It was bath time and he still hadn’t peed or pooped all day. This was bad. While in the bath he looked at me with shock in his eyes. “Are you going pee?” I asked, hopefully. He nodded. I picked him up out of the tub and put him on the toilet. He looked a little afraid but he didn’t cry, even though he was soaking wet. We looked in the toilet and he was peeing. Victory! He laughed and was so pleased with himself. I gave him a high five and as many m&m’s as he wanted. He got back in the bath and I was cheering and telling him how great he was. Then it was bedtime and he needed a diaper. So I put one on him and as soon as I pulled his pajama bottoms up, he had peed. So I put another diaper on him. “Mama, I have pee pee” he said 5 minutes later. So I put another new diaper on him. Then as I am about to tuck him into bed and read books, he poops. Now that the diaper was back, his systems were all “go”.
The next morning we tried again diaper-free and the same thing: he claimed he didn’t have to use the potty and didn’t want to sit on the toilet. I reminded him how he had gone in the toilet the day before but he still refused. It was like it had never happened. As the hours went by I got worried again and then, lo and behold, after bath when the diaper went on, there was free flow. The next day was Sunday and we had the same routine again. He cried on the toilet and just held his body functions until he got a diaper. At the end of the day I asked him if he wanted to use diapers all the time again instead of underwear. He said yes. So we accepted defeat and went back to diapers.
I admit to being really frustrated. I just wanted it to kick in like everyone says it will “one day they just get on the potty and that is that”. Well, not my son –at least, not so far. He has always been the kid that has taken a little longer to do things. He didn’t get his first tooth until he was 14 months old. So we have to be patient and understanding but I never know how much we should encourage or force things and when to back off and just let him decide. As much as I want it to happen, it isn’t really up to me; all I can do is encourage him, talk about it, and keep singing the song “I’m going to a potty party”.
Hopefully someday the party will arrive.
By: Meika Rouda
I spent Labor Day weekend with my family and some friends in Lake Tahoe. It was loud and boisterous and fun with lots of swimming in the lake, nature walks, and digging in the sand. My mother always tries to be helpful with our kids, offering to help put them to bed or feed them or just detach them so we can have a break. It is great to have her around and we can always use the extra set of hands. But she also tends to offer her advice on parenting without me asking. My son can be difficult; he is 3 and very spirited and we are working with him to help him follow through on tasks and staying focused. Simple things like having him sit for a meal can be excruciating for him. He asked me one day to make him mac and cheese for lunch and then as soon as it was ready, he changed his mind. He no longer wanted mac and cheese, but rather to go out and swim. I tried talking to him, reminding him he was hungry. He protested, he wanted to swim instead. I was insistent that he eat first. We went back and forth several times. And then my mom came into the room and said, “Meika, he changed his mind. Leave him alone and stop drilling him.” I let him go and swim without eating and was annoyed with her. And while I realize my mom meant the best, it was frustrating to me to be judged and then to feel demeaned by my own parent especially when his eating is a sensitive spot for me. This was not the first time she had run interference with my parenting.
The night before my son was in the bath with his friend and they were having fun splashing, pouring water on each other’s heads, regular bath fun. I reminded them to keep the water in the tub while playing. As soon as I left the bathroom to grab towels I turn around and they are pouring buckets of water on the bathroom floor and laughing hysterically. I was upset and took both of them out of the tub immediately and said, “The water stays in the tub.” My mom watched the commotion and then told me I was being too uptight. “They are just having fun,” she said as I mopped up the floor with towels. “You should relax more Meika.” Maybe I should relax more. It isn’t the end of the world that there is water on the floor. But the point is I asked them not to do it and they did. They knew it was wrong. So am I supposed to just laugh and say it is OK? That doesn’t feel right either. I don’t expect my kids to be perfect and act like angels all the time. I actually love that my son is energetic and spirited and sort of wild. He is fun and creative and enjoys life which helps me enjoy life. But at some point there needs to be boundaries and I want him to know what is right and wrong. It is important for him to make good decisions and pouring the water on the floor was a bad decision. So after a few hours of being really bitchy and annoyed with my mom, I finally had a conversation with her, asking her to please talk to me in private about her parenting thoughts and not in front of my son. While I appreciate her advice I also need to parent my own way. Having her run interference isn’t always as helpful as she may think. She told me that she just wants to be sure that I don’t “crush his spirit”. I never thought about it like that. I am just trying to reign in his mischievous side. Of course I don’t want to crush his spirit, he is an amazing child, loving, sweet, compassionate, and also a bit of a rascal. But it did make me wonder if I am too uptight in some ways. I don’t think teaching him right from wrong is going to crush his spirit but it was a good reminder to let kids be kids in some ways. Maybe if I didn’t get upset with him for being naughty he will delight less in being naughty. But in the end you just follow your instinct and do what feels right. One day I might just laugh at him pouring buckets of water on the bathroom floor, and then again maybe I won’t.
By: Shannon Ralph
I have come to the conclusion that I would like my twins, Sophie and Nicholas, to remain four years old forever. I have yet to figure out to whom I can make this request, but I am working on it. With eight years of parenting experience under my belt, I have discovered that children hit a “sweet spot” at about four years old. It is the age of pure perfection. Despite my many whining, ranting, and raving blogs to the contrary, my youngest children are truly at my absolute favorite age right now.
They are young enough to still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and fairy dust and magic. They have yet to discover sarcasm. Their favorite cartoons consist of beloved characters like Dora and Diego, The Backyardigans, and Wonder Pets, rather than the shuddersome and borderline creepy Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon their older brother loves. They are fiercely independent. They insist on doing everything themselves, but are young enough to still need mommy to kiss their boo-boos and tuck them in at night. Hello Kitty and Scooby-Doo band-aids can heal all wounds in the world they live in. They still ask for hugs and kisses. They still climb into my lap for special snuggles. When they are sleeping, they look like celestial creatures delivered directly from heaven above.
They are captivated and bewitched by the natural world around them. They relish the things that the rest of us have grown too busy and beleaguered to even notice. A yellow leaf twirling in the wind. Ants slowly making their way across the sidewalk. Fat worms wriggling in the dirt, warmed by the summer sun. They can draw, cut, color, and paste for hours on end. They smell amazing when they are freshly bathed and dressed in their footed pajamas. Then again, even when they are dirty and sweaty after an entire day of playing outside, I can’t get enough of the sweet scent of their little dishwater-blonde heads.
They are old enough to give voice to their hopes and dreams and fears and joys. I can have real conversations with them. Their capacity for talking —Nicholas’s lung capacity, in particular —is endless. They have surprisingly sophisticated language to describe their feelings, but often lack the ability to deal with those emotions. They are still prone to angry outbursts, irrational meltdowns, and the occasional tantrum, but those instances are precious to me. It is in those moments that they utter the outrageous and unexpected phrases that make me laugh out loud and provide fodder for my best Facebook status updates.
They giggle incessantly and unabashedly. They laugh those wonderful deep belly laughs that belong only to very young children. They are young enough to still find the world an extremely joyful place. Joyful and enthralling. Exciting and fascinating. They want to learn about everything. The whos and wheres and whens and —most importantly, most relentlessly —the whys.
They get chocolate pudding up their noses when they eat. They spill milk. Lollipops may as well just be placed right in their hair. Cut out the middleman. They manage to be clumsy and exquisitely graceful at the same time. They think everything I say is gospel. They idolize me in a way no one on this entire earth does. Their older brother learned years ago that I am not perfect. Sophie and Nicholas still live under the illusion that I am.
In reality, they are the ones who are Perfection personified. My sweet, hilarious, tempestuous, exhausting, hyper, gentle, affectionate, utterly lovely little four-year-olds. They exist somewhere on the border between babyhood and childhood.
It really is an amazing place.