Losing It

August 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By Julie Gamberg

I had one of those days today. A day that only a parent can appreciate. My toddler didn’t nap. And not only didn’t she nap, but whatever was keeping her too wired to sleep was also keeping her hysterical, weepy, wild, and deeply invested in negating any suggestion I might make or any attempt at getting her, say, fed or slept. As her hysteria wound up and up and up all afternoon, turning into bouts of mournful crying, thrashing, screaming, shaking, pounding, hitting, and kicking, my own blood pressure went up with it, along with my own exhaustion, hunger, thirst (needing to pee!), and general sense of fury at my child, and sense of failure as a parent.

Hard parenting days seem to be harder than anything I’ve done. It’s not that harder things haven’t happened. It’s that in the past, when they do, I get to lose it. Or at the very least check out emotionally. At one point during the endless crying and screaming, I just sat there next to my toddler, and began breathing exercises. When I felt myself still flooded with anxiety, I began chanting a Sanksrit mantra that sometimes calms my daughter down, as well as lessening my own anxiety. It was a no go today for both of us.

We finally traded nap for an early bedtime, with much consternation about getting pajama’d and storie’d and in bed too (which at this point I well knew was coming). But before that, once I knew the nap really, truly was not happening – as bad as she clearly needed it today, I took a giant breath and sent out a couple of aaack texts and emails in lieu of the work I was supposed to actually get done during naptime, held my clingy, angry, frustrated, and exhausted toddler on one hip while I fed me and her some refrigerator tofu and veggies I had previously prepared (thank you, thank you, my self of yesterday!), and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wear her out in anticipation of bedtime, and trying to keep myself afloat. Thankfully she did fall asleep exceptionally early, leaving me time to catch up a bit, and to try to wind down and actually take a deep breath or two, start to finish.

Here is the amazing thing about parenting though, that I know all of you parents must know to be true – it is perhaps extra amazing for us single mamas: No matter how crappy the day was, no matter how much rage you felt at your child, no matter how much you longed to check out, none of that changes the immense love that surges through you as you watch your little one sleeping. Or how much you look forward to seeing her face in the morning.

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Time Warp: Development and Perspective

July 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

At the zoo, all my toddler wants to do is touch the animals. “No, honey,” I tell her, “This is their house and they want to stay there and they want us to stay here and they do not want us to touch them. But we can wave hello.” “But,” she says, “I want hippopotamus to go uppy” (meaning she wants to lift up, cradle, and hold the nice little 500-pound hippopotamus).

We just started a small class in someone’s house which involves having several animal visitors with whom we can interact – including petting, touching, and in some cases holding and feeding them. During our last class, we met a juvenile wolf, a chicken, and a pot-bellied pig.

My child loves the idea of pigs. She loves wolves. But did she want to touch and pet them? Did she “want wolf to go uppy”? Of course not. When the animal was there, without restrictions, without a cage, she was hesitant.  “But look honey, you get to actually pet the wolf. It’s a very friendly wolf. Let’s pet it.” Suddenly she is way more interested in snacks and playing, and opening and closing the gate to the pen.

I’ve realized through watching her how true it is that children process the world at their own speed and in their own time and I’ve also had to realize that I need to make a concerted effort to adjust my own thinking to reflect that. Just as my perception of time shifts depending on if I’m, say, having a good time, or bored, so does it also shift depending on how pressured or relaxed I’m feeling, or on other aspects of a situation.

It may appear to me that all my child wants to do at the zoo is go after the forbidden fruit – touch the animals behind the cages – but it may be that in reality we’ve already been at the zoo for 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or an hour, before she feels “ready” to touch the animals. It may be that I’m so sick of telling her she can’t touch them that from my perspective I feel like she’s been asking forever.

And likewise, when we’re at the animals class, which I have paid for, and at which we only have a limited amount of time in which to interact with the animals, it’s quite possible that time moves in the other direction. That I can’t believe six whole minutes have gone by and she still doesn’t want to cuddle with the wolf.

Oh, kids. Oh, parents.

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Answering Questions

July 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

Last month, in a playful moment, I goofily asked my growing-up-way-too-fast almost twenty-month-old, “Are you a baby, or are you a child?” She replied, “A baby and a child.”

Last week, my baby-child had a cut on the top of her foot. She scratched off the scab and was scratching at the wound in a way that looked painful. “Mama help get it off me,” she said, referring to the raw wound. And I realized that me and my baby-child were together looking at her first wound – the first thing that had actually scabbed. And that she thought this abrasion, this thing marring the smoothness of her skin, was what was causing her pain. How to explain to a baby-child about cuts and wounds? About picking and healing? About causing our own pain sometimes?

I’ve been at this single mothering thing a little while now, and I’ve recently taken some stock.  One clear thing that’s happened over time is that I see myself more and more as a “mom” and less and less as a “single mom”. The more I feel comfortable – confident even sometimes – in the role of parenting, the more “parent” takes precedence.

However, my online single moms group has recently been discussing the “daddy question”, reminding me that I’m not near out of the woods on the single parent’s issues yet. (And let’s not even think about dating!) When and how do you answer questions about daddy? What do you say? I used to obsess about this when I was thinking about conceiving.

Now that I have a little one, I haven’t thought about this issue in … possibly a year. Yet I am so happy and grateful that there are smart, wise, thoughtful parents who have come before me and left some breadcrumbs of ideas of how to address these complicated questions. But I’m also realizing that how to address complex family structures with little ones is a very young field and we have only a few voices advising us. I realize I’m going to have to pay some attention again soon, because soon my baby-child is going to be a child-child, and will well understand that she can’t pick the owie off of herself to make it stop hurting, and will then have even trickier questions for me.

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Mama Bear Brain

June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

I’ve worked with children for years, and have what I think of as a deep understanding of the fact that young children have developmental stages where they do things that adults can find quite annoying, or even – in our less wise moments –  “morally wrong” but that are totally appropriate for a stage that they are passing through. Thus I was prepared to deal with my daughter going through a hitting (biting/kicking/pushing/hair-pulling) stage. I have an arsenal of strategies for dealing with a toddler exhibiting aggressive behavior. What I was not prepared for – at all – was how to deal with my own child being hit, and kicked, and pushed. I was not prepared for what it would feel like when someone else’s sweet little angel, bundle of love, little light and pure being, grabbed a handful of my child’s hair and pulled for all they were worth, my daughter screaming in agony.

We often term the kind of rage that emerges when you feel your child is not safe, or is not being treated well, “mama bear” behavior. I feel so incredibly Mama Bear when my daughter is attacked by another child. When my daughter is aggressive, which is turning out to be so far very seldom, I am somehow able to stay in my Logical Brain. I can remember that she is acting out of very different motivations than an adult would be, and I don’t see her actions as sociopathic, or her hitting as an assault. When she is “attacked” however, I see it as I would an incident of adult violence. If I were hanging out with my friends and one of them grabbed the other one and hit her hard, it would terrify and infuriate me. My adrenaline would be pumping, and I would want to take swift and decisive action.  When I see my child hurt, I feel the exact same way. I want to grab the other kid and scream, “No!” I want to see them punished. My Logical Brain knows that punishments are not effective. My Logical Brain advocates against them. But my Mama Bear Brain wants to see the offender put in the corner with no supper, and I want him to have to spend the night there, thinking about how he hurt my poor baby and writing lines over and over about how he will never do it again.

And when I do get out of my Mama Bear Brain long enough to see the offending child as simply acting on complicated developmental impulses which need to be addressed with empathy, compassion, and with an attempt to meet that child’s core needs, I often come up against a whole different problem: Judgment Brain. When the hitting child’s parents do not do as I would do, I feel infuriated that the offender’s parents are not doing more to address offender’s behavior. At a recent hippie-ish music circle I go to, one toddler singled out my daughter for a series of hitting and pushing attacks. The toddler’s parent was fairly inattentive, raising my alarm, fury, and general annoyance bells. Then, the parent and her toddler sat down right next to us. The toddler hit the mom.  The mom slapped her child’s hand. Hard. “We don’t hit!” she said. Really?

I moved across the room and realized that I would have to be the one to monitor this toddler when she came near my daughter, as her mother’s response was a combination of inattention and reactive aggression. I stewed about all of the things I wanted to say. I realized that many of my feelings were a combination of how angry and defenseless I feel in these moments of physical aggression visited up on my child. Judgment Brain wants to correct, lecture, wax pedantic on parenting theory and practice. Mama Bear Brain wants to lash out. Logical Brain is usually out getting a latte and flipping through a gossip magazine. What are your strategies for dealing with moments when your child is pushed or hit?

 

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Courage and Grace

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

having courage in middle school

Children in junior high often respond to authenticity with cruelty. I imagine this is especially so at large, public junior high schools like the one I attended, and perhaps it was made even more extreme because I and many other kids were bussed from all over the city – meeting for the first time in a wealthy neighborhood that many of us did not live in.  At my junior high, students were either cruel, tried to stay under the radar, or else inadvertently wore a Fuck With Me, Please! sticker.  Since anyone who behaved with genuine kindness or authenticity, or showed any humanity, or who was different in any way, screamed Fuck With Me, Please, even the kindest amongst us tried to keep a lid on it, resorting to eye rolling and sarcasm, to avoid being a victim even as we also tried to avoid perpetrating genuine cruelty.

Yet I had one single and memorable experience of authenticity and genuine kindness in junior high school and I am sorry to say it did not come from me. I was walking through the quad with one of my closest friends when we bumped into a friend of hers I had never met. She introduced me and told us she’d been wanting us to meet because we looked so much alike. My alarm bells went off. At our school, this was an invitation to make some sort of snide comment – the possibilities ranged from the slightly sarcastic to the truly mean. There were two people we were supposed to insult: our mutual friend for her “retarded” concept of what “alike” is, and each other in girl-one-up-manship, implying that we each thought we, ourselves, were prettier (this was a few years before we would flip the script, arguing vociferously that the other was prettier). Yet, at heart, we were nice girls, so I prepared to do the absolute kindest thing that could possibly be done in junior high: Say nothing. I stood mute, basking in the glow of my own generous warmth and non-snarkiness that was my silence. And then the look-alike did the most amazing thing. This thirteen-year-old girl, in the middle of a lion’s den, in the middle a viper’s nest, said, “Oh, what a compliment!” I was flabbergasted. In awe. Ashamed. I would never, ever, have been able to make myself that vulnerable in junior high. The things I could have said! The things that normally would have been said. The least of which: “To you, maybe!” Or, “Oh, well I guess you should just follow me around then, Lezzie!”  And so on.

I recently wrote to a mom friend who I had been incredibly close to at the beginning of motherhood – it seemed clear that we were BMFF (Best Motherhood Friends Forever), talking daily about our little ones, sharing insight, trading readings and theories, consulting each other over every decision, anxiety, concern, joy. Then, at one point, she fell nearly completely out of touch in a way that reminded me of other new, red-hot friendships I have had. I have known other friend-collectors who lay it on hot and heavy in the beginning, and then relegate the friendship to a twice-a-year gossipy lunch. They must have dozens of these semi-intimate, sparsely connected relationships. Although I knew that was a possibility, we had clicked so intensely, at such a key moment in both of our lives, that I hoped that she had just gotten busy and had forgotten to water the garden of our friendship. So I wrote her a letter telling her that.  That I adored her, and missed her, and missed our connection and that, as busy as she may be (and me too!), I’m wondering if we can find ways to be more connected – to talk, or see each other, or have a playdate. I also wrote, in this extremely vulnerable way, about how challenging it is for me when relationships are very intense then cool off completely and that it is not always easy for me to dive back into that intensity, that I’m more of a keep it steady type person. I even wrote about connections to childhood issues (lest you’re thinking TMI! TMI! I would like to remind you, dear reader, that these were the types of conversations we had just been having almost daily, not to mention intimate discussions about our vaginas, breasts, and so on), and told her that I totally get if that isn’t her but if not, I wonder if there’s some middle ground that might suit us both well? It was a very kind letter. No sarcasm. No defensive offense. No cruelty. And what I got back was a quick, curt reply (weeks later!)  saying, basically, she’s sorry if I don’t like it.

So here’s the thing: I thought I was in Authentic-ville, and really we were in Walls-Up-Fuck-You-Junior-High. I don’t know how we split our friendship into those parallel universes, or when or why it happened. But I was mortified to have been so: These are my issues, blah blah, I care about you so much, blah blah, and to get back what felt like everyone in the room laughing at me.

Every time we show someone who we really are, talk about how we really feel, show our soft spots and remain open, we risk this particular type of humiliation. I wonder about the girl with the grace and the poise in junior high. I know there is no way to keep my daughter from being on the wrong side of barbed comments, of disregard, and disrespect, of cruelty, and just plain inauthenticity. But I do wonder how that sort of grace comes to be? How do you learn to value your own real self, in the face of that self being made fun of, being socially unacceptable? We spend so much time teaching the values to children of not teasing, of accepting themselves and others for who they are, but I’ll tell you from lots of experience, not like you don’t already know, the adult world does not work like that. It is often better than junior high, much better, but it can also often be shockingly as bad if not worse.  I think about that girl surprisingly often. She made a huge impression on me with her courage and kindness. She did something I was unable to do in that moment, and it has set a bar for me ever since. I hope that I pass that on to my own child and that, when the moment comes to decide whether to flee from herself or stay fast, that instead of standing there in polite silence, that she will do me one better.

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To Your Child, It Matters

May 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

I work within the community with children and their parents and I see again and again how much learned behavior comes directly from parents.  Parents who behave in a generous, caring way, who offer to help, who are involved and engaged, generally have kids who exhibit a lot of the same behavior.  And vice versa. Yet at the same time, when the kids are siblings there are clear, strong differences between the children – begging another peek at the age-old question: What is learned and what is innate?

There are three children in one family I work with: An older child, Marcus, a younger child, Brian, and a middle child, Sarah. The children seem vastly different from one another: Marcus is incredibly outgoing, bright, sweet, and a total showboat. Sarah is a little bit shyer – she prefers quieter activities like reading and drawing. She ponders what others say and she thinks before she speaks. Brian is painfully shy, often hiding behind his father’s sturdy legs, or literally running outside to sit alone. He can sustain quiet activities with an intense focus.

Now that I have my very own child – with her emerging strong personality – I look constantly for signs in her of what I am teaching her and what seems to come from her very own inner place – from synaptic connections, from a pre-ordained personality, from stardust.  I think about how to give her the absolute best of me, and how to keep the worst of me off of her radar. I worry that she sees that I get anxious.  Am I teaching her anxiousness?  I know she sees that I don’t bound out of bed in the morning – that I am spacey and like to spend time staring off into the middle distance, or thumbing through a magazine. Am I teaching her lethargy, or worse, some sort of rejection of life (or at least of mornings!)? I sometimes get lost in work – in the computer, in my smart phone. Am I teaching her to value technology over human contact? Does her fierce independence come from my own? Will she know it’s okay to need and depend on other people?

I think about Brian, and Sarah, and Marcus. Their differences. And I think about their parents. One is quieter, one is more outgoing.  They are both smart, and thoughtful, and incredibly kind and giving. And I think about the kids again. For all of their differences, all three kids are also incredibly kind, in their speech and in their actions. However, they demonstrate their kindness in very different ways, and with shy little Brian, it’s especially hard to see. Yet I remember a discussion about teasing in which one child said that it was okay if it was meant well, and Brian shook his head. Someone asked him what he was thinking and he said, “It’s not good to hurt somebody’s feelings.”  Shy Brian is five years old.

When I think again about my daughter, I imagine she will probably pick up on many of my habits, good and bad. I think that she will undoubtedly have a personality which at times confounds me – with her own set of rhythms, preferences, quirks, and behaviors. And I’m also going to assume that the core values I hold – those which I show her again and again through my actions and my behavior – especially my behavior toward her — will be perhaps the strongest single influence in her life. No matter what kind of kid she is, what kind of adult she becomes, no matter what personality emerges, I am plowing forward with the assumption that her behavior will be very connected to my own.

The year before last I volunteered on my birthday, and I loved it. My daughter was six months old. This year, I didn’t get it together.  My daughter, at a year-and-a-half, is soon entering an age where I can start and sustain traditions and she will grow up thinking this is what people do. I can create a world for her and invite her to see certain behaviors as normal, certain values as a given.  I realize how easy it is though to get lost in the endless variables. The influence of media and peers. The differences between siblings and how this can seem to indicate that parents do not have a major effect on their children. The innate personalities of our children which can sometimes seem so different from our own. The developmental stages in which children exhibit all sorts of behavior that make us worry that they will grow up to be psychopaths.  All of this is a distraction from the plain truth – children learn how to be in the world from seeing how those who raise them are in the world.  The closer I look – the more I look underneath the surface – the more I’m reassured that, for better or worse, I am making quite an impression.

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Moral Ambiguity

May 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

My next-door neighbor has terminal brain cancer. When I hear him coughing, which is, intermittently, twenty-four hours a day, I imagine many a touching independent or foreign film in which two urban apartment neighbors who have never really met come together over something serious and profound and both of their lives are changed forever while a young child learns the values of compassion and overcoming social barriers to care for those in need. But instead, when we see each other in the hall or–cringe– in the elevator, it is incredibly awkward.

I should say, he has never actually told me he is dying of brain cancer. I learned it through someone else living in the building, and then from his girlfriend as she was moving out because she “can’t handle it,” she told me. I also want to say he has always been very reserved, at least to me. Once, when my toddler wandered out of my apartment and into theirs in a never before or since seen moment of both doors being open at once, I went to get her and found him and his girlfriend in an intimate embrace right inside the door. Their faces looked pained and deeply sad. He shot me a look that was hard to read, but it seemed to be a combination of annoyed, angry, and embarrassed, underlined with a polite butt-the-fuck-out. I took my daughter, mumbled an apology, and went back inside. This was the week before his girlfriend left, so hindsight puts such a lump in my throat at having witnessed what must have been a devastatingly difficult moment for them both.

When I think of the movie version of what could be, however, I imagine that my neighbor witnessing budding new life next door – a pregnancy, a birth, a little baby becoming a toddler –would be both difficult and somehow redemptive. That I would bring casseroles, and offer rides to the hospital and he would play with my daughter and derive some comfort from that. Maybe he would tell us something he’s never told anyone else, and I would encourage him to try something he’s always dreamed of. He would give my child a small stone of special significance from some far-away place that she would treasure forever. Yet when I actually see him, I fear my daughter and I are an annoyance. That the loud message of life going on, of new life coming to take the place of the lives which are gone, is a painful sight, and that if he had his druthers, he would not be dying, a middle-aged black man, in a one-bedroom apartment, next door to a single white mom and her baby.

I feel such pains over this alienation and isolation. Over our urban condition. I would like some way to be there for him that doesn’t fill me and him with such awkwardness that we are both, literally, shuffling a bit. I was in my same apartment when I went into labor, alone, and it was an extremely fast and painful labor. I was screaming uncontrollably and in between screams, my first and foremost wish was that no one, no stranger who doesn’t even know my name, who will undoubtedly say and do the most very wrong things, that no one from the building, would come to my door. So I understand what he might be feeling. That I might be the most wrong possible person to bring casseroles, to offer trips to the hospital. And I also want to say, he is not alone. He has family and friends that come and visit him. I think one might be a grown child. I occasionally hear an “I love you,” as someone is leaving. I do not want to say, “I’d probably be in the way anyway,” as an excuse. Yet I fear that might be the case. That for him to share such intimacy, such heartache, with a stranger who he would have to continue to see every day would be incredibly painful. I wonder and wonder about this now especially, because it’s not just me. I’m modeling all the time for my child how to be in the world. I dread the day that my neighbor will no longer be there. That ambulances will come in the night, or that his family will escort him out, or that they will find him there. There is a moral reckoning that I don’t want to save for that day. I want to do it now. I want to make conscious choices about how I behave because I want to create, as much as I am able, the world that looks like the one I want for my child. Yet as much as I imagine myself reaching out, as much as I’m the type of person who would reach out, somehow I always stop short.

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Single, Sick

April 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

single mom with sick baby

Whenever my baby gets sick, I feel like the sky is falling. I worry about how serious it is, about her breathing, her fever, her appetite, her energy, about all of the terrible things that could be wrong. I think this is pretty normal for most first-time parents. Yet raising a child on my own makes this particular anxiety especially sharp. Except for this, I almost never regret being a single mom, and rarely feel the yearning for a partner that I felt so often in my road to conception, in my pregnancy, and just after my baby was born. I love the dynamic I have with my kid, and I love how much energy, attention, and consciousness I’m able to put into the continuous job of learning to parent.

Ay, but throw a fever, or some vomiting, some lethargy into the mix, and I suddenly doubt my decision to do this on my own…I wish that I had a partner, any semi-involved, frustrating, unequal, or friction-filled partnership would do when my baby is crying in the middle of the night.

I think about one lovely couple I know who parent so well together and have a lot of enviable qualities. Yet the only time I’ve truly envied them (if one can really envy a difficult situation) is when their son had a febrile seizure and one of them called 911 while the other held their child. When the paramedics arrived, they together made a decision about whether to go to the ER or administer a dose of ibuprofen and watch him for the night. When, for various reasons, they decided to go with the ambulance, one went with, and the other packed bags of toys, milk, snacks, etc. for them and their child. When I imagine managing all of that on my own, in the middle-of-the-night-scary time, I have rare doubts about whether I can do this.

As I’ve been writing this, my toddler had a fever for a day-and-a-half, cried for hours, lost her appetite, became completely lethargic; we went to see her pediatrician, she was diagnosed with a mild ear infection (!), and she is still miserable. I am hoping that by the time you read this, she is back to her engaged, curious, talkative, dynamic little self. I love the feeling of being bad-ass in an I-can-absolutely-do-this way. And I hope too that by the time you read this I am feeling that way again.

However, I am also incredibly grateful for the support I have received every time my daughter has been sick. In particular, my mother, my nanny, and my best friend have all been amazing in showing their love and care for my daughter and in giving extra time and energy toward her wellness. And although that doesn’t happen in the middle of the night, a time which is particularly hard and vulnerable for the single parent, it does happen in the day which make the nights more manageable. And which means, it would seem, that I’m not the only bad-ass in these parts.

.

[Photo Credit: Flickr member Lauren Grace]

 

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Open up

April 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

I have carefully structured our lives so that I rarely have to rush my daughter, and I work hard to anticipate areas of difficulty for her, and arrange our days so that I will have the time and space to coach her through them so that she might learn how to overcome obstacles. Great, right? Let’s look at that first sentence again. “Carefully structured.” Lately I’ve been thinking that there might be a problem there.

I work hard (including making complex decisions about what kind of work I will do and when I will do it) so that my daughter and I are not racing around and so that we’re not one of those families who seem to prioritize what they do over how they do it. I leave plenty of room for deviation during those times when we have to get out the door, and have a nice overlap of time between when a caretaker arrives for her and I have to leave for work. I try to keep plans flexible. I try to follow my daughter’s lead and pacing when it is possible. This has helped my very spirited toddler circumvent many a meltdown. But, I have to admit, I overly obsess over this structure, which leads to its own form of stress.

I sometimes think about our days like chess games. I try to plan multiple moves ahead, and anticipate every possible variation. What if she misses her nap or cuts it short? What if she wants to push the mini-stroller all the way to the car, increasing the time it takes to get there by well over 100%? Should I scramble eggs for breakfast? If I don’t have time to wash the pan before we leave, will I have time to wash it tonight? Is it too over-stimulating to go straight from a hike to a music class? Did I leave enough time in case she is feeling severe separation anxiety when I’m about to leave for work?

I’ve been thinking lately about how to let go of some of this. It’s tricky, as I want to keep my daughter safe, well rested, well fed, well loved, and I want to be able to gently, compassionately support her in adhering to the limits and boundaries I set. I want to be a great parent, and that requires a lot of planning. And a lot of flexibility. And planned flexibility! You get the idea. So when do I just chuck it all out the window and “go with the flow”?

Well, I worry that often “go with the flow” is a euphemism for “don’t care” or “it’s not worth it,” or “I won’t be able to effect change anyway”. I believe it’s overused and not always the best advice. However, it’s opposite … treating each day like a series of chess maneuvers, and the stress and work that entails doesn’t seem to be entirely right either. I’d like things to be easier, while continuing to show just as much care. So I turn to readers for advice. What do you do when you want to be diligent, careful, caring and thorough, but also relaxed, easygoing, joyful, and open?

Tips? Tricks? Proud moments?

 

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Scattered

March 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

on the phone while with kid

 

I know another single mom who, after feeling very disconnected from her tween son, embarked on a project of spending just fifteen minutes a day where she is totally present with him, and then journaling about it. I was privileged to hear some of her journal entries and it’s clear that both her relationship with her son, and also her own feelings about herself are improving.

Inspired by this project, I set out to do this same thing this week. Spend fifteen fully present minutes with my 16 month-old, and then journal about it. And let me tell you folks, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Here was the score at the end of the week:

 

Fifteen consecutive fully present minutes: 1 point, me. 6 points, scattered days

Journaling about it: 0 points. me. 7 points, way too much to do

 

If I had had time to journal about it, I might have written about how as soon as I sit down to read, and cuddle, and then follow my daughter around the apartment where she’s jumping on things, playing ball, driving her little car, asking for crayons, and getting into the child-proofed drawers … mere minutes after starting out to focus just on her, my mind is a’flitter with everything that needs to be done around the house, on the computer, on my phone, as well as everything that we have coming up that day, or that night, and how I will have to pace things so that my daughter eats, and sleeps, and has time for transitions. Before I know it, she is engrossed in an activity, and I’ve slunk off to wash some dishes, or eat for the first time, or return a quick phone call. Through this exercise, I’ve realized that my undivided attention to my daughter tends to come in very short spurts. As soon as she turns away to do something else, so, often, do I.

As a working, single mom, my time is especially limited, but I’m seeing that this is why it’s even more important that I carve out time just to connect with my child. A friend of mine talks about parenting as a spiritual or meditative practice. When I think about it that way, making time to be present seems even more important. This week I’m going to try double journaling (two chances to increase my score!). A few minutes of journaling before our fifteen minutes, to clear some of the clutter from my mind, and to concretely set my intention. And then, after our deeply connected time, and after finishing dinner, and the dishes, and putting her to bed, and finishing my work, I’ll remember that there was also supposed to be a post-fifteen-minutes journal, and I will fall asleep dreaming of the stories my friend used to tell me about when she would sit Zazen and be hit with a stick while meditating to keep on task. I’m looking forward to trying to connect with my child with greater awareness. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. And I’m glad there are no baby monks to make sure I stay with it.

 

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