An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

The trip from Tel Aviv to Sydney was long – 31 hours door-to-door. It’s full-on for an adult, let alone for a three-year-old and a five-month-old.

GG loved every minute of it. He’s obsessed with planes for starters, plus we had endless time to spend together, and I let him play games on the iPad for the first time – so he was totally in his element. We slept a decent amount on the first flight but only a little on the second, and were all totally exhausted by the time we got to my mother’s place.

Before take-off, flight #1.
Before take-off, flight #1.

So it wasn’t surprising that within an hour of us walking in the door, GG totally melted down. At first it was kind of comical – him and Little A both starting bawling at the same time, and my sister’s newborn (who we’d come all this way to meet) joined in, too. We each took a kid – my sister cuddled hers, mum put my baby down for a nap and I took GG into the lounge room to calm down.

It was clear that this was no ordinary tantrum. He was beyond exhausted, disoriented and completely overwhelmed. Within a few minutes of screaming and crying he started saying over and over that he wanted to go home, and Daddy, and I realized. Fuck. I’d spent so much time preparing him for the journey itself – maybe because that’s what I was nervous about – and totally neglected to explain the part where we were going to stay at his grandmother’s place in Sydney for two-and-a-half weeks. Without his dad. Fuck. What a colossal oversight.

While I was trying to hold him screaming and thrashing around I fumbled for a way to rectify my mistake. But how to explain it in three-year-old? He doesn’t understand the concept of weeks. He doesn’t know that trips end eventually. He can’t text his dad whenever he misses him a bit.

I took a punt.

“Remember when your friend Ella went to America?”

He paused, interested. He loves Ella, and the story was recent. He nodded.

“Remember how each day you went to kindergarten, and she wasn’t there? And your teacher told you she was in Los Angeles? And you really missed her?”

He nodded again. His breathing was starting to calm and the crazed, out-of-control look in his eyes was starting to soften. He was engaged.

“And then one day, after a couple of weeks, she was back! Do you remember?”

He smiled, “Yes! And I went to America once.” It’s true, we’d visited New York the previous year, too.

“So that’s what this trip is going to be like. We’re going to stay here at Nanna’s place for two-and-a-half weeks, for this many days [I showed him with my fingers]. Each night we’ll go to sleep here, and wake up here the next morning. And then when those days have passed, we’re going to head back home, to Daddy. We’ll take two planes to get home, with a night in a hotel in the middle.”

He got it.

“Mama I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s pretend that this is our home. Just for now.”

He totally nailed it. It was just so fucking sweet and perfect. I hugged him again. “That’s exactly it baby. That’s what a holiday is. This is our home for now, while we’re in Australia. And then we’ll go back to our real home.”

And that was it. He literally skipped into the kitchen for a snack.

It took another week until he completely settled. A week for the jetlag to pass, to feel at home in his new “pretend” home. But every time I said we were going home after an outing or a visit, GG had to check – “home to Nanna’s place?” – just to make sure he still understood the plan.

The conversation was a real eye-opener for me. I’d been so hung up on my anxieties about the trip – particularly 24 hours of flights, alone with two small children – that I’d forgotten to fill the kids in on the whole picture. It’s not that I hadn’t considered them of course – I’d gone over and over what sort of visit would be best for both of them, the balance between activities and chill out time, who we’d see when, where they would each sleep etc. To the point of distraction, really. But I hadn’t done the full circle that is so often the key. I hadn’t kept GG in the loop, of his own life.

In a more general sense, the conversation was a reminder for me that kids don’t just lose their shit for no reason. On top of the basic stuff that makes us all more sensitive – like hunger and tiredness – there’s also usually a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. Often with toddlers it seems completely illogical – like we didn’t ask them what color spoon they wanted or some crap – but this one made perfect sense. Just like adults, kids need – and deserve – to be informed about what’s going to happen to them. I certainly wouldn’t want to be dragged halfway around the world without at least being told the basic itinerary details. Why should it be any different for my kids?

So, to GG and Little A – this is my promise to you. I’ll do my best to keep you in the loop, with big things and little things alike. To help give you a sense of control and order over your world wherever I can. I’ll prepare you in language that you can understand, with points of reference that make sense to you. I’ll talk to you in advance, and remind you of the plan as necessary.

And if I’m ever not clear enough, if you still don’t get it, please feel free to cry. Even to flail around a bit. To let me know that I haven’t quite got it yet. I’ll try again and again, until you get it.

Promise.

Motherhood and Judgy-ness

Motherhood and Judgy-ness

I’ve been trying to write this post all week, about how being a mother has taught me not to be judgmental. About how I used to have all sorts of opinions about other mothers, but now I’ve realized that it’s so hard and everyone’s just doing the best they can and who am I to tell them otherwise. And so I never judge them.

But something about the post just wasn’t sitting quite right. I wrote and rewrote, moved paragraphs around, thought of a cute intro. Nothing was working. And then I realized.

It’s because it’s total bullshit.

I haven’t stopped being judgmental at all – I’ve just learned to be maybe a little less judgmental of people who are basically the same as me. Oops.

Here’s the real deal.

Before I was a mother, I had it all sorted out. I knew exactly how I wanted the birth to go, along with everything after that.

Same goes for how other people birthed and raised their babies. I knew exactly why things were going wrong and what they should have been doing differently. How unnecessary stress was creating pregnancy symptoms, that babies cried because their mothers weren’t emotionally connected, how all nursing problems could be solved if you believed in your boobs hard enough, and of course – that toddler tantrums were always the result of poor planning on the parents part and could be avoided by being totally in tune with your kid.

I knew everything.

What I’ve learned with the benefit of a few years of experience now is that shit doesn’t go to plan most of the time. So even if you planned to give birth floating in a pool of flowers wearing a tie dye bikini top, it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way. And so I learned not to judge women who planned a natural birth and ended up with something different.

But what about my cousin who didn’t have any interest in planning a natural birth in the first place? I wouldn’t say it to her face but the truth – the real, ugly truth deep down – is that a lot of the time, I’m totally judging her for taking an epidural. Hours and hours of very entertaining phone conversations with my girlfriends, judging our respectful-parenting-natural-birthing-baby-wearing-extended-breastfeeding-organic-cotton hearts out. Because there’s an arrogance in me that still thinks that I know better. That choices that don’t fit into my ideology are somehow less than.

A like-minded new friend tells me about her struggles breastfeeding her baby in the early months. How she had her best-laid plans to breastfeed into toddler-hood but the baby wasn’t putting on weight and crying all the time and everyone was freaking out. So she supplemented with formula and pumped round the clock for months and months, trying her utmost to make it work. Ultimately she stopped breastfeeding earlier than she wanted to, and she was devastated. Her story is fraught with regrets, doubt and sadness. Of course I don’t judge her – why would I? It’s so clear that she’s a mother like me, doing a great job, just trying to do the best she can for her son.

So what’s the difference between the two scenarios?

I guess it comes down to understanding. When I can easily put myself in the shoes of the other, understanding and compassion flow. And it’s just more natural to put myself in those other shoes if they look more or less the same as mine. The challenge comes when the world view is different – it takes more of an effort to garner the same level of understanding.

But it’s not impossible. I have close friends who are very different mothers to me, and I manage not to judge them at least most of the time. Because I know and understand them, and so it makes sense to me why my style of parenting wouldn’t work for them. I don’t have to work to comprehend the motivation behind every choice.

The ironic part of all this is that I know how shitty it feels to be judged for your parenting. That sinking feeling of being completely misunderstood, of knowing that someone close to you thinks you’re doing a bad job. I often feel like I’m being judged by family and friends and it’s so horrible. And yet as we just established, I’m guilty of it just like everyone else.

So, here’s the plan. I’m gonna try to do this less. It won’t happen overnight, but I hope I can use skilled compassion and understanding to judge other mamas (and papas) less. To notice judgement as it arises in my mind, and to consciously remind myself that everyone is fucking exhausted, emotional, and trying to do the best they can for their little people. Even if it looks ridiculous and misguided to me. Even if I know just the Janet Lansbury article that would sort them out once and for all.

There’s this sign on the fridge at my Dad and Stepmom’s place, it says, “TEENAGERS! Tired of being harassed by your parents? ACT NOW! Move out, get a job, pay your own bills while you still know everything!” It’s a dad joke, for sure, but there’s truth in it. As a teenager I really did think I knew everything. And while I’ve learned a lot since, the real wisdom I’ve gained is that I don’t know anything. Well, hardly anything.

So – more understanding, more compassion, less judging.

Who’s with me?

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

This afternoon started out pretty much the same as yesterday afternoon – with whining and tears and ridiculously illogical arguments about whether or not we had bananas in the car. My heart sank. I’d hoped that bringing GG a special treat from the bakery when I picked him up from kindergarten might set the tone for a nice afternoon. No such luck. He didn’t like the way the bread stick crumbled onto his jeans, he screamed when it broke into two pieces, and when I refused to eat part of it according to his demands, five minutes of yelling and tears ensued.

And I’m okay with tears, really. He can cry on my shoulder, or on my chest wedged between my boobs as is his usual preference, as much as he wants. I’m good with emotional expression. But yesterday afternoon was just so tough, four hours of tantrum after tantrum with basically no breaks in between. I was terrified of a repeat performance. On top of the patience required to help a toddler through these onslaughts of feelings, when I need to feed 2-month-old Little A, GG’s full-blown tantrums escalate from peak level to … somehow even more extreme.

So we’d made it into the apartment. About a meter into the apartment. All three of us on the floor. Little A was in her baby car seat, crying to be taken out. GG was crying about a mark on his banana. I had tears in my eyes myself at the realization that today was going to be just like yesterday.

And then I remembered something GG’s kindergarten teacher had mentioned when I told her how hard the previous afternoon had been. She said that he was probably continuing the special circumstances from his week home sick with the flu. And this morning she warned my husband not to let it drag on. At the time we kind of didn’t know what to do with those statements. Like, how was I meant to “not let” him cry? It didn’t seem to fit with our parenting style at all.

But in this moment on the floor, I looked at my little boy on my lap, tears streaming down his cheeks, ranting about wanting something or not wanting something else, I don’t even remember anymore, and I thought, he looks so out of control, like it’s all too much. Like he has no idea what he’s meant to be doing. Like a week of rules being thrown out the window because he was just so miserable had totally confused him.

Like he really needed some boundaries.

And so I turned him around to face me, and I told him, “Sweetheart, you and me, we can figure anything out. If you need something just ask me and I’ll always do my best to help you.”

He was listening. I went on, “Let me tell you what I want. I want us to have a nice calm afternoon together. I don’t like it when we fight so much. Do you think you can find a way to ask me for things other than yelling?”

He agreed, and straight away something in his mood lifted. And yet 2 minutes later he started whining and yelling “no! no! no!” when I denied his request for a second banana. I calmly told him that this was the sort of yelling I’d mentioned before, and he took a deep breath, and asked me again calmly. And then even managed to accept my repeated “no” to his banana and move on.

The next time he started to yell he caught himself before I even said anything, and a look of realization seemed to pass over his face. He understood that this was the voice I’d been talking about, and he smiled. And that was it.

We had such a fun afternoon. We ate, we played, he helped his baby sister get to sleep for her nap. We read books. Three solid hours of good wholesome fun.

When my husband came home he couldn’t believe it, how I’d “fixed” him. The energy in the house felt completely different from the past couple of weeks. Bath and bed time were a breeze, and GG went to bed with smile on his face.

But I didn’t fix him, of course. There will be tantrums and crappy afternoons again. All I did was remind him what was expected of him, and ask for his cooperation. Clearly, calmly, and in a way he could understand.

And what a freaking champion is he, right?

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(Okay this was actually a couple of weeks ago but it fits nicely here)
Aside

Getting to Know You

A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me, “So, what’s she like?”

I loved the question. I loved that she wasn’t asking me what the nights were like, with all the loaded expectation that the question brings, or if she likes her bath, or what the weird rash on her face was from. I love that she was asking about my new daughter as a person.

But I didn’t know how to answer.

Or rather, I didn’t like my answer.

She seemed exactly like GG. She looked like him, sounded like him and moved like him. The way she stretched as she woke and squished her lips together after a feed brought back strong memories of the last time round. She was transfixed by anything with stripes, just like he used to be. She wore his clothes, and she felt like him in my arms.

I felt like such a phony.

I’m constantly ranting about how all babies are individuals, how they are whole people from birth, and yet I couldn’t even tell the difference between my own two babies. I’m embarrassed to say I even had a hard time remembering that she was a girl from time to time, and I constantly called her the wrong name.

And by comparison, GG with all his rambunctious toddler energy, babbling away in two languages, running and jumping and joking and yelling, he felt like so much more of a whole person to me. The little one felt like just an outline, whereas GG is full, vibrant color.

Things are shifting now, but slowly.

A few weeks on and it’s clear, this is a different child. This one likes to sleep, swaddled up and cozy in her bed. She knows exactly what she wants, and as long as she gets it she’s content and predictable. She loves to nurse but only when she wants to – there’s no shoving a boob in her mouth when it might be convenient for me. She picks the pace. She’s calm and clear, as articulate as a newborn can be. And she’s beautiful, naturally.

But still, I can’t believe how hard it is to write this without making a comparison to GG. To write a preliminary sketch of my little girl’s emerging character without referencing her brother. Even though they’re so different and I’m supposedly so observant and perceptive. As bad as I feel saying it, he’s my only benchmark.

She’s almost two months old now, and we’ve got the basics down pat – eating, sleeping, and diapering. Apart from that, all I really know is that when she smiles at me I melt, and when we gaze into each other’s eyes it feels like I’ve known her forever. I guess it’s just a matter of time, as she reveals more of herself to me, and we build a relationship that’s ours and ours alone.

For now, though we’re still physically linked as a little ecosystem, as individuals – as mother and daughter – we’re still getting to know each other.

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Sweet moments with the little one
Aside

Babe, You’re Gonna Need a New Yoga Block

I’m on the way to work, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my new one-hour daily commune, when my husband calls to update me on drop off. He sounds uncharacteristically defeated.

“Babe,” he says gingerly, “I think you’re going to need a new yoga block.”

I’ve got two options – laugh or cry. This week I’m choosing laugh. Last week was mostly cry.

It’s been a tough month. GG finished up at the daycare he’s been at (and loved) for two years. My grandmother passed away back in Australia. At 33 weeks pregnant I wasn’t able to fly over for the funeral and to be with my family. We moved cities. GG started a new kindergarten. And did I mention I’m a bit pregnant? Between my hormones, my husband’s exhaustion and our two-year-old’s emotional reactions… I don’t even know what words to use.

Last week the language that came to mind was pretty harsh. Now it feels like we’re a cartoon family. Toddler running out onto the road and peeing on things around the house to get attention (like my yoga block), me groaning and holding my lower back when I have to bend over to pick things up, the husband staying up late to get extra work done so we can cover our new mortgage. Oh so textbook and mundane.

When I’m my best self, which is only for fleeting moments right now, I remind myself that it’s all impermanent. That we’ll get used to our beautiful new house and all the arrangements that come with it, and GG will settle into his new kindergarten. That this testing behavior is totally normal for a toddler at the best of times – let alone during a month like this. That my pelvic floor will get better (right after it gets worse). That this too will pass….

And hopefully we’ll have a few days to enjoy the calm before I go into labor and we get to meet #2.

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Stay tuned for updates 🙂

Staying Present on a Rough Day

Staying Present on a Rough Day

Wow, that was a really tough afternoon.

Granted, I’ve been kind of off all day. The afternoon probably never stood a fighting chance. I woke up feeling weird, with shooting round ligament pain up my sides and a general blurgh feeling. The heat has been getting to me this pregnancy and last night was particularly humid.

I kept it together okay at work, with only minimal breaks in concentration to neurotically Google things like “stitch-like pain in right side 27 weeks pregnant” and to brush up on the signs of preterm labor. And then it was time to be a good mama for the afternoon.

I knew there was no way I could deal with taking GG to the park in the 34 degree heat. I also knew that the chances of my mood not eliciting a reaction from him were slim to none. I braced myself.

The first part of the afternoon was fine. We walked to the car slowly, stopped to get petrol on the way home (one of GG’s favorite activities), then made fruit ice blocks on the kitchen floor. I started to relax and we seemed to be in sync.

But something changed in the energy a few minutes later, and he started to lash out at me. Hitting and kicking and pulling my hair. Grabbing at my stomach and trying to bite me. Seriously this shit is hard to handle at the best of times but I’m fucking pregnant and hormonal and in pain and yet I so badly do not want to yell at him. I actually never have, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to it than I did this afternoon.

Summoning up my best self, the mother that I want to be, felt almost impossible. Oh – and did I mention he was laughing hysterically this whole time, more and more when I told him sternly that he was hurting me? My words were doing nothing. At least I had enough awareness to realize that. And I had no emotional energy to tap into how he was feeling, either.

So I used my hands. I sat next to him on the floor and I held him down, physically restraining him from hurting me. I told him I wouldn’t let him touch me like that. He tried again a few times nonetheless, and then gradually his cackles started to die down, his breathing calmed, and he asked me, “are you happy Mama?” This is what he asks whenever he can sense that I’m not.

“Not really,” I told him. “I’m annoyed that you hurt me just now and I don’t feel so great.”

After that he got up, tried to run off, tripped and hit his cheek on the carpet. He burst into tears, sprung up and melted into me. I was his mama again and he was my baby. We were no longer adversaries in some strange, uneven battle. We hugged it out. I thought all was solved.

But this cycle continued over and over the next couple of hours, right up until bedtime. Everything would be fine and then he’d start testing me again. He threw my phone across the room, watching me with an expectant grin to see how I would react. He tipped a glass of water on the floor during dinner with the same glint in his eye. Lobbed pasta in my shoes. Tried to pinch my nipple once or twice. I dealt with each incident as calmly as I could. I willed myself to stay in the moment, to react to each outburst as though it was the first of its kind today. Because I knew that GG was just reacting to my low energy, and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to be able to take care of him if I strung this series of events into a horrible story and started feeling sorry for myself.

So I did the best I could, for today.

Ultimately, I just had a hard day, and it continued into a hard afternoon – no surprises there. GG reacted to my vibe, on top of just being a two-year-old. Nothing to do but accept it and move on. To make sure I get a good night’s sleep and hopefully feel better tomorrow. To wake up a stronger, more energized mama, so my little son doesn’t have to test the boundaries quite so much tomorrow.

Night, all.

On Patience and Parenting

On Patience and Parenting

I think I just drove home behind the worst driver in Tel Aviv.

He pulled out from a driveway with no warning, then proceeded to drive at 30km/h for about 10km along a relatively clear suburban road.It didn’t take long for the anger to start building inside of me, along with urges to honk my horn loudly and speed around him. But as luck would have it I was feeling fairly mindful and centered, and decided to take the opportunity practice my patience. I wasn’t in a hurry and worst case scenario he was going to slow me down a few minutes.

Easier said than done.

I took a deep breath and continued crawling along behind the (apparently elderly) driver, totally into my little exercise. Yet within moments my mind was again yelling “overtake him!” “come on!” and “hoooooooonk.” I’d almost decide to follow through when I’d remember I was meant to be being patient and settle myself back down. It was only a few minutes until he took a different turn from me and the ordeal was over – but it felt like hours. Over and over and over – deciding to be calm and then feeling the rage bubbling up. Mindfulness returning, breathe calming, and repeat.

That’s the thing with patience – it’s not an on-off switch. Sometimes we’ve gotta choose it over and over and over again, even in a short space of time and on relatively unimportant issues.

The experience made me think of GG, and how hard it is sometimes to be patient with toddlers. He’s really into construction at the moment, and spends a lot of time building towers out of duplo or magna tiles. Usually he’s pretty happy in the process but sometimes he gets so frustrated, and my first instinct of course is to fix it, to show him the way out of his suffering. But I want to let him sort these things out himself and so I hold back, take a deep breath, and maybe reflect his frustration back to him.

 

Patience 101

And then a second later, almost before I know it my hand is reaching out to steady a tile for him, giving him pointers, “suggesting” a solution. I have to keep reminding myself over and over again – patience. Just breathe. You don’t need to do anything.

 

It goes against something inherent inside of me and yet with practice I’m finding that sometimes it kicks in all by itself. Those moments where everything just flows – there’s an element of automatic patience at play. Just letting things be without acting on the need to get involved, to fix,  to meddle.

No easy feat but totally worth it when it works – for the look on GG’s face when he makes the tower all by himself. Or when I get to arrive home calm and proud of myself for managing to follow through with a minor task I set myself just for fun.

Said, woman, take it slow
It’ll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience
Said, sugar, make it slow
And we come together fine
All we need is just a little patience

– Guns N’ Roses