Control

Both Doug and I have posts brewing for the co-parenting blog about this whole thing, but they’re taking a bit of time to roll around in our heads, I think.

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about control and respectability policing. (The best summary of respectability policing I’ve seen is by Carolyn Edgar in this post on a totally different topic than heart attacks.)

About a month ago, I was on the phone with Doug and he was asking about my parents, who are currently taking care of my 98-year-old grandmother. I was expressing frustration with the amount of time and energy and maintenance my dad has to perform on some of his health problems, and I started ranting to Doug about how we both needed to keep exercising so we didn’t end up with these health problems and yadda yadda. He cut me off with a “You’re preaching to the choir” and I knew he was right.

One of the nice things about being divorced and being able to interact successfully on a limited set of topics is that we are always expanding our topics. One of the things we’ve been interested in lately is exercise and general health. Running, his swimming, my barre, etc. And how to get the kids into lifelong sports. This has been a whole journey for me, understanding my body as a machine that has definite responses to what I do to it, but that still works in ways I’ll never be able to control. 

And I knew that he was worried about his health because he has a genetic risk for heart problems on both sides. So all of his exercising and eating well and not salting his food isn’t any kind of guarantee, and, in fact, may all be a red herring in preventing a Major Health Event. 

And his worries turned out to be correct. What happened was all just from his genetic legacy.  

What has surprised-not-surprised me is how the first question most people asked (after asking if he was ok, of course) was about what he’d done to bring this on. Sometimes it was about whether he exercised, or what he ate. Sometimes it was incredulous (from the people that know him and know that he’s improving his health constantly). But it struck me that we have all been conditioned to think that we have control over our health 100%, and that if we’re exercising and eating well, things won’t happen to us.

It’s respectability policing, and we’re doing it to ourselves.

So many people have been so kind about the heart attack. And I am sure that they would be equally kind if Doug was carrying more weight and never exercised and didn’t do all the other things he was “supposed” to do. But I also think that they’d be a little bit relieved, because that would mean that there is a linear relationship between what you do and what happens to you. It would mean that we do have control over our health.

I was profoundly affected by reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  In it, he talks about being a writer and a long-distance runner, and how he runs for health. He feels it’s his responsibility to run so he can give his body the exercise it needs, but at the same time he knows that he could die or become sick at any time. Running is no guarantee. He does not have control.

And I don’t have control, either, even when I exerting control by putting on my shoes and going out when I don’t want to, or eating an apple instead of a bagel. 

Here’s the tension: We should exercise and eat well. Exercising and eating well don’t mean we won’t get sick or have a medical event or die.  There is a relationship there, but it’s not linear. And nothing we do, even looking both ways before we cross, can guarantee that we come home every night.

How do we live with that tension?

Cardiac event

I haven’t been here for awhile. There’s a reason for that. You may already have read my ex-husband Doug’s post about what happened
ten days ago
. If you haven’t, let me summarize: He had a heart
attack and had to have stents put in. I moved into his house to take
care of the kids and be there for him until he’s cleared to drive, at
least, and maybe a little longer until he’s really back to 100%.

First, answers to the questions I know you’re asking:

* He’s 47, works out 4-5 times a week, eats well. He does
everything right, but still had a heart attack. Hereditary risk is a
bitch. But now he knows, at least, and can do something about it.

* In my 8-year-old’s bottom bunk. He let me use the Lightning McQueen sheets.

* The kids are ok. They didn’t see it, and Doug was talking and alert by the time they saw him.

* Yes, it’s weird.

And now, back to the story. Some of you know that I gave up
my lease on my deathtrap of a rental house and have been housesitting
for my parents while I look for a new place near Doug, so I’m further
away than just the four blocks I was before. Last Tuesday Doug and I
were planning to go to Curriculum Night at our younger son’s school, and
Doug asked if I could come a few hours early and hang out with the kids
at his place while he went to the gym. So I came over, he went to the
gym, and I was hanging out with the kids, when I got a phone call from
an unknown number. I answered, and the guy at the other end said he was
from the gym and that my ex-husband was having chest pains and they’d
called the ambulance.

So I told the kids to put on their shoes, I put up the status “Can
you guys pray? I’ll tell you what’s happening when I can,
but we really need some prayers right now. <3” on both Facebook and
Twitter, called my mom, called @jenunexpected, and drove to the gym.

As
we got there, the ambulance was about to leave, so they told me which
hospital, and we followed. We got to the ER and waited, and then were
taken to the cath lab and waited. My mom set up a far-reaching prayer
chain, and all kinds of people on social media–friends and
acquaintances and total strangers–checked in without demanding to know what was happening.
An EMT friend talked me through what was a reasonable timeframe for
getting info. We stayed calm. We hadn’t had dinner so we went out to get
something to eat.

And then the doctor called me and told me that Doug had had a heart attack,  and that
his artery had been occluded, and they’d put in two stents.

Oh.

We went to see him, and he was a little disoriented and
anesthesia- belligerent, but otherwise normal, and that was a
huge relief to the kids. The nurse helped us figure out where his stuff
was, so the kids hugged him and said goodnight, we went and got his
wallet/phone/keys, I called his brother-in-law to tell his family, and
the kids and I went back to his house.

The next three days I ran the kids’ normal schedule from Doug’s house
and brought them to visit him, and thought about what was going to
happen next. I knew he wasn’t going to be able to drive for a week. I
also knew he wasn’t going to be healed for weeks and weeks, and that if
left to his own devices he would push himself too hard, and that the
emotional stuff wasn’t even going to hit him fully for who knows how
long. So I told him I was going to stay at his house after he got out of
the hospital at least until he could drive again, and probably for a
week or two after that.

And he accepted it.

So. We’re in the same house
for a little while. It’s weird. I mean, it’s way better than it was when
we were married and in the same house, because we’ve had six years of
refining boundaries individually and together. But it’s hard to have
another adult in your space, especially one who has authority over your
kids. And it’s hard to be with your kids in another adult’s space. 

I still don’t think the emotional fallout has started, for anyone. But things have changed, for sure.

For Doug, they’ve changed a lot. For me, they’ve made me
even more grateful that we got divorced. When I got the call, my first
thought was that I hoped he was ok. And in the last few years of our
marriage, that wouldn’t have been my first thought at all. Getting free
of our toxic marriage let me see him as my kids’ dad, then later as a
person. And I’m not responsible for him anymore, which has made it easy
to see him as family instead of an impediment to my happiness.

That’s what this is. He’s family. We’re family. I don’t know if I’d
say that we’re “a family,” because that sounds like there’s more
closeness than there is. But we are family.

This is also bringing up a ton of stuff about organizational
dynamics, respectability policing, modern healthcare, community, the
power of memory, and kids’ expectations of their parents, and all kinds
of co-parenting and former spouse things. But that’s all for another
time.

I want to thank everyone for all the love and kindness you’ve shown
us so far. People have been asking what they can do to help us, and this
is what I’ve come up with:

* If you have stories about people
who’ve come back from something like this to better health, keep sharing
those stories with Doug
. It helps.

* Keep on buying and telling your friends to buy my MoxieTopics
and the subscription to the MoxieTopics
. The only way this worked is
that I didn’t have to be in an office somewhere or on a plane going to
someplace else. Word-of-mouth sales and the response I’ve had to these
is what let me drop everything else to be here for this event.

Subset: If you’ve emailed me about anything in the last two weeks and I haven’t gotten back to you, I apologize. Ping me again.

*
If you’ve been thinking about starting to exercise, start doing it. Do
the Couch to 5K, start swimming, doing Pilates, whatever. If you already
exercise, keep doing it.

* Hug the front desk staff at your gym, an EMT, and any cardiac care nurses and doctors you know. They matter.

Thanks. For everything. Seriously. 

 

Why I’m not a “hands free” mom

I’ve being hearing about “hands free” parenting for awhile
but never paid much attention to it. I think in my head it was some
weird mix of Bluetooth headsets and the Waka Flocka Flame song “No
Hands.” But I finally saw it float past my Facebook feed enough times to
actually click through. It turns out that “hands free” now means never
using a phone or a device with a screen when you’re with your kids. And
no, that’s not me.

If it’s you, that’s great. If there’s something about it
deciding not to use a phone or screen when you’re with your kids and you
like the discipline of that, then by all means do it. Anything that
helps you be who you want to be as a person and a parent is excellent.
If you feel like your phone is getting between you and your kids, then
lose the phone.

My phone doesn’t get between me and my kids. It comes along
with the three of us. I love having my phone available because it helps
me be a better parent in a lot of ways. So it would be
counter-productive for me to go “hands free,” because I’d end up
teaching them things I didn’t want to, and not teaching them things that
are at the core of what I want them to know. What do I want to teach my
kids that the phone helps me with?

Knowledge is everywhere. Back when I was a kid, if I
wondered something, it was hard for me to find the answer if my parents
didn’t know. I had to remember what it was I wanted to know until I
could get to the library and hope the answer was in the encyclopedia or a
book. I couldn’t work on any theories because I didn’t have access to
facts.

Now, when one of my kids says, “I wonder if Madison
is
further into Central Time Zone than Philadelphia is into Eastern,” we
can find out right away. Yesterday we looked up Monte Carlo to find out
if it was its own municipality. (Turns out it’s one of four zones in
Monaco. It also turns out that the first hit for Monte Carlo is for a
casino in Las Vegas. We talked about that.)

I used to look stuff up on my phone all the
time, but now both of my kids can do it, and they’re getting good at
vetting sources, too.

Cite your sources. Speaking of vetting sources, I’m
teaching my kids that untrue facts are worse than no facts at all, so
we’re practicing finding good sources of information, vetting sources,
and not making claims unless we can back them up. I started doing it
just to annoy them, but now they’re calling out false claims on tv
commercials and other advertising, and my chest is growing three sizes.

Time is worth something. I don’t take most calls I get or
answer most emails I get when I’m with the kids. Sometimes I do answer
an email. I always respond to texts from my mom. I talk about the flow
of information and communication with the kids and about how I decide
what to respond to and what waits. They’ll need to make their own
decisions about prioritizing their time, and I want them to see how that
happens and how I manage it so they have a model.

You can make money. Sometimes when I’m with the kids I need
to take a client call or answer an email. When I do, I explain it to
the kids because I want them to understand what my work is about and how
I do it. I want them to understand that there are a lot of different
jobs and ways to make money, and that I work hard, and they can, too.

Friendships matter. I model being a friend for my kids with
the phone. I talk about texting and calling my friends when I do it. I
give them news about my friends from social media. We look at pictures
my friends post and talk about them. My kids keep in touch with their
two favorite babysitters via my social media accounts.

I’m proud of you. I brag about my kids by text and social
media. To their dad, their grandparents, their aunt and uncle, my
friends. My kids know I appreciate them and are proud of them, and want
everyone to know how delightful they are.

Something else I do with my phone is take pictures of the kids (even
though I don’t post them online). This is new, and it still feels
amazing to me. I wrote last fall about how I’d always been afraid of
taking pictures
until I talked to Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, who runs
Photosanity
. I’ve been working more with Alethea since then, and have
gone from a person who had no current pictures of her kids on her phone
to a person who has a lot of great, recent, emotional pictures of my
kids on my phone. (And am ready to admit that I might actually even buy a
camera. Maybe.)

One of the things Alethea showed me how to do was use taking pictures
as a way to interact with my kids, instead of having the phone camera
come between us. That was a shift in my head, and I’ve also applied that
to taking pictures of my cats (which is weird, but when I figured out
that my cat photography was getting better, too, that’s when I knew
Alethea was a super-genius. I mean, cats. Come on.)

So I’m not going to put my phone someplace else when I’m
with my kids, because sometimes we just need to know stuff, or take
pictures of stuff, or tell people stuff. The phone is a tool, like a
pencil. Only pencils don’t make us laugh together like the stuff we look
up on the phone does.

 

The real real 22-month-old can’t sleep post

This post has been eaten three times now so I’m scared to hit post again, but here goes…

Amanda writes:

“I’m stumped, and I’m losing it.  My 22-month-old son, always a
not-great napper but a great night sleeper, is involved in some kind of
horrible backslide.  

He’s always been an early riser, but lately he’s been getting up at 4:30-5:00,
for about 3 months. We sleep in a basement, so it’s very very dark and
he has no way of knowing when it’s morning. There also isn’t enough
light for him to sit and play in his crib.  He’s up at 5 and READY TO
GO.  In desperation sometimes, we let him sleep with us in the rocking
chair for an extra hour, but he’s getting too big now and I’m trying to
break him of it.

We’ve always had trouble with naps.  A few
months ago, I gave up and was sleeping with him for his naps–it was
good, since I got rest (I’m pregnant with my second).  But now I’ve
realized I can’t commit to it forever, especially not with an infant on
the way.  We trained, and it was a textbook four days– hour of
screaming, 40 mins, 20 mins no screaming.  It lasted about a week.  Now
he’s refusing again, and the last few days he’s screaming for a full
hour, no signs of sleep.  After the hour we just get him up, and then
he’s exhausted and cranky until bedtime.

His day looks like this:

wake at 5:00

down for “nap”: 1:00

bed: 7:30

He
goes down fine at night, but wakes three and four times a night whining
or crying (not hysterical, not afraid), but wanting to rock in the
chair or sleep with someone.  Usually with a pat he goes back down
easily, but wakes again a couple of hours later for more of the same.

  • He’s not hungry: often won’t want to eat until 9 a.m.
  • He has water in his crib if he wants it.
  • He has an aquarium he can turn on if he wants some light
  • He has a consistent bed and nap routine that has been the same since he was 6 weeks old.
  • Temperature in his room is consistent
  • His diet hasn’t changed
  • As far as we can tell, he’s not sick or teething
  • He snores, so his mattress is propped up at the head

Some thoughts:

  • he’s going almost 8 hours between waking and nap.  Is this too long?  Is overtired/awake time still a thing at this age?
  • We haven’t told him outright about the baby (it’s early yet),
    but people are talking about it around him and he’s very smart.  Is he
    maybe sensing something? Do I smell different?
  • I’ve heard of ignoring until 6 am, but how does that work?  Does their body just suddenly learn what 6 feels like?  Today he screamed from 4:30-5:30.
  • Is he too young for one of those “ok to wake” clocks?  I thought
    that might help.  He’s good with logic (as much as a toddler can be), so
    maybe the image of sleep time and awake time will help?

We are losing our minds– we live
in very close quarters and we hear every sound he makes.  I’m a SUPER
wimp about CIO, and I’m just at my wits’ end about how to fix this. 

Please. pretty please.  I’m trying my best to do everything right, and I’m failing at this.  Help!”

Oh,
no! You are not failing. And please, please don’t try to do everything
right–that’s an impossible goal. No parent can ever do everything
right. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be worth it. Kids need to know
their parents as people. Flawed, loving people. Not robots. So just be
who you are and stay connected to your kid.

Now, I’ve got nothing on the early waking thing. In the
almost-eight years I’ve been writing Ask Moxie, the waking at 5 am phase
is the only thing we’ve never come close to cracking. So the only thing
I can say is that he’ll eventually grow out of it.

The list of things you’ve already eliminated is
impressive. You hit everything I’d have told you to look at, especially
his diet (particularly artificial colors/flavors/sweeteners and gluten)
and teething. This sounds like general bodily discomfort that isn’t
letting his body fall or stay asleep, either night or day. Diet and
teething are the two things that directly cause bodily discomfort, but
it’s not either of those.

This also sounds like a sleep regression or developmental
stage, but it’s smack in the middle of the period right between the
18-month regression and the 24-month regression. So unless he’s a kid
who hits developmental stuff off the usual schedule (and I’m assuming
he’s not or you would have mentioned it), it’s not a typical regression.

So what else? It definitely seems like something’s just
not letting him stay asleep. Learning some new kind of movement? (But
for three full months?) Reflux? (But the times he’s waking and the fact
that he doesn’t want to eat when he wakes up don’t align with typical
patterns.)

 

Readers, what am I missing?

Twelve

Today I’m just feeling angry. About everything we’ve lost, and everything we’ve done that hasn’t made anything any better. 

I’m mad that Colleen Supinski never got to be a mother. She’d have been an excellent mother, if only because she was always ready for fun.

I’m just angry. 

Say what you need to say here. Tell your story, talk about someone you lost, talk about what you lost. Safe space. No Misery Poker. 

New MoxieTopic subscription and Creating Your Own Parenting Plan

I’ve just released a new MoxieTopic called “Creating Your Own Parenting Method” that walks you through the steps of creating a mission statement and relationship guide that helps you make every parenting decision you’ll need to make. A little longer than the others at 11 pages, but worth it. Buy it here for $5.

OR, buy the All MoxieTopics Subscription plan! I’ve been getting requests to “just send me everything,” so this is the answer to that. A yearly subscription that gives you every MoxieTopic currently released (there are five as of the time I’m typing this) plus every MoxieTopic I release in the next year. (That will be at least 12.) The fee for the year is only $40, which means you’re saving $20 over the year and getting everything I’ve released already for free. This is perfect for people who like to look ahead or back and figure out what happened or what will happen.

Tomorrow, back to Q&A here. 

Beginning of the year check-in

Today is the last day for the early-bird discount on the next session of the online Writing Through Your Divorce workshop with Deesha Philyaw and me. Price goes up tomorrow, and the workshop starts September 30 and runs for 12 weeks. 

We are also accepting submissions for the Writing Through Your Divorce blog, which will be a collection of prose and poetry on divorce. Submission guidelines here. 

My friend Kristina at My Islamic Life (who I’ve known since we were 14), wrote the most bittersweet post about how hard new motherhood was for her and a beautiful review of my MoxieTopics that made me tear up. (Spoiler: Her Mr. Fox is almost a man, and he’s so wise and funny and sweet and perfect, as are her girls. Proof that you can feel like you’re making mistakes every day and still raise wonderful people.)

Now: How is school going? How is the start of fall going? Are you feeling caught up still, or have things gone off the rails a little bit? If you’re starting something totally new (school, or a new job or work situation, or anything requiring a new morning routine) know that it is going to take at least three weeks before you start to feel really comfortable with it.

I know some kids have been back to school for three weeks+, while others started back two to three days ago. And some people are celebrating Rosh Hashanah on top of all the school and post-Labor Day beginnings. 

So check in and tell us how it’s going, and if you need some troubleshooting, ask for it and we’ll help. 

Judgment and fear

(The title of this post is the subject of the email from the reader.) Anon writes: 

I have a problem. I am the mom of an only child (daughter, newly 5), and
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing most days. I know people say kids
don’t have instruction manuals or whatever. But most other people seem
to have *some* confidence in the things they are doing. I do not. Not
one bit. All I do is question whether I’m doing the right things. And
hope to make it through the day without anyone yelling at another – and
yes, that includes me.

I am embarrassed about my parenting style, such as it is. My daughter is
not an easy child. Other people talk about their kids whining or
yelling when you tell them no. I’m in the “screaming and crying her fool
head off until the parent snaps and yells and then the kid screams some
more” boat. There’s only so much screaming I can handle.

There’s only so much not listening I can handle!  I am frequently in the
middle of a sentence *right next* to her and she starts talking about
something else. I will say something to her and ask her what I just said
and she can’t tell me. Either my child is ADHD – and I’m not saying
that lightly – (meaning that life just frustrates the crap out of her so
she screams a lot) or she is the most willful and rude child in
existence.

I try so hard to do what I should. I give limits. I encourage
confidence. I give attention. I try, I swear I do. But there’s a point
that I just cannot fight any more because I’m about to lose my shit. At
that point I try to figure out a way to get her settled without seeming
weak but I doubt it works, given the results. I think it’s made my
daughter a tyrant.  And I feel like crap about it and every time she
acts up I feel this panic and anger coming because it’s my fault. I’ve
given in too much.

There’s so much guilt, from my head and from others. I have been told
since my daughter was a baby that I give her too much attention and I’ve
been weak. “She’s your only and so you hold her too much, you don’t
make her wait when she’s crying for something, you let her have a sippy
cup of water in her bed (recommended by her pediatrician), you should
let her cry herself to sleep, oh she screams not just cries, well that’s
your fault too. Hold the door shut on her while she screams at naptime.
Sometimes they just need a swat. Do you WANT to make it so no one wants
to have her stay the night anywhere? She doesn’t do that when she’s
with us because we’re firm with her.” I hide how I deal with my daughter
a lot because some family disagrees and I can’t take the conflict. All
I’m trying to do is stay sane – and I don’t say that lightly either; I
am bipolar and I had a very hard time the first 2.5 years.

I’ve read Ask Moxie since just after she was born. I’ve seen you say
multiple times that we are the best parent for our children. Given my
track record so far I think I might be the exception that proves the
rule.

PLEASE, tell me I’m not the only one this lost and panicked every day.
Please, tell me there’s other people who are afraid to be honest about
how they parent. Please, tell me I’m not the only one so overwhelmed by
fear of judgement they’ve considered moving away where there’s no family
to judge. Okay…tell me the truth instead.

1. You are not the only one who feels lost and panicked. Parenting is REALLY REALLY HARD.

2. You’re hanging out with the wrong people. Seriously. I don’t want to say the word jackasses, but. 

The idea that responding to your child’s basic needs is going to hurt them is asinine. Picking up, cuddling, holding, responding to your child is the entire point. If someone is telling you that responding to your child’s needs is wrong or is hurting your child or is causing problems, the problem is with that person.

Give your child what she needs. That changes from day to day. It changes as she gets older. But she always needs you.  

It sounds like your daughter needs you ESPECIALLY because she is higher needs and more intense. People are who they are, and if you hadn’t responded to this little high-needs person, what would have happened to her? You are giving her the building blocks of knowing that she is loved, and home is inside her. When she’s ready she’ll walk into independence, even if she’s never as bold and independent as some other kids who are wired differently. She is who she is. And she’s lucky she has a mom who responds to her.

3. It sounds to me like she’s got some kind of protecting-her-borders stuff going on. Like she’s creating a wall of sound around herself, somehow, to either protect herself or get rid of the bad. I’ve written about Tension Releasers here and in the Tension Increasers and Tension Releasers MoxieTopic , and one thing about them is that they release the tension almost by throwing it outward. I’m wondering what would happen if you just witnessed it while she was tossing off her tension instead of feeling like you had to fix it. At the very least you wouldn’t end up yelling and making yourself feel worse.

4. I think it’ll get a little easier when she gets to school because a) she’ll be older, and b) you’ll have a wider range of kids to compare to and see that she’s normal, and c) you’ll have a wider range of parents to compare to to see that you’re normal, and d) you’ll have teachers who’ve seen tons and tons of kids to help you get perspective (and who may have great techniques to help you respond to your daughter in a way that de-escalates). Back to school is back to having another adult to help you. (Big hugs to all the teachers out there.) 

4. I wish you had some good support. I know that the commenters are going to jump in and help (and suggest some resources for parenting high-needs kids, please) . But it would be an enormous help for you if you had some other parents to be with who could see the good way you respond to your daughter and who could help you troubleshoot when you need it instead of judging. I might try Mom Meet Mom (run by our friend Julia) to see if you can find other moms nearby who are parenting their kids responsively, like you are.

And since you mentioned that you’re bi-polar, I’m guessing you’re on top of your meds. But I wouldn’t forget about nutritional support–remember that parenting sucks it out of you, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins, magnesium, and Omega 3s (fish oil or flax seed oil) . Supplementing with those might help you feel less anxious.

5. You are not alone. And by responding to your daughter and trying different things you will figure it out. I’m sorry you’re taking so much criticism, and glad you’re protecting yourself from them.  

Courage. 

Readers, any support or thoughts for Anon?