The St. Nick gifts, chocolates and a teddy bear for each child, were well-received this morning. Mara did confess that “I pick them by myself at the store!” but Alex scoffed at that since he knows Mara’s not allowed to go to the store by herself. They were mostly too excited about the loot to worry about where it had come from. Tonight we’ll be decorating a gingerbread house (which I’d hoped to pass off to my mother, but she’s sick and so I have to stay in and manage things) and then our holiday preparations will be pretty much done and I’ll just be getting the kids through the rest of their school weeks and then staying home with them until school starts up again.
Val took her own advice from yesterday and made herself a “letter” from her incarcerated parent with pictures drawn in and lots of wiggly lines to be the words. She has it in a pocket of her backpack so it’s there when she needs it. I complimented her on her initiative and I really am impressed that she decided what she wanted and then made sure she got it! We also had a better morning because I woke her by telling her it was time to put on her dress rather than a shirt. Well, also probably because I made her go to bed extra early. That’s going to be the norm for a while, because she really does need 10-11 hours of sleep, though that means we don’t get a whole lot of time at home awake in the evenings.
On the not-so-great side, she’s been doing a fair amount of stealing, though she’s not very good at it and so far I’ve been able to either head her off at the pass (easy since she’s drawn to fancy pens and markers, so I know to do a tally before letting her leave school) or get her to return things. I’m not really sure how to deal with this other than by just saying, “Welp, I know you took that from somewhere, so was it the afterschool program or the museum?” She’s not necessarily going to tell me the truth, but I can strong-arm her into returning it somewhere. Her at-home parent hadn’t noticed her taking things she wasn’t supposed to have but is definitely fed up with her talking back and just generally not wanting to be compliant. We all attribute this mostly to feeling emotionally mixed and out of control in her life right now. (I also think she was a lot more successful at manipulating people to get what she wanted in previous family setups and I know she’s still managing that pretty successfully at school.) It’s just hard to deal with, especially when she’s started feeling like she’s a bad kid because she keeps getting caught doing stuff she’s not supposed to do. Here, too, extra sleep has a huge positive impact. If I can get her into a time out at a strategic moment (soon after getting home from school, especially) she’ll take a nap and then do much better, but I can’t make her fall asleep. Lee and I are both making efforts to spend more time one-on-one with her because I think she’ll do better if she can get attention in positive ways and we reinforce that.
Alex is holding up well and doing better at preschool and daycare these days. He no longer needs an elaborate good-bye ritual and he trusts that I’ll be there to pick him up at the end of every day, though he’s occasionally irate when the driver is Lee instead, which isn’t ideal. He needs a lot of time with me, and I’ve been carrying him in the backpack sometimes. (I needed to do that with Mara too this weekend. It helps them feel better and lets me get things done, but when I’ve already been dealing with intense back pain is probably not a great long-term plan.) He’s doing a lot of “repembering” (his word for “pretending” and one of his few consistent mispronunciations) and does a good job playing by himself when the girls are paired off doing their own thing, though he’d really be happiest if I watched him all day and all night. He plugged the end of a paper towel roll with a pinecone and slid it over his arm to turn himself into a robot, which was awesome. I love his creativity and how intensely he feels things, though it can be hard to redirect him without hurting his feelings.
Mara is going through a defiant phase with us, but doing well with Val and Alex. I think that she’s headed toward a growth spurt, which usually seems to be preceded by this mix of what seems to be misdirected fury and emotional neediness. I haven’t spent enough time with Val and Alex to do more than just guess about what signals they might be sending (though, really, a year with Mara is in some ways not a long time) and I appreciate having their parents’ input too. It’s another reason I feel like we’re working as a team to provide consistent care. For the most part, though, Mara’s still being hilarious and she’s always friendly and fun when interacting with Alex and Val. She’s gotten better at having boundaries, knowing when she wants to share her toys and when she doesn’t want someone who tends to break or lose things to get a second chance.
The only school problem Mara has had lately is that during her nap time last week she ate a houseplant, although I’m not sure exactly how much she got down before a teacher noticed. The preschool director was in the room at the time and yelled at Mara to stop and not eat plants, which made Mara break down and cry hysterically since she’s never disappointed the director before. Lee was called and came up to check on things while I googled poison control details. Mara was fine and didn’t seem terribly bothered by the experience, though she’s said, “When I ate a plant, I crying!” many times since then, which is useful since we get to remind her NOT TO EAT THINGS THAT AREN’T FOOD! Ah, parenting pica is not one of my best skills. And the program director wants us to ask her doctor whether maybe it’s some sort of sensory processing problem where Mara likes the feeling of having something in her mouth, so I guess I’ll do that. The director said there’s a medicine she’s seen work for kids in the past, but she told Lee that and at this point I think the message is so garbled that I have no idea what she’s talking about. We’ll see and I’ll talk to her, but clearly the pica is much, much better but still not gone.
Here’s where I point out before the commenters do that I said all the kids are seeming needy and I know I’m only doing some of what I should/can/must to meet those needs. I’m feeling pretty needy myself these days, but I have a day off work this week to rest and knit and take a bath and maybe recharge myself to the point where I can have a child on each hip without them kicking at each other and complaining that they each want to be the only one being held. Now that Lee is willing to spend more time doing childcare, we’re able to parcel out more one-on-one child-with-adult time, which I do think (and 1-2-3 Magic also insists) should be key to helping them feel connected.
A friend has been talking and thinking recently about what it means to be a good-enough parent as opposed to a good one. I didn’t have an answer and I still don’t. I do think I’m being good enough in getting the kids dressed, fed, washed, nurtured, but I’m still not giving them everything they want. Because all three of them want access to parents who are inaccessible to them, I can’t give them everything they want and I’m usually but not always okay with that part of the job. I’m not trying to raise any of them to be spoiled and that’s not what I mean in giving them what they want, but all of this is just complicated. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s the balance of what’s acceptable normal child behavior and what crosses the line, whether it’s counter-productive to have different discipline strategies for different kids, how to deal with three different sleep schedules and preferences that don’t always overlap with my own desires for sleep. I guess it’s worth reminding myself that I’m good enough at taking care of little kids but don’t find it rewarding the same way I do dealing with kids who are older. So much of this is drudgery, repetitive drudgery, and I’m having a hard time with that. Luckily we’re all working with good intentions and trying to, as Val would say, “be easy” with one another. I think that will eventually get us where we need to go.