Thursday, May 19, 2011

About Andrew [Ellie]

One of my first blog posts about 4 years ago was all about Nora. I waxed poetic about what a sweet girl she was, described magical moments with her, pondered her future with excitement and trepidation. As soon as I posted it I knew I needed to post about Andrew. So, in the back of my mind for the past four years, ideas for an Andrew post have been rattling around.

Here's the thing: maybe because of her gender, maybe because she has a generally happier disposition, it has always been easier for me to get along with Nora. Not counting a few months when she was 3, she has not resisted my imprint on her. With just Nora as evidence, I considered myself a good mother.

Andrew, on the other hand, almost immediately challenged my image of myself as a mother. He stopped sleeping through the night around 6 months old when he started to be plagued by ear infections. He cried a lot and was easily frustrated. He hit, pinched, bit, threw toys, and didn't share regardless of the number of time outs I imposed. Where Nora had required almost no parenting to manage her behavior, Andrew didn't even seem to respond when I pulled out every trick I could imagine. I dug into parenting books for more ideas, and for a while even those seemed ineffectual.

These struggles filled my mind as I tried to think of what to write about Andrew. How could I write a post about our challenging relationship? Didn't a post about Andrew need to be every bit as glowing as one about Nora?

Enter four simple ideas, from three different parenting books:
1. Stop comparing your children. They are distinct individuals. (Siblings without Rivalry, Faber and Mazlish)
2. Think about how your personality matches with your child's. (Raising Your Spirited Child, Kurcinka)
3. Use the positive terms for your child's personality traits--your child is persistent rather than stubborn. (Kurcincka)
4. Listen to your children and try to understand how they're feeling. Don't tell them not to feel it. (How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Faber and Mazlish)

As intuitive as these ideas sound, they had a great impact on me. I realized that Andrew had to struggle with aspects of his personality that Nora didn't have to struggle with. Comparing their behaviors wasn't fair. I realized how similar Andrew and I are. We both feel emotions deeply and have to deal with those strong emotions. I recognized Andrew's positive traits--his strong emotions make him a very loving and enthusiastic child, too. My eyes were opened to how often I told Andrew (and Nora) not to feel what they were feeling. As I tried to listen first, they both started to confide in me as they hadn't before.

A breakthrough moment for me in my relationship with Andrew came--unexpectedly--last month as we were watching A Series of Unfortunate Events. The narrator was saying something dry and insightful about how adults never listen to children. Andrew looked up at me and said, "But you listen to me, Mom!" I felt like crying with relief. Yes, sweetheart. I'm trying really hard to listen to you.

Andrew and I still have our ups and downs. Just last night we had a bad down. But I am learning to see and admire the many great things about Andrew.

*I love how eager he is to learn. I remember realizing when he was two that he knew most of the letters of the alphabet, just by hearing me practice them with Nora. He has surprised his teachers by using words like "orbit" and "narrator."

*I love how affectionate he is. He really wants to be held and cuddled. He tells me he loves me.

*He gets really excited about things. A father on his soccer team calls him the Dancing Goalie because when the ball comes toward him, he starts jumping with the thrill that he will get to save the ball.

*He's a whiz at building things. Since he got his Lego set for Christmas, he's figured out to build almost every sort of vehicle there is.

*He has a real desire to be good. He understands rules and why to follow them. He behaves well in preschool and Primary. He is very willing to help me whenever I ask.

Our relationship is not easy, but in learning to understand him, I have come to understand more about myself. Parenting Andrew has made me learn and grow. As he learns to control how he reacts to his strong emotions, I feel so close to him. One more story shows how.

It was the witching hour. I was cooking dinner and all three kids were grumpy and so was I. Everyone was whining. I was stirring dinner with unnecessary roughness. The last straw came when Andrew stepped on one of his toy cars and started howling.

"That's what you happens when you leave toys out on the floor!" I snapped unsympathetically.

Andrew flopped on the couch and cried.

A few minutes later I sensed him next to me and braced myself for his anger.

"I decided to calm myself down, Mom," he said. He gave me a hug and went back to living room to play.

I felt all the tension pour out of me. Somehow the whole evening looked different now.

Andrew is becoming an example to me.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Glad he's gone [Bryan]

I didn't feel any sense of elation at the death of Bin Laden, but I'm glad he is gone. I'm glad he's gone because he was one of history's greatest monsters, that much is obvious. Images of 9/11 are still burned into my memory. I still remember watching the pain in the face of a teenage girl, holding up a picture of her mother who was in World Trade Center, pleading for help.

But I'm also glad that we, as Americans, don't have Bin Laden as an excuse to do stupid things anymore. Here is hoping that, with his death, we return to some semblance of sanity. Too much has happened since 9/11, too much hysteria and darkness on our part, to be elelated. Hopefully the way Bin Laden changed us, the way he turned us into a fearful and cowering nation, ready to sweep under the carpet many of our most important principles, can be reversed over time. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Saved by forgiveness [Bryan]

Words of wisdom from Reinhold Niebuhr:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.