Saturday, August 25, 2007


I got another great present for my birthday, from my dear friend E:

Isn’t it gorgeous? I love love love it. I am a little embarrassed to admit, however, that in all my years of running, I have never run to a soundtrack, and I’m a total clod at it. With each new song I get all geeked and try to run to the beat, which must look absurd. I’m like someone trying to use cruise control for the first time ... whoaaaa! too fast! stop! stop! ok, too slow, too slow ...

What’s the trick? Do I do a playlist with certain bpms? (Is that hard to do?) Learn to ignore the beat? Start appreciating atonal, arrhythmic music? Or should I just run with it turned off, since it looks so cool and no one can tell the difference?

Friday, August 17, 2007


First, let me reiterate that I adore my child, I don’t think he has anything “wrong” with him, and I am very very grateful that he’s my son. I don’t want to squash his personality in any way; I just wonder if there’s something I’m doing that’s making things harder than they have to be. (Some of you are uncomfortable with the nickname HellBoy. I’m wondering if those of you who find it not funny actually believe in the existence of a Hell? Because I definitely don’t. And maybe you haven’t seen the movie? At any rate, we’ve been calling him this since around two months of age, and it doesn’t mean we think he’s evil. To me, it’s just a variation on “hellion,” which I’m guessing most people don’t have a problem with?)

Your comments are terrific, and I much appreciate the supportive tone. I haven’t had enough time to digest all of them, but a few themes are evident:

Hey, He Sounds Just Like My Kid

These comments are immensely comforting, because it’s a very isolating thing, having a kid like this. Some people “get” it, but a lot of times people assume it’s your fault, or that you’re exaggerating, or that you’re a wimp. Or they’ll think you’re talking about a tough phase. Or they’ll spend a little time with your kid and say, “He’s perfectly good with me!” It’s a relief when people really know what we’re dealing with. Once at a daycare conference with one of his teachers, we asked, “Where does he fall on the willfulness scale?” and his teacher paused for a long moment, then said, “Well, I’ve met kids who were as willful …” and it just made us feel so much better.

One of my best friends (who reads this blog), mother of a charming toddler, was over the other night as HB went through his paces, and it was hilarious watching her face as she tried to think of ways that this or that tantrum might be truncated. Sort of like, “Hmmm …. Maybe … Ooh, no, that doesn’t work, does it?” (But she was over again last night, and HB was really quite charming. His only crying spell happened after her toddler refused HB’s offer of a stuffed frog to try to cheer him up.)

I found the “bottomless pit” description especially helpful. He is like that, and it makes me feel less awful about setting limits on how much I can give.

We need a support group: Parents of Bottomless Pits. PBP.

I Have a Good Technique/Book …

Victoria was worried I might ban her from my site (which I wouldn’t know how to do even if I wanted to, which of course I don’t) for saying, “Maybe I’m naive, but I’m sort of enchanted by the idea that there are some easily learned tricks that help reduce the frustration of having to live with people who drive you crazy. … So why not look for some child-management tricks?”

Yes! This is exactly what I’m trying to do here! I love techniques for dealing with tough people; I have to use them all the time with patients, in fact. I call them my “magic words.” (Most of them don’t work on toddlers, more’s the pity.) There’s a difference between taking a class on how to deal with difficult people and taking HB to a therapist, though. The former makes no judgments on how you in particular might deal with any specific difficult person. The latter seems like a setup for making my relationship with my son feel pathological. (I know it wouldn’t necessarily do so, but it could. Hey, I’ve been through a reasonable amount of therapy in my life.) I will try to browse through the books suggested.

TrophyHusband figured out a great technique that is making preschool dropoff much happier—a variation on the giving control technique (he’s outgrown choices, unfortunately). Now whichever of us is dropping him off asks him how long he wants us to stay. He will say “Two minutes”—or three or four or ten. “Okay, tell me when the time is up,” we’ll say, and within about thirty seconds he kisses us and says, “Time’s up! Bye!” I don’t know how this will work once he can actually tell time, but for now it’s great. Another thing that can work is distracting by humor, but you have to be pretty “on” to do it to his satisfaction, and I'm not much of a standup comic.

It’s Tough to Be a Hellion

This, I know. I know because I not only was one, I am one. The other evening TrophyHusband and I were talking about how tough HB is, and TH said, “Well, he might look just like me, but his personality is all you.” I thought he was referring to stories about me as a child, but he went on, “Honestly, sometimes interacting with him is just like interacting with you.” I sat for a minute thinking about this. And I realized that I am a HellDoctorMama. I remembered something that happened during our wedding ceremony. The woman who married us met with us a few times and had us give her details about ourselves and each other, which she incorporated into the ceremony. During the wedding, she described her impressions of us, including “[TrophyHusband] is generous and nurturing. ... [DoctorMama] has strong principals and doesn’t back down in tough situations.” This provoked such a gale of laughter through the audience that the officiant had to pause before going on. She hadn’t realized what an understatement she was making.

This little epiphany has been helping me a lot. It both makes me realize why I find it so painful to watch him go through this—it hits so close to home—and why I don’t have great techniques for ushering him neatly out of his tantrums. Those of you who mentioned that you were intense kids, and that the worst moments were when someone tried to criticize you for being that way—I completely remember the same feelings myself. I don’t remember what did help, besides time, but mocking didn’t, and hitting certainly didn’t. (What helps me now is still mainly time to digest all of my feelings.)

So I have a lot of empathy for what HB is going through. I know he doesn’t enjoy this. I know he’s not doing it to manipulate me. And this knowledge does help give me patience.

I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Is Nana Right? Am I Doing Something WRONG with HB?—Advice Welcome

I don’t mind getting advice on child raising. Hey, I even ask for it from parents I admire and trust. So I’m soliciting it from you folks.

But first, more about my mother-in-law. More context. Part of what made me so angry is that she does not say anything good or positive about me. This in itself does not make me mad; I’m pretty thick-skinned in that way—I don’t need a ton of affirmation from people I’m not close to. But when she finally makes a comment, it’s usually negative. And this is despite a conscious effort on my part to compliment her often, since she clearly does need it and since it’s not my reflex to pay compliments in general. (Have I said lately that you guys are terrific? Well, you are!) Another thing that made me angry is that my husband was never allowed to suggest to her that her way of parenting is anything but gold medal-worthy. When his younger brother was having serious problems in high school, for instance, and my husband tried to suggest different ways to approach him, she dissolved into hysterics, sobbing, “I’m the worst mother in the world! I never do anything right! You hate me!” etc. And the things she did after she and my husband’s father got divorced were pretty awful. She meets most of the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder (you should see how she dresses, Oh-My-God); my husband’s thought when he first read that description was, “Hey! They’ve met Mom!” He, bless his mensch-y soul, learned pretty early that you should not take her personally in any way, and this makes my life oh so much easier. I just shouldn’t fall into the trap myself.

Enough about her. Here’s the deal with my kid. I realize it could sound like sensory integration disorder from some of the descriptions I’ve given, but that definitely does not fit him. He’s neither over or under-sensitive to anything, doesn’t seek or avoid stimulation, doesn’t swing or spin any more than average, isn’t more or less active than average, is well coordinated, will walk on any surfaces, likes a lot of different food (except vegetables), and is no more impulsive or distractible than the average three-year-old. He toilet-trained himself for the most part. And eye contact—he is the king of eye contact. I haven’t read much on the issue (and some of the descriptions sound a little like horoscopes, I must say), but no, it doesn’t resonate. We’ve talked in depth with several very talented people at his daycare, too, and they had no concerns at all in this area.

My kid is, however, a handful, and more of a handful for me than for other people. My kid is intense and willful. The things that people typically say about him are: “He really knows what he wants.” “He’s so serious!” If HB wants to do something, he REALLY wants to. There’s no particular pattern to what he wants; this morning’s examples were to leave the sand ON his shoes, to watch his father clean up the cat poop, and to have me play baseball with him; last night it was to eat candy before dinner, to hang the new shower curtain himself, to take a shower and not a bath, not to brush his teeth, etc. All normal stuff for his age. The only difference between him and other kids is how fiercely he insists and how mad he gets when thwarted. He threw a tantrum in the car the last time my parents visited because he decided that we should stop at green lights and go at red lights, and was OUTRAGED that we wouldn’t comply. He’s not much of a biter or a hitter, but he yells and cries a LOT. (TH and I almost never yell, by the way.)

The problem with car rides has never been getting him into the seat; it’s that after ten minutes or so, he wants to be doing something else, and no amount of distraction will convince him otherwise. It’s gotten better and better the more interested he’s become in watching the world go by, but there’s always the risk that he’ll, say, spot a train and then want to see another one.

As for sleep: aside from the period when he couldn’t breathe (he’s completely over that now, by the way), he’s quite a good sleeper; he’s just a night owl, and doesn’t sleep a lot. He naps for about an hour and a half each afternoon (and it is impossible to prevent him from doing so—we’ve experimented on the weekends, in the hopes of an earlier bedtime). He has a nighttime routine—bath, milk, stories, bed—and doesn’t need to be patted/rocked/sung to sleep, but does want me with him. If he is put to bed at eight, he doesn’t protest, he just tosses and turns and talks and requests politely to get up. If he is put to bed at nine-thirty, he usually goes to sleep. He wakes up at seven, usually on his own. He is not to any outward appearances overtired at night; he is in fact at his most pleasant from eight to nine-thirty. He doesn’t even yawn.

Our approach has been to try and accommodate him within the bounds of health and safety and politeness. Trying to harm someone else results in a timeout. Please and thank you are strictly enforced, even with Mama and Daddy. No TV except for DVDs (so as to avoid commercials), and fairly little of that. No candy for dinner, the car seat stays buckled, teeth get brushed, hands are washed, all that stuff. But we let him stay in his our bed at night, he can run around naked if he wants, and we try to indulge most requests for us to play with him.

The toughest part for me is that he’s so very attached to me. He would love it if I would carry him everywhere (and I do carry him a LOT. It has done wonders for my upper body strength—you should see my arms: I’ve got guns). He’d like to be able to pat and stroke and blow raspberries on me all day and all night. It’s tempting to say that this is because I work a lot. This is probably why I didn’t wean him for so long and it’s definitely why we never made him cry it out at night and let him sleep in our bed. But putting more time in with him doesn’t really change him. He’s exactly as clingy and demanding on the seventh day of a vacation as he is on a Monday night. No matter what, I get the brunt of the intensity and rage, and when he’s really on a roll, it’s no fun.

It’s gotten easier, for sure. He can now be reasoned with; if I can explain to his satisfaction why I want him to do something, there’s a fair chance he’ll agree. He’s also gotten more interested in doing things for himself, thank heavens. And I can tell that I’ll enjoy him even more as he gets older. Last night I showed him how a toilet works, which was pretty cool. I feel like if I can make it through the next couple of years, it will be mostly a blast to be his mother.

So … any advice?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: The Nana Wars

I used to hear stories about other people’s in-laws and think that I really shouldn’t complain. My mother-in-law is a bit of a handful, sure; but she’s generous, energetic, and great with my kid. I used to think I had it pretty lucky.

Not anymore.

We just got back from a trip to Nana and Papa’s. We don’t get up there more than about twice a year, because whether you take a car, a plane, or a train, at some point the trip necessarily involves hours of driving. (I suppose helicopter would be an exception; they do have a big enough field that one could be landed there. I haven’t priced helicopter charters recently, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fit in our budget.) This was a minor annoyance before the birth of HellBoy; since then, whenever the subject comes up, I get a visceral reaction something like I imagine a mild case of PTSD to be. But HB is much, much better in the car than he used to be, which is to say, he doesn’t keep up an unearthly, earsplitting, gurgling, yodeling howl the entire time.*

Anyway, we armed ourselves with dvds and treats (both of which lose all potency after about twenty minutes), and off we went. It was bad, that’s all I’ll say. But we got there. And it’s little boy heaven at Nana’s. HB went on a horse and a tractor, caught a fish, swam in the pond, chased tadpoles, ate cherries, and was doted upon. TrophyHusband did lots of bike riding. I caught up on some work, which was relaxing in its own way. I had insisted in advance that we only stay three days, because by the fourth day, I’m usually cracking from the strain of not saying what I’m really thinking. This time, though, Nana seemed to be behaving herself. No comments about HB’s size—well, not very many; no comments about the fact that he doesn’t go to sleep at seven pm like his cousin—well, only one or two. On Tuesday evening, I had been lulled into thinking about offering that we put off leaving for another day.

The usual routine at Nana’s is that Nana and Papa take HB on adventures until he’s worn completely out; TH and I get a break until the end of the day, when one of us takes over wrangling him. Our last night there, Nana had just brought HB back from the pond. He was worn out and a little hungry. TH was off riding. HB and I played in the family room for a few minutes, but he insisted on jumping on the chairs naked, which is against the rules at Nana’s (both the jumping and the nudity), so I took him outside. We took a walk back to the pond, where he was happy for a little while, until I refused to push him around on the inner tube in the exact direction he preferred for the forty-seventh time. Then he threw a fit because I wouldn’t carry him in my arms like a baby all the way back to the house. Then he threw a fit that I wouldn’t let him go back inside to jump on the chairs naked. Then I didn’t spin him around by the arms and land him on the grass quite the right way. And etc. Finally his dinner was ready and I took him back inside and got his pants on.

Nana asked why he was being grumpy, so I recited litany of his complaints against me.

“You know where I think you should take him?” she said.

The hackles rose on the back of my neck. I knew I wasn’t going to like where this was leading. “To daycare?” I joked.

“No,” she said. “I think you should take him to a therapist. The two of you should go together, so that you can learn how to handle him.”


I was stunned speechless. Or more accurately, I was too stunned to think of something to say that wouldn’t take us right to in-law DEFCON 1. She mistook my silence as rapt attention, and went on. “You work really long hours, and when you get to spend time with him, you should be able to enjoy him, not resent him!” She kept talking, but the buzzing in my ears was so loud I couldn’t process it well.

I got HB safely into his highchair and fled upstairs to, I’m ashamed to say, bawl in the bathroom for the next fifteen minutes or so.

It’s a lot easier to take outrageous statements from her when they’re about something that I know she 100% wrong about. That we don’t feed HB, for instance. But this, this is a sore point. Of course it is—don’t most people fear that they’re not doing the “right” thing with their children? The fact that I know she’s batshit crazy didn’t make it less painful to hear. In some ways it made it worse—I had been thinking that maybe she wasn’t so bad, maybe we could have some real conversations from time to time. I had let down my guard.

Finally I splashed water on my face, came down and got a beer, and went back outside with HB until TH got home. I didn’t get long enough alone with him to let him know what was going on until we went to bed, at which point he was appropriately comforting, reminding me of all the horrible things she’s said to him over the years. We got out of there first thing in the morning, and I didn’t have to have any more conversations with her.

Thanksgiving, I’m staying home.

*When HB was an infant, Nana was terribly offended that we wouldn’t drive up to see them, and said that we just needed to let him “cry it out.” The next time she came to visit us, we got in the car for a short trip and HB did his usual routine. It lasted maybe five minutes before Nana was howling too. “My god, what’s WRONG with him?” she shrieked. “Make him stop! Make him stop! Let me out!” (In fact, I often had my husband let me out of the car once we got within a half mile of our house. He would have climbed out too, but that would have left no one to watch the baby. Although the way HB shrieked, I don’t think anyone would have been willing to even carjack him.) I think the longest we ever tried to let him “cry it out” was 45 minutes; perhaps we just didn’t wait it out long enough, but by that point our nerves were shattered. Multi-stop trips were even worse; he got more frantic with each time he was strapped into the seat.