Hitting, Parenting, and Many Tools

You know that line, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”  at the beginning of a Tale of Two Cities? Yeah. That’s what life is like for us a lot of the time around here. We’re, all three of us, emotionally intense people. So, when we’re happy, it’s awesome. And when we have a bad day? It’s BAD.

Fiona is three which is hard to start with. Add in a healthy dollop of emotional intensity, a few pinches of persistence, independence, and need for control, and a big old scoop of very bright and you have a recipe for some very big, very loud, very physical tantrums.

We’ve been working on it. Take deep breaths. Use your words. Etc.

But we were having trouble with her lashing out and hitting me. In fact, we were having a lot of trouble with it. She was hitting when she was told to do something. She was hitting when she was told not to do something. She was hitting when she didn’t get her way. She was hitting when a toy didn’t do what she wanted it to. Yeah, she actually got mad at her toys and walked into the kitchen to hit me.

Yeah. I was just thrilled. Just freaking thrilled.

I tried to get her to use her words. She shut down and cried. I tried labeling the emotions I saw. She lashed out more. I tried time outs. She started hitting me, then putting herself in time out while sobbing that she was a mean kid.

I was worried.

It didn’t feel normal. My gut was telling me that something was wrong. So I watched and I took it easy on her and I listened. And one day, in the bath, she was playing with her Dora doll and twin dolls and Dora was hitting the babies. “Oh!” I said, “Dora is hitting the babies? Why is Dora hitting?”

She looked up at me and glared, “Because she’s big and she’s mad and she’s mean!”

“Hm.” I said, frowning as a light-bulb slowly brightened in the back of my mind, “Do you know anyone who hits?”

Then the whole story flowed out of her. There is a bigger boy at her preschool and he hits. And he hits the littler kids and Fiona is friends with all of the littler kids. And he gets too close and he pushes her and she doesn’t like him and he’s mean and he’s scary and he hurts her friends. And she can’t make him stop. And all of the words flowed out of her and she started crying.

I scooped her out of the bath and wrapped at towel around her shoulders and let her drip and cry on my rapidly soaked shirt. I reassured her. I told her I would talk to her teacher. I told her that we could make it better.

And she stopped hitting. Almost immediately. Almost completely.

Now, we still have an occasional problem, but I am handling it a little better. When she hits me, I gently tell her what her hands are saying and ask her if she could use her voice to say the same things, “Fiona, when you hit me, your hands say that you’re angry and want to hurt me. Do you think your words would agree?”

Here she usually nods or shakes her head.

“Oh, do you think your words would say that you’re hungry/frustrated/tired/overwhelmed?”

And we find ourselves snuggled and comforted and loved. And we both, together, find the words to work our way out of anger that wants to lash out and out of anger that wants to respond with punishment.

And I’m not perfect at it. I still get mad. I still get frustrated. I still have days were I would rather punish than coach. But I’ll get there and it gets a little easier to do every time that I practice it.

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What does Christmas mean?

“What does Christmas mean?” Fiona asks me, minutes after we wake up and seconds after the lights are turned on and the tree plugged in.

Yeesh. I don’t have my ducks in a row on this one. I am bleary eyed, and coffee craving. I haven’t found my glasses yet and I stare at the blurry, lit-up tree, and fumble for an explanation for my smart three-year-old. “Um. Well, Baby,” I begin stalling for time to organize my lethargic thoughts, “Christmas means that we celebrate all of the joy of the year before and are happy that even though it’s cold outside and the year is ending, the sun doesn’t stop shining and it will get warm again.”

“Oh!” She says excitedly, “And that’s why we have a tree! They keep growing! And a star! Because the sun is shining!”

“Yep.” I say, smiling at her joy, but dissatisfied with my explanation.  See, if I haven’t said it before, we’re atheists. So, Christmas is… challenging. I like it. But, I also kind of believe that I should call our celebration Yule, or Festivus, or really anything without all the religious connotations.

I also think that I needed to address the other part of the equation, that I didn’t mention, and let her know that a lot of people believe a lot of different things. And that that’s okay, the world would be a dull place if we lost the diversity of belief, thought, and culture that defines the human experience.

A few days later, I was talking about this conversation with my sister and she suggested that when I get these kinds of questions. The ones that make the gears in my head grind way too early in the morning that I tell Fiona ‘that is a great coffee question’. Then I take her out for coffee and we talk. It’ll make it special and give me a chance to come up with an answer that’s a little more complete, an answer that doesn’t leave me with a puzzled frown on my face two hours and three cups of coffee later.

Still, my answer isn’t bad, such as it is. And I really like Christmas. So, I’ll leave you with a song by another atheist who likes it.  Here’s Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun”

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I will acknowlege Sandy Hook and I am very angry about guns.

It’s taken me three days to be able to write about this without tears clouding my vision so that I can’t see my monitor. Three days. I thought about skipping it. Not writing. But that seemed wrong. So much loss deserves a response. It deserves to echo over and over.

I live on the other side of the country from the horror at Sandy Hook. I still can’t take it in. I find myself gripped in the pain, the grief that our nation shares at the loss of 20 children and 6 adults. Innocents and teachers. It freezes something in my chest. My heart breaks for parents that I have never met. Will never meet. For families that have been devastated.

I’m fighting waves of anxiety that start in my stomach and claw their way up to my throat like nausea. Sending Fiona to preschool today took physical effort. I don’t want her out of my sight. On Friday, I couldn’t stand to have her out of my arms. It is terrifying that I could send my tiny daughter out into the world, into a place that should be safe, and not be able to guarantee her safety. Bone-liquifyingly terrifying.

I’m also angry. I am furious with our country. I am angry that it is so fucking hard to get people mental health care. I’m furious that people think that blaming guns is a misdirection. People keep saying that the guns being used to commit these crimes are purchased, or used, illegally anyway, so there’s no point.

No Point? It seems like there’s plenty of ways of fixing this that we haven’t tried yet. It seems like there are a lot of countries that have fewer gun crimes and ta-da! stricter gun control laws. It seems like there is a lot of sticking both thumbs in the ears, squeezing the eyes tight shut and shouting “Second Amendment!” like some kind of mantra.

Fewer guns would mean fewer parents burying their tiny sons and daughters tonight. So why not be creative? Why not at least try something new?

I dunno, why not make the people who sell, or loan, the guns illegally complicit in any crimes committed? Seems like a quick way to make people start checking who should be buying or borrowing guns from them. Why not require a background check/gun license to purchase ammunition? Why not realize that your “right” to own a gun (what the fuck do you actually use it for?) just cost the lives of 12 little girls and 8 little boys and actually just ban the fucking things like they do in hundreds of other countries? (Do you really fucking think that it’s so that you can “keep the government in line”? No it’s so you can shoot fucking tin can’s in the back forty. It’s fucking entertainment.)

“If you make guns illegal, only criminals will own guns.” No shit? Really?

They’ll also own far fewer of them. Because, if they can’t buy them legally, and there are no guns in the hands of all these dumb fucks who think it’s okay to loan a fire arm to their son/brother/cousin that can’t buy one for himself, then over a fairly short period of time we really could reduce gun crime to levels that seem sane. Or a least less. Less seems like a really good thing today.

Less might mean one less parent burying their tiny, six-year-old child. For that I would give up every fucking privately-owned gun in the country.

Edited: Because I can remember which amendment is which, even when I’m angry.

Christmas is here. Kind of.

So, it’s that time of year. The time of year where I shamelessly indulge in the tacky. The glittery. The sweet. When I allow myself to ignore the warnings of the quietly sane part of my brain, and instead give myself over to the pageant of saccharine that makes this time of year so lovely.

December, and the holiday season, are the dessert of the year. January, of course, would be the starter salad.

Now, a few years ago I felt like the hype of Christmas (which we celebrate joyfully, despite our non-religious tendencies) was over played. It had lost that shine. That charming layer of glitter.

Then I had Fiona. And I still didn’t really see the point. She didn’t really get it. It was fun, but not really magical.

Now she’s three. She gets it.

And it is fantastic.

I’m being asked daily if we can open presents under the tree. She’s pretending to be reindeer, and Santa, and “Baby-Santa” (who it should be noted “is the one who brings the little presents for babies and the stuff for stockings. And cats.”)

She’s excited and it makes me excited. Even when parts of my brain are still yelling softly about commercialism and “shopping seasons” and blatant manipulation of emotion.

On Tuesday we received a box with some wrapped presents in it. Since they’re wrapped, I put them under the tree. I told her we couldn’t open them until Christmas morning. She grudgingly agreed.

On Wednesday morning I was privileged to have this conversation:

We had just stumbled downstairs in the still dark house. I plugged in the tree lights, started a pot of coffee, and slouched on the couch. “Ooh, Mommy,” Fiona said, with the awe and wonder that only a three year old viewing Christmas lights can muster. “Mommy, is it Christmas?”

“Yes,” I allow, looking at the tree. “It’s Christmas time.”

She looks up at me, “Is it morning time?”

“Yeah, Baby,” I say tiredly rubbing my yet un-caffeinated eyes, “It’s morning.”

“Let’s open the presents!” She shouts jumping up and down and clapping her hands.

Whoops! There followed a very disappointed conversation in which I had to try to explain the difference between Christmas morning and the Christmas season.  Remind me not to use words when I’m still mostly asleep.

Bread

I like bread. Real bread. Not the crud that you buy in plastic baggies in grocery stores, but the real stuff. The stuff that smells rich and yeasty and like a hundred thousand generations of civilization. The stuff the world was built on.

Yeah. I kind of have a crush on bread.

Unfortunately, people like to screw up bread. They add things that don’t need to be there. Especially grocery store bread. Corn syrup? Soy flour? (What the f- is that?) Milk. Whey Solids? Eggs.

Pretty much they add all kinds of stuff that not only ruins bread, but also makes it so that my girl can’t eat it. There are only two kinds of bread, both made by one bakery, sold by our local grocery stores that she can actually eat.  

A couple of months ago that bakery had a couple weeks of shipping issues. In desperation, I threw together the ingredients that I remember being in bread.

It turned out pretty great.

Ingredients:

2 cups steaming warm water
3 Tbsps brown sugar (you can substitute white sugar if you’re a complete philistine)
2 cups All Purpose flour
2 tsps salt.
1 packet (or 2 ½ tsps) yeast
2 Tbsps oil
4 cups Whole Wheat Flour (If you substitute white flour here I will haunt your dreams with curses about low texture crap bread. Don’t do it.)
A healthy dose of frustration, anger, or energy. Bread is not for the faint of heart.

First pre-heat your oven to 350F.
In a large bowl combine water, brown sugar, 2 C. All purpose flour and yeast.  Cover with a towel and leave on top of your stove (near the warmth of the pre-heating oven) to rise.

A word about bread: Bread likes to be warm. If your bread isn’t kept warm the yeast will revolt and not rise and you’ll end up with … … I don’t honestly know. I’ve never let my bread get cold. It’s bad though. It might end up trying to mutiny and abduct your women-folk. So, keep your bread warm.

Right, back to bread. Your mixture should look bubbly by now. If it doesn’t then you have one of three problems: your water was too cold, your water was too hot, or your yeast had expired (be sure to check the expiration date.)

Add in your oil and salt and stir in two cups of the whole wheat flour. Keep adding flour gradually until no more will mix in. Pour the remaining flour on your clean counter. Dump the dough onto the counter. Knead the dough for fifteen minutes (if you’re doing it right this will burn off aggression and energy), until it forms a smooth elastic ball. Return to the bowl and set back on the stove with a towel covering it. Allow it to rise 45 minutes or until doubled.

Dump the dough back onto the counter. Punch it down. It can be cathartic. I don’t mind. Neither does the bread.

Knead it for five minutes that divide it as needed and shape it into loaves or shape it into baguettes and place it on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.  After removing from oven brush with oil for a pretty crust.

You have just created civilization. Or bread. Some people call it bread.