Monday, September 26, 2011

Forget Me Not's

Seems like every day now I get to experience something new with my daughter, something that thrills me, takes my breath way, amazes me, frustrates me to no end, and always reminds me that there is nothing more important in the world than what is right in front of me. Prior to Amari's arrival, I was almost always plagued by thoughts and feelings and feelings that I was supposed to be doing something else - something bigger, better, more useful. I never did anything about it - just used it as an excuse to put down the book I was reading, quit the job I had, or break up with the girlfriend I was wasting my time with.

Today I live in the blissful state that is now, no longer incarcerated by doubt or worry, somehow soothed even in the most challenging of moments by the certainty that there is nowhere else I need to be right now. I recently watched a documentary on Buddhism in which the narrator described the tenet that life in life we suffer because people and things die or leave us. He went on to say that if we could just realize that everything we love and are attached to is already gone, then we could better appreciate each moment we have together.

It reminds me not to take this precious and brief time with Amari for granted. Here are a few notes I took on her development over the course of the past two weeks.

* Out of the blue Amari changed her standard "No" response to a more surprising and definitely cuter, "No way." I'm pretty sure she got that one from Mama.

* Earlier this week, Amari composed her first song on the piano. I didn't manage to catch it on film, but it went a little something like this, "This, this, this...(pause). Up Mama, up Dada. This, this, this...up Mama, up Dada." Also, whenever I decide to play guitar and strum a few chords, she runs across the house screaming, "Piano...Amari, piano. Piano," then climbs up on the stool and starts hammering on the key.

* Amari is still not a big fan of the diaper change. She is, however, a big fan of putting diapers on anything she has access to. Generally, she will spend twenty minutes or so repositioning Kermit, Dragon, or Sid the Science Kid, then try to wrap them snugly in the diaper. I've also caught her trying to put a diaper on an Indian statue, our cat Penny, and most recently a fork. Not sure where those last two came from.

I'm sure there are more already and will certianly be at least one tomorrow, but for now...g'night all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yes Problem!

Where to begin? My toddler roller coaster is finally in full effect. I've spent so much time the past two years gushing about how much I love being a dad that I actually started toning it down because I'm certain it's annoying. It's probably like listening to your serial dating college roommate talk about how amazing their new  boy/girlfriend is, and then going into excruciatingly boring detail about how they finish each others...yup sentences and how they would totally date the same character on Friends. For reals.

So convinced my unadulterated joy was annoying, I sometimes resorted to exaggeration or straight up fiction so I could relate to random parents I'd meet throughout my day. "Yeah, totally, Amari only napped for like an hour today," or "I know, Amari never cleans up her toys either," or "I keep telling her she can only smoke light cigarettes or menthols" (when bonding at the Giggly Wiggly).

Much like everything else, parenting is relative to whatever we've experienced up to that point. That being said, to some the beginning of my week might have felt like a vacation from the norm, but to me it felt like the end of the honeymoon. I was exhausted from working late nights and Amari was intense and demanding. With Hunter she was bossy and when she didn't get her way she dramatically whined and even produced the old insta-tears. By Tuesday afternoon, I found myself muttering "Wait 'til we get to Carla's this afternoon, then you'll have something to cry about," referring to our booster vaccine appointment.

Language development is a double-edged sword. While Amari was on the brink, she would demonstrate her needs with whines and pantomime. I always interrupted saying, "Stop. What do you want? Do you want up? Then say, 'Up Dada.'" It's behaviorism 101. Identify the need being expressed and teach the kid a more appropriate way to ask that it be met.
"Up Dada," she'd whimper, and with time and repetition she said it more confidently and without prompting. We did that routine a hundred times and whenever she managed to express her needs with words, I obliged immediately and said "No problem."
"No trouble," she mimicked, and I'm not sure how that happened, but I like the way she says it better.

The double edge, however, now that she knows what she wants and knows how to say it is that I don't always want to oblige. For example, "Outside, Dada," Okay. Pack up towel, sippy cup, sunblock, Popsicle, etc., and outside we go. No problem. No trouble. Five minutes later, "Inside Dada." Fuck. Really? "No. Outside," I'd argue, then start pointing out all the advantages.
"Inside Dada. Inside Dada. Inside Dada, waaaaaah" and it's my own damn fault for being so freakin' responsive in the first place. It's probably confusing as hell to her. What happened to Dada? Is he broken? I say what I want, he says no problem, I say no trouble, and everyone's happy.

All the way through Wednesday I wanted to pull what's left of my hair out, and just when I thought it couldn't get worse, it mercifully didn't. It got better. I got more sleep. I had some deep, meaningful talks with Amari and pretended she understood everything I had to say. I like to think the latter had something to do with it, but I'm pretty sure it was the former coupled with the ebb and flow that is parenting a blossoming toddler.

Who could stay mad at a face like this?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Bite to Remember

If a child bites in the forest and there's no one around to receive that bite, does it make a sound? The answer quite simply is no. 

A couple of months ago I wrote about Amari's go to defensive move - the bite - including pictures of the mark she left on Hunter's back before he went to Rochester for the summer. While he was away, however, not a single incidence of biting. Granted, she does like to shove Oscar Magee around from time to time, but somehow that never seemed quite as bad. You can't take a finger off with a shove. Now that Hunter's back, Amari's bite is once again worse than her bark. 

Jim writes it off as payback for months of Hunter abuse, but I can't stand it. Behaviorally, I know that kids (and grown ups, too) do things for two simple reasons: to gain something or to escape something. The times Amari goes to the bite, she is sending a message to Hunter that says, "I want what you have...that's my stuff...or your in my personal space." Regardless of the motivation, however, I'm determined to nip it in the bud. 

According to what I've learned, the secret to successful discipline - outside of reinforcing positive behaviors as often as possible - is not only to interrupt the undesirable behavior immediately but also to offer your child other, more acceptable ways to get their needs met. This week, Amari has had three time outs ranging between 1-2 minutes followed by suggestions on how to ask Hunter to share toys or how to move when someone's crowding you. 

The first time out was very traumatic for both of us. I was stern, loud, and direct. Initially, I think she thought it was some kind of game, because she smiled at me as if to say, "Yeah, let's play the Don't Bite Hunter Game." She looked proud and for a brief moment sociopathic. Then came the remorse or the separation anxiety when I sat her down in a chair in the corner, said one last, "NO BITE," and left her to sit by herself. Oh the tears and the wailing, but she sat there until she saw me glance back, and then she put her arms out and said, "Up Dada." I quizzed her briefly about biting, but I couldn't stay mad. 

As the week progressed, her behavior improved, but each time I saw her open her mouth and lean in towards Hunter, I snatched her up and returned her to the chair. Yesterday morning marked a small improvement when Amari saw Hunter riding her wooden rocking horse and let him know she wanted a turn by leaning in and biting the horse as hard as she could. 

Now what the hell do you do with that?

                                                                      NO BITE!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Speaking Words of Wisdom

Me - not so much. The Beatles - a lot. Although love may not be all we need and happiness may not always be a warm gun, Let It Be is both a beautiful song and useful, time-tested mantra. It's also no surprise that this song always reminds me of my mother, Mary, who passed away five years ago today.

I've been thinking about my mom a lot lately. My close friend Melissa lost a parent to cancer recently, which brought up some feelings and questions as to whether it's better for death to come suddenly - as it did with my mother - or slowly as it did with hers. I imagine initially it is better to know, to be able to say the things you want to say - I love you, I'm sorry, thank you, whatever - but after that, as death grows closer and more painful, I imagine a quick end would be best for everyone.

In my case, I received a phone call at four in the morning from my sister Rebecca who lived a few miles from our mother in India. A call from my sister at this hour was not that uncommon. Even though the time difference is a nice, round, twelve hours, she still managed to call at all sorts of ungodly times to report nothing in particular.

"I can never remember if I should add or subtract," she'd say, lounging about in the mid-day sun.
"How about neither?" I'd remind her, explaining the simple system for the umpteenth time.

Much like in the past, I was annoyed when I answered the phone. This time Rebecca skipped the pleasantries and apologies. She was crying and having a difficult time speaking. Finally, she managed to get out, "I think Mom's dead."
That annoyed me more and I replied, "You think Mom's dead. You can't do that. You can't call me up and say you think Mom's dead. Find out for sure and call me back." Who does that? Who calls at four in the morning with a guess, a phone call from my Mom's driver alerted Rebecca that my mom might not be breathing and that's when Rebecca called me with the possible news.

I sat by the phone for several minutes, trying not to think about anything at all. I'm sure I failed, and when the phone rang again, my sister gave me the definitive news. I called my brother immediately, then went into my bedroom to tell Carrie. For several minutes I tried to wake her up, but each time I reached out to touch her, I imagined saying the words, "My mom is dead," and I started crying. Finally, she woke up on her own, and finally I managed to actually say the words. The tears continued for quite some time.

Another reason I've been thinking about my mom is Amari. I see my mother in her - not physically, but in her being. She is sweet and kind and loving. I also know that the intuitive side of my parenting comes from the way my mother raised me. She was fair even when life wasn't, and she was loving when we needed it the most. I wish she could have met Carrie and Amari, and I wish she could have seen me become a man through the experience of being a husband and a father. I know she always had the faith in me that I lacked in myself.

I love you, Mom. And thank you.