From the trenches: Discipline.

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The first time Henry threw a legitimate tantrum, I was positive that he must be having an allergic reaction to something he had eaten earlier in the day at his babysitter’s house. Surely only approaching death and deep physical pain could be responsible for transforming my cherub baby into the shrieking beast before me. We were both crying by the end, and I made a mental note to question his childcare provider in depth about allergen exposure as I soothed my baby-on-the-brink-of-death.

But then it happened again a couple weeks later, only this time, the offense was not a criminal food, but the fact that I wouldn’t let him hold the Swiffer while he ate dinner. Even then- I initially let him hold it, but he kept whacking his face with it and making himself cry, hence my audacious attempt to extract it.

That’s when it occurred to me: we are beyond logic. We are in toddler land. And it is riddled with tantrums and meltdowns, proof of a brain that literally explodes as it learns that the world is full of Arbitrary Limits Imposed by Other Humans and this knowledge proves infuriating and must be rebelled against.

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Pause. If you have a baby that is under the age of 14 months and you are blinking wide-eyed and innocent at this post and thinking, I’m so glad my kid doesn’t have tantrums-

Just wait. They are coming. Your kid is not special. They might not come till 2, it might be 4, but they will come. You will join us in these battered trenches of discipline, just bide your time. Some parents have deeper trenches, some stay in longer, some lose more limbs in the battle. But no one gets to skip out entirely.

Outbursts have to come, because they are the very normal and healthy result of tiny humans experiencing the world with all the emotions and sensations, but very few of the coping mechanisms.

Which brings me to discipline. I am not here to advocate a certain method, but rather to say that I am learning a lot about the concept as a whole. I have come to view it not, in fact, as a set list of rules to impose, and rather as a (much more frighteningly) fluid change and mindset required in myself to create a world of good, clear, and healthy boundaries that set my son free to develop as he needs.

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That sounds pretty, right? Like I know what I’m doing and have some zen approach where Henry and I press our foreheads together when he is losing it, and then I calm him by humming Gregorian chants before using a feelings board to identify his emotions. FALSE.

In reality, it is the hardest part of parenting thus far, because often I have no clue how to effectively discipline and guide my child. He’s 20 months old, too young for many things I associate with the (good and fair) discipline I received growing up. And yet, he is definitely not too old to crave limits, to need correction, and to be fully capable of understanding and following instructions. That last part is crucial, and I initially overlooked it. But I am beyond blessed to have several friends who have kids a couple years, or even months older, than Henry. I have watched them navigate tantrums and even just inappropriate but not malicious behavior (like throwing food on the ground) with grace and firmness and seen the way that their kids thrived. I have asked for help and they have given good and concrete advice.

Obviously, I hate, hate, HATE having to set up boundaries for my child. It is not fun to sit calmly eating dinner beside him while he shrieks because he no longer wants the dinner that is provided- that he requested 30 seconds ago – and he wants to leave the table. It is deeply unpleasant to have to repeat myself and withhold something until he requests it politely. It would be so much easier to pick up the food he throws on the ground, rather than quietly making him get down and pick it up himself, to not require words of politeness, to cave to every whim, to turn on the TV when he hurls himself to the ground in tears yelling, “MOANNNNNNAAAA!!!” It would be so, so, so much easier to not discipline my child.  It is exhausting to have to be consistent day in, day out.

But it is necessary.

A couple months ago, I picked Henry up from childcare and learned that he is a biter. Henry, my precious boy, who loves hugging and his blankies, had left a tooth indentation on another child. Let me be clear- this was not an issue of teething or accident. He was totally happy and pretty much just walked up and took a bite out of someone else because he could. It was not an isolated incident either. I saw him try it at the park a couple times, at which point I did what every dog owner does when their pooch snaps at someone: 1) Feign GREAT SURPRISE, claiming this has Never happened! 2) Dramatically haul the kid away, preferably with a eloquent speech in a loud voice about “GENTLE TOUCH!” 3) Quietly pray that other kids start biting back to scare him out of it. Once he was dancing at Boogie Babes and went in to hug another kid, because my kid is a hugger. She did not want a hug, and y’all- he went for her jugular. I loudly exclaimed, “Henry- we don’t kiss people without permission!,” pulling him back as the other mother giggled and said, “How sweet!” She didn’t know that her daughter almost had her throat ripped out by my zombie child. She didn’t know, but I know. And Henry knows it is wrong. But yet, he does it anyways.

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Because fundamentally, a toddler is like the rest of us: Fallen. Interested in pushing limits. Curious about what they can get away with. Unsure how to proceed in new surroundings. Automatically unkind to people who do them (perceived or real) wrong.

And that is why one of my most important jobs is to establish boundaries, to foster self control and compassion, to teach him that some things are not ok and that we do not treat people like that.

It starts small, this training. It looks unimportant, these boundaries. For now, it looks like that stupid charade of making Henry share toys and take turns if he seizes something from another kid, and even occasionally making him give up the toy he had rightfully first. It looks like withholding anything he wants until it is requested with a “please” and followed by a “thank you.” It looks like me hauling him back to a kid he wronged at toddler gym until he says thank you. It looks like table manners and teaching him to sit still during prayer and requiring that he hold my hand when he crosses the street. It looks hard and pointless and it would be a thousand times easier to not do it and let him just be a savage toddler.

But that would be refusing to do my job. My job is to crawl into the chaos of his tiny world and build guardrails around it to push him in the right direction. To teach him to respect people and things. To teach him to respond with grace and patience. To teach him that this world isn’t about him and his wants. To teach him that boundaries and discipline and rules set us free from our own base impulses and desires.

Don’t misunderstand me- I let my kid be wild a lot of the time, because that is who he is. I don’t stop him from making messes or climbing the furniture. He is not reprimanded when he comes back from the park caked in mud or dumps the entire contents of his dresser on the floor while playing. I let him be loud and chaotic. He is an energetic and curious boy and I love that, even if the mess drives me crazy. But coupled with his freedom to play is the necessity of learning when, and for what, we do not play around. We draw the lines at respect for others, at kindness, at obedience. I require that he sit quietly while we pray or ask politely for things so that he learns that all of life isn’t governed by park rules or free play. We practice stillness and restraint sometimes so we can revel in freedom and activity most of the time. Thinking intentionally about discipline gives me freedom to respond to acts of disobedience, while shrugging my shoulders at the broken dishes, fallen food, and ruined clothes that come from toddler motor skills and curiosity rather than willful volition. There is a difference, and we are both learning what that is and how to respond.

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Because what is perhaps most humbling to me about the daily drudgery of disciplining and correcting is the way it is fostering those same qualities in me. If I don’t say please and thank you to him- how will he learn it? If I yell in anger and frustration, why shouldn’t he? If I am quick to lose my temper, how much quicker will he be?

That’s the thing about discipline- it is constant. For both of us. He is watching. He is learning. I am writing the rules of his world, and I am learning that I have play by them too if I ever want to teach him how.

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From the jello.

Lately it has felt just a little bit like I’m sinking. Not quite totally sinking, but not freely swimming either. More like very slow and tedious dog paddling in a pool of Jello. Luckily, I love Jello, and this pool is most certainly many things of my own making, many commitments that are pressing right now and good, but they are still thick and difficult to navigate nonetheless. Someday, maybe, after I turn in this dissertation but before kid number 2 makes our lives even crazier – I’ll go back to semi-coherent blog posts on a regular basis. For now, more scattered updates. Because typing out the scattered bits and gathering together makes them feel more like an eclectic mosaic and less like disorganized chaos.

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In our home, everything is fair game for becoming a tent, soon to be filled with the beloved kitchen utensils Henry likes to steal and hoard.

Speaking of that old dissertation, the one you are so tired of hearing about, the one that I said I would finish within four years, and then again by the end of 2017, it! Is! Almost! Done! The full draft was submitted to my advisor Saturday night and once I get his last round of comments, I will roll that final draft out to my whole committee. This meant that Saturday night I had endless nightmares that Henry was taken away from me because I didn’t correctly cite my sources and used commas instead of periods in my bibliography. Of course, finishing the dissertation means… that I don’t fully know what comes next. This spring has lots of uncertainty and hope in it, all tied up together in a messy knot of “what if’s” for next fall.

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Oh look, my feet with some caffeine and books. How original.

One of which is of course, should we move? I love our little apartment, love it. All 960 square feet are precious and known to me. And while it is a small space to imagine putting another kid, it’s not impossible. But the logistics of our building, the total lack of a yard, the hauling a toddler and a baby up a flight of narrow stars and storing a double stroller in the trunk of our car where a single stroller only kind of fits- that is giving me pause. I don’t want the difficult of getting out of our home start to make us feel like prisoners in it. Still, anything bigger or more house-like is just so expensive that it feels impossible.

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AND AGAIN. Minus the books, because this was a Sunday. But slippers and leggings have kind of been an everyday uniform sort of thing this January.

We have been feebly attempting a Whole30 this month. Honestly, we have mostly failed, in the sense that there have been many cheat instances and the Whole30 is kind of an all-or-nothing thing. But I’m still counting our Mostly Whole, Maybe 30 as a victory because it has forced me back into the kitchen, put vegetables back on our plate, and left me feeling like I am no gaining weight with this baby at a normal, rather than terrifyingly breakneck, speed.

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A scene from a walk, which was a feeble gesture of exercise before this baby proved capable of destroying all movement in my left leg. Thanks kid.

Speaking of that baby, we can’t wait to meet HER! James has been positive that this was a girl the entire time, but I just didn’t have a gut feeling. With Henry, I was positive that it was a boy, but this time- nothing. I loved the idea of a posse of boys running wild around our house, but a girl sounded so fun too. Now of course, I am thrilled at the idea of Henry and his sister being close in age like my older brother and me. I also made sure to invest in some ruffle-butt tights ASAP. I plan to reuse a lot of Henry’s more gender neutral clothes… but at least a couple ruffles need to disrupt things.

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See? Totally gender neutral. As in, winter apparel basically obscures all gender/personhood. All toddlers become tiny squishy creatures.

This pregnancy hasn’t really gotten better. After the nausea, the exhaustion, the bleeding and fear, now I have crippling sciatic pain that frequently and increasingly makes it difficult to walk. One night at the grocery store I sat on a fruit display until I could walk again and I can’t make it to the park 2 blocks away without a couple stops. I’m not a wimp about pain, but this has been rough. Before we knew the gender, people would smile and pat my shoulder and say, “must be a girl!” as if that was a consolation for the constant pain. No, I felt like saying, preferably as I punched them swiftly in a gut, let’s not get in the habit of teaching that daughters are consolation for misery.

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Sometimes I limp one block to a coffee shop and feel like a TOTAL CHAMPION.

That’s a little bit of lately. The successes, the joys, the failures, the trials. A thick pool of Jello that sometimes makes swimming hard, but nowhere else I’d rather be.

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He’s only smiling because I bribed him with goldfish, but I don’t even care.

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Winter2018-19Winter2018-20Winter2018-21We went to Kentucky and Indiana over Christmas break, and I barely pulled out my camera at all. We skipped our standard family photoshoot with my family, as our time all together was very short, and my older brother and his wife couldn’t come home this year. We were in Indiana for the days surrounding Christmas, and on Christmas Eve, the snow started falling. By the end of the day, all was quiet and white, that perfect stillness that only snow brings. The temperature would drop Christmas day and make it too cold to brave more than a few minutes outside the rest of our trip, but as the snow actually fell, it wasn’t yet bitter. James and I took Henry outside for a little while and his wonder at the cold freshness of that snow was one of the perfect ends to 2017. Nothing is more magical than fresh snow, a blank slate of softness and delicate flurries, landscape obliterated by gentle white clouds.Winter2018-23Winter2018-24We made it back to DC late on the 31st, ringing in the New Year before midnight, snug in our own beds. If you have talked to anyone on the eastern half of the country lately, they will have no doubt regaled you with tales of the weather. It has been so cold since Christmas, long stretches of days that didn’t venture past the 20’s and with wind chills that made them feel in the single digits. The type of cold air that hurts when you breathe, and seeps through walls and coats and mittens. It’s driven us crazy, as it means lots more time cooped up inside. But at the same time, it feels right to start the year with a deep freeze. I imagine it going down into the dirt and purifying it, cultivating life and beating back pests in that unique cycle of seasons. It has left things feeling especially fresh when we have days like today, where we went outside in a balmy 38 degree afternoon and I didn’t even wear socks with my shoes. Winter2018-27Winter2018-32I have gone in cycles about New Year’s resolutions. I used to find them pointless, as I rarely kept them after January. But some years they seem like a gift, a blank slate on which to write out some goals for the coming months that still could hold anything. Some years they seem like a fresh start, and other years a tiresome burden. This year, it feels like a fresh start. Maybe it’s because the year ended with my body feeling so battered, or maybe it’s because so many concrete accomplishments are slated to happen in 2018, but I’m leaning into the freshness of it all. Winter2018-35James and I unceremoniously talked about our goals for the year on a walk to the grocery store the other night, an outing entirely conducted to get out of the house and let Henry run out of the cold- not because we needed any groceries. I want to successfully defend my dissertation in March and finish school for good. I want to healthily bring this new baby into the world. I want to stress less about the schedule, nursing, naps, etc. during those early newborn months. We both want to spend an evening each week reading after dinner instead of watching TV or getting things done. We want to start getting up earlier than Henry again, something that ended when daylight savings time and crushing morning sickness gave our nights and mornings a lengthy beating. I want to take time to stretch each day, not because I find it meditative, but because every part of my body already feels stiff and sore this pregnancy and I’m not even halfway done. Winter2018-36Winter2018-38Ultimately, these goals aren’t big accomplishments, beyond the baby and the doctorate, both of which are relatively unavoidable at this point. The rest are just little things, tiny markers in our daily weeks that help a little bit of that early January freshness to abide with us in the months to come.

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Second baby.

I’ve always thought that 2 years is a nice age gap between siblings, and it looks like we will get to experience that firsthand- baby 2 coming almost exactly 2 years behind baby 1!Winter2018-17We were pretty casual with telling people about this baby. I would just kind of announce it in conversation, enjoying the jerk of surprise from the other person before I shrugged and smiled and said “Second baby.” Because second babies just don’t get all the fanfare of the first. We are so excited about this baby, but I don’t expect as much excitement or surprise from anyone else. Once you have one, people just kind of expect you to have more, so I just decided to beat them to the lack-of-fanfare in my cool delivery.

And then, at 12 weeks pregnant, in the “clear” to start telling the wide public, I woke up covered in blood. I choked back sobs and called the doctor, shaking James awake and telling him that we had lost the baby, a ridiculous expression, but one apt all the same because I knew where that baby should be, but I was so sure that they couldn’t both be there, and be creating the horror I was seeing. We rushed to the ER, and for 3 terrible hours, we waited. Waited for tests and needles and samples and that interminable roll down corridors. Waited for the ultrasound tech to arrive. Waited as she rolled the wand across my belly, clutching James’ hand and willing her to find something.

She did. James and I sat in the dark crying as we saw a ridiculously squirmy and teeny tiny little person wiggling across the screen. We saw that rapid heartbeat and the life where we had expected none. We saw the screen light up too when they scanned the womb, saw the colors change around what the doctor would explain as some concerning bleeding behind the placenta. He was frank about how this complicated things, and I let myself read one very academic article online about how it changes odds and raises complications.

It’s been a couple weeks of more doctor visits, ultrasounds, tests, holding our breath at that tiny heartbeat. Things are stable at the moment, and we have every reason to think they could stay that way. Unlike Henry’s pregnancy, where I ran a half marathon at 12 weeks and did barre classes until 37 weeks, I’m not allowed to exercise or lift things over 10 lbs, including my 30 lb toddler (though yes, I did hold him for all of 2 seconds for this photo). And then there’s the fear too, the worry that wasn’t there before, the knowledge that things can go wrong, a knowledge that we were mercifully spared until now.

15weeksI don’t feel as casual about announcing this second baby now. It feels like the greatest of gifts that I still get to do so. 15 weeks and 3 days of this tiny life. Every day is a blessing to be carrying this kid, this being that has left me feeling miserable from approximately conception. If I am not actively eating breakfast food, tex-mex (or that perfect combo of both- breakfast tacos!) or cream cheese rangoon, the nausea is overwhelming. The exhaustion is debilitating, and dragging myself out of bed to teach, write my dissertation, and chase Henry has felt impossible so many days, though I have no choose but to get up. This pregnancy has been awful.

And I am so thankful that I am still getting to do it.

Second baby, we love you lots. Winter2018-5PS: Apparently being pregnant also makes me incapable of not weirdly hiding behind a veil of hair? I promise- I still have a face. It is probably busy eating a breakfast taco at any given moment. And as you can see, after we asked Henry to “point to the baby!” he promptly tried to remove my dress and expose my belly button.

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Christmas commercials make me cry [vol. 2].

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetYesterday Henry “hosted” (ok, “was present for”) some of his friends to decorate Christmas cookies and there was going to be a blog post of cute pictures of tots and sprinkles… but have you ever handed sprinkles to toddlers? We had a blast and ate way too many of these tasty cookies, but it was certainly an unphotogenic one and I was too busy stopping Henry from snorting [too many] sprinkles to take pictures.

So instead, another one of my favorite sorts of Christmas lists: Sappy Holiday Commercials. Just a few tear jerking ads to get you in the holiday spirit.

Like this one, where some stuffed bears manage to cut your heart into teeny tiny pieces.

Or this one, that makes me cry because people dancing in the snow to show us that REAL LOVE IS NEVER A WASTE OF TIME.

INTERSPECIES FRIENDSHIPS. I can’t – I just can’t. That wasn’t the actual John Lewis commercial this year, but the real monster one also had me brushing a tear.

This list is pretty Anglocentric. Those Brits just know how to get me!

Ok- what are the best weepy commercials this year? I know I’m missing tons, as we don’t actually have TV channels or see commercials.

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Christmas Card Out-takes, 2017.

Even is this blog has been truly limping along as of late, never let it be said that I am not one for tradition. And up there with the various other seasonal Yuletide markers, this blog celebrates truly horrendous pictures that just don’t make that shiny Christmas card cut. Yes, I love the pictures of families looking great and behaving, but that just doesn’t reflect most of our daily lives. Most of us with toddlers have moments where we feel like this at least 6 times a day (warning: strong language), and we are harried looking in the midst of loving life with crazy kids.

This year our shoot had more outtakes then intakes. As in, it was easy to pick a photo for our card because there was one, 1, ONE where we were all looking at the camera and not looking terrifying. Henry isn’t smiling, but you take what you can get. He spent most of the shoot desperately trying to escape, enacting that most detested of all toddler specialties – the Arched Back Buckle.

And so it is, I give you the outtakes.Fall2017-134detailWent ahead and gave you that close up of a certain someone not. having. it. at. all during photos. He does not care that his outfit is adorable or that the foliage is especially lovely. He is OVER it. Fall2017-136We tried resorting to aggressively energetic smiles on our own part to woo him into participating – but alas. Not interested. Fall2017-143Nor did my enthusiasm over a passing bus tempt him to exhibit anything close to a smile. Meanwhile, James’ own pained expression lets us know just where Henry got his distaste of family photos. Fall2017-145“Let’s try a cute sitting one where he perches on our knees!”- She said like an idiot…Fall2017-148…because then he broke free and took off running. No looks back, no thought other than escaping.Fall2017-151Tried to trick our FOMO kid into wanting to join the fun happy hug his parents where directing at the camera, but – no dice. Fall2017-153Remember this adorable picture from last year in the exact same spot? My how things have changed. Fall2017-149PS: The Christmas card outtakes: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.


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Fall2017-186Fall2017-187This is our first Christmas season since 2013 that hasn’t been overshadowed with vehicle woes. In 2014, James had just moved back from living across the country for 6 months and we had to scramble to sell my car from high school before the insurance expired. In 2015, that new car became a pile of scrap metal on the drive home from Thanksgiving, so December was a blur of weary, and hurried, car shopping. Last year, a terrible oil change (thanks Walmart) resulted in total engine failure on the way back from Thanksgiving and our car was abandoned in Pennsylvania, marking the beginning of 5 months of trying to get it repaired.

Fall2017-188But this year, this year we stayed put for Thanksgiving, and it was so glorious that I didn’t even take any pictures to show you. We didn’t tempt our car fate again, and we rolled into December with a working vehicle, and souls not already weary from one 12-hour-one way trip, while staring another one in the face in a matter of weeks. This December has brought its own trials, but we are so thankful to have started it with the contented feeling of being tucked away in our own home, with no car shopping, car borrowing, calls with insurance, or haggling with mechanics to maneuver.

Fall2017-189Since we always travel between our two families over Christmas, James and I have carved out our own traditions throughout the month of December, instead of Christmas day itself. This way, no matter where we are traveling between families on Christmas day, we can revel in the traditions we grew up with, without missing the new ones we have made as a family. Last Sunday we spent the evening doing our annual Christmas decorating celebration: walking with our tree from Eastern Market, decorating it with all the best music, and then eating gingerbread cookies while we watch Elf. I love these simple rituals. Henry was ecstatic to “help” decorate the tree, which quickly resulted in us moving all breakable ornaments out of his grasp. He spends every day removing everything from the bottom half of the tree, only to find it restored the next morning for more destruction. We loved our annual Messiah service at church last week, and tonight we checked out the trains and music at the Botanic Gardens. I love these celebrations of Christmas around the city.Fall2017-190

But this year James and I have also been more aware of the weighty responsibility of teaching Henry what Christmas is, what Advent is, not just how the world celebrates in December. My parents did a phenomenal job structuring our entire Christmas season around Advent, and James and I were suddenly aware that we have, not a baby, but a toddler who wants to participate and loves ritual, repeats everything we say, and is paying attention. To us, to the world we lay out for him, to the things we set up as valuable.Fall2017-191

And so we are stumbling towards Christmas, bumbling our way through Advent, trying to establish rituals that will soak into our family culture and direct our children towards the meaning of Christmas. Evenings can be tricky to plan on quality family time with James’ hours, so we have been carving out some peace at breakfast, lighting our Advent wreath, and working our way through this book. To be honest, it has not been our favorite. But a friend just sent me this one (that she found on Mary’s great list of Advent resources!), and I ordered this one after seeing my friend Fran share about it. I know Henry can’t do crafts or any of those things yet, but I was excited to download some Advent printables that go with the Jesus Storybook Bible. After we read, we are picking a different Christmas hymn each day (and yes, I realize that technically you aren’t supposed to sing them during Advent- I object), and singing it as a family, letting those true words soak in. It’s not glamorous or creative, but I like to think that this year is about the discipline of doing something, and next year we can try to make the thing more impressive. Yesterday we sang “Away in a Manger,” and I was so excited when Henry kept on singing “Away, Away!” all day…. until I realized he was actually just singing this song from Moana. Fall2017-192 But it’s ok, that we don’t have it all together in perfect Advent commemoration. Advent reminds us that it isn’t about having it all together. It’s about the waiting and the darkness and the uncertainty ended on Christmas morning.


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