Maddie, Riley, and I went out to dinner last night with my mom, my stepdad, my dad, and my in-laws (who were in town for the weekend). Maddie and Riley were coloring on their kids' menus with restaurant-provided crayons while we waited to order. Maddie tends to press very hard when she draws, and she snapped one crayon in half with the pressure. She selected another crayon and kept drawing. It, too, snapped in half.
This was too much. She turned to my mom, heaved a big sigh, and said, "Moo, I'm very frustrated right now. I'm just very frustrated." And she clearly was. I got one of Riley's crayons (he's not much for drawing) and passed it to her, explaining that the crayons would be less likely to snap in half if she would not press so hard. She understood, and that was that.
What a change from even just a few months ago, when an incident like that could have—and would have—sent her right over the edge. But what impressed me more than just her control of her emotions was her ability to express herself, to articulate that she was frustrated. Not mad. Not angry. Not sad. Frustrated. She got it just right. I know a lot of adults (sometimes myself included) who can't pinpoint what they are feeling, and, even if they can, who don't necessarily feel safe talking about it.
Being a parent has awakened in me a range of emotions—good and bad—that I didn't know lived within me. I've had to learn how to manage these feelings, which can sometimes be a challenge, especially when there's no other adult around. Because I want Maddie and Riley to understand that it's OK to experience and express a wide range of emotions and because they are usually the only ones around to witness my ups and downs, I've tried to be very open about explaining what I'm feeling. I say things like, "I'm getting very angry," or "I feel sad today," or "Those words really upset me" a lot. In the past month or so, I've started to hear Maddie and Riley express those sentiments, too. "Maddie, I'm angry with you!" I'll hear Riley intone. "Mama, I'm a little sad. I miss my crib. It's hard to be a big girl," Maddie sniffled the other night.
I find that I tend to either give Maddie and Riley too much credit—expecting them to be able to do things that are beyond the capacity of a three year old—or not to give them enough credit, and emotional intelligence falls into the latter category. It was not until Maddie expressed her frustration last night at dinner that I understood what a good grasp she and Riley have on what they are feeling and just how capable they are of expressing that. It makes me so happy, and I want to do everything I can to encourage it. I guess the best way to do it is to keep having feelings myself and to keep telling the two of them what those feelings are. Thankfully, that feels very natural to me.
The in-laws came, the in-laws went. We actually had a very nice visit. In some ways it felt too short (gasp!). Maddie and Riley were thrilled to have them around, and, in the end, that's what matters.
They brought the kids some new toys and clothes, which is always fun for one and all. One of the things they brought Maddie was a little Dora doll, the kind whose eyes close when she lays down. Poor Maddie was holding the doll in one arm like a baby, using her free hand to prop open Dora's sleeping eyes. She got more and more agitated as time went on and Dora's eyes just wouldn't stay open. "But Mama!" she said, tearing up, "I just want my Dora to look at me!" Something about it was so poignant, this desire for her dolly to look at her, and Maddie's need to be able to meet that gaze as part of her caretaking of her lovey. Thankfully, a little superglue will take care of Dora's eyes. Hopefully Maddie won't feel as frustrated by sleepless babies as I sometimes do.
Maddie and Riley start preschool a week from tomorrow. The students at Reed started their classes today. Over the past week, students have been arriving at school for orientation or returning as upperclassmen.* They look so young to me, and it's true that I'm twenty years older than most incoming students. As I prepare to send Maddie and Riley off for the beginning of their formal education, I can't help but wonder what kind of college they will choose to attend, if any. What will their passions be in life? What will their friends be like? I'm not yet sentimental about them leaving behind their babyhood, although I'm sure someday I will be. Right now, I'm excited on their behalf about the possibilities that lie ahead. Preschool. Next week! Maddie hopes to learn "lots of things that are not naughty." Riley is exited that someone who works at the zoo might come talk to the kids about what that's like as a job. Oh, and he hopes to learn how to read and write. Both of them love to review their teachers' names and the names of the other kids in their class. I think this is going to be good for both of them.
So many new beginnings. So many possibilities. There has been a lot of change in my life over the past few years, not all of it good and much of it quite difficult. The changes we've gone through of late have felt much more optimistic and positive. That in and of itself is a change for the better.
*Anyone have an alternative to "upperclassmen" so as to avoid the "men"? "Freshmen" can easily be "first-year students," but there's no quick fix (that I know of) for "upperclassmen." This comes up a fair amount at work. Solutions appreciated.