04 August 2011


John's dad has said of John's birth, "He had a hard time to come out." It hardly seems like a memorable quote, those ordinary words, so slightly syntactically off. But something about the expression on his Dad's face, his eyes squeezed shut, his head shaking slightly no from side to side, his hands squeezed into fists at his sides, made the difficulty of John's 10-pound, large-headed entry into the world so real. John and I used to say that to each other when we were dealing with something difficult, "This is a hard time to get through," "I'm having a hard time to deal with this," and so on. I wish John were here today so that I could say it to him, so that he could help me with my hard time, because I am, indeed, having a hard time of it right now.

I make no excuses for my hard time. Plenty of other people out there are having harder times, or would at least like a change of pace in the difficulties they are experiencing. I have my health, I have Maddie and Riley, I have a gorgeous new house, and I have a great job. I have lots of friends, I don't struggle financially, and the sun is shining.

Things are just hard lately. Work is overwhelming. There are projects and people and changes, to the point that it is hard for me to focus when I'm there and it invades my brainspace when I'm not.

It affects my parenting. I don't feel like my best self. Maddie and Riley continue to not sleep enough; they have dark circles and crabby attitudes and whiny voices. Melatonin has been a mixed bag; it seems to help Maddie go to sleep, which is good, but it has no effect on how late they do (or don't) sleep. I'm tired, too. We're all tired, and we take our crabby attitudes out on each other with our whiny voices.

Riley is engaged in an experiment called Truth versus Lie. More accurately, it's called Lie All the Time about Totally Dumb Stuff. Some of it is funny, like when he talks as though he's an expert on some totally random subject, but all of it is disturbing on some level. It's crazy frustrating to me to say, "Riley, did you dry your hands on a towel?" get the reply, "Of course, Mama," then look up and see that his dripping-wet hands by his sides. To my knowledge, he hasn't lied to me about anything big, but I feel like I can't trust his answer on anything, and it's an awful feeling. I've tried to talk to him about it, but he's unable or unwilling to articulate why he is doing this, and I'm flummoxed as to what it's all about. Attention-seeking? Maddie does tend to dominate my time, by sheer force of will. Normal, five-year-old experimentation and button-pushing? Maybe. Something else entirely? Could be, or a combo. It's exacerbated by the fact that my reaction to it appears to be out of line with what is happening, insomuch as it makes me fly off the handle and completely lose my cool.

Meanwhile, Maddie is very clingy and demanding with me. Despite the fact that, to my knowledge, I have never given her reason to doubt that I will return from anywhere I have been, she is obsessed with the idea that I might leave or not return. After she went to bed the other night, I took a bag of trash out to the can outside our back fence; when I got back inside (after an absence of under a minute, with the door left open) she was downstairs, panicked, looking for me. She'd heard me unlock the door and thought I was leaving her and Riley alone. She can't get enough of me; Riley, too, to a certain extent. After spending their whole lives in daycare and/or school, they both in the past month or so beg me to stay home every day.

I don't think it's any coincidence that all of this behavior coincides with our trip to family camp almost a month ago. We spent a week up on Orcas Island in the San Juans, doing nothing but spend time together. We slept in a sweet little cabin, ate meals in the dining hall, went to the beach every day, played games on the lawn, did crafts, stayed up late for campfire, and took naps every afternoon. We'd never in our lives had time like that together before. No work, no chores, no obligations. The night we got home from camp was miserable; I had a migraine, we were all super-tired, and on some level, we all knew that the next day was back to the endless logistical machine of life that seems to allow us little time to enjoy each others' company.

As a person, it can be hard for me to be in the moment; I'm always thinking about the chores that need to be done, what's coming next, what appointments need to be made, what food needs to be cooked, how I can prepare for what the next day will bring. Being a single parent exacerbates this tendency as I'm, for the most part, the only one who can take care of these things. Don't get me wrong: Zulma, family, and friends help out a lot. But the logistics of life fall to me, and Maddie and Riley get the short end of the stick. I'm constantly multitasking and trying to make chores fun. While this is not inherently bad, it does mean that I rarely feel like I give the twins my full attention, and often the attention I do allocate to them is not my best self.

This is not me beating myself up. This is simply an acknowledgment of our imperfect reality. And, to a certain extent, my wish that I could shift to an alternate, if equally imperfect, reality. I'm at a point where I wish I could be home more. As the kids start full-time school, I wish I could be the one who dropped them off and picked them up each day. I love the thought of taking them to their lessons and sports practices, of having more than 20 minutes to cook dinner together on the nights we don't have something else scheduled, of just getting more breathing room than the two hours at night and the two hours in the morning. I don't doubt that part of the reason they get up so early is that they want to spend more time with me. It saddens me that they crave that time even though I'm not much fun at that hour, despite my best efforts.

It's just a hard time to get through. We all seem to be unhappy with our current arrangement, but I haven't taken the space to see how I can try to fix it. My hairdresser said to me last night, after acknowledging similar struggles with her kids, that her mom has called this age the "I hate you, don't leave me" age. Yes, they can be sweet as pie, but they also seem to simultaneously not want you to go anywhere, but want to use you as their outlet for negativity. The literature would say that this is because they feel safe. Great. Age appropriate, perhaps. Combined with other forces, likely. It's just a hard time, a hard time.


Jen said...

hey dude. miss you and the kids. hard times suck. we can relate to the phase that mads and riley are going through. ben tells me regularly that he doens't like me and he wants me to go then immediately follows it with a kiss and hug and a dissertation about how he misses me. he is afraid of me leaving when he's not here.. with good reason.. there have been plenty of times where he has gone to daycare only to come home to me being in the hospital for a week or two. he explains to his cousins and grandparents that "otramommy always has seizures". shiela struggles with balancing full time work that is an hour away with keeping up at home and not going under water. i wish our kids could play together for a little while at a nice beach. miss you.

SmileyGirl said...

Wow I think you might have just described my daughter...but she's 14. :) She's a typical teenager, sleeping late, staying up as late as I allow and not wanting to do chores. But hooked at my hip she is as soon as I need to go somewhere else. She just wants me to "be" there. Not to talk, not to have me tell her to do something, just to "be" there. If I'm sitting on the couch with her at least one part of her body has to be touching mine. While sometimes I love this endearment, other times I want to scream when I try and talk to her and she clearly asks if I could just drop it or gives me the infamous "I know" answer. I know it's a stage and I've seen it at the ages you are seeing it at. It does amplify it with you being the only parent and I can only give you cyberhugs as you plow through it one day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time I'm sure. {{HUGS}}

Allegro said...

Riley, like many kids his age, lies because he is trying to give you the resonse he thinks you will like. It's not malicious or boundary testing, it's simply him trying to make a positive impact. The easiest thing to do is don't give him the opportunity. Don't ask questions you know the answer to. Provide suitable punishments for mistruths. He'll likely outgrow it. Easy for me to say as I have a champion liar of my own and I haven't made much headway although intellectually I understand what is going on. I know it's frustrating. Suffice it to say it is unlikely he will grow up to be a Grifter. ;)

Peg said...

I can totally relate. We recently adopted my two nieces and the five kids are still struggling with fighting for attention and at the same time trying to be independent. Our 15 year old niece is definitely in the "hostile dependent" mode. She is so demanding and needy but wants so much to be grown up and on her own.

None of us are really happy right now and that includes the adults in the house. I just have to have faith that this is just a phase and we'll pull out of it at some point.

Sounds like you had a great time on vacation. When things are getting tough try to remember those days.

Hang in there!

Peg said...

Oh yeah, funny you just wrote a post about lying...I just wrote one about how the girls are doing a lot of lying and I'm at a loss on how to handle it. I'm hoping some of your commenters have some great ideas!

OTRgirl said...

That does sound hard. I wish I had any pithy advice, but not having been there, I don't know what to say. I know that my brother seemed to lie ALL the time for most of my childhood. Was my Mom's biggest pet peeve and they got into big fights over it all the time. He's a good guy now, but I don't know what that was about. It felt like a general policy on his part. I hope with Riley you can figure out some solutions.

Hang in there...(silly to say, what else can you do?!)

CV said...

I read somewhere that lying is a sign of intelligence. :)

Going on vacation and having a wonderful time turns N into a needy mess upon re-entry, too.

Miss you!

Scrappy_Lady said...

I've read somewhere, that kiddos who lie best at an early age turn out to be well-liked as adults. All those little white lies and "appropriate" responses makes for a well-liked person in adulthood. (Although, doesn't that really speak volumes towards the interpersonal relationships that adults have??)

Anyway, I'm sending virtual sleep wishes for the kiddos and patience vibes for yourself. Every parent I know could use those two things.

liz said...

Re: Lying. Ask him, "are you telling me a story? You are a good story teller! But I need to know the real answer now."

Give him one (or two, if you prefer) chances to change his answer to the real one. See if that helps. And then give him an extra cuddle for coming up with the right answer the first time when he does.

Sarah said...

Dear Snick,
I almost never comment, but look for your inspiring posts everyday.

One thing in this one in particular struck me; you have identified the problems. Sometimes things are hard, but one is not sure why. Understanding the issues is the first step to solving them, or coming to terms with them. So you are on your way to getting past this trying time.

And have you noticed that everytime a child makes a developmental step, there is lots of clingyness or naughtiness that goes with it. Starting school (even if the kids have been in daycare, or nursery school) is always a big step.

My thoughts are with you as you walk this balance beam.

Anonymous said...

From your description of their behaviors, I would say (as a clinical psychologist) that, yes, it is likely due to the developmental stage they are in. However--that doesn't necessarily make the behavior any less frustrating!

My two year old recently graduated from a "Mommy 24-7" stage that had her literally clinging to the back of my legs as I tried to move about the kitchen cooking dinner. I knew it was "normal," but it still sucked. A lot. And I give praise to all that his holy that she seems to have moved past it, and that we can now consume food that is not alternately burned or undercooked.

Hang in there. This too shall pass.

Janine (txmomx6) said...

The lying thing is totally normal and seems to affect boys more than girls. Our pediatrician told me that children under the age of 5 don't understand the concept of "lying" and so can't stop doing it. It's a phase and Riley will soon be through this phase and on to the next one, but that's another blog post and another comment.

Elizabeth said...

I'm sorry to hear you're struggling, but I'm even more sorry to hear you were at Orkila and I didn't know it. I don't comment much, but I have read you since we both lived in Boston, and I would have loved to meet you!

sara said...

On the radio a long time ago I heard a psychologist listening to a parent complain about their child's constant lying. She had a solution for the parent. After your child lies tell them "Lying is not a good thing because it makes me feel like I can't trust you." "One of these days I am going to lie to you about something and you will understand what I mean." She said then what you do is a couple days later say, "Oh after going to the playground we are going to get ice cream." Then when the time comes for ice cream say," Oh sorry that was a lie." Then after the child feels betrayed you can remind them of how you felt when that happened to you.I know it may seem counterproductive but it may be something that gets the point across in a big way. Anyways, I hope with whatever you come up with or decide that it works for you.

Crash Course Widow said...

What struck me as I read about Maddie's reaction to you leaving is that it could be her own reaction, somehow, to her own undefined grief. I know another widowed friend of mine said her son started having pretty severe attachment issues at age 5 when he'd never had them before; his dad died 5 months before he was born, so like Anna and your kids, he doesn't have a 5yo's traditional grief for a dead parent. But I think a 5yo grasps more than they let on yet still freak out because they're only 5 years old. It's hard to say what Anna did at 5yo because that's right after our dog died; any grief she may or may not have had over her dad was masked by the dog, and over time, I think they've coalesced together in some weird, death-in-the-cosmos way.

But who knows what a 5yo thinks and does, really? ;o)

I know Anna--sweet, easygoing, angelic Anna--changed when she turned 5. Sassyness kicked in (albeit relatively minor, I suppose), and over the last two years, her social needs have changed so much that she's much needier than she was at 2, 3, or 4. She's lovier and more verbally affectionate, and now she misses me when she's away from me (and she never did before). Add to it the single-parent duties and complete absence of a respite when you desperately need it--and the fact that you have TWINS, plus a stressful job right now--and it's no wonder things are hard right now. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Nothing else wise to say (ha! I'm just winging it anyway!), but I'm always here--for a drink, a venting email, or a spontaneous playdate to distract your kids--anytime you need it. Hang in there, my friend.


(another) karen said...

Thinking of you...


Madelyn said...

I was immediately struck with the same thought at Crash Course Widow. Were there a lot of 2-parent families at family camp? Maybe they are now old enough to process this part of grief -- understanding what loss is and fearing that they could just as easily lose you. Re the lying, have you read Nurture Shock? Also, will full-time school/Kindergarten start in the fall? That's a HUGE anxiety trigger for 5 year olds, even if they are going to be going to the same building; even if they are used to being out of the home for that amount of time each day.

Anonymous said...

Hey lady,

Sorry about the tough times. I hope it will get easier soon. About Maddie's fear of your leaving: One of my aunts was about 8 months old when my grandfather died, and I hear that during her whole childhood she was afraid my grandma would die, too. She constantly called her at work to check up on her and stuff like that. Maybe that's what's going on with Maddie, too?


Anonymous said...

What about taking a step back and doing a time management review?

You are getting things done, you always get things done, but why are you obsessing about the next steps all the time. you have a good calendar, hopefully an annual one that has all the "has to be done" things like taxs, tags, doctors already on there.

You sound dead tired, and most moms do, but you have full time help. are you taking full advantage of it? After a year here, there may be tasks that you can delegate and give you a little free time, like can't she get breakfast ready, or the kids?

The AM weekday time isn't good, everybody's half out the door.

But 2 evening hours isn't enough.

Look at every possible hing that can be done on line, and then look again, you can sneak those in during breaks at lunch. Can you order groceries, clothes, anything else that frees up your time? Have you made your christmas present and card and started working on it? Why not? Do a little bit a day, so that you aren't exhausted at the end.

Do you have the kind of job where you have to be there every second? is there no trained assistant that could help out? Can you negotiate 2 early afternoons off on days they have activities and save the computer work for when they are in bed?

Can you start a weekend outing for one child at a time and have arents take the other child. Me time is important and builds closeness in a special way.

Maybe this wonderful job isn't the right one. I read Plain-jane blog and she has a long job history (and a partner) but has continuied to find jobs that give her more control over her schedule. It doesn't have to happen tomorrow, but if it's out there, and you don't look, you lose.

Maybe you sleep in some mornings and the helper feeds and dresses them. Maybe even once a week. why not? you need it. you rarely talk about your needs. Not having enough rest hurts you and can cause some of this unrest.

All the friends who complain they aren't seeing you enough might be willing to not only provide ideas, but give some occasional backup. letting them know you are still overwhelmed might help you be more realistic a bout priorities and also about getting some occasional help, no shame there. I promise you some of your single friends like the family feeling, maybe open yourself to letting them in.

You sound like a wonderful mom to 2 great kids and you are too hard on yourself. so learn to enjoy and hopefully most of these problems will work out.

Mizasiwa said...

Hey I think we are very similar in the planning you explained im like that too and even had to go to play therapy with my son to figure out what he needed as I never seemed to understand him so instead overplanned his day tot he point he never had to ask me for anything!! total over type A I suppose ;-) I know how you feel though as I only spend about 30 minutes in the morning and maybe an hour in the evening with my kids and I always get sad that this is the case. Id love to actually have the energy to make this time valuable and enjoyable but thats making breakfast time and dinner/homework time - so how on earth does any working parent do that?? All I can say is that the exhaustion doesnt help but I have no suggestions on how to help you with this I only hope that it doesnt last long!!!

Anonymous said...


Read this article....You are not alone!! I hope things get better for you real soon.

Fairlington Blade said...

Hey Snick!

I've dropped off the radar for awhile, but what you write rings so true. Primo's doing pretty well, but Secondo is pushing every button he possibly can.

Look to the mail for something you might appreciate.


Anonymous said...

Sorry about the hard time...On the lying thing, as I am sure you know it is very typical. I believe the studies are that 95% of kids lie to their parents. I recently read Nuture Shock and it has a chapter on kids lying. Apparently, punishing for lying only made kids better liars. The research on lying shows that the only thing to do that helps reduce lying in kids is to praise them when they tell the truth. The reason apparently is that they are only lying because they want to please you. So, when you ask Riley if he has dried his hands, and he hasn't, he lies and says yes because he knows you want him to have dried his hands. You have to turn it around so that he knows that if he answers truthfully, you'll be happier than if he successfully lied. (That is why the kids who get punished for lying become better liars -- they realize they have to work harder to please the parent).