28 May 2006

It's all about the perspective

Those supportive comments on the last post have really buoyed me and I think I'm getting back to better place with these particular challenges. Arwen's comment there illustrates some of what I love about a good community, online or real life: the trading of stories, not with the intent to reveal The Best Way, but rather to reveal something of one person's process in order to suggest a process that might work for another. I'm not going to start using 1-2-3 magic (and indeed, Arwen might not with another child), but in that comment you can see a thoughtful mother adjusting strategies until she found something that worked for her and her child. I love seeing that kind of dynamic at work and it's one of the reasons I love reading parenting blogs. So thanks.

(I thought that I would be a 1-2-3 magic kind of parent, as some of my favorite parenting friends use it quite succesfully. But I'm just not into time outs, and CG doesn't seem to react at all well to time outs, so I've found little reason to use 1-2-3. But I use a kind of 1-2-3, in that I have long said things like "I'm going to count to 3 and then pick an outfit for you" if she is, for example, not responding to my request that she get dressed. And I used counting to 10 as a transition device for a long time, although now she doesn't like me to count. One more thing is the transition device du jour: I'll tell CG she has one more thing, and get her to tell me what the one more thing is (sometimes, she'll do something, but it won't be the one thing she really wants. So her labeling the one more thing is key. It leads to remarks on my part like "well, if that's not your one more thing you'd better start doing your one more thing." Not the best logic or numbering instruction, but it's fine transition instruction! So I do like a lot of things about 1-2-3)

So, my new perspective. Rather than seeing the occasional accidents as a problem, I have decided to redefine them as opportunities. Opportunities for what? you may wonder. Opportunities to delight in the motor skills of my dear child. Opportunities to set up some nifty new routines. Opportunities to purchase some Hello Kitty products. And even, perhaps, in my sillier or pettier moments (I'm not sure which) to feel vaguely superior in an absurd sort of way: how many other people have four year olds who can poop on a moving walkway and not lose their balance?
Yes, I said a moving walkway. As we changed planes in a small midwestern airport this morning, CG squatted down on the moving walkway, stood up and said "Mama! I pooped in my pants." So off to the restroom, where I said, not unsympathetically,"here we are, clean it up." The problem with this approach being that it really spread a little more dirt before we ended up clean. It wasn't efficient, it wasn't convenient, and I doubt it was particularly motivating. And I realized that my heart wasn't really in it: I was telling her to clean up her own poopy panties to try it on, but I wasn't really feeling like I'd found something that was working. I don't fault myself here--it makes sense to try new things on every now and then--but I just don't think exhortations to do things herself is what's going to get CG back to her usual potty successes. But it just didn't feel quite right. Something's up, I don't know what, and it will pass.

What does work around here are cuddles, narratives, and routines. Curious Girl is a very social child--she was good at names even as an infant, and she really connects with people. While she's a terrible self-calmer when she does get hysterical (which is fortunately not all that often), snuggles and gentle songs or conversation will usually get her to calm relatively quickly. She'll talk about stuff for weeks and months afterwards, so I know she's not pushing bad stuff aside. But she will get control back with help from someone else. So I think it makes sense to continue to give that to her, and not to (appear to) withdraw it by asking her to be all independent and self-directed. (I am big on independence, generally: CG tries all kinds of things with my help and support. I'm talking here about independence in the wake of a meltdown. I want her to be emotionally independent, but expecting that isn't the same thing as teaching or nurturing that.) Narratives (in the form of imaginative play, books, or direct conversation) become a way to work through issues, and I'll look for ways to raise some issues about change in our play. And routines...well, let's just say we'll go back to some of our routines for potty-reminders. I've set up an extra-outfit/plastic bag bin downstairs and we found sparkly hello kitty soap for her bathroom to encourage fun handwashing (since her reluctance to wash her hands may or may not have something to do with her avoiding the toilet).

It's possible that CG is just trying to push my buttons, and if that's the case, a more relaxed attitude will probably get that to stop. Maybe she is just trying something out as an odd coping mechanism, or maybe she's trying to see how many different places she can have an accident. Whatever. I'm just going to stick the extra clothes in the side of my backpack and carry on. I rather amused myself thinking about all the muscle groups that had to be involved with the stable squat on a moving walkway, and once I made myself chuckle a bit, the way seemed open to a bigger attitude change. There's just no point in getting upset about this. It will pass.

I don't want to get wrapped up in the negatives, either. Most of the time, CG uses the potty just fine. Regression is normal, and she's clearly thinking about babies, big time. She's pretending to be one with great frequency, she's playing Mama (and wanting me to be a baby) quite a bit, and she's talking about having a baby in her belly or having a baby be borned to her. We've had long stretches with very few accidents, and even now, she uses the toilet far more times in the day than she doesn't. I want to resist defining her or our dynamic this week solely in terms of this issue. Doing so would minimize the utter adorable-ness of CG, which you can see in this bonus conversation today, when she woke up and was very excited about the fact that today was the day we were going to take two! airplanes! to visit her beloved morfar!!!:

time: 6:32
Curious Girl: Mama, we have to wake up early enough to get on our airplane to see morfar today. It is wake up time?
Me: when the 7 comes at the beginning on the clock, it's wake up time.
CG: but we have to wake up early!
Me: when the 7 comes is plenty of time.

6:34. CG: I'm going to look to see if the 7 came. Me: hmmm.

6:36 CG: Mama, the 7 didn't come. The 7 is on vacation, so we can just get up.

That amused me so much I did get up. A few hours later, it was finally our turn to fly, and then we rented a car. We stopped at a thruway rest area for a drink, and sat in the shade on some quite nice grass with a small hill (and tour buses spewing exhaust, alas). CG asked me if I wanted to roll in the grass with her and I said, sure! So we rolled down the little hill several times, giggling, basking in Politica's loving looks in our direction. It was fun, it was refreshing, it was silly, and it didn't matter in the slighted that CG was rolling in her second outfit of the day. Rolling down the hill shook out the last of those controlling impulses that crept into my head this past week for whatever reason, and I got back into the car feeling really, really good.


elswhere said...

I've probably said this before, but there it is: I love how thoughtful you are with CG. It really inspires me. MG has been pushing my buttons a lot the past couple days, and thinking of your last post has helped me relax and just have fun with her a bit today, and I can see that that's helped her.

Also: you might have mentioned this, but are you or Politica Danish? MG calls Renaissance Woman's mom "Mormor," and *her* mom is "Oldemor."

Phantom Scribbler said...

I'm in some awe of this post. Your patience and your ability to focus on what CG needs from you -- really, they amaze me. If I were in a similar situation, I doubt that I would be able to get past my own fury and embarrassment in order to focus on what was best for my child.

Scrivener said...

They're right, this really is a fantastic post. I try to be thoughtful in these ways with the kids, and usually I think I'm more or less successful, but then the last day and a half the kids have really gotten to me (just kid overload for me from the vacation, and then they're tired and schedules are crazy, without the excitement of the beach anymore) and I know I've not been handling them well. It's helpful to be reminded of these practices with a post like this one.

I very much agree with you that if you can see a way to find humor in what can be a tense moment with the kid, you're on your way to an attitude change. I try to do that all the time. Sometimes more successfully than others.

Beanie Baby said...

Oy, I'm not looking forward to potty training. Of course, first we have to teach Frances to sit on the potty without putting her feet in it. Which might be easier if her wee legs didn't dangle off of the very smallest potty we could find. Oh well. A struggle for another day.

Congratulations on finding out what works for you and CG, and good luck. It's not easy when you realize you're not reacting the way you wanted to.

halloweenlover said...

What a great post, Susan! I am also impressed with your outlook on these little challenges. I hope all is this is just a stage that passes quickly into other lovely stages. In the meantime, I'm tabbing this post to remember when my own (hopefully) future little one has me at the end of my rope!