26 May 2006

Shrieking, Sneezing, Accidents (with bonus book recommendations)

Something is going on with Curious Girl, and I wish I knew what. Or maybe it's something going on with me. Curious Girl is growing up, she's getting more independent, and I think we're both a little uneasy with the changes, even as we both delight in all the cool things she does. She's so much fun to hang around with these days. But there is something going on around here, and it's not entirely happy.

This post is getting a bit long, so let me preview here so you can decide if you want to venture beyond the cut. First, bullet points: a perfectly fine playdate ending in disaster; fears of abandonment that turned out to be triggered by parents in the basement; description of CG's hysteria; an uneaten dinner; four changes of clothes necessitated by piddling in the panties. Then, more bullets on my own reactions: guilt; confusion; dialogue.

Because I will go off on too many tangents if I try to narrate this mystery, I'll resort to bullets:
  • on Tuesday, when I picked her up from playdate with Little Hyphen, CG ended up in tears. There was a broken headband (which she may, or may not, have asked Little Hyphen to bend into the shape of eyebrows); there were gifts which Little Hyphen may or may not have presented to CG; there was a lost headband; there was piddle in the panties; there were irate accusations back and forth between them. These girls have an interesting relationship--a good one, definitely positively developing, but not without angst. Little Hyphen isn't confident about CG's friendship, and is sometimes jealous of CG's attention to other girls at school; CG isn't good at attending to more than one friend at a time. CG was in hysterics, and she cried for 80 minutes before I put her to bed at 6:20. I wasn't at my best--at times, I got irritated with her--but in the end, we had good snuggles before she fell asleep. As soon as she got into bed, she calmed down. And along the way, I did some things right. But there were many tears.
  • Last night, Politica and I were in the basement, Politica trying to fix the dehumidifier and I trying to do laundry. When we came up, CG was shrieking. "Mama! Mommy!" She'd woken up while we were down there, and our lack of response to her cries caused hysteria. I bolted up the stairs once I heard her (leaving Politica to figure how to get around the laundry I dropped at the top of the stairs) and we all came down together for cocoa. She took about 20 minutes to stop sobbing. Somewhere in there she informed me she had a big, big sneeze in her bed, and now the sheets needed changing. I checked the bed later and it seemed OK to me, although I wonder if I should investigate more thoroughly in brighter light, or change the sheets anyway just to be on the safe side.
  • CG has never been good at self-comforting once hysteria hits. Calm presentation of options, time out, announcement of some logical consequence, no effect. What works, generally, is holding her. She likes company.
  • Tonight, she ate no dinner. On the outside, I channelled Ellyn Satter (whose approaches to feeding children I utterly endorse and often recommend). But on the inside, I was freaking out. CG is small, and I have a hard time watching her not eat. (Maybe it was all the candy at her class' end of school party today. It was a lovely party, but not sure the pinatas needed to be so stuffed with candy.) After she whined on and off about not wanting to eat dinner, she squatted down and peed on the deck. On my brand new trex deck. Right next to my chair. I told her to go up, take her clothes off, and get clean clothes on. She went in, came to the window and said "but the problem is, I have to poop." "It's your problem, deal with it," I said. "Change your clothes, and then come down and clean up your mess here." This kicked off 30 minutes of hysterical crying. At one point I went into the house to urge her downstairs (I pointed out that we were ready to come in and if she didn't come down, she'd be out there cleaning alone); she came down, still in the wet dress, and I sent her back up to get a dress. More hysterics.
  • Did I mention that she peed in her pants at the picnic, and then again on the playground (when she was high up on the climbing structure!!!) before we left her school?
So I'm left with the following problems:
  • I feel totally awful about last night. I hate that she seems so inconsolable when she wakes up, period, but I really hated that we were there, and she was calling for us, and we couldn't here her.
  • I don't know what to think about the potty thing. Or the lack-of-potty thing. She doesn't seem to care if her clothes get wet. "They'll dry, Mama," she will tell me, or "we can change clothes." At the picnic I didn't think I had clean clothes with me and she said "that's ok, I can take my panties off and you can hold them." This is, of course, me coming out of her mouth. When she spills things at dinner, I don't get upset, and I calmly point out, "they'll dry." And it's true, they do dry.
  • It's also true that most of the time, she uses the potty. She has more accidents when she's tired. She has fewer accidents when I remind her frequently to go. But the more frequently I remind her, the more she seems to have accidents right after she's tried in the potty and had nothing. I really don't want this to be a control thing. Mostly, it's not. But these little spurts of accidents, they are wearying.
  • I know lots of people do incentive programs for potty-training, but all the food games we did have de-incentivized me about incentives. Besides, I don't want to train her to do things for the reward. And she's been wearing panties for a year and a half now. This seems a little late to go down the incentive road anyway. And really, incentive charts just don't feel like me.
  • There's probably something going on in her head about growing up and/or adoption, because she wants to play baby, and in fact asked Politica to feed her at dinner because she, CG, was a baby. Politica said no, you need to feed yourself, and we don't play baby at meals. I think Politica made the right call there, but I'm not sure how to figure out what's going on in CG's head.
I can't decide how to react when she gets hysterical. Tonight, I stayed very calm, and just kept telling her to get a new outfit. She was screaming that she was lonely, she wanted company. All she had to do was grab a dress off the (handily located, not-yet-blogged about) bar in her wondrous closet and come down. It would have taken a minute. Yet she screamed and made the whole thing worse. Part of me feels lousy, like I'm punishing her for peeing on the deck, forcing her to head upstairs. Part of me thinks it's a fine thing to say "you peed by yourself while I was eating, now you go upstairs by yourself to grab a new outfit." Natural/logical consequences, which generally feel good and right to me. But there are so many tears, and I feel rotten right now, like she's asking me for something and I'm pushing her away.

Anyone else read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting? I liked it because I already held many of the views he articulates there, although not without so many footnotes or polish. Kohn writes about the ways so many incentives (in school and at home) essentially function as threats: if you don't do what I want, I'll withdraw my love. He argues, instead, for unconditional parenting, where parents connect, always connect, and go from there. I've seen some parenting groups I've been associated with get into some big flame wars about discipline, and I get very irritated when people assume that parents who don't buy incentives/timeout are therefore limitless people letting their children run free and be obnoxious and rude. Probably no one reading here regularly would characterize me that way, but I'm sensitive to that critique, having suffered it elsewhere. I'm a big believer in limits, and in the Which Star Trek Character quiz I just took (Will Riker, btw), I said I was strict. I'm all about encouraging exploration and excellent etiquette. And I value connection with CG above almost all else: I see that connection as fundamental to so many of the other lessons I want her to learn, lessons about trust, impulse control, socialization, whatever.

So I don't know whether my parenting philosophy is fine for a younger kid and not so great for a four year old, or whether my parenting philosophy is awesome and will ultimately give us a flexible relationship which gives us all support for working through the hard stuff. I don't know whether these are adoption issues or developmental issues or neither or both. Sometimes, when CG is pitching one of these fits, I just want to pick her up and cuddle her until she stops. And, truth be told, she'd probably stop crying pretty darn fast if I did that. What, if anything, would that teach her about piddling on the deck?

I don't know. Anybody have any bright ideas? (like, maybe I should re-read comments I've left for Phantom Scribbler or Jody about their kids and toilet-training and take my own perspectives to heart? yeah, that's an idea.)

Some bonus book recommendations, for anyone needing picture books about race cars. We had a race car picnic to celebrate the last day of school. I lose no chance to read books to children, so I tackled the job of finding race car books appropriate to 4 year olds. This is not easy, but A Racecar Alphabet, by Brian Floca, and The Wheels on the Racecar, by Alexander Zane, are quite good. I had the kids singing along (at least the ones who weren't running around the lawn), and it was fun.


Phantom Scribbler said...

Oy. Well, you know I don't have any good advice. Incentives have not helped us one little bit in our endless quest for potty training nirvana, so I'm with you on considering them of dubious value.

What little success I've had on the poopies front has come with the natural consequences approach. If he wants to use a pull-up for pooping, fine, but he has to clean up the mess himself. (Yes, I do mop-up operations afterwards.) It works quite well... except for the little part about Mr. Blue not toeing the line with me on it. But when Mr. Blue isn't home, it works quite well, anyway. (Any suggestions on how to convince my spouse that our children will not melt if presented with limits or challenges? Sigh.)

How do other people react to CG when she has accidents outside the home? I know it took LG quite awhile to assimilate the idea that it's not socially acceptable to pee in one's clothes.

Sympathy, in any event. Four-year-olds are chock full o' challenges, I've found.

susan said...

Thanks for the sympathy, Phantom. Politica said earlier, "well, think about Phantom and LG, who poops in pull ups," and we discussed some of your past posts on the subject and the fact that--clearly!--every kid moves on his/her own schedule here.

People don't seem to react much to CG when she has accidents. Of course, lots of the time no one but the person she comes to for help would know. But when she peed on the climbing thing today, her friend and friend's sister didn't bat an eye, and their mother just said "oh, she's peeing" in an informational tone.

This wouldn't be getting to me quite so much this week were it not for the bouts of hysteria.

I'll soak up all the sympathy I can get, so thanks!

Arwen said...

I totally sympathize, first off. Ripley's always trouble self-calming: last summer we had entire days of screaming, and Ripley's not easily calmed and doesn't like to be held when upset. He is also very persistent. If he doesn't want to do something (like go to bed), or if he does (like play with kitchen knives), we'll hear everything from how lonely he is to how we haven't fed him in a week to how thirsty he is to how we're unfair. In many ways, he's a teenager!

I was a very connection oriented parent and a cuddler and a talker, and it wasn't working for him. He'd just get more upset and more focussed on the thing I was denying or requesting. And I was getting to the point where I didn't like spending time with him very much; I started being freaked out that he'd been traumatized somewhere by something; I wondered if he was eating something he was allergic to. I was getting scared of my 3 year old, which was a ridiculous place to be in. Now, we're using 1..2..3 Magic (which is a time out system), and it's been magic for us. Suddenly, we have a very calm and reasonable little boy most of the time, and we have WAY more fun. It's awesome for our combination of personalities.

That said: Every parent and every child need to do what's comfortable for them. I really believe strongly there's no ultimate parenting solution for every family... Anyway, Ripley was a kid who needed the time outs, because connection just jacked him up further. He needs time to get back inside himself: I need not to be screamed at like I'm pulling fingernails out with pliers!

So, anyway. None of that is relevant to you and CG, particularly, except that I know the worry and frustration.

What I do think is pretty common among kids is to try everything on for awhile and see how it works. If CG seems overall okay excepting for bouts of hysteria and peeing, then hysteria and peeing may be something new she's trying on as a way of coping and being. If you don't let it eat you up, she'll probably decide it's not useful: kids make a big splash by creating emotional states in their caregivers. I may have been rendered utterly insensitive with My Very Strong Willed Boy, but I wouldn't worry about the hysteria signifying anything. It's more a matter of coping with it. (Of course, you know best: if it feels loaded to you, or persists, then trying to work through what's beneath it may be exactly right.)

Regardless, you've got to go with what's both honest and sustainable FOR YOU. If you want to cuddle with CG after hysteria related to piddling on the deck: well, why not? She won't be peeing on the deck at 15, no matter how you handle it. I wouldn't feel cuddly in such a situation, and I think that's okay too - it's okay for our kids to know we're people with limits.

There's a child-psych concept that it is optimal for our kids when we fail sometimes. Whatever you do, you're learning on the job... Just when you figure this out, it'll change...

peripateticpolarbear said...

Sorry it's so hard. No advice. Just sorry.

TDharma said...

ah, challenging times. So hard to separate yourself from the hysterics of a little one you love so completely. Hard to not feel self-critical in times like these. I personally got a lot of wisdom from good ol' Doc Spock. He's not as old-fashioned as a lot of folks think. He does advocate staying calm and sensible, whatever that is for you. Limits, yes, and times for indulgences too.

When my gal was younger, she had this poor habit of starting each new school year out with lots of pee accidents at night. All the way to 3rd grade if I'm remembering correctly. I had her change her own sheets, not in a punitive way but in a "they are your sheets, it's your body, you can do it" sort of way. It didn't mean fewer accidents...well, who knows, maybe it did.

Sweet lil' thing will be fine...obviously moving through some developmental hurdle. I suspect that if you just keep up the usual routines and sound parenting, she will work through it and this particular phase will pass. They all do!

My favorite thing to say about parenting, "It's the toughest job you'll ever love." Apologies to the Peace Corp.

Hang in there, mom, you're doing a fine job!

susan said...

You all are the best readers--Arwen, I totally heart you for that wonderful comment, and all these comments have really helped me out today.

I've realized a few things about myself: this week has been hard for me b/c Curious Girl has been pushing my buttons (duh), and I'm usually the most patient person around. I'm good at not getting my buttons pushed. So when they do get pushed, I'm hard on myself. It's not that I expect myself to be perfect (although, probably, somewhere, I do, hence all my eating issues)...really, I'm good at parenting b/c I've always settled for good enough, if that makes any sense.

But what these comments have helped me see is that it really is OK to go with what works, and I can build limits around CG in ways that work for me during this time. After another post-accident melt down in which we had tried to get her to go upstairs to get clean clothes (using exactly the rationale that TaraDharma suggests about the sheets), I thought "this is nuts." So I have a new plan: a little cubby down here on the first floor will have extra clothes and a plastic bag. If she needs them, she can get them. I think that will work for everyone.

Your comments have actually gotten me thinking about a million things, so thank you. Right now, time to pack: we're off to Town Near Snowstorm City in the morning, and if we're lucky, we're having brunch with jo(e) in the midst of visiting Politica's father. so have a good long weekend, all.

Overwhelmed! said...

Susan, I have absolutely no advice to offer you for your current situation. Snuggle Bug is only 17 months and we've only begun to talk about the concept of potting training, which we've decided we won't even begin to explore until he's at least 2 years old. My sympathies for you though, I'm not looking forward to the task potty training!

I'm so excited to have found another adoptive mother blog. I'll have to do some backtrack reading to see if I can't discover how your adoption journey unfolded.

Thanks so much for delurking on my blog. :)

susan said...

welcome, overwhelmed!

One set of my 100 things posts is about adoption, if you want to read a little more about that.

for everyone else: overwhelmed's blog has some very cool types of posts, including the one that got me to delurk, a new 'blog of the week' post that is a nice way to introduce her readers to some of the blogs she likes.

Susoz said...

It sounds to me like a lot of this is devlopmental. My son went through bouts of very acute seperation anxiety up until age six, similar to CG's crying when she thought she was alone. (Actually, he's 7.5 now and not entirely immune to such anxiety.)
If holding her would help her, I'd hold her. The accidents will work themselves out, physically and mentally. She won't be peeing in her pants when she's 10, but she may still need holding and you don't want to have channeled her into such 'self-sufficiency' that she doesn't want to be held. I've seen that with some kids.
I know there's always the worry that you're being manipulated - you're the one to make that assessment. I too have worried that I'm not being as firm as some other parents, that consequently our child isn't as confident and assertive and independent and that on paper it would sound as if we were complete sops. But in reality it hasn't been that way. I have confidence in the strength of our relationship. I haven't read Kohn (except for articles online) but that approach - always connect - is one that makes the most sense to me.
Good luck!