Monthly Archives: October 2013

Traditions: Halloween

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This is the first in a small series on Traditions. Since we live far away from all our family we are free to reinvent any and all of our family and holiday traditions.

I loved Halloween as a kid. Favourite holiday hands down. New Zealand does not love Halloween.

I’ve seen people talk about how they leave their sprinklers on all night, leave their dog tied to the gate and so on. To me it’s similar to people blithely talking about kicking puppies. I’m horrified that people hate it so much.

Arguments I have heard against it:

Why are we teaching our kids it’s ok to beg for candy from strangers when we teach them the rest of the time that candy and talking to strangers is not ok? First of all, just what?The idea that it’s begging baffles me honestly.  But Christmas and presents are ok, and celebrating Guy Fawkes is A-OK? Nah, that argument is feeble.

It’s American commercialism being forced on us. It’s about  the least commercial holiday I can think of and the DIY option has always been popular for costumes and yard decorations. Candy not so much, but it’s nothing compared to Christmas, Easter (present baskets are a common thing now, it’s not just eggs and candy), or Valentines Day.

It’s not seasonal. Valid, but yeah, neither is Easter and that’s a 4 day weekend here where things are significantly less religious than the US.

People aren’t used to it so it can be alarming, especially for older people. This is one I can respect. I’m not about to go foisting my preference for Halloween on unsuspecting people. If/when we do get to a point or neighborhood where trick or treating seems ok I will be doing the send a letter around with balloons people can put on their mailboxes if they want to participate thing. I like the idea of letting people opt in.

So suffice to say it’s not really a thing here and while it’s trying to catch on (driven by a retailer or two)  it seems a lot of people are strongly opposed to it. So that sucks. For the first few years of Thing 1’s life we could get by with not really doing anything because there was (and is) nothing much to do and she was little and didn’t know about it. So mostly I was just sad that it’s not acceptable to dress up, and that trick or treating is frowned upon.

Anyhow, this year is different. I’m cautiously excited that we can do something and I won’t have to be sad that I’m ignoring my favourite holiday because it’s not done here. In her three year old wisdom, Thing 1 has cottoned on that Halloween is a thing. And she is excited (because it’s awesome!). So if we lived somewhere trick or treating friendly we would do that. But we do not. I’m not even sure if there are any trunk or treat or other activities on. I’ve seen some non scary costume school fairs and an Indian light show thing (Diwali) that people around here think is somehow equivalent or related (I don’t get it), but nothing free or casual like trick or treating. So she will dress up for daycare.

But what about the candy? Thing 1 came up a few weeks ago with the gem that the monster under her bed would leave her candy. At first I was all D’aww, how cute and misunderstood. Then I thought about it and decided it was a cute idea I could implement. So I have some little pumpkin buckets with a small amount of candy and some glow sticks in them. I will leave them under her bed and she can find them in the morning of Halloween. I think it’s a neat new tradition.

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Have to have two for jealousy control.

Knowing a parent and what makes kids be good people

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Do you ever really know what kind of people your parents are when you are little? Now in my 30’s I’m finding out. I think in a family that had more contact I might have figured this out earlier, but due to recent circumstances I’m seeing  previously hidden depths to a family member that I already didn’t like but didn’t really have an active dislike for.

So, my grandfather died recently and there is some inheritance business. As my grandmother had died some years previous, he had intentions to change legal wording so that me and my siblings would be covered but didn’t get to it in time. Things are still up in the air (and thus I’m not publishing this until I get a copy of the trust myself), but last-minute legal changes were made. It’s a fingers crossed situation that my father won’t contest the new legal wording which will deprive me and my siblings of being covered under the inheritance. I’m not bothered whether anything comes my way or not. We are financially fine. My siblings could probably use it though. It’s just the intentions I guess. Relative intended (but procrastinated) for us to be covered. And my father may very well intend to deprive us of any cover.

Now I should have figured out my father wasn’t a great person from him leaving his wife and three children to go off and play happy families with someone else. But I’m not even mad anymore. I’ve been living with a pronounced sense of indifference to him for some years now. I guess I could, not like or understand, but accept that fathers leave families and that’s one level of scummy. But finding out that my father was more concerned with financial gain from his parent’s death than the actual death (and also depriving his first set of children further) is a bit jaw dropping for me. I think for my aunt and uncle as well. It makes me wonder what happened in his parenting that made him like that. My aunt and uncle are great people and their kids are all great as well. Moral, responsible, successful, working toward happiness and so on.

Of course it might not be anything. This has been weighing on my mind lately as my children get older. I don’t get on well with my mother and I am trying to figure out what she did to drive me away. I am so jealous of my cousins relationships with their mothers. I will never have that with my mother. It’s just too awkward and uncomfortable even if I were to bravely fake that level of camaraderie. I can hope and work to have that with my children though.

From all accounts my mother and I had a great parent-little kid relationship. At some point I grew to distrust her and dislike her and we will never be friends. I’m sure the things she was doing during the divorce didn’t help my opinion (she apparently knew my father was leaving her so she started enthusiastically sleeping around. Of course I had no idea what was going on in regards to my father and so I thought she was just being a bad person), and she did not deal well with my teenage years (I had little boundaries or discipline and nothing to rekindle trust in her. Frankly the only reason I turned out as ok as I did is because I had goals and I knew a pregnancy or arrest would interfere with my goals), also post divorce we were on welfare and poor, sometimes homeless. I have heard that girls drift from their mothers in their early teens and grow closer in their later teens. I had a tumultuous time with not understanding what my mother was going through in my early teens and then her not being relatable (I didn’t trust her, I would have never wanted to talk to her about anything scary or important. Still don’t really) in my later teens. I guess sometimes it can just be circumstance and a lack of following up. Of course I have heard tell that my father was a terrible teen and my grandparents kicked him out at one point. But all the time I was 12 and under we would go to my grandparent’s house and hang out with the rest of the family. So it’s not like he grew up and didn’t like them. Something eroded the closeness (in addition to distance) as an adult. Or perhaps he just chose his second family over his parents and siblings.

I just remember being three and a neighbor kid asked me if I liked my mother or father more, and when I was told I had to choose (kids can be mean) I cried because the idea of loving one of my parents less was too hard. I want my kids to have that forever. Oh I know that one or even both parents will go out of favor at times, but I want both of us to be important to them into their adulthood and beyond. Just today Thing 1 told me she wants to sit and cuddle with me forever (as I was grumbling at her for putting dinosaurs in my shirt and snuggling my arm while I was trying to eat breakfast). I hope I don’t take it too personally if she hates me every day during the teen years  (the closest she’s come at 3 is telling me that she’s not friends with me right now).

How important is no?

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When I was a kid I was tickled mercilessly. I would scream and shriek and try to get away. I would be held down. Sometimes I would struggle to breathe, and even vomit. I eventually learned to turn off my ticklishness so that I could just lie there. So it wasn’t fun any more. I stopped getting tickled. My turned off ticklishness persists even now. What I learned, consciously or unconsciously, from all that was that my saying no did not matter. From that I learned that other people saying no was more of a suggestion and if I persisted they might stop saying no. I learned that people would stand by and watch me expressing my displeasure and not do anything to help me.

My mother later said to me that she felt like what I was going through was abuse by my father. She never did anything to stop it though. I remember her watching and biting her lip but never saying anything.  You don’t really know what kind of people your parents are when you are a kid. If they are strong, or weak or what psychological hang ups they have. I think I would have less of a negative opinion of her actions if she hadn’t told me, when I was older, she thought I was being abused but did nothing.

Even though it was just tickling I developed similar behaviour issues and patterns to someone undergoing other types of abuse. I daresay I was probably abusive to others when I was younger. I didn’t necessarily take no for an answer, especially for the sort of things one isn’t ‘supposed’ to refuse. Like tickling, because being tickled is fun, otherwise why are you laughing, right? I, in turn, never expected anyone to respect my no’s so I never bothered saying them. I’m much better about it now, though I have determined that my children will have their no’s actually mean stop. That’s a tricky implementation though when I feel hypersensitive about how important this might be.

Sure our kids scream no when tickled. And we stop. Thing 1 for sure comes back for more, but the instant she does anything that might indicate she does want to stop, we do, and it’s her choice how she wants it to continue. Thing 2 is not ticklish currently, though we try, and stop when she pushes us away. But when we have to change them, or bathe them there are screams of no’s. And we, as parents, have to soldier right on through that. Thing 1 getting her hair washed is a terrible thing. We have to hold her and she thrashes and it’s miserable for everyone. There were nappy changes that were similar. With Thing 2 as well. I’m pretty sure those screaming nappy changes are an unfortunate reality for everyone. I hope that because we apologize when they are visibly upset over something we needed to do for their own good, and as they get older they get more tractable and rational that these will not be experiences or memories that cause them to feel like no has no meaning or power over them. I hope there’s some way they can differentiate things we do for them for their own good and things we do that they may not like because it’s meant to be fun. I hope it’s enough that if something is optional, we do stop.

 

On another side of things I feel like permissive parenting, that is-a lack of firm denial, can also set up this problem. When no doesn’t actually mean anything, when wheedling, whining and tantrums can turn a no around, then how is anyone to learn what no really means? Instead people learn that  no is what people say first and that what people say first is changeable with pressure.

I don’t like the trend in parenting of trying to avoid saying no. I know it’s been going on at least 30 years since I remember my mother being concerned about it in regards to my siblings. It’s something that still goes on today with parents worrying that children’s first words will be no. Unfortunately no is something you need to say and a concept you need to impress on children. I cringe when Thing 1 parrots back to me, “I said no”. I’d rather not have arbitrary limits for the kids, but structure, focus and knowing that I have limits is important to their development as people. Sometimes I just want to (and ok, sometimes I do. I’m mostly consistent though) just say, “fine, whatever”, and let them run rampant because I’m tired or drained. Most of the time I don’t though. Also, they are kids and they don’t know why I do what I do. Big old meanie me, encouraging dinner eating, bath taking, hair brushing and bedtimes. The horror. Also limiting unfettered candy eating, unlimited TV watching and keeping them out of the street. Gosh.

Sure, at younger development ages distraction works heaps better than abstract denial. But no, stop, don’t is an important concept that people need to learn.

I had to remove myself and Thing 1 from a parent group since there was a mother who was very into the no yell, gentle parenting business, because she did not teach her child that no was something important to listen to. It took me awhile to figure out. I initially left because Thing 1 was getting injured and this reasonably well behaved (not overly violent or tantrum throwing etc) other child was just a bit too rampant and a little too undisciplined. He was acting like a kid. But then I realized the issue wasn’t the kid, it was that his mother wasn’t acting like an adult. She was trying to live up to some no-conflict ideal that she probably read about on the internet. You can actually say no and impress upon people that respecting a request to stop is important without yelling. People just often think that gentle parenting and no yell means not teaching or enforcing limits. When she would try to explain to her child that he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing she would do so in soft sing song tones and he would not pay attention or seem to particularly care.  It was apparent to me that her approach was not working to correct his behaviour. This was after Thing 1 had told him no, stop and tried to get away from him.  This mother would also say stuff about ‘boys will be boys’, so fair to say she got my goat in a variety of ways.

We talk to Thing 1 about how she should say no, how to escalate (say no, stop, try to get away, tell someone, hit if nothing else works), and how she should listen when other people say no. We aren’t into ‘that’s unfaaaair’ territory yet in regards to what Thing 1 sees other children being permitted in regards to denial. I often explain to her that I say no for good reasons. Because I want her to grow up healthy, strong and safe. I don’t think she gets it yet. Someday I hope.

Feeling like a fraud

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This is a bit of a diversion from my usual topics. Or rather, it’s a topic I touched on my other, more specific blog. It’s about breastfeeding.

Now I have significant issues breastfeeding. I could, not too many questions asked, flash the unable to breastfeed card. I meet those qualifications. However, due to my own pigheadedness I breastfed anyhow. It sucks but I figured out how to manage it. And because of the nature of the issues there comes a point where things become normal for the baby’s age. For us that happens around seven-eight months. After that things are essentially normal. And really you would never know that we had issues at all. Which brings me to my fraudulent feelings.

I breastfeed Thing 2 (who is now a year old) out in public as required. And sometimes people chat to me about it. And often people chat to me about their own inability to breastfeed. And I’m not even sure what to say. Do I say, oh yes. I couldn’t breastfeed either (with a one year old snuggled into my boob)? Do I say, oh yes, we had to use a tube taped to my breast to give her formula for seven months? Do I act like a normal nursing mother and make a sympathetic noise? Yeah, that’s usually what I end up doing. I’ve tried the other responses and have gotten funny and awkwardly uncomfortable looks as expected. But I feel really shitty doing that. Because we did have big problems. The thing is I don’t know that other mother’s situation and she doesn’t know mine. I am of the opinion that with proper support and education more people can breastfeed than currently think they are able to. Probably not me though. I’ve thrown whatever support I can at this. But I don’t know what that other mother went through and it’s not my place to judge how hard or what she tried. She did what she could with what she knew at the time and she cared about doing the right thing, whatever that was, for herself and her baby.

But I still feel like a fraud.

I never want to even hint at  “I could, why couldn’t you?”. I really don’t, because I’ve had that thrown in my face. Unfortunately I know that by existing I do throw that up a little. I think if I had stopped breastfeeding and met someone with similar struggles who got through it I would feel judged. I would be the one judging myself, but I would project it out as coming from others, because how could they not be thinking that even a little? I know that the feeling is really “why you and not me?” but all twisted around and ugly and sad.

All I really can do is be sympathetic, because I know that grief and sadness of being unable, and now people see me and they make a judgement that since I am still breastfeeding my one year old that I didn’t struggle and I don’t know. It’s a bad judgement. Just as bad as anyone judging a mother for giving a baby a bottle, or making the assumption that giving up or not trying happened. I want to say that all that matters is the now, but how we got here is important as well because it shapes us.  But for now I am a breastfeeding mother, who could not breastfeed.  But having people talk to me wistfully about how they didn’t meet their goals really upsets me. I want to say, me too. me too, But I’m guessing the assumption would be that if I’m still doing it now then it wasn’t all that bad. And it wasn’t for me. More, it’s that I can imagine worse things, and it didn’t stay bad until now. It was manageable. I did it. It was horrible and I hate it and it’s stressful and I cry and loathe myself for the failings in my body, but I can do it. I don’t know why I can, but I can. I also fully respect anyone who can’t or stops in the face of those circumstances because I don’t know how I can. It’s hard. Really hard. I imagine sawing off my own arm would be comparatively easier because at least then you get some endorphins kicking in and it doesn’t go on for months. And if you sawed off your own arm people would know that you had seen some shit.

Truthfully as my baby gets older I forget the intense misery of those first months. I know I hate it and I know I’m not looking forward to doing it again and I know I will do it again. It’s like forgetting the misery of pregnancy. Bad brain. Bad!