Parenting: A Roller-coaster Ride

There really is no question about it: parenting feels like you’re getting strapped into a rollercoaster, shoulders pressed firm and hard to that rubber-plastic chair, and then just holding on.

Sometimes, for dear life.

Sometimes, in utter and complete enjoyment.

And within all that, all those curves and loops, those corkscrews you barely saw coming, you have these wonderful moments of pause, as you catch your breath and continue to climb higher (with the telltale ‘click, click, click’ of the track), and you finally get a chance to see where you are.

How high you’ve climbed…

And how far you’re gonna fall next.

Then, you get to do it all over again.

But even that analogy doesn’t quite work because it means that us, as parents, have no control. And while there are a ton of things we can’t control such as… my dear children, can you please sleep through the night? Or, is this really the time to get chicken pox and be housebound for two weeks (or four since Eric’s probably getting it next)? When in fact, there’s actually a ton that we can control, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times (especially with the younger ones).

My little Eric still isn’t a great sleeper. It’s better, though. I mean, I’m getting a solid couple hours of sleep as opposed to six months ago when I was lucky to get 2-3 consecutive hours. I can’t control his sleeping. At all. What I can control is me. It’s my choosing to drink less coffee, eat dinner earlier, finish my wine two hours before bed. I’ve started a bedtime routine, complete with candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat. Oh, and bedtime? Yeah, I’m heading into bed, lights off, by 8:30 these days. I have to. My little guy thinks 4:30 a.m. is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

This new bedtime means I’ve had to cancel plans with friends, to say no to dinner dates and Moms Night Out.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

I’m getting a solid four hours of sleep in, and when I do wake up to take care of Eric, I’m falling asleep easier. I’m also not as angry because I’m no longer living on that edge of being crazy and desperate for sleep. I feel good, mentally, physically, and I can tell my body is finally healing from the years of massive sleep deprivation.

I’m a long way from being done with the sleep ride, some nights are still just bad, and when both kids tag-team me? Oh, dear lord, meet Zombie-Chrissy the next day. But overall, it’s creeping towards better. I’m focusing on what I’m eating, on daily movement, and overall, it’s hitting my big reason for wanting to do all this… to be a patient, calmer, person with my children (and to be honest, with myself as well).

The new changes are working. I’m not yelling as much, I’m in a better position to be present and centered during those times when even the holiest of saints would have their work cut out for them (and you know exactly those times in parenthood I’m talking about).

I decided to focus on what I could control, and then, got creative.

Not that I’m always successful on the creative part. In fact, I’m still on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to fitting in board games with Sean and and my friends. And fiction writing? I’m still figuring it out.

With the writing, what makes it challenging is because I’m facing a high-ass brick wall filled with stuff that I truly can’t control. Mainly, my son. I can only fall into my worlds, into my storytelling, my writing, when I’m away from him. Why? Well, he has some pretty strong beliefs about being separated from me and has zero issue letting the whole world know about it (so locking myself in the bedroom with ear buds in ain’t gonna cut it; my poor subconscious spends half the time shaking her little head saying, “it’s not safe to come out yet.”)

I would love to write while the kids are sleeping. Except… I’m a morning person. By the end of the day I am dead-tired exhausted. Okay, then, that means I’ve got to wake up early… you mean, earlier than 4 a.m.? And wait a minute — I can’t do that, I’m working like mad trying to recover sleep!

I know of other writers who drop their kids off with other moms and take turns with this co-op babysitting. Kate is almost ready for that, especially if she trusted the mom, but Eric? Oh hell no. Nope. Not gonna happen. A huge part has to do with language; I am literally Eric’s foreign translator in this big scary world of rules and people who can’t stop talking. The other part is just his temperament. He is very, very attached to me these days and not even his dad looks forward to those times when it requires me to leave the house. (Translation: so everyone joins me when it’s time to get my hair done.)

I’m writing this all out, sorta like thinking out loud, and I’ve realized I’ve only been focusing on the reasons why I couldn’t write or couldn’t use the same methods of writers can with their young kids. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, my language-challenged son can’t be treated the same as others his age, but I really need to start shifting my focus…

And moving it back into the realm of what I can control.

I can make the effort, physical and mental, to grab my laptop, get dressed, and head outside to write while Sean’s still home in the morning before work. An hour, or maybe just 30 minutes. Let’s say I don’t even write, but just the act of getting up and getting some actual alone time… that’s gonna go a long way to helping my subconscious feel safe again.

And I throw in that part about “you don’t have to write” because there are days when I can’t.

I mean, straight up, we’re going through the intense middle of living with a two-year-old. Eric can be very opinionated, stubborn, and has zero patience. I’m gonna make that real clear: very. And it’s not like you can even attempt to reason with the guy (again, language issue)! There was straight up one morning, I’d gotten about 3 hours of sleep, been up since 2? 3:41? There also poop involved in the bathroom sink, while I was trying to make breakfast (and hence not able to respond to Eric’s crying). It was not a good morning. I lasted as long as I could but eventually burst into the bedroom bawling my eyes out. Sean got up, watched the kids, and I locked myself in the bedroom and just played with doing some book covers.

I played. And I got a bit of myself back.

I was able to finish that day, and then the one after that.

Some days are just not easy. (Not kidding… I ended up walking out of Disneyland with a crying, screaming toddler, who was trying his best to hit me in the face, all because he couldn’t have the French fries he saw some lady carry out on a tray. Didn’t mattered that I offered him other food or to go to a place that didn’t have a line. Didn’t matter one damn bit. He was upset and the only choice I had, after being present and calm with him, was to walk the whole mile to our car.)

Then some days are totally fine and chill. Those are almost the worst because it’s so deceptive… like, you think this is what the new norm is like, the new routine, and then you start having these grand plans, gonna pull out my story and write, get back into publishing… which is about when the two-year-old decides to skip his nap.

For three days in a row.

Yep. We’re in the nap-skipping stage too (imagine me crying in sadness right here).

It’s also one thing for me to tell this to you and quite another to see it. My mother-in-law just saw the tiniest glimpse of The Eric Meltdown, and we were actually having a good day, and she was like… no, I’m not real comfortable with you and Kate going on a ride at Disneyland and leaving me with him.

Sigh.

It’ll get better, I know. Heck, every day it’s getting better.

But then some days are straight-up like that roller-coaster. I’ve been strapped in (maybe?) and I’m just holding on, trying to keep breathing and not lose my shit.

Some moments I’m successful, some moments I’m not.

I’m trying hard to forgive myself, to be patient and gentle, especially on those days when I really, really need it, to not strive for that completely unobtainable goal of perfection (you all know that doesn’t exist in parenting, right??).

I’m not perfect.

But I’m trying to be a good parent.

I’m still working on being a writer, and because I worked on those covers, it got me interested in this one series I hadn’t written in awhile, and I’m pulling out and updating the world glossary for it, and there’s this little voice inside me, my own little two-year-old, that really wants to jump out and splash in the mud naked.

One of things I can do, one thing that is in my control, is going with the moment when I feel it. Not putting it on hold, but just jumping right on in and playing.

Just, playing.

I’ve realized too, the more time I give Eric before I leave the house (or disappear into the bedroom behind the locked door), the more connection he gets from me, the joy of playing one-on-one, he’s better able to handle these short moments of separation.

So together, as parents, let’s flip the lens and look at what we can control.

What can you do to help promote your own self-care? To get the sleep you need, the food and exercise? The autonomy and creativity? For me, this is what my writing gives me. But for you… your kids, your family, your life, all of that will have a different line up then mine, especially in terms of priority. And only you (and your family) can figure that one out. I urge you to do the work, to sit down and think creative, to shift your focus and put the power, this control, back in your hands.

And also, take time to acknowledge those in your life who are trying to help out (especially when it comes to your sanity). I realized I hadn’t done this enough with Sean. We’d played a board game and everyone was having a really awesome time… except for me (mostly because of the worst combination of random elements possible). The next day, he listened to me and heard how upset I was, especially since playing the game meant I didn’t go to bed until 11:30 (it was his Father’s Day board game event). Later that day, I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated him just listening to me. I needed that support, and I needed that hour without the kids because I was at my wits end.

Thank the people in your life, thank yourself for doing everything you can, even though you’re not, and never will be perfect. And then, shift your focus. Look to what is in your control, because seriously, it just feels better to focus on the positive and what we, ourselves, have the power to change.

I may not have any control over the chicken pox, but on the bright side it’s meant I’ve had to completely free up my schedule. I can take this opportunity to connect with my kids, do painting and board games, or roughhouse on the floor, all those little things that are so easily pushed to the side when I’m focused on cooking meals or getting everyone out of the house. And another added benefit, we’re connecting with friends and getting some one-on-one play in. I hadn’t expected that, but we’ve all benefited. We’re enjoying ourselves and having fun. You know, all those moments of why we choose to be parents in the first place… those moments when the coaster clicks on up to the top of the hill and you’re looking around in breathless wonder of how really cool your life is…

Right before you plunge back down into the next parenting adventure.

The Introverted Parent

 

Society, at least from my point of view, doesn’t really give a shit about us introverts. You know, those people who get incredibly exhausted being around others, who feel completely drained when they go to big group gatherings, the kind of people whose idea of a day off (or heck, a vacation) is staying at home.

That’s me.

Actually, that’s my whole family.

Sure we spent four wonderful hours on Saturday, socializing and catching up with long-time friends and their adorable kids (in which everyone had a fantastic time), but throw in two hours of driving (thank you, downtown LA) and for the rest of the weekend, each and every one of us, were fried. Fried. From me and Sean, to Kate and Eric.

We’re introverts.

Going out and having fun means we need time to re-center ourselves, to settle in and fill up our cups. The day after a fun, socializing event, we’re in front of iPads or playing video games or reading books or coloring. Sure Eric might be sprawled across my lap (he usually is), since that little boy needs constant connection, but he’s also doing his own thing and he doesn’t want interaction. The same with Kate too. I jokingly tell Sean I’m never alone because I’ve got one kid pressed against my side, the other on my lap, each of us lost in our world but still having this connection.

We each need our own space. We all need quiet, this alone time to recharge our batteries, to refill our cup (or throw in your favorite description here).

The point, is we each need this time to refill our well of energy.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “So what? You’re different. You need to time at home, what’s the problem?”

Or, maybe you read all that and you’re nodding your head going, “Wow! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

The problem is society, and pretty much anyone with an opinion on parenting. Think about it for a moment. Think about all the stuff you’re supposed “to do” to be a good parent, to help raise healthy, happy kids. Constantly engaging with your child, through play or talking. Lots of one-on-one interactions. Lots of play outside. Parks. All the feeding and care associated with such outings.

Oh, and make sure they’re having healthy, whole foods and none of that drive-thru crap. Which, of course, means the endless cutting of vegetables and bucket-loads of fruit (while at the same time praying your toddler doesn’t get into too much trouble, or if you’re living in my shoes, he doesn’t take that moment to poop on the floor because he knows darn well you aren’t watching).

There are some of us, who, for that day I just described, can’t do that.

Like really and truly, can’t.

We’re not built that way.

Some of us can’t go out to endless events, art classes, park days, and on top of that, have one-on-one play dates (or go to school, if you’re the schooling family). Oh! And let’s not forget two different outings in one day, each lasting hours each.

There are some of us who, when we stumble into our glorious home (sometimes with upset, crying kids cause they’re also are low on energy) all we want is to collapse on the couch and drink a glass of wine.

Or two.

And yet… as a parent, I’m constantly bombarded with messaging all around that I’m not doing enough — that what I’m doing isn’t good enough.

Because…

What about the book time and reading together?

What about sitting on the floor, playing one-on-one?

What about the speech play for Eric? Did we have enough physical play? Did he get outside enough to run around?

Well, what about Kate? She’s Miss Constantly-Wants-to-Socialize.

And guess what’s that means? Going out. Together. And me using energy resources to help her and guide her, while running after Eric and making sure he steers clear of the street (not kidding, park days usually clock in a good mile for me).

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the message that screen time is bad for kids. That we will damage our kids if they’re watching too much TV or playing on the iPad or whatever. Now, you can totally have your own opinions about this, I’m certainly not judging you or your family or your values, not at all. What I’m saying though is we’re all different and we all have different needs. And can we please, at least for the moment, lay off of putting all this blame and guilt on people who are just exhausted? Parents who, truly, are trying to their best??

For me, by the end of the day I’m bone-tired exhausted.

After an outing I need my kids to be quiet, to give me some peace and quiet, even if it’s just so I can get together dinner. It doesn’t matter that all I want is to call it a night and go to bed at 6:00 with the kids. But what’s hard is constantly hearing the critical voices in my head, whispering that I’m this bad parent because they spent how many hours playing games or watching movies?

Guilt. Shame.

I swear, it feels like I’m constantly fighting them. Constantly fighting this message that I’m not doing enough. How, pretty much every day, being Super Mom isn’t enough (or Super Dad, whichever parent or caregiver is at home).

On top of the usual parenting challenge course (I swear, sometimes I feel like those little dogs running through those competition-obstacle courses), I’ve decided to be the main speech partner for both of my kids as well as homeschooling them. At this point in our life, the homeschooling part is literally just playing and living life. We’ll color and paint, play some board games, but it’s really following Kate’s lead and where her interest is (like making word hide-and-seek books).

But…

It’s the one-on-one time that’s challenging.

Playing board games requires Godzilla-Eric to be napping (or Daddy around and keeping his little hands from grabbing the scissors Kate’s using for her word books). Or with Eric, the speech play means Kate needs to be engaging in her things and willingly to leave us alone for a few minutes.

Why?

Well, for the speech part, Eric needs one-on-one time. Time where I’m able to pause, give him a chance to think through what I’m doing, what my words (or actions) are asking of him. He needs time and space to do this, which for him means comfort and a feeling of safety…

And the minute I start engaging and playing with him, as I’m laughing or clapping when he puts the shape into the puzzle box, Kate comes running over because she wants to play too.

Cause, we’re having fun.

Which is all well and good except, again, Eric is a “need-my-space” kinda kid. He gets frustrated when she starts putting her grubby hands on his shape pieces. And his only mode of dealing with frustrations is, no surprise, crying and trying to hit her.

It’s not going well.

Or I should say, it’s not easy.

Kate has needs (she wants to play too!). Eric has needs (translation: leave me the heck alone; I want to play with Mom. By myself.). And then me, well, I have needs too (oh please, just give me five minutes of quiet).

For us, all of those needs are also tied to our energy. And how much we have (or often, don’t have).

Because we’re all introverts I really need to have my awareness keyed on the energy pulse of each of us… myself, the kids, Sean too. In the situation above like I just described with the puzzle box, and while this is true of all kids, it’s especially true of mine (who are both introverts and late-talkers). I need to set back and see why the heck this situation (Kate’s interference, Eric’s frustration) is happening in the first place.

Kate wants interaction and play of her own. With me.

Eric wants the same… but without Kate butting in and doing the puzzle for him.

Well, okay then.

Let’s just add that to the energy schedule as well as shopping at Costco and farmers market. Oh, yeah, and we’ve got Grandma coming over that day too.

It’s a constant juggling act and one I’m slowly starting to accept (and internalize), is going to look different compared to everyone else’s. The life choices we made (homeschooling, speech play) as well as the ones we didn’t get to choose (introverts, late-talkers), all that means our home life will look different than most of the families out there.

There are choices we need to make, like screen time or only one outing a weekend (or day), that fit us. That fit our needs.

And really, parents, we need to start accepting that for our kids to be happy and whole, we have to be happy too. We need to start taking care of ourselves, to start putting our needs in there too. Because we can’t be patient and kind, can’t be centered and present if we’re constantly on that edge of exhaustion. We’re gonna snap and yell and whatever.

Our needs matter too.

And for you introvert parents out there, who know exactly what I’m talking about, you have double-duty because society as a whole doesn’t understand us. They like the people who are constantly chatting and socializing, going out and all these grand adventures… well, that works for them and that’s fine. But it doesn’t work for us.

And it’s okay.

But all of us, truly, we need to be in tune with our kids and their energy. It’s really a juggling act, of checking in with ourselves, checking in with our kids and our spouses. Like how on the Saturday we saw our long-time friends, I made the choice to let Sean sleep in while I went to farmers market with the kids (which means I’ve got a wiggling Eric in my arms as I try to pay or stuff the food in the stroller). It’s stressful for me but I did it because I knew Sean’s needs were greater than mine… if we were to survive the day. I also did the driving (it’s also too stressful for him). But the second we got home? As soon as the kids were in bed?

Oh man I went to bed.

I checked out.

Cause that’s what I needed.

Being a parent is hard. Being an introverted parent is even more challenging. We need to monitor our energy levels and that of our kids. For those of you introverted parents with extroverted kids, those kids who thrive on all the outings and socializing, oh man do I really feel for you, and how you’ve really got to be aware of your own self-care. (Truly, you guys are amazing!)

All I’m trying to say here: is it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be a different kind of family because all of our needs our different.

We need to care for our kids, and we need to care for ourselves.

So if you find yourself getting hit with all those messages… that you’re not doing enough… that you’re not good enough… keep in mind, a lot of those messages are geared towards an extroverted world.

And guess what?

That’s not me. Or my family.

We do what work’s for us, what makes us happy and whole, and that means we can’t be wrong.

All we can do as parents, day in and day out, is our best. To simply try… and even if that means our world and our life look different than everyone else’s.

We try.

And then the next day, we try again.

Surviving Times of Uncertainty

 

Here I am, confident in my abilities as a parent, comfortable in being my children’s speech partner, trusting in my intuitions as a mother, and yet… there are times I’m afraid. Afraid that I’m wrong, afraid that I’m missing something others see and I don’t, afraid that my intuition this time, might be wrong.

This is uncertainty.

The not-knowing.

The wait-and-see.

It’s the stage Eric is in with his language development. He’s moved passed the baby/young toddler stage where kids pretty much get a pass for not talking (as it still hits the “late” end of normal for talking) and we’ve now solidly moved into the realm of being speech delayed.

But what exactly? The cause? How much? What the heck is even going on?

Who knows. Only time will tell.

All I know, is what I see as a mom. That’s a really heavy mantle to wear, at least right at this stage. This step in Eric’s growth, this uncertainty place where he either needs more help… or… he just needs more time.

I know what I feel as a mother, and that, is more time.

But it still doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of fear. Even me, so confident and so trusting, I feel it too. And it’s hard to sometimes set it aside and let myself believe in what I’m seeing.

In what Eric is showing me.

To be at this stage where pretty much anyone else will see and declare (from their short interaction and even shorter relationship they’ve developed with him) that he needs help or services. It doesn’t matter that they’re only seeing a tiny slice of who Eric is (because that’s all Eric will allow them to see). It doesn’t matter that the child I see and I’m with 24 hours a day is showing me the little pieces that say: we’re okay.

That’s he’s okay.

That he just needs more time, love, and trust.

A huge part is Eric’s personality. He’s an introvert (like the rest of our little family), and if he doesn’t know you, or if he isn’t comfortable with you (meaning, unless you’ve actually attempted to build a relationship with him), he’s hiding behind me or putting his head on the ground. Or, he’s completely ignoring you.

He is also, however, the spitting image of his dad.

When I watch Eric, I see Sean in him. Heck, I even see his grandpa, an engineer and mechanic, someone who understands how pieces move and fit together. Someone who doesn’t need or want a lot of social interaction when he’s focused on doing his thing. Being present and around others is enough.

When Eric moves his train set, upside down with his head on the carpet, watching between his legs, I can see a focus there. Studying. Trying to understand how the pieces work. It’s not the kind of focus where the world falls away. Believe me. If I leave the room, you know, to get myself some good ol’ peace and quiet, you better believe two little legs are running after me.

And during the play itself?

Eric doesn’t want my interaction. He’s got this.

Of course, if a train goes off the rails you better believe he’s rushing right over (sometimes crying, sometimes wanting to smack me — after all we are in the middle of BIG time two-year-old emotions here). He’s handing me the train or the track, when I pause (because I know what he wants me to do, but I want him to be clearer with his nonverbal cues), he’ll look up at me or put my hand right where he wants the train piece to go.

But during the actual play with these physical toys?

He doesn’t want me there. He’s focused. He has an idea of play. He doesn’t want to look up at me with a smile, a “See? Did you see this? Wasn’t that cool?”

That part right there, is a concern of our speech professional. She’s worried that he’ll be orientating to objects more than people. The problem with her assessment is it’s limited by video. She only sees what I manage to record, and if you’ve been reading my blogs for any given amount of time, you know my kids are pretty strong willed.

When Eric has those moments, of “WOW! Did you see that?” You better believe it’s spontaneous. It happens so fast and is gone again all I have time for is to smile, laugh with him, register in my mind what I’m seeing, and then he’s moved on again.

But the point is those moments are there. All the time.

Because remember, this isn’t just about one kind of play at one given time. If Eric is constantly sharing with me while watching a movie, or playing his word game on Endless Reader? He’s constantly looking at me. Sharing. Laughing. I laugh with him and this will gone for a good 10 minutes (which is a huge chunk of time in toddler-time).

Or if we’re doing actual physical play?

Or dear Lord, there’s no issue there. At all. There are times when all I want is to actually sit down and relax, and he’s there, pulling my hand… running down the hallway, looking right at me. When we get to my bedroom he’s running into my arms. Then back again. This is a play we’ve developed, where I have my arms outstretched and he runs into them.

There’s constant sharing. There’s constant visual referencing.

This is Eric choosing to engage in the play. He’s asking me to play (and pulling me to play).

These are little things that our speech professional wasn’t able to see from the video, when she made her comment of Eric and being concerned of him orientating to objects more than people. I asked her to be specific. She told me she wanted him to engage with me more, initiating the play, this visual referencing, and after hearing all this, I was able to clarify that he did do these things.

She was very excited to hear this, but her worry still stuck in me and my heart.

I’m a mother. I can’t help but worry.

So, I started writing everything down. Keeping a journal. And the more I did, the more I focused more on this aspect, of having him be clear (with pauses between what he wanted me to do and my actual doing them), with my immediately engaging and responding if he visually shared something with me (like he does with the iPad), all my worry drained away.

Not only is he doing what our speech professional wanted, he’s doing it all the time.

Eric has a specific area that he’s not as engaging, and that’s only with physical toys. And again, it’s not like he’s playing with toys for giant chunks of time (believe me, we really wish he would cause two-year-olds… breaks… parents need breaks). But what I’ve determined, what I’m believing in, is at these moments I’m seeing his personality. I’m seeing his dad in him. I’m seeing his grandpa.

And it’s not that Eric won’t allow me to engage in play. If I do something silly when he’s playing with marbles, like dropping one down my head and laughing, then doing the same to him. He’s looking at me. He’s laughing. But then goes back to whatever plan or idea he had in his head. He shared the moment with me, and now he’s back to whatever he was doing.

I mentioned this stage was a heavy mantle because it is. Because all we have is what we know and see as parents. These moments with Eric are still to spontaneous to capture on video. He’s to uncertain and timid with people he doesn’t know. And he’s very attached to me. The idea of having a therapist come and work with him? You better believe Eric will want nothing to do with that person. I mean, we’d even talked about having a mother’s helper come over and Sean just laughed and said, “You really think he’s going to leave you alone.”

He’s dead right.

Kate loves playing with people. She loves interacting.

Eric is a different person.

And again, he’s just like his dad. (And you better believe his dad isn’t worried at all. And it’s because he sees so much of himself in Eric. He’s, rightfully so, defensive for Eric. He doesn’t want to force Eric into a box that demands we must share with others, we must not focus on areas of interest, we must socialize all the time.)

Or speech professional even admitted that she can’t recommend us getting other outside help (even though our answer is no, for many reasons, but mostly because of Eric and his personality). She can’t recommend it because she doesn’t believe it would help. She’s told me numerous times that I’m already doing everything I can to help him. And I am. I have been for months now. The other reason is she’s very worried that any help we did get would damage Eric and his progress.

Of that, I have no doubt. Zero.

What I know of this child, of everything he’s shown me, is someone who just needs time. Time and love and support.

And trust. Trust in him.

That’s a hard place to stand. It’s scary. It’s frightening. To be there, with my little mommy stick and it feels like I’m beating back the world. You don’t see the child I see because those little bits, those little hints are still knew and timid and developing.

I know because I feel it. I see it, every day.

Because Eric isn’t just the spitting image of his day, but of me too. Eric’s need to connect is very, very real. The way he’s constantly around me, touching me, heck even somehow curling into my arms in the middle of the night to sleep (without me even noticing). And it’s not just me. It’s with Sean, and with Grandma too. How he pulls their fingers, leading them to the couch, all so he can curl up next to them.

This is not the behavior of a “child orientating to objects more than people.” Oh, no, it is far, far from it. If you could see what I see, if you could see his story, the whole full breadth of it, you’d see it too.

But more than that, I’ve seen Eric’s awareness suddenly blossom in the past month. His awareness of me, of this sharing and engaging our speech professional so wanted to see. In just a few weeks, it’s like this light switch flipped in Eric’s brain and he’s suddenly looking at me all the time, and for ten or twenty seconds at a time which is huge. That’s a really long time!

Was it because of my focused work with him?

Maybe.

But what I truly, truly believe, is that he was just finally ready. It’s like, he finally shed his hesitation, whatever it was that made him feel uncomfortable, to not want to look at me and engage as others his age did.

And does this translate to other people?

Well, if you’re Grandma Charlie than yes. She’s constantly on the floor and roughhousing and playing. And Eric is right there, seeking her play and her help. If you’re related to him but are just going to sit there and watch him play? Forget it. You don’t exist to him. But if you make a halfway decent effort, especially if your effort is one involving, you know, play, oh he’s noticing you.

The truth is, I’m seeing everything I need to know, everything I need to believe in, right before me.

All I have do is trust.

This word, this trust, it doesn’t mean being in denial, it doesn’t mean neglecting concerns or worry. What it means is following and believing in my heart. Of letting go of that worry, all those fears, and just living with the child I have.

Right now. Living in this moment.

I know, without a doubt, if I’m not careful, fear and worry will come roaring back in. I know because it happened before with Kate and it’s a place I do not want to go again.

Why? Because if I let it, this worry will become a monstrous black beast, eating me alive. And it’s a terrifying place to be. Going down this worry-rabbit-hole is not good for me. It’s also not good for my kids.

When I worry, when I lose myself in this fear, in something that I personally, absolutely have no control over, well, it means I can’t be present with my kids. I can’t be connected with them, can’t see the world through their eyes, to living with such joy.

The fear won’t let me.

You see, this isn’t my first rodeo with a late-talker. If I had allowed the fear to control me, if I’d believed in what all those people had said about Kate, the Early Intervention assessment-lady, the neurologist, our pediatrician at the time… if I’d believed in them who knows where that would have taken us and Kate. But it wouldn’t be to a good place.

Kate didn’t start talking until she was four.

Four.

That’s a lot of time to simply let go and trust in her. Trust that the words would be there when she was ready, supporting her in all the ways that she needed.

And now here I am with the uncertainty again… and I’m choosing to let go of it.

I felt the fear because we should allow ourselves to have these feelings. They are not wrong or bad. They are feelings and they are valid, after all.

Feel them, accept them, and then, try to let them go.

I talked with a whole bunch of my friends after I got off the phone with our speech professional. I needed support. I needed people who loved me, who trusted in me, who let me get all those emotions off my chest without judgment. And the more I talked, the more I came back to the realization that this is simply who my son is. It’s his temperament and personality.

So, I did my journaling, I did my focused work with him, I focused on the living and the joy.

I’m back to a place of acceptance. It was still scary for a little while, but that fear, and that uncertainty, it fell away day by the day.

Why?

Because of Eric.

Of my awareness of him and all the little steps, all the little clues, and the pieces that added up to this emerging little boy who I’m watching, right now…

Crawling on top of Kate, hugging her, engaging with her in play. And they’re both laughing.

At the end of the day, my children are happy.

They’re laughing, they’re smiling, they’re filled with such joy.

I’m going to choose joy over fear. I’m going to live in this world with them, help them, support them, guide them, but always, always listening.

To them.

After all, they know themselves the best and when I listen to my mother’s heart, I know it too.

All I have to do is let go, and trust.

And look, I understand this ‘trust’ is not always an easy path to follow. You could have late-talkers or children with other special needs, or maybe you’re homeschooling, or maybe your child is just a bit differently wired than the rest. Regardless of the reason, this idea of letting go and trusting in your children, well, it’s not an easy one to follow. It goes pretty much against everything we’ve been taught in our society, and it’s only “easy” if you have the right kind of support around you. Support from your spouse (or significant other). From family (oh, man is this one huge!). Support from your community or tribe. Support from your child’s medical team.

For us, for me, I’ve needed to surround myself with people who believed in our kids, in the same way Sean and I do. We’ve been upfront and honest with our family, we’ve shared what we’ve learned — both from our speech professional and what Kate and Eric themselves were telling us. I imagine if we had less support, if we had those people who only cast doubt and worry into our lives, we would have separated from them. At least for a little while. Certainly during the times of uncertainty (like where Eric is right now).

Trust is a fragile thing, at least that’s how it feels to me in this world we live in.

Living in trust is not an easy path to walk. It can’t be because this path looks so very different from the one that our schooling and society has taught us to accept. You have to be strong to even think about stepping off that road and hopping onto the yellow-brick one.

Or maybe yours looks pink with bright green stripes.

Or maybe it’s a little overgrown with these tiny little vines slipping up and over rocks, but regardless, it still is a road.

It’s your road.

And I do believe, regardless of your situation, that you know the answer… about your child, about the right path for your child (and for you). And it will look different than mine, or Kate’s, or Eric’s, and that’s okay. In fact, it should look different because your child, and your family and your life, are different from ours.

Yes, you can have support from family, friends, and professionals, but the real answer comes from that intuitive, special connection between you and your child.

I ask you to listen to it, and somehow, if you can, believe in it. Believe in what you know, as a parent. Believe in what your children, your very bright, unique, different children, are telling you.

I know. I know. It’s easy to say and crazy hard to do.

Believe me. I know.

But it’s totally, totally worth it.

Needing Space

 

For me, personally, one of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood has been space. Space where it’s just me and my thoughts. Quiet time that I use to think, reflect, and daydream.

I’m an introvert. I need this.

I also need it for my writing because this is when the ideas and those ‘what if’ questions come. It’s when characters perk up their heads, I hear their voices and their opinions, see how they move through a world I’ve recently created or one I’ve been writing in for years.

It’s this quiet, this downtime that has been, absolutely, the most difficult to achieve after choosing to be a parent. I mean, hearing a character’s quiet voice is pretty darn impossible when I’ve got a toddler, tugging on my leg and crying every 30 seconds. And then when he’s not needing help or attention, his sister is.

And some days it’s just constant.

Constant.

Now, we all go into this parenting gig knowing it’s not gonna be easy (I don’t know about you, I certainly knew it wasn’t). Of course, I just didn’t know how challenging and in what ways. Not to mention each kid has their different quirks and opinions and really, as parents, half the time it feels like we’re up a creek and the only paddle we’ve got is this tiny twig that’ll snap if you look at it wrong!

So yeah, sleepless nights? Diapers? The constant need to feed the little angles, and oh yeah, the endless amount of dishes? I got that. Not that it’s all-covered all-the-time (especially the dishes), but I pretty much knew to expect it. Sure it’s exhausting, but it’s part of the deal.

What I hadn’t expected though, at least to this degree, is my need for space. Like personal space where it’s just me and my thoughts, and when I don’t have my mom hat on.

That one came as a surprise.

Like, I always knew after I had Kate I would still be writing. There was never any doubt in my mind. I need to write. So, I knew I would.

And, I did.

But what I was missing, and am still struggling with, is the quiet. That time to let my thoughts go and stories work themselves out. To sit back and simply watch the world around me or think about some interesting story or idea question and see exactly where it takes me.

Let’s just say this quiet, contemplative time where I’m really focused on my thoughts doesn’t go over so well with two-year-olds. Especially ones going through massive separation issues. Meaning: the only breaks I consistently are when Eric’s sleeping.

Also, life with Eric right now is intense.

Intense.

I mean, at least I’m sleeping again (if I wasn’t I have no idea the level of crazy I’d be right now). But it’s hard too because Eric’s needs are so constant and so intense. He also has the patience of a typical two-year-old. Which, means zero. For Eric, this usually leads him to smacking or kicking me. When Kate was this age she’d run off crying to her safe place (we lovingly called this her “crying castle”).

So. Every kid is different. Every kid has different needs and at different times (so it seems, anyway). And everyone in our little family is feeling Eric’s intensity right now, including Sean and Kate.

Poor Kate, who watches me constantly deal with her brother and his BIG emotions and then when it’s time for her needs, I’m tapped out. Like, all I want to do is prop open my laptop and veg-out on feel-good TV shows. Kate’s needing attention from me and me, well, I’m just needing a bit of quiet for myself.

Some days it feels like none of us are getting our needs met.

I’ve been struggling with this for awhile now. It’s on my radar. I’ve been aware of it, thinking it through. I’ve done journaling, especially on my intense reactions to how Eric’s acting and then my own responses to it. And, just as important, I’m focusing on how I don’t like my reactions to his behavior. But it wasn’t until I reached out for help with a friend, Michelle Charfen (who teaches the amazing Centered Parenting classes), that I realized exactly what the issue was:

My need for space.

It was like, the moment I identified my need as an actual, tangible thing, the rest really started to make sense. Like, I had these feelings of frustration, anger, of being short-tempered, of closing off emotionally… but while I was aware of these feelings, I couldn’t actually fix or change them. I couldn’t because I hadn’t actually addressed what the problem was.

Think of it like going to the doctor for back pain and being prescribed some pain medication. That’s all fine and good, unless the pain doesn’t actually ago away.

We need to treat the actual problem and not the symptom.

Which… is what I’ve been doing, looking only at the symptom (my reactions and feelings) rather looking at the actual cause of those feelings (my unmet need).

And it’s not just this “I need space either.” My particular temperament, my empath abilities, means that as Eric’s living his HUGE frustrations I’m soaking it all in myself. And then trying really, really hard not to act on both our emotions. Phew. Once I put that into perspective it really made sense what was going on (why I hadn’t figured that out sooner, I haven’t a clue).

But really, all this has been occurring because this one simple need of mine was not being met—my need for space. It didn’t matter that I was actually getting six hours of straight sleep most nights (shocking!) because I still wasn’t in the emotional centered place that I wanted to be.

Now, though, with my new perspective I can actually move forward and start addressing the actual problem.

I need space.

And just at this time, Eric needs more of me.

He’s hit some stage in his development where his anxiety has sky-rocketed when it comes to being separated from me. It’s so bad that I can’t even leave the house without him running after me, crying and screaming down the hall, with complete and absolute abandonment tears running down his face. And it’s hard too on the person who’s caring for him when I’m not there (generally, it’s Daddy).

And I respect Eric’s need.

I also respect Sean’s frustration when Eric is so very clear that he wants nothing to do with him and will cry for the three hours that I’m gone (as what happened when I disappeared to get my hair done). And yet… I still have my own sinking ship and I’ve got to take care of myself. I’m no use to anyone if I’m underwater with zero resources for anyone else’s needs.

So… I now know the problem… but what the heck can I actually do about it?

Well, first off, there’s no way I’m gonna figure this out in one try. Or, which will most likely happen, every day and every moment will be a bit different from the next.

Come to think of it, I’ll be working through this question for a long, long while.

If you’re a parent, especially you’re one of the toddler variety, then you’re really going to understand what I mean about needing space. Like, even five minutes to myself, on the laptop, writing an email or even calling up a friend on the phone, would be a blessing. There are days when I can’t even get thirty seconds of quiet within my own head.

And that’s rough.

And tiring.

And it really, really starts to grate on any patience and calm that I’ve stored up for the day.

I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to — nor can I ever — be a perfect mom (or writer, or whatever). Not only that, I’m not alone. I can and I will ask for help. Sometimes it’ll just be for emotional support, other times it will be for ideas and strategies, thoughts on how I can get creative to finding a way to meet my need for space.

That’s what I did with Michelle, and the first thing she did was remind me of how amazing it was that I had this clarity. That I already did some of the work to even know what the heck the real issue was (rather than just me losing my cool and getting mad at the toddler). Even that little bit really helped: I knew myself, I knew I was on the right track. That’s immensely powerful.

So too was her reminding me that it’s okay if Eric feels this way, about being separated from me, and that it’s still okay to have this separation.

If I need to leave, to give myself the space to be a better person and a better mom, he’s not always going to be happy. He won’t be okay with it, certainly not at this point in his life. And, that’s okay that he feels this way. Someone else can be loving and present with him as he works through those feelings of sadness. Because as he’s doing that, I’ll be recharging and when I come back I’ll be in a much, much better place to help him.

I need to practice my own self-care.

That also means having a conversation with Sean too, telling him how much I appreciate that he’s taking on this hard hour while he’s alone with Eric, and how much I need it. Like, “you take this hard hour and I’ll take the other 23.”

It’s not going to be easy for anyone as we work through this hard time, but I can’t allow myself to feel trapped, to feel like I can never leave the house without Eric in tow, or how I can’t meet another mom for coffee so we can connect about our parenting or homeschooling styles.

And the great thing too about having this conversation is I can find what needs of Sean’s aren’t being met. I mean, I know what mine are, but what about his? He might not even know himself and I’m sure there’s something we can do, as a family, to meet some more of his own self-care needs.

After we have this conversation, we’re gonna need to start thinking creative. Maybe it’s hiring a babysitter or doing a child-swap with another mom (who’s also willing to take on the crushed-heart of Eric) or maybe asking the grandparents for more help. But there’s definitely ways for me to find my own space within the restraints unique to my family. For example, the language part means they need more support compared to other kids and their temperaments mean they need to fully trust this person to be left alone with them.

Lots of questions and thoughts to consider, and while I don’t have direct answers yet, I feel like I’m finally on the right track.

Because this too isn’t just about the longer-term goal. Some days I won’t get that space. That’s parenthood for you. Some days it’ll feel like I walked through fire, barefoot, and then hop-scotched back out the way I came without even a chance to breathe. Those days will need some more in-the-moments tactics to keep me grounded and emotionally connected with my kids.

Focusing on breathing always helps… unless of course I’ve got the toddler pulling on my leg and crying (or hitting said leg). I swear, try to do meditative breathing when that’s going on. Maybe we just get outside and get some fresh air. Simply move and keep moving. There’s of course calling a friend or texting when I’m at my wit’s end… though that’s hard for me to do personally. It’s just not easy to call someone up on the phone, breaking down in tears, telling them how you feel like you’re the WORST PARENT IN THE WORLD while the toddler is pulling on the arm, doing everything possible to get the phone away from you.

Or maybe I can just sit on the floor, with my hand over my chest and acknowledging my feelings, letting myself cry and that it’s okay. Okay to feel this way. Okay… to give myself a little bit of forgiveness and love.

It’s hard.

Really. This parenting thing is not easy. There are days when the world is wonderful, when my little boy is my cute cuddle-bunny resting on my lap.

And then a switch flips and he’s all-intense, all-the-time.

And through this all, here I am, still working at being a writer. And you know, every time I sit and put words to page, whether as these blog posts or in my fiction, I feel a bit of my spark come back. That shining bit of light that’s me and only me. Not just the mom me, but… me. Something that is really, really hard to do when I don’t get that space I so desperately need.

Then there are times, like the one I’m currently living, where I acknowledge that I can’t write right now. At least not fiction. It’s those times when I go to sit and it feels like work. Like, the very idea of sitting down and making up stories feels like getting my teeth pulled—

Then it’s time to put the writing down for awhile. At least until parenting-life let’s up on me.

When my creative voice feels like that, I’ve learned to listen and let go. For now. We are right in the middle of some pretty big developmental milestones for Eric, what they are, heck if I know, I can only guess what’s going on his little head, but there is something going on, some pieces of communication clicking into place. I can see it. I can feel it. So the rest of the stuff he’s got going on… intense emotions, limit testing, oh man is that sky-rocketing right now.

Oh. And for whatever reason, Eric’s got it in his head that 2:30 in the morning, is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

I knew parenting would be tough, but there were some surprises I hadn’t counted on. The need for space was one, so two was both of my kids being late-talkers. And yet… here I am, writing about parenting, writing, late-talking children… this was something I’d ever envisioned to write. It was never in my plan, to reach out to other parents for help, guidance, support, and yet… here I am.

And I know too that there are others out there, just as lost and sleep-deprived as me, trying our best to be good parents.

And I know that we are because every day we try, and then we try again.

Trying to be good, really, is good enough.

Living Dual Lives (The Writer. The Mom.)

 

The last time I went to an in-person, writer’s workshop was when Kate was 18 months old. She’s now four and a half, well on her way to turning five. Two years of not getting my cup filled of just being with other professional writers, the energy, the vibes and all the craziness that ensues. And the learning? The reading so much great fiction?

My God do I miss it.

Yet, as much as I miss it, I knew without a doubt that this was another year I had to bow out of the annual Anthology Workshop hosted by WMG Publishing and Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It’d been the first Oregon coast workshop I’d signed up for since Eric was born, but I did it knowing that I very well might have to cancel. Well, turns out I did and I’m really, really glad I was honest enough with myself, and also accepting of the life I’m living right now.

Or I should say, the season of my life.

All well and good, right? But why’s it coming up now?

Well, the Anthology 2017 Workshop recently ended and I’m seeing so many of my friends posting about their victories (and misses too). How many stories they sold and to which editor, how many were a miss and some, possibly, are in that hopeful ‘maybe’ spot. This workshop in particular is a great opportunity: a chance to sell six different stories to six different editors. To see these editors fight over stories, of what was liked and what wasn’t. And the networking opportunities? Off the charts. Seriously. There’s like 40 to 50 professional-level writers that go to these things.

It makes me tingle just thinking about it.

And this year, again, I had to miss.

But what was different this time was I didn’t feel any regrets. I wasn’t saddened by, and I’ll call it here what it felt like for the past few years, like a burden to be a parent. That I had to put my dreams on hold for constant sleepless nice, constant motion and chaos (because what young kids don’t come with chaos, I ask you?).

Not this time, though, and I really wanted to celebrate that.

Instead of feeling sadness, I felt content. Happy, even. I was beyond thrilled for my friends and I didn’t have a single, wiggly thought of, “Gosh, I wish I’d been there too.”

You see, I’d taken a look at my life about eight months previously and seriously asked myself: Can you do this? Can you write six short stories in six weeks? Right in the middle of the Christmas holiday craziness (and a slew of our own families birthdays, mine included)?

And let’s not forget Eric, who would be turning two, and if you’ve got kids you know darn well what two means (and not the terrible twos, but those are there too). Nope, I’m talking teething. The two-year-terror-molars. And Eric’s sleep being as crappy as it is from like the second he was born, we could pretty much guarantee sleep would not be happening.

Turns out I was right.

On all of the above.

The one thing I need more than anything, especially when it comes to writing fiction, is a clear head. A mind free to dream and play and simply dive into stories.

That, was not my life.

Instead of feeling saddened, this year, I accepted it.

I mean, yeah, I was sad, I really, really do miss being with other writers, seeing my own craft explode upwards, let alone a chance to sell stories to anthologies. But… it was more a passing thing instead of a feeling that rocked me through my core and made me long for a time before kids.

What’s changed?

I’m not sure, honestly. Maybe I’m just maturing as a parent. Or maybe, truthfully, it’s because I’m coming out the other side of this really intense season of parenting. I’m starting to get sleep again. I’ve picked up writing fiction and I’m going strong with another writing streak.

That’s a huge success for me.

But so is this little understanding that the life I’ve chosen, even compared to other parents who have kids this age, my life, is so very different.

I used to look at other writers around my age, and as much as you’re not supposed to, I would compare myself to them. Both being at the same level, with our first few pro sales to magazines, and then watch as this other writer shot skyward with more and more sales, more books she was publishing because her career and her writing was the path she’d chosen, while there was me… who I might push hard enough to write a handful of short stories a year.

I was jealous because I knew I would be exactly where she was… if… I didn’t have kids. If I hadn’t decided to give my life to two young human beings, to nurture and care for them.

I’m not saying I felt this all the time, or for even very long, but I’d be lying if I said I never felt this at all. I did, and it was one thing that used to shake me right to my core, to make me long for the life I’d passed up on when we decided that what we wanted more than anything else, was to be parents.

This year, that feeling didn’t hit me.

Instead, it was just sort of a nod and an acceptance in our differences, in the different life paths we’d chosen. I wouldn’t give up mine in a heartbeat.

I know my writing will always be there. I know I will get back to it, bit-by-bit.

It’s not easy. Heck, it’s hard as hell, especially when my writing feedback is so few and far between. The progress I see is at a snail’s pace compared to others because that’s all I can manage with the season I’m living in.

Even among other parents, I’ve chosen a different path.

I mean, my kids don’t go to preschool so I don’t get this huge block of time to simply write. In fact, my kids won’t go to regular school at all. Instead, we’ll be life-learning with our homeschool group, going on adventures like camping trips or staying more local and just swimming at our pool or playing at the park. One day, I’ll be in a place where I can sit off from the group with my laptop and just let the words pour out (in between the usual request for snacks and such). But I’ll never have that chunk of time other parent-writers enjoy and I’m okay with it.

It won’t be easy but it is still the right path for our family.

And yes, while Sean and I did chose to be parents, one thing we didn’t chose is what that would look like.

Both Kate and Eric have language delays. With Eric, we don’t really know how much or what exactly (he’s still too young to know), and that’s brought an extra level of parenting we hadn’t planned on. When Kate was Eric’s age I was working through an incredible amount of fear. Fear at the darkness, all the doom and gloom everyone was pushing on us. I knew they were wrong, I knew they weren’t right about Kate, but they were the professionals. They were the experts.

Me?

I was just a mom.

I worked through all that, I found my way, through fiction no less, to get an incredible amount of strength and resilience I never knew I had. Or, maybe I did but I’d never before had the chance to live it. (And then I just got pissed off and well, if you read this blog regularly you know how I feel about that.)

And while we’ve come out the other end with Kate… which isn’t entirely true as she has a long, long way to go before she’s “normalizes” we at least know what the heck’s going on… but I’m now starting over with Eric.

This is a journey I’d never asked for, but one that I have, and I can say for a fact (at least at this moment), that I don’t know of any other parent-writers living this particular journey. And more than that, I’ve chosen to take on the speech work and play on my own. Not sending them off to our local school district for services or even through our insurance to get another speech pathologist to possibly “work” with them.

Nope.

Just me.

Living at home, living our life, getting guidance from someone I know and trust as an expert on these different kinds. (Experts, which I’ve learned, at least my experience, are sadly few and far between.)

So while other parent-writers can leave their kids at home while they go on off to workshops and I know without a doubt, that this will be a long, long way off for me. My kids are very attached to me, they need me around. I mean, they’re around me all the time. Me suddenly being gone? Oh man, talk about a freak-out. And truthfully, with who they are and where their language is, and they wouldn’t understand if I up and let them for a week. Not even Kate could understand that concept of me being in another state, or what days are, or when I’d return.

I’m not someone who would put them through that trauma, so, they’d just come with them. And that’s what I’m planning on. I’ll have Sean or my mother tag along, to babysit while I go and learn and network.

That’s my plan, anyway.

And right now, we’ve got a fifty-fifty shot about Eric being ready. He’s having a hard time being separated from me for an hour, so an all-day workshop, several days in a row? Yeah, well, that’ll be a problem. Maybe he’s just going through something developmentally right now and it’s causing this extra anxiety. Or maybe it’s just him. So, I’m very aware that we might not be *there* yet. It might be next year that’s my first real chance to get back to workshops. And, if I have to cancel again, I’m okay with it.

That’s just what my life is right now, the needs of my kids, which come before anything else, including me and my dreams. But even that’s not entirely true because I am still doing what I can, working towards my dreams and goals. I may not be able to attend in-person workshops and conferences, as much as I want too, but I can take online ones. Or I can crack open a book by a long-term, bestselling author and study what they’ve done. So, it’s not really a me vs. them issue, just… certain pieces of those dreams need to be shelved from the time being.

And that’s who I’ve chosen to be as a parent.

I really am walking a different path. I can look at myself, then look at another parent-writer and honestly say: their life is not mine. The choices they’ve made are not mine. And that’s perfectly fine.

Personally, I could not send my kids to any kind of preschool because of who they are, language issues, temperament, and also just my own personal beliefs are as a parent and a life learner. I just couldn’t.

We’re all different. We all make different choices. We all have different families.

And I’m okay with my little bits and snippets of success. I’m okay with sitting on the couch, Eric literally tucked besides me as he watches Toy Story 3 and here I am, typing away at this blog like a mad woman. I only have a certain amount of time before the toddlerness in him kicks in and he starts doing the usual: kicking me, tugging on pants or fingers.

I’ll take what I can get, these little moments of quiet.

Every little bit.

And somehow, over time, those little bits add up to something bigger. A finished blog post. A short story. And right now, a novel. It might take me the whole damn year to write the thing, but I am working towards it… every 30 minutes, each day, and it will add up in the end.

I’ll get there.

And along the way I’ll get little reminders of the success I am having, like this one: Allyson Longueira, of WMG Publishing, has chosen my story, “The F Factor,” to be included in Fiction River: Legacies.

It’s the only story I’ve sold to Fiction River, the last Anthology Workshop I went to before Eric came along. Kate, was who 18 months old at the time, and me, working as hard as possible, for six straight weeks and writing six stories.

This is the one I sold.

This is the one that was nearest and dearest to my heart.

It’s also the one that sparked a whole series of short stories. Ones that I haven’t published yet (see the comment about Eric above), but ones I know are inching ever closer to another professional sale. Only time, and my continued learning and writing, whenever I can, each day and each moment, will get me there.

My writing is my legacy, and so are my kids. So is this journey they’ve set me on. It’s so very, very different from anyone else’s and one I wouldn’t change for the world. I never planned on blogging about being a parent-writer, or homeschooling, or about my kids being late-talkers and all the emotions, all the ups and downs that have come with it.

And yet, this is the path I’m on. It’s one I wouldn’t give up or change, not for a second, not for the world.

One day soon, maybe this October or maybe the next one, I’ll see my fellow writers in person. Even if I have two kids in tow.

Regardless, this is my life, mine and no one else’s. No one’s will ever look like mine, and that’s how it should be. We’re all different, as writers, as parents. For me, though, this is the path I’ve chosen to walk and I know in my heart it’s the right one.

 

Because life with toddlers is a wee-bit intense, I’ve decided to post a blog every other week. This allows me to take on more online workshops, more time to study long-term, successful writers, and just as importantly, finally getting back to the publishing side of my business.

Responsibility: The Heavy Mantle of Parenthood

 

Some people would call me crazy (I’m sure some people think it). And at times, I might fall a bit into that crazy side… or at least, just crazy for the amount of stuff I’m putting onto my already-full plate.

Here I am, choosing to be the primary speech partner for my kids, with very little outside support, and I’ve chosen to homeschool. Not only that, we’ve chosen to homeschool in a way that’s very different from Sean and my own school-focused upbringing. Oh, and top of that, I’m still trying to do this writer-publisher thing.

Pretty darn full plate, and one that’s ripe full of self-doubt and critiques and that age-old question all parents ask themselves:

Oh my God! Am I screwing up my kids??

And if you’ve never asked yourself that question I say buck up and be honest. We all of moments of self-doubt because of how deeply we care for and love our kids. We want to do our best by them. And because of that, there comes the self doubt creeping in…

Have I not played with them enough today? Have we not had enough connection time? Not enough time playing outdoors, visiting friends, learning new skills through living? Should we be scheduling more play-dates? Should I be sitting down and working more on sight-words more instead of spending hours at the park with friends or swimming? Should I, should I, should I….

It never stops.

There’s always something more we could be doing. There’s always a “better” way to have responded in an intense moment (like how Eric freaked out when I wouldn’t let him buy ALL the giant balls at Target).

This parenting thing, it’s a heavy mantle. It’s important. It’s weighty. Every day we make thousands of decisions that affect their wellbeing, and at the same time, not a single decision will make or break their growth or learning. We lose our way at times, we yell, we get frustrated because we’re tired and our own resources are low. We make mistakes, and our children still love us. They still forgive us. And the next day, or the next moment, even, we get to try again.

And again, and again.

Lately I’ve been struggling with my own doubts and slowly working my way through them. This wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last (I’m only four and half years into this parenting gig, after all).

You see, since we’re choosing a way of learning that’s child-led, that’s about following their interests and passions, where as me, the parent, becomes more of a facilitator as opposed to a straight-up “teacher.” It’s different than what the rest of our society has seen and I get looks and comments all the time for letting my kids be kids, for playing in puddles (and any bit of water my two-year-old can get his feet into). I see and feel their judgment, the same way I see and feel judgment when Kate talks — she sounds nothing like the 4 1/2 year old she is but someone much younger.

Lots of judgment.

Lots of negative feelings that I’m doing my best to shield my learning, thriving, growing kids from.

My kids may not know what the rest of the world thinks, but I do, and sometimes it’s just hard to keep that same self-doubt from leeching into my own thoughts.

Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not.

Like right now, I’m struggling to walk this bridge, of helping Kate with her language growth, but at the same time, not pushing something she’s not reading for.

Like reading (or, at least, sight words).

You see, Kate’s reading, to some unknown degree, on her own. She knows words and has the comprehension of what they are. But how many words she knows, what they are, I haven’t a clue. And because she’s a visual learner and because language itself can be very abstract (just look at how many abstract words are in this sentence alone — they aren’t things you can stick a picture next that makes sense for the visual learner). Reading will help accelerate Kate’s language and speech.

Except… I also am aware of how important play is, especially for a kid who’s only four years old. I’m also aware and mindful that if she’s not ready to do something, I can’t and won’t force her.

Of course as a parent, I want to help Kate.

I want to help her acquire her language skills, to trust in the words. But at the same time, right now I want our focus to be on play and learning through play (something that our society, in my opinion, doesn’t put nearly enough emphasis on — regardless how old you are).

And, because of Kate’s temperament, I can’t push her.

If I do, she’s shuts down (just imagine a cute little girl even you the mental finger). I can’t force her to do something she’s not ready for, and frankly, as a parent, I don’t want to.

So. Here I am, walking this bridge of many, many worlds (at least it feels like). Trying to help my child, being her advocate and her voice because she doesn’t have one of her own yet (or, it’s a still a small, developing one). And I’m pushing up against professionals who want something that I don’t feel comfortable with yet (which is: working on reading).

Or maybe, it’s more the way this professional is pushing me.

This professional wants a more school-structured environment. She wants me to have structured time where Kate does something that I want her to do, so we can gear her for things like learning and lessons (even if we’re not doing them at this point). She wants me to whip out this board and write a word down, carrying it in my purse for crying out loud, so I can write some word when we’re out and about.

I’m sorry. I’m just trying to find my grocery list, trying to make sure my toddler has support and empathy when he can’t buy all the giant balls, and making sure I buy the correct Blu-Ray and not the 3D version (and yes, I need to go return that stupid thing today with my two kids in tow). My life can be a little intense at times. Heck, I’ve got a two-year-old and I swear everything is either super sweet or super intense. There is no middle ground.

And as far as the time when we sit and do something Kate’s not interested in… that goes against what our beliefs are in regards to children and learning. I mean, you, dear reader, you can believe what you like. I’ve got zero issues with that. You and I might have some crossover, or we might have none. Every person, every family is different and I think that’s wonderful.

For us, for me, I’m not comfortable with forcing Kate to do anything like this (especially considering her temperament). And when it comes time to learning, we’ve chosen this more whole-life learning approach where things like reading are simply part of our life, from reading books together (which Kate is slowly allowing me to do), to her playing video games (which has been a wealth of reading already for her), and even Kids YouTube, which she loves.

So, I know the reading and learning is happening and I love it, and I trust in it.

But at the same, I want to support her language growth, but in a way that’s natural and playful and really just fits with who we are as a family.

The only “forced” time I have is when I ask Kate to play a board game. And she loves it. She’s intrinsically motivated because she sees her daddy and me play board games all the time. And she loves the connection time. Besides, board games have been great because while I’m not “forcing” her to play, I am “enforcing” the rules (with some latitude of course). Meaning: this is how the game plays, and no, you can’t just flip over the dice because you didn’t like the outcome. It’s been great for her learning. We’re doing counting and colors in a way that’s natural and playful, and something we both enjoy.

I’m struggling with the reading part, and I have an appointment coming up with our professional (who I know will be pushing the reading and learning part on me again). So, I asked for help from the community around me, both from our homeschool group and other parents of late-talkers (who also homeschool).

And I got help.

I really, really did.

I’m absolutely blessed by this incredible wealth of knowledge from my local homeschool community, parents who have children grown and reading, who also followed this same learning-style approach that we are following.

I think the hardest part of walking this different path, of being my kids’ primary speech partner and also homeschooling (and following the child’s lead when it comes to learning), is the professionals. Sometimes, because of my own upbringing, I get a lot of anxiety. I feel pressure because they don’t necessarily believe in our choices as parents. And it’s hard shedding my thirty-five years of being trained that professionals know best. They know what’s right and what’s wrong and what could I know? I’m only a mother.

That’s right. I’m only a mother.

The mom of Kate and Eric. No one else is. No one else is around them, 24 hours a day like I am. No one can understand Kate’s words and what she’s saying better than me.

I am the expert on my kids.

It’s hard to keep strong in that belief sometimes. Sometimes this mantle of parenthood feels really, really heavy. And scary. Because I want what’s best. I may be wrong at times, I may make mistakes, but I’m listening to myself. I’m listening to my kids.

I’m trying my best to follow what feels right for us.

And as one mom reminded me, do I regret those moments where I’ve put my foot down and stood up for my child?

The answer is simple: no.

I’ve never regretted it… but I have regretted those times when I didn’t go with my mommy gut, when I didn’t go with what felt right.

So, do I have an answer yet for Kate and reading, to help her with the sight words in a fun and playful way?

Not really.

At least, not yet.

When I asked for help and support from the community around me I got lots of suggestions. So many that my introvert brain needs a good while to process through each of them, to really delve deep and see what possibilities these suggestions could bring. Would they work, or wouldn’t they? And for our family?

And that’s partly the answer right there. I don’t know yet because we haven’t tried.

Kate hasn’t tried.

And I think that’s ultimately what this journey will look like. First off, trusting we have words and learning in our every day life, which I do believe in. And then, finding ways that help promote this learning, ways that simply fit right into our natural way of living that’s fun, that we both want to participate in.

That’s the key and really, it’s going to be trial and error.

But the great thing is I do have so many options and there are many who are willing to help me out as we figure out this funky bridge I need to walk, trusting in the learning, and helping it along. But even better than that, I’m not feeling as scared.

And really, that’s what this is all about: fear.

Afraid of being wrong, afraid of doing something that deters my child’s growth and learning. That’s where the self-doubt and critique and judgment comes in. And this time, at this moment, it doesn’t have so strong a hold over me. Sure it’ll be back. I might even feel it after I get off the call with the professional who believes there’s only one way of learning, while I believe in another. But not right now. Right now I’m feeling more settled, in a place of peace and trust.

Because I’m not alone.

Because I’m not afraid to learn, to take suggestions from others (including our professional). And then, to try and try again.

Because, everything I’m doing, is out of love. And you really, really can’t go wrong when you’re coming from a place of complete joy and love. And honestly, that’s what Kate has taught me, every day I hear her speak and her beautifully unique voice.

Trust in yourself.

Trust in your children.

Trust in love.

A Slowly Expanding World: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

To me, Kate has always been exactly who she should be.

Her quietness, her uncertainty around adults that she didn’t know well, her choosing to communicate in every way possible, just not with words. She’d always been a quiet child, and coming from two pretty darn introverted parents, it all felt normal.

It felt right.

For her.

And as Kate reached two and a half, Sean and I honestly agreed she wasn’t talking like other two-year-olds. Again, we weren’t worried, but we did want to help her in whatever way we could for whatever was missing with the language piece.

It turns out it was nothing, and, a lot.

A lot because she does have a language disorder, which, for most of the world out there who doesn’t know, this is very, very different from a speech disorder. And in Kate’s case, her language disorder is caused more by her temperament than anything else. She’d chosen not to talk because she knew darn well when she did, it wouldn’t be perfect. And if her words couldn’t be perfect? If she was going to feel an incredible amount of stress because of that?

Well, then she wasn’t gonna say a word.

Of course, as you know, you can’t just jump on a bike and ride a marathon over bumpy terrain, especially not on your first go.

You need to practice.

Turns out Eric’s got a similar deal going on with not trusting his words. So I guess my kids are pretty normal… for my family, anyway. For my kids, this is just what life needs to be. It’s a very natural process for them.

And that’s okay.

I’m the one that’s got to understand and figure out how best to help them. They are two completely normal children; they just have an issue with language. It’s gonna take them a little longer to learn it, with a ton of love, a ton of patience, and way more trust thrown in.

So that’s what we did. And when you mix those three ingredients together: love, patience, trust… something magical happens.

Kate started to open up. Her words, her understanding, blossomed.

It began slow. There was really no mythical spontaneous burst of full-on sentences (and if that happened to you, you are very blessed and I’m jealous… except, not really cause I wouldn’t change a thing in my kids). I noticed that Kate understood when she’s holding the banana peel in her hand and when I said, “throw it away….”

She does it.

Or, she starts playing with the little dolls that look exactly like a mommy, daddy, and baby, and says:

“Baby.”

“Daddy.”

(Not mommy though, at least not for me. I had to wait until Kate was four before I heard that beautiful word.)

Beautiful. Precious. Amazing.

That’s what it is. There’s nothing like it in the world to see this happen. To see all the hard work that everyone has given, all that time, effort, and trust, and their little world starts to expand beyond you.

Expands beyond you.

For my children, they don’t understand language the way most kids do. I watched a video log from this health coach I follow, and he’s got his little girl in it. She’s looking up, all fourteen months of extreme cuteness, and he says, “Where’s the airplane?”

She points and after a minute says, “There, there.”

In a way, I felt like crying because I’d never experienced this. I’ve never seen, or really, heard, what it sounds like to have a baby learn to talk. Of course, I showed this video to Sean and he just snorted and said, “That was barely a ‘there.”

I’m human, though. I got a twinge of jealousy, but then it passed because our journey, and the connection I’ve had with my kids, is amazing.

Try looking at it from their point of view:

They don’t understand what everyone around them is saying. It’s not because they physically can’t (for mine, anyway). They hear the words, they get bits and pieces, but the world is talking so fast, the kids their age aren’t talking clearly (cause again, those guys are just learning too), and no one has the patience to let them figure out what the heck they’re saying or what they want them to do.

Overwhelming, isn’t it?

Scary too, huh?

Everyone around you talking in a foreign language and you’re only grasping at a few words here and there.

It’s no surprise that my kids have relied on me a lot longer than most. When they were babies and just learning to walk, they looked to me, their mother, to help them navigate the world. To feed them and clothe them, sure, but also to comfort and deal with those very BIG toddler emotions. Imagine, wanting this very specific toy or bowl for strawberries and not even being able to say, “no,” when it’s offered to you?

You have no words.

No way of communicating beyond your physical body. Especially when dealing those super-charged emotions.

Imagine too, when you hit three years old and you want to play with the other kids. You’re drawn to them. You want to run. You want to climb the tree just like everyone else and these kids say, “Oh no! She’s climbing too. You can’t come up here. Go away!”

Talk about confusing.

And really, really sad.

I’ve had to be beside Kate, to help her navigate this, to help her understand with my one and two words, and to sooth her frustration and sometimes hurt feelings. And me, not being able to explain why they don’t want to play with her. Or why, even though she saw a boy throw sand at someone, that we don’t do this. That it hurts people.

And yet… we did.

And as Kate’s world slowly expanded, as I gave her the time and she grew beyond me. As she matured, her trust in me and language grew. Her receptive language, meaning her understanding of the words, picked up and she had an easier time playing with friends and understanding them. She still needs me, but… she’s also relying and learning from others.

Others that she trusts.

What does this look like?

When a friend, who I hadn’t seen in over six months, came over with her two kids, and they wanted my friend to read a book. And it was Kate, the girl who would slam the book shut whenever I tried (for four freakin’ years) to read aloud to her, who repeated almost everything. The words and the sounds.

My jaw about hit the floor.

Or while at another friend’s house for a birthday party, Kate comes down the stairs, gently touches a mom on the hand and says, “help me.” Then Kate was able to communicate, with gestures and pointing and maybe some words, what she needed.

Or, while at our Nature Play Friday with a homeschool mom, Kate was repeating her words. And this mom’s way of talking wasn’t my way. She didn’t know about the whole recasting thing where you repeat or say one or two words more. She was just talking. And Kate was just repeating.

And enjoying every moment of it.

I even heard the absolute success of another late-talker, a child who really is Kate’s identical twin in temperament, and how her aunt decided to stick post-it notes around the house with words on them. You wouldn’t believe that this beautiful, stubborn little girl is now loving it, going around and saying these words. And spelling them out, with her little word magnets and stickers, surprising the heck out of her mom whenever she walks in the room and sees a word like “planet” or all the way “xylophone” (and not kidding, spell checker corrected that one for me).

It’s like, as our late-talkers gain confidence and trust in themselves and their language, they start stepping beyond us parents. They look to other adults who they trust and who they’re comfortable with… and they start learning. And because these adults aren’t us, they’re don’t do things the way we would.

Just like the aunt with the post-it notes.

Just like my friend reading the book, something I had long given up on because really… I love books and it was pretty darn hurtful when I was continually shut down when I tried. And Kate had made her point pretty clear that she didn’t like me reading to her. But I guess… it makes sense… see? Even I’m having a revolution right now. Books are about words, and words, for Kate, meant stress. She couldn’t enjoy them until recently, when she was better able to understand them.

Wow.

Who knew, right??

That’s what I mean. Expanding boundaries beyond ourselves as parents. Other people bring in new ideas and experiences, things that we never would have thought of. But of course, these are also parents who know our kids. They’re not some random half-relative on your mother’s side who you see twice a year for Christmas and then Easter (and then you try to get out of at least one of those). Just like a mom friend who suggested, after months of Eric waking up every 2-3 hours, to just put the kids in the same room since we were going to do it anyway. And really, it wasn’t like our sleep could get much worse. Might as well get it over with.

And you know what?

Eric is sleeping, six hour stretches (sometimes) with only waking up for a snuggle with me once or twice (sometimes — it’s still way better than before). Part of me is afraid to believe it. The other part of me is nodding because I know it feels right.

And it came from beyond me.

As I’m starting over on this late-talking journey with Eric, it’s been wonderful to share my growing perspective. I see how he doesn’t often respond to other moms, will sometimes turn when they call his name. He will with me… unless he’s ignoring me… unless he’s mentally engrossed into understanding how the wheels of that train function. His world is still very small, very focused in this smaller bubble around him while Kate’s has continued to grow and grow to the point where I’m confident she’s okay on her own. She doesn’t need me to watch as closely as I used too. She’s able to navigate her world and those in it much easier. She still needs me and I’m right there when she does.

For late-talkers, for many of them anyway (and remember, you and only you know your child best), I feel this is a very normal process. Now, I could totally be wrong for you and your kids, and I’m sure you have differences and challenges that I don’t, but overall, something about this just feels right in their development.

Give them the time, give them the patience and love, and see what happens.

Eric’s very attached to me right now, and I understand why. He’s unsure about this great, big world filled with people who speak a language he’s only learning and who talk to fast. He doesn’t need to move beyond me until he’s ready. I know he will be, one day. I saw it happen with Kate, saw how her world view slowly started to grow. First, with interest in playing with other kids, just running and laughing with them, to the day when she asked another mom for help, to recently asking where her friend was when they weren’t at the pool to go swimming.

With Eric, I see his interest in Kate growing. How he’ll play with her more or run and give her a big toddler hug from behind (until they both fall over and he decides he doesn’t like that anymore). How he’s super comfortable with dads but unsure about moms. Or how, just past Sunday the way he’d glance back at the two older kids pushing him in a swing with this utter and complete joy on his face as he laughed and laughed. He wanted to share that joy with them. It’s little moments like this that ease my heart.

This is our process, Eric’s and Kate’s, and we will get there.

They are both constantly teaching me new things. Just like other parents, as they enter into our lives and the world view of my kids, teach me new things as well.

New ways to respond to my kids.

New ways to expand past all of our boundaries and comfort zones.

New ways which we all can learn and can grow. And always, I follow at the pace and cues of my kids, and of myself. I’m learning to trust in myself and my feelings, when something feels right and when it doesn’t. In the same way how it feels right to let Kate’s continuing to grow beyond me, to push her boundaries further, while I allow Eric to stay as close as he needs.

Your way, your life and your kids, will be different from mine. Just like each of us will face our own unique challenges and successes, and that’s what makes our world so amazing.

For myself, I’ve chosen to listen to my kids and myself because listening just feels right.

The Language Burst: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

When I first heard about this, these “language bursts,” it was from our speech pathologist (the person who coaches me with Kate and her language). The way she described these bursts was not, at all, scientific. In fact, as I’m learning on our own journey, this language thing sometimes isn’t scientific at all. (Probably because language lands completely in the domain of our kids, and if you haven’t looked around lately, each of our kids are completely and totally, different. Oh. And they each of their own way of doing things.)

So, I figured a language burst would be, you know, how it sounds.

Language. Burst.

Got that.

I was told that, “I’d know it when I saw it.”

And when Kate was gaining more trust in her words? My speech pathologist would shake her head and say, “Oh, no. She hasn’t hit her burst yet.”

Hmm. Well, okay then. Me, I was personally thrilled to hear Kate saying “up” and “more” and all the names of her My Little Ponies.

Turns out my speech pathologist was totally, totally right.

I had no clue, zero clue, what a language burst was.

Not until it happened.

Now, if you’re new on this journey with your own late-talkers (or any child who isn’t talking at the age marked as “appropriate” by your pediatrician), you’re not going to have any clue either, much like me, about what it is or even what it looks like.

Now again, every kid is different and your child’s experience probably won’t look like Kate’s (or maybe it will, or maybe there will be parts but not the whole). What I wanted to do here was simply share. Share our experience, share what this can look like, and hopefully, provide a twinge of hope for those parents out there who are patiently, and longing, for this same moment with your own kids.

When I first spoke with our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, Kate had just turned three and said only a few functional words (meaning words she said all the time). I mean, we’re talking about “no” and “baby” and that’s about it. And like every parent, I was anxious to know when Kate would start talking, but at the same time, I was also different.

I had finally found my center, my grounding if you will, and I was okay waiting for Kate. I didn’t need to know when. I didn’t need to know when she’d “normalize.”

And when Mary told me that Kate probably wouldn’t talk until she was four, or four and a half, I was fine with it. I trusted in Kate, I trusted in myself.

But, to keep up my spirits, to show our growth, for me and Kate together, I kept a journal. Sure, I wrote the words she would say (and then would “tuck away”), but I also recorded experiences… how she would respond, physically, if I asked something of her. Or if she allowed another mom to put on her jacket while I was busy with Eric. Her trust and comfort in others was just a big a step as a new word was.

I kept my journal and the words, as Kate reached three and a half, slowly ticked upwards.

For Kate and her temperament, her trust, her mastery in all things, is huge. If she is not confident that she can nail something with 100% accuracy (think learning to talk here), she gets extreme anxiety and will not do it. The idea of not doing something perfect, or a word sounding perfect, caused such anxiety that she didn’t even want to try.

The first time I heard the word “water” was on a nature Friday. We were coming back from a hike, near the ocean, and she said, “water.”

I’m not sure if she referred to the water bottle in the backpack or the ocean, but there it was: water. (Actually it sounded like wa-dee.)

Just imagine Kate slowly dipping her toes into this giant ocean of words.

As she gained confidence, she’d put her toes in a little deeper, and then would draw it back. She’d say, “pu” for the word, “push” (to get pushed more on the swings). She repeated “step” when I told Eric to “step” into the pool.

The first time she said, “mom?”

It was a whisper.

And then she’d sheepishly look at me and close her mouth up tight.

Kate would say, “daddy” when she wanted daddy to play with her. She started vocalizing at the park with her close friends who she trusted. She would say, “yippee” and “hi.” She would say “bop” for “stop.”

When Kate held out a ball to me, she said, “ba.”

I would say, “that’s right. Ball.”

“Ba,” she said again.

This was how it started. Little tiny steps forward. Her little toe slowly going deeper, and then pulling back away. And I was nothing but patient and kind and comforting. I knew what she needed from me. She needed to try the words, and she needed to trust that saying them incorrectly was okay.

Fast forward to her birthday. Kate turned four.

It was the first time I clearly heard the most beautiful word ever: Mom.

While we were playing on my bed with Grandma over, Kate said to me: “Hi…… Hi…. Mom.”

She wanted to play with me and not my mom.

And she told me that.

Then it only got faster from there. At her birthday party, when the other kids were playing and running together, Kate learned another phrase: “Ready, set, go!”

At the park, when I told Kate it was time to leave and said to her, “we’re going now.”

She repeated, “going” (and in front of her friends).

I had an update call with Mary. She loved that Kate was making more words attempts more often, that they were sometimes hard to understand though I clearly could. She told me I would see Kate vocalizing more and more, that her phonology (the speech sounds themselves) were still immature and her feelings of insecurity were still huge (it was why she was using the word “no” so much).

Mary told me to wait a little longer, that we would know between four and a half, five years, for Kate to decide to say words.

Me? Heck, I was ecstatic with the words I was hearing. Kate could take until five; I didn’t care because I loved the progress we were seeing. I loved the confidence and trust I was seeing in Kate. It didn’t matter how long it would take us to get there, we would get there. I could sense that Kate had specific words in her mind, words that she was trying to say and willing to say.

Turns out, she only needed a few more months before the words really started coming.

I added more and more to my journal. Listing the words out every day. We met with Mary in person, for the first time, at the end of September and while I was thrilled with where we were, we still hadn’t hit Kate language burst.

Not until October did it start, and it felt like an explosion.

Every day, more words. Every day, she was repeating words I’d said (something she’d never done before). Every day she growing more confident and comfortable. At the pool she would say to her friends, “help me,” and they would help her put on the goggles. I was no where near this exchange; she said these words to her friends, and them alone.

She hadn’t needed my support, or my just being near, to trust the words.

Every week it felt like she said more and more words to my mom friends, and adults in general (the people she’s shyer and more cautious around).

Her words have grown to the point where my journal only records new and notable moments. There are simply so many words that it’s impossible for me to write them all down. We have moments with each other, speech play that is happening every moment she’s awake. Every interaction is filled with words, filled with her trying to convey to me her wants and needs. And if I try to understand and say the word she hadn’t meant? She says no and tries again.

She tries again, even though the words weren’t perfect or understandable the first time. She tries again.

Imagine this giant crashing wave.

Or, to go back to my earlier swimming analogy, Kate has full-on, cannon-balled into that water.

It started small and tentative, then picked up speed, and yet still our speech pathologist had said: not yet.

Well, I get it now.

I really, really do.

Kate took the words she had and put them together into phrases, and now, into sentences. I about fell out my chair when she first said, “May I have iPad now?

I mean, there’s grammar in there too. There’s an understanding that she is the “I” person. And there’s also the fact that she’s using manners, which I never purposefully set out to teach her.

And with that sentence she used? Insert another word, like “phone” or “hot dog” or “chocolate.”

She’s using some “w” words (think “where” and “what”). “W” words are in general harder because they have this almost abstract concept to them. Yet, she’s learning them.

The other day she said, “Baby, where he go? Baby!”

Or, “What do here, Mommy?”

And now, at this moment in time, March, 2017, Kate is still in the middle of this explosion. She has an explosion of sentences, is adding more and more familiar words to what she already has.

For example, she might have started with the word “help.”

This changed to, “help me.”

Then, “Help me, Mommy.”

To…

“I need help.”

As well as…

“Can you help me, Mommy?”

Look at all those different ways she is asking for help. All the different sentences she’s put together that mean the exact same thing: she needs help.

She even went to the pool and when she realized none of her friends were waiting outside, said to me, “Where Kyla go?”

A friend’s name.

In a sentence.

Can you imagine the absolute joy I felt? The pride I felt for her that we have come to this moment in time?

Or when she held her toothbrush to me and said, “May I have some more?” (She was referring to toothpaste.)

Or, when she was looking for me in the house (and couldn’t find me) said: “Where did you go, Mommy?”

Her journey with language started so small. It started with her being afraid to trust in her words, and slowly, trusted in me (after our false start with Early Intervention and then speech therapy). And it’s not just about her spoken words either. It’s also about her understanding words, that’s as (if not more) important. Her receptive language has leapt forward.

When we were at the pool walking home, she had a towel on. She said, “fly.”

I asked her, “Do you want to fly?”

She nodded her head, so I told her, hold out your towel and pretend you’re flying!

And she did.

Not only did she run with her arms spread out, towel flapping behind her, but she had understood me. I spoke in a way that was more complex, that this word “pretend” wasn’t one that she could visually picture in her mind to know what I’d meant. And yet, she had still understood.

This is what Kate’s language burst has looked like.

It’s a wave that we could see coming, slowly at first, then faster and faster. When it hit I barely registered because we were already in the middle of it. All I knew, is that we were there.

She was there.

And every week, parents who have known for years, many who see her every week are constantly telling me how they can’t believe it. I can see their shocked expressions when Kate communicates, with words, what her needs are. And she’s communicating it to them. Not to me.

What shocks people even more is when they comment on how far she’s come in a year, and I shake my head and say, “No. This is how far she’s come in just five months.”

And that, folks, is what a language burst looks like.

Okay, maybe not all, but definitely Kate’s. Language bursts usually come in waves, and when you’re riding one, they can last for months. Mary had said Kate’s would last from about eight months to a year, but she was betting that for Kate, she would ride it for a year.

I completely agree with her. It doesn’t feel like these words are stopping anytime soon.

I hope they don’t.

In fact, yesterday after a park day where she played with kids ranging from 14 months old to 12 years, I put her in the car and she asked me, “Can I have the keys now, Mommy?”

I blinked. “Yes, you can have the keys.”

She took them. “Thank you, Mommy, bye!”

A friend, who was standing beside me and who has watched Kate grow in language for two years now, was absolutely shocked (especially about the use of “thank you” — which to be honest, still shocks me every time I hear it).

This has been quite the ride and every day I smile in such joy at how far Kate’s come, at how we all came to this place, to this moment in time, because we chose trust.

We chose to trust in her to tell us what she needed.

We chose to trust that we, as parents, knew better than anyone else how to help her. And this, really, has been as much a victory for us as it has been for her. But the true joy I feel is actually much simpler:

I finally get to hear the beautiful sound of my little girl’s voice.

Restart the Writing (After a Parenting Life Role)

 

So, I’ve got to say, I’m getting to be pretty good about this restarting thing. Ever since Kate was born back in August, 2012, I’ve had to put the writing on hold for many, many different reasons over the years and it’s pretty much been for family reasons. The birth of our first kid, our first of many sleepless nights to teething, to toddlerhood and potty training.

Then, along came Eric (and boy, when you bring another kid into the mix life really gets interesting).

We had even more sleepless nights and discovered that Kate was a late-talker. There was a good chunk of time, of several months really, where I was living in a pretty dark, mentally, scary place. I had a lot of fear and uncertainty during that time, and ironically (or not so ironic if you, yourself, are a writer), but it was writing about that experience, first in fiction and then later in these blog posts, that helped ease away those fears and find the true joy in one, important fact:

She’s my daughter.

Wholly and completely, mine.

Words, or no words.

We got through it. Not only did we get through it we’re a closer, more connected family because of it. The trust that we needed in Kate, for her to be who she was and to find her words when she, and she alone, was ready, was huge. Huge. And probably one of the greatest gift she taught us.

Through it all, I would pick up the writing and then put it down again, as parenthood demanded. Well, I’d thought I’d gotten through all the really big hurdles of parenting small kids.

Turns out, I was wrong.

No surprise, really. Parenting is all about the twists and curves that you didn’t see coming. Not to mention I’ve got not one but two late-talkers, both who I’m their speech-play partners. Well, at least I skipped the scary, dark-part this second time around.

What I didn’t get to skip was the crazy, busyness of the holidays (and for our family, throw in a ton of birthdays and anniversary celebration), and then the bigger issue was one I really, really couldn’t control:

Not sleeping.

Like, barely at all. (Which, you all who read my blog know about).

Most of my days were me just trying to survive, and trying not to lose my temper, to not get frustrated with my kids for being a two-year-old and a four-year-old.

It wasn’t easy.

Especially when I couldn’t do the one thing that gave me more energy and more self-care than anything else:

Writing.

Pretty much at the brink of me going crazy, we had to make some changes. So, we did. We put the kids in the same room (which apparently they just love) and Sean takes the first shift with Eric (meaning if he gets up Sean puts him back to bed and not me). I get the second shift and start my day when Eric decides it’s time.

And you know what?

It’s working.

While our sleep (and therefore Eric’s) aren’t perfect, the change has made a huge difference. I’m getting around six hours of solid sleep before Eric needs help, so I’m no longer this raving banshee I’d been for four months straight.

Now though, it’s time to get back to the writing and that in of itself has it’s own hurdles.

I mean, you’d think I’d be an old hack at this. That I could just sit on down and let the words flow and then bam, here’s this super-cool story on the page and then sending it off to magazines, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

I’ve done this a half-dozen times (or dozen, really) since Kate was born. I do know, without a doubt, that I can do this. That’s not the issue.

The real issue is fear.

Fear to start writing again. That what I write will just be this awful, uncomprehending mess (which my brain still feels like most of the time).

Fear that I won’t do whatever story I write any justice because all of my series characters and world-based series… well, they’re just to important and I’m just gonna mess them up so why bother trying?

And writing a novel?

Dear God, I can just feel my inner creative voice shrivel up at that thought. Never mind that I’ve already written several, so I know I can do it. The issue is really one of focus, and again, parenthood. I mean, there’s just no way I can stay focused enough to fall into a world and characters, and flat-out, just a story, long enough to actually write a novel.

Translation: life being a parent couldn’t possibly leave me alone long enough to start and finish one of these damn things.

Each one of these issues are fear-based, plan and simple, put there by my critical brain to stop me from writing. To take the easy way out, to not put myself out there, to not set myself up for failure, to simply just not try.

And yet… I know how to combat this.

I’ve done it, time and again. (Too bad I just couldn’t skip over this fear stuff and get to writing, huh?)

Well, this time, like all the others, I’m not gonna let it stick. Screw my fears and insecurities. I’m going to try, and then I’m going to try again. One story may not work, I may need to redraft along the way, tossing out perfectly fine words because it just doesn’t fit the story. (Stories that I’m slowly teasing out of my subconscious, creative voice.)

You see, I know how to do this restart.

I know the tricks, I know what works for me, I know how to succeed. So I’m just going to jump, with both feet in, and see where (and how) I land.

If, at all.

I know, without a doubt, the greatest power I could give my writing is two-fold:

First, as Dean Wesley Smith likes to say, “Dare to be Bad.

I can do that. I shrug off all those negative words from my critical voice. So what if a story doesn’t make sense? So what if they all feel (to me) like this rambling mess as I slowly figure out what the story I’m writing even is?

The point is I’m writing. Period.

Some readers may like it, some may love it, or maybe it will never get touched at all because I still haven’t gotten around to the publishing part of my business, but hey, baby steps here.

The second is much easier: write every day.

That’s it.

Write something. Five minutes, five sentences, whatever, just write. (Fiction only, though; these blogs don’t count.) I discovered last year that a writing streak is the single most powerful motivator in my arsenal for writing. I could manage the sick days. I could manage the days where I’d barely slept at all because that five minutes was a goal I could hit.

My ultimate goal is writing an hour per day.

I know I can’t hit that every single day, but I can try. (In truth, when I wrote out my goals list for 2017, I had scheduled this hour for only five days a week, instead of seven.) And even if I don’t hit it, even if I “fail” to write for an hour, I will still have succeeded because I will have written.

The other part of this, one that I’m not so great at because there’s just so much I want to do, so much I want to listen to or watch or read even for the moments of quiet I get from the kids… is quiet time for myself. Quieting my mind. Stop thinking about my to-do list or what needs to happen before we can possibly leave for park day or Disneyland or adventures out in nature.

The quiet time where I let my subconscious peak out and think about stories… about characters… about worlds. Stepping back and thinking, what if

For me, this is hard.

If I’m doing dishes or cutting vegetables I might prop up my laptop on the counter and watch NCIS or turn on my phone and listen to one of the many podcasts I follow. Those are all important to me, they fill my need for stories (watching TV shows) or learning (listening to podcasts), but I’ve just got to make the quiet in my mind a priority.

When I do, the act of writing itself is much, much easier because my subconscious has already tapped into my stories. At that point it’s just a matter of quiet time alone, just me and my laptop, to put those stories onto the page, word by word. Instead of struggling to find my way to the stories, to leave parenthood and all its worries and the constant needs behind, I can simply step from one to the other. Like changing coats or putting on a different pair of pants. It makes the writing process easier, and truthfully, more enjoyable, even.

I have a long ways to go towards my yearly goals, but I’m not going to worry about them. The only goal I have, right now, on this day, is to restart my writing.

I’ve done it before, and most likely in the future, I’ll need to do it again. That’s just part of parenthood. It’s how us parent-writers make it work.

And you’ll notice, I always put the “parent” part first.

My first and primarily responsibility is being a parent. My kids won’t be this young forever. Eric won’t always be a nightmare when it comes to sleeping (which, as I said, is finally getting better — ya to the kids sharing a room!!). And as I’ve said in previous posts, I won’t be shipping my kids off to school when they finally hit school age. I’ll be homeschooling, following their leads and their interests, so really, I’ve got to find a way to make the two work: parenting and writing.

Every day, every month, what this process looks like will be different.

For the past few months it meant putting the writing on hold as we dealt with potty training and sleeping and the final bits of teething (woohoo!!).

Now though, I’m ready to get started again and that means conquering my fears. To let my creative voice come out, play, and simply tell stories.

Good or bad, all I need to do is sit, write, and tell stories.

That I can do… even if I’m still cleaning up poop off the floor or the constant vacuum-fight between me and ants because toddlers are notoriously bad at keeping food in their mouths.

I can still write, though.

One day at a time, one word at a time.

 

I wrote this blog post two weeks ago, and just let out everything I was feeling, everything I was struggling with. I’m happy to say that for two weeks straight, I haven’t missed a day writing.

I finished one short story and started another.

Some days are crazy, like me writing a 1,000 words in just under an hour. Other days were only five minutes or eight. But I get the writing in.

I’m also tuning in more to my creative voice. The quiet time to let the stories and characters come to me. This, turns out, is the bigger struggle. It’s hard to put life (and all its distractions and needs and worries) on hold long enough to think about story, to get in touch with my characters, to figure out where the writing is going next…

But somehow I do.

Each and every time.

Self-Care for Parents

 

 

Last week I wrote a pretty open post about the challenges I’ve been living with for the past few months (everything from massive sleep deprivation to potty training), all while fighting this ridiculous inner battle between being “perfect” and what I was actually, physically and emotionally, capable of.

And I realized I wasn’t quite done.

See, while I came to the realization of screw being perfect, there’s still more to the story.

Like how the heck I handled my own self-care when I wasn’t sleeping (and hadn’t been for like five plus months… or to be really honest here… ever since I was pregnant with Eric).

See, I wanted to focus forward. I wanted to improve my life. How I was feeling, my body, my health, all of it, and yet there was only so much I could add to this overwhelming full plate I was living.

You see, my life has, pretty much, been in the hands of my kids. Every waking and sleeping moment was controlled and dictated by them. I had zero say in the quality of my sleep, how long or deep. I didn’t even have a say in the amount (if any) of quiet time my poor introverted self required for me to continue to function as a halfway-decent human being.

Heck, showering by myself? Pooping without someone bursting in and crying or wanting an apple cut up right at that moment?

Yeah. Nope.

Also, I was frustrated with the weight I’d gained from the holidays (and Eric’s birthday, and my birthday, and Sean’s birthday… and, you get the idea). My poor body, with its massive amounts of sleep deprivation that had gone on for months, was pretty much acting like a diabetic so any time I ate sugar or sweets (things that I absolutely love), it would Freak. Out. It had no idea how to handle it, my insulin and hormone levels and all that, just kept going bonkers.

And yep, you guessed it, I couldn’t lose the weight.

I recognized my issue was one of sleep and that yeah, I needed to be eating as healthy as possible these days. But how could I get back on track with my health? My sleep? The only things I had control over were exercising, what I ate and the quality of the food, and my own thoughts.

That’s pretty much it.

Instead of spiraling down in depression and negative thoughts, I asked for help.

I explained to my health coach, Kevin Geary, the situation I was in. And, what was really cool, was he got it. He understood what it meant to be a parent. He understood I couldn’t devote crazy amounts of time and energy in making these super-healthy meals that took you know, like 30 min or more to prep (as if I had that kind of time dedicated just for prepping lunch — HA!). See, Kevin had been living his own life with lack of sleep due to a young child, in trenches himself, so to speak. He didn’t offer me advice that was just plan silly.

Instead, he offered me something that I could well and truly handle.

Here’s what Kevin Geary offered:

Focus more on food deposits than withdrawals (meaning, put in the good, healthy food and eat fewer of the sugary goodness), keep my thoughts positive (which I was already doing), and finally self-care. He asked me to identify three things that were the utmost importance to me, when it came to self-care, and to prioritize them.

This, this right here is the part my last blog was missing. Or not missing per say, but needed adding to.

If you’re living any kind of situation I had been, you need tools to help you through it. Tools to help you survive your situation, your momentary life bump, until things, finally, finally start changing. (This is especially true when you’ve got zero control over what’s even happening to you.)

Here’s what I did:

I came up with my three things that would help me feel whole and happy, each day. I didn’t need to do all three in one day, and some days I did none, but I could recognize those days that had a ton already piled on, and make time in the evening, or definitely the next day. That flexibility really helped.

For me they were: writing (not fiction, since that required a rested, working brain, but writing these blogs), learning (dear Lord do I love to learn, and this could be anywhere from researching history to craft learning for fiction), and finally, play. Play was video games or reading books or watching a favorite TV show.

Before, I had regulated play to: “can only play when your work was done.”

Which, wasn’t necessarily a problem. Unless you’re like me, who has a never-ending to-do list.

I’ve since corrected that line of thinking.

Play is vital to my health and happiness. Some days I’ll play video games first thing in the morning, with my cup of coffee, a kid cuddled up on either side, while they play on their iPads and we’re just hanging out together. Or it’s during Eric’s nap. Or, it’s at the end of the day when they’re both in bed.

Sounds really simple, right?

Totally wasn’t. I mean, if it was you’d think I’d have figured it out before now. But I couldn’t even get to this place until I shifted my way of thinking; that play was important. That play was a part of my own self-care and happiness, and not just this reward for getting through my day or checking off all the boxes on my to-do list.

Kevin’s suggestion worked because it kept things simple.

Three things.

That’s it.

And even me, with my tired, exhausted brain, could still hold those three things. In my head. At once. I didn’t need to look at my list. Or my calendar, to remember. In fact, at any moment during the day I would stop and ask myself: have I done one of my self-care items yet?

Easy to remember.

Easy enough to accomplish.

Most of the time.

But it really worked.

I chucked everything else that I “needed” to do. I focused on my kids and what they needed (like baths — at least every couple a days — you know, stuff like feeding them). Anything that wasn’t essential was put on hold. Trying to do more, even the designated speech play our speech pathologist wanted me to do, I just put it aside. I would get to it.

Once I started sleeping.

And you’re not going to believe this, but I’m starting to. Sleep, I mean. Actual real sleep. It’s actually and truly happening. Anywhere from five hour stretches to gasp! Eight hours.

Okay, eight hours was only once but I definitely don’t want to jinx the upwards progress we’re making here.

If you’re curious (and if you’re living in your own child-induced sleep-deprived-nightmare), two things made it possible. First, we moved Kate and Eric into the same room, and for whatever reason, it was like magic. Magic. They love being together. Apparently, her presence is soothing, even if she’s talking and playing while Eric’s slips into toddler-dream-land. The dim lamp light and the noise machine helped too, I think.

The second big thing is because Eric’s out of our bedroom, and dear mommy isn’t so accessible, Sean can take the first shift if Eric wakes up before midnight. He can get to Eric before he gets to me, and Eric… doesn’t freak out. That’s right. He doesn’t see Mommy, which is like a bull seeing that big-ass waving red flag, so now he’s okay with Sean helping him back to bed.

And me?

Me, I get to sleep.

Wow is it glorious. And as I regain sleep I’m picking up other parts of my life. I’m writing fiction again (first short story of 2017 finished, go me!). Eric’s two-year-tantrums are easier to handle because I can pause and be present with him (compared to wanting to scream and yell right back). I’ve added our speech play back to the list, which I really just call ‘connection.’ Times where I focus and play with my kids. It could be a short game of tickles and running into my arms, or sitting down and doing a puzzle or a board game with Kate.

Bit by bit, I’m adding more back in.

And every day I’m feeling richer and wholer.

I’m still far from being perfect, and I have zero desire to be that perfect parent. No thanks. I like living in happiness, where some days my dishes sit until the end of the day before I get to them. If it means I’ve given myself some “me” time or connection time with my kids, I’ll take it.

Besides, it’s not like the ants have discovered the house.

Yet, anyway.

The more I move forward, bit by bit, day by day, just doing what I can… life is actually improving. We’re coming up for air again and things are coming together. Eric and his potty training has had some big successes this past weekend. He actually went up to Sean and tugged on his leg, before Sean put him on the potty and he actually pooped. I know, some of you probably can’t understand the big deal, but for some reason, with these late-talkers (at least mine, anyway), this bridge… of needing to go and communicating this need… it’s huge. Huge. It’s a super big step for them, one that just takes longer for the pieces to click together.

Well, the pieces are clicking. It just took our own (and really, mine) stubbornness and patience, but hey, we’re getting there.

Progress.

That’s what matters.

So if you find yourself stuck in the crazy intense times with young kids (or… older ones for that matter, you’re just not going to have the poop issues I have), start prioritizing your self-care.

What can you do to take care of yourself?

And make it a priority.

Fit it in.

Somehow.

Some way.

We’ve got to start taking care of ourselves if we want to remain present and patient as parents. Not only that, but it’s an amazing lesson to teach our children, that taking care of our own selves is important.

For me, I’m able to really enjoy life and being a parent again. I’m able to take deeper pleasure and just plain joy in my kids, seeing their smiles, hearing the new words and phrases Kate is putting together every day with these amazing leaps and bounds. And I’m seeing my little Eric grow as his language comprehension starts expanding.

And sometimes, often, it’s just sitting on the couch, with Kate tucked against my one side and Eric sprawled completely on my lap, and just… enjoying them.

Enjoying this moment.

Every day, as parents, we do our best with what resources we have. Let’s remember that,  let’s forgive ourselves for not being perfect but doing our best anyway, and instead, let’s just focus on the joy.