Featuring Joy & Geoff, Big Brother , Little Brother , Sis , and various household (and outdoor) critters...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Philosophically Wishy-Washy

As can be expected in life, the application of various theories and approaches in real-life situations is not quite as simple as one might hope.

In regard to parenting in general, I have tended toward notions of simplicity, natural nutrition, media-free living, attachment, learning-oriented activity, etc., etc. In regard to adoption parenting, I have typically bought into the attachment literature and associated disciplinary recommendations. Some ideas are being neatly implemented, while others (sometimes surprisingly) have ended up tweaked, postponed, and turned right over.

1. I don't like to be bothered in the morning (that's no surprise). Actually, not really at all. But especially in the morning. Or the night. So as much as the image of cute little folk creeping into my room and snuggling in my bed in the morning seems homey and delightful, I have been much happier and more willing to face the day (and churn out some semblance of a warm morning greeting) having the boys head downstairs on their own when they wake up, with a laid-out snack, and not coming for me until I call for them, typically after baby girl is up and dressed. This didn't happen right away, but we've been trying it for nearly a week, I think. I am often awake to hear them, but crave the privacy and quiet of my bedroom as I gradually rouse myself. We are still working out the night-time issues with baby girl, who has been demanding bottles at least once through each night lately, and keeping us guessing with her sleep patterns (she was previously a through-the-night sleeper, so we're hoping this is mainly a transition issue that will resolve in time). She could not scream any harder for a bottle if she tried, and there isn't much of a grace period for us to get downstairs to the bottle warmer and back. Thankfully she usually settles right back to sleep after her bottle, although I have had a few 1.5-2.5 hour sessions with her. I find night wakings most difficult soon after I go to bed, and within an hour or two of getting up for the day.

2. I don't like to be bothered in the morning (see above). So Geoff puts the TV on when he leaves for work, along with the boys' snacks. Yes, the TV. Ugh.

3. I really like some quiet time/nap time in the afternoons. This initially meant a movie with the boys while baby girl slept. Yes, more TV (fully sanctioned by our social worker as quality bonding time while we snuggled together on the couch - I'll take it)! Now, they have actually been going up willingly for individual rest time (which has always resulted in at least a 2-hour nap). So...I feel guilty about not spending that nice quiet time with them anymore (because it was nice, even though there was movie guilt), but am really glad to have some down time to read, tidy, or SLEEP a little myself.

4. I am super-easily frustrated by screaming and raging in a child of any age, even if she is the most adorable 15 month-old around, and definitely if he is a 3 or 4 year-old little guy. This results in deep breathing, and some mutual time outs to re-group.

5. Speaking of time-outs. Regardless of any advice to the contrary, I have a hard time letting a child scream at me or anyone else while remaining in the same room. So yes, when the boys lash out verbally and disturb others' peace we do have them sit in a different area on the same level of the house until they can be respectful again. Or if they have an off-moment and refuse to don their pants after toileting (particularly if assistance has been requested, even when not needed, provided, and rejected), and as a result must remain in the bathroom until fully clothed once again (so far this has only occurred once or twice per boy). Or when they make a scene at dinner (neither has food/eating issues, and they are used to having to eat whatever is served, but are occasionally feeling out our stance in regard to meal-time behaviour), and are therefore excused from the table. In many adoption situations, I would NOT disregard the advice of attachment experts regarding time-out/time-in. However, our boys were raised from birth in a loving and healthy family, and were well-attached there. They are familiar with time outs, and we try to use them only when their behaviour is socially inappropriate (not broken rules, etc.). I do sometimes sit with them, but often they are being asked to take a few minutes for yelling/screaming continuously at me, and so I leave until they compose themselves, which they tend to do quite quickly. If I remain present as an audience, the yelling seems to go on a bit longer. Both boys will yell, cry, and scream on cue, and can turn it off just as quickly. It seems that they may be used to being able to scream a bit, then settle and go back to doing what they were doing (e.g., eating supper, playing outside/heading out for a walk), which is not happening here. Anyway, I do check back in and have a calm chat at the end of the time-out, and I have been implementing mandatory apologies. I am a bit torn on this. I was initially thinking that an apology should only be given when completely sincere, but am realizing that sincerity is a complicated thing in pre-schoolers. Now, I am leaning more toward having them go through the motions of apology and forgiveness, so the words and actions become comfortable and familiar, and can be used easily as sincerity develops. Part of the post time-out process includes some repair/re-connection through hugs and affirmations.

6. I don't want to label or read into things, but also don't want to minimize attachment needs. Both boys are generally quite comfortable with people. Sometimes too comfortable, in my opinion. But then, I am pretty reserved and introverted, and come from a family with a few other introverts and generally very carefully-boundaried people. I am not used to bold children, and have always been more impressed with children who stand back a bit, wait for invitation, and demonstrate some awareness of others in social environments. Our boys...ha ha ha. They will dive into play with anyone, say hello to pretty much anyone (except, of course, when asked - working on that with the eldest, who has been choosing when to be mannerly, and when to ignore others), accept anything from anyone, etc. They don't ask our permission for snacks and treats offered by others, or necessarily even to go visiting the neighbours at the campground. My attachment alarm bells were ringing loud and clear (and are still tinkling away just to be vigilant), but I also realize that the boys were raised in a busy home full of teens and young adults, who had lots of friends and relatives coming by. They also spent plenty of time at a small campground, owned by their foster grandmother, which promoted constant mingling and casual interaction with anyone and everyone around. We witnessed fairly open access to food and drink at their first home as well. The informal, outdoor lifestyle they are used to seems to be clashing at times with my more traditional ideas about social interaction, particularly when addressing adults, and spending time in others' space.

7. I find it challenging being the introverted mother of an extroverted, attention-seeking child.
The oldest thinks nothing of asking for whatever he wants (food and drink, entering or moving between rooms and levels of others' homes), and invites himself to be first for everything. He jumps on people in play (even when he has just met them), throws balls at people (even when they have not been asked if they want to play, and aren't looking his direction), generally pays no attention to personal space, and has no concept of waiting for invitation instead of making requests. At music class this week, he copied the teacher's demonstration of a bug crawling up from her toes to her head...by having his bug roughly crawl up her...while she was teaching class...laughing and chatting the whole time. Both boys can be found running and jumping and spinning during music class, when others are seated or doing a gentle activity. Again, the class is informal, and the boys are, I think, generally very social by nature...and have never been exposed to structured group settings with written or unwritten rules of conduct. They will take some cueing from me in these situations, but definitely tend to dive right into things in whatever way suits them. While I can see some explanations for these tendencies based on their life experience, I also want to be alert to any concerning attachment flags, or even basic social skills issues so that we can help them make the most of social situations and build appropriate relationships. I must give them credit, after all this commentary, for having very nice manners in some respects - they have been taught to use please and thank-you, and can show some lovely sensitivity toward others (our younger little guy in particular).

At home, there are some issues of entitlement (the oldest will state what we are going to do next, announce that he is hungry and expect a snack on cue), and a constant thirst for attention and recognition. If I pick up or hold one of the others, the oldest barges in for his exact share (which really means bumping the others out of line and stealing the limelight). He would far rather sit and watch me assemble meals (meal prep is stressful for me at the best of times - I don't cook) while chatting incessantly (loving to ask questions about and comment on what I'm doing - he unfortunately has picked up some less-than-attractive catch-phrases, such as "actually, you forgot...", which can be really annoying even when the context indicates he doesn't intend to be condescending), than find a toy with which to amuse himself, or a sibling to play with. I can be scrubbing food off the floor, or changing a diaper, and he is in complete seriousness asking me to play hide and seek or join him in some other activity...right then and there. At times, the more attention he has had from me, the more he demands. One afternoon, I spent two hours with him while the others slept, did some learning worksheets (which he loves...thankfully, since there is a LOT to catch up on in terms of basic counting, shape, and colour recognition - he had plenty of outdoor and gross motor development in his first home, but not so much in the academic department)...and then witnessed a complete breakdown when Geoff arrived home and the other two woke up. He chooses difficult activities (indoors and at the playground) which require adult assistance, and otherwise restlessly, aimlessly flits from thing to thing when needing to occupy himself for any amount of time. To his credit, we have seen a bit of improvement with the expectation that he keep busy with his "job" of doing kid stuff, while grown-ups do their "jobs" at home - he has started to self-correct at times when making certain requests, and points out when he is "being patient" by amusing himself while waiting for me.

8. Convenience does occasionally trump...everything else. Food-wise, activity-wise...yep...sometimes whatever is simpler wins. Hopefully I will soon be more willing to rise to the occasion, and challenge myself in this area (I would really like to be doing some crafts, more reading and drawing, more creative play), but for now I am most concerned with harmony and my own sanity. We are devouring tons of fresh fruit and veggies, at least, and we have spent a bit of time gardening.

9. I have no idea what to do about toys. We tried to stock up on a few quality items for the kids - things with potential for imagination, problem-solving, etc. Some of these get occasional use, although lots of toddler games still require parental involvement (good, but not useful when needing a diversion), and building toys aren't very practical when baby is awake and in the mix (hopefully the boys will fairly soon be independent and reliable enough to use some of these toys on their own, upstairs, if they so desire). The boys arrived with a bin of cars and trucks, which they enjoy to some extent. Baby prefers things like the kitchen table, sinks, toilet, cooking utensils, etc. Even though I don't feel swamped with toys, it still seems like too much. Some promising items never see the light of day, other items have no redeeming value (in my opinion), and some are constant fodder for fights over use. We need to gradually do some weeding out...and the more extreme side of me thinks I should just order the Waldorf book of activities and toys I found on Amazon, and trash everything else. Books, too. I love books dearly, and hate to identify any as meaningless...but when really intelligent, creative fare stays on the shelf, while various mass market, "flavour of the week" stories with no literary/language or character development value are chosen consistently, I am very tempted to do a purge. I will likely box up anything that came with the boys, which we don't intend to keep out, so that they can later choose what to do with it.

10. I may cave and send my 4 year-old to school part-time. Oh my. All my homeschooling, keep kids at home as long as possible ideals...where have they gone? I never thought I would be contemplating sending a youngster off to JK, especially within three months of joining our family. But a few factors are giving me pause to re-consider my earlier position. Lute does seem to need a bit of work on peer social skills and early academics, which makes me think we might want to do that at home and through mom-supervised community activities. On the other hand, a small dose of school might help things along. I wouldn't mind having teachers' opinions on his language and academic development, either, given that we have been thrust into pre-schooler parenting. It might also be helpful to get to know some other families, observe other kids, and get feedback on his social development as well (in some areas, he has advanced skills in interacting with adults, but I'm not sure how many other young kids he's been around, other than his brother). As well, when Lute was under the weather for a few days recently, it was quite fascinating to observe Kitch come out of his shell in a way we had not yet seen (with us, or when spending time at his previous home). We knew Kitch leaned toward the creative, cute, quirky side of things, but were able to see even more of those qualities when Lute was in the background for a couple of days. Hmm. I had been concerned about separating the boys within such a short time after transitioning here, figuring they have spent every day of their lives together so far...but maybe it wouldn't be an altogether bad idea...Kitch and Lily also seem to connect a bit, and I wouldn't mind seeing them spend a bit of time together as well (Lily was introduced to her brothers only last December, at 9 months old, and had some visits with them before becoming part of their lives full-time with us). I spoke with the principal of the private Christian school I attended, and they have an extremely flexible JK program, with a minimum commitment of one day or two half-days per week (lovely, since most of our public schools are moving toward all-day, every day JK - although technically we should be able to negotiate reduced attendance if we insist). So, we will keep thinking about it. There isn't really a rush to register while the offices are closed, which gives us time to continue observing and discussing.

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There are a few of my observations and reflections from our first weeks together. Time does go pretty quickly. I don't know that I feel much differently about things than I did initially - kind of in a one day at a time mentality - but there's really not much I can complain about (other than my lack of a morning nanny).

All three are enthusiastic kids who love to laugh and smile, and spend time with us. They are interested in just about everything, and generally seem to be settling well into new routines. Oh, and I have continued to be really pleased with the mutual child-animal adjustments. Lovely to see a little person perched beside a dog, or summoning a cat, and talking happily about how the cats like them now, or how much they like the animals. The dogs have taken to running with the kids, and Gladwyn, our transforming timid hound, has been running joyfully after balls thrown by the boys. The boys are excited about attending a family wedding this weekend, wearing their dressy outfits, and staying in a hotel. Geoff is also excited to show the kids off a bit more. I will reserve my excitement for after the fact, depending on how things go (I am ushering, so will be pre-occupied for the ceremony). We have also been camping at our trailer, which has generally been going well (took the dogs with us last weekend, which worked out fine). Would be even better if Geoff was around with us all during the day, so we'll just have to keep working toward a completely self-sustaining lifestyle (totally realistic, right)?

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