A Child’s Perspective

Change is usually hard and requires persistent effort, often stopping and starting. There have been at least two times in my life when change has been basically immediate. One of those two times was spurred by my daughter when she was quite young. I was a single mother for most of her growing up, and being a single parent is hard. I had quickly abandoned physical punishment when I realized it simply did not work with her. But, when I really needed to get my point across, I would yell.

One day, she tearfully told me that I frightened her when I yelled. It pulled me up short. I wanted her to understand. I did not want her to be frightened. After she went to bed later that day, I went into the bathroom. I wanted to understand from her perspective, as best I could. I intentionally recalled my feelings of frustration and anger and even isolation. I recalled the details of the incident. Without vocalizing aloud, I looked into the mirror and “yelled” at her again. I was shocked. No child should see that face. I was mortified.

I never yelled at her like that again. I was still a single parent. Parenting was still hard. I still got angry and frustrated. But, I never relied on the energy in my face and voice to communicate. I was not the perfect parent. In fact, I keep realizing more and more my human shortcomings, all these years later. But, I did temper that one reactive behavior. Immediately.

I am grateful she told me how my actions made her feel. I am grateful, for some reason, the full weight of what she was saying was not lost on me.

That’s a heavy way to begin a Thanksgiving post. But, since then, I have been fairly interested in how children see the world and how we, adults, can see ourselves more objectively.

After our Thanksgiving meal this year, I let my daughter’s oldest daughter, 3-year-old E, have my phone so she could look through the photos I had taken of her helping me cook earlier in the day. She quickly transitioned to taking new photos with my phone. Lots and lots of photos (more than 50?). How lucky that digital photography, existing on our phones, means that small children can experiment and develop an eye without prohibitive film-developing costs!

Today, I looked through her photos, deleting the ones of walls, floor, slivers of the tops of heads, and ones unbearably out-of-focus even with auto-focus technology at play. And, then, I started really looking at the remaining ones. This is what I saw (no photos shared for the first three):

  1. Her mother and I having great conversations while I held her 1-year-old sister. Those were lovely pictures until I saw, the pictures of . . . .
  2. . . . her dad, making joyful smiling eye contact with her with the most obvious love and focus.
  3. Some great self-portraits, trying out different facial expressions. No duck lips and none perfectly framed from above, but all with curiosity and intrigue while looking at herself — and fun.
  4. A study of this cup of a little juice mixed in with her antibiotic that represents the negotiated peace deal for taking said hated antibiotic twice a day for her ear infection.
    Pink cup in foreground of a table with empty Thanksgiving plates, flowers, and the arms of one of the diners seen in the background. Inside of a pink cup showing a few mililiters of reddish fluid (a mixture of juice and liquid anitibiotic).
  5. Her sister’s new food tray, which she also has, that they are loving.Teal toddler's food tray with rice dish, sourdough bread, pomegranate seed, and mashed potatoes in the main largest section with cup and dishes in background and an adult arm and child's body in the background.
  6. Her beloved two-wheeler. It is just happenstance that her dad’s walker, in use after his severe leg injury, is also captured – but it, too, is a snapshot of a huge event in their lives.
    Pink and white two-wheeled child's bike with training wheels next to a walker with a black coat draped over it.

And then my photos were next (previous in time) in the sequence. Between the severe poison ivy reaction and then the allergic reaction to prednisone and only taking two days off from work, my kitchen in the background is a disaster zone. But, these are some of my favorite pictures. Do I wish the background was pristine? Sure, I guess? But, the joy on E’s face while whipping cream and mixing pumpkin pie spices into the sugar and everything else are the absolute best and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, least of all for a clean-kitchen backdrop. Life is chaotic and messy, but we find joy anyway.

Child's body wearing a "Star Wars" shirt with four spice jars built into a bridge tower. There is a metal bowl in the foreground with chopped cranberries and walnuts as well as an orange and a blue measuring cup.

Spices are sage, tarragon, basil, marjoram, and thyme.

I fear things for all the world may be getting more chaotic and difficult. Hopefully, we will still find joy while trying to mitigate the harm and improve our interactions.

Two Grandparent Nights

Night 1

When I set up the rooms in this house, the plan always was to have the Grandchildren sleep over on occasion, when they were old enough and ready. The rooms also seemed to sort themselves out in such a way that my bedroom was on a different floor than the Grandchildren’s room. I rationalized to myself and offered reassurance to their Mom/my Daughter that 1) people do this all the time and 2) I would get a baby monitor.

The first few times, though, they were so young and this was so new for all of us that my plan was to sleep in the recliner on the same floor. The reality was I spent much of my night on the loveseat or floor of their room and not much of the night actually sleeping (although they did-success!).

I had been mulling this reality around in my head–along with looking around the room trying to decide where to put some posters, maybe hang a magnetic whiteboard, was there space for an additional bookshelf for me? (None of these things have happened, yet, by the way.) In the process, I decided it would be wise, for the short-term time being to bring just my mattress (not the box springs or frame) to the same floor, just so I would get more sleep on sleepover nights. Those nights were going really well and I wanted to keep a good trajectory–for all of us.

Soooo, when I knew they were going to have a sleepover two nights ago, I suddenly decided I would enact that plan and do so that morning. That meant I needed to rearrange their room a bit which meant I had to clean their room a bit. I also was set on having it done by the time they arrived which meant (given my personality) doing it myself.

The most logical way to get that mattress to its desired location would have been to have two people take it out the back door, up the driveway, in through the front door, and into the desired room. Instead, I tried to simultaneously force it to go around a rather tight corner and ascend a flight of steeper-than-current-building-standards (I assume) steps. It was actually an impossible task, but I would not accept defeat. I started on the stairs. It got stuck. I wedged myself around to get behind it to force it to literally bend to my will. (“Pivot! Pivot!”) Then, I had to get back in front of it in order to have the proper leverage to make a malleable metric ton elevate along the next step and was at a point of being stuck that I thought I was going to have to either go out the back door (but I recalled the front door was locked) or call the fire department for assistance for a person (me) being wedged against a stairwell wall by a mattress. I won. I got back to the front of the mattress and up the stairs with it.

And, the sleepover was great, for all of us.

(Every muscle fiber in the back of my thighs, sides of my torso, under my shoulder blades, and in my neck is currently both devoid of energy and sore.)

Night 2

Their Mother/my Daughter has asked me in the past how I get 1-Year-Old-A to sleep during sleepovers. I have always told her I just hold them until they fall asleep, wait until they are solidly asleep (you can’t rush this step), and then lay them down.

Last night (the night after Night 1, above), my Daughter and Son-in-Law had the rare opportunity arise at the last minute (ie, that day) to go out to eat with another couple. So, they asked if I would be interested in babysitting that evening at their house. It would be a late dinner reservation and in a neighboring town, so the Grandchildren would need to go to bed. Absolutely. I was thrilled they had this opportunity to go out together.

My Daughter told me the current routine for 1-Year-Old-A’s bedtime: Turn on the TV in their room to the children’s streaming shows and put them in their crib, knowing that angry screams will ensue for quite awhile.

I will admit that the thought passed through my mind that I could just do it my way. But, the following additional thoughts were also explored: The reason I do it my way at my house is because I have no crib and because my house is still not their house (away from Mom and Dad). My way may only work at my house because it is a different environment. I have always believed parents know what is best for their own children–so, did I really believe that or not? One of my major goals in life is to be a help to their family–intentionally thwarting sleep training was not going to be helpful in the long run. Doing it my way at their house would cause much damage to my relationship with my Daughter and Son-in-Law and I would never want that–and it would be my fault. Respect is important.

So, when the time came, I turned on the streaming kids shows, put 1-Year-Old-A in the crib, kissed their little head, and walked out of the room with my Kindle in hand. They screamed. It was bad. But it was not as bad as I had expected.

Most importantly, I felt like I made the correct decision.

Grandparenting is a whole new phase of life requiring a whole new set of skills and decisions.

Things they don’t tell you about being a grandparent, 1: Also part of being a grandparent: I have to build up my squat/lunge/something? stamina for the amount of times I get down and back up off the floor and carry little people up and down stairs, now.

Quotes From this Week:

Quotes I felt resonated with these times:

From When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill:

“Perhaps this is how we learn silence–an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.” pg 9.

“It is my thesis that every mass dragoning in history is followed by a phenomenon that I call a ‘mass forgetting.’ And indeed, it is the forgetting, I argue, which proves to be far more damaging, and results in more scars on the psyche, and scars on the culture.” pg. 20

“‘Everything, is just, just, too, damn, SMALL. . . . You should probably run, Doctor,’ she said.” pg. 32

“The facts, of course, are indisputable, but that did not stop people from attempting to dispute the facts.” pg. 39

From Faster, Louder, by Boff Whalley

“The now-legendary mass trespass on Kinder Scout (Roy Hattersley called it ‘the most successful direct action in British history’), when five ramblers were arrested and jailed for joining the gathering of 400 walkers intent on having a day out on Kinder, opened the floodgates to ever-increasing trespasses and the eventual acknowledgement that the tide had turned. The next few decades would be marked by a rapidly-growing demand for the right to roam. . . historian Ann Holt called the access issue ‘an apparently simple idea with revolutionary implications.'” pg. 7

Quotes that I appreciated for their use of language:

From When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill:

“They stepped out of their robes like nymphs, and they stepped out of their bodies like monsters.” (Describing “dragoning” of women), pg 19.

“Oh, how their eyes glittered! Oh, how their robes rustled like wings! And oh, how a forcefulness burned in their bellies.” (Women even before “dragoning”), pg. 19

“Vague smiles painted on their faces like the hardened gaze of porcelain dolls.” pg. 23

“On the day she was born, I swear that the sky froze and the sun stood still and the earth began to vibrate.” . . . “The universe became more of itself once Beatrice was in it.” (Also, I love the parallelism of the previous description of Beatrice’s aunt becoming more herself as she recovered from an illness). pg 24

“But, I couldn’t explain how, as the words I knew at the time were unwieldy tools, improperly calibrated for the topic at hand. This only made me more angry.” (describing child processing of events beyond their understanding but not beyond their awareness and effect), pg. 29

“I remember standing at the window, staring at the ice crystals that had written themselves onto the glass, an explosion of geometry and light.” pg. 33

“The memory of her vanishing felt both unpleasant to encounter and dangerous to hold, but I had no place to put it, no ordered shelf in my mind where it belonged. It remained unmentionable and therefore unclassifiable, which meant I had to carry it, every day, no matter how much it hurt.” (Child experiencing a traumatic event that no one discusses.) pg. 46

From Faster, Louder, by Boff Whalley

“What Gary enjoyed was the rough stuff, the unexpected, the obstacles that constituted the difference between fell running and trail running: ankle-turning ditches, lashing rain, on-the-hoof navigation, clawing slutch, low visibility. Proper British conditions – the cloud and puddles that suited the landscape.” pg 10