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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The white noise of parenting


Usually I write in a quest for clarity and headspace. Lately, however, family life, with all its ups and downs, has been coming at me thick and fast, with no time to process things fully. Getting my thoughts corralled has seemed overwhelming.

The kids’ summer holidays, which ended earlier this month, were wonderful and exhausting; highly fulfilling and overly frustrating. Some days I felt as though being a parent and having whole days and nights with my children was the greatest gift in the world. Some days I felt more as though being a parent was like having a white noise machine pointed directly at my ear all day, every day: the noise wasn’t always unpleasant, and yet sometimes I just longed for silence.  
Small children have so many needs and questions, and so much within themselves that they’re struggling to sort out. Fulfilling their needs takes time, energy, patience, and often more skill than you thought you had, and when the going gets tough you can’t just throw in the towel and walk out. Once you are a parent, there is no going back. You wouldn’t even want to go back because you’ve never loved someone like this, and yet some days you just don’t want to keep going forwards either.

A particularly low moment came one Friday evening. We had just arrived home from a five-day family road trip. It had been a satisfying and memorable trip - lots of fun highlights, quality time with good friends, delicious Finnish summer food, and smiles and laughter. However, the drive back had been long and tiring, and after an hour of hefting stuff from the car, unpacking, and finding something to eat for dinner, all the while dealing with a steady stream of interruptions, questions and pleas for attention from the kids, My Finn and I were short on energy and patience.

Finally, I sat down for a few quiet moments at the computer. Almost immediately, my younger daughter appeared at my knee. “Mummy, look! There’s a man!”

I wrenched my attention from a Facebook message, sighing with slight annoyance at the interruption, and followed Little Sister's gaze through our fifth storey window. I dutifully acknowledged the man she’d spotted (sitting out on his balcony). I turned back to my laptop.

Moments later I was startled by deafening yelling from my husband. On the other side of the living room, Little Sister had pulled the coffee table over to the open window and had climbed up to get a better look at her man. Hubby had happened to walk into the room at that point, and the walls literally shook with the force of his shouting at her to get down immediately. Little Sister started crying frantically, surprised and devastated at this sudden explosion. A bitter exchange followed. I angrily accused hubby of excessive anger that was clearly targeted at me (on my laptop AGAIN, not paying enough attention to my children) and that he could have dealt with the situation very differently. He maintained that extreme measures were justified when a child was climbing up to reach a fifth storey window and it was a matter of “life and death”. But yes, he was angry at me too, because I had chosen the wrong time to occupy myself with Facebook. Little Sister had been doing something that was (admittedly) very dangerous within a few metres of me, and I hadn’t been aware of it because I was in my own little social media world.

[In my defence, the double-glass window in question does not open more than about 10cm and Little Sister absolutely could not have fitted through that space. But still.]

I felt overwhelmed at the truth in what he was saying, and overwhelmed at the reality that parenting requires vigilance and selflessness always, tiredness/bad moods/feelings of wanting a break right now notwithstanding, and I still felt shell-shocked at all the shouting, and in that moment I really wanted to give up and walk out of my own life. But instead I burst into tears and fled to the kitchen for a tissue.

A minute later Little Sister came rushing in.

LS: [tearfully] I hate you, Mummy!
Me: Why do you hate me?
LS: I don't want you to be my friend any more.
Me: [Exerting myself to stay calm] Why is that?
LS: Because you're too naughty.
Me: [Takes deep breaths] What could I do to be less naughty?
LS: [Thinks for a moment] I just want you to be happy.

I thought about that conversation for days and weeks afterwards. It is so vitally important for children to see happiness in their parents, and so important for parents to do the things that will help them both appear and genuinely BE happy – making time for themselves and their spouse, getting enough sleep, and generally making sure their own air mask is fitted before attempting to help others. I got caught out by my unnervingly perceptive three year old, and I want to do better in future. I’m working on it.

This summer wasn’t all white noise and fights and meltdowns, though. Honest to God, we had so many wonderful moments, too - playing in sunny parks and on the beach, swimming (when it was warm enough), visiting friends’ homes and summer cottages, chilling out with close family, seeking thrills at fun-parks (we even made it to Särkäniemi’s Angry Birds Land!) and hanging out with our lovely neighbours in our building’s shared courtyard.




Big Sister learned to ride a bicycle without trainer wheels and (mercifully unconnected with bicycling) lost her front tooth just in time to look like a *real* first grader.
  
 
She went from being a solid beginner reader to an avid consumer of books.
  
Lately, she has developed a passion for fashion designing, and with help, has even managed to make a few pieces for her Barbie.



  

  



This summer, Little Sister learned to catch a ball and shoot baskets into a pint-sized basketball hoop. At the science centre, she managed to haul a bowling ball into the air! 


 She passionately seeks speed and danger – on bikes, on things that whiz around and around, and on climbing frames or anything else that is high off the ground…

At a shopping centre last weekend we were playing in a kids’ activity corner next to an escalator. Suddenly Little Sister got it into her head to grab the moving handrail (from the outer side of the escalator) and next thing I knew she was being swept up into the air. Giggling loudly, she saw absolutely no danger in this situation, and didn’t for a moment consider letting go at a safe height. Thankfully I was quick enough to grab her while she was still within my reach - before the handrail continued on its two-storey climb upwards. My heart stopped momentarily at some point.
Kids do that to you. They fill your heart to overflowing, and wring it out, and stop it completely for terrible split-seconds, all in a single 24-hour day. 
This summer, I had fifty of those days, all in a row.
It has been quite a ride.

18 comments:

  1. AWWWWWWWWWW...LS is such a sweetie for saying those words to you: that she wants you to be happy. :-)

    Kids grow up so fast, eh? Look at all the things they've learnt in such a short time. Geez...LOVE the picssssss...

    And I've also heard similar stories about the bittersweet of parenting. :-) How much you love the kids with all your heart and soul but then at times they can truly drive you crazy he he...Here's to lovely memories with the kids! :-)

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    1. Amel, thanks so much! About LS - I know... I was completely taken aback when she said that. Amazed, and proud, and ashamed for not exerting myself that little bit more, for my kids' sake.
      At the end of the day, while I'm trying to tell my story "warts and all" - with complete honesty - I do really love my girls to death.

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  2. LOL - the summer holidays are enough to send any mother insane - it's par for the course. But why worry about crying or shouting sometimes, it's a normal and natural part of life and if you don't show that part of life to your children froma young age how will they learn to understand that it is normal. If they grow up in utopia they will place massive expectations on themselves as adults to maintain that. I think it's more important to teach them how to recover from a shout or cry or any 'fail' in an appropriate way. Now that is where I often feel I #fail more. Lovely summer days photos, it all looks perfect to me :)

    In terms of no fear or awareness of danger, it regularly amazes me that there aren't so many more serious accidents with young children than there are and eyes in the back of your head is all you can aim for. Good Luck xx

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  3. Kellogs Ville: once again Blogger ate your comment! It came to me by email, though, so I'll copy it here:

    LOL - the summer holidays are enough to send any mother insane - it's par for the course. But why worry about crying or shouting sometimes, it's a normal and natural part of life and if you don't show that part of life to your children froma young age how will they learn to understand that it is normal. If they grow up in utopia they will place massive expectations on themselves as adults to maintain that. I think it's more important to teach them how to recover from a shout or cry or any 'fail' in an appropriate way. Now that is where I often feel I #fail more. Lovely summer days photos, it all looks perfect to me :)

    In terms of no fear or awareness of danger, it regularly amazes me that there aren't so many more serious accidents with young children than there are and eyes in the back of your head is all you can aim for. Good Luck xx

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    1. This was such a warm and reassuring comment from a fellow mum. You are quite right that home is a good place for children to see the full range of human emotions, and learn how to deal with these. Indeed, learning how to back down, to apologise gracefully, and to make peace are all very important lessons. Our household provides volatile situations aplenty, but I am working hard on teaching "damage control" too!
      As for serious accidents involving children... oh yes, it continually amazes me how infrequently they hurt themselves, given their penchant for danger. We try hard to watch them carefully. We also let them fall/trip etc. when it seems reasonably safe to do so. Maybe this sounds irresponsible, but honestly, they do not learn otherwise!

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  4. As usual you bring total honesty to the subject in hand! Much as we love them and we do....at times it is overwhelmingly difficult. I try to remind myself that there will be a time when they won't seek me out every other second, and try to console myself that I am lucky to be so central to their entire existence.
    What wonderful photos - it looks like you have all had a wonderful summer holiday - and that is what they (and you) will remember most. Remember to book yourself some "me" time.....SOON! My children go back to school Sept 5th....5 days left and oh am I counting!!!

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    1. Sara, yes, I find myself repeating similar mantras frequently ("they won't be small forever; you will miss these times when they are grown up", etc.) I know that I will absolutely miss these days, and you're right that the difficult/tedious/angry moments will be harder and harder to remember as time passes.

      Meanwhile, I just noticed that September 5 is tomorrow! Congratulations for making it through the whole summer with your sanity intact!

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  5. Gosh, I shout at mine all the time. Apart from when they're watching telly and I'm on here reading blogs, when I only shout at them when they're arguing over the telly. Sounds like you had a pretty amazing but normal summer to me. :)

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    1. haha! It's so comforting to hear that shouting at one's children is a phenomenon that's not restricted to our home address! :) You used the word "normal", and that's the amazing thing, isn't it - "normal" life with children is so full, colourful and rich, even if it's also sometimes frustrating and overwhelming!

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  6. I was nodding the whole way through Katriina. Agree. Agree . Agree.

    Especially that little partner-dynamic: our partner's sleeping resentment of our time spent in a virtual world, a resentment that is revved full-throttle into life whenever we are caught taking a break from real life at just the wrong moment...

    Wake up for me is usually the sight and sound of Robert on a cleaning mission. I cannot sit idly by (much as I really blooming want to!) whilst he plays the cleaning-martyr... OR the shopping-martyr... OR combs Ana's tangled wet hair after pulling her through the washer...

    Yes, we get a bit distracted.

    We need the break.

    We are imperfect. Sometimes fall asleep on the job. Or want to be somewhere else.

    We get tired and we shout or frown.

    My parenthood has been punctuated by just so many imperfections...

    Your wee one is very perceptive. I am certain that she understands that she has the very best Mummy in the world; that we can't be 'happy' all of the time; and that sometimes it's just natural to holler.

    On my front: My number 4 is now a big high school boy. And aside from a slight mishap with a new jacket, he has settled fully into both high school life and teenage-attitude - including a maddening monosyllabic conversational style... His Dad is proud of his youngest son's popularity with the girls however - so, all is well with this little bit of the world.

    My eldest (almost 19) has bagged a graduate trainee position - despite having no degree - with the global retailer he's working for making him the only non-graduate on their graduate course. He is doing well. Came on holiday with us to Spain and was funny hilarious happy company. He is off to Ibiza for the clubs on the 5th Sept...his treat to himself before he begins the traineeship in earnest.

    The other three - well, Ana is footballing with enthusiasm; Meg is beginning to talk of leaving the idiot and is taking steps to getting on course again; and Evan (15 and the baby giant) is as mad and laid back a boy as ever - one who allowed a girl pal of his to pluck his eyebrows and who now looks like a real drag queen diva.

    Your summer pictures are beautiful. And the girls just like their gorgeous Mama.

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    1. LML, you are my parenting superhero, and I am immensely relieved to hear that moments of fatigue, distraction and (alleged) imperfection have had no discernible ill-effects on your final product - five children who all sound like smart, happy, unique individuals. Well done you!

      Meanwhile, YES!!! I knew there must be other husbands out there harbouring quiet resentment towards their wives' online lives. I am very familiar with the cleaning-martyr, and I have also encountered the Dad-of-the-Year-martyr. Laptop envy - that's a whole blog post right there, if only I dared...

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    2. Hahahahahaha! You gladden my heart! Yx

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  7. The most important thing is not to beat yourself up about not being supermom all the time!! And to try not to swear more than five times a day.

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    1. Thankfully it seems that real, honest-to-God, 24/7 supermoms are thin on the ground (or else get burnt out by their child's third birthday and resort to frequent bad tempered outbursts like the rest of us!) I think most of us have stellar parenting moments followed by stinker parenting moments. You're right - must just keep going and not stop to beat ourselves up too much!

      As for swearing, instead of actual curse words a friend of mine likes to yell, "Holey buckets!" - completely above board and yet extremely satisfying to say. She is my hero.

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  8. Very useful lessons for this dad-to-be. As I prepare for parenthood, I've already got one eye fully open to the fact that I'm likely going to be a nervous wreck for most of the next 10-15 years. I guess this is the way it has to be but my heart stopping at least every other day is not something I'm eagerly looking forward to!

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    1. Russell, I'm so sorry that I never replied to your comment! Yes, I can practically guarantee you lots of heart-stopping moments over the coming years. Luckily, those moments will be balanced out with all kinds of warm and wonderful moments that you will treasure forever :) All the very best for the coming event!

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