Archive for January, 2007

January 30, 2007

Sometimes you get little sleep…… with pre-dawn tag!

by Rod Smith

It’s been a tag free-for-all in my house tonight. Not the traditional run-hide-and-find kind but the keep-dad-awake version. One child goes off to sleep; the other turns his head a fraction off the pillow to say he is “starving.” I think immediately how little we know in a land of plenty about starvation, but decide not to enter dialogue with a 4-year-old about this important matter, especially when my bedside clock says 3:16 a.m. 

Next thing, I am downstairs. I know I shouldn’t be but here I am, semi-comatose, boiling the kettle, throwing a bag of instant oatmeal into a bowl while my mother’s words from a quarter-century ago about no child ever needing to go to bed hungry reverberate in my head. Oatmeal and a spoon in one hand, a filled baby’s bottle in the other, I reach the landing, and Mr. Starving is fast asleep. I can eat the oatmeal or watch it coagulate like wallpaper glue since starvation got the better of him. He is sleeping so deeply I could swing him by his feet and he’d not waken. Not that I want to swing him by his feet, even though we’ve been through this routine a time or two before. I should be able to detect that “Dad, I am starving” might just as well have read, “Tag. You’re it.” 

Now I lay me down to sleep and all I can see in the darkened room is the clock’s obnoxious florescent glow on the baby’s white bottle. It is ready and waiting for his next eruption of hunger. Have you noticed? Very young babies are never just a little hungry. It is never minor progression along a gentle continuum. It is never, “Oh. I think I will awaken now. I am feeling a little peckish.” Babies do not do “hungry” like that. Babies erupt when they are hungry. It is a full-volume announcement, a blast, an emergency directive in a train station or sports arena. It’s fire-alarm urgency satisfied only with a full gob of rubber and the slow release of Simulac With Iron. 

I feel myself drifting off to sleep when Rhino the dog, with full knowledge of my condition, bumps the side of my bed. He smiles, tail wagging, to announce his need of a bio-break an hour earlier than usual. The clock is self-righteously announcing that it is 3:46 a.m. I prepare myself to stand in the yard watching Rhino do his thing in order to prevent his taking the opportunity to climb through the hole in the back of the fence, and visit a long list of neighborhood pals he befriended, when I have been more tired, less vigilant. 

Man and dog enter the house together. I am relieved no neighbors were out at this hour walking their dogs. I did not have to run for cover lest I be seen appearing on my lawn in boxer shorts. Rhino bounds up the stairs and I go to the crib’s edge knowing that any minute the baby will awaken. 

Nathanael is not stirring – not yet, anyway. So I tiptoe over the wooden floors, for the creaking has been known to awaken big brother, and ease myself into bed. I turn my head from the clock and its glib 4:06 a.m. and wonder what it is with the sixes tonight.

Grace has come and I will finally sleep. The baby, sensing the imminent presence of Mr. Sandman, reacts and now I am cuddling an infant who drinks deeply of the bottle while nestling against my chest. He searches for something in my eyes I hope he finds. At the very first burp, he has forgotten he’s hungry and drifted to sleep when big brother walks in, trailed by the dog. He asks, as he sees the baby asleep against my chest and climbs onto my lap, if we can have a “group hug.” 

As we hug, sleeping children draped over me like throw rugs, I thank God for women, two birth mothers, who in the great and heavenly game of tag, unselfishly and unreservedly declared me “it.”

January 30, 2007

The craziness and joy of bringing up children while flying solo….

by Rod Smith

If I were endowed with the power to award gold medals, mothers who stay at home with their young children day after day would be decorated for their bravery. Two days after the curtain closed on my son’s delightful Christmas pageant, and we took our children home for the holidays, I was already fried.

To be honest, it’s finally happened. I’ve gone over the top. Lost it. My entire identity has been dragged through the transforming challenge of sharing the holidays with a 3-year-old. Hook, line and sinker; nose ring; ball and chain — choose whichever metaphor gives you a picture of my being dragged hopelessly through scatterings of toys, buried under mounds of paper, lying on a bed of Legos, covered with dog hair, exhausted and muttering, “Oh where, Oh where has my adulthood gone. Oh where, Oh where can it be?”

These holidays, I’ve done everything I found ridiculous and amusing about other parents when I was a childless observer. For instance, I drove to four Walgreen drugstores covering a radius of about 20 miles from our home in search of a single $3 whoopee cushion, which, on delivery to my son’s grateful 4-year-old friend, burst immediately in their unified search of the ultimate whoop.

All the while, in an attempt to stretch my mind, I’ve been forming a list of the Most Ridiculous Things Adults Say to 3-year-olds. They include “Wait,” “Keep that on the table,” “Keep your shirt clean,” “Put the dog down,” “Lie still,” “Tomorrow,” “Where are your socks?” “Let me show you how to do that,” “Put the food in your mouth,” and “Don’t jump.”

Today, to illustrate just how far off the rails I have gone, I drove 9.5 miles for the sole purpose of picking up two, 2-inch plastic medieval men (one red, one blue) my son left at a Christmas party. Without them he will not launch the plastic bomb from his Lincoln Log castle to bomb the living room that has been perpetually bombed every day since the good reindeers delivered Santa to our rooftop.

Have you noticed that Legos, Lincoln Logs, jigsaw puzzles, Monopoly – the games and toys with lots and lots of pieces – require only the briefest little tug to open the box and you are knee-deep in a colorful mess of stuff? Toys with limited potential to be strewn afar, like Buzz Lightyear, are straddled into multiple packaging, twisted secure, limb by limb with wire, taped and screwed into box within box requiring at least a hammer, chisel and power saw to extricate them for play.

About music and videos: How many times can a 3-year-old watch Toy Story? There is no limit. How many times can he want to hear the Bananas in Pajamas sing about walking down the stairs? There is no limit. How many times can a 3-year-old want to jump off the dresser, onto the bed, onto the floor while shouting, “From here to infinity and beyond”? There is no limit.

I do have limits. There’s a limit to how much stuff I will pick up. This week, I have picked up stuff from morning to night. I pick up the same stuff every day, several times. I’ve packed and repacked drawers my son has, for no reason at all, unpacked.

Yesterday, I picked Legos out of the heating duct, the garbage disposal, the upstairs and downstairs toilets, the blender, the piano, the potted plants, the teapot, the dishwasher, the freezer and the VCR. As evidence of my personal growth, I can retrieve stuff using my bare hands out of toilets, sinks and sewers. These are places I could not even look in when I was a child without feeling squeamish. Now I go right ahead, put my hands in without holding my nose, turning my head or closing my eyes.

I’m holidayed out. I’m done. If my son’s preschool teacher wonders why I am so glad to see her, it’s because I have seen the slow process of my encroaching craziness. I have become irrational, unreasonable, overly emotional, irritable and illogical simply through the tiresome process of removing Legos, Logs and Lightyear from every imaginable, inconvenient place in our universe and I am ready to send my son back to school so I can build the castle, load its cannon with real fire power, aim it at Buzz, and the ridiculous singing, dancing bananas and be rid of them, once and for all.

January 27, 2007

Step-mother tired of being treated like “step-monster” —–

by Rod Smith

READER QUESTION: “Thank for the column ‘the seven essentials before marrying someone with children.’ Last February I married a very loving man but it’s been a challenge. We have a 5 month old boy and my husband has two older sons (20 and 17) who were kicked of their mother’s and have lived with their dad for the past two years. The boys think they can run all over me because they have lived at their dad’s house longer than me. I get a lot of sarcasm. I am just sick and tired of being treated like a ‘step monster.’ I am nothing but nice to those boys all the time and I try to show them love and care, but they think daddy is it and step mom and baby brother are just along for the ride. It really makes me mad that they have such bad attitudes toward me. Should I just start acting unloving to them like they are to me or should I keep trying to be nice even though I am getting slapped in the face by them all the time?” (letter shortened)

ROD’S REPLY: I’d suggest you married a loving man who is intimidated by his two older sons. It is time for dad to step up for step mom.

January 26, 2007

Seven things healthy parents know about teenagers…

by Rod Smith

My teenager —

 1.  …appears more invested building peer rather than parent relationships. I expect this. Healthy interdependence will not occur if separations are not practiced within primary relationships.

2. … faces change, opportunities, and forms of seduction I never faced. I expect some relational turbulence, questioning of values as my child finds appropriate footing in the adult world.

3. … appears more grown-up than my child is, so sometimes I will get the cold shoulder from a know-it-all. I’ll be kind and forthright when occurs. I will do all I can to avoid embarrassing my child to win control.

4. … may embrace friends other than those I would choose. I will welcome people until there is cause not to. When this happens I will be honest to avoid unnecessary unpleasantness.

5. … is a master of non-verbal communication so I will not to over-interpret what I see. I will ask for verbal clarification when necessary.

6. … wants a parent, not a buddy. My child wants to be cared for, and not have to care for me.

7. … probably feels uncomfortable talking with me about intimate matters. I will not allow discomfort to restrain me from being an involved parent regarding difficult matters.

January 24, 2007

A reader reflects about a nephew estranged from his mother who is now deceased…

by Rod Smith

“My wife’s aunt passed away recently and we attended her funeral. Her passing will leave a void but I write not about her death, but about the stupidity (my view) of the situation. Her son did not see his mother since his wedding over 10 years ago. There was a disagreement at the time of the wedding. On finding out about his mother’s passing, he decided to attend the funeral. He had apparently stormed out of his home and attended.

“I find it sad the dispute has lasted so long and that there can be such hatred towards others that they do not find it in themselves to be cordial and perhaps forgiving. This son visited a corpse. He will never be able to speak to his mother and I guess that he will have to live with that. I do not know if his mother accepted the situation or whether she secretly hoped that he would come around. We will never know.

“This son should have visited his mother. This situation should not have been allowed to happen. In hind-sight, friends and family should have intervened. We know but I think that it needs to be re-iterated that death is final and to this son and his wife, the dispute is now over.” (letter shortened)

January 22, 2007

What do you do if you forgive a person for what they have done to you and they throw it in your face and tell you they didn’t do anything to you in the first place?

by Rod Smith

It appears you seek reconciliation. That takes at least two people. Forgiveness takes one. Apparently you have tried to do your part in releasing and forgiving one who has hurt you. That he or she will not reciprocate does not dilute your gracious act. In the short term it may be less meaningful for you, for you want reconciliation, but the power of forgiveness will still be yours. Forgiveness, both giving and receiving, are a deep matters of the human head and heart. Forgiving takes humility. Receiving it takes greater humility.

January 20, 2007

Enriched is the woman ……

by Rod Smith

..who knows she never has to participate in sexual activity that she does not want; who knows that her body is her own and private temple which she shares, even in marriage, only when it is by her own sacred and deliberate choice.

..who does not lose herself in her marriage, or to motherhood, or in taking care of her family, but who is able to develop a strong sense of self even while being a loving wife, mother and friend.

..who does not allow herself to be taken for granted, to be sworn at, to be victimized by anyone, not husband, children, in-laws, siblings, or parents.

..who lives above manipulation, domination and intimidation and whose relationships are therefore pure and open.

..who is able to articulate her deepest dreams, desires, and fears to those whom she loves, without fearing a response of indifference or rejection.

..who, in the midst of the pressures of work, motherhood and marriage, maintains her unique and powerful voice.

January 18, 2007

My adult children do not help at home or want to get ahead…

by Rod Smith

“I am a single mother of two (23 and 21). They are good kids but my problem is that I cannot get them to help around the house and they are unmotivated to get ahead in life. They are both in very causal jobs. I have paid for them both to do correspondence studies but cannot get them to study. My son works in a video shop. He ends up in the bar after work until all hours of the morning. My daughter barely leaves the house but to go to work. When I try and communicate they will not talk.  What can I do?”

You are working too hard. It appears you are more committed to their futures than your adult children are.

Unless there are substantial unstated mental health issues, I’d suggest you give them a week or two to make substantial changes to their attitudes and level of productivity – or ship them out.

In the long term, I think it better that you clear your comfortable nest of lazy adults who will not contribute to its costs and care. As tough as it sounds – let them live lazy lives elsewhere.

They will thank you when they grow up.

January 17, 2007

To the so-called friend…

by Rod Smith

“To the so-called “friend” (You and Me, January 15, 2007) who wants to tell my husband about my ‘affair’ all I can say is that you are not friend enough to know the facts. You are an acquaintance but I would not describe you as my friend.

“To the outside world we are getting divorced because an illness. The truth is far harder to accept and far harder for me to have lived through. I have been controlled and manipulated to the point where I have lost my own identity and self worth. I was forbidden from joining groups or societies that shared my interests, forbidden from joining a church group, forbidden from joining a gym or running club or any exercise group, forbidden from seeing my friends or going out alone.

“You have no idea of the anguish, misery and heartache I have lived through because I have never considered you friend enough to know the intimate details. The small things I have let slip to you about my unhappiness resulted in condemnation from you, and no sympathy, empathy or support. My true friends were there when I needed them and as such know the truth.” (Letter shortened)

January 16, 2007

The trials of parenting…..

by Rod Smith

Parenting is no cakewalk. My children (8 and 4) are at an age where it seems everything is a battle of wills. If they are not fighting with each other over who is sitting in whose space at the table, or fighting over one toy that neither has noticed for months until the other happens to casually pick it up, they are debating me over the necessity of cleaning their teeth or picking up clothes.

But these are the passing phases on their unique journeys toward necessary self-definition – and it is my continual challenge to see the larger picture.

I am challenged, on a daily basis, to speak well of others, to be honorable to my word (as far as it is possible) and to guard the words that come out of my mouth.

Clearly, as the primary adult in their lives, I am called upon to show them how adults ought to behave, how adults ought to resolve conflict, be forgiving, be kind and generous.

Fighting over a toy in the back of the car, will, I hope, give them fond memories of these formative years. Watching me face the daily grind of living an adult life, will, I hope, impart to them invaluable tools for successful futures.