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Brittany: How to Get a Grip

“Let this become your key — next time when anger comes, just watch it. Don’t say, ‘I am angry.’ Say, ‘Anger is there and I am watching it.’ And see the difference! The difference is vast. Suddenly you are out of the grip of anger. If you can say, ‘I am just a watcher, I am not anger,’ you are out of the grip.”  ~Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

When we initially moved to New York, my three-year-old son, Sam, was all smiles and excitement. It was all a great adventure to him, driving cross country, living in temporary housing, and spending a week without us at the grandparents’ that ultimately culminated in the wonderous, never-to-be-repeated excitement of finally, finally, after months and months of talking about it, coming to live in The New House.

But like most things on the roller-coaster of life, once you’ve reached the highest of highs, there’s nowhere to go but down…

We moved into our house on July 1st and Sam hit Toddler Rock Bottom about two weeks later. (And I hit Parenting Rock Bottom right along with him.) It started with a tantrum or two, over nothing, and then insidiously, over the next few weeks, the tantrums escalated into mega-tantrums, where Sam bit John, and then began biting his new friends, to which I escalated my parental crackdown. My punishments were met with outrage so severe that Sam started having “accidents” — in public and at home. And by the beginning of August, our house was like a police state — justice was intense and swift — and Sam’s behavior was so unpredictable that Tom and I wondered where we could find him a good therapist.

Even when I was pregnant with Sam, I knew that he was going to test my emotional and physical endurance. In utero, he was active, demanding, and always a loud presence. Before he was ever born, I knew him and his moods as well as I knew my own because he projected them to me so intensely.

But things had been fine in South Carolina. After he turned three, the tantrums from his Terrible Twos leveled off, and his intense reactions to everything seemed to have been a passing phase. When they manifested again here it took me completely by surprise, and it took me several weeks to remember that an intense reaction to change has always been a facet of his personality. If I looked at things from his perspective, he’d just experienced a huge emotional upheaval leaving the only home, only friends, only neighbors, only life he’d ever known. He had nothing in his life to compare it to, no sense that everything would be okay after a while, no ability to understand the fear and homesickness gnawing at him. I incorrectly assumed he was too young to care much where he lived, as long as he was with me and Tom and John. By the time I stepped away from my own rage at this wild, unpredictable, irrational child that I was being forced to deal with, and think about the reasons behind it, the damage was done. My child was an emotional wreck. I knew I had to try a new tack, and soon, or things were going to get untenable.

I dug through still-packed boxes of books until I found my copy of the Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and re-read it from cover-to-cover twice.

One of Kurcinka’s suggestions in dealing with intense children is to give them a visual demonstration of their anger in the form of vinegar and baking soda “volcanos.” She suggests doing this with the child so he/she can see the volcano bubbling over and make the connection between it and the way they feel when they’re under stress.

I like to put my own spin on things, and since I knew the source of Sam’s anger, I tried doing things a little differently.

I gathered up the vinegar, the baking soda, a glass, and a quarter measuring cup. Then I told Sam that we needed to fill the glass up with “yuckies” — that for each thing that made him sad or mad, we were going to put a “yucky” in the glass. It took him a while to understand what a “yucky” was, but in no time he was on a roll. He missed his teachers, his school, his friends, our old house, our neighbors, our family members, punishments made him mad, our new house made him sad, and he was mad that this house didn’t have a swing set in the backyard like our old house had. Once the glass was full, I added the baking soda, and narrated a pretend (and ridiculous) tantrum — even by Sam’s standards.

“…What! No waffles for breakfast? Sam wanted waffles! Oh no! Sam’s yelling! He’s screaming! He’s thrown himself on the floor and he’s kicking kicking kicking! Oh no! He’s kicking Mommy! He’s kicking John! Now he’s even kicked the dog! Oh no! He’s kicked a hole in the floor. Now he’s kicked the house down! And he’s stomping stomping stomping on the house! And he’s throwing pieces of the house! Now the garage is flying through the air! And Sam’s still mad!”

Sam thought this was hilarious and so we spent the morning making more volcanoes and having more pretend tantrums. Every time we did it, I noticed that his ability to verbalize how he was feeling became more fluent. I knew he had completely caught on when he was playing with some friends, one of whom was getting very frustrated about something, and Sam called to me, “Mommy, Tyler’s glass is getting full of yuckies! Come help him!” Since then, yuckies, full glasses, and volcanoes have become part of our dialogue with each other. Now I can say to him, “Sam, your glass is looking pretty full. I can see you’re starting to get bubbly like a volcano. Do you need a break?”

After I say this, the expression on his face changes.You can watch him thinking about his emotions instead of feeling them, and then he’ll say, “I’m okay Mom. The yuckies are gone now.”

Yesterday, John was being a royal two-year-old pain in the grocery store, and we had to go past the candy aisle at check out. Both boys began begging for candy and I was feeling harassed. So I said to Sam, “Sam, please stop asking about candy. John is not being a nice boy right now (he was trying to leap out of his seat into the basket of the shopping cart) and Mommy’s glass is really REALLY full.” And Sam, to my everlasting surprise said, “Oh. Let me help you unload the cart then.” And he immediately got to work putting our groceries on the conveyor belt.

Please envision how I must’ve looked — absolutely flummoxed — mouth agape — eyes wide in surprise — as my toddler attempted to diffuse MY tantrum. It was quite the role reversal. Sam was able to give back to me what I had apparently been giving him — the incredible relief that comes from knowing that your feelings of stress are understood, that the burden of keeping it together has been lifted, and you’ve been excused for a moment to sort yourself out. All it took was a little understanding, and the weight of the day lifted from my shoulders. I was renewed and back to myself in seconds.

It was a good week for us. We seem to have gotten a grip.

Brittany: Happy Surprises

It’s been an eternity since I wrote a Studio Mothers blog post. For months, my life has been in an endless state of upheaval. My husband and I decided it was in our best interests for him to leave his job of 10 years, sell our house, and move from South Carolina to New York with all our worldly possessions, two toddlers, and four pets. Had I written a blog post on the subject, it would’ve consisted of a whole lot of whining and weeping, or a combination of the two, as we put our house on the market, freaked out during the period of time it took to sell it, bought a new house, and prepared to move. Moving isn’t fun in the best of circumstances, but Dante left out the layer of hell known as Moving With Children.

I didn’t know what New York had in store for me, but I knew it couldn’t be good — not in the short term, anyway. I was leaving home, and all my friends, and all my sons’ friends, 14 hours (and a universe) away. We would be living in isolation in temporary housing — a two-bedroom suite hotel — for three weeks, and then after that I could look forward to a long, depressing, boring summer. I figured all that solitude would give me ample opportunity to write, even though I didn’t welcome all that free time, and was feeling grumpy at the prospect.

Mind you, I was trying to be optimistic, and was going to try my hardest to have a good time no matter what, but deep down I was steeling myself for disappointment.

And then the happy surprises began.

The first surprise was the drive itself. A 14 hour car trip with a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old can easily become a 20-hour car trip, so Tom and I decided to break the trip up into two days. Since we were driving both cars up to NY, we split the boys up, plugged in the DVD players, and fervently prayed that the drive wouldn’t be too bad. Now, I don’t even like to drive across town, so I dreaded the cross-country drive with a (possibly hysterical) two-year-old. But I put on my complete collection of CS Lewis Narnia books on CD, plugged in the portable DVD player for John, and hoped for the best. And then the miles flew by. I was listening to Voyage of the Dawn Treader when we arrived in NY and felt like my brain had spent a week at a spa. I had not had to think in two full days. It was wonderful, and a welcome relief.

The second surprise happened with a knock on my hotel room door. Our next door neighbor turned out to be the best friend I could’ve hoped for under the circumstances. A mom of 2-year-old and 4-year-old boys, whose husband had just started at the same company as Tom. Both of us were stuck at the hotel until the 1st of July, both of us were a long way from home, and both of us were about to lose our minds. What was supposed to be Part I of my long, boring summer of solitude turned into a whirlwind of little boys out-on-the-town. Kira was destined to be my friend, because we have similar interests and personalities anyway, but it certainly helped that our boys loved each others’ company and wanted to spend every single second together, and that our engineer husbands could hang out, talk, and understand each other, as only a pair of engineers could. They’ve moved to the town right next to ours and even though we’re no longer together at the hotel, we see each other almost daily.

And then a third surprise. I thought our neighborhood in SC was the friendliest, most awesome neighborhood that ever existed. But I was wrong. Our new neighborhood is just as friendly and the neighbors we’ve met so far have all been so welcoming, at times I have to pinch myself because I really feel like I’m living a dream. Our house is cheerful and quirky, and the most “me” of any house I’ve ever lived in. The neighborhood itself is picturesque and charming. The location, absolutely ideal.

And yet Tom and I were this close to losing it all. When our house was on the market, a family loved it, but ultimately chose another house in our neighborhood with an identical floorplan but a larger, flatter lot. At the time I was really perturbed that another house was chosen over ours. But the final happy surprise occurred last night, when Tom and I checked out the MLS listings in our old neighborhood to see what the market was doing. That house, which had gone under contract several weeks before ours, was re-listed and touting its recent home inspection and appraisal. The sellers moved out and then, we’re guessing, the deal fell through, whereas our buyers came along a scant few weeks later, fell in love with our house, and couldn’t move in fast enough. I feel horrible for our neighbors whose house is re-listed, and I feel boundless gratitude that the Fates smiled on us and let the sale of our house go through.

I can’t think of another time things have aligned so perfectly in my life. I’m reassured that the upheaval was worth it and our lives are finally on the right track where, no doubt, other happy surprises await us.

Miranda: Moving toward creativity

dsc_0004Hi all! Just a quick post to thank everyone for all the well wishes and support during my move. We’re hard at work getting settled, and my library (yes, my library!) is going to be a wonderful space. (Below is a shot of the work in progress.)

After nearly two years of limbo, it is an amazing relief to finally be “here.” No more wasted time, energy, and emotion spent trying to improve our house situation and fretting about it and cleaning the house for showings (while pregnant and then with a newborn) and hoping that “this time we’re going to get an offer.” It’s finally over.

dsc_0013All the kids are enjoying the new space and I think the house is a big improvement for everyone. Even the teenagers seemed pleased, which is no small accomplishment.

By the end of this weekend, all of the boxes will be unpacked. We’ll make a trip to IKEA for a few necessities. At that point there will till be lots of organizing left to do, of course, but the limbo — and life amid boxes — will have ended.

I guess that means that I’ll actually have to start being creative, huh?

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