For those of you who don’t know me – oh wait that’s everyone! – I am the sister of your host, Reading Mumma. When my busy schedule allows, I too like to dabble in some reading – much of which is catered for by my sister who generously provides my next read each time she visits. I’m sad to say my reading pace is much slower than hers – I probably average one book to her 5 – but it gives us another area of common ground to talk about, that isn’t our children (the mums out there will know how nice adult conversation can be when it doesn’t revolve around children)!
My wonderful husband helps me find my sanity when I misplace it – yep, happens more than I care to admit – and together we have two beautiful children. B1 is a strong willed, fiercely independent, and beautiful 2.5 yr old girl and B2 is a perfect, totally chilled and cool as a cucumber relaxed 8 month old girl. My sister and I find ourselves regularly venting and providing suggestions on the challenges of raising children two children under the age of 3.
I don’t claim to be a pioneer – there are many other brave warriors who have traversed the rocky terrain that goes with mothering 2 under the age of 3. However, knowing numerous others have done it before you doesn’t mean that you (or they) have all the answers. Like all of us, toddlers are rarely predictable, can turn on a dime and have a vicious mean streak to rival Mr Hyde.
In order to relax when Mr Hyde comes out to challenge me, I try to relax with something that I can truly escape into. I’m currently reading Liane Moriarty’s gem, “What Alice Forgot”. Just briefly, this is about a mother of 3, Alice Love, who has a fall at the gym and wakes up having forgotten the last 10 years of her life. This includes no memory of the birth of her 3 children and her nasty divorce.
Alice’s experiences with the oldest of her 3 children, Madison, struck a chord with me. Alice wakes from her accident thinking she is still blissfully pregnant with a perfect, happy baby “sultana”. In reality, she has a very moody, independent and difficult 9 year old girl. She has been unceremoniously launched into the trenches that is raising 3 children without so much as a twig of experience to defend herself with. No training. No help. No books. No manual. No memory of her experiences and how she has overcome the challenges of parenting to date.
Now, even though I have the memory of the past almost 3 years, I sometimes feel as if the memory of my experience is completely useless. I’ve learned that no amount of mothering experience can either prevent or prepare you for a toddler meltdown. Each one makes you feel like you have no idea what you are doing and that you are simply not qualified to be nurturing the next generation. And the knowledge that you’ve been through it before, only adds to the helplessness of not being able to prevent or resolve it. While Alice is challenged by her 9-year-old, my 2.5 going on 9 year old challenges me on a daily basis. I frequently find myself wondering what on earth happened to my perfect peaceful little baby as she can make me feel like a stranger in my own house. My mind boggles when I try to imagine how Alice survived her kids, without the solid memory of the ups to cling to when the downs prevailed.
In our house, simple tasks (or so we think) turn into challenges akin to climbing Everest in the middle of a total white out. Our words and coaxing are as effective as trying to prop up the Titanic with kids floaties. The floaties might buy you a second or two, but the ship is going down. I’ve read the blogs where people talk about loving but not liking their toddler and I can truly say I can see their point of view. I love my girl to bits and she constantly amazes me but I feel like I am on a constant roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from incomprehensible happiness when she shows you her beautiful, unique and quirky personality, only to come down a massive vertical drop into madness when Mr Hyde comes out to play.
Recently I’ve spent some time thinking about this, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. She is a completely normal 2.5 yr old girl who is just exploring her own personality and her limits (as well as my own). So that being said – how do we survive this phase without being driven insane and developing a very unhealthy coffee and chocolate addiction? OK, ok, you got me –yes I already have a coffee and chocolate addiction but hey I’m trying not to make it worse.
Spend more time and just ‘be’.
Much like Alice, I have realised I need to take the time to observe, interact and just ‘be’ with my children. Alice is forced to do so because of her complete helplessness without her memory. Being a stranger in her own home she is forced to stop and truly observe her children (for the first time in her present mindset), allowing her to see them in a completely different light. Alice falls in love with their exquisitely individual personalities and needs, and, not being caught up in the highly organised and regimented routine of her previous life, she actually has some time and patience to be able to give them what they need. The lesson – if we take a moment to stop and just be with our kids instead of running from point to point with them, we may start to feel like less of a stranger in our own lives – and they in ours.
Lower expectations = increased patience.
I think it’s fair to say we all expect too much of the oldest child when they receive their promotions to big sister or big brother. B1’s passionate desire for independence actually results in me thinking she can do more than she is capable and I forget she is in fact, still a baby. Independent dressing is a dream for both of us. Until it ends in a different way to her getting both legs stuck in the undies she is putting on over her pyjama pants (which I politely she suggested she remove several times), she, much to her dismay, needs my help. The challenge here is giving her the opportunity and encouragement to try new things to help foster her independence, but also being there to let her know it’s ok if she needs help – she only needs to ask. So – after 20 minutes sitting on her bedroom floor stark naked we got there. The lesson – DO NOT try and help her until she asks.
This requires a monumental amount of patience. Foresight and knowing the outcome of her trials is not helpful. And I am not ashamed to say, my patience is not what it used to be. My fast-paced life is diametrically opposed to how a toddler functions. She senses my urgency and my quick escalation to frustration does nothing to speed up the loading into the car. My solution? Distraction. Don’t let her see your urgency. Photos, videos, songs, stories of things to come can distract from her sensing my urgency to help keep her metaphorical skittles inside the bag. It’s nice to say we need to slow everything down and just ‘be’ but there are still occasions where life demands we participate so this solution gets us through! – for the most.
I’ve ultimately learned that B1 needs as much, if not more attention as B2. Guaranteed that on the days when I have a to-do-list an Olympic high-jumper wouldn’t even attempt to jump over that she’ll need me every minute of the day, but the simple fact is, if she needs it that’s what I try to give to her.
These things aside, I regularly tell myself that I am the luckiest mother alive, I have two healthy beautiful girls who I love and adore, and who I know love and adore me. While some days my oldest may shake me up more than a gym junkie does a protein shake, she is still my baby. No matter how many years I spend as a mother my children will always have the ability to make me feel like Alice – where I wake up and wonder when my perfect baby turned into a 2.5-year-old going on 16. Ultimately, I know that I am lucky to help shape her beautiful soul into the confident and strong young woman I know she will become but on some days I do feel just as helpless and challenged as Alice.