While most of the time I post pictures of my dear Clara smiling and looking happy, this is not the face I see most of the time. During vacation I started a series called "Clara looking cross" Mostly as a way to stay calm and gain perspective while she was pitching a fit.
Do you remember this cute little one from a few posts back?
For whatever reason, Clara is quick to anger. She always has been, um, particular? ...strong-willed? ...stubborn? We joke that this is just default for the women in my family -- it rides along with my X chromosome. I love that she will be a take-no-prisoners adult but as an almost 5 year old she often has me feeling, well, imprisoned. I've had a lot of very long, and sometimes painful, conversations with folks who know these things (some even have relevant degrees!) and we're pretty sure she's just on the edgy side of normal. Kind of introverted, kind of inflexible, but with a load of amazing qualities that make her a lot of fun to be around... usually. And with a vocabulary that makes it hard to remember she's only 4!
I'm pretty frank about my own issues with anxiety. I have a bunch of hilarious and debilitating phobias, spiders (so common it's boring), moths (funny and appropriate for a yarn shop owner), flying (truly annoying). I did a bunch of therapy in my 20s to get a handle on my crippling fears, among other things. My therapist marveled that I could get so much done with the level of stress that I carried around all the time. I had great success learning to manage my anxiety -- really changing the way I think. I've never needed medication, thankfully, but it was always a happy back-up if things got really bad. In short, I function pretty well, that is, under normal circumstances.
Parenting, while ostensibly a "normal" thing is (for me) like putting myself through some sort of anxiety obstacle course every day. I start most days tired and I'm lucky if I find clean clothes and maintain some basic level of personal hygiene. On top of that, we've got this new house, and my business, and so my to do list is crippling. Pair that with my delightfully inflexible Clara and her insane monkey little sister and I'm a nervous wreck most of the time.
Lately, things with Clara have been especially challenging. There have been many many tantrums. Most of the time I can take this stuff in stride, but the frequency of these events, their severity, along with the only barely being civil parts in the middle have really been taking a toll. I'm usually pretty happy with my parenting but recently I've been mostly Cartman Parenting (bad parenting level 1) and then, let's be honest, sometimes end up Toddler parenting -- where I act more like a toddler than the toddlers (bad parenting level 2) I don't know what bad parenting level 3 looks like, thankfully, I'm happy to not know.
I've been brainstorming ideas on how to help get us past this bumpy section (all the while just cringing and shaking my head about how much fun she's going to be as a teenager) and the consensus seems that we need to be a bit more organized. The organization will help me stay calm (honestly, dinner sneaks up on me every. day. and if I had a plan instead of a panic the rest of the world seems so much more manageable) and will give her (and let's face it me too) a sense of order that will help when we have to be flexible.
So I've been working on organizing our entire life. hah! Really, removing decisions from our day. Making the boring things more systematic so the rest is easier. My mom tells me this is all good preparation for next year when Clara goes to school. It prepares her for the concept of a routine (previously unknown in our house) and gets us used to the hard work of having a school-aged kid. I started off with a basic spreadsheet of our daily schedule. I've found that our weekly schedule is getting pretty regular, while each day is a little different, the days of the week have a rhythm that we can follow. I also decided to try to have a morning routine (breakfast, a bit of TV, getting dressed, snack, a bit of housework) and an evening routine (make & eat dinner, bathtime, stories, bed) I hoped that if we could get these things to happen at the same time each day, perhaps, by some miracle, this would help Clara and it would give me the strength to get through each day with grace and patience.
Does it make me a geek that I then made daily schedules for the girls that I can print out for them? Complete with "bathtime" clip-art? yes, it does. I know, it's okay. I also have my "parents version" with all of the times laid out so I can remember when things need to happen. I'm so abhorrent to routine that I literally print out my schedule every day and take notes. Of course I decided to start this whole process 2 days before vacation, but we resumed the plan when we came home. I've been assured that it often gets worse before it gets better, so I'm just going to keep plugging and improving where I can and hoping that it eventually it feels like routine instead of work.
As we continue this project I'll try to share with you some of the things that have been working. The daily schedules so far, for Clara, have been helpful. She asks for them and wants to read through them each morning during breakfast. She also has been taking "notes" when I mention things may not go as planned. Some transitions have been easier, but that's not getting rid of all of the tantrums -- we still have a meddling little sister to push her buttons.
Planning out our meals has already made me less stressed out, which is helping with the bad parenting. As with so many other things, our kids are mirrors of our own behaviors. Clara definitely picks up on my anxiety and amplifies it. Knowing what we're having for dinner TONIGHT and that it's thawed and ready to get together when the time comes (checks schedule, that's 5:00pm) makes it so much easier for me to stay calm when Clara's feeling stormy.
I'm hoping to tear apart my wardrobe soon, plan a dozen or so outfits and store the rest. I've never done this before but really, sometimes just finding something to wear (that isn't pajamas) is such a challenge for me. If it were more formulaic, it would make my morning that much easier and that may also improve my sanity.
Also part of my plan is to include some housework for the girls and I to do each day. Firstly, it will help me keep our house clean and organized and secondly, it will teach them how much work it takes to care for a house and hopefully get them invested in keeping the house clean and organized. Clara didn't like the idea of house cleaning when I brought it up first, but when she learned she got to play with soap and push buttons (laundry) she perked right up. Now we've done a shocking amount of laundry and it's folded and put away (even more shocking!)
Lastly, I've suddenly found it quite funny that I was totally prepared to turn my life upside down for my children. I knew my life would change and I would learn many many new things. How little was I prepared for how much I, myself, would have to change to rise to the challenge of parenting. How so little of this upheaval has to do with diapers and sleep (though, to be sure, those are huge adjustments, temporarily) and how so much of it has been developing entirely new (to me) infrastructure -- physical, emotional, and now organizational, to continue supporting them as they grow. Parenting, as usual, just when you think you have it figured out you realize you have to change everything all over again. Who knows maybe one day finding clean pants will be a breeze.