Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hitting (Attachment Stage 0-3)

(After "The Pyramid" gets posted...which I hope will have a 2012 birth date...the title to this post will make more sense.)

My adorable angel, MaryAnn (17 months), started hitting...regularly.

MaryAnn is old enough to have a few cognitive hopes and dreams now (looking at books, taking baths, eating treats)...and recognize when those dreams aren’t coming true (when Mom says, "Not now, Dear"). Recognition takes more brain power than she had when she was a newborn. (Yeah for her!)

But it also means the beginning of intense emotional drama. 

Recently, the youngest three took turns sitting in a black office chair while Kirsti and Diggy shared in the job of spinning, rolling, and saying, “Keep your arms inside the car at all times. Enjoy your ride.”

MaryAnn observed for several rounds and then bravely stepped forward to join in. She grinned and giggled during her first adventure. She could tell that she was imitating ‘the good times’ she’d witnessed a few minutes before. Happy chemicals (like dopamine) were flowing through her body, and her memory cells worked hard to connect “big black chair” with “happy feeling”.

But then it was time to switch riders.

Kirsti scooped MaryAnn out of the chair and declared that it was Cienna’s turn. Naturally, those happy chemicals stopped flowing and her body went into a state of alarm and protest. She arched her back and squealed as Kirsti plopped her on the couch next to Allison. Still feeling out of balance from this shocking transition, MaryAnn resorted to more physical exertion in the form of her arm whacking Allison in the face. (This made Allison bite her tongue and burst into tears.)

I was in the kitchen when the chaos reached my ears. I stopped what I was doing and went into battle.

“MaryAnn hit Allison,” reported big sister.

By now, MaryAnn had joined Allison in crying.

I looked Allison deep in the eyes and asked if she was okay. I hugged her for a moment and told her I was sorry that MaryAnn had hit her. She continued to cry, but after hearing my empathy, her body relaxed and seemed relieved. I assured her that MaryAnn’s brain is still growing...she’s using what she has right now (like motor skills), but it’s not done developing yet. I made sure Allison felt confident that I could and would help her sister learn know how to handle those hands of hers over the coming months.

Then I went to MaryAnn and picked her up. I held her close and talked softly in her ear. I think I said something about how hitting hurts people. I also told her gently that she’s growing up--she recognizes fun when she sees it. But my main message was that I could tell she was feeling out of control and I knew I could help her whenever she feels that way. She can trust that my brain will show hers how to handle these tricky situations.

The prolonged crying didn’t bother me (like it sometimes does) because I felt fully present...focused on my child’s needs instead of my own. I knew that this was an emotional cloud that would roll on soon. I knew that tears are a good sign that the body is (1) aware of its out of balance state and (2) in need of finding an effective way to release some stress hormone. Tears can do that. I actually gained energy as I thought about how my tenderness in this difficult moment would bond my children to me (including the innocent by-standers) and give me more strength to teach and lead them toward worthy goals (like not hitting) when the storm passed.

I continued to cradle MaryAnn until the crying stopped after several minutes. Then I stayed nearby for several more minutes.

I joined in “the game” to assist MaryAnn in waiting for her turn. I held her on my lap while we patiently waited. I repeated the word “turn” (Allison’s turn...Cienna’s turn...MaryAnn’s turn) lots of times because she’s been soaking in so many word-meanings lately that I knew she’d catch on.   

It’ll probably take a few more weeks of practicing for her brain cells to myelinate, or in other words automatically remember that Turn = Fun Coming Soon, but she’ll eventually get it.

This wasn’t the first time she’d hit. Sometimes when I tell her “no,” her emotions get the best of her and she halls off and smacks me while I’m in the very act of consoling her because life doesn't always produce the piece of candy she knows would taste good. Hitting is one of her current ways of communicating, “I feel pretty out of control!” It releases at least some of the negative energy she's feeling. I don’t take it personally. Well actually I do...she’s willing to share her most frantic moments with me...her mother. I’m glad.

Or sometimes when she’s playing with the kids, the game gets wild and she can tell that flailing arms contributes to sibling bonding. She hits to join in with the rough-housing. They laugh. So does she.

I have memories of assuming my child would lead a life of violence if I didn’t zap the hitting-thing with at least a gentle punishment (like a consistent time-out) that would corner him/her into “choosing” more wisely next time. But now I know what’s going on in that little innocent, but ignorant and often out of control brain. I know that some simple following in my footsteps will take care of the ignorance part.
And I know that a healthy prefrontal cortex will keep developing in my little one’s mind (which will assist her in taming natural impulses and balancing emotions) if I keep using mine wisely in her presence. And until then, I’m happy to shoulder the burden of her immaturity with her. It makes us both stronger.    

By lending her my prefrontal cortex for a few minutes after the “Roller Coaster Chair” incident, I felt a deeper connection to her than before I’d set down my broom a few minutes earlier.

Because of it, I will actually now have an easier time teaching these important hand-slappin' neurological connections:

Smashing Pumpkins = Awesome (at least for now--we'll revisit this topic in a few years)

Fist Bump = Bonding Moment

Drum-Bashing = Future Stardom

Hitting People When Mad = Not Good

Monday, November 26, 2012

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

The stars aligned this year for us to experience a different kind of Thanksgiving that will likely be one we'll remember for a long time.

*We didn't get together with family (because we're spending extra-good time together in a few days celebrating my mom's 60th birthday...woo-hoo can't wait!).

*We didn't get together with friends (a few options came and went).

*We have three vegetarian children that politely prefer not to witness a turkey roasting.

*We had almost-California weather (high of 54 degrees--about as close as we may ever get to November paradise in the Midwest).

So...all in a flash on Wednesday afternoon, we brainstormed, took a vote, and decided to simplify in a very literal way. The result was a random attempt at a more Pilgrim-like Thanksgiving (minus the turkey).

We pitched a tent in the back yard and started a camp fire.

Brent read Bible stories using only the light of our flames. (My camera flash makes it looks bright. But it wasn't. He had to squint.) The girls felt like Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace Ingalls and therefore Brent and I felt like Pa and Ma.

Then Pa snuggled up with all but the littlest pilgrim (and I) in the supposed-to-be-8-man-but-there's-no-way-we'd-all-squeeze-in-there-and-sleep-comfortably-tent. The morning stories revealed that it was a wild and restless night.

When the sun finally rose high in the sky again, flag football with some friends was on the agenda. The Pilgrims and Natives must have enjoyed a friendly game of that back in the day. I wonder who won.

After a few touchdowns and tackles, the morning was a success. Cienna, MaryAnn, and I even got to watch this year because we weren't home peeling potatoes.

Allison enjoyed "rushing" the ball back to the quarterback on several occasions. We cheered for her.

Our Thanksgiving feast consisted of simple foods around the campfire: Omlets in a Bag for breakfast (stick eggs and whatever else in a zip lock bag, boil in a pot of water, and voila!..an easy campfire meal with no clean-up. We know the Pilgrims probably didn't have handy zip lock bags, but we still felt a sense of adventure.)

And for Thanksgiving Dinner (drum roll......) 

Tin Foil Dinners.
(aka choice of potatoes, carrots, peppers, stuffing, chicken, and/or cheese in double-wrapped tin foil and warmed on an open fire)

To add some sugar and spice to the meal, Kirsti made apple cider and Diggy whipped up a delicious peach cobbler in the dutch oven. 

Our vegetarian turkey looked like this (copied from one of Aunt Dana's inspiring creations ...even the meat-eating kids loved it!): 

Kenny, like a true Pilgrim, made an apple pie from scratch. Something I have never done. It was very yummy

The girls were excited to test out the "rock" table on the back patio...

but it started pouring just as dinner finished sizzling.

So we used our real table instead....with no china, no table cloth, no centerpiece (and very few dishes to do afterwards). And we were still in our smoke-aroma sweats. I wish touch screens were scratch 'n sniff...campfire smells carry such memories through the air.   

The above pic is the dutch oven cobbler feast, including a can of whipping cream, which we are certain the pilgrims didn't have...but it was the perfect modern touch. (That's why I'm so excited.)  

At the end of the day, we missed family and friends and we will likely never celebrate like this again, but it was an honor to pay tribute to our forefathers whose tummies and hearts must have been so full of simple pleasure on that first Thanksgiving. 

The week before Thanksgiving, our church choir sang a medley that included "'Tis a Gift to be Simple" originally written by a Shaker named Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848. The words are beautiful and have deep meaning for me (because they're so applicable to parenting, brain science, etc). The tune is contagious and we found ourselves passing it randomly amongst ourselves amidst the fire and food prep on Thanksgiving Day. It was very fitting for the occasion.

I took a minute to Google the words and paste them here for your enjoyment and pondering:

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,


'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.


Tis the gift to be loving, tis the best gift of all
Like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls
And with it we will truly believe
Tis better to give than it is to receive

Friday, November 9, 2012

And the survey says...

...labor on the "How-The-Smiths-Discipline-Their-Children-Pyramid" will commence.

Thank you for responding to the survey and for your encouraging words.

Parenting is such an exciting adventure! We're excited to share more of our journey (and learn more about yours).

In the mean time, here are a couple of diagrams to study up on as we approach the yet-to-be determined Delivery Day. ;)

This diagram came from: 

The site includes some brain basics that are helpful. 

This diagram came from:

The article associated with it is pretty interesting as well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

2012 Halloween Notes

Inspired by the kids' first theatrical experience last March...

**Kudos to Grandma for making us look so authentic. She hand-sewed these incredible costumes. Simply amazing. The kids truly think Grandma can make anything. I think they are right.

**My face sure looks way greener than when I was standing in front of the mirror watching Kirsti smear goop on me...or maybe my arms just look whiter. After seeing the above picture, I now understand some of the comments from the neighbors.

**MaryAnn's at a risky age for costume-wearing...would she, or wouldn't she?? By choosing the jump-on-the sibling-bandwagon-only-have-to-slip-your-feet-in approach, I think our Munchkin scored some big Halloween memory points. Her mirror neurons (she was so pleased to be mimicking siblings) and her amygdala (she wasn't too thrown off by the increased diameter around her waist) seemed pretty content. Wheww.

**Speaking of risky age...upper elementary school/middle school/high school/adulthood are also risky costume-wearing ages (but for reasons other than the fear of something poofy being forced over your head). I'm slightly stunned that all my kiddos truly love transforming into something magical of their own free will. Excitement in the bathroom during prep time was genuine (and quite contagious) by young and old alike.  

**And there's nothing more risky in middle school than not having what all the other middle school kids have (or at least say they have)...PartyCity was sold out of Morph Suits in the 6-8 grade sizes. Feeling quite relieved that Kenny had to settle for just the mask as his daytime costume to wear to classes. The full-body suit would most definitely have gone down in history just like the puffy bangs of my middle school days did, which I now have to live with forever.

**Assisting at Allison's kindergarten party was worth every minute of my precious time.  I kept hearing her say, "I'm so glad my mom's here!" Fun to watch her among her peers.

**Smells and textures of pumpkin-carving time provide lifetime memories. The 3 oldest carved alone. Bravo! Brent and I helped the 3 three youngest feel as if they had carved alone. They felt equally proud of the final results. MaryAnn included herself by pounding on the pumpkins. Warms my heart. And Cienna's gourmet soup made plenty of servings for everyone...

**With children that dress up year-round and can frequently be seen parading around in front of the house in a variety of ensembles, it's nice to have a designated day where they can roam a little further.

**5 kids trick-or-treating for 3 hours = more candy in my house at once than I have EVER seen! I'm speechless.

**Come family counsel on Sunday, I won't be...I predict that Family Business item: "Let's review where empty candy wrappers belong" will now remain on the weekly agenda until next Halloween with no breaks this year.