Friday, June 6, 2008

This is normal, right?

Ever since I was a kid myself, I've loved being around little kids. I was the one who always got the shy smile from the kiddo in line ahead of me at the grocery store, the one who got called to babysit, the one who attracted random children like a pied piper when I would go for walks in the park, the one who read Harry Potter out loud on the front lawn to a couple of neighbor children just because they seemed lonely and attention-starved. I thought maybe I'd like to have a couple of my own kids and then become a foster parent, even adopt five or ten of the little buggers. I became a teacher partly because I love language, but also because kids and teens seemed to need someone like me who understood them and, well, liked them.

When Jabberwock was born, I felt like an excellent mother most of the time, even when he was in the middle of a terrible crying fit or a difficult sleeping phase or those "terrible twos" I had heard about. Sure, he drove me nuts a little bit, but we got along pretty well overall, and as he grew older, the two of us spent our summers rambling around together, finger-painting out on the lawn, hanging out at the library, having a grand old time. My opinion of myself may have declined a little from "excellent mom" to "doing my best" as I became more experienced and realized that I really know absolutely nothing about raising a small child, but I was up for the challenge.

Enter Monkey. As a newborn, Monkey was active, awake, and vocal. I remember asking David, "Did Jabber ever cry this much when he was a baby?" and neither of us could really remember, from that sea of sleep deprivation. It's not that Monkey was a difficult baby, but his disposition was a bit more in-your-face, and then there was just the added demands of a three-year-old who was desperate for attention. I started to wear a little thin in the areas of patience and saintliness. I got more snappish and less willing to tolerate the small stuff.

Now that both boys are running, chasing, shouting, screeching (really, really loudly, btw), snatching, screeching, running, chasing, shouting, eating, screeching, hitting, biting, screeching, running, fighting, chasing, and screeching, and making gigantic messes, I sometimes wonder, where is that person who loves children? Where's the Elissa who has the desire to get down on the floor and play? Where's the Elissa who listens to stories and answers endless questions? Where's the Elissa who always sees the silliness in life, who remembers what it feels like to be little and to have everyone pushing you and rushing you and yelling at you all the time? Where is that excellent mother?

I thought having two children would be easier than one in some ways, that the kids would play together a little bit so that I could get one little thing done here and there. Except, they do not play together really. They just pick at each other and poke at each other and tease each other until I'm ready to scream. And sometimes I do, which I definitely don't like.

There are so many moments that are wonderful and funny and heart-warming, like when Monkey goes in to wake Jabberwock in the mornings, climbing up on his brother's bed and waking him with kisses. Or when we read stories together, both boys sharing my lap. Or when they are giggling together in the backseat of the van, sharing jokes only the two of them understand. These times give me hope for some future ceasefire, when the two brothers may begin to spend more of their time getting along than not. But I worry sometimes about their clashing personalities. Having Monkey around seems to bring out all the worst parts of Jabberwock's personality: parts I didn't know he possessed, like aggression, greed, and vengeance. He sometimes is so mean to his little brother and shows so little remorse for his actions that I feel terrible about who he is becoming.

This is normal, right? My closest sibling is almost nine years younger than me, and my other sibling is 27 years my junior. I'm definitely no expert on this whole thing. I remember getting very upset with my brother when he was Monkey's age (toddler-esque) because he seemed to hurt me and take my things and get away with it because he "didn't know any better." This seems to be the biggest problem with Monkey and Jabber, too. But Jabber is younger than I was, and he has little or no impulse control, which I think is pretty normal for a four-year-old, and it's harder for him to understand the difference between his and Monkey's behavior, development, and even size. When Monkey tackles Jabber, for instance, it's great fun, and both boys are laughing. Then Jabber reverses the move, and bingo! Monkey is crying, Mama is yelling, and Jabber ends up getting removed to his room for a while to separate them. No fun.

This evening, Jabberwock went downstairs to work with Daddy for a while, and Monkey and I hung out together. We looked at a book for the longest time, talking about the pictures and playing with the sound effects on it. I found myself able to give him undivided attention for the first time in forever, and I was surprised by how much he really does know and what he can do (like pointing out different animals and objects when asked about the pictures in the book). I feel like I almost never get a chance to figure him out, and I feel like that's really not fair to him, since I was able to spend so much time with my oldest at that age. Even his toys get scattered all over so much that it's hard to "work" on the kind of play he might learn from, which was not the case with his brother. I feel guilty, like he's getting the short end of the stick. Do all younger siblings get the shaft like this?

Similarly, Jabber and I spent some time together this afternoon when I got home early and Daddy and Monkey were still napping. Granted, all we did was fold the laundry, but we got to talk and connect like we rarely do. We got along so well. He could tell me his wonderful stories and show me how he can roll socks and fold his underwear into tiny squares, and I was just able to listen attentively without all the chaos.

When I'm one-on-one with either one of my boys, I rarely get pissed off at them, but when they're together they can bring me to the edge of a kind of anger that is frightening, embarrassing, childish, guilt-inspiring. Today was my last day with students, so summer vacation stretches before us, and I'm a tiny bit worried about how it will all work out. I always saw myself being perfectly happy as a SAHM, but tomorrow David is going to be out of town all day, and I'm kind of dreading spending the entire day without a break, without being able to divide and conquer, so to speak.

I love my children, absolutely. I just hope I can survive them.


cowpops said...

I'm not sure if you even approve that I comment on your blog, or that me "advising" you on parenting/children is even the least bit legitimate, since I am only a sophomore! in high school and all. But I'm going to share anyway.

I was more terrible than Jabber when I was his age. I STILL feel bad, and that was over a decade ago and I don't even remember it. And guess what? My sister and I are completely inseparable. Sure, we may be generally a rare pair of young ladies, but I was so crappy to her for so long, and it all worked out in the end. It didn't take to be in our 20's or 30's just to be civil.

As far as whether or not Monkey is getting the short end of the stick-- in some ways yes, in some ways no. Jabber needs attention right now because that is what he is used to. Monkey of course needs it to, but he has little to be "jealous of" because he has little to compare it to. As long as you don't have favorites, and you love your kids to pieces, nobody is getting the short end of the stick.

I'll shut up now. :)

Shana said...

You know that we deal with the same issues so I think it is all pretty normal.

You and the boys should come hang out tomorrow. It's supposed to be nice, we could lounge in the backyard while the kids run off energy. :-)