This week has been hard for us. We got back from visiting family in Iowa and had one day before I started doing childcare full-time. I’m very excited for our summer with my little group, but man, it’s been a rough transition for Charlotte and me. Getting up early…getting dressed…dividing my attention so many different ways…extra levels of patience needed…more mouths to feed….more butts to wipe…it will all feel very normal and routine soon, I hope. Winnie has been very tolerant of this change of pace. She is so content on the floor near us, both awake and asleep. I had tried the play gym with her earlier, but I could tell she was overstimulated. When I figured out I could take off two of the dangling toy pieces, I decided to try it again, and she loved it. Honestly, she’s just as happy to look up at different things in the room, but this also functions as a sort of protective barrier from the others. Though, Charlotte still likes to come and steal Winnie’s pacifier and say, “Her happy. Her don’t need her pacifier.” She takes the pacifier and darts away with it. Usually by then, “her” is not happy.
Oh Charlotte. She’s two years younger than the other kids in my care (other than Winnie of course), and she is having a really hard time finding her place socially. The kids often leave her out of the play, mostly unintentionally as they are at a different cognitive level. Chuck tries to join in the play, but she doesn’t know how, so she tries to playfully push them or get in their face or something awkward like that to engage them, and then they really don’t want her to play with them because she’s bothering them. So I know she’s feeling weird and needs attention, and she is trying to get it from all of us in all the wrong ways. I model for Charlotte how to ask if she can play. I comfort her in her disappointment when they don’t want her to play them. I play with the kids and encourage ways to extend their play so everyone feels welcomed and loved. I try hard not to fix, I try to be objective, and it’s hard. After everyone leaves, there’s not much time between dinner and bed for play, but this day, I really wanted to have some special time with Charlotte. I love the block set that Charlotte picked to play with because the semi-representational, nesting, rainbow-colored pieces are full of open ended play goodness…oh and there’s a tree and birdies. A friend sent this set to us at the beginning of this project, and I’ve been waiting for this opportunity (thank you, Sarah!). Normally when Charlotte plays with this set, she lines the pieces up in order like a train. This time, she set the pieces on the floor as a house for the birds, with a slide, a mud kitchen, and a bath. She wanted to sit on my lap to play until she wanted me to move the pieces to the coffee table for her. As she pointed at each individual piece and told me exactly where she wanted the piece to be placed on the table, I thought about how important it is for her to be able to feel powerful and in control in this way during this time in her life when she is feeling so out of control. I thought about all the ways I contribute to her feeling out of control…too many choices, not enough choices, too many limits, not enough limits. The balance of boundaries is especially hard after a long day when enforcing a bedtime routine while nursing. No matter the choices I give, I find myself forcing teeth and hair to be brushed and unlatching Winnie to chase Chuck into her jammies. I think I’m more disappointed than she is when we are out of time for stories, and we both go to bed with tears in our eyes.
I’m definitely in the thick of it right now. I am 8 weeks postpartum with a partner who is so busy with work that he might as well be traveling. I’m caring for kids all day, and a needy threenager all night while breastfeeding on demand. Parenting is fucking hard. As someone who went to school for early childhood education and has way less stressors than most, I feel like I should have it all together and certainly should not complain. But sometimes, you’ve just got to be real and own the struggle. All you mothers who have it easy or have it hard, take heart, your struggle is real.