It’s been a very long week here at our house. It seems like teething never ends for us (or the other parents of young toddlers I talk to) and this week was no exception. With his molars in full procession, little Sterling couldn’t seem to get his little body to wind down for sleep before 11:30pm every night, and he was up again in hysterics at 2:30am, beside himself until I was fully up, lights on, and we were giving a rare dose of tylenol, then playing cars on the kitchen floor until 5:00am. Daytime was busy with post production madness on our MULLY documentary, auditions, table reads, rehearsal for Lukas’ next play (Buried Child at the Whitefire Theatre), paleo eating (which takes time – everything is fresh and made from scratch the way our grandmothers used to cook) and general life with a toddler (who has refused his paleo diet entirely this week, preferring to use around the clock nursing as a pacifier for his sore gums instead – grrrrrr). This of course comes right after I’ve signed Sterling up for Karen Le Billon’s baby taste training program to teach him to like new foods. Each day this week Lukas and I have ended up slurping down the delicious purees I’ve made with recipes from the program (who knew pureed zucchini or carrot salad could taste so beyond fabulous?), while Sterling played sweetly or read next to us at the table, or better yet prompted us again and again to pray as he folded his hands and chirped to us to begin (a recent adorable development)…making it hard for me to get too mad that I just took the time to make fresh food for HIM to eat.
There has been zero time to fit in a nap when Sterling dozes midday, and it has taken its toll. Mid week I woke early to find that a nice little cold had taken up residence in my body and would be staying until further notice. My spiritual life too seems to have been hit by the pressures of the week and there’s really no other way to say it but…I feel dead inside. It is no small miracle that recently Sterling somehow figured out “prayer” – at mealtimes and throughout the day he toddles up to me and clasps his hands, waiting for me to say “God..insert prayer here…Amen”. Those little moments have been getting me through with the patience I need to continue gentle parenting and loving without aggression when what I’d like to do is go out back and break a serious amount of fine china into teensy weensy little pieces. The final moment of intensity this week happened at a party we attended with several other parents of small children. As I sat staring out like the sleep deprived zombie that I was, watching the party happen around me, I somehow took in what actually WAS happening around me. The children, fueled by cupcake induced insanity (totally my fault for bringing the cupcakes), were having meltdowns left and right, disrespecting and disobeying the other children and the adults, and generally having a very difficult time in their own little bodies, despite a complete desire to have a GOOD time.
I was taken aback. My mother was a strict southern mother with an old school mentality when it came to manners and etiquette (let it be known that yes, she did send me to etiquette school — a tradition that I’m realizing more and more should perhaps be upheld). When I was young it was expected that in all situations there be a degree of respect for others and their belongings, playtime or not, NO EXCEPTIONS, and although I don’t think we were raised with attachment parenting per se, gentle discipline did happen for the most part in our home growing up. I’ve had moments where I have become excruciatingly aware of this sudden departure from civility before – at a New Years Eve party awhile back where the young child of the hosts was slinging wet mud on all the guests as they entered, and at our local farmers market while the parents absentmindedly ate their dinner and enjoyed a moment to connect with each other and the older kids bullied, hit and hurt each other with abandon. So I’m not sure why it struck me so deeply on this day, but as an adult that was raised to believe that manners were extremely important, I suddenly felt a little like I’d been transported to a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. I was Melanie Daniels…and the children were the birds. Not cute.
After leaving the party with zero gas left in my emotional tank we came home, finally remembering to put Sterlings teething beads on. (Side note: these things ACTUALLY work) Sterling used to wear his beads all the time (which meant that I knew based on research that they worked, but because they were always on I wasn’t really sure if I believed that they did much or not…) Within hours of having his teething beads back, Sterlings teething symptoms went from a 10 to a 4. He is still wakeful, but the extreme pain and the sobbing have stopped. THANK GOD. This has given me room to get a little extra sleep. (side note: there is no substitute for sleep)
Sleeping once again has allowed my brain to function a little more clearly and given it room to ruminate on the subject of manners. I came across this quote from Miss Manners’ Guide To Rearing Perfect Children today and it really hit home…
Written by Judith Martin, the Miss Manners’ guides are almost a breathe of fresh air for me at a moment when I seem to find myself surrounded by little sugar addicted lunatics, no doubt brought on in small part by our collective American habit of processed food snacking and lack of good old fashioned family mealtime. I’ve seen these books before but written them off without even looking inside (they say don’t judge a book by its cover – now I know what they mean). “Judith Martin is The National Bureau of Standards,” states columnist George Will. She’s written “some of the toughest social criticism you are likely to read,” according to critic Charlie Toft. The New York Times declares her work “an impassioned plea for a return to civilized behavior” while Newsday says she is “a philosopher cleverly and charmingly disguised as an etiquette columnist.”
Right now, especially with such little sleep, I’d like a little civilized behavior. Yes, a little civilized behavior would be nice. Parenting is tiring work. There is no time off for good behavior, no clocking out at 5pm after a grueling 8 hour day. Lets be honest, just breathing for some of us, sometimes, is tiring work in itself. It takes a lot of contrary action, and we are all doing the best we can. The gentle parenting movement (which I totally believe in) has been a way forward through parenting for so many of us that have experienced trauma in our young lives, a way to create a non-violent legacy. But I’m finding that the way so many of us (including myself) actually implement the gentle parenting method is happening at the expense of healthy boundaries and education in civilized behavior; boundaries that will be the foundation of how our little ones view the world and their behavior within it. As one early childhood educator who is a close friend recently said to me, this is a FAMILY, and gentle parenting is absolutely wonderful, but our babies still have to understand that they are not the center of the universe – they don’t just get to act however they want. Sugar or not, our little ones must know that being aggressive and rude is NOT okay, and it must be handled in a direct, calm and mature (read: Non-aggressive) way by us as parents, no matter how much our tired bodies want to stay on the couch pretending not to notice. WE are the teachers, the ones leading the way forward through the dense forest of choices our children are given these days. I hope we take responsibility. Maybe Miss Manners can help us all.