Unexpected Outcomes of 3: The Preschool Formula for Managing Your Expectations

brandonhill-beard-formulaThere’s a big black dog currently circling the island in my kitchen. He is not my dog. He is a friend’s dog. His name is Stan, but we call him “Stan the Manly,” “Stanislaus,” “Stannis,” or “Manley Stan.” Today I asked my daughter, who is now 3.5 years old (STOP THE PRESSES!) why Stan the Manly had a red foil star on his head. She looked at me like I’m a moron and replied: “Because that’s the color he picked, Mom.”

Somehow, at some point between potty training and the start of preschool, I became MOM.

If I do something she doesn’t like (like humming, drinking coffee, or turning left) the girl shouts: STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE, MOM! If it is particularly horrific, such as, say, combing her hair, then she adds: BEFORE YOU BREAK MY HEART, MOM! BEFORE YOU BREAK MY FLIPPING HEART.

We have taught her to say flipping because her Mommy (that’s my name, thankyouverymuch) used to use another word that starts with F, before she saw the very public error of her ways.

The Girl also rolls her eyes, puts one hand on her hip, shakes her finger and SIGHS. She says “Seriously?” and “You have GOT to be KIDDING ME” and “For HEAVEN’S sake, Mom.” I have no idea where she got that behavior. She also uses the word behavior, as in the following exchange:

Me: Please stop putting your lip gloss on the dog, honey.

The Girl: Why?

Me: Because I said so.

The Girl: Because you said so? I’m not stopping my behavior because you SAID SO, MOM.

Superior parenting at work, folks. Looking at the nuance of that inflection. Genius!

The dog has been “breath-ing” (like breathy, but with an “ing”) a lot around our house. His arrival delayed the acquisition of a Christmas kitten, causing a very unexpected tiny level of trauma (mostly on my part), which just proves that the formula for preschool meltdown is this:

ExpectedOutcome + RationalExplanation – (Hunger + Thirst + Exhaustion) * WhoTheHellKnows = ActualOutcome

This formula means that you can predict a meltdown with about the same level of accuracy as “scientists” who deny climate change and sea rise.

On the plus side, wow, does The Girl ever look stunning in her holiday dress and HALLELUJAH she agreed to wear it on Christmas Eve. Another unexpected outcome, because lately she is 3 going on 39, preferring her juice in a thermos and “soft pants” when she leaves the house. In her defense, they DO have a yoga class at preschool…of course, that’s only on Thursday afternoons, for about 30 minutes, but who am I to judge?

All of this to say that I’m grateful..for unexpected outcomes, for the floatsam and jetsam of preschool parenting, for a good glass of wine…and a slice of pie, a shot of tequila…you know, whatever it flipping takes.

Enough about me….how are YOU?

The Words, The Words, The Words

keep_calm_and_use_your_words_by_topher208-d56nitfOur daughter is THREE. A friend on FB tells me to write down the words, because moms get so busy momming, they forget, and then – blink – your kid is 45, pushing your wheelchair through the crowd at your granddaughter’s junior high graduation.

So here are some of the words – full sentences now because she is THREE, but with spelling faithful to the pronunciation.

“These binocleears are for watching birds with Granny.”

“NOOOOO!! I can do it MYself.” [forty-five times a day]

“I can’t eat yogurt from this, Mom. I said I need the green bowl. Not the pink bowl. The green bowl. [pause for emphasis] This bowl is pink. I said the GREEN bowl, Mom.” [In my defense: I’m not color blind or deaf. The green bowl was dirty.]

“Only kids can use this water [in the birdbath] for painting this [the iron railing on the porch stoop]. Grown-ups don’t know how to do this. Only kids know how, Mom. Only kids. Not you, Mom.”

“You can’t drive until I’m done with the buckle, Mom. STOP DRIVING! I have to figure this out.” [she unbuckled her car seat to ‘fix’ it]

“Get away from me.”

“I want to have you.”

And there, my friends, are some of the words. Lord knows I have enough angst within me I could analyze them. I could talk about how broken the adoption industry remains, count the annoying comments from strangers, express the disappointment that our agency – ours, the one we like so very much – still can’t grok the way we built our family…but it’s late and I’m tired and just want to rest in being grateful.

But please do remember this: families are built in lots of different ways and until birth family has the same power as adoptive family, authentic “mutual regard” is pretty impossible. It’s like trying to tell the truth to your boss: sure, you might think you have a great relationship, but your boss can fire you. So really how honest can you be? Don’t forget that please, adoptive parents, k?

And in the meantime, “I want to have you,” so drop me a note and tell me what parenting (grand or otherwise) is like in your orbit.

One Guilt Trip & A Blog Post Is the Price of A Bunch of Lilies

By Ameriankiwi

By Ameriankiwi

As we walked into the grocery store, I stopped by the bouquets. Oh flowers, I said, wouldn’t that be wonderful on our Thanksgiving* table? Which one should we get?

My 2-and-half-year-old daughter pointed to a bunch. I checked the price tag. It was not the bargain bunch I’d been eyeing, but a proper bouquet over $10, which qualifies as luxury. It was also (to my eyes) the most tattered: red lilies half smashed against common scotch broom (how did that weed make it into a bouquet)?

Hmmm, I said. You don’t want these healthy-looking sunflowers for half-price instead? No? You sure? Ok.

I felt guilty but I put them in the cart.

I adjusted the remainder of my purchases accordingly.

I didn’t surreptitiously switch them while we were waiting in the checkout lane.

I didn’t ask my daughter again.

I felt guilty all the way home from the store.

The List of Parenting Mistakes To Avoid 

The List of Parenting Mistakes To Avoid was considerably shorter before I became a mom. Before I became a parent, that list was about four twelve lines long and mostly comprised of things that seem almost impossible now: don’t yell, don’t lose your temper, be patient.

I spent most of my daughter’s first year terrified that I was failing. I set the expectations pretty high: as an adoptive mom, I wanted/needed to be better than my utterly imperfect self.

In an agonizing therapy session during that time, my counselor asked what I thought I was doing RIGHT in mothering. I had to think. Hard.

Finally I said, “well, I guess one good thing I do is that I almost always let my daughter be herself. Whatever she wants or needs or feels, I don’t talk her out of it. If it is something dangerous, then of course I say no, but I don’t make fun of her for wanting it. I let her be her.”

“But that doesn’t seem like a very big thing,” I said. “Not as big as say, not yelling and being patient. Not as big as sleeping through the night, making friends, and learning the alphabet. Plus I have meltdowns. Over little stuff. I hate it.”

My therapist said affirming your child’s true self is actually a pretty big thing, and I thought, well for ME it is. Because nearly every important decision I’ve made, from my choice of a mate to graduate school to my second career, has been something my parents didn’t want for me. So being allowed to be myself is a huge issue for ME. But what if my daughter really wants other stuff, like moms who are good at sports or have mad social skills and brilliant tips on being popular?

I want to be the kind of mom that my daughter needs, not the kind of mom I need to be for my own personal healing.


Recently I read the Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett (one of my favorite authors). Gorgeous writing, heartbreaking story, troubling characters, messy ending.

I finished the book quickly because I wanted Rose to redeem herself as a mom, and of course, that never happened. I was moody the rest of the day: WHY did Rose abandon her family? WHY couldn’t she be a good mom to her daughter, Ceceila?

The answer woke me up in the middle of the night. Rose couldn’t be a mom because she was so estranged from her own mother. (This isn’t a truism that applies to all moms, but I think it fits in this case.) This thought lodged in my tummy and kept me awake.

When I am fighting with my own mother, it is hard to rock my daughter to sleep. Easy to rock her, hard not to cry while I’m doing so. Mother-nurture-need gets all tangled up inside me.

In order to be present as a mom, I have to be whole as a person.

It is hard to be whole when I am trapped in fighting to be myself.

Being Her Self

When we were writing our adoption marketing material (which should clue you in that adoption in this country is all kinds of broken), my wife and I said we “couldn’t wait to help a child grow and become who they were going to be.”

It turns out I had almost no idea what we were talking about.

I had this vague sense of supporting a child’s independence, nurturing curiosity and fostering imagination. I assumed that conflicts would come in the preteen years, spats over politics or religion or cheerleading.

I wasn’t prepared for moral dilemmas so early into the journey.

As it turns out, supporting my daughter’s sense of self involves letting my daughter pick out the toy/T-shirt/flower she wants, not the one that is the best value or the safest or the one I would want.

As we paid for the flowers, I battled the critical voice in my head saying: “she’ll never learn about money. She’ll think she can have whatever she wants. She needs to learn now: life is expensive. We can’t afford luxuries. She needs to get used to disappointment.”

And I thought: I know that voice. This isn’t about you, Papa, or you, Grandmother.

Being My Self

Being a mom requires me to work to free myself from the places where I am wounded, so that I can refrain from passing those wounds on to my daughter.

I don’t want my daughter to spend her twenties (or thirties, for that matter) trying to figure out what she REALLY wants because all she knows is what other people need.

What I really mean is:

I don’t want to set my daughter up to meet the emotional needs of others. I want to her know her own mind first, and hear it loudest and clearest. I want her to be free.

Emotional Freedom

One thing I learned early in childhood was how to read emotional weather and take precautions for storms. When I got older (say, 35) I realized it wasn’t so much me I was protecting, it was my parents: the furious, out-of-control father who couldn’t manage his rage, the never-mad mother who couldn’t claim her anger. I was their emotional processing power station, my transistors and resistors tuned to help them calm down, settle and feel safe.

I want to be the kind of mom that is MOST what my daughter needs, not the kind of mom I need to be for my own personal healing.

In order to do that, I have to take care of myself, so that my daughter doesn’t have to do it for me.

If I have a problem with something she is doing, I have to figure out why I am struggling.

When my daughter is pushing the limits, she won’t look me in the eye. I read somewhere that discipline is about connection, about engagement. Since my wife and I don’t believe in spanking, I often teeter on the edge of near-equivalents: using bribery, threats, or sheer emotional force to induce compliance. I rationalize: but she HAS to eat vegetables. She NEEDS to nap. I REFUSE to raise a rude, disrespectful person.

Mostly what those precarious moments do is challenge me to look myself in the eye. Where is my connection with myself? Which of my parents or grandparents am I trying to shield or placate? WHO AM I AFRAID OF?

The more I stand up for the right to my own life, the more I’m able to be at peace in myself, and the more open I am to letting my daughter explore the world on her own terms.

Two days after buying those flowers, I sit down in the kitchen with cold feet during nap time to write this out. Because I need it for me. So that I have less to carry and more room in my arms for the daughter I’ve chosen to love for herself, whoever she turns out to be.


*I’m aware that as I publish this, it is New Years Day, but I wrote this at Thanksgiving and am just now finding time to post it. I really wanted to back date it to make it look like I am not the overcomitted crazy woman that I am, but this blog is all about being authentic, so here we are.

**I struggled with the title for this post. “Emotional Freedom”…is that what I mean? What do you think I’m talking about? Does this resonate with you?