Three year olds are serious psychological mediums… and many, many other thoughts

Eight months ago I wrote about how Javi and I do transitions, the phases we go through and how we’d gotten into a rhythm, almost, with fairly predictable steps.

If you have a three year old, or just had a three year old, or will soon have a three year old, pay attention, because who we are at three is who we regress to when we’re 30 and under duress. I’m convinced. I defy you to prove otherwise.

My 3 year old has been all emotion, all the time, and boy, are those emotions HUGE. Little body, huge feelings, and whoa, does he need specific help in navigating them up and down. Today, as I danced the line between too close and not close enough, touching but not too much, not talking, not pressuring, and not allowing sensory load into his chaotic and overwhelming world, I suddenly saw myself.

It’s been quite a year. In the first half, we had a significant event requiring transition every month. Literally, every month. Three of those involved physical moves for at least one of the three of us and I’m not even counting our final move to Seattle, for any of us, since that was August, not the first six months. Rephrase: for 3/4 of the year, something significantly transitional happened to at least one of us every single month. When viewed in that light, the last quarters’ sensitivities – for all three of us – make total sense. We are re-entering the world of potential stability. Reentry is rough.

So what did I learn* today? Rephrase: what did I suddenly know today? Who he is, as a function of who I am, is someone who needs the words to go away when the emotions overwhelm. His processing – and mine – is one or the other, so when the balance shifts and the emotion takes over, words don’t help. They can’t help because we just argue them away and don’t let the emotion get processed.

When I am emotional, I can feel cornered because my usual way of relating – words – fails me. I am as emotionally overwhelmed as overwhelming, to the same level of intensity as my typical words-based** processing, and the words and emotions are fighting it out while I try to hold on for the ride, so… cat claws and retreating into my shell in panic.

Back to my son: he will run away but he needs me to stay close enough to not feel alone while far enough to not feel pressured by me. He needs NO WORDS AT ALL and for the auditory load to drop fast, super fast, but not so fast that he is left feeling the vacuum. Eye contact makes him lose it and start over. He needs the option to reach out – but he won’t – and to be touched as the feelings recede so he can relax into something. Silence and touch, time to recover, then he’s back on the path to himself. Already, at three, he is prone to embarrassment or shame or some kind of bad feeling after it happens, so he’s touchy. Still, as long as that long and careful list of things happens, he recovers completely and is better afterward. Trust, comfort, closeness, touch, forgiveness, relief.

(Side note: holy fuck. I knew it half an hour ago but putting this into words makes me realize what a Marisa Handbook this is.)

So, that. Perhaps I should print it out, box it up, and hand it to whomever is lucky enough to be his life partner as a helpful handbook. (Or hand it to my own, because wow, yea, me too.)

I’ve missed this essay format writing. –M

*Learning is a continuum for me, a spiderweb moving every closer and tighter and more intricately defined until BOOM, I suddenly KNOW. The threads interweave into the fabric of who I am, of my soul, and then I can’t un-know. I suppose I have various spiderwebs of maybe-almost-but-not-quite-knowing in various stages at any given time, but trying to picture that blows my mind. Mostly, I just have a lot of things I’m in the processing of knowing, most often facilitated by connecting, eventually to be incorporated into who I am. To be precise, then, I don’t learn anything on any given day, but I do connect or know a thing all at once. If you’ve ever given me advice and then heard from me X amount of time later as I confirm that yes, you were right, it’s not that I didn’t hear you or trust you or learn it then, it’s that it didn’t become known to me until later; I circle back to confirm that because I don’t want you to think your energy in helping me learn was wasted.

**How do you think? My ex-husband once remarked that he didn’t think in words – a serious “whoa” moment for me because what I thought was an easy request (“Just tell me what you’re thinking”) was actually really difficult for him. He had to translate his in-process thinking into words versus my just letting them out of my mouth. If you think in words like I do, letting them out is a relief and further facilitates the processing. If you think in <anything else> not so much. That I think in words also means that closing my eyes or anything other than reading (replacing my words with someone else’s words) doesn’t get me relief. Songs are all earworm risks for me. Interestingly, though, while I think in words, I remember sensorily. I can re-feel things good or bad (mostly bad) so I tend to push memories away. Hmmmm. That was an epiphany. I guard against storing by trying not to feel.

A friend thinks in pictures. Literally, he can scroll through a mental file of physical images, look at them, and put them back. He can close his eyes and stop the incoming flow, then replace it with his own images. Now that I think about this, it makes sense that he closes his eyes to speak or concentrate.

For my mom, it’s movie reels complete with sound and song. Her gravitation toward old movies that are choreographed to music – or really, anything choreographed to music – makes so much sense.

I hereby deputize you to remind me of the following, upon threat of force:

My husband and I are innately different people. He is an optimistic, experiential, confident, next-step-at-a-time kind of thinker. (In my world, we often call this personality “an engineer.”) I am a cynical, predictive, worried, let’s-think-ahead-to-all-the-things kind of thinker. (In my world, we usually say this person is “a project manager.”)

Lest I forget, which I tend to do in a haze of wishful thinking: this is not good when it comes to any sort of projects. GAWD HELP ME, I want to hang the man out a window by his toenails.

Thing is, we share a sucker-ness for good deals, discomfort with “what they say,” and overinflated sense of how much we can accomplish in a given time. He thinks it’ll be easy; I forget we’ll fight most of the time.

So, while this frustration is fresh in my mind as I dance around staying out of it versus fully project-managing it, I will say, to the world: WE SHOULD NOT BUY ANOTHER DIY HOUSE. We should spend more on something smaller, not worry so much about ease of increasing the value by doing projects X, Y, or Z, and accept that while the quality on something might not be as good if we don’t do it ourselves, and we’ll likely pay more than we’d like, we will kill each other if we do this again.

Oh, hey, someone forgot how to blog!

So, my last post was supposed to have more going on but I was a little quick on the Publish trigger, so…

You do this Day in My Ideal Life exercise and suddenly you see what matters. To this point, I’d always focused on work – where would I be, what would I be doing, how would I make that work with my family’s needs?

When I was ready to jump back into my career, I did this and realized I’d eventually have to be in an office rather than remote and working from home. Talking with Joey about the details that mattered to me made our discussion much richer and more productive than if I’d just tried to put my feelings (of dissatisfaction and discontent) into words.

Now, though, in Limbo Land, I’m realizing I need to point my lens on my home life – what kind of place, what kind of neighborhood, what kind of rhythms would we like best?

So I did it. And though there weren’t (m)any surprises, it did solidify what I’m looking for in our next home:

  • Our bedroom fits a King bed.
  • Our neighborhood is very walkable and we have a number of places to eat very nearby. The area is also dog-friendly.
  • In the vicinity of the places to eat are at least two options for things to do on weekends, including parks and treat options. (I forgot to mention a Farmer’s Market!) Also in the walkable vicinity is a place to get basic groceries like milk and dog food.
  • We can walk to a library.
  • Javi’s room is far enough away from the hubbub that he can sleep while we keep doing things (ie: not right off the living room).
  • We have outside space, a lawn to mow (?) and a garage or workshop for DIY projects.
  • The kitchen is open and we have room for Javi to cook with me.
  • From the kitchen or living space, I can easily access and see the backyard.
  • We have outdoor eating space.
  • We have places to play and sit outside, even into the evening. Bonus for a fire pit.
  • We have neighbors we encounter as we go about our day (over the backyard fence?).
  • Our neighbors have kids and are friendly enough to come over on spur of the moment.
  • Javi’s room is accessible enough to the main living area that we adults can watch over visiting kids while sitting on the couch or in the kitchen.
  • We have a dishwasher.
  • Our home life is manageable enough that we have “nice things” like comfy couches, soft (non-cat-hair-covered) blankets, and we live in a “finished” house (since I didn’t note that we spent all weekend renovating or painting or gutting anything).


Since this wasn’t a weekend with visitors, the need for a third bedroom didn’t come up, which is an important point since I keep thinking a third bedroom or finished basement is a must when really, the percentage of time we’d really benefit from it would be limited. It’s more important to our everyday life to have outdoor space accessible from the living area. In fact, now that I think through our day-to-day, a second bathroom is more important than a third bedroom!

I realize that I’m really focused on our interaction with outdoor space because it’s something our Knoxville house didn’t do well. We had more than an acre of woods and yard but we didn’t use it much because it wasn’t easily accessible from our living area – you either had to go out the front door and around to the fence on the side or out the kitchen door and down a flight of really steep steps. If we left Javi playing out there, we couldn’t see him from the house, so we never did. Poor dude’s playing time was always limited by the adults wanting to go back inside. Conversely, my mom’s house is open plan and he goes in and out all afternoon and evening. Though we can’t see him in every corner of the yard, the blind spots are limited enough that he doesn’t need adult supervision to get to go outside.

All of these are really helpful insights as we approach a whirlwind trip to Seattle to try to buy a house. Given the tight housing market, we’ll likely have a few non-ideal options we’ll have to choose from quickly in the hopes that our bid is accepted. Ugh, I’m getting anxious just thinking about it, so I have to remind myself that this is an opportunity to focus on and maybe get what really matters, not just what we think we want (like a ton of square footage, which we’ve learned we aren’t organized or clean enough to be responsible for).

I should be doing other things…

… work things. Power Point things. Productive, useful things.

Instead, I am trying valiantly to avoid stalking for new listings in our preferred Seattle neighborhoods. We have the financing approval for a range we’re (mostly) comfortable with, we have paid the tuition at the school we so love, and our stuff is in a very nice, big, climate controlled storage facility somewhere in Washington state.

We just need to sell our damned house in Knoxville.

In the meanwhile, I’m

Waiting and Being and Not Doing and other lessons

I am here, half a country away from our (finally on the market) house. My husband is there, managing the myriad of details remaining to be completed. I listen as he vents his frustration about not enough time and too many things and not enough sleep. He listens as I try to find the energy to tell him about parenting an adjusting child who misses his daddy. We’re pretty disconnected, both focusing on the things that will get us all back together… ironic.

From here, all I can do is send photos to mimic and suggestions for priorities. I can look at houses in Seattle and try not to panic that they sell in a week for more than list price and are often tiny AND out of our comfortable price range. I can try to find patience for being the sole parent* for my adjusting child.

There isn’t a whole lot of doing I can do, though. Surfing realty is mostly making me anxious, so I’m trying to impose a moratorium for a few days. Not Doing is hard for me. I’ve done a better job of Being – putting my phone down, going for walks, not multi-tasking as I go from one room to the other or sit at a stoplight or have a few beats of silence – but Not Doing is, well… WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING WHILE I’M NOT DOING?

Yea. Clearly room to grow.

I’m going to focus on Hoping and Not Planning for a little while. I don’t really know where the line between “creating backup plans” and “settling” falls, so I’m going to try to not think, find faith, remember that things will change anyway, and wait.

Talk about a growth opportunity.

*I’m not solo parenting, by any means. I am living with two loving grandparents who do everything they can to give me a break and/ or help me and I have a nanny who comes in three mornings a week. I am the one parent here with Javi, though, so there’s only so much they can do (as opposed to my partner in parenting who can shoulder the load fully when we tag team).

Day in My Ideal Life

One of my favorite exercises for so many situations is called “Day In My Ideal Life”: without any prepping or forethought, take a quiet moment and write down what a full day in your ideal life would look like while you focus on picturing it, beginning to end. Include any level of detail you find intriguing but don’t try too hard; if you happen to notice what you’re wearing, great, but if not, don’t sweat it. Once finished, walk away.

The next day, come back and reread it and I bet you’ll find a few surprises you didn’t see coming. The details you thought to include are telling. In my ideal work day, for example, I’m wearing a skirt and heels and in an office with other people doing work. I am not in jeans and flats, nor am I in a coffee shop or out in the field. The details you didn’t include are also telling! In all of the ideal work days I’ve described, it’s never been noted what industry I’m in, or what my team and I are actually working on. Clearly it doesn’t matter to me so much whether I’m working on software or not, directly with a customer or not, in Engineering or not.

The interesting thing about the exercise is how adaptable it is. My current living situation is most certainly not ideal – I miss my husband, I don’t have enough focused time to work, and my work day is spread across various not-ideal venues like a coffee shop, the back porch, and my car. HOWEVER, running through my ideal day right now reminded me that I do need focused time to work so it’s time to firm up my transition boundaries to make sure I get some of what I need, at least.

Living in limbo and finding the bright side

When last we met, our hero and his mama were going to move cross-country to live with grandparents while his daddy finished working on the house. Or, in his words: “We goin’ to Amas wif Mama and Daddy workin on da ol house wif his tools!” And, more importantly, “I don go school at Amas!”

And now he is [living with Amas and Papu – his grandma and grandpa – and Mama] and isn’t [going to school, because we don’t go to school while at Amas’ house].

And we are doing pretty well.


We have enough experience by now, my son and I, that we know what transitions look like for us: a period of no sleep and partying, a period of no sleep and Mama is about to lose it, a longer period where sleep happens and Javi is clingy, and the final adjustment where Javi loses his shit a lot while being whiny and kinda mean to Mama but at least she’s sleeping so she can survive it.

We are, right at this moment, in that last phase, which is hard, but familiar. He misses his daddy and doesn’t know how to verbalize those feelings, but luckily he’s old enough to project so I get more insight than I used to. His toothbrush is sad, he says to me, because he misses his daddy. Then his toothbrush finds his daddy toothbrush and they all dance! And then they are happy!

So, every inanimate object in the house is sad these days – and obviously because they’re missing their daddies – and we talk about how their daddies would like to be with them but are working hard to finish fixing their old houses. Only once have we then had to talk about what a toothbrush’s house looks like, so all in all, we’re doing okay.

Sometimes Javi is just a bear of overwhelming emotions for no apparent reason; he’s slept well and eaten well and napped well and pooped recently but is still a whiny, falling-apart kid. On those days, I drink more we get Daddy on the phone for a long Facetime session, a new discovery that has helped them both reconnect and be happy again.

We’ve made such a big change in his life and he’s doing really well with it, really, helped through by lots of sleep and Mama time and having fun with his grandparents. He doesn’t like mornings with the nanny, preferring instead to “work wif Mama,” so he breaks my heart on the regular by crying for me as I (or they) leave, which sucks, but we’ve adapted by making sure they leave the house right when she gets here so he has something to focus on other than not being around me, and I’m back to sneaking around so he doesn’t see me until after his nap. And honestly, we’re both feeling the hole in our family where my husband always functioned – as the more insistent, less understanding, more fun and romp-y parent. It’s only been a month, but not having him as my partner in parenting seems to be contributing to some whining and babyish behaviors that I’m not appreciating, but dealing with as best as I can since regressions often happen when big changes do.


Me? I’m dealing. We have many decisions to make that can’t be made now, which is a very not-ideal situation for me, but I’m finding opportunity to learn from it. Sometimes you just have to be since you can’t do. I spend a lot of time looking at real estate listings and thinking about what’s important to me and what kind of life we want to lead since my usual DIY and buying things pastimes are on hold. My husband and I are fairly disconnected right now, owing to different time zones and long days, but we’ll catch up with each other again. We’re both doing everything we can to make this all work out.

I’m thankful that we get to be here with my parents, who not only took us in but were excited about having us here, such a relief after such a worrying and sad period of sickness. We found a morning nanny who is really sweet and good with him (my second success via; she comes over from mid-morning until he’s down from his nap, then I keep my fingers crossed that he’ll sleep until my afternoon calls are finished. Once a week he joins my mom at her work (a high school), something they both look forward to. (Eating lunch in the cafeteria! Waving to the kids during class changes! ROTC trucks in the parking lot!) Her coworkers not only don’t mind, they look forward to his visits!

All in all, we’re very lucky and we’re doing pretty well. We’ll be very sad to leave my mom’s — and all the help and sun and family time — and a little nervous to be on our own again in a new city with new schedules and big changes, but, as with everything else I’ve talked about, there is a bright side: we will have gone through a partial upheaval already so we’re well-practiced.

OH, HEY, the most important thing: Javi’s health is SO MUCH BETTER HERE, and compared to Seattle, this place is still allergy-challenging! He’s down to maintenance inhaled steroids only, having not needed the rescue inhaler/ treatment beyond the first week we were here, and I’m about to discontinue those given his total lack of symptoms for the past few weeks. He no longer coughs, at rest, while sleeping, or EVEN DURING OR AFTER RUNNING FOR HALF AN HOUR, which is so amazing I had to put that in caps. Amazing. Amazing! So, yea, moving here was a great idea. We expect similar (if not better!) health in Seattle.