Four year olds: from tiny to vast

When my son was three, I learned a lot about managing emotion, or at least, I saw a lot about how emotion works when left unhindered by thought or expectation. He felt, he reacted, he let it run through his body until it passed, sometimes (often) in huge explosions of feeling.

He’s now four, and owing to some upheaval in all our lives (and especially my own), I only recently noticed how his world has changed, and thus, so have the opportunities for me to learn.

His world is so big now, as he grasps concepts huge like “the universe” and tiny like “germs.” Vast is an understatement for the expansion of his perspective in the last year.

At the same time, so much of his world happens in his own head. Whereas before, he saw, felt, and reacted externally and physically, now he can think, and with thinking come the kinds of existential questions my 36 year old self can’t answer.

Who’s in charge? How much control do I have? How much of the big and tiny world can I manage at any given time?

And suddenly I see a path to figuring out my own stuff, because I’m struggling with the same questions, and I learn most quickly through juxtaposition and foils.

In his world, I answer those questions. I am in charge. He has as much control as his four year old maturity can accommodate well with room to learn. And he can manage some big and some tiny thoughts, but not all all at once, so I curate for him.

I am smitten by the concept of curation these days. In a life full of possibility, and a myriad of choices to be made every day, that someone who understands my needs would limit those so I might enjoy the process of choice… this. I want this. And I just realized: I have this through a friend I’ve been chafing against; I have this through the universe’s benevolent interference in my assumptions; I do this for myself sometimes through self-sabotage, when I should be doing it purposefully.

And I need to focus more on curating my kiddo’s life, again, and better.

In my world? This is the challenge I’ve been failing, to surrender, let go of the oars, allow for grace and synchronicity and caring. I can’t continue to prove my worth in every moment of every day in every relationship. I am that crazy woman who needs too much, even for herself, and I am being batted about by knee-high waves when all I have to do is stand up and I won’t drown.

Okay, yes, some of the waves are pretty damned huge, but ironically, those I can handle. It’s the little ones that keep knocking me over and making me wonder if I am capable of not drowning. Surfing the big ones? Cake.

A friend was given public-speaking advice that caught us both by surprise: “Feel your feet on the ground.” Add that to my propensity for analogies, in which I have been a vine looking for someone else’s tree and a crab scuttling away from waves, but never yet a woman standing in the water, planting her feet like the roots of a tree, and I think I am on a path to answers.


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.