Tuesday, December 04, 2007

About Caitlin

"How is Caitlin doing with the twins?"

That's possibly the most common question I get these days. From all of the entries I've made, you'd think she's all but disappeared, wouldn't you? Well, she's still here but things are tough for her.

She's very excited to be a big sister and is very helpful, for the most part. When we ask her to fetch and carry, she almost always complies. She really likes the babies, except for when they're screaming and we're all trapped in the car together. I can't really blame her, after all it hurts my ears too, but I freaked out when Emma's cries went strangely muffled one day. Turns out Caitlin had shoved the blanket into Emma's mouth to muffle her crying.

I freaked out all over Caitlin once we were out of the car and in the house.

I'm not proud of that moment. Unfortunately, there have been plenty more where that one came from.

Sometimes when they're screaming, she tries screaming louder. Not helpful. Sometimes when they're sleeping she is singing at the top of her lungs in the very next room. Also not helpful. Sometimes when asked to entertain them with a toy she shakes it fiercely inches away from their face; or when asked to rock them in their car seats whips them forward and back. When trying to hold the babies, she squeezes them or jiggles them or bounces them around in a head-snappingly disturbing manner.

And I freak the hell out.

Then, when hollered at about it, she starts crying and running from the room. I don't always start out hollering, but when you say STOP! and she doesn't? and you have to yell it three times before she actually STOPS doing the scary/harmful/dangerous/freak out inducing thing? then I head right down Screamer's Boulevard and don't stop until I hit Over Reactor's Guilt Alley.

Once, when pissed off at me a few weeks back for asking her to go brush her teeth, she ran up the stairs and into her room and slammed her door shut. Now, ordinarily slamming your door shut around here is a big no-no and will get your door taken off its hinges until you have been properly chastised. However, this time the slamming caused my wedding picture - my glass framed wedding picture - to fly off the wall. Gravity still works around these here parts, so it took over and the picture when smashing to the floor where the glass exploded on contact. Glass has an allergy, you see, to bamboo floors.

That was a hard night. I skipped right past mad and went directly to depressed.

I understand that her entire life has been turned upside down by the presence of the twins. So has mine and Eric's. I understand that it's hard to go from the center of attention to the outer edge. The problem is that Eric and I are both exhausted and our ability to put up with whiny or resentful or bratty behavior is completely shot. I feel like Jekyl and Hyde: one moment I'm snapping at Caitlin to "Pick up her room an don't make me ask you again!" and the next I'm smiling and cooing at the twins.

We try to set up play dates for her. Eric tries to specifically set time aside for her, to read her a story at bedtime. I'm the one that is trapped under twins and unavailable almost all the time. My ability to play is shot and I'm often left angry at her and guilt-ridden for feeling angry. I know that she's "just 6" and that she is going to act that way. It's just hard to deal when I'm faced with the whiny, resistant, non-tooth brushing, slow dressing, back-talking, needy, crying version of Caitlin.

On the bright side, when she does something well or exceptional, we lay the praise on thick. This morning, for example, Eric shut off the alarm and didn't get up to get Caitlin to school until 15 minutes before they had to leave. She, however, had gotten up and brushed her teeth and hair, gotten dressed and fed the cats all before Eric woke up. We took her to get ice cream after school as a treat.

If you've been through this and have advice, lay it on me. Keep in mind that it has to be reasonable. Telling me to let it all go ain't gonna happen. Just telling me to cut her more slack isn't constructive. We need actionable ideas that are known to work to get us through this transition period. And that are physically possible to do for parents that are exhausted all the time.


Swistle said...

I never feel bad if I freak the hell out over an important safety issue. Those are the exact times when freaking the hell out is absolutely appropriate. I follow up with a calm-voiced "Honey, that scared me VERY BADLY when you did that," and a long explanation of the safety issues involved. If I think the child really didn't understand, I say, "I know you didn't realize that X could result in Y." That's as much as I bend on it.

When our twins were born, what we did with the older kids is make frequent comments and have frequent conversations in which the main point was "It will not always be this way." The babies would be screaming their faces off and I would say, "Whoooo! Babies sure are LOUD, aren't they? Don't worry--they won't always do this! *big smile*" Same thing for "babies sure are a lot of work," "babies sure do take a lot of time and attention," etc.--whatever the current problem was. We also said things like, "Twins are a lot of fun, but they're also..."--because we wanted to emphasize that we did LIKE the twins. We found it made the big kids feel like they were our allies in a temporary difficult situation.

Scylla said...

I can tell you what we did with Marlena. Maybe it would help a little.

We tried very hard to include her in Oliver's care-taking, as often as she wanted to be included. I would show her the baby, ask her if she wanted to tuck him in, get him a toy, etc.

We talked a lot about what a great sister she is, and every time Oliver noticed her, we made a BIG deal about it.

"Look, he smiled at you! He loves his big sister!"

Also, we made sure that we did things with her whenever we could, even if they were just watching a show cuddled up, or reading a book.

I would definitely yell when you see her doing something potentially harmful, and I wouldn't feel guilty about it at all. After all, you would have yelled if her older sibling had stuffed a blanket in her mouth when she was screaming.

Maybe get her noise canceling headphones from santa?

I don't know, we just tried really hard to somehow make the baby a little about her too, that way she had a less dramatic transition from all about her to no longer all about her.

Whichever way you go, I am sure you will find a solution that works for you. You and Eric are great parents, even when you are distracted and sleep deprived. Caitlin will not suffer long, nor will she suffer any lasting damage. However, I feel for you all anyway.

Love you!

Valerie said...

I'm trying to figure out how not to yell at just two! And that's not necessarily for health risk things. Mostly things like I've said something many times and I get no response or even acknowledgment that I've said anything.

(Help me...)

Oh wait, that's not helpful.... Um your kids sure are cute!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Thanks, gang. I will attempt to employ your suggestions. Eric has hearing protectors that we`were wearing when bathing Emma. No I'm serious! If I remember, I'll stick them in the car when we go shopping.

Val: get used to no response. We get that all the tiiiime! I used Love & Logic to stop yelling so much. Wore off last year, though. Must get new edition!

Missy said...

I am reading a book right now regarding discipline and children called Easy to Love Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. I am early in to the book, but her presentation of ideas has a definite love and logic flavor to it. So far it has talked a lot about parents gaining self control when dealing with children's misbehavior and actually gives exercises and things to do to help parents with that very thing.

One thing that might be helpful is to give her very specific directions, particularly when you are asking with help with the wee ones. Instead of saying can you play with the babies, tell her more specifically how you want her to interact. For example say, "can you gently rock the car seat back and forth and sing a quiet song to your sister while I go to the bathroom?" Maybe throw in a quick example too. When she does it like you asked of course heap on the specific praise regarding what she has done well. I guess in a rather long winded way I am saying to try to pay more attention and give more focus to behaviors you want to see out of her. Maybe also to get some more time with you she can do things like read you and the babies a story while you nurse, or play one handed games. I played endless games of slap jack with my oldest while nursing my youngest.

Stopping the yelling is hard. I think it is about a trillion times harder when you are sleep deprived and dealing with all the other things you have going on. So cut yourself some slack.

This stuff is hard. Hang in there!

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