Tracey Johnston, a parenting counsellor, met with us about 10 days ago. We'd been talking about getting 'professional help' with our parenting dilemma for months, years?, but hadn't had the brilliant confluence of time together + money + agreement upon who to call.
Our pediatrician, Dr. Vestergaard, and our friend Erica both gave us recommendations. They had one name in common, Tracey's, so the choice seemed clear. When Jonathan returned from two months in Kansas supporting part of his Army Reserves unit, which was deploying to Iraq, we might as well have been parenting from separate time zones. I was (am) in my third trimester and stressed beyond belief; he had been known to call my theories "crazy." We couldn't even begin a conversation about parenting, and ironically once made a friend by heatedly discussing our troubles over discipline during a "date," prompting him to approach us, complaining that we'd sent a negative pall over the entire tapas bar.
In Tracey's first meeting with us, she put a finger on our family's problem: chaos. Our lives had been, were in chaos, and we had no system to fall back upon to help our kids -- or us -- cope. I work from home and I'm able to be very flexible; Jonathan hasn't had a job with the same schedule for more than a few months at a time, and now wasn't working much at all. We had so many goals in common, we did love each other, but life just didn't make sense. Her solution: create a schedule. She even wrote it down for us. Up at 7:15, breakfast at 8, give Everett little jobs to do (let the chickens out, help Daddy with the dishes), eat our meals as a family without TV. Bathtime at 7:30, books at 8, bedtime at 8:30. "We don't have a dining table," said Jonathan, pointing out our permanently-temporary living arrangements, until the house is "done" -- our dining room is our bedroom. "Eat around the coffee table," she said.
The next day, I went into pre-term labor. Jonathan got food poisoning, or a 24-hour flu, and though we all awoke and had breakfast, the rest of it was shot. But I came home around 6 from my time alone in the labor & delivery ward, and we had dinner together, without TV.
Over the next 10 days, life continued in chaos. Everett had surgery on his teeth on Friday, and the dentist prescribed two days of TV watching and rest (not to mention, a diet of ice cream and yogurt). But through it all, I kept on sitting down for dinner, even if it was just the boys and me, sitting down to lunch. No TV.
It didn't heal our family in an instant. But every time I sat across the table from the boys, me on my favorite cushion, them on their yellow dollar store chairs, even if we only sat for five minutes and I was the only one who thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, somehow, life felt more orderly. When I lay awkwardly on Everett's bed reading Spaghetti Park or We Can't Sleep!, I felt I was actually doing something right. We had staked our claim on our family, we had drawn a line around a few small rituals that mattered to us, we were making everything just a little bit easier.
And when I went downstairs after putting them to bed, even if it was a struggle, even if I had to pick up toys before I could walk across the bedroom and I'd lost my temper seven times with Truman's late-night wild streak, even if I'd been splashed on once too many times and my belly ached from the baby's kicks, I had a little peace in my heart. And tomorrow, maybe tomorrow will be even better?