Toddlers Are Better Teachers Than Parents Could Ever Hope To Be

Restless little kids are impossible. There is a lot of whining and hitting and other unfavorable behaviors that require skillful maneuvering to avoid full-on meltdowns. Normally I would just take the boys outside on days like today, but one boy is still recovering from a bout of RSV and should probably stay out of the wind. After trying to get them to color with little success, creativity (or possibly madness) struck and I decided that we were all going to bake cookies together.

Don’t get me wrong, I am normally one of those horrible hovering parents that everyone warns you about, but I am aware of it and am trying to do better. I could try to justify my behavior or talk around it, but i really don’t see the point. Every parent has their issues right? Anyway, I thought that letting them do the majority of the work on this particular project could help all of us. The boys helped me gather all of the ingredients and the measuring cups and spoons and set them on the table. Then they measured out the right ingredients and stirred everything together. It took restraint, but all I did was crack the eggs and hand out the right cup for each ingredient (and I might have stirred a bit at the end). Their level of concentration and cooperation was more than I thought was possible from two busy two-year olds. They were excited to help and to have a job to do. Here is a picture of them hard at work:

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I am going to give you the recipe we used because I am always disappointed when I read a blog post about food and there isn’t a recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookes

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (ours was crusty so we used more sugar)
1/2 cup butter, softened (if you forget to set it out early, just micro-wave for 20 seconds)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (we used coconut oil)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (we substituted Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips (dark chocolate chips are my favorite)

1. In large mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter, shortening, eggs and vanilla. Scrape bowl.
2. Slowly add flour, baking soda and salt until well combined, scraping bowl often.
3. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. (If making gluten-free, whatever you do DON’T taste the cookie dough. You will think you ruined them).
4. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven 9-11 minutes (if you choose to make these gluten-free you will want to cook them more like 12-15 depending on size).

Of course, with two toddlers running the show, none of these instructions were followed to a tee. I was a little concerned since this was my first attempt at making my husband gluten-free cookies, but it somehow worked out fine. They were slightly crispy and chocolatey and perfect. And most importantly, I relinquished control long enough to let my children feel useful. (Hopefully that will help fill-up their self-esteem bank for moments when I am a much less perfect parent). Seriously though, I am really proud of all of us. I took a step back and the boys took a step forward.

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The Yellow Wallpaper as Therapy?

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“I’ve got out at last,” said I, ” in spite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Pg. 189

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is often considered a feminist writer, as her work on The Yellow Wallpaper helped bring the plight of women into the public consciousness. This was simply a byproduct of her original intent, which was just to convince one misinformed doctor to stop prescribing a “rest cure” to treat minor mental disturbances. According to the short synopsis of her life in The Seagull Reader, she suffered from depression after having her first child, and was driven to the brink of insanity by the exact rest cure that Jane is forced into in the story. I have no doubt that The Yellow Wallpaper is autobiographical in nature, and that Gilman did, in fact lose her mind for a brief period of time.

In the story, Jane is a woman who’s doctor husband thinks that she has “hysterical tendencies” and patronizes her almost as one would a small child. He takes her to an estate in the countryside where she is promptly shut off for hours at a time by herself in a room with bars on the windows and a hideous yellow wallpaper that she describes on page 174 and 175:

The paint and paper look as if a boys’ school had used it. It is stripped off -the paper- in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin…The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

Jane is expected to do nothing, her husband even worries when she writes. The reader is led to believe that perhaps she suffers from what would now be called postpartum depression, as she talks about her baby briefly and how nervous he makes her. Throughout the course of the book, this woman goes from talking about her husband in a positive light, to being suspicious of him and everything he says. In almost the same way, the wallpaper goes from being merely a wall covering to becoming a sinister being that aims to best her. She obsesses over the pattern and the way it changes and moves before her eyes. The book ends with her becoming one with the wallpaper in her mind. Her husband faints after finding her creeping across the floor pushing her shoulder against the wall so she doesn’t get lost as she winds around the room, and she simply climbs over him and continues on in the groove she has worn into the walls.

I am not certain whether Gilman intended for the reader to feel sympathy for the husband in this story, but I find that I can’t help it. He is a man limited by the knowledge and attitudes of his time. He is trying to help his wife get better and instead helps drive her to the brink of insanity and beyond. As the story progresses you can feel through her descriptions of him that he is growing more and more worried about her, but isn’t able to help in any real way. His fainting at the end is his final realization that she has completely lost her mind and it is too much for him.

This is actually the fifth time I have read this short story, though this time I bring a renewed sympathy and understanding to the character of Jane that I didn’t have before. When I was pregnant with my twins, I went into full labor at 23 weeks. It was also discovered at the same time that one of the boys had a two-vessel umbilical cord instead of a three-vessel one. It was at this point that my doctor decided to hospitalize me in order to keep a closer eye on the babies. I spent the next 10 weeks laying on my back, hooked up to a fetal monitor and being given round after round of drugs to keep from going into labor (not to mention the steroid shots that burned the whole length of my leg). I started out with purpose; I was going to save my babies and keep them from an extended stay in the NICU.

There is a feeling of impending doom on the Anti-Partum ward, especially when you go in as early as I did. Despite the niceties of the nurses, I got the general feeling that everyone was expecting the worst. the lowest point of my whole stay was the day when a doctor who was mostly unfamiliar with my case told me that my children could both end up being Down Syndrome and asked if I wanted to do genetic testing. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to scream at him. I knew in my heart that he was wrong, but I was angry at the insinuation that it would make any difference, or that this was the worst thing I was facing at that moment. As much as my husband and my family tried to be there for me and to understand what I was going through, I was alone in a way I have never been before. I used trash television to fill the hours until something happened that would change my situation. It was during my stay at the hospital that I started to fixate on a leaf pattern on the ceiling tiles in my room that was uneven. I spent many long hours staring at that pattern and willing it to just sprout another leaf so I could stop looking at it. To be fair, this might have been during the week that I started hallucinating that my bed was spinning and covered with snakes (they had the meds cranked up pretty high apparently).

My babies are fine, and were born at 33 weeks with no real issues to speak of and spent only a month in the NICU, but my experience has changed the way i view the world permanently. I still struggle with wanting to hide in my own little world, and I have to consciously force myself to get in the car and drive to the store on certain days. I bring this up, not because I expect sympathy, but simply because Gilman’s story unexpectedly dragged my own story out of me in a way that nothing else ever has.