Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Modeling and Mayhem

"Children need models more than they critics."
--Joubert

The past two days have been a kind of crazy situational ring-toss, with lots of stuff flying my way. I have to admit, I've been so busy trying to get work done in Plumtree-land that I can't even remember Monday. But yesterday will go down in my personal history as the day I decided to cut myself some slack.

It started out fine, just as most days here do. We took a little walk, went on an outing to Seven Virtues, a fine cafe down the street a ways. Lunch was okay, but our time outdoors was less easy. I'm a big believer in the old adage "Make hay while the sun shines", and since I had a rain garden to work on before the weather turned, I was pretty much in work mode. Kiddo, of course, had other plans, as we shall see...

What started out easy as pie quickly turned into a frustrating knot of events. First, let me say that whoever thought of making kid-sized metal shovels and gardening implements was well-intentioned, but clearly not thinking along the lines of "If the Kiddo is helping the Mama outdoors gardening, where will her head likely be? Where will the child likely be swinging the shovel?" I've since learned the answer to that one; yes, I did raise my voice, but when you have a bright blue Brio lobotomy coming toward your frontal lobe, it's really okay to yell. This did startle us both, but I was able to collect my wits--which weren't spilled out on the ground, thank goodness--and continue to guide him over to the other dirt pile.

Now, most kids would be in hog heaven with two dirt piles. Not mine. He wanted to work Right Next To Me. It raced across my mind that perhaps his de-braining tools should be put away, but that idea was chased away by the very real possibility that he would want to use the adult-sized tools. Smart move again, Mama.

Next I had some plants up in the front yard that needed to be dug out and transferred to complete the edge of the rain garden. Great! A trip up to the front yard would be exactly what we needed...or not. First, it was his sprint down the sidewalk and around the corner that pulled us into conflict. I felt like the meanest mom as I took his hand and marched him back home. I always read about children being 'marched' indoors and wondered what it looked like. Still not sure what other people saw, but I know that we both weren't smiling.

I tried again. "You can play over there (pointing to a safe place) or on the porch. I need you to stay close." This was fine for two minutes. Then he was trying to sit on the vegetables, which is an old sore spot with me. And I had to work. So into the stroller went Kiddo, unhappy with being restrained but distracted by the collection of pinecones and sweet gum seedpods to play with, and I dug out the plants I needed and moved them to the backyard. The stroller wasn't the coolest move, but as I've decided before, if children don't chose to be safe and I don't have the time (or, at this point, patience) to 'make it fun' for them to stay safe, the stroller is the sane option. I decided not to beat myself up about it, and once I was done I suggested we go for a walk. He was so bouncy, why not?

Well, as we rounded the corner of our block, I could see a disaster in the making: sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk (why, oh why, people?!) was a beautiful pile of leaves, taller than my boy and ever so enticing. "Come climb on me", I could hear them whispering on the wind, "come, little boy, come and trample me, throw my leaves everywhere and let your mother take the heat of the neighbor's dirty looks." I wasn't going to get a break, no matter how I tried. Add to this that it was a no-nap day. It took about two seconds for him to try to climb up the leaf pile despite my best efforts, and another two minutes for me to carry him home again.

What sort of mean mom doesn't let their kid play in some other neighbor's stupid-right-in-the-middle-of-the-sidewalk leaf pile? Me, that's who.

Once we went indoors, I was hoping for things to improve. Oh, there's a reason they call it 'hope'... after he asked for "something to cut up", I thought we might be getting a break in the work of parenting. I sliced up some apples into wedges and gave him a butter knife, which he's done well with in the past. Two minutes later, he was throwing the apple pieces on the floor, then down went the cutting board.With a flourish he shoved his cup aside and like a rock star, jumped up onto the table. Now, the last time I saw a move like this, some drunken idiot singer nearly set Dante's on fire, trying to walk on tables, knocking candles to the floor and eventually falling off himself. (His band broke up, too. Hmmm, I wonder why...)

So, I walked right over to him and grabbed him up. "I see that you are all done eating now!" This was it for me. I was tired, sore, and facing a rather sullen pile of dishes. Part of me wanted to use my really big voice to make a big impression, but I knew that losing it wasn't going to help.

Instead, I walked him into the living room and set him down on the floor. "Mama needs a break. You are fine, you can play. I'm going to close the door and I'll be out in a few minutes." And then, I did just that. I closed the kitchen door, set the timer for five minutes, put some Thelonious Monk on low and drank a glass of water, alone. I did dishes, alone, for five glorious minutes. The living room is childproofed and he usually plays out there while I shower, so this wasn't traumatic at all. He played and I prayed that Joe wouldn't have to work late.

All of this to say, I think I did pretty well. It's hard not to misbehave when our kids are. I intellectually know that it's not reasonable to expect a toddler to do everything the first time I ask, and while did forget my own rule (Ask them once; guide them the second time), I really wanted him to just do what I wanted him to, right away. Not even adults cooperate with requests the first time they are asked, and there's no reason I should hold my child to a higher standard. I recognized that it was a tough day, made even less than ideal because of the pressures and circumstances: I just felt like I had so much to do, and he was dealing with having skipped his nap, which can wind a kid up and then some. And we somehow made it through the day without any tears, either.

I think we all have to cut ourselves some slack, sometimes, as parents. We try so hard with our kids; our failures sting, in the way they look at us and in the way we perceive ourselves. But kids are resilient, and it's okay to occasionally stretch our kids, as long as we remember that we might have to stretch ourselves too, in order to help the situation. Taking the time out for myself was the pivotal moment. Later, I would decide that trying to engage him in the usual picking up toys and such wasn't worth the effort for that day; I did a big pick-up, but left the apples on the floor. An hour later, when he asked about the apples, I reminded him that he'd dropped them on the floor and gave him a bowl, offering to rinse them off after he picked them up. He chose to sit down under the table and eat the apples. Heck, the floor was clean.

At bedtime, Joe (who always gets such a time about not being strict enough from his own parents) said to me,"I really drilled it into him that he needed to pick up his blocks". To which I replied, "I'm glad they're picked up, but would you really want to be the child who is getting the message drilled into them?" He understood.

I'm all for modeling, even when it might look like I'm being mean. I'm firm but kind, and shutting that kitchen door made the best sense in the moment. It put a temporary stop to the Pushme-Pullyou cycle of attention-getting behaviors that were getting us nowhere. Even more than my words, my son needs to see that I can take care of myself and that I know when to say "stop", even to my own urge to see things through. The sane option prevailed. We were able to end the day on a positive note, and now, as he naps, I see all the good that came out of those challenging moments. Keeping this last point in mind is key--it's so important to our own mental health to recognize the good we do, even within the mayhem. So parents, remember to give yourself a break this Thanksgiving. Our own parents or relatives might mutter about our children, and we can just look at them and say "Oh, I so appreciate how hard parenting us kids must have been for you, too. Can I get you more wine?".

Then go top off your own glass and take some Time Out. Cheers.

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