Friday, January 25, 2013

In His Room... Bad Words and Potty Talk

There's a world where I can go
And tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room 

Not for a minute did I ever believe my son wouldn't learn "those" words. You know, the ones every other kid has said with a friend, giggling and tittering over them. Can we list the words? Here are some~
Diaper (not friendly when used as name!) 

Let me say that hearing these words does not throw my game off in the least. At least it's not 'shit', right? Although he has been told that since he doesn't understand what that word means, he can't use it. But the other words seem to be used with some frequency lately, especially when a project isn't coming together easily, or even at the dinner table for effect, and then that's the time when we have two options:
You may stop using this name-calling, potty-talk language or you may go to your room and do it there.

I'm probably atypical in that I do not punish my son for using less-than-pleasant words. He knows these words are not polite or friendly, and that they do create an unpleasant space around us. He knows that if they are directed at others, there are the natural consequences of having a friend angry at you and having to make amends and make right the relationship. He knows we must never direct these words at others, especially other adults. But when he's getting mad at something he's working on which isn't working and starts getting loud and noisy-- and when those words start coming out, he has the choice: do you want to go say the words in your room, or would you like a little help? 

Words are just words. Some of them, when used, require an apology. I know kids are going to be kids, they are going to learn some hard lessons with each other or at school if they call another person a name or use language which is unpleasant or not allowed at school. But I feel like this is part of what some kids need to do, and forbidding it, as we know, can result in a potential power struggle. Some parents would recommend a bit of vinegar or hot sauce on the tongue; others would suggest a spanking.

Here's the deal with me: I am not so fragile that he can't express himself. It doesn't mean that I will be happy with him if he calls anyone, including myself, a name, it just means that I won't be destroyed by some less-than-lovely language now and again. I do not believe it's going to turn him into someone who swears like a sailor. I do believe that he needs guidance on how to express himself. Kind of par for the course with a kindergartener in any case, bad words or not.

Interestingly, by allowing potty talk or "name-calling talk" (as we call it, because it's an easy way to identify what exactly we're addressing with him) to go on in his room, it kind of takes the fun out of it. The adult audience at home isn't shocked by the language, just bored. Forgive me for the analogy, but I believe this is much like how we guide young children who do other socially-frowned-upon things like masturbating-- we tell them that this is something we do in our room, in private. 

Of course, the potty talk isn't always "in private". Kiddo and one little friend of his know that if they want to discuss Captain Underpants ad nauseum,  the bedroom is the place to do it. With the door open, of course. 

But I believe that there's something really great about having ONE place in a child's world where they can really let their freak flag fly. Some place which is safe for him to vent his frustrations with the words of his own choosing. He is old enough to know the difference between 'we can do/say this here and we don't do/say that in other settings/situations'. And as long as he is honoring this, we are fine. 

He's not old enough to keep a journal; he doesn't have the skills to express himself in writing proficiently yet. And really, what would I do-- stand over him while he writes in a journal at five years old? "This... T-H-I-S is I-S the --oh, you know that one-- baddest B-A-D-D-E-S-T day D-A-Y ever E-V-E-R. Did you get it all, honey?" What's wonderful to me about journaling is that it is a stream-of-consciousness activity, so immediate and releasing. Having a child who isn't proficient at writing express himself in this way is likely to seem the opposite for him, just more tedious and awful. Being able to go into his room and let loose "stupid butt blocks won't stay up!" is  likely to get that job done quicker.

We really don't give Kiddo a lot of direction or guff about his room. We ask him to keep it relatively picked up so you can safely move through it. That's about it. He's got a gallery of Star Wars printouts he's colored, cut out, and taped to the wall. He's got his art, plus some nicer adult art pieces which he likes. The walls are yellow with orange trim. That was for me, when we were painting the room before he was born. "Yellow?" someone asked. "Why not?" I replied. "It's what I can live with sitting in his room for hours and playing with him... besides, when he's a teenager, he's going to want to paint it black anyway." 

 And I'm glad, too, that he has a place that's just his. The kitchen is mine-- having the cat underfoot is bad enough, toys on the kitchen floor are verboten. The living room gets picked up regularly; all his creations have to be deconstructed or moved weekly in deference to the vacuum.  His room is the only place where the space is really his.  So if the shelves are cluttered with paper creations and Lego constructions, well--that's the perfect place for them. He's proud of his work, and I would rather encourage him by letting those products of play stick around for as long as he needs them to. 

And too, this is the one place he's going to get to just be himself--for a very long time. The Beach Boys wistful tune is portent to the future, to his adolescence maybe, when his imagination will be augmented with writing and building skills further developed, or his teen years, when the adults become some other, unrelatable species. 

On those days, and I still remember my own, there is something about going into one's own space and shutting the door, throwing oneself down on the bed and thinking one's own thoughts in the quiet--or with the stereo up loud, via headphones...

Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Truth of a Five Year Old

Never let it be said that our little ones don't have their finger on the pulse of today.

I love my sweet boy, I really do. He's funny, bright, likes to do some pretty fun, creative stuff. And he's five and sometimes has a way of spot-on nailing a situation.

This afternoon, Kiddo and I were to meet Joe and so we took a bus downtown.  We left a bit earlier than we needed to, for I had an errand to run: I had heard earlier from a friend that an acquaintance's mother had died, and so I wanted to pick up a sympathy card while we were out. That, and my usual short soy latte and an extra snack for Kiddo. That was the plan.

It took us about two minutes of being in the mall, where I was quickly searching for a stationary shop, when Kiddo began to protest. He wanted to go look at toys in a nearby store. "Just to look, Mom, not to buy."

Where is more time when you need it? My clock was ticking down and I really wanted to get the card. It was important to me to reach out-- I'd met the mother in question a few times and really thought she was a special person.  And as I wasn't close to her daughter, but had been invited over as a 'friend of a friend' to a few different gatherings, I didn't feel a call was appropriate. A card would be. I had to find a card. 

All this ran through my head as I gave a second "no" to Kiddo. "We'll just get the card and go get a snack. I'll try to be quick, and then we have to meet Daddy."

And then, the truth was spoken: "But MOM! It's supposed to be all about ME."

Of course it is! Of course it is, sweetheart! You are five! Of course it IS all about you! 

I didn't jump to 'culture of narcissism' or anything like that. Really, I just thought "poor kid, you have to get dragged through the mall for a card for a person you don't even know  and all you can think about is how stinking unfair it is that your mom won't let you look at toys.'

I just wanted to hug him. I was, instead, making this moment all about me and what I needed to do. Sometimes, there's really a time and place for this being very appropriate. This was one of those times, but I wished in that moment that we had come down about 15 minutes earlier.

But then, earlier, it had been all about him wanting a bit of extra time to climb the tree in the backyard in the cold January sunshine and to chat for a minute with our friends who are rebuilding our garage. 

I almost-- almost--forget that their sense of time is so ethereal. He's so present in this moment. I didn't bring up the tree-climbing time and it wouldn't have mattered. I gave him a squeeze instead. Apologized for things being no fun and then said "Baby, let's hot-foot it over to the coffee shop and get you something yummy." 

"Does 'hot foot' mean go fast?" 

"That's right, it does. Hot foot!" 

Five minutes later he couldn't complain-- his mouth was stuffed with a vanilla scone. Happy again, we went up to Joe's office and finished out the day pretty well. 

Don't you know, for a five year old, it IS all about them? I didn't find a card today-- I'll get it tomorrow, but I love getting a glimpse of my kid's perspective about things, even if it's a little inconvenient. Just makes me want to love him more. Little boy-- let me tell you, sweetie, it is all about you. Really, truly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"You're the Best Mom in the World!"

"You're the best mom in the world, Mom! I love you!" My son likes to shout this at me when I'm dropping him off for school. And while it's nice to get this public shout-out,  I am taking it with a big spoonful of Reality Salts. 

This "Best Mom" title, award, whatever it is that he bestows on me (his opinion, really), doesn't come with any perks. Not even a swag bag of Kleenex and hand sanitizer. But it does make a few things better, I suppose. 

The last week could be described as "Grumpy Week; phase one" and we are currently now moving into "Grumpy Week 2, phase 2". What started last Monday with a sleepless night staying awake to ward off nightmares had, by Wednesday, morphed into "I can do nothing alone, mother dear; your ever-present presence is needed".  We tried melatonin for a short time,which helped him relax enough to get to sleep without fuss, but then had him waking up at 5:45. (bleecch!) We have tried having his toy animals guard his room, but apparently they are less 'real' than the imaginary monsters my son has conjured up, so we moved onto the more effective "monster repellent" of lavender oil and a strict discipline of only cozy, happy books at bedtime.

The harder part of all of this is that he really doesn't want to be alone. EVER. So, for most of last week I had a little shadow sewn onto my heels, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing. Where, just a week ago he'd be off playing LEGOs quietly for 45 minutes, I now have a kid who wants to keep me in his sightlines all the time. Even when he needs to take care of more personal, ahem, tasks. 

"Moooo-ooom! I need you in the bathroom with me!" 
In my head: Oh, no. No,  you don't. 
In my head: Do I have to? 
In my head: Boy, you owe me, Buster. 

I have decided to try to think of this as an opportunity for empathy. For every time I have dragged him to the grocery store when he would have rather stayed home and played.... I am sure he thought the same thing: Do I have to? Yes, darling, you do have to, because even though you think food is not important right now while you are building a whole new world out of little pieces of paper, later on you will change your mind and question my judgement when we have nothing for dinner. Or your father will later question my ability to parent if I do let you have your way because I'm supposed to know better and make the hard choices even if there's a good chance you are going to turn into Grumplestiltskin when I say "we need to go to the store". 

He knows he is asking me to do something that he seems to need me to do, that I don't want to do, and so I am trying to be gracious about this, despite how exhausting Always Being In Company is. Trying to figure out how much connection he is needing....When all of a sudden we add in Phase Two, which shall be known by the two most-shouted words in our house of late:

"THAT'S STUPID!" That being anything that is not working how he wants it to. It started Sunday night. I thought I was actually going to get to watch my one (ONE, folks, ONE) afternoon of trashy television a year-- the one evening of grown-up tv I watch in front of him, the Golden Globes. I'm a huge fan of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and my girls are hosting, so I just have to watch, right? 

Wrong. By the time we are halfway through the red carpet coverage, Kiddo's re-experiencing one of his major life disappointments:  The toys you win with arcade tickets are junk. Kiddo and Joe had gone to the arcade earlier that day for a couple hours of fun. Let me just say that those two hours of fun for Kiddo and my dear husband ended up in three hours of subsequent meltdown for me. (or, as we say in retrospect: That's what I get for going to have a beer in the afternoon with a girlfriend. Pshaw.) The little disc gun, similar to the crappy one he's won before, didn't work to his liking. After several positive parenting attempts and confounded fixes, the disc gun had to take a Time-Out in the cupboard for a while. "Silly thing, it's just making too much trouble! It needs to take a break!" That's right, I blamed it on the toy, not my frazzled nerves. 

When I next turned on the Golden Globes that evening, it was the last three minutes of the show and the ladies were waving goodnight to one and all. sigh.

Yesterday, well, as the old song goes-  Second Verse, same as the first..... "This is STUPID!". Even through several efforts to provide connecting times, empathy and support, I was waiting for seven o'clock and bedtime to roll around with eager anticipation while practicing being patient and accepting his anger and feelings without judgment.  In the future I may refer to this attitude as 'trying to channel Yoda'.

Today, the Best Mom in the World (ha!) is trying to conjure up an afternoon of play ideas which are more facile, open-ended, less-challenging. I've got my evening scheduled to include getting the veggies prepped to roast early and then letting him take a long bath before dinner, when he's most tetchy. Water play in the tub can't become that fraught.... or can it? We'll also have some playdough ready to go after homework is done, or try something else that's fun and easy. I'll make sure we have a good snuggle/storytime today, and carve out twenty minutes for at least one game or playtime of his choice.

I've tried my reflective listening, my compassionate, empathetic restatement of his feelings, counting to 100, employed gentle delay tactics for when he wants me and I am doing something integral to our survival as a family-- like making a meal, and have had my sleep interrupted more times than my sanity usually allows. 

And I keep it in the front of my head as we are traveling through this phase: He is a good kid. He is just needing something and I need to keep on being a detective, listening when he talks, and try to figure out how to best meet his needs and still keep myself healthy and focused and together.  I don't think these ideas are mutually exclusive, I just haven't figured out how to find the bridge there yet, that linchpin which will  keep us connected but flexible with each other. I'll offer to let him help in the kitchen for tonight, washing and peeling veggies, which he likes doing.  And I'll keep in mind that this, too, shall pass and something else will come along like a bowling ball and knock my feet out from under me for a time.

Parenting books contain a lot of wonderful words for parenting: fulfilling, best-and-hardest job ever, abundant sense of love, life-changing.... I think we need to add another word to that collection~

Relentless. Being a parent is the most relentless thing I have ever done, have ever had the good fortune to get to do. Parenting is all the good things,  and the hard things, and it is most certainly relentless, always coming at you. We are forced to make the quiet places in our mind, because sometimes we just don't get them elsewhere. It is relentless, but there is also nothing inherently wrong with Kiddo, so I rise to the occasion. Today I will practice a lot of acceptance, find my inner Yoda, and hope for a good afternoon.

And maybe, just maybe, the Best Mom in The World (to live in my house, that is) might just pull it off. We'll just have to wait and see. Guess we'll know come 7 pm, huh?

In case you want an epilogue: well, most of my plans worked, except the stuff I have no control over.... and knowing I had no control over led me to NOT try to control, but to consider... overall, not a bad day!