I didn’t plan to write today. But I have learned a lesson, one that I’ve avoided frankly, and I am better for it; it speaks to one of the reasons I started my blog: being a mother to three young men, so here we go.
Being a parent is not easy. I have a blogger friend Kelly DeBie, who posted this week about her young child’s meltdown after Christmas. She caught some flack for one reason or another when the simple fact was that she was just venting. Who hasn’t watched their child lose their tiny-fisted grasp on composure and feel helpless, feel as though you, the parent, have somehow created this tantrum simply because you couldn’t prevent it?
I have advice for anyone who’s gonna get up in any parent’s face, about raising a child when s/he chooses to lose his temper after a day of Christmas:
- Get on your knees, walk on them and stay there for an entire day. See how you like it.
- See what you think of life from less than 4′ tall. See how much attention you get from people who are a full 18″ to 2′ taller than you are. See if they hear you when you speak at a normal tone of voice.
- See how you like watching their jaws move and their lips flap when they talk fast and louder sometimes than you can handle. If there is drinking involved, rest your butt on your heels and get used to waiting and louder talking from everyone.
- See if they hear you when you say you want to leave somewhere or that you’re tired or that you don’t feel well.
- See nothing but belt buckles and hip pockets and muffin tops and beer bellies and the bottom halves of purses and gym bags and forearms. See what it’s like.
- Stay like that for the next year. Have Christmas and birthdays and errand runs and carpools and hear disagreements.
- Still on your knees? Just checking. Go to school and be nice to kids who are mean to you. Try to get along with everyone. Do what the teacher says. Suppress your desire to ask for everything under the sun because some other kids in your class get everything they want.
- See stuff on the news you don’t understand (try watching Al Jazeera for a few days like this if you don’t get where I’m coming from), hearing movies with explosions or cooking in the kitchen or the dog barking outside and try to open the sliding door but you’re not strong enough to close it on your own… see how that goes and then,
- And then, on The Biggest Day of The Year, the one you’ve waited for all year long: when something does or doesn’t go your way, or you hear things you do or don’t understand or you say something you did or didn’t mean and you got something you were or weren’t expecting: try to keep your shit together when you’ve simply had a long day.
Let me know how that goes.
I can’t believe Kelly’s catching flack for her post. I don’t normally run to someone’s rescue online like this, but I get where she’s coming from. I am not her, but I can understand how helpless we can feel at the times our kids lose their moods.
Years ago, I was on a solo flight with my new and only 18-month-old boy. The changes in air pressure are a real pain for a sentient adult; imagine being a toddler who was working through an ear infection. He was out of sorts and grumbly. Most people were OK with that. His utter cuteness and the blue velvet short-pants outfit I had him in with saddle shoes and peter pan collar belied his potential fury. There was this one guy, Captain A-hole, a business man in a cheap suit sitting in coach like the rest of us who thought my son was a twerp. We were on our ascent to whateverty-thousand feet when my son lost it. I feverishly shushed my son, like freakin’ Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice” (not a pleasant or easy movie). I was aware that my son was causing disruption. I bounced him, gave him a lollipop, sang to him, and none of it worked. He was in pain.
This guy turned around and glared at me one too many times. I could hear his friends ask him to ease up. The next time he glared at me, I said to him, three rows up and two seats over, “HEY. YES, YOU. I’m aware that my son’s bugging you or aggravating your otherwise pleasant experience on this plane. But I’m here to remind you that unlike you, my son wasn’t born at 45 in Coach and totally awesome cool. So unless you have a helpful advice to offer me or a crumb of compassion, I suggest you keep your eyes forward so your head will follow.”
His friends smiled at me and told him to cut it out.
Our kids, they need us. They need us to protect them, to defend them, to cajole them, to train them, to raise them, to hold them accountable and to be there, really Be There for them. I have been deficit in that department a bit lately because we’re all home and I’m doing my thing: writing, when they’re normally at school.
I think I have made up for it though, hence the lesson: I just spent 90 minutes in the basement with Thing 2, he’ll be 12 in a month. Gah! Where does the time go?!
He’s my mini me: sweet, cunning and clever. He actively flouts the rules around here; he’s spirited and so kind, but a handful at times too. I love him so much though… and then I want to squeeze the pulp out of him.
His biggest rule breaking is about eating food and candy away from the kitchen: near the computer, on the furniture, in the basement, in his room… you get it.
We have a windowless basement I call The Bunker, it’s great for watching movies. We have yummy hunter green microsuede sectional down there. He sneaks food down there all the time. I clean up and moan and scream and lose my shit, like a little kid frankly, because I’m tired of doing it.
Someone, me actually, suggested to me that I’m creating this world of spoiled brattish children: they don’t know how to vacuum (they do, but it’s easier for me to do it). They don’t know how to do laundry (they do, but it’s easier for me to do it). They don’t know how to cook (they do, but it’s easier for me to do it). Clean a bathroom (they do, and I won’t touch it).
I see where this is going. Do you? I have given them tools to live in the world, but I don’t make my sons keep them sharp and handy. The tools rust. They become dull and forgotten. I realize this happens because I want to look out for my own interests: writing, reading, running, watching Vincent D’Onofrio on “Law & Order” and any other number of self-involved schemes. Sleep, cruise the web, yoga studying… the fact of the matter is that there are only so many hours in a day.
But today, when we were all eating our lunch together I noticed T2 was gone. Where was he and his sesame toasted bagel with cream cheese? I called down to the basement. No answer. I went to the playroom where the computer is… no answer. I went to the steps to see if he was in his room. No answer. I went back to the basement door and followed the crumbs. He was on the sectional in the corner, under a blanket playing a video game.
I took a few deep breaths and actually said to him, “I’m not going to lose my crap on you. Instead, you’re coming upstairs to eat that thing and I’ll come up with a suitable punishment…”
“FOR WHAT? JEEZ MOM! EVERYONE ELSE DOES THIS!!!” he screamed at me and I said, “No not everyone else does this. They really don’t. You are the only one, really, who takes food down here consistently and eats it whenever he feels like it. The rules are clear: NO FOOD DOWN HERE.”
He joined us. I gnawed and gnashed at my bagel and lox. I sucked down my tea. I told him he’d have a consequence.
He inhaled his food, returned to the basement and I festered.
I honestly couldn’t come up with a consequence: what? No food? That’s stupid
and illegal. No video games? For the rest of Christmas break? AM I INSANE? Who gets punished more? I’m staring down the barrel of a really crappy weather system heading our way.
Think, you peabrain!
Eureka! To make up for his blatant and chronic disregard, I went back to the playbook: I made him do my job. Little kids make little messes; big kids make big ones. Initially he gave me guff, but he relented.
I made him vacuum under and above all the cushions, spray clean and scrub the upholsterly from his spilled gogurts and smoothies “Eww, that smells awful, like dried milk…” he said when I told him to sniff it before we scrubbed.
He moved the sectional and cleaned out all the wrappers, juice-box straw condoms (yes, I said ‘juice-box straw condoms’), goldfish crackers and kettle corn out from between the sections. Then I made him vacuum the stairs because his cookie crumbs and sesame seeds were all over them.
He hated me at first, but then he said when we were all done, “You are a good mom, mom. It smells nice down here. I won’t do this anymore, and definitely not without asking.”
We shall see. I think he’s learned his lesson. But it’s self-serving: if I don’t enforce this now, his wife will hate my guts and I’ll never see my grandchildren.
It’s hard to be a mom sometimes. We have to do these things: enforce, stay aware, model appropriately and follow-through on our policies. If we don’t: we get shitty behavior. I’m hopeful that 90 minutes of sweat equity in The Bunker will pay off.
Parenting felt different today and I’m convinced it was because I stayed with him. If I just left him down there, I’dve not been satisfied and he would’ve felt really punished and isolated. Now he sees how hard I work to keep things nice. And I got to see him work real hard too. We both saw each other. That was huge. We bonded over a Dyson.
I asked him, “How long do you think it took to mess up this room?” and he thought and said, “A couple weeks?”
I said, “No, but good guess. I vacuumed on Christmas eve so it would be nice on Christmas. All this stuff is recent.”
He said a little sadly, “And this morning when I ate my cookie and this afternoon when I ate my bagel down here.”
I said, “Yes. Just the past couple days, and it probably only took 5 or 10 minutes total to mess up, do you think?”
He said, “So it took us 90 minutes to clean up what took probably less than 15 minutes to mess?” I nodded, “Yeah, it’s hard to keep up with you guys…” He said, “That’s not very fair to you,” and he hugged me.
I melted inside, but I have to stay on him; that’s the hard part… he’s super cute and I must attend to them in all ways: not just the easy times, but the hard times too. This means I must step away from what I love to do in order to step into what I love to be: a good parent. If we all do this, our rewards will be huge and we might even enjoy the work along the way.