Quality of Life

You know what, six-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you tell the toddler he’s wrong every time he does or says something, he’s going to be mad. And he’s relatively inarticulate. His defense mechanisms are few. So when he feels bad because you’ve told him he’s not Bob the Builder or he’s not actually a big guy or his truck can’t build a new road, he’s going to hit you. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and I’m working on stopping it. But may I just state for the record that you totally have it coming.

You know what, two-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you walk up and slug your brother because you don’t like what he’s said or where he is or what his plans are for the day, he’s going to get mad. You’re lucky that he now just screams like his head’s been severed and stomps away and says he won’t play with you. For at least two years he’s gotten used to shoving you or hitting you back. That he now withdraws his friendship is well within the bounds of reasonable. And it’s what I taught him to do. (Minus the screaming. Jaysus with the screaming.) Howsabout you do what I’ve taught you, and tell him, “Stop it!” rather than hitting.

You know what, both of you small boys? You’re beating me down. I don’t need much, but I need you to be kind to each other. I’ve done some research. Seven-to-eight sibling fights an hour is normal. You fight less than that. But even one fight a day where one of you hurts the other or one of you says something mean is too much. Knock. It. Off.

Because you’re breaking my spirit. I’m about to be the mom who won’t get out of bed in the morning because whether I do or don’t, you’re screaming and hitting within 5 minutes of waking. Yes, the first four minutes are adorable. You’re quite lovely to each other when you stick to the script. After that, all bets are off. And I talk kindly and explain why you should, too. But I kind of don’t see the point anymore.

Why do you play nicely until I dart down the stairs to go to the bathroom? Or ask you to put on shoes? Or try to cook? Why you gotta be like that? The second my back is turned you’re hurting one another’s souls, guys. Why with the calling names? Our mantra here is “It’s never okay to do something to make someone feel bad.” (Mad props to the friend who taught me that one.) That goes for retaliation hitting and scratching and biting. That goes for namecalling. That goes for demeaning someone or their imaginary world. That goes for excluding. That goes for talking nasty when a gentle explanation will do.

At least once an hour one of you is genuinely kind to your brother. And I tell you how nice that feels or sounds. I tell you to be proud of how you used your words and your kindness to make him happy.

And at least once an hour on or more of you is terrible. Horrid. Criminally nasty. And I tell you that your behavior is unacceptable. That you are a good person practicing being mean, which might make you grow up mean.

Why does this not work? Why are you not fixed? Why can’t you be mostly nice and withdraw when you need time alone? Why can’t you go without hitting or yelling or psychologically punishing each other for just one day?

Don’t give me that “because we’re small children and need your constant guidance, without which we falter and can’t possibly be kind to each other.” Mama has to pee, guys. And read a book, some day.

This steady rhythm of sometimes-nice-but-often-shitty-to-each-other is wearing me down.

And summer is coming. Lots of together time. Lots.

Please. Help a mama out. Stop being nasty to each other.

[To all those out there whose children get along famously, please go give them an extra kiss tonight, because their contributions to family harmony are deeply important. To those who’ve successfully guided asshole children to kinder and gentler ways, please comment below. Ayudame. Por favor.]


Parenting FAIL

Every stinking night my kid walks out of his room well after bedtime and tells me his foot hurts. And every stinking night I feign concern and get him an ice pack. He puts it on his foot in bed and comes out twenty minutes later to hand over the now-warm bag of rice he made at school and colored and sewed himself.

Tonight he came out two minutes after the ice pack and said it’s not cold enough.

I said, calmly and firmly: “Go tell Daddy. I don’t care.”

So maybe I get an F for parenting tonight. Or maybe he gets an F for being an intense kid. Because his nightly fake sore foot is not responding to the nightly effective treatment, so maybe he’s not pretending hard enough. Or he’s pretending too hard. It’s my job to prepare him for the real world, right? Let’s call this a referral to a specialist.

So grades have been submitted but changed with permission of the Dean. Peanut gets the F. I get a well deserved drink.
Or a block of parmesan cheese.
Or pretzels and ice cream.
Or all four. Nothing like a healthy eating FAIL to go with the rest of the week.

In which I whimper “Uncle”

Despite an almost four year track record of ink only on paper or skin, in compliance with my simple request—oft repeated and carefully monitored—there’s blue marker on my favorite couch pillow. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There’s blue marker on my favorite silk headband. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There’s blue marker on the carpet. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There are long artistic streaks of blue marker on the backside of the curtains. A lot. It’ll come out. If it doesn’t, they’re cheap and replaceable. And it’s hidden.

The bigger problem is thathis was all before 7am. And then there was a relatively quick oil change at a creepy oil change chain with a tiny, depressing waiting room…jiffy, even—for an adult. But for a four-year-old it was enough time to go through all the toys, books, and snacks I brought then use coffee stirrer after coffee stirrer to spit at Mama and torment strangers and climb on the checkwriting counter and invent new songs and sing them loudly, then quietly when asked, then loudly, then quietly when asked, then loudly, then quietly when hissed at, then loudly until they called our name.

And then there was the supermarket where there was pushing the cart too hard and pulling the cart too fast and running off and responding to gentle and to polite and to clenched teeth and to threats all the same. Begrudgingly, nastily, saucily. And temporarily.

When told he would fall if he climbed on the side of the cart, he got off. When told again, and given a brief reminder about balance and gravity, he got off. When told again, he got off. And when I turned my back to load items onto the conveyor belt of “almost-done-thank-you-lord”-ishness, he tipped the cart, and I caught it with one arm just before it crushed him, righting the cart and wrenching my back all with baby strapped into the wrap on my chest. And I almost cried.

I told you. I told you. I ask everything politely and gently the first time. Second time. Third time. A million times a day you disregard and refuse and ignore and refute and sass. I still don’t know why you don’t listen. I mean…you do, then you don’t. It seems to go beyond the developmentally appropriate hear only what you like. And you totally deserve for that thing to fall on you. I hurt myself helping you. I daily hurt myself trying to help you.

And it doesn’t seem to matter. Whatever you want you do. Whatever I say you don’t want to do and you don’t do. You hit me no fewer than twenty times today just trying to leave school at the same time we always leave school.

I’m so sick of this. I’m done.

Except I can’t be.

This is the only job on the planet you can’t quit.

Wit’s end

Well, we’re on Day Four of absolutely unacceptable behavior at Chez Nap. In the past six days we’ve had four days of unbelievable, out of control, unreasonable, tantrum and violent outburst horseshit. And I’m running out of ideas for not beating my kid.

This morning Peanut played by himself for about 20 minutes, then asked for help making a fort. I tried several different ways of helping and each time he screamed at me that I was doing it wrong. So I offered to sit back and watch, and he agreed but told me to leave the room. When I sat in the next room and watched, he yelled at me to come play with him. I told him if he could speak nicely to me, I would play with him, but that I wouldn’t respond to yelling. He asked nicely. He pretended to fix his bike, and asked me to join him. Every tool I touched, every bicycle part I looked at, he screamed that I was doing it wrong. Mind you, we never tell him there is such thing as wrong. Everybody does things differently. Everybody has different ideas. Blah blah kumbaya.

So after being yelled at three times I told him I was going to go read in another room. He sobbed he needed me. I told him I’d try one more time but if he told me I was doing it wrong or if he yelled, I was leaving. Tried. Yelled at me to stop doing what I was trying. Left.

Now he was screaming, sobbing. Not having any of this, I calmly told him I would respond to nice requests for play but i don’t play with people who yell at me: not at home, not at work, not with my friends, not with my family. He screamed at me to go out in the pouring rain and 50mph winds to get him a cookie. Amazingly, I didn’t laugh. I’m open to having a cookie with breakfast, and we have two varieties in the house. But I’m not leaving in this weather to get you a different cookie. (I held back the “You freaking maniac weird-ass hostage taker.”)

He lost it. Screaming, throwing. I calmly said I didn’t tolerate this and would be in my room when he was ready to talk calmly. He threw child-sized furniture at my closed door. (No joke. Wish it was. Little chair, little step stool, little doll bed.) I was tempted to open the door and correct that behavior, but I knew I’d manhandle the little f—er and am trying really hard to model better anger choices. Like hiding in my room taking deep breaths.

When he calmed down I came out to talk. And he hit me. I used my words and he hit me again.

So I dissembled the fort. I kept responding calmly that we don’t treat people this way. That angry is okay and that hitting is not okay. That angry feels like too much but that cuddles or talking or breathing help. He hit me with his stuffed monkey and I put the monkey in timeout. And he lost it even more. I restrained him in my lap while he raged, but he sunk into a slump of sobbing after a few seconds. He cried in my lap for probably ten minutes.

After the bodysnatchers replaced the angry shell of jerk they had filled with nonsense and crazymaking with my son, I fed him, I talked to him, I played with him. And when the whole series started again an hour later, I just picked him up, kicking and screaming, and put him in the car. Because if we stayed home I would have beat him. We drove around for half an hour. And when he said he was ready to find new ways to be angry, I took him home. We ate lunch, we played Candyland, and we napped.

And I’m telling you, readers, I will not take another day like this.

This is not about me not entertaining him enough…there is a tidy house with a new project and lots of old, well loved toys available every morning. I help when asked, stay away when asked, and offer suggestions when asked. And if he’s at a loss, I initiate something fun and invite him to join me.

I’m doing my part. Now what the hell do I do with him?

Seriously. What do I do? What are the patient, gentle, respectful options? I will not be an emotional martyr in my own house.

Every evening at dinner we go around the table and ask each other: What made you feel happy today? When did you feel sad? Frustrated? Angry? Surprised? Excited?

And when Peanut asked me tonight what made me happy I burst into tears.

We now rejoin our midlife crisis, already in progress

We went to the guitar store today to restring Peanut’s awesome little 1/2 scale SX guitar. He earned it potty learning, when he got 20 dry days in a row (and therefore 20 stickers) at 21 months. He bought himself a guitar with the stickers. You’re damned right, kiddo. Not yet two and dry all the time? Guitar? Fine.

Well the trip to the guitar mecca coincides with a midlife crisis I’ve been contemplating, based in part on the nausea I’m feeling at life, my choices, and the impending and rapidly growing BOMB that will descend on my already precarious situation. My midlife crisis today looked a LOT like a $2660 twelve string guitar. Then it looked like an $80 used and totally awesome used natural ash wood bass for the band my newest peeps and I are starting. Then my midlife crisis looked like a miraculous $3200 keyboard that sounded honest to goodness like a well tuned piano.

And then my midlife crisis reminded me what end was really up. Because besides not having even the $80 for a bass, I don’t have time for a new hobby. I have a novel to edit. Again. I have a paper to submit, another paper to write, and a PhD application to ponder for next fall. I have to find a babysitter and a preschool.

I grabbed an Atwood at the library, because there’s nothing to counter balance 32 picture books like an Atwood. We got home late and I had to wash dishes and make dinner. Peanut was in a lovely mood and tried to dump out a whole canister of ground flax. Sealed, luckily, but he was willing to test Oxo’s sturdy seal.

I asked him nicely to put it down, and he did. Sweetly. In the dining room. I continued thinking about whether, really, cowboy boots would serve the same purpose as a guitar, as midlife crises go. Maybe I’d need them for the band (blues, I think, but whatever. Everything goes with buckaroo boots.)

I went into the dining room to give Peanut some carrot sticks. He had dumped all the flax neatly on the table and was sorting it into piles. I took a deep breath and told him to get down. I asked, as I gathered the placemat parking lots, what he was trying to do. He was making pretend smoothies. Sure. okay. As I brought the soapy sponge back and forth from the kitchen, I explained that while pretend is a good idea, his pretend kitchen is a better place for pretend juices. And that using real food for pretend food isn’t a good idea. And that I understand how he wants to help, so he can make a real blender juice with my help. But real food always needs a yes from Mommy.
Well, kind of. Except that now, at the dining room table, he has his face burrowed into my brand new, 64 oz. jar of organic kosher pickles. tongue fully extended, licking the brine in the freaking jar. i collapsed on the floor. Took a deep breath. Contemplated a good cry and realized that I already had his cold, so, no harm no foul. I mean, really, really foul, but I’ll be done with the pickles in a few days, so…meh. I told him how not okay it is to put hands or mouths on containers of food. I try to explain, I try to be forceful but casual. I remember a gorgeous burbinga wood guitar and take another breath.

So we make a smoothie together. He’s happy and proud of his blueberry pouring skills. I’m almost ready with dinner. I turn away to get cups for the juice. I pour the juice. I turn away to get lids for the juice.

And now I need one fewer lid because he’s poured all of one juice on himself, trying to get to the purple one first. “you can’t have thee purple one,” he began, before getting really wet and cold.

Here’s the thing, people. I’m barely hanging on. And now the flax-y sponge has to sop up 12 ounces of blueberry smoothie. WHY CAN’T PREGNANT WOMEN DRINK, AGAIN?

I don’t think a late night trip to the pawn shop to trade my wedding ring for a guitar is too much to ask.

And the parenting award goes to…

Kid, in a 60 degree house, is intoning, over and over, “I’m hot. I’m hot.”

I just hollered “Stop saying that; I don’t care.” Roll out the red carpet, I know I’ve been nominated.

Come on. He’s wearing shortie jammies, he’s on top of the covers. He’s fine.

And he’s been up no fewer than three times (next time gets the door shut completely, so he won’t be up again) to tell me that his friends don’t all fit in the bed. The whole day was about how they, they being Clementine the rabbit, Oliver the dog, Pizza the zebra, Uncle Bear the bear, Madeline the monkey, and Biff the Billy Goat, don’t fit in the dining room chairs and in the small table’s benches, and in the small orifice where I crammed them all by about 5pm.

Now he’s intoning, “Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?”

Man, that kid knows on which side his bread is buttered.

En garde.

Okay. I’m here to pick my battles. I’m done, little tyrant. Things are gonna be different because I’m here to declare, on national blogovision, where I draw the line.

This is pretty simple. Listen to me. Listen to my words. Listen to me, you f—ing little freeloading ball of attempts to become an individual. You can have all the opinions you want, you can make most of the decisions. But f—ing listen to me! Not the third time, not the eighth time, not just when I give up on my parenting willpower and patience reserves and yell. Listen to me the motherfucking first time, you parental hostage taker.

Trash stays in the trash can. Why is that so hard? Don’t touch trash. Don’t grab it, feel it, shake it upside down. It’s trash, you little eating-whining-pooping robot. It’s the same trash I’ve gently steered you away from since you could move under your own power. Please touch something else. Please step over here. Please go around. Please put down the f—ing trash. Because I’m picking this battle.

We pee in the toilet. Not on the floor just because it’s funny. Not in the cat box. The litter box is for cats. Yes, I know you can meow, but you’re not a cat. No you’re not. No you’re not. Fine, you are, but your kind of cat uses the toilet. Yes it does. Yes it does. Oh, I see. This is not your house and in your house the rules are different. Okay. Then go there. Because in this house we pee in the toilet and only in the toilet. You’ve been out of diapers for more than a year. You know full well what your body can and cannot do. And choosing to piss me off by pissing on my floor is a big ball of not okay.  I’ve chosen this battle, as well.

We use gentle touches with the cats. Would you like it if someone hit you? Kicked you? Pulled your tail? Well, they don’t like it either. And I’ve been telling you this for months. Redirection isn’t working. Positive reinforcement isn’t working. Clear explanations aren’t working. Empathy lessons aren’t working. If you can’t be gentle you don’t get stories or toys or breakfast or lunch or dinner and I may just lock you in your room until college, you little AP expermient gone horribly, horribly wrong. Don’t hurt the cats. Be friendly with the cats. Or I will teach you the word rue. For I have chosen this battle, as well.

We use gentle touches with daddy. Would you like it if he hit you? Kicked you? Well he doesn’t like it either. And I’ve been telling you this for months. Don’t make my retype the whole cat admonition, just replacing your father’s name for the cats’ names. I don’t want to say it again. I didn’t want to say it the first two hundred times, calmly, gently, in short declarative sentences at eye level with explanations when necessary. Don’t. Hit. Or nobody will like you, including me. Unconditional love is a myth they tell kids who watch TV and you don’t get more than half an hour a week, so don’t come crying to me about how I’m supposed to love you no matter what. I picked this battle, too.

That’s it. I picked my battles. Know what they come down to?  Listen to me. When I have to say things twice I sweat. When I have to say things three times I twitch. When I have to say things four times I yell. And when I have to say things five times I lose my shit and contemplate horrible things including your sale to the gypsies, my escape to the tropics, and choosing a soulless career in any one of the three hundred jobs I had before you sucked the life and brain out of me just to get away from you.

Go to the trash, would you,  please, and fetch mommy’s sanity. Sweetie? Would you please help Mommy and get her self esteem out of the trash? Peanut—please go take my selfhood out of the trash and bring it to me.

Jayzus. Do you hear me? I need you to listen to my words…go get my life out of the crapper.