Crowdsourced parenting

Ah, the joys of having two boys home for the summer. Together. Every day. Incessantly.

They’ve never particularly worked well together, what with the opinionated and high-strung (don’t know where he gets it) paired with the flamboyant and stubborn (don’t know where he gets it, either). Since the beginning, the eldest gives his brother exactly zero slack, and the youngest adores his brother until he perceives slight, and then he lashes out.

It’s good times. And has been for years.

So to keep from committing some form of -icide this summer, I’m trying a few techniques. And I want to know which YOU think might work better:

1. Put the whole cache of toys in time-out. Not initially, of course. But starting with the first shriek of disdain each morning, every nasty word, hit, kick, sneer, tease, and threat will trigger a toy being stuffed atop the fridge. The fridge where I prefer to keep the cereal and the whiskey will buckle beneath the weight of endless supplies of LEGO and Pokemon and traffic cones (geez with the construction cone obsession). I figure removing cherished treasures to psychologically beat them into submission has potential. Just not sure if I have enough time and enough fridge top. Or if imprisoning the distractions will bring on full-scale war.

2. Force them to say “I love you.” I realized tonight that each genuinely thinks his brother hates him. Really does. Peanut has no sense that his younger brother worships him, and Butter has no idea that the little acts of kindness that arise here and there are peace offerings from a brother whose always wanted to love but feared the wrath. So every time they hit, kick, punch, flick, pull hair, menace, or berate, if I make them say I love you, they should develop a healthy aversion to that phrase, distrusting it and using it as a tool in the same way most kids forced to say “I’m sorry” learn to distrust and manipulate that phrase. Win in the short-term, win in the long-term, seems to me.

3. Scream and wring my hands. Because talking about kindness and gentleness, positive reinforcement, and expectations for civil behavior have fallen on deaf ears for 4 years, I should up the stakes, right? Scream, wail, fling myself between them? It would, at the least, serve my need for the theatrical.

4. Sob and wring my hands. See above explanation and…and nothing. Just replace “scream” with “sob.” That’s not me being a lazy writer. That’s some serious strategic planning.

5. Effusively praise kindness. We’ve had success in the past with the “notice a kindness, put a marble in a jar” scenarios in which kindnesses accumulate toward a big friendly family event like movie night or a walk with glow sticks. I guess I could try that rather simple idea of calling attention to what I like and want from them. Sounds boring, though. Can we go back to writhing and wailing?

6. Maximize their chances for success. Get them outside and moving as early and often as possible. Hikes, runs, bike rides, soccer drills, tennis, walks, yoga, catch…anything that gets them into their own bodies and off of each other. This is the best thing we’ve come up with to date. But then, tonight, I hear during the daily recap of favorite-moment/biggest-challenge-and-solution-brainstorm that Peanut’s favorite was today’s hike and his biggest challenge was his brother kicking him on the hike. I’m not sure what part of the hike I missed, but I should have had a camera poised for this highly athletic child’s crowning moment in which he can hike and kick someone at the same time. Similarly, it would have been nice to capture the stage-averse eldest in this decidedly dramatic moment. I’m guessing he threw himself to the ground and writhed a bit. Don’t know where he gets it.

7. Combine them all. Toy-removal consequences, concordance rewards, screaming, sobbing, exercise outdoors, and forced professions of love. What could go wrong if I just throw myself into micromanaging every breath out of their contentious little mouths?

Anyone? Ideas for brotherly peace? Other than from the famous Camp Don’t Fight with Your Brother, which for some reason has a waitlist, what do you vote? Please tell me you’ve had success with the sobbing. That’s my favorite. But I guess it’d be okay if you suggest something else. It’s not like any of my plans are winning us a calm, silly, kind household.

 

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Of nostalgia and new generations

Oh, how my heart skipped a beat when I picked up my seven-year-old Peanut from camp and he held out this and asked me to pick a number:

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Squeeee! I love these I love these I love these! I thought.

“Ten.”

With impressive dexterity he counted out ten, deftly pinching the fortune-teller out and in.

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“Okay, um…Blue.”

He grinned as he spelled it out, again moving more quickly than I thought someone new at something could.

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“Orange.”

He slowed a bit at spelling orange, but did it.

And I get…

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Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold the phone. Never in all my elementary school years did I have that for a fortune. It was usually about kissing someone or marrying someone or wearing a certain outfit.

I looked askance at the camp counselors.

“I got die. That’s not how I remember these things.”

One of them smirked. “Yeah, I got die earlier today, too.”

I frowned a bit. “It it a command? A suggestion?”

His favorite counselor shrugged. “An inevitability?”

“Yes, well…”

The proud young man had his brother choose. Number, color, color…

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“Get a cougar? He gets a cougar? I die and he gets a cougar?! Life is so unfair.”

Peanut is simply beaming. He’s thrilled that the family finally has a cougar. Butter begs him for another try.

He chose a different number. And a different color.

Same result.

Dude gets two cougars. And I’m still dying.

This is some bullsh*t, y’all.

So I ask Peanut to make me a fortune-teller when we get home.┬áHe says he doesn’t know how. Never mind. I have made hundreds in my lifetime. Give me that thing and I’ll deconstruct it.

No problem. We grab a stack of paper and go in the yard. I have three fortune-tellers done before the kids have even remembered to ask for a snack.

Peanut makes this follow-up:

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Pretty weak, if you ask me. Win a medal? Pbbbththth. Forty-four pieces of gold? Meh. Drink pee? Geez, boys are gross.

Butterbean suggested the following. All are verbatim answers to the following questions: “What numbers do you want me to write; what choices do you want me to write; and what do they get if they choose that answer?”

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Note that he always chooses B.O.G., which is frosting. B.O.C., B.O.P., and B.O.B. are less popular. With everyone.

Now I make a proper device of happiness and goodness.

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That’s right…choose between apple pie and strawberry shortcake. I dare you. (I count out only the letters for the fruit, not the whole dessert. I’m old and don’t need fortune-teller arthritis.)

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Oh, yeah. Peach cobbler or blueberry pie. Colors my butt. things are gettin’ REAL up in here.

So Peanut picks a number. And a pie. And a blueberry tart.

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You got it, reader. I populated the whole thing with delightful ways to make mom feel good.

When he heard his fortune, the seven-year-old who often rolls his eyes and runs when I ask for affection actually shrugged, walked over, and gave me one heckuva hug.

You have to make your own fortune, people. That’s all I’m saying.

 

Peanut goes on strike

Peanut, my seven-year-old, refused to go to camp today.

He’s never wanted to go to camp. His first try was two weeks of camp the year between kindergarten and first grade, and he loved it. Except that he hates new things and doesn’t like new people, and is generally resistant to all experiences except the ones he’s just had one minute ago. Sigh. It’s as though his neophobia is genetic or something.

(Fun trick: call me and invite me to Hawaii tomorrow. I will panic and break out in sweat and tell you thirteen reasons I can’t go. And in three weeks, when I finally get used to the idea, I’ll call you to find out how your trip was. And I’ll still be glad I didn’t go because it was all just too much to process right now.)

So it’s clearly his own weirdness that gets him to this avoidance of all potential fun. Not my fault at all. As with all his flaws, I had nothing to do with either the nature or the nurture involved.

Ahem.

So in January, I went all New-York-parent on him and told him we had a month to decide on camps, upon penalty of missing all the good camps and being stuck with each other on our own for ten weeks without enough ideas to get us through. He wanted three weeks of camp. I talked him into five. We both felt we’d be okay with that number.

And I would be.

If the little headstrong (not my fault), opinionated (also not my fault), debate-seeker (totally not me at all) guy would go to camp.

He has attended three weeks’ worth of outdoors-y day camp in the eight weeks he’s been off school. And today should have begun week four. But last week and this weekend and this morning he told me that there was no way. His friends loved this camp last year, but he tried it as a partial backup when he couldn’t participate in a super-cool, two-week archery-lacrosse-rugby-soccer-jai’alai-badmiton sports camp because of his broken arm. And he hated it. It was boring, unimpressive, and long, he said. They didn’t make good use of the forest in which the camp is located, he said. The choices they offer are dumb, he said. It’s a waste of being outside in the summer, he said.

Upon hearing his refusal to go today I took a long look at his three-year-old brother, who has no preschool for another three weeks. I mentally thumbed through an index print of the summer highlights: fights over forts, fights over toys, fights over what to do, fights over who’s a better ninja.

“If you stay home, you have to hang out with us. All day. Including him.” I indicated with this pronoun a head nod to the completely angelic, adorable, fun-loving younger brother who is in no way aggressive (not my fault), abusive (so very not my fault), foul-mouthed (all his father), or moody (please…never a day in my life).

Peanut shrugged. He explained a few reasons why he’d rather roll with our planned day of board games and exploration than go to a mellow outdoor camp. None of the reasons was compelling or particularly articulate. None of them would sway my desire to continue with the day as planned.

But I let him stay home.

We spent a lot of time and money planning the summer so that he’d have some time with peers. I spent more effort than I’d like choosing to spend solo time with each child rather than sending them both to camp at the same time so I could work on my book. I voted to give them unscheduled time rather than give myself unscheduled time. It was a terrible vote except for the part that I totally stand by it because it’s what my kids needed.

So as I feel the waves of panic hit, knowing that most of summer is gone and I have worked on maybe one paragraph of my novel, I can’t see any point in forcing the kid into camp this week. Because his brother is home, bugging me engaging me in his creative preschool pursuits. It’s not like I’d get any work done, anyway. The money is spent either way, and it’s not as though an unstructured, boring outdoor camp is getting him into Harvard any time soon. And contrary to the impression I’ve left over five years of blogging about pulling my hair out while I muddle through as a woefully inadequate parent, I actually like spending time with the guy.

He stayed home from camp. We had a family dance party, we made homemade lemonade, we biked/scootered/ran to the distant grocery store for Juan Canary melon and salad bar and cookies. They scrounged up small toys for me to hide in plastic eggs for a Random Monday Egg Hunt. They asked for and fought through an episode of Planet Earth. They beat the tar out of each other over whose fort had a bigger blanket. They screamed about pillows and not sharing and some ridiculous thing about who’s allowed to use the gold origami paper. I calmly navigated each of these battles with suggestions and reminders and distractions. None of it worked, so I yelled a lot of “stop it”s when things got dangerous.

At the end of the evening, I asked Peanut to please, please try camp tomorrow. Just a half a day. Because we’ve paid for it. Because clearly a full day with his brother is not his idea of a good time. Because being bored in a forest beat the heck out of having a clump of your hair pulled out while under a fort blanket.

And I bet you right now that he will put his foot down and refuse to go. I’ll bet he chooses playgrounds and museums and craft projects and Monopoly and fights over unknown amounts of fun with a small group of strangers.

Because seriously, I would, too.

He said three weeks, after all. He said that in January, he said it in February. He said it in March and April and May.

Maybe next year I’ll listen to him. And schedule his brother for the same three weeks.