Grounded

Let’s be real: parenting isn’t all about cute pictures on Facebook and 10-steps-to-a-better-kid blog posts.  Sometimes you read the books, you go to the seminar–you even write the freakin’ advice, and then you still screw it all up.  And your kid acts so crazy you have no idea what to do.  So that was me last week.

I was taking the kids to movie night at school.  Adrian’s first fit I didn’t even totally understand.  It related to blankets and which blanket he wanted to snuggle and which blanket he wanted to sit on.  I think it meant he wanted to take 10 blankets he couldn’t carry.  So I said 2 blankets and 1 pillow is enough.  Snuggle and sit as you will.

This obviously caused an Adrian freakout.  But I left Adrian tantruming on the floor and got the other kids ready.  He eventually pulled himself together and got in the car.  Then tantrum #2 because he couldn’t buckle his seatbelt.  So I got out to help him and saw– he was barefoot.

Babe, you have to wear shoes to this thing!  Go get your shoes!

I don’t want to!

Well, if you want to go, you have to wear shoes.  The school makes you wear shoes.

More Adrian freaking out.  Screaming, flailing.

That’s when I lost my cool.

FINE, if you’re going to act like this, then you can’t go AT ALL!  FORGET IT!

FINE I’ll get my shoes!!!

He stomped out of the car, slammed the door shut, screamed at me to unlock the front door, slammed that door, and ran inside screaming.  He did come out with shoes eventually.

Then I did some awesomely poor parenting in which I told him ten times he couldn’t go but then when he freaked out at school I let him go mainly because I didn’t have a better idea what to do with him and I wanted him gone for the evening.  I know you shouldn’t give into tantrums, I know that.  But I flushed that wisdom down the toilet and taught him to have a bigger tantrum next time because mommy lets you have your way if you scream louder.  And then I cried.  *sigh*

I don’t know how to deal with that kid and all his freakouts.  So I feel discouraged, defeated, failed.  Am I doing something wrong?  I want to punish him, but then–is it my fault?  I behaved badly too; I got angry, I said things I shouldn’t have said.  I put him in Kindergarten too early, I probably didn’t nurse him as long as I should have, do I love him enough?  MOM GUILT!

As I was mulling all this over and crying in the car, I thought: That’s it!!  He’s grounded!  At times, “grounding” has struck me much like spanking: an ineffective technique parents lash out with when they don’t have a better idea.  But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, yes, that is the answer.  I’m feeling run-over, helpless in the face of Adrian’s tantrums.  I can’t control him and his emotions.  But I can control me and what I do.  I don’t have to take him to the park, to swimming, to cubscouts, to movies, to grandma’s house.

It makes me feel bad because part of my idea of being a good mom is giving my kids lots of opportunities to do things and spend time with friends.  But those things are also privileges, privileges I don’t have to provide if I don’t feel like it.  And I’m allowed to have feelings too.

So I told Adrian he’s grounded at least one week.  And after a week, I said, “I will take you to do fun things again when I feel respected.”  So we’ll see how long that takes.

In the meantime, I’m going to take some time to get grounded myself.  I tend to spread myself thin, like most moms spending so much time thinking about the kids and fulfilling their needs I forget about my own.  But when I don’t put on my own oxygen mask first, I am left gasping for air as I struggle to care for my family.

After a stressful Friday, I grounded myself on Saturday.  I stayed home.  In the afternoon on a beautiful day, I unrolled my yoga mat in the yard; an island in a sea of swirling boys.  I turned on my music and began my practice.  All the “mommy, can I….I want….I need….can you….” I turned away.

“I can’t help you right now,” I told them, taking a deep, cleansing breath.  “I’m grounded.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Say Yes

“Mom, look at me Mom!”  Yelled Will, as he successfully pedaled his bike down the sidewalk.

“Wow, good job buddy!”  I yelled, clapping my hands.  “Reid, would you like to try your pedal bike again?  You can do it too!”

“No!” He cried, “It’s too scary.  I scraped my elbow.”

“Will fell down too,” I said.  “But he tried again and look how good he’s doing.  You can too, you’re so good at balancing on your glide bike.”

“NO,” Reid pouted, gliding away expertly.

I watched them rolling around the cul-de-sac, thinking that the only difference between them was that Will thought he could, and Reid decided he couldn’t.  Their skill levels were the same, but Reid’s mentality was holding him back.

Now, a month later, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Reid “can’t” and Will has gotten better each day because he said “I can.”

I wonder how many times we hold ourselves back because we decide we can’t.  Last year, my mom called to ask me if I wanted to go to the Bahamas for a week.  Like any sane person, I replied, “Mom, I have 4 kids and 3 jobs, of course I can’t go to the Bahamas!  That’s crazy!”

But after we hung up, I reflected on what we’d experienced the year before.  My mom had been ill to the point that I thought she may die.  I truly thought I would lose her, and it was terrifying.  I remembered the lesson I learned when she recovered and we got a second chance: you don’t know how much time you have with the people you love.  So say yes.

I called her back.  “I changed my mind.  I’m coming to the Bahamas!  I’ll work it out somehow!  I’m in!”

My Dad invited me to add a scuba dive to the trip, and in my emboldened spirit, I said yes to that, too.  You can read all about my failed scuba experience here !  So am I a hypocrite?  I failed scuba diving.  I know I am physically capable of doing it, I decided to say yes, I decided to be brave.  But that wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t because I mentally couldn’t.  How much control do we really have about what we decide we can do?

Since that scuba trip, I’ve been torn: did I do the right thing in trying?  Should I have known better and stayed on the beach?  But watching my kids and seeing what they “can’t” do, knowing the only person holding them back is themselves, I think we should get off the beach and go for it.  Even if it turns out we’re in over our heads.

 

 

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You know that lady….angry yelling mom?  You know, you saw her at Walmart last week.  You heard her shrill voice coming over the back fence in your neighborhood.  You heard her at preschool drop-off.  And then one afternoon, you realized….she lives in your house.

I think we’ve all had that moment (all, right?  Not just me is it?) where we realize, “oh my gosh.  I’m angry yelling mom!  I don’t want to be angry yelling mom!  What have I become?”

Now I’ve written before about challenges with Adrian, here, and he’s still challenging!  A little discouraging to look at the date on that post…we’ve progressed, but Adrian is still Adrian.  He is loveable, fun, energetic, and sweet…until you want him to do something he considers “not fun,” aka chores.

Therefore, my carefully crafted summer daily chore/reading/math spreadsheet did not go over swimmingly (!? I know, right?  Who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet??)  Conflict ensued.  As I worked to hone my parenting skills, Adrian worked to hone his chore-avoidance techniques.  Alas, if he spent as much effort and creativity on actually doing the chores as he did on avoiding them, he would be a scholar and my house would be so clean.  But no.  His top defiant strategies:

  1. Little Deaf Boy–He can’t hear a word I say.  And he lost his chore spreadsheet again.
  2. Tired Helpless Baby–He’s too tired to do chores.  He can’t do it himself, he’s too little.
  3. Slacking/lying–“I did all my chores, Mom!  I’m going to go play!”  All smiles, until you open his closet and look under his bed and discover his toothbrush is bone dry.

So we ended up in many fights.  Fights.  After which, I’m like, I just got in a fight with a 6 year old!?  What is wrong with me?

Now the kid’s gotta do chores.  Like everyone in the family, he has to participate as a productive member of the household.  BUT also part of the bigger picture….what is more important, having the floor vacuumed or having a positive lifelong relationship with my son?  How can I maintain my expectations for his responsibilities without losing our fun relationship?

My mom sent me a podcast about “strength based parenting,” here.  I decided to try reframing our discussions from that standpoint.

One Sunday afternoon, we came home with a van full of groceries.  I told the boys to bring the groceries in the house.  Reid and Will trooped diligently back and forth with bags, while Adrian rolled tragically on the floor.  He had banged his knee earlier in the day, and now, as soon as it was time to do some work, he was suddenly handicapped.

“My knee hurts!”  He cried.  “I can’t walk!”

I rolled my eyes.  “You can walk just fine!  Get up!”

“Nooo….my knee hurts too much!”

“You’re fine!  Get up and get the groceries!”

“I’m too tired!  They’re too heavy!”

“You had enough energy to run around Walmart driving me crazy!  And if the twins can carry a few bags, so can you!  Let’s go!”

I shooed him out the garage door.  He stomped to the trunk.  I helped Reid carry another bag inside.  Still no sign of Adrian with groceries.  I went outside and spotted him hiding behind the shed.  Instead of going after him, I decided to let him be; I was tired of fighting.

The twins and I finished bringing in the groceries.  I thought about how to deal with Adrian…early bedtime?  Timeout?  Extra chores?

But I decided, no.  I’m tired of all the conflict with him.

He slunk in after the trunk was empty.  He looked meekly at the floor.

“Hi, Adrian!” I said.  “I’m glad you’re back.”  I hugged him.  “You know, you’re my big boy.  I really appreciate all your help around the house.  I need your help.  Thanks for being my helper.”

He smiled.

“Do you think you could help me put the groceries away?  I would appreciate it.”

“Sure, Mom!”  He said, giving me a squeeze.  “I’ll help you!”

He eagerly began unloading bags.  I smiled.

There are no magic parenting bullets, and I’m not expecting Adrian to do chores happily any time soon.  Whatever parenting techniques I use, I know there are tantrums and resistance ahead.  But I also know that I don’t want to have a relationship defined by conflict.  And I know my Adrian is a sweet, kind, big-hearted boy with many strengths that I can focus on.

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Been played

“Time to make your lunch and wipe the table,” I told Adrian.

His little eyes welled with tears and he looked at the floor, twisting his fingers.

“I….I….I’m too tired to do my chores,” he said quietly.  He glanced up at me sadly.  “I’m so tired,” he repeated.

“Aw,” I said.  “Do you want to just go straight to bed then?”

He nodded, tears sliding down his cheeks.  “But….but what about my lunch?”

“I’ll take care of it for you,” I assured him, patting his shoulder.  “It’s important for you to get your rest.  You had a long day at school.  But you have to go right to bed.”

He smiled through his tears and sniffled.  “Thank you, Mom!  I’ll go straight to bed,” He promised, giving me a big hug.  “I wonder what you’re going to make me!  I’m going to go put on my PJ’s!”  His brown eyes shone like a cute little fawn.

“I’ll make you a nice lunch, you get your rest,” I said, feeling like a good mom taking care of her baby.

Poor little Adrian,  I thought.  So tired after all his hard work at school.  Poor little guy, so worried about his lunch.

“AAAAARRRRGGGH!” I heard shrieking from the basement.

Then again, “AAAAAARRRRRGGHHHH!!!!”  Followed by the twins squealing and loud bangs.
“I’M GETTING YOU!!!!  THE MONSTER IS GETTING YOU!!!!  AAAAARRRRRGGGGGH!”

Squeal…..shriek….bang….bang….shriek….squeal…..squeal…..bang

I stopped making the ham sandwich and went downstairs.  Adrian, not in his PJ’s, was chasing the twins at top speed and yelling.

“I thought you were so tired you had to go straight to bed!” I exclaimed.

Adrian stopped immediately and his face dropped.  “I….um….I am really tired Mom!”  He tried to wipe the big grin off his face and replace it with a pout….unsuccessfully.

“Yeah, if you have energy to chase and wrestle the twins, you have energy to finish your chores.  Go back upstairs.”

Adrian stomped angrily up the stairs and finished all his chores, with chasing energy to spare.

Mom got played!

 

 

 

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The Stories we tell

I have loved novels since I read my first chapter book, The Phantom Tollbooth, at age 7.  I was hooked.  I read constantly, so much my mom actually took my book away one day to make me go do something else.

I majored in English in college, and loved delving into novels, analyzing and writing about them.  Stories are art; they express emotion and experience that we can’t otherwise explain.  And they allow us to distance ourselves a bit from reality to gain perspective.

Life is about the stories we tell ourselves.  Like a novel, we analyze and interpret everything that happens to us.  This blog is so valuable to me because I am writing my own story.  I CHOOSE to tell my story my way.  Although it isn’t fiction, it is still a story, that I write and voice.  It keeps my sense of humor in the challenges of parenting.  When I am going through something with my children, I think about how it will make a good story for my blog…and I write a funny story.  Is my life always funny and cute and I’m always appreciating it all?  Of course not.  But I choose to make my story one of joy and laughter.  When I look back at raising my young children, this is the story I’m reading.  I’m forgetting the tears, sleeplessness, and tantrums.  I’m remembering the goofy fun.  Life is the stories we choose to tell.

Adrian’s birth was one of the most difficult things I’ve gone through, but I have nothing but good memories of it.  You can read about it here  and here and here.  When I look back at Adrian’s early weeks, I remember God’s provision for our family.  I remember the overwhelming support of my parents, aunt and uncle, and friends.  I remember how wonderfully Eric took care of me and Adrian.  I remember the breast milk donated for my baby.  I remember Adrian’s strength, and I feel amazed at the wonderful, loving boy he is today.

The rest–the part where I broke my tailbone in delivery and was in so much agony I couldn’t walk, or the part where my breasts were so engorged I just cried and cried, or the part where I kept vomiting because of the narcotics to try to control my pain–I’m not telling that part.  That’s not the story I want to tell.  I am telling a story of triumph and love.

Last year, I experienced another of the most difficult times of my life when my mother was very ill.  It’s a story where bad things happened, and good intentioned people inside our family and outside it made mistakes.  These mistakes resulted in significant harm to my mother.  But that’s not the story I’m telling.  I am going to tell a story about love, courage, and sacrifice.  And that’s true, just like all the bad things are true.  I wrote about that experience as a fiction, here.   I still think that’s the best way to tell the story–which still feels raw–with the distance of fiction.  When I look back, that’s the story I remember.

This thanksgiving, I am very thankful for my mother and her health.  I thought I would lose her last year, but this year she is happy and healthy.  My admiration for my father has only grown as I have witnessed the selfless love he has for my mother.

Every story has good guys and bad guys; conflict, sorrow, pain.  But in the stories we love, the good guys overcome evil, courageously fight for what’s right, and live happily ever after.   That’s the story I will be telling.

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Anyone but you, Mom

Adrian happily swam across the deep end of the pool.

Not after I asked him to, no.  NO.  Definitely not that.  When I asked him to let go of the side and swim 10 feet, all I got was screaming and helpless flailing.

But one glance and an “I-think-you-can-buddy” from unknown lifeguard, and he was off.

Just like my months of encouragement to ride his bike without training wheels failed miserably, even when supplemented by bribery.  But the boys in the neighborhood had him riding in 5 minutes.

I might think it was just an Adrian thing, but the twins have also proved not just incapable of learning from me, but incapable of learning in my presence.

My mom enrolled them in skating lessons as early Christmas gifts.  What fun!  We thought.  Until we stuffed 3 year old feet into boots attached to blades.  On cold hard ice.  They acted like it was complete torture, wailing tragically and crawling desperately across the ice, unable to stand.  When they saw me, they threw magnificent tantrums, their red faces contorted with misery.

Unable to watch their distress, I left the rink feeling guilty.

But after I was gone, they stopped crying and started marching.  The next week, they were gliding.  By the end of the class, they passed all their “Snowplow Sam I” skills and marched across the ice with smiles on their faces.  As long as I wasn’t around, of course.

I’ve similarly failed to teach Stephen piano.  He happily learns from his teacher, but we had lessons that would have made Tiger Mother feel sorry for him.

What’s up?  Why can’t we teach our own kids?

I know it’s not just me.  I’ve interviewed other parents, my own parents….everyone experiences this phenomenon it seems.  I mean, remember all the good times you had learning to drive with your dad?  Yeah.  That’s what I thought.  Still in therapy.

I’ve been trying to figure this out.  Is it because Moms are too nice?  The kids think we’ll give them a break?  Then I realized, it’s the opposite!  I’m harder on my own kids than any one else’s.  Maybe we’re too mean, and our expectations are too high?

I listened to this podcast about mental illness, and they found that schizophrenic men who returned to their mothers or wives after being hospitalized were 2-3 times more likely to relapse than men who went to live in a group home.  They tried to figure out why, and came up with 3 main factors that harmed psychological wellness:

1)criticism

2)hostility

3)emotional over-involvement

So I was right.  We’re too mean becuase we care too much.  Well, what else are moms for?

We’ll use our own spit to clean your face, love you more than anyone else on the planet, make you do your chores, wring your neck if you disrespect your teacher, and feed you lots of good food.

And we’ll just have to hire teachers for the rest.

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Mystery solved!

I was sitting in the lobby at church with Will while my mom took Reid to the bathroom.  A woman walking by stopped suddenly and asked, “Does he have a twin brother?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oooh!”  She said, laughing and putting a hand to her head.  “I was in the bathroom and a woman came in with a little redheaded boy and helped him wash his hands.  Then a few minutes later, the same woman came back with the same boy and washed his hands again!  I couldn’t figure out what was going on!”

I laughed.  “Identical twins!”

 

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