A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: behavior management

Trepidation

The cusp of three-and-a-half-year-old Mr. Man had his first dentist appointment the other day. My husband and I have a standard protocol introducing new and possibly unpleasant things to him, and its efficacy is magical…Like a unicorn spontaneously appearing in my family room shitting cookies and telling me MPOTUS and his dream team are in prison.

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(allposters.com read my mind; can’t you FEEL the magic…totally worth a house coated in glitter, right?)

Little Man has always struggled with transitions, even for small changes in activities. As a little wee man, if he were enjoying swings, good luck getting him off…out of a bathtub…out the door. It never mattered. Announcing anything requiring him to shift gears almost always led to a refusal and meltdown.

For the longest time it was enough to countdown minutes; I still do. It’s a bit absurd. We call them “Mommy Minutes” because they have no actual relationship to real time. A Mommy Minute is probably more like a minute-and-a-half in real time…because I have shit to do. The process begins with me announcing five minutes remaining of an activity, then I periodically announce one minute less in intervals suiting me. The last announcement will be thirty seconds before I ask my son to count from ten. Once he accomplishes his part, I almost never have an issue ushering him to the next task. Occasionally, I have to follow-up with a mild redirection or limit, but I can’t remember the last time there has been a full-out heel digging and head spinning.

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(Linda Blair pictures were freaking me out, but Anthony Hopkins is hot and beats the hell out of the Mitch McConnell look alike that kept popping up…You’re welcome.)

It doesn’t have to be minutes either. I’ve counted pushes…bites…taps…anything. The point is that he needs time to shift gears. He probably inherited this rigidity from me. It’s interesting because he’s pretty easy going and laid back. I would have expected him to be a worrier or a generally anxious kid; he isn’t.

That said, for a bit around when Warrior Queen was born we were having trouble getting Mr. Man to sit for a hair-cut, and few things make a Mommy feel like more of a humiliated failure than when she and her offspring are bounced from a bargain hair salon amongst a crowd of bystanders. That was our family’s hair-cut bottom, and Little Man was in desperate need of trimmed locks.

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(You got me Flickr, this guy’s situation might have been worse, but only because my experience isn’t on the internet. And, really, I’m just one delicious chocolate cake away from an impressive pants split.)

My brilliant husband spent the following week talking about getting a hair-cut. General things: what happens…random details…how long it takes…why it’s time to get one…Mommy and Daddy have them. There was nothing poetic about the conversations, and some were quite clumsy. Often he passionately refused during these conversations. If he became weepy, we’d stop talking, and move on to other topics. But, the next weekend my Mr. Man sat on Daddy’s lap for a hair-cut without issue. When he was finished he skipped over to me screaming, “I did a good job!” We haven’t had a problem with hair-cuts since.

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(The hair-cut was miraculous! Thanks, The Wolf.)

Little Man abhors the doctor even more than a hair snipping…even if it isn’t an appointment for him. But, after a week of talking about it, my brave boy managed his most recent physical despite reddening eyes and a shaky voice as the visit progressed. Fortunately, no vaccinations that round, but I’ve used this approach for his last blood test checking his lead levels. Whenever we leave appointments that potentially throw his disposition askew, my husband and I tell Little Man how brave he was, and how proud we are of him. We often talk about bravery in our home…feeling fear, but pushing on anyway.

This leads us to the dental appointment. The tricky thing with this situation is that I wasn’t sure what would be happening. He’s three; how can they clean the teeth of a three-and-some-change-year-old kid? I don’t make promises I’m not sure I can keep, so I feared my responses would be ungratifying. Will it hurt? Probably not, but I’m not sure what they are doing exactly. It will probably just feel weird. I focused on their expertise working with kids his age. He asked if he could sit on my lap during the appointment. I’m not sure, but I could commit to before and after. Blessedly that was enough. My intermittently cautious kid was nervous the night before. He didn’t say, but we had trouble getting him to settle the night before, and he woke early.

It was a strange morning. Getting him ready we spoke more of the appointment…went over the same concerns…would it hurt…the lap situation. Mr. Man pauses at the end before saying with an intellectual, high pitched lilt in his voice, “I don’t know. It sounds suspicious to me…” That one prompted a cascade of tears blurring my vision for five minutes…and side cramps.

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(It’s a little known fact that Socrates was really a preschooler.)

We needed to be out of the house first thing, but my son climbed into my car forty-five minutes before it was time to manage our exit shuffle. I hadn’t even wrangled a shower yet. He gave me a bit of push back before allowing me to carry him back into the house.

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(Usually this is Warrior Queen’s spirit animal, but not on this occasion. Thanks for the token, Pinterest!)

Entering the house and left to his own devices while I prepared for our day, Little Man resumed business as usual. He tormented his sister for a bit…tormented me a bit less…all in a day’s morning ritual. I showered, finished making snacks for the day. Suddenly, the house was quiet. Little Man disappeared once again, finding his way into his car seat. I went ahead and buckled him in, but he didn’t want me to go. I squeezed myself on the edge of the car floor in front of him.

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(Looks comfy cozy, doesn’t it? Sick Chirpse knows I’d do just about anything for my children…)

He kissed and held my hand telling me how much he loves me. We laughed. I asked him if he was scared. He said he was. We talked about bravery some more. He said he is brave; I agreed. He asked to check my teeth; I complied. I’d managed to ignore the pain in my hips and tushie, but eventually the tingling jabs were intolerable. I smooched Mr. Man, and provided one more snuggle before leaving my precarious perch. My little man did not stop me.

There were no tears or tantrums as we entered the office…no apprehension. I didn’t know what to expect, but from the immediate first moments they were pros. Pediatric dentistry is no joke, but this crew had it down. My son was marvelous for the entire time…cleaning and all that included dental floss! I didn’t bring in my phone incorrectly assuming this first appointment was probably a meet and greet with a quick check to see if anything is rotting.

I couldn’t help but wear a smile so wide that my face became sore; quietly gazing at my little man as he sat on folded legs wearing the sun glasses they gave him because of the bright lights. The hygienist won him over by allowing him to fondle the various instruments. My son agreeably opened his mouth like a dinosaur, even though he didn’t seem exactly sure what that meant. He tried to answer questions about juice and gummy snacks, but was unable. Mr. Man has a bit of juice a couple of times a week, and I don’t think has ever eaten a gummy snack; this was one of the rare times I felt I kill it at this whole parenting thing. It isn’t as though I feel I’m terrible at it, but every once in a while something happens that makes me feel like I should be carried off by a team of smartly dressed athletes.

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(I can still hear the chants, “Mommy…Mommy…Mommy…”)

We left the appointment with my son holding my hand telling me how brave he is, beaming I whole heartedly agreed.

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Pillow Talk

Something my three-year-old little man requests that is among my favorite things in this world: snuggling in our bed. Usually when he asks it’s not a good time, and some type of avoidance strategy…like sleepy time or something of a similar sort. But, this morning I’d just showered; Warrior Queen was still asleep; I was tickled to have him knock on our bedroom door asking for a snuggle in our bed. I lay down, and he insists on tucking me in…making sure I’m warm, then burrows into me.

Funny thing is that I’m not a particularly cuddly person…like to comedic proportions. But, that needed to stop bringing children into this world. My general presence is aloof, standoffish, and intimidating. It comes in handy working with at-risk and incarcerated populations…and as a manager. Everything is about a time and place. I’m an exceptional disciplinarian, so it’s paramount I’m able to balance my brusque immediacy with snuggles and Mommy lovin’. I have an unscientific ratio: for every one negative interaction, I try to communicate three positive ones. Mostly I’m successful, if for no other reason than I’m paying attention to when my kids do something lovely. Other than my son reaching the age of threenager, he’s a sweet and loving child. I like to think I’m doing something right.

My often harsh demeanor receiving requests for snuggles makes even the most heinous tantrum and oppressive guilt evaporate into the hazy early summer atmosphere. I don’t think there is adequate vocabulary to describe the sensation washing over me as my son rests his head on some portion of my upper anatomy…never able to squeeze quite close enough to me. Even if he is harboring a fugitive in his diaper with a smell that allows me to push off waxing my facial hair for the near future, I’ll hold him tighter. He won’t always ask these moments of me…probably sooner than I want to admit.

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(Even The Telegraph seagull looks dubious of Little Man’s diaper findingssavvy bird.)

Sometimes he’ll snuggle for ten minutes in a clip, sometimes have me read to him. But, sometimes they are quick, jerky stretches like this morning when he leaps from my marriage bed to retrieve his Minnie and Mickey stuffed animals. He carts them in tandem, but expressed overt preference for the former. My husband or I have to tuck her in every night. But, this morning he scampers down the hall subsequently returning with full arms…the stuffed animals are at least half his expansive height. Naturally, his heinously diseased dog mushed among the plush mice. I watch as my husband’s child removes the top of the two pillows because my husband does not sleep on it, and organizes his friends on the designated sleeping pillow. Shaking laughs erupt in spilling tears knowing the queasingly grotesque doggie is sprawled where my husband lies, and in moments he will discover it exiting the restroom. Sure, I could have instructed my son to move him, but such things are a losing battle in our house; Mr. Man insists in caring for all who mean the most to him…Besides, often that horrible dog is on my side of the bed. My husband is obligated to take one for the plague exposed team. Had I foreseen such events, I’m sure we would have managed it in our ketubah or marriage vows…just in case.

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(Neatorama agrees nothing tops such a toy resting peacefully on your pillow.)

Little Man was oblivious to my behaviors, concerned only for his friends as he climbs the bed to adequately cover all three with sheets. Satisfied all of us are warm, my son completes the remaining pieces of his typical bedtime routine, which includes the reprimands I give him nightly for dragging his feet through the teeth brushing/changing transition and haunting outside our bedroom door for entirely too late into the night.

My son is a good sleeper, but goes through waves of having difficulty settling at night. It’s likely because I allow him to sleep too long for his nap, but since I’ve been starting his naps earlier, the evenings have been a bit smoother. Last night, however, it was a long nap that started much too late. I suppose I’ve never sweated such things, as Mr. Man almost never sleeps past seven regardless of when he is finally down for the count. These days, however, I’m lucky to squeeze in exercise before both kids are up by six-thirty.

Amused I’m watching him turn on the light because he prefers a low lit desk lamp at night. He reiterates the conversations I have with him during his tuck in and room exit. He enters and exists the room repeatedly, closing the door gently. It’s all so familiar, but decidedly less amusing when it’s my turn. I’ve learned to love a “snuggle, hug, kiss, and smooch” as much as the next Mommy, but at some point, the kid needs to go to sleep.

Routines, Rituals, and Other Things that Go Bump…All Day

I don’t have a vast familiarity with toddlers. Experiencing my son I can’t specifically speak to what is considered average development and what isn’t…for better or worse. He is two years-eight-months-old, and mostly garden variety, but I fully understand the compulsion to assume his growth weighs heavily as strokes of brilliance. Little Man constantly floors me with his leaps in development, but I’ve learned that’s what these stages are. That said, the limited number of professionals who’ve interacted with my son confirmed the few areas I thought were advanced or, at least, more unique to him.

I’ve observed and been told that Little Man is quite skilled in taking turns and sharing…to the point that he doesn’t understand when another child walks up and steals an object out of his hand. He never seems particularly disturbed when it happens, but will stare off befuddled for a beat before walking away to find an alternate source of entertainment. My son tells jokes and is chatty…telling stories to me throughout the day, especially relaying moments he was in trouble. I find this development funny considering his speech delay. Little Man looks to engage others in conversation; professionals working with him say that is unusual for a child his age.

Most interesting, however, is my son’s fairly sophisticated emotional intelligence. Little Man, probably beginning in the nine-month-old realm, possessed an uncanny ability to read others, and significantly alter his behavior and personality to what he correctly perceives others expect from him. Much of the time this serves as a manipulation tactic, and boy is it effective. Other times it seems to meet no other purpose than an intellectual exercise I find disturbing.

Part of this innate ability makes him fairly rigid and sensitive to shifts in his routines. I don’t have an overly complicated routine to our days, but any shift in what Little Man can expect from people and events leaves him struggling if the deviation is more than a day, two if I’m lucky. Some of this, I suspect, is simply toddler. But, I’ve heard early childhood workers in various capacities refer to Little Man as an “observer” or an “organizer.” It isn’t so much I think this merits a diagnosis, rather a personality quirk that makes him who he is.

But, with his need for routines and rituals and his ability to size up his world comes the price of anxiety. I wouldn’t say it amounts to a diagnosis, but times like the recent holiday season I’m reminded of how sensitive Little Man is to changes in his world, even when the change is fantastic and exciting.

At the ripe old age of nine-months, I noticed my son’s personality would change when we had extended visitors or his routine was off for too long. Some of it is age appropriate, but there were changes beyond the fussiness or lack of sleep that so many of my friends describe. Little Man’s temperament and general nature would shift in unexpected ways, but not globally. He would change his mode of interacting based on whoever was the primary personality in the room at any given moment, regardless if my husband or I were in his sights at the time. It’s difficult to describe this long out, and I would assume it was in my head if I hadn’t had practitioners working with toddlers relay what I suspected was a pretty interesting skill.

This brings me to the two week hell that was the holiday season. Family had been in the area, and my husband took the week off. It’s all so thrilling. But, each time Little Man encounters a wave of such excitement, it throws him. His behaviors more concerning as he’s grown older. Most glaring this time around was the aggression. Historically, he’s consistently demonstrated gentle hands with his sister outside the exceptionally occasional snafu easily explained by hunger or fatigue. There have always been independent bouts of jealousy, but Little Man usually has the ability to keep himself contained. And, really, once I read him a story or two on my lap, he’s good to go. Throughout the two week holiday span, however, I worried any time he was around his eight-month-old baby sister. Hardly an encounter occurred without my son pushing or hitting the Warrior Queen. I’m used to seeing an uptick of impulsive and rough behavior when my husband is around, but the incidents escalated dramatically in frequency and intensity.

Sure, during tantrums I might be slapped in the thigh, but twice my son slugged me in the eye without provocation. The biting was out of control as well. Usually such events are reserved for those moments when we pushed out bedtime too long. As the days wore on, it was rare to have his mouth remotely close to skin contact without a biting incident. The entirety of the situation left me flummoxed. My son is a sweet, kind soul who is patient and tolerant, all the more for a toddler.

Frustratingly, the peanut gallery dismissed this crop of behavior incidents as standard toddler practice. The entire span of time that Little Man continued to spiral I asserted he was struggling…all of the excitement and change was too much for him. I defended that these events were not how he navigates his world when the three of us are doing our thing. No one believed me. I began doubting myself…maybe he really is this aggressive. Maybe he is changing, and it is for me to adapt, levering my head from the sandy beach I’d grown to love.

Toward the end of the uproar, I had a couple moments when it was only our threesome…maybe just me and Little Man. They were brief and achingly far between, but I’d have glimpses of the existence I was beginning to lose to the recesses of my memory. I worried if we would return once the world settled, but they were a welcome reprieve even they amounted to be fleeting.

As I write this post we are almost a week out from the avalanche of activity. I’ve come to understand that just as easily as Little Man swings to the reckless, he soars back to the son I know. Within a day we returned to our life…flare ups of impulsivity when he’s hungry or tired…or Daddy is home. Once again I enjoyed our outings, watching my son explore his world in delight. All as though nothing had ever changed, nothing occurred.

I enjoy it when I’m right, but perhaps relief is more apt this time around.

Spanks for the Memories

Over the holiday season noticed a disturbing trend on my Facebook Newsfeed; maybe it was the emergence of the season of giving that brought to light certain voids in society. Regardless of the motivation, it appeared that there was an increase in random articles and commentary taking the time to illustrate society’s desperate need of returning to beating children into submission in order to ensure gratitude and respect from them.  This sentiment seems to cross religious, racial, and gender lines; which I suppose in some respect I should feel pleased unifying ideas are still possible despite the rigmarole of divisive atrocities that occur with increased frequency of late.

I, of course, am providing a hyperbolic and flippant characterization of this disciplinary idea passed in mass through social media. And, full disclosure, I almost never read the articles posted, when there are articles; much of the time, out of frustration, I don’t even completely read the status updates.  Really, it’s a cost saving measure because it will be expensive to continuously replace my laptop after throwing it across the room.

As a relatively new parent, I’ve thought quite a bit about the issue of spanking. It’s one of those topics people whisper at family gatherings, along with which relative has cancer or breast augmentation.  As an educator and social worker I decided not to completely decide how I feel about spanking that leaves a teary face and a slightly red bottom for ten minutes.  As someone who cultivated a career working effectively with at-risk adolescents and incarcerated individuals, I know enough to understand child discipline is complicated.  One thing is for certain in my mind, I cannot categorically denounce any parent who has spanked their child a time or two.  While I hope I never have to, knowing it is not my preferred intervention, I’m not so arrogant to think I am immune from the impulse.

What I find disturbing about this trend of disciplinary commentary is the assumption that (a) the past was so dramatically different from today and (b) that the only way to manage a child is through physical force no matter how mild the act of punishment.

In the most severe declarations of the need for mild corporal punishment I’ve read, crime is the crux of their determination. But, crime has been steadily decreasing, for the most part, since the 80s, but media coverage and the glorification of events for ratings have increased.  In my mind there is a link, but I don’t know of a study that explores the relationship.  I do know, however, that there is no causality for crime, only correlations in research; the strongest being societal exclusion and poverty.  These issues I’ve grappled with in my professional work for years; consequently, I’ve developed a bit of immunity from some of the commentary I’ve been reading from random people on the internet from keeping me up at night.

My second point, however, is something that rubs me quite a bit more raw, but I’m not so sure why.  Perhaps it is the perpetual oversimplification of human behavior.  Maybe it is what I interpret as a misunderstanding or an individual’s poor assessment of the issue.  A while back I read an academic article discussing the link between increased usage of media for communication and a decrease of empathy in children and adolescents.  This is not to say that our society is generating future criminals, rather developing people who lack the ability to communicate and relate to others, as well as a diminished conscience.  The article indicated, for example, that adolescents were less likely to see a problem with cheating on exams.  I’m aware that my readers will have to take my word on the existence and discussion of this article, as I can no longer produce it, but if one were to suspend this specific conflict, it is an interesting issue to consider even if it isn’t the entire picture of why “children are so ungrateful and disrespectful these days.”  As I mentioned earlier, this is a complicated issue, and if it were an easy fix with some brainiac possessing the answer, this specific social trend (if you believe it is, in fact, a social trend) wouldn’t exist in the first place.

With my single toddler and one child on the way, I am far from an expert, but I have learned a thing or two that a decade of work in the field never really touched. Discipline is an ongoing conversation with my kid that requires constant diligence.  As a mom who is my son’s primary caregiver during the day, it’s the choice to embrace the difficult path most of the time.  When he is running his laps on the sofa and I’m ready to collapse from exhaustion, it’s standing up to take him off the sofa once again.  It’s praising him for sitting on the kitchen chair the correct way instead of only chastising him for using the chair as his vehicle to dance on the table.  It’s an ongoing battle not for the weak.  Sometimes I’d love to simply plunk him in front of whatever asinine cartoon happens to be on television and nap.  When I have two, I may very well do that from time to time.  But, for me, discipline is about consistency of choice; most of the time I balance between my son playing independently and engaging with him in an activity.  I try to be proactive as much as I can, but I’m not always.  Sometimes I’m reactive and lose my patience, but most of the time I commit to grooming and modeling positive social behaviors I want to see.  It’s too early to know if my tactic will work, and the day may come when he or my growing daughter receive a spanking, but I like to think that spanking is not the only option for raising a good human who contributes positive things to society.

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