Tending to the prince

You can tell Phillip's been away

I'm really angry at my kids tonight. That probably means I shouldn't be writing here. OH WELL!

When I was little, just a look from my parents could make me cry. I don't really know what I was like when I was Jack and Molly's age, but what I do remember from the times I was in trouble is a Hyper Awareness of my parents' moods - if they were upset with us, which one of us they were upset with, and what I could do to make it better. 

It is really weird to me - and BEYOND frustrating - that Jack and Molly seem wholly unaffected by my anger. 

Oh, they'll stop and look at me, they'll calm down, Molly's chin might even wobble. But even if I've just shrieked my fool head off, which I HAVE been known to do, the minute I turn my back it's playtime again. They might not be doing anything to get them in trouble, but they're giggling or diving right back into a game and being silly and I'm all, "WTF CHILDREN. I JUST YELLED AT YOU. ACT LIKE IT!"

So I wonder, you know? Do they just not KNOW how to behave when they're "cruising for a bruising"? Is that something I have to teach them? I try. I tell them what appropriate behaviors are when they're in trouble and need to get back into my good graces. Cleaning up quickly and quietly, not laughing and dancing around and making an even bigger mess. Because sometimes I can tell Molly to do something ten times, in the most direct language I can think of, straight to her face, in any tone of voice, and she will either continue stand there looking blank, or do something ELSE. I'll be furious about a huge paper and markers mess that they're taking forever to pick up, and Jack will ask me for a snack while there's still garbage all over the floor. Maybe they really don't GET IT. 

I've also wondered if I'm just not mad ENOUGH. This seems crazy to me, because I get plenty mad. I have lost my voice from shrieking at them, hand to God. I'm not proud of it, but I swear, sometimes I don't know how else to get across the very basic fact that I AM MAD! And it STILL doesn't seem to matter. It's like they're just waiting for me to get it out of my system. 

I am oh so slowly starting to think: what's the point? This isn't working. It just makes me angrier and more tired and voiceless. What works (when I am on top of things, when I'm not exhausted, when I'm in control) is an instant and matter-of-fact anvil coming down on whatever/whoever the issue is. Immediate card taken away, immediate removal, immediate loss of whichever treat or privilege is in contention. And I don't have to get mad about it. I just have to be quick enough and solid enough and that's it. Done. Boom. No iPad for you. No dessert. No story before bed. No Netflix. THE END. 

But I'm just like... SERIOUSLY? Do you not SEE that you're in trouble? Did you REALLY just ask me for that? Did you REALLY just talk back to me AGAIN? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? 

What is wrong with ME?

I can't figure it out. 

Is it baffling because I'm tired and lazy and I would much rather discipline with an Angry Stare than a behavior chart and thinking up things to take away and verbally shutting Jack down every time he opens his mouth (WHICH IS A LOT)? Or because I was the sort of kid instantly cowed by my dad's angry voice? Am I not scary enough? I can't BE more scary! OMG I AM SO TIRED.

My kids are SUPER GOOD at school- polite, kind, cheerful, obedient. They're both rule followers. They both respect adults and are very aware of the kids who don't. I am not at all worried about their behavior anywhere besides my own home. I'm not even WORRIED about it, I'm just TIRED. I feel utterly ineffective and STYMIED. If someone got in MY face the way I occasionally get in JACK'S face I'd be a sobbing mess in the corner. 

Jack? Toooootally different kind of kid. I am not equipped for this kind. 

This is the sort of blog post that I publish and think, "Well, everyone who reads THAT is going to think [UNFLATTERING DESCRIPTION OF MY PARENTING SKILLS]" but... I don't know. I don't really care tonight. I just feel like writing out the frustration, no matter how it sounds. I know we're fine and I know things will be fine and I'm a good mom and my kids are decent little humans, but MAN, there are days when I CANNOT figure it out. 


Playing dress up

Dressing my kids is not my forte. Like, AT ALL. I was reminded of this tonight when Jack peeled off his jeans and there was a HOLE in the knee. 

How did that happen? I'm serious. My kids play hard, just like all the other kids, but I've been wearing MY jeans for YEARS and *I* have not busted through the knee. I call foul on Kid Clothes Makers. 

It doesn't matter, though, since those jeans were getting too short anyway. As was the long-sleeved shirt he wore today. Should I be able to see bare wrists? Then I remember: he IS turning five in May. He MAY be need to move up from 4T. 

(Length only, however. I'm pretty sure both my big kids would be fine with 18 month size waists.) 

But dressing them... I feel like this should be a FUN thing, but most of the time I am just BEWILDERED. For one thing, I can't tell with sizes. I would have sworn half the things I bought Molly last year would be huge and she'd be growing into them, but nope! Those super cute overalls with the embroidered pink hearts lasted all of two months. And there's no point in buying anything for them if the waist isn't adjustable. Even a regular elastic waist is often too big. So THAT is frustrating. 

Then there's the whole issue of buying a bunch of clothes they are going to 1) grow out of or 2) trash. So as much as I love all the matchy outfits at Gymboree and those miniBoden dresses (SWOON), my kids wear Target and Old Navy (good for skinny kids!) and whatever my mom finds on sale at KMart. I'm not picky. If it fits, they wear it! 

I do go through phases. Sometimes I get an email about a sale and I cannot help myself. Sometimes we need Easter dresses and wedding attire. And this last year I did preschool shopping in the fall and went a little nutso (although, when you require an entirely new wardrobe each year, you HAVE to go a little nutso at the outlet mall.) 

But trying to make them cute every day? SO BEYOND MY CAPABILITIES. 

I have Jack, who will wear anything I lay out for him, which is often a pair of fleece pants and whatever long-sleeved t-shirt is cleanest. Lately I've been making more of an effort to look in the closet and pull out a button down shirt or a polo for preschool days. He HAS those clothes, might as well WEAR them. The collared shirts plus the haircut have perhaps improved my standing in his teacher's eyes. 

Molly, on the other hand, has Strong Opinions. I have no energy to deal with those, so as long as what she wants to wear is clean, fits, and isn't one of her poofy dresses, she can wear it. I'd almost given up on making her wear jeans or regular pants (she prefers leggings, as those are "the pants that go with dwesses") although lately I've convinced her on the Old Navy skinnies. (Which are still falling off her barely-there bottom.) But things must be pink or have a certain flower on them or not be brown or SOMETHING IS ALWAYS WRONG WITH WHAT I PICK OUT and it is SO tiring. Today I told her that her panda bear dress was getting a little short (the SLEEVES are too short) and there were TEARS. Whatever. She wore it anyway. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting Looks for, ah, "indulging" Molly in her attire, but you pick your battles and this is not one of mine. 

If things match, if they are clean, if I can scrape Molly's hair off her forehead: that is a good day. 

I have no idea how people manage all these super put together kids. I know a few of them. I am BEFUDDLED. Their hair always looks like someone did more than run a wet comb through the front. Their clothes are from fancy stores. They look trendy. They have a style. Maybe I am just too busy watching TV? (Also, I can't even do this for MYSELF.)

Oh, and all the internet buying clothes in advance? Like next year's coat? Or super cheap pants that will fit in kindergarten? TOTALLY OVERWHELMING. I would forget. I would never remember where I PUT those clothes. I have a tiny stack of too-big clothes for each kid (usually gifts from extended family who have no idea what size they wear) that I keep in their respective closets. And whenever I do the too-small sorting (OH HOW I LOATHE THAT TASK) I try to remember to peek in the pile and see if there's anything that can be added to the drawers. But otherwise... just the storage and organization requirements feel burdensome. 

I think maybe this is just one of those things where I am irrationally overwhelmed, but without any inclination to do otherwise. I had thought, having a girl, I'd be dressing her cutesy every day, in matchy outfits with matchy hair accessories and always the right kind of shoe and never weird socks and she'd have PLENTY of these outfits. But I didn't count on how much work that is, let alone that my kid would have her own opinion. And also have hair that does not HOLD hair accessories. (Poor kid, just like her mother.) 

OH EMMA IS AWAKE. SPLENDID!


Now accepting nanny applications. Don't all jump at once!

So, TODAY. Ugh. Not one of my better days, you guys. Jack is... dude, I don't know. Doing the kind of stuff where you tell him to stop and he TRIES to look contrite but is just BARELY hiding his triumphant grin. You know? Or ignores you. Or continues doing whatever you just told him not to do, but with one minor adjustment. OR putting his hands on his hips and HUFFING when you tell him to knock it off. Stuff like THAT. And my standard response today was to just sort of look at him with vague confusion, because seriously, WHAT IS UP WITH THIS KID and WHY WON'T HE JUST LET ME TAKE A NAP ALREADY. I happened to do this in front of both sets of grandparents, therefore earning myself a big fat parenting FAIL, and I just keep running over the [many, various] FAILURE scenarios in my head, wondering what the heck my problem is. Because bad behavior from almost four-year-olds is to be expected, but what is also expected is that the mother DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT FTLOG.

Molly isn't much of a peach either, if I may say so. There was the giant screaming incident over a zipped up coat, for example. The steadfast refusal to use the potty before we left the house, resulting in 1) getting manhandled into the bathroom and 2) using the potty before she actually GOT to the potty. Molly ignores me too - she will even TURN HER BACK ON ME - but Molly eventually caves to the Mean Mommy Voice, which doesn't even register with Jack. 

Also, my husband is Way Far Away and parental lectures via Skype have even less effect than parental lectures in person. If you were wondering. 

ANYHOW. Both beasties are now in bed, all of us promising to have a better day tomorrow. Eh. I keep vascillating between thinking that Jack is secretly attending How To Mortify, Exhaust, and Drive Your Parents To Drink Camp (in this fantasy I envision my younger brother as his camp counselor, giving him special "how to push YOUR crazy mother's buttons" tricks) OR I think that he is emotionally if not intellectually clued in to the giant mess that is life right now and is Acting Out. 

Gah. I'm sorry. I will stop talking about my beasties children. NOW I'm going to talk about carpet. 

(YOU: YIPPY SKIPPY!)

So! We are probably going to bludgeon away the weird fireplace in our house, leaving a big hole in the wall to wall carpet. Wall to wall carpet that is not necessarily the most beautiful to look at, but which is NICE and not at ALL in need of replacing. And! They do not make this carpet anymore. Which means we can't buy a fireplace-sized chunk and stick it in the hole. The Carpet Dilemma has been the cause of much marital strife lately, mostly because my husband thinks we can 1) demo the fireplace 2) paint over the green and 3) replace the carpet (which is almost the entire upstairs due to the circular floor plan) in, oh, FOUR DAYS. Me, I am skeptical. (Do you see how our usual roles are reversed! HOW NOVEL!) 

He wants to do this because we pretty much have one weekend to move. THIS IS HOW NUTTY EVERYTHING IS RIGHT NOW. And he wants to get all this big stuff done before we move. But... that is just crazy talk. (Says me.) Even if four days were technically enough (also to CHOOSE carpet and PICK paint and all that, because I'm not doing either of those things without first BEING IN THE HOUSE) everyone knows that remodeling projects ALWAYS last longer than the people in charge say they will. This is pretty much the ONLY thing I know about remodeling! 

At this point I think I have Phillip agreeing to 1) paint and 2) fireplace demo, and putting off carpet selection, if we need it, until later. Because aren't carpet installation dudes USED to moving furniture? But I am also thinking about area rugs (or LOTS of area rugs, or REALLY BIG area rugs, because the hole is in a weird unfriendly-to-1-single-area-rug spot) to cover up this hole. Because as much as a hole would be annoying, paying to replace carpet that does not need to be replaced is also annoying. Right? Right. 

LA LA LA!

You know what I think about when beasts and carpet get me down? The long narrow pantry cupboard in my new kitchen, with SLIDING DRAWERS hidden inside. This lifts my spirits. I'm sure you understand. 

P.S. If I owe you an email, I KNOW. I am SORRY. Even though right now I'm going to shut the laptop and SLEEP. 

 


I should have gone to school for this

My piece at Parenting tomorrow contains something I try not to have very much online: an opinion. I especially try not to have opinions at PARENTING. However. Sometimes you have only one Parenting-appropriate post in your head and here we are and, well, I TRIED not to be obnoxious but I'm sure SOMEONE will find me obnoxious and accuse me of posting my own positive comments and blah blah blah. And people, don't get excited, it's not like I wrote about breastfeeding. No, I'm writing about TEACHER PRESENTS. 

Bah. 

I'm in a very Doom and Gloom sort of mood right now. I had a typical day, even a nice one, except for the part where I took both children to Mass (today: Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and also the part where I took both children to the library. During Mass I told Jack to stop doing something - making noise with crayons? See I can't even remember. And he just WOULDN'T. Even when I used my Angry Mom Hiss, even when I physically moved him away - he wrenched his arm away and KEPT DOING IT. 

I thought: I should leave. I should drag this kid out of here right now and throw a hissy fit in the car and send him to his room for a million hours and basically make sure he knows that when he so blatantly disobeys me HE IS IN FOR IT. There will be SUFFERING! 

But I didn't. I gave up. I hissed a couple of when-we-get-home threats, but what else could I do? We were in church and people I was damn proud of the fact that we MADE it to church! And that I was there with both kids on my own! And sitting right next to the seminarian who led the before-Mass rosary who was, without a doubt, watching me pointlessly discipline my three-year-old and feeling cheerful about his commitment to celibacy!

Then after Molly's nap we made a quick trip to the library. Again, everything was just fine until Jack started to get a little excited and took off running. Again I used the Angry Mom Hiss, the grabbing his elbow and leading him back to where he was supposed to be. But as I stood at the self check out computer he RAN AWAY FROM ME. And started dancing around the line dividers and I know I know. I should have dropped everything and marched that kid out and took him home where he would SUFFER. Where he would connect Disobeying One's Mother to ENDLESS MISERY. 

But I didn't. I gave up. I finished checking out, because we'd spent half an hour finding those stupid books and it'd been weeks since we'd even visited the library and Molly had picked half of them out herself and why punish her too and and and. 

I called home to complain, but ended up getting a Buck Up, Kiddo talk which was, I hate to say, sorely needed. It was just really helpful to talk to someone who 1) has done this before and 2) knows my kid really well. Because all the Time Out stuff? The talking? The choices? That stuff does not work on my kid. You know what else doesn't work? All the OTHER stuff I do. Namely the various ways that show him I I'm Really Stinking Angry, because that was what worked on ME. (At least as I recall!) I HATED IT when my parents were mad at me. But my kid? Eh! Who cares! They'll get over it!

The thing is that we DO get over it. We are big fat softies with a large helping of Lazy. I can talk myself out of almost any hard core discipline situation simply because I hate how it ruins everything. I hate ruining dinner or ruining a project or ruining an outing. It really does ruin it for me - I don't get past it easily, I feel bad about myself and my kid, it stays with me for the rest of the day. 

But I feel like I need to start ruining things in order to CHANGE a few things. 

It feels kind of weird writing about this because I'm actually feeling like things are going well. Like, have I told you Jack eats now? Sort of? I mean, he still subsists on white flour and cheese, but at least he eats regular AMOUNTS of those things. Sometimes he'll eat a whole apple! I used to feel like I had a kid who didn't eat, now I just feel like I have a picky eater. And as a lifelong picky eater, I can sympathize with that. (Phillip, not so much. Sigh.) And there was one day where he was super rotten, but the next several days he was an ANGEL. Like he was super aware of how upset I'd been that day and he wanted to show me that ACTUALLY he really IS a good boy! See how he cleaned up his room? See how he ate all his lunch! He will do that! He will be a nice boy! 

So yeah, I guess it's just the same old same old. Kid acts out, I realize how bad I am at Consistency. BLEARGH.

Whatever. It's been a long day of not-disciplining, cookie-making and fretting about my ONE SINGLE CHRISTMAS CARD. Do you people not love me?! My IRL friends better step it up. (Let's not mention the fact that I haven't sent MINE yet. Ahem.)


He is not the boss of me

I had a really rough day with Jack.

Well. I've just been sitting here staring at that sentence, wondering where to go with it. OH THE PLACES WE COULD GO. But I just feel spent. And sort of like this topic has been driven into the dirt, and everyone has given me their two cents and while I appreciate it, there is no two cents specifically catered to the combination that is my cheerfully disobedient kid and my set of parenting flaws and I just end up feeling even MORE like everyone else knows better than me. That everyone else has it figured out. That anyone else would have this kid straightened out in a snap and when they look at me they're just biting their tongues and rolling their eyes. 

Which is to say that I'm tremendously insecure (NEWSFLASH!) On the other hand, I really do think, I mean, I REALLY REALLY DO THINK that I am doing my best. I even think I've improved. I'm WAY more consistent, from which battles I pick to how I respond. And it's been a long time since Phillip and I argued over our drastically different 'styles', because we talked it to death and found solutions we could both live with. That's been huge. 

But I am still routinely and cheerfully ignored by a preschooler, which I find infuriating, embarrassing, baffling and beyond frustrating. Cleaning up is one of our biggest power struggles. This morning we visited friends and when I asked him to help clean up the bedroom - we were in the living room and I was changing Molly's diaper on the floor - he flat out refused, danced around the room, whimpered, whined, ran away from me. And then, when I threatened him with his life or no computer at quiet time (I can't remember which) he walked verrrrrrry sloooooowly to the bedroom and then I'm 99.9% sure he didn't help once he arrived. He probably just stood there looking obstinate and superior, calculating the mortification he was causing his mother with every not-helping second. 

Stuff like that - I don't know what to do. 

Or what about when I tell him to do (or not to do) something, so he goes and asks my mom or my friend or my sister instead. Within earshot of me. When they've already heard me tell him yes or no. I just want to die. 

I had a handful of depressing-ish topics for tonight - I can't believe I went with this one. Again. You are probably all tapping out a GROW A SPINE comment with your left hand and unsubscribing with your right. 

You know what else annoyed me today? My in-laws came over in the afternoon so I decided to get my run in then instead of waiting till the kids were in bed. But I couldn't eject last night's Foyle's War DVD from my laptop. My computer just wouldn't spit it out. I got tired of that, so I decided to just watch Parenthood on Hulu. But then 1) my computer crashed, I think from all the DVD annoyance and then 2) on the second try the screen blacked out after the first commercial. But I was still determined to get my run in. So I tried again. And then I had to watch yet another episode of Parenthood where I hate all the characters except Amber WHY DO I KEEP WATCHING THAT SHOW. SHUT UP, KRISTINA!

Anyway. 

We went to dinner at a Chain Restaurant where the burgers are as big as your face and Jack eats half a French fry and FIL frets over Jack's starvation diet and MIL micromanages every bite. Except tonight Jack ate the carrot sticks they give the little kids as an appetizer. HE ATE A CARROT. And then he shoveled in his macaroni at a speed heretofore unthinkable, and MIL was so amused by my astonishment she took a picture. 

And when we got home we put on our pajamas, treated ourselves to some iced animal cookies and played a couple rounds of giant toddler dominoes. All three of us, on the floor in the living room, counting and matching and then driving Matchbox cars along our domino train. I asked Jack to clean up the dominoes, just once, and he said, "Okay Mommy."  

Bedtime was a cinch. 

Jack was out within seconds. Molly? She's still talking to herself in bed, and every so often hollering for me to come and, in no particular order: find Halloween book, want covers, want passo, want moozik, want Fassy Nassy books, not this covers want pink covers, fix blankie Mommy, want kiss and hug. Tomorrow night I'll have to lace her animal cookies with Benadryl. 

 


He takes after his dad in the chips department

Okay, the first part of this post goes like this: what in the world do I do with my kid while his sister naps for FOUR STRAIGHT HOURS? 

In the olden days I would have been dancing a jig because dude! Four hours! Jesus loves me! I have been blessed with excellent nappers, folks. But Child Number One no longer takes a nap. Well, sometimes he does, if preschool was especially strenuous, and he almost always naps at Grandma's house since she wears him out way better than I do in the mornings. But usually he is up. Usually he plays his computer for a good long while. Then he goes into his room to "take a little rest". He used to fall asleep, but no more. Now he shouts, "I done with my rest!" and I have to figure out what to do next. About half the time he plays quietly in his room and leaves me alone. The other half he makes us both miserable until Molly finally wakes up and we have someone else to occupy our attention. 

Today was one of the miserable ones. Obvs.

I really want to establish Quiet Time - play in your room, read your books, drive your cars, do your puzzles, all that stuff. But none of those toys are new to him and he's done it all with Molly and shoot - I'M bored too! We're BOTH sitting around waiting for Molly to wake up so we can DO something. So when I get all short tempered and snippy because he won't stay in his room or he keeps asking me for stuff, I feel like that's my fault. If Molly's going to sleep for four hours, if we can't go anywhere, if we're stuck inside with only each other to look at, I better find something for him to do! 

I talked to my mom about it and she suggested a Quiet Time box or cupboard full of fun things he 1) only gets to do during Quiet Time and 2) Molly doesn't touch. So I'm printing out some stuff from a homeschooling site and I ordered a few things off his preschool book order and I think a trip to the dollar store may be in order. I also bought him a little folding table and chair for his room, just for quiet time. But I'm really wondering how you guys handle this. What do your older kids do while the younger ones nap? I mean, at this point I feel BAD for Jack because seriously, it is SO BORING in our house right now! And poor kid, his mother is stomping around feeling bad for herself that she can't ENJOY a four hour nap! Anyway. Ideas welcome!

The second part of this post is about Curriculum Night at preschool. Ahem. 

I asked my sister to babysit so that Phillip could come with me and help me not be scared of the other preschool moms. Which was nice. And you guys, I love our little preschool even more. The teachers are just so nice and the room looked so fantastic - artwork EVERYWHERE, snapshots EVERYWHERE - and all the veteran parents were saying wonderful things about the preschool and I was super self congratulatory. I'm all, "Dude, self, you picked an AWESOME SCHOOL. You did SOMETHING right in this parenting gig! Go YOU!" 

But there was something about it that left me a little insecure, and after thinking about it for a while I think it's about the other kids. I mean, it's about comparing Jack to the other kids, except I haven't really met the other kids, so I'm comparing him to what the other parents SAY about their kids. WHICH IS STUPID I KNOW. Like, HEIGHT OF STUPID. 

Like you can stay up to an hour after preschool - eat lunch and play outside. We haven't tried this, though I've kept it in mind. Tonight I learned that the other kids do this ALL THE TIME. And two of the kids in particular wanted to stay after school for lunch so bad that the teachers talked to the parents about it! And now they stay at least once a week! And it's so nice! And you know how many times my kid has mentioned wanting to stay for lunch? NEVER. 

And then the mom talking about how her daughter wants to go to preschool every morning, how the mom had to lie about where she was going tonight so the daughter wouldn't get upset about not being able to come with. And me thinking about how when I told Jack he had to stay home sick he didn't seem to care. 

And how social some of the other kids are and things the teacher would say, about how they have no problem going potty in a new place or things they talk about all the time or how one kid is so chatty. 

And I know I KNOW this is ridiculous. That these aren't even REAL THINGS. I mean, why in the world do I care about whether or not Jack wants to stay for lunch?! But there's still this way that I left feeling sort of... I don't know. Like my kid isn't doing what all the other kids are doing. How COME he doesn't want to stay for lunch? Is he getting LEFT OUT with this lunch stuff? Are the other kids just more ADVANCED somehow? Are they all BESTIES? Does Jack not LIKE preschool? Is he counting the minutes till I come pick him up? HOW COME HE DOESN'T WANT TO STAY FOR LUNCH?!

When what I should really be thinking is: I am specTACularly skillful at turning anything into a full fledged blog-worthy problem. Someone needs to write me a prescription.

That said, I introduced myself to the mom of the kid that Jack talks about the most, and it turns out she is all about The Playdate and while I'm not particularly a FAN of the playdate I am a fan of making friends and she was nice and her kid's little story about himself on the wall next to a super cute snapshot was pretty funny and hey, why not, right?

And I really like this preschool. I like it so much that I told Phillip we'll just have to stay renting in this neighborhood until we can find a house to buy in this neighborhood. So, uh, maybe when Jack is thirty-seven? We'll see. 

Anyway. I trust that you all will have fantastic ideas for quiet time AND you'll say a few prayers for poor Jack's future dealing with his neurotic crazylady mother. Thanks. 

Jstory



Winning vs. losing

Long long ago, long before I got married, I had this horrible, awful dream. I was fighting with Phillip, and not just shouty screamy fighting. No, in addition to the shouting and screaming I was on top of him, pinning him to the ground, slamming my fists into his chest. Have I told you this story before? It was just horrible. The worst thing about it was his expression. He didn't fight back, he just looked at me with the most profound sadness, the most confused confusion. And I wouldn't stop. 

When I woke up I felt sick. I had this voice in my head: this is what you do to him and I listened to that voice, I took it extra super seriouslySo that was the day I resolved to start fighting better. 

See, I was out to win, and I was very good at it. My husband likes to keep things at a very even keel. He doesn't get too sad or too happy. He doesn't get too depressed or too excited. Raising his voice is a near physical impossibility, and I'm being serious. And when we argued, he was trying to figure out what he was upset about, and I was out to win. Whatever he said I found a way to throw it back at him in a way that benefited my case. I could twist anything to serve my purpose. I was furious, but I was cool and logical and unflappable and he couldn't beat me. I was loud, I was mean, I didn't care that he didn't follow me. In fact, I would get mad that he didn't try to beat ME. I considered it an insult. That's what happens when you are proud of your ability to verbally dismantle people. 

I stopped doing that. Literally, the day I woke up from that dream I stopped trying to win. It was one of those moments where you realize you love someone else more than you love... well, for me it was travelling for months at a time or not having a real job or my independence or, say, the lifelong need to win. 

ANYWAY.

This post is not really about a fight with Phillip. It's about a fight with Jack.

He would not clean up the crayons and markers that HE and ONLY HE had thrown, willy nilly, all over his bedroom. It was time to put on pajamas and brush teeth and get ready for bed, but he needed to clean up his room first and hell would freeze over before I did it for him.

He wouldn't clean up. He wanted Mollymoo to help. His stomach hurt. He wanted to lay down.

And I yelled. I threatened. I spoke under my breath like my dad used to do (and scare the crap out of us.) I put him in time out.

He sat in time out until I got tired of hearing him cry and sent him to his room. He still wouldn't clean up. By that time Molly had figured out that Mommy was nearing her last straw and was sidling up to me like a kitten, stroking my arms, putting her cheek next to mine. I'm not sure if she's trying to cheer me up or make sure she's not the object of my wrath when she does this. It'd be sweet if I wasn't so furious.  

Every so often I would open Jack's door, interrupt the sobbing, and ask if he was ready to clean up his room. Every single stinking time he told me he just wanted to lay down. 

Phillip was annoyed with me but I didn't care. I was not going to lose this battle. Was! Not! And you guys, I did everything. I tried everything. All it did was reassure me, for the millionth time, that certain types of discipline have little to no effect on my kid, and other types just make things worse. 

Much much MUCH later I got him to clean up. Not everything. And I had to help. But he cleaned up his stupid crayons and markers and was treated to a loud angry lecture the entire time and THEN the child had the gall to ask me for a treat. Because he cleaned up! Like I asked him to! 

Rather than dropkicking him into the street, I sent myself downstairs and Phillip took over. There was crying - that awful hyperventilating kind of crying - and I was just happy that Phillip was doing it instead of me. I brought Molly upstairs to say goodnight to Phillip (so much for the bedtime routine) where I was informed that Jack wanted ME. He wanted ME to hold him. He wanted ME to read him stories and put him to bed. 

And that was the moment. I stared at my three-year-old and thought: NO. I do not want to hold you. I do not want to read you stories. I am so angry with you I could spit. I don't understand you. I don't know to manage you. I can't control you. I can't do ANYTHING with you. I am so freaking tired of hearing you say NO every time I ask you to do something. I am so freaking tired of trying to discipline you to absolutely no effect. So NO. I AM NOT GOING TO HOLD YOU. 

I said all these things with my eyes, of course. I felt so hard and angry and done. I was stone. I would not be moved by that swollen puffy face. I would not feel bad. I would tell him I wasn't going to hold him and then I would win. 

Except... what would winning get me? I handed Molly off. And I sat down in the chair and I barked at Jack to find a book and then I barked at him to get his blanket and his teddy bear and then I barked at him to get in my lap and I said, "ONLY ONE BOOK" and "NO DRINK OF WATER" and then I held the book closed for a really long time because I would have to use my nice normal Mommy voice to read it and I wasn't ready to be nice and normal. 

He told me he was sorry, which helped. Then he snuggled into my shoulder. And gripped his teddy bear. And I opened the book and started reading. It was very cute, a new library book about a lost penguin. I let him pick out a second book, about elephants. We sang a fabulous rendition of 'I've Been Working On The Railroad'. And then we said our prayers, and he recited the whole thing right along with me, and added every one of our friends to our litany of family members. 

I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me and he got right under the covers and gave me a huge kiss and I haven't heard from him since. 

I'm pretty sure I lost. But when I think about how I would feel now, sitting at the computer, an hour after the kids have fallen asleep, having won - would I feel as settled about the end of our day?

Sometimes I think what stands between me and a much wiser mother is a simple redefinition of what it means to win. 


Revenge

Well, I don't know about you but I'm about ready to toss this week in the garbage. There were a handful of bright spots, notably the smashing success that was preschool orientation and Phillip's birthday dinner and, hmm, I think I bought something on Etsy. But other than that it's been one mess of cranky, sassy, food-wasty, grumpypants. With a lot of comfort carb-loading in the evenings because dude, I deserve it. 

These days have been the kind of days where I'm totally doing okay, I really am, I am making dinner and using my pleasant Mommy voice and fulfilling twenty-seventh requests for snacks and drinks and toys and books and help with the potty. And I am doing those things EVEN THOUGH they're doing their whole Selectively Deaf charade and embarrassing me in front of friends and throwing freaky deaky tantrums in the car (MOLLY) and responding to my every instruction with "No! I just BLAH BLAH BLAH" (JACK) and people I should be on my second bottle of wine by 5pm not making dinner. 

BUT I DO. And I haven't been drinking the wine! (Partly because - news flash - the cheapest wine at the grocery store ($3.99!) tastes like pavement!) 

BUT THEN. Then! Each day has contained A Straw. The straws are USUALLY food-related, though not always. Yesterday's straw was when both kids asked for yogurt, then, when said yogurts were placed in front of them, stared at the yogurts as though they had never SEEN yogurt before, what IS this disgusting substance doing anywhere near them, do we need to call hazmat? The day before that had something to do with picking up toys. The day before that? Someone's insistence on "do it myself!" and whatever we were doing taking nine hundred years longer. I'm not - news flash - terribly patient. 

TODAY'S straw was when I attempted to implement the New Dinnertime Policy which I stole directly from the comments, lest anyone accuse me of ignoring the comments or not responding to them or, say, writing them myself under different accounts. AHEM. The New Dinnertime Policy is as follows: You Must Eat At Least One Of Everything On Your Plate. aka You Must Try Everything On Your Plate. aka You Must Have At Least One Bite Of Everything On Your Plate. HOWEVER IT GETS UNDERSTOOD. This satisfies 1) Phillip's compulsion desire that the children eat their vegetables and 2) my desperate prayer desire not to turn every meal into a "Just have one more bite of this!" "One more bite and you can do this!" "Eat this and you can have dessert!" "Let's have just one! more! bite!" AD NAUSEUM. 

So tonight I gave them ravioli, bread, watermelon and peas. Ravioli with RED sauce, I should say. Not as common as white sauce in our house, but I've had fairly good success with filled pasta (we call tortellini doughnut noodles, FYI) and Molly, at least, and if she's in The Right Mood, will eat almost anything. Oh! AND! I let them eat at the little table in front of the TV because 1) Phillip was out and therefore I am Allowed To Be Lazy and 2) they almost always eat better if they're watching TV. SUE ME. 

Molly takes one bite of ravioli, then decides she is no longer a fan, then sucks up the watermelon and peas (which are frozen, the preferred style) and the bread and demands more of each.

Jack sloooooooowly eats his bread. Then he sloooooooowly puts one ravioli on his fork, but the ravioli with the least amount of sauce. He does not touch the watermelon, which I know he at least likes. He does not go anywhere near the peas. Surprise! 

Fine, fine, but after a while I decide it's time to implement the At Least One Of Everything Rule and that means One Pea. ONE PEA. After multiple suggestions, some coaxing, some stern wording and finally a Time Out threat, Jack says, quite like he's referring to Disneyland, "I want to go sit in Time Out!" 

That was THE STRAW. 

Okay, so the end of the story is that I won, he eventually came back to the table and ate, get this, FIVE PEAS, but I had to go get the frozen ones because by this time his peas were "soft". And then at 8pm he ate all the leftover ravioli, but only with butter and cheese because he didn't want "ketchup". 

Which, okay, I hate it, it's so much work, it feels like everyone else's kid eats FOOD why won't my kid eat FOOD. And I look at Molly, who is getting pickier about eating, but in strange and varied ways, like the other night at my in-laws' she ate ONLY broccoli for dinner. And I give them the same food, the same amounts of food, etc. SO WHAT'S UP?

And then today, as I watched my kid eat his plain ravioli, sans ketchup, I thought about how my mother and grandmother would reserve a bowl of plain spaghetti for me before they smothered the rest with tomato sauce, and how I would dress my bowl with melted butter and Parmesan and how I did this until I was in college. How I never ate a tomato. How I was scared to move to Italy because all I knew about Italian food was tomato sauce. How totally grossed out I was when my dad forced us to go to a Chinese restaurant every summer. How salad meant lettuce and Ranch dressing. How much time I spent picking things like peas and carrots and other random green things out of whatever I was served. How I am still pretty picky - carrots, goat cheese, cilantro, onions, slimy seafood, and MOST tomato sauces are on My List - but how now I LOVE Chinese food and CRAVE dim sum and GROW vegetables in my YARD and not just for FUN. 

I remember sitting at the dinner table, age eleven, and my father informing my sisters and me that we would not be allowed to leave the table until we ate a green bean. One. Green. Bean. I believe I eventually swallowed mine with milk. I'm pretty sure one of my sisters sat at that table until it was time to go to bed. 

So I look at my kid and think, maybe I'm not necessarily doing it wrong, maybe there's no Answer. Maybe this is just what my dad meant when he said, in that menacing tone of his, that One Day I'd Have Children Of My Own. 


In which Jack has yet to succeed in driving me to the psychiatric ward

Yesterday morning I couldn't get my kid to 1) put on his shoes 2) put on his sweatshirt 3) put away the Legos 4) put away ANYTHING 5) come here so I could comb his hair or 6) do anything I told him to do. He wouldn't look at me when I was talking to him. And when he DID deign to respond to one of my demands, it was with a, "No, I just BLAH BLAH BLAH" which, as you know, was driving me out of my everloving MIND. I was getting louder and louder, shorter and sharper and finally I was all out yelling. Shouting instructions and if he didn't respond, if he didn't look at me, if the first thing he said was, "No - ", if he didn't immediately jump up from his mess of Legos and do EXACTLY what I said, he was going to have to stay home, alone, in his room while his sister and I went out and had fun. Oh yes. I threatened my three-year-old with Willful Abandonment. 

So I should tell you what Jack does when I get all scary and yelly and that is cry. Which makes me MORE angry. It's hard, because I think half the time he's just crying because he knows I can't deal with it. I really do. He's a black belt manipulator and that's WHY I get angry. I KNOW I'm being manipulated and but I still can't deal with the crying. On the other hand, sometimes it's real. Sometimes it takes me a while to make the distinction. 

He's crying and I'm furious and everything that comes out of my mouth now is a basic training instructor bark and both kids are fumbling with their shoes, all nervous-like and holy grilled CHEESE people I just wanted to take them to play at the lake with their aunt and uncle! It's not like I wanted to drag them off to the orphanage. Finally I get Molly into her jacket which is cake because my friend gave her a Hello Kitty fleece for her birthday and Molly is a huge fan of 'Kitty'. Jack, on the other hand, did not want to wear his sweatshirt. I told him fine, just hold it. I was already carrying a few bags, I didn't need his stupid sweatshirt that he'd inevitably whine to have in the stroller because "it's too wiiiiindy Mommy." 

Well. HOLD IT? Oh no. He couldn't possibly HOLD HIS SWEATSHIRT. And I'd had it. HAD IT. I was not going to hold it for him. OH NO I WASN'T. And so we had a nice ten-minute standoff in the laundry room, inches from outside, because he wouldn't hold his sweatshirt and I wouldn't hold it for him and he was going to whine me to death and I was going to try my best not to pitch him out the window. 

It was pretty bad. 

I won, I'll have you know. Mostly because I just turned around and went outside and did not care whether he followed me or not. I was shaking I was so mad at him. 

He did follow me, eventually. He seemed much smaller than Three. His face was this contorted mess of What Happened Here and How Did I End Up With THIS Mommy and he clutched his sweatshirt to his chest and didn't look at me as I held the car door open for him. He laid his sweatshirt down very gently on the car floor, ambled into his seat and sat still so I could buckle him in. 

I felt very guilty. 

I felt guilty all the way to my sister's house. I AM the grown up. I AM in charge. I DO know how to handle misbehavior in ways other than yelling. (Do I?) And I know, I know I know I know, that every time I screech and rail and get in his face, my kid feels it. And not necessarily in the, "Gee, I better shape up!" way I'm hoping for.

We've been doing the Super Nanny thing for a few weeks now, to half decent effect. By which I mean I'm not sure that Jack behaves any better, but it's given me a SYSTEM that I can ADHERE TO and can agree on with my husband. We have a new time out spot, we agree on how long to leave him there, we know how to get him out. We always talk/reason a bit when time is up - I'm not sure if that does anything, but it makes us feel a little better, which isn't unimportant I think - and then we hug and then he gets to go play. 

The hardest part, often, is the hug. A lot of times I'm still angry. And there's this part of me that thinks if I hug him, if I'm nice to him, then I'm negating all the anger. I'm telling him that I'm NOT upset with him anymore, which means whatever he did wasn't THAT big a deal. It cancels out the time out. It means I'm okay with him acting like a little twerp. 

Now is that logical? I don't think so, though it's hard for me to come to that conclusion. I know a lot of you probably think that's a horrible thing to say. I am nervous to write it. But it's true. I don't want to stop being angry.

But for Jack, that hug is... lifesaving. Somehow. And if I don't immediately offer it, if I don't mention it, he will. "Hug, Mommy," he reminds me. And it melts both of us. I don't want to melt. I want to be mad. But he melts me, softens me, reminds me that he is Three, that I am the Grown Up, that not holding his sweatshirt and not eating his lunch and not picking up his toys and not coming here when I tell him to does not own me, does not steal my joy. 

I tried to remind myself of these things in the car. I hadn't followed protocol. There was no time out, no hug. Jack was obviously chastened. I was still angry. But I looked at him in the rearview mirror and I said, "Jack, I'm sorry I was so angry with you." I told him that I get upset when he doesn't listen to me, but I shouldn't have yelled at him like that. I was sorry. He didn't say anything. I thought: why are you talking to a three-year-old like he's thirty-three?

We had a great morning. My sister was awesome. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one taking care of everyone else, but she and her husband totally entertained the kids, and afterwards we went to their apartment where she made the kids lunch while I discussed a post-Christmas siblings Vegas trip with my BIL. We went home, Molly took her nap and Jack played a little computer and then took his own nap. When he woke up, earlier than Molly which is unusual these days, I went into his room and held him for a little while in the rocker. "I love you, Jack," I said. "Even when I'm angry I still love you."

And he said, "But it's okay Mommy, you said you sorry in the car." 

Oh you guys, sometimes I think he's this big kid who's only out to get to me, ruin nap time, make me miserable by the time his dad gets home. He only wants to do what he wants to do. So many times I try to get him to answer a stupid question and he responds with, "I talking to YOU" meaning, I better answer HIS question. And I'm all, excuse me, YOU ARE THREE. How in the world do you have control over ME?

But I'm the one with the hugs and kisses and I love yous and when I offer these in abundance I receive in abundance. I do. Sometimes it's even the fastest, best way to stop the sassy bratty talk-backy twerpiness - if only I wasn't too angry to offer it. At night after his dad puts him to bed he often whines until, completely frustrated, I march into his room and demand to know what his deal is. And he just wants me to lie down with him for a little bit. 

Sometimes I argue with him. He just doesn't want to go to bed. He can't manipulate ME.

Other times I'm too tired. I lay down. 

I rub his back, kiss his forehead, tell him how sweet and handsome he is, tell him he is my favorite boy. A few minutes of this and I say, "Okay, Mommy's going to go now" and he'll sit up and throw his arms around me, kiss me, say "I love you Mommy, you're the best Mommy" and go right to sleep.


Lazy lazy LAZY days of summer

So, today is a bust. I am not loving today. I am sitting in the bathroom banging out a Post of Dissatisfaction while my kids take their second bath of the day, not because they're dirty but because it's something to DO.

I don't know if Jack is just getting bored with summer or what, but he never wants to DO anything anymore. Well, I suppose that's not exactly true, since all morning he wanted to go to the playground and when we went to the playground I was informed that this was not the RIGHT playground, the RIGHT playground is the one with the SANDBOX so I totally up and turned the car around because heaven forbid I thwart the boy, right? But every time I suggest going outside he is... unwilling, to say the least. No talk of sprinklers and baby pools and watering the plants can change his mind. No going for walks. No physical exertion, just his computer and/or TV please. Molly goes down for a nap at one and from one to nearly three he and I are engaged in a battle of wills. Today I gave in and held him (2:45) just to shut him up and we both fell asleep and at 3pm I woke up, realized he was still asleep and just put him in his bed. Right when Molly started bawling from her room. 

Which is how it goes lately. Jack either doesn't nap at all, or falls asleep at the most inopportune times. I go from battling Jack to entertaining Molly and ugh, it makes for a long boring day. I always think we'll go out for a walk when the kids wake up, or play outside or just DO SOMETHING. But the day just drags on and on until I get so stir crazy I decide that yes I AM going to cut Molly's hair like I've been talking myself out of for weeks. It's cute. Not too crooked. The bangs have a sort of Spock-ish quality that I can't quite figure out, but the good thing about hair is that it grows back. 

Phillip is meeting an old professor tonight, hence the poor attitude. He's also going out Thursday night. Who is going to send me cookies? No, wait, my major coping mechanism for boredom involves standing in front of the refrigerator. I certainly do not need gratuitous snacks. 

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but: I think I'm ready for summer to be over. Today was eighty something, which is not at all unbearably hot and ordinarily I am thrilled with high temperatures, but today it just felt like overkill. Like, enough already, SUMMER. I'm done with you. I'm over it. Get moving. Let's start something new. Let's DO THIS THING. 

I feel like Jack is supposed to go back to school, even though he's never BEEN to school. Phillip is definitely supposed to go back to school. I am supposed to start the volleyball league. I'm ready to start making butternut squash soup and wearing sweaters and if it weren't the season where anxiety traditionally reared its unwelcome mug, I'd go so far to say fall is my favorite. 

I think I may just be ready for a SCHEDULE. 

This is Phillip's second year of grad school and after that this whole Waiting Room thing I feel like I'm in will be over and we can figure stuff out. It's always, "Well, when you're done with school..." or "In June we'll know if we can do this or that..." 

I suppose there is SOMETHING new happening: Molly is potty training herself. Yes, herself. Today she insisted on going around butt nekkid and running to the potty (the BIG potty) every twenty minutes to pee. And you guys, I was not encouraging this at all. She's sort of been doing this the last few days, insisting on sitting on the big potty and doing her thing and I am just too lazy for this. I'm all, "Seriously? I'm still recovering from the first child. I am not ready to do the second. STOP ASKING ME TO GO PEE." I know that if this is the real thing (which, so far, looks likely) then it's all to my benefit, but I could honestly wait. I've heard of people actually Potty Training, you know, where you stay home for a week and you make the kid drink a ton of water and you're all Sergeant Pottypants 24/7. I probably should have done something of the sort with Jack. I think I probably did everything wrong with Jack. But MAN does that sound exhausting. And between a week of Sergeant Pottypants and months more of diapers, I choose diapers. I'm bored, but not THAT bored.