Don’t forget to laugh!

As you might be able to tell by now, I like to think about parenting.  And one of my recent thoughts is how to inspire other parents who might be going through similar things.  It helps to know someone out there has also completely lost it over the kid splashing water outside of the bathtub.  I mean, what’s the big deal really?  It’s a bathroom.  Everything about a bathroom screams “get me wet, I can handle it!”  And yet, when my boys sit in the tub thrashing about or squirting streams of water droplets into the air, I have some mini-volcanic eruption about water hitting the water-proof tile floor (though I save my level 8.5 Richter Scale explosions for when they slide down the back of the tub sending a Tsunami reverberating back and over the edge…again….onto a water-proof floor!). My head shakes wondering why this “mess” is so offensive to me.

Today I was contemplating this in light of what a friend recently posted as her favorite “rules” of parenting (thanks AskDoctorG): “1. Love, 2. Limit, and 3. Let them be.”

1.  I sure do love my boys….though sometimes I show a little “less” love in the midst of discussing whether or not Micah will get dressed for daycare this morning (of course you will).  And sometimes I have to remind myself that part of how I show them love is in the small touches, so I tousle their hair (which is universally disliked by kids) and I pat their legs (which is typically greeted with an “ouch”), and give them “lovings” as Micah has coined it.  But sometimes I realize the true depth of my love when someone challenges my kid, like the woman who honked at Micah as he tried to steer his bike off a path at the playground this weekend – and the fiery dragon of protectiveness unleashed itself within me and roared at the open window about honking at a kid and being patient with a kid, and ….and….and….heart thumping emotional energy of love encircled my child as a shield. This reaction is not always rational, but it sure is powerful love.

2. Limits – ah, the splashing in the tub.  I do have very clear limits on “hurting another,” but I don’t know why I decide to “limit” other behaviors. Of course, it’s not always the “bad” things that I limit – sometimes it’s the good as well.  Sometimes it’s telling Micah that he’s had enough screen time.  Sometimes it’s saying no to a third or fourth “treat” even though you want to give in and make them happy (meanwhile, I fly past all normal limits of portion size for ice cream…on a routine basis).  And sometimes, as a friend and I discussed today, it’s even limiting the activities we do with our kids.  Just because they are old enough to do something (zipline, white-water rafting, waterpark slides) does not mean that we need to expose them to everything at once.  It is okay to have a completely unscheduled weekend….at least I think so…and we’ll have to try it some time.

3. And I definitely let the boys “be” if they’re being quiet…unless they are being too quiet…and every parent knows when that threshold is crossed!

But I decided today that I would add a 4th “rule” and that is: Laugh!  A statistic flashed by me recently that said a child laughs 400 times a day and an adult only 15.  This is sad indeed.  Clearly something has gone wrong – I need to laugh more.  And I need to remember to laugh more at the boys and with the boys.  So, when my sister decided to let 2-year-old Stephen run around naked for a few minutes after a bath yesterday to dry out his swimsuit-chaffed legs and said “it’s no problem as long as he doesn’t have to go potty,” guess what word Stephen heard in that sentence?  And guess who sprung out of range when he commenced to spraying the carpet.  Naturally, one day it will be a good idea to limit the location of his urination, but yesterday it was a good idea just to laugh.

Kids are exhausting

Things they forgot in the Baby Manual  (if you even got one…which I didn’t)

  •  Kids are exhausting – they just really are.  Manuals may tell you to “nap when the baby naps”…but if your kids are older, then there are no naps and no breaks – and if you’re silly enough to spend a day with them at Kennywood Amusement Park, then they are really exhausting.  However, if they are so tired that they nap in the car on the way home, then they will be up late into the night…just to make sure that you’re exhausted!
  • You should not serve spaghetti to children under the age of 5 (or maybe 10) unless you have a hungry dog in the house….strewn sauce-covered noodles underfoot are just not pleasant.
  • Kids are exhausting – they just really are.  Unless they are old enough to be trusted in the refrigerator, if they are hungry, you must get up off the couch to grab them a yogurt stick.  If they have to “go potty,” you must get up off the couch and take them.  If they are fighting, you must get up off the couch and break it up.  In fact, until they’re tucked into bed at night, there’s no point in even sitting on the couch.
  • You should never wash a disposable diaper in the washing machine (particularly if loaded).  Despite amazing absorption technology, it will at some point explode within the machine and scatter some sort of white pellet onto every other piece of clothing in there.  (Advice from repetitive experience – dry them all and just shake each one before folding to loosen the pellets….ahem…I don’t actually “fold” their clothes…there are 5 boys after all!)
  • Kids are exhausting – they just really are. They have a constant need to push their developing independence and are constantly into everything.  If they can crawl, they crawl up the stairs.  If they can climb, they climb onto the dish washer door and systematically empty the dishes onto the floor.  If they can walk, they walk out of the yard’s gate and onto the road.  And if they can run….you’re done.  (You might as well just go find the couch!)

And I am going to go find my bed….I’m exhausted!

Quiet time

I do try to encourage some independent play in the boys, despite my almost daily use of the electronic babysitter.  I don’t think I was very good about doing that when the boys were young, so now that they’re a little older, I’d like them to become good play mates.  I’d also like some quiet time to get things done while the baby takes an afternoon nap.  Normally, I would park them (the older one at least) in front of the TV…but alas, on this particular day, the plasma HD screen was cracked, in circles, arcs, and lines emanating from one central location….the precise area where the Wii remote apparently (“by accident” according to Micah, “by hitting” according to Noah) smashed into the screen.  I’m not certain about the cause as I was downstairs getting the laundry, but I think Noah might have the better story.

So without the help of the TV, I managed to give the boys some “quiet time” in our toy room while I worked in the nearby office.  Seth snored upstairs and Noah and Micah played happily for awhile – flinging Legos against the wall, tossing them into the air, and finding all sorts of ways to scatter them throughout the room.  I repeatedly yelled empty easily-ignored threats from the other room — “I wouldn’t be doing that if I were you”…. “you’re going to be picking those all up, you know!”

Not too long after that, the boys entered my office with their hands dripping, soapy and lotiony (I made up that word) and Micah proclaimed, “we made an invention….and it exploded.”  By this point, I had to get up and go look at the room – where some concoction of soap, lotion, and toothpaste was smeared across the toy room floor, engulfing countless Lego pieces.  I looked down at Micah, with a look that questions his judgement and expects an immediate apology, and asked sternly, “Micah, what do you think I am going to say?”  He hastily replied, “Do it again?”…. I fought back the giggles.  “Uh no…but dear, when you do decide to do it again, explosions must happen in the bathroom.”

That seemed like a pretty good solid rule to lay down.  The boys weren’t too excited about the enforcement of the other rule —  “you make a mess, you clean the mess” (with exceptions as noted last week).  It took them 3 (blissful from my perspective) hours to pick up every single Lego before I let them out of the room.  It was quite a nice Sunday afternoon ….they played …and picked up….and dumped out….and tossed again…and played…and picked up.  I’m hoping that it might be a good 3-4 days before every Lego piece is flung around the room again or soap suds seep into the hardwood floor cracks!  In the meantime, I’m sure they’ll find something else to get into.

A boy’s brain

Boys….sometimes I just don’t understand them.

Of course, I do think that this makes sense.  They possess a developing man-brain and I am definitely a woman.  Being single, I just have stereotypes of what men are all about since I don’t have frequent contact, but I do know from my limited 6 years of experience with “little men” that their brains are very different from mine.

For instance, what might have prompted my 3-year-old to leave a pair of soiled underwear in the corner of the dining room this afternoon near a pile of wrapped and unwrapped Starbursts and with brown you-know-what smeared on the wall?  I don’t know – but I can guess that this is how it played out:  “Wow – mom brought that box with candy inside downstairs.  That’s awesome!  I think I’ll hide here in this corner and have a couple.  Hmm, don’t like that one – spit, spit.  Let’s try this one….oh, darn, pooped in my pants again.  Hmph.  I’ll just take them off here.  Oh look, there’s a red candy.  Munch, munch.”

My perspective:  “Sigh, every night…every night I sweep the dining room floor….hmm, it’s the weekend…guess I should mop it too.  Wonder what that poop smell is? There’s no diaper in the waste basket….and the little potty of Stephen’s behind the basement door is empty.  Aw man, that high chair is pretty messy too…guess I’ll clean that as well.  Where is that smell coming from?”….Sweep, sweep, sweep the corner – “NOAH!!”  Head shaking…..

The perspective:  It’s 8:30 pm – Noah should be in bed, but he is in the toy room playing.  “Noah, why is there poop in the dining room?”  “It was an accident,” he mumbles over and over again, partially looking at me, partially returning to his dino-attacks-car dramatization.  I stand there staring at him thinking, “well, Good Mommy would enforce the natural consequence of the behavior and have him come downstairs and clean that all up.  But that would involve spraying the area with Lysol – and spraying is actually one of his favorite things – so that’s not a punishment.  Wait a minute?  What am I thinking?  There’s no way I’m going to have him clean the dining room – imagine poop smeared all over the place and then I’ll have to wash his hands 10 times before I deem him clean enough to get to bed….sigh, it’ll be much easier to do it myself.”  I continue to stare at him.  He continues to defend himself as having had an accident.  “Boy,” I say to him, “you do NOT poop in your underwear, you poop in the potty (parenting tip: important to state simple rules!)….you will not have milk in the morning.”  Yep – there it is, THE punishment for this 3-year-old – the loss of his glorious cup of milk.

Right – makes absolutely no sense.  I know.  But part of what I try to be conscious about in parenting is helping my boys become responsible for their actions.  You make a mess, you clean it.  You decide to act out and be aggressive to your brother, you have some time away from him. Tonight’s events made me remember a recent “share” by a friend of an article in the New Yorker about spoiling our children (naturally, I have several critiques of it – including that it’s pretty hard to compare our society today with a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon – but I get the point).  I know I spoil mine more than I should.  I know that they have more junk than they need.  I know that I don’t hold them accountable as often as I could.  But tonight…and maybe, just maybe another night too…I will draw the line at poop in the dining room…and give Noah a stern look and send him up to bed …with a pull-up and a kiss.

“Good Mommy” vs. “Bad Mommy”

You know it’s bad news when the daycare center calls you within 2 hours of dropping off the kids.  It’s pink-eye.  Oh, is that why the eye was fused shut last night when I tried to roll Micah over at midnight….and then again this morning?  Well, it didn’t look pink to me!.

So, it was an unexpected day off of work with the eldest son.  We went to the doctor’s office and walked out with a couple prescriptions. I told Micah that we could get some popcorn and an Icee at Target when we got his medications filled.  He turned to me with sparkling eyes (one red, of course) and said “you’re a good Mommy.”

I smiled – the promise of a treat makes me a good Mommy in his eyes.  And we did have a nice afternoon.  I bought him his first pair of cleats for flag-football.  I treated him to an Icee and pizza.  And, since it was his “special day” as he soon designated it, we wandered around the pet store for awhile too.

I thought about how Micah calls me the “good Mommy” when I’m treating him – or providing that “special day” for him when he gets to have a say about what we do (“let’s go to the playground”…. “let’s play basketball”….).  But more often, I am the “bad Mommy” – the one who enforces the rules.  The one who tells him to stop yelling in the house and to settle down.  The one who makes him return to the bathroom over and over to brush his teeth or wash his hands.  The one who demands that he uses “please” and “thank you” in his conversations, and now we are working on “excuse me.”

The “good” and the “bad” depend greatly on one’s perspective, of course.  I’ve been thinking about this in the nation’s educational system as well.  I recently heard a news report about the “dumbing down” of our education all the way through college. Teachers are becoming more concerned with teaching to the tests than with actually teaching the students.  College professors who seek tenure only reach that goal if they receive good evaluations from students.  So, they begin to water down their expectations so that the students like them and give them higher satisfaction ratings on evaluations.  This is great in the short-term – the students are happy and the professors get promoted. But this type of “good” teaching gets us nowhere in the long-run.  Now we are graduating generations of students who have less knowledge than previously – and definitely less independent critical thinking skills.  We are graduating students who have not been asked to work hard, who are not held responsible, and who feel entitled to an easy life.

So, it seems to me – if I am actually going to be a “good Mommy” in teaching my boys – a large percentage of the time, I will actually be a “bad Mommy” and will maintain that high level of expectation so that one day they will be strong, determined, independent, and thoughtful adults.  And I will be so proud of them.  So watch out boys – tomorrow it’s “bad” Mommy all over again.