Beautiful morning. Fresh breeze, Peak looks beautiful, my writing is going well… I’m in the Zone.
Noise the pitch and timbre of a fire engine’s siren finally penetrates my self-induced dazed. Out my window, I observe the fire drill in process across the street.
Perhaps a little background is in order. Nice family lives near by. Mom, Dad, two little ones, I’m guessing 2 and 3 or 3 and 4. Neither old enough for school. Usually pretty quiet during the weekdays, so I’m surmising both parents work. But come the evenings and weekends, Dad and one or two of the child units can be seen ‘havin’ fun’ in the garage.
But not this morning. Judging by the pitch of the first bellow, I surmise either physical or emotional hurt was inflicted on one child by the other. The first wail is one long, loud protest full of indignation, rather than actual hurt. (Hey, I’m a Mom, I know these things!)
Dad, probably badly mislead by the same child psychologist that led me down the wrong path years ago, decides to join in, with his own rendition of throwing a tantrum. (the advice is, when your child sees something more immature than him/her, they will stop in speechless amazement. It’s hard for most folks to remember how to act more immature than 2. So this advice does not work often.)
Pretty soon, the other child is chiming in, from pure empathy and about four neighborhood dogs believe the Twilight Telephone has started and they better add their part to the conversation, quick, before it’s all over.
(I’ve tried proofreading 3 sentences for the past 4 minutes or so now. Can’t concentrate and feel irritation at the loud interruption. But instead of trying to make it work, I take a break and go to the window, watching the drama unfold.)
One child is carried into the house by Dad – this one seems to have genuinely gotten into real crying by now. The heaving little chest and hiccupped sobs tell you that True Hurt, real or imagined, has occurred. (My guess is all the hollering and howling have now scared us… bad.)
Out comes Dad, who returns to the house with the other child, who is not hurt, but still wailing at the top of his lungs with Indignation and boy, does he look pissed. Wailing and howling from the dogs drown out some of the conversation (Dad has figured out by now that the so-called advice of shocking your kids speechless by your own tantrum is not working), but the gist of it gets through. Little Mr. Ticked-off is being given a time-out.
To which the continuous shrieking of “No! No! No!” is the only answer.
I hear and count the sound of parental hand coming into contact with diapered butt, five times. Shrieking raises a decibel or five. No more taps can be heard and the wailing has disappeared into the depths of the house, so I figure the time-out place has been reached, even if resentfully.
Then slowly, the dogs stop howling, the shrieking and crying stop and only the frustrated words of a Dad and the soothing responses of a Mom are left.
“He has to learn he can’t do that. How else are we going to teach him? I don’t know what gets into him.” I can hear not only the frustration but also the confusion as well as a little slice of, “where did I go wrong? What’s wrong with my parenting?”
Soft spoken words I can hear, but not clear enough to make out. I think this go-around, Mom is in charge of drying tears, de-escalating anger and boosting the confidence of one who truly does want to be a good parent.
I think about going over and saying, “I know just how you feel and I’ve been where you’re at right now. But cheer up. It just gets better and better.”
But I figure its not really my place to. Plus, right now, I don’t think he’d believe me.
Dad might be embarrassed, knowing I’m sharing this with you. Maybe he doesn’t know that anyone who is a parent understands this morning only too well.
Sad thing is, the only instruction manual kids come with is the one in the parent’s head. The one that either got written by their parents, or the one they rewrote when they dreamed about what a perfect childhood would look like. And yes, children can give us a lot of pointers on how parenting should be as long as they haven’t been exposed to TV, school, or the brats who live down the road. (yes, I’m prejudiced sometimes.)
There are all kinds of parenting books and some are actually written by Real Parents. But alot of the advice and guidance handed out concerning parenting comes from folks too busy with getting a Ph.D., writing, interviewing and lecturing, to actually Have Children. So my question always is, “What do they know?”
Not alot, sometimes. And if your childhood was less than good, chances are you are rooting around for some advice or else you’re rewriting the player’s manual, experimenting as you go. And when stress, the unexpected and unmanageable all happen at once, it’s hard not to dive right back into the traditions and rituals you grew up with. And later, remorse and regret when you realize, you lost it, what you tried didn’t work or maybe you should really leave this parenting stuff to the experts. (You know, the ones who don’t actually have children themselves.)
Update – while I’ve been musing about parenting, peace and harmony have returned. Mr. Ticked off and Dad sat on the porch for awhile, little arms around big neck. Now they are in the garage, trying to get the vehicle Dad is restoring started. Mr. Ticked off has become Mr. Handy Manny and is right ready with whatever tool Dad needs. Mom is watering the flowers and looking pleased.
The crisis that wasn’t a crisis after all.
There’s a reason why opposites attract. Its all about Parenting. Someone has to be the one to keep their cool and help heal and bolster, no matter what catastrophe just happened. If a couple has way different sets of phobias, fears and what’s important, then somehow, all the bases get covered.
In my house, that means I’m in charge of answering questions about sex, love, spirituality, why junior high girls are mean and high school girls think they’re fat when they aren’t. I’m also in charge of answering questions about history, the universe and the natural world. (Thank goodness for Wikipedia!)
Hubby is in charge of figuring out which cell phone, computer or software is safe for use and a good buy. He’s also in charge of deciding whether the boys can shoot BB guns, have rollerblades or go snowboarding. I think those things are too dangerous. He reminds me I’m raising boys. Once they got older, he was also in charge of purchasing birthday and Christmas gifts, because I think Xbox is the antichrist and I still can’t figure out how to get my pictures from my Blackberry phone to the computer, other than emailing them to myself right after I take them. (yes, he’s in charge of purchasing my technology too…)
I remind him that life is too short and how dirty socks lying on the floor won’t matter in a hundred years.
He reminds me that just because I’ve lost 3, doesn’t mean I can smother the one we’ve got left.
I’m in charge of finding out the REAL reason a little person is upset.
He’s in charge of telling me to back off, when the answer is, “Nothing.” (even though I know it’s not ‘nothing’!)
Somehow, we’re always there to reassure each other and when necessary, to protect the little person in our house from to much smothering or micro-managing. Too much mushy-gushy or too much bossing.
Little Persons need someone in their corner, All The Time! Little Persons that don’t get this, turn into Mean Adults.
About a year after Morgan died, I ran into an old friend. Seems she and a colleague were writing a book about parenting. (She’s allowed too, she’s got three Little Persons). She complimented me on my parenting views regarding teenagers. That was fine with me, since I’ve been around her teeny-boppers and pre-teens. I enjoyed them.
Although I had changed a lot about my parenting style before Morgan died, there were even more things I changed after I realized that no matter what you do, they can still be gone in an instant. My youngest is old enough to be a good reality check for me.
When we get cross-ways, he’s now old enough for us to sit down and talk about what exactly is causing the problem, what each of us want, and where to find the common ground we can both live with. Kids do know the boundaries and they know when they are being selfish or taking advantage.
It’s not beat or talked into them. They know.
But they also see a lot of adults around engaging in the same behavior, so why not?
The hardest conversation I ever had with a child was trying to explain why I expected better behavior from them than they were observing in the adults around them.
“Because I know you can. Because you’re capable and compassionate. Because there’s still a chance for you to fashion something different for yourself. You don’t have to live the way these folks do.”
If I had gone over to Dad this morning, that’s what I would have shared with him. That Little Person is your best friend. They’re the one that reminds you when what you say and what you do don’t match up.
They keep you honest and make you more conscious about the choices you make.
They are your own little Dali Llama, gift of the Universe.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
No one said Teacher would show up potty-trained.
(P.S. I will share with you the one, and I mean only one, time that the advice regarding temper tantrums pointed me in the right direction.
Morgan was 3. Lego’s all over the living room. Me? I’m working graveyard shift, dispatching, and trying to figure out how to survive on 2-4 hours of interrupted naps. He’s asked to pick up his toys. No.
He’s asked again, more firmly. Then he’s told, sharply. And the tantrum begins.
I feel myself getting ready to ‘lose it’ – – so instead I start running around the house, waving my arms in wide circles (remember Windmill exercises from P.E.? Yup, that’s it.) all the while laughing and bellowing at the top of my lungs, “I’m losing it. I’m losin’ my bloomin’ mind” over and over.
It worked. We ran around like wacko’s for a good five minutes or so. I sink on the couch, exhausted. He hugs me and says, “You’re funny mommy.” And went over and started picking up the Legos. I think the laughing is what did it.)