Parenting lesson #33: Everyone lies, especially parents


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It’s possible my last post made me sound like an amazing parent who always sticks to her guns, never issues empty threats, and never goes back on what she says so her bipolar two-year-old will respond perfectly to every situation by age three.

I lie.  Or maybe I stretch the truth.  Or perhaps I’m simply implying I’m better than I actually am.  At the end of the day, a lie is a lie.  (Yes, even if it’s about the Elf on the Shelf, or Santa Claus, or that if your kid doesn’t eat green vegetables, his nose will turn green and his feet will turn purple.  That’s another lie I tell.)


Thursday is a great example of a time when I absolutely caved.  I had just dropped off my older two at school.  Let me digress a little by letting you in on the fact that Ethan is obsessed with lip balm.  In fact, recently after I told him he couldn’t have my lip balm, he took my secretary table where I keep the lip balm and flipped it up, spilling my full cup of coffee into all of my makeup.  But that’s another post.


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This is but a glimpse of the coffee mess.

So I was on my commute home from school drop off, and Ethan asked for my lip balm.  I said, “Maybe later.”  (I am really trying not to say “No” so much.)  Of course that was not an acceptable response, because two seconds later happened to be later.  So he asked again. “Another time,” I said.  Again, the question.  “I already answered you, Ethan.  I said later.”  Again.  “No, not right now.”  It was probably the sixth or seventh time that I said, “Okay, fine.  You can have it.”

This was that parenting moment.  That moment when you KNOW you are sending a mixed message.  When you know you shouldn’t say “No” and then give your child what he wants in the next second, but you’re just too darned drained and tired to keep bantering.  It’s also the moment when there is a high risk of things ending badly, but for the momentary relief you so badly want from the badgering (or noise, or sibling spats, or whatever the case may be), you cave.  You make what you said just moments earlier a lie.

About twenty minutes of peace and quiet later – which is precisely what I knew I was buying with my change of heart – I arrived at the gym.  When I opened his door to get Ethan out, there was no more lip balm left in the Eos container.  It was empty, and Ethan looked at me and said, “Mama, I need a napkin to wash my hands.” IMG_1122

No kidding!  His hands, seat belt, and jacket were so artistically smothered in berry lip balm.IMG_1123

We simply can’t get it right all the time.  There is no perfect parent and it is impossible to be 100% consistent.  But also, it’s not necessarily inconsistency if our children are able to convince us to change our minds.  I actually think it’s important for my children to know that they do have negotiating and reasoning power with me, especially with my older two.

Sometimes Eliza and Zach convince me to change my mind about giving them a treat, or having longer to play, or, really anything.  And when they do, I get to share with them the reason I have changed my mind.  When they’ve made a great point (“But mom, I already finished my homework and we’re getting along so well!”), I can recognize it.

And when I’ve changed my mind for no explicable reason except that I’m buying some peace and quiet, I use it as an opportunity to explain grace to them.  I like connecting these dots for them.  I connect the idea that sometimes we get things – good things we want – for no reason at all, but simply because we exist and are loved.  I don’t believe that Ethan can grasp that yet, but I still tell him that’s what he’s getting.  My older two began asking me for grace when they were three or four, so it’s not far off.

For now, I need to remind myself that sometimes, giving in, or turning myself into a liar, is worth the 20-minute drive of quiet when I am able to string some cohesive thoughts together.  And cleaning up smeared lip balm is also worth it.  A lot of parenting is weighing the various options in the moment and picking that one that works best in that situation.  There’s hardly ever one, black-and-white, always the right response.  And THAT’s no lie.

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Parenting lesson #21: Two-year-olds are bipolar and skeptical.


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My little prince, NOT eating his yogurt.

Sometimes I think my daily life looks like the scene from “Coming to America” when Prince Hakeem meets his arranged betrothed, Imani Izzy.  Imani has been trained her whole life to do anything he asks of her, and he tests just how far she will go to meet his demands.  (“Make a noise like an orangutan” ring any bells?)  The difference in my life is that my prince is a two-year-old who, after getting exactly what he wants, changes course and decides screaming for the exact opposite is in order.

On any given day, we have many conversations about food, toys, and activities that go something like this:

Me: “(Prince) Ethan, you’ve been sick.  What would you like for breakfast?  Pick anything you’d like from the fridge.”

Ethan: “I want dat yoguht peas.”

Me: “Sure, please sit at the table to eat it.”

Ethan: “NO, I DON’T WANT DAT YOGUHT!!!!”

I don’t remember child #1 or child #2 doing this.  It’s very possible I blocked it from memory like every mother does for the survival of the human race.  Or maybe my older ones didn’t really test me in this particular way.  But at least a small part of me wants to take the yogurt and dump it all over him.  Some days I probably would if I could get past knowing I’d just be creating another mess to clean.

I had his teacher conference today, and the teacher reminded me that he is dealing with normal two-year-old issues such as making good choices, following directions, and learning to share.  Honestly, it must be really hard to be two.

Unlike Imani Izzy in “Coming to America,” I actually say “no” to my prince quite often.  Over the course of a day, he probably hears “no” or “not now” or “try this instead” so many more times than he hears “yes.”  Part of that is being two and making ridiculous requests, like “Can I eat dis wip balm?”; part is being the third child and having older siblings who get to do things he can’t but would love to do; and part of it is I am an older, more distracted, more easily exasperated mom now than I was five years ago.  In all seriousness, it must be really hard to start to understand you’re a person, and have so much to learn, but have so many handicaps.

My little Prince Hakeem is testing boundaries and trying to find his place in this world.  He wants to know just how much power he has, whether I mean what I say, and whether he can do whatever he wants.  When Ethan gets an answer he doesn’t like, he simply keeps asking the question over and over, assuming I must have lied the first (32) times I told him he couldn’t have any candy.  In fact, in the car the other day he asked me seven times for my soda and 14 times for dessert in a span of five minutes, despite my answer being the same “No” every single time.  Imagine wondering at every turn if “no” really meant “no,” or if it meant “maybe” or simply “not now.”  He has to figure out these things for himself.

Now more than ever, I have to patiently and consistently deal with his antics so he knows he can trust me and what I say, and also so he can grow into someone who respects authority instead of demands power.

If he wants me to bark like a dog for fun, I’ll probably do it for him.  If as soon as I start barking he changes his mind and decides he wants me to make a noise like an orangutan, I might even do that if he asks me nicely.  But if he’s screaming about getting exactly what he wants when he wants it, he’s not going to get it because this world is not his kingdom.  And he might need to test this truth thousands of times before he believes it.

My child would rather throw up than give up


Children are smarter than we think they are.  A few evenings ago, Eliza refused to eat her dinner.  What’s so frustrating is that sometimes when she does this, she will actually taste the food and say she likes it.  But, her highness is just not interested because … well, the only conclusion I can make is that she either likes to annoy us or she wants to prove that she is in control.  Here’s how it went (and goes often):

Eliza: “I’m not hungry.  I don’t want my lunch.”  (She has her meal names mixed up.)

Me: “Well, that’s okay.  If you don’t want to eat it now, you can have it for breakfast tomorrow.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

Me: “Well, you can either eat it now or eat it later.  It’s your decision.”

Eliza: “Mmh, I ate it!  I ate a bite.  It’s good.  I like it, Mommy!”

Me: “Great.  Eat some more.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

And on and on it goes.  So, the next morning rolled around and I heated up about 7 bites worth of the chili for her.  (Translation: not a lot.  I mean, she could have eaten it in about one minute.)  Greg and I stayed the course, confirming her worst fears: she was not going to get a bagel or eggs until she ate her chili.  You would have thought we were asking her to eat wriggling scorpions and worms on Fear Factor.  After about three bites, she gagged.  About 15 minutes into breakfast, Eliza reluctantly gulped down bite number four, only to throw it up – mixed with her morning milk – all over her lap and into her bowl.  And of course, this upset her.  “Mommy, I spit up!” she cried.  At this point, as a parent, what are you supposed to do?  She’s two, not twelve.  We calmly consoled her and cleaned her up.  And then I dejectedly set the plate of bagel and eggs in front of her and she ate it up happily.

It’s hard to walk away from the situation feeling like I didn’t just get schooled by a two-year-old.  Is she really playing a mental game?  Did she think, “I know, if I throw this up, I’ll get out of eating it?”  I remember gagging as a child on purpose, trying to show my parents what a torturous and inhumane thing they were doing by making me eat my peas.  I definitely thought I might get out of eating them if I showed them how uncomfortable they were making me.  But I’m pretty sure I was at least four before I figured out I could do this.

It’s so hard to figure out what battles to fight with the strong-willed child, because I know I will fight many useless ones if I don’t give her some decision-making power.  I also want to have a fun-loving house where we laugh, don’t take life too seriously, and, where, well, eating your vegetables isn’t always important.  But Eliza also needs to learn to submit to authority, and she’s at an age where she is constantly testing.  Today it’s eating her chili, but when she’s six, it will be a fight about doing homework, and when she’s 8, it will be a daily fight about getting a cell phone until I give in, and then when she’s 13, we’ll get a call from the police that she wrecked our car.  I know where this road can lead if you don’t tread it carefully.  And what’s always so amazing to me is you see these parents on the news, wondering where they went wrong.  And I think, “You went wrong when your child was two and you allowed her to do what she wanted.”

So, for now, I’m going to assume she’s as smart as I think she is, and I will continue to parent her firmly when the issue at-hand matters, such as in the areas of nutrition and sleep and danger.  And then I’ll mix in moments of grace – because we all need that.

Boy, can it be tough to know what the right thing to do is.  Especially when I just really don’t want to clean up any more milk and chili throw up.

The saucy solution to a spicy attitude


the nectar of the discipline gods

We can add lying and back-talking to Eliza’s repertoire of not-so-great qualities.  When we were busy packing up our car in Florida, my dad came up to me, saying, “Why on earth would you give Eliza gum?”  And I replied, “What?  I didn’t.  I never have.”  And he said, “Well that’s interesting, because she’s chewing it and when I asked her where she got it, she said you gave it to her.”  Hmph.

The back-talking has also begun.  She uses phrases I say to her against me.  For example, if she is talking incessantly and asking the same question over and over again (see previous post about the phrase “because I said so”), sometimes I will say to her calmly, “Eliza, I’m not going to talk about this anymore right now,” or “I’m not going to talk to you right now.”  So she has turned this around like in the following scenario:

Me: “Eliza, we need to leave.  Can you please put on your coat, or do you want me to help you with it?”

Eliza: “No, we ah not weaving right now.  Mommy, I’m not going to TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW.  YOU’LL NEVER GET (incomprehensible mumbling)!!!”

I know she is just doing what normal, strong-willed two-year-olds do (right?  Please agree with me.)  I am not interested in spanking her except in very specific cases, and I also want her to be able to express herself.  However, when she is clearly talking back because I am asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do, and it’s something that is non-negotiable (like wearing a coat in freezing weather when you already have a cold), I need to have a disciplinary option.

Say “hello” to vinegar.  A friend told me her friend with seven children uses it.  A few days ago when Eliza was using her tongue against me, I went and got the vinegar and put a drop in her mouth.  She didn’t cry, she just stood there, stunned, twirling the flavor around in her mouth with a stone-faced glare.  I then talked to her about why I did it, what she did wrong, told her I loved her and gave her a hug and a kiss.

Already on two occasions, we’ve been in the car driving and she’s started smack-talking me.  I’ve told her, “If you continue to talk to me like this, I will put vinegar in your mouth when we get home.”  She has stopped both times.

I’ve also heard hot sauce can work, but I figured I’d try vinegar first because it is less likely to go bad if I carry a vial of it around in my purse.  (My friend’s friend also does this to keep her seven children in line when they’re in public.)

When it comes to matters of the tongue, I think you should fight fire with a fire extinguisher.  And the vinegar has, thus far, put out the flames.  I’ll keep you posted on how well it works, and if you try it, let me know how it goes!

Parenting lesson #19: “Because I said so” makes so much sense to me now.


It’s already started.  Not only has Eliza begun asking every question, regardless whether she knows the answer, about 7-9 times, but now she’s adding the “why.”  Here’s the most recent example from our car ride an hour ago:

Eliza: “Mommy, where ah we going?”

Me: “We’re going on an adventure to the store.”

E: “But where ah we going?”

Me: “I just told you.  We’re going to the store.”

E (after pausing two seconds): “Where ah we going, Mommy?”

Me: “We’re going to the knitting store for some yarn.”  (Perhaps she’s curious about exactly where we’re going.)

E: “Where ah we going?”

Me: “Where do you think?”

E (pause): “Where ah we going?”

Me: “I’m not going to tell you again.”

E: “Why?”

Me: “Because I already told you.”

E: “Why?”

Me: “I’m not going to talk anymore right now.”

E: “Why?”

Silence.

This, I know, is going to be the story of my life from here on out.  I did this to my own parents ad nauseum.  I can recall a specific conversation my dad and I had when I was about five.

Dad: “Beanie, just eat your vegetables.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because they’re good for you.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because they have vitamins and nutrients your body needs.  Just eat them.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because God made them that way.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because I said so.”

Me: “That’s not a reason.”

The curse of genetics strikes again.  It’s fine.  I know I’m just getting a piece of my own medicine.  I always swore I would never say, “Because I said so” to my kids because it drove me nuts when my dad did it to me.  But this one’s for you, Sparky.  I get it now.  I’m just going to try to avoid using it as long as possible.  Because I know it won’t be long before Eliza responds, “That’s not a reason.”

 

They really do grow up so fast


Just today, we went to two birthday parties, and it really dawned on me how quickly time flies with little kids.  We celebrated the first, second and third birthdays of three friends, and it just didn’t seem possible.  It’s like, one day they’re learning to walk and the next they’re telling you to shut up.  Or one day you are rubbing baby lotion all over your little girl’s bottom and the next she’s putting on makeup.

In Eliza’s case, she’s actually already doing that.  This morning we were heading out the door, and I asked her if she was ready to go.  She said, “No, I need lipstick.”  Then she reached into my purse, grabbed my Chapstick, pulled off the lid, applied it liberally on her lips and the general area around them, and then put the lid back on and put it back in my purse.  She also told me as I tried to simultaneously strap her into her car seat and get her to give me her party favor bag, “I’m busy.”

It’s one of those days where I’ve been struck hard by the idea of just how long some days can seem minute-by-minute, but how the months and years fly by.  I also went shopping today to get the kids some much-needed warmer clothing that fits, and I couldn’t believe how little baby clothes were – and especially that my children don’t fit in any of those clothes now.  I had to find the 2Ts and the 12-month stuff.

I’m not sure that I really have a point except to say that as tough as any difficult moment may seem, each breath is truly a gift to cherish.  It’s so awesome to watch these two little ones grow up.  I want to make sure I focus on that at least once every day.  Because the next kid’s birthday I’ll be celebrating will be Zach’s – and it is impossible to believe that he will be one next month.

School is way scarier for me than it is for my child


Don't bother me mommy, I'm at school now.

Eliza started pre-school a couple weeks ago, and on the first day, her teachers opened the door for her and she walked right in.  I didn’t get an “I love you, mommy,” a “good bye” or even a backward glance.  In fact, I could barely get the camera to zoom enough from the doorway (a threshold I was not supposed to cross) to get a picture of her because she had basically “peace out-ed” me for a play kitchenette.

I wasn’t hurt because I know my daughter, and I knew this is how she would be.  No, what I was then concerned about, and still am now, is what she does in that classroom everyday while I’m not there.  It is frightening to think a two-year-old is going to show everyone all the horrible things about you.  In a lot of ways she is just a tinier version of me, but with even less of a filter (if that’s possible).  It’s scary to imagine her pointing her finger firmly at a classmate and yelling, “NO MA’AN, NO TOUCH IT.  THAT MY TOY!!!”  Or she might tackle one of them and scratch him in the face like she does to Zach while watching me to see how I will react.  Or she might demand, “COME HERE, RIGHT NOW!” to one of her teachers because she says that to me all the time (because I say it to her).

When I pick her up after two hours every day, thank goodness it is clear the teachers pick something positive about your child’s behavior that day to tell you about.  (Today one teacher said Eliza had a lot of fun climbing on the playground with a classmate.  Goodness, is that the BEST thing she did all day?  At least on Monday she said Eliza consoled another girl who was upset.  That shows empathy and concern.)

I’ll always wonder what happens during the other hour and 55-minutes of her time.  I sincerely hope the teachers are trained to decipher normal behavior and that they will tell me if anything really odd happens.  They must know I love my little munchkin because when I pick her up, Eliza greets me joyfully.  Just as she struts right into class, she prances right back out to me.  Today, she said she had fun playing on the playground, and then she said, “I MISSED you, Mommy.”  I guess I can handle being ignored when I drop her off if that’s how she greets me.

I know why they’re called the “terrible twos.”


How is it possible that every request requires some combination of squealing, crying, whining, and jumping up and down? Eliza is 22-months-old and knows how to ask for things appropriately. (For example, she knows how to say, “Apple juice, please,” “shoes, please,” “crackers, please,” etc.) Yet despite all my teaching, she generally scream-whines “AP-PAL-JOOS, AP-PAL-JOOS!” or “SHOES ON! SHOES ON!!!” or “GODEFISH, GODEFISH, GODEFISH!!!” Where did she learn this? Please don’t say from me, because although I do raise my voice sometimes, I don’t jump up and down or scream requests and then continue to “fake cry” to try to get what I want. Not only that, but every time she behaves this way, I either 1) ignore it until she calms down, 2) correct the behavior by getting her to calm down and ask the way I’d like her to ask, or 3) ask her to grow up. (Okay, maybe the third approach won’t work.)

So, if I didn’t teach this to her, and it doesn’t work to get what she wants, why on earth does she continue to act this way? Is there an innate truth here about her age? Is she just in her “terrible twos” and there’s nothing I can do? I believe she is trying to learn boundaries and she is also constantly testing me to see how much independence she has. I personally think the behavior continues because she is incredibly strong-willed, so it will take some time to break the habit. But if I’ve missed something, can you point it out? If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. Because I can’t wait until she’s three to get through this. “HELP ME PLEASE!!!” (I’m stomping up and down.)