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I’m starting to wonder if my daughter takes me seriously. This thought popped into my head one evening after the kids finished their bath. Ted attempted to put prescription oil (for eczema) on Lauren with little success. I heard the debate upstairs and continued cleaning the dinner dishes. I didn’t want to get involved. What sane adult would? A sound bite:

Ted: Put the oil on!

Lauren: No I won’t.

Ted: You need to do it!

Lauren: I’ll do it myself.

Ted: Then do it!

Lauren: No!

Ted: Get back here!

Uh oh. Next thing I knew she was standing next to me in her altogether. I asked why she wasn’t wearing her pajamas.

Lauren: (sobbing) Because Daddy won’t let me put my cream on. By. My. Self.

I escorted my naked daughter back upstairs and instructed her to put the oil on solo, showing her the places where she needed the prescription most. She refused. I tried to keep my cool, reminding myself that we were closing in on bedtime. Soon I would be on the couch watching Modern Family and sipping tea.

Me: If you don’t put the oil on, I’m going to do it for you.

Lauren: No.

Me: Yes.

I should have walked away. But then she would go to bed without the prescription. I tried again and again, until I had to use force.

Me: (struggling, red-faced). You’re. Going. To. Put. This. On. Period.

Then there was no end to the histrionics from mother and daughter. There was purposeful drooling (Lauren). A nightgown tug of war (started by yours truly). And then me, demanding, “You will go to the bathroom before bed!” That’s when my smart husband came in to whisk me away.

If I appeared on the Supernanny, and there was a play by play of this disciplining nightmare, I would get ten demerits for losing my cool. Plus more points off for yelling. Then I would be reminded that little ones—especially 4-year olds—love to test their boundaries.

Either way, I decided to check out the book 10 Days to A Less Defiant Child by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D—a regular on the Today Show circuit. I’m not really a how to book kind of person. Like my daughter, I don’t enjoy people telling me how I should conduct my business. But after this particular argument, some guidance seemed reasonable. I scoured the chapter on 10 Ways to Stop Yelling. The author suggests verbal cues. For example, just about the time when you feel your blood pressure rising, remind yourself—and your child—out loud, “I know you’re tired, but you need to listen.” This tactic seems so simple, but I have to admit I like the technique.

Still, I wonder, is it possible for parents to keep their cool at all times?

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Mommy Goes to Jail

Like so many low parenting moments, desperation made me say it. I mentioned to Lauren, if she didn’t cooperate with me, I’d be sent directly to Bad Mommy Jail.

Before you judge, please consider the scenario. Lauren and her brother were playing in the tub when I spotted excema on her back. While she poured bath water into plastic teacups, I attempted to put prescription oil on her.

“I don’t want the oil!” she shouted.

“But you need it for your excema,” I explained. “Otherwise the rash will get worse.”

She held up her hand. “No!”

“Come on, Lauren.”

“No.”

That’s when Bad Mommy Jail came to mind. And surprisingly, the thought of my being whisked off to the hoosegow made my children listen.

“But I don’t want you to go to jail,” Will said, eyes wide.

“I don’t want to go, either,” I told him. “But parents are supposed to take care of their kids. If I don’t put this medicine on Lauren, the doctor will think I’m not taking care of her. Then, I’ll get sent to jail for sure.”

“Put it on, please!” Lauren begged. I didn’t feel right about the way I managed to get her to comply, but the effects worked so well, I have used the Bad Mommy Jail card again. And again.

The method is so convenient—like drive-through coffee—dependable and quick to please. Even though the technique works so well, I do worry that Bad Mommy Jail might come up in therapy when they’re older. But in moments of weakness, parents can’t always control what comes out of their mouths. Or can they?

Bye Bye Baby

The summer brought a series of milestones for my young son Will. He potty-trained during a 2,500-mile road trip, successfully scaled his crib, celebrated his third birthday and experienced a growth spurt that changed him from a baby-faced toddler to a little boy. Since I’m 95% certain he is my last child, you would think these milestones would be bittersweet. But somehow, I managed them all with aplomb, especially bidding adieu to diapers once and for all (although now I have probably jinxed us for sure).

To cap off Will’s season ’o change, Ted dismantled the crib. Will was spending more nights in big sister Lauren’s bed anyway, and it seemed the two slept better together. Ted suggested moving the kids into the same room. After weighing the pros (uninterrupted sleep) and cons (the domino effect of changing rooms), I decided to give Ted’s idea a try. We purchased new beds for the kids and spent a full day moving Will’s things into Lauren’s room.

I felt myself feeling anxious, my emotions whirring around like clothes in a dryer. Will’s empty room made me nostalgic for my infant children. His room had been Lauren’s first, and I recall myself nearly 9 months pregnant, regarding the freshly painted walls, new furniture and the quilt made by her grandmother. I remember thinking; soon, there will be a newborn baby here, my baby.

When Lauren outgrew her room, Will took her place, and I never predicted he would leave. I couldn’t imagine a time when he wouldn’t be my baby. But here he was, after a summer of changes, leaving his crib behind and moving into a big boy bed.

While the kids were helping Ted locate his tools, I tried to make sense of this new space. Everything was out of sorts—there were books stacked in piles on the floor, scratches on walls where furniture used to be, dents in the carpet plus a bedside table, bookshelf and armoire that no longer had a place here. I started to blubber like a child, missing the way things were.

That evening, I kept Ted up with a crazy list of to dos: painting shelves, removing old furniture, and shopping for organizational supplies. But nothing would keep my children from growing up. Someday they’ll want their own rooms again and I’ll feel nostalgic for their preschool years. Until then, I’ll tuck them in at night—Will sleeping beside his cars, Lauren clutching her favorite blanket— and take my time with the rest.

Garden Primer

Did you ever have plans to do something with your kids, and then realize it was a bad idea?

I’ve wanted to join the Community Garden for years. The only thing that’s stopped me is the thought of gardening with two little ones. I can barely manage my overgrown perennial garden, let alone drive to another plot in town for weeding, watering and harvesting.

To compensate, we’ve had a farm share for the last three summers, where our family has enjoyed salad greens, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. The share worked well for us up until this year. Since we’re down to one salary, a 10 x 10 town plot for $25 seemed like the smarter option. With Ted’s encouragement, I decided to give the Community Garden a try.

The garden would require a team effort. And when the season started, Ted was by my side, setting up stakes, spreading manure and laying down tarps to keep the soil warm. Lauren and Will, who arrived with kid-sized gardening gloves, trowels, rakes and even a mini wheel barrow, didn’t show much interest.

My dear husband, armed with a shovel

Our plot B.W. (before weeds)

The entire month of May came and went without revisiting our plot, but I felt okay with that. The garden coordinator said tomatoes shouldn’t be in the ground until Memorial Day, when the threat of frost is over. Plus we were taking a family vacation at the end of the month. I didn’t want to plant and come back to a wilted garden.

A week after our return, I decided it was time to plant—our seedlings were bursting out of their trays. Ted was out with a friend, so I took the kids with me. I tried my best to make the field trip sound exciting. Now our seeds can grow! You can dig in the dirt and get muddy! We can visit the Children’s Garden when we’re done!

When the three of us arrived, most gardens were full of thriving plants. Our orphaned plot was surrounded by weeds. The tarps that Ted and I so carefully laid out were gaping with more green, gangly ugliness. I told the kids we’d have to do some weeding first. “But I want to plant!” Lauren said. “I want to water!” Will whined. And then came the mosquitoes.

Super Will looking super bored among the weeds

Lauren: Me? Weed? Can't you tell how hard I worked on this ensemble?

My duo sat on half the tarp itching their bug bites and looking forlorn, while I pulled weeds. “This is boring!” they shouted in unison. After an hour of of watching me weed and haul several loads to the compost heap, the two announced they were starving.  “Just a few more minutes,” I promised. “Anyone want to help Mommy plant peas?” They shook their heads “no” and proceeded to paw at the ground. I was covered in sweat. My kids were covered in dirt. No one was having any fun.

When Ted arrived home, he found me lying on the floor of the bathroom, while the kids splashed in the tub. He knew better than to say anything, other than “looks like you could use a nap.” Smart man.

I decided what I needed was a change in outlook. For our next trip, I promised the kids donut holes and lemonade. So what if it was only an hour before lunch? We would arrive at the Community Garden with full bellies, charged with sugar. Lauren helped plant lettuce, tomatoes, basil and cilantro. Will watered with pride. The two even carried hay over to the plot, and we made friends with some of our garden neighbors in the process.

Our garden's humble beginnings

Wow. What a difference between visits. This was the gardening experience I’d dreamed about—spending time outdoors, planting with my kids and meeting other gardeners. Then I realized: like tending the garden, new experiences with little ones take work. Some days we have to pull weeds, and others, we can enjoy what we’ve accomplished.

4 Going on 14

Lauren posing on her uncle's Harley. A glimpse into the future?

Four years ago, when I learned I was having a girl, I immediately worried about her teenage years—the drama, the sudden shifts in mood, the tears. I was not a rebellious teenager. I studied, listened to my parents and rarely got into trouble. However, I was a royal pain in the derriere when it came to my appearance. My hair, clothes and complexion had to be right, and if they weren’t, then my mother endured most of the grief. Why didn’t she have the mousse I liked? Why couldn’t she buy me Guess jeans? And why was it such a big deal when I missed the bus because my hair wasn’t feathered just so?

My husband thought I was crazy when I fixated on ages 13-18, when we had more pressing things to focus on like preparing for a new baby. When my daughter arrived, she was so sweet and even-tempered, that I forgot all about my worries. How could this dream child ever give me cause for concern?

Little did I know that Lauren at age four would have tantrums equal to my own at age 14. If her hair isn’t perfect, she screams, “No! Mommy! No! Not like that…. like this.” Then she’ll tell me where to place the barrette. If I’m off by an inch, she freaks out all over again. I have little patience for this behavior. What I really want to do is scream at her. Instead, I attempt reason. “Mommy is just trying to help. Can you sit still for a moment and I’ll try again.” But I should know better. After 15 minutes of unsuccessful hair styling attempts, she storms off, and I’m left feeling exasperated.

Then there are the battles with clothes. Long ago, I gave up arguing about wearing polka dots and stripes, or going outside without a jacket. Our morning routine runs better when Lauren is happy with her outfit. These days, she changes at least three or four times before selecting the right ensemble. Her closet can be full of clothes, but if she has it in her mind to wear pink and pink, then Mom is expected to deliver, pronto. And when I can’t? She falls on the floor in a huff. “But I want my pink skirt and my pink tank top!” I tell her the skirt is in the wash, and then I get flack for washing it in the first place. “Why, Mom? Why, did you wash it?” I opt for reason again, mentioning the ketchup stains from the night before. This small detail sends her into orbit. She sits in a pile of rejected clothes, naked and bemoaning the unfairness of it all.

The aftermath of a wardrobe meltdown

I’m not sure that there is a logical explanation for her behavior. Maybe it is payback for all the times I drove my mother nuts. But isn’t it a little early? I was hoping for ten years of basic training to help avoid battles like these. If Lauren behaves like this at four, what will happen when she’s 14?

Friends: I am beyond worried. I am terrified.

The Big Tease

At ages three and four, my children get along 85% of the time. I’m amazed by the small kindnesses they pay each other. Will, ever the charmer, regularly tells his sister how beautiful she looks. I have also spotted Lauren helping her brother remove his jacket, or offering him a toy that’s out of reach. During moments like these, I’m proud of my duo. I actually feel as though I must be doing something right.

Still, they do fight and tease each other during play. The insults range from, “You’re a Bad Hat,” a name inspired by the book, Madeline, or “You’re a baby.” When the teasing happens, they argue until someone ends up crying and running to me for help. “Mom, Sissy called me a baby! Tell her I am not a baby!”

Usually, I make the Instigator apologize to the Teased and if that doesn’t work, the Instigator gets a time out. Though lately I’ve been hoping the two will find a way to resolve their own conflicts. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I figure, they’re going to get teased outside of the house eventually, and I want them to be ready. So, I bestowed upon them some advice: when someone teases, tell that person, “I don’t agree with you.”

Most of the time, my crazy ideas don’t pan out, but in this case, the “I don’t agree with you line” works wonders. And it makes me laugh when I hear Lauren or Will use this method, although sometimes they need reminding:

Lauren: You are a baby.

Will: No, I’m not.

Lauren: Yes you are!

Me: (While folding laundry in the next room) Will, what do you say when someone’s teasing you?

Will: Sissy, I don’t agree with you.

And then… glorious silence! My guess is that kids, upon hearing this declaration, don’t know what to say. With all power defused, the Instigator can no longer continue the argument. Then play time, laundry folding and all other household matters can go on peacefully.

My family was a little late to the Yo Gabba Gabba party— a Nick Jr. show that premiered in 2008. We were Sprout channel devotees, but the buzz on Yo Gabba Gabba sparked my curiosity. I’d read that the program featured fun, musical guests, including Weezer, The Ting Tings and The Roots, as well as celebrities like Jack Black and Elijah Wood. My kids love music, so I thought, why not give the show a try?

DJ Lance in his cool, orange track suit

At first, I felt duped. Clearly the show’s creators were reaching out to a generation of parents like me, who were born in the early 70’s. The show’s host, DJ Lance Rock, wears a furry orange hat, matching track suit and white sneakers. He looks like he could be a member of Deee-Lite (a band that rose to fame during my college years). Come to think of it, a lot of the psychedelic dance scenes in Yo Gabba Gabba seem inspired by Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” music video.

Deee-Lite's Lady Miss Kier goes crazy

The show’s main characters can best be described as the Muppets meet the Uglydolls. Brobee, a green hairy monster with awkwardly long arms, is a modern day version of Oscar the Grouch. Muno is a tall, one-eyed red monster that is equal parts Big Bird and said Uglydolls. There’s also a pink creature named Foofa, a robot named Plex and Tootee: a blue cat/dragon hybrid.

Could the YGG crew be inspired by Uglydolls?

Muno: one of the characters from YGG

Most of the shows scenes feature these characters singing songs with a lesson attached. In between, are segments with preschoolers dancing in hip, Yo Gabba Gabba-themed clothing. The background colors are neon yellows, oranges and greens. Or sometimes, one of the featured dancers will be transformed into an Atari-like video setting, reminding parents of their Pac Man and Asteroid days of yore.

At this point, I’m thinking, okay, I get it. My kids are important, but I am Yo Gabba Gabba’s target audience. The show’s creators are smart enough to know that they have to appeal to preschoolers and their parents (not unlike Sesame Street). Their intentions are obvious, which made me want to forget Yo Gabba Gabba altogether. Come on, I thought, do you really think I’m that easily hooked? Uh huh.

The Aquabats costumes look familiar...

I found myself singing songs like “We Are the Tiny Ugly Germs,” while sweeping up crumbs after dinner, or “Don’t Be Afraid (It’s Okay),” when my daughter wakes in the middle of the night. But the biggest hook came in the form of Yo Gabba Gabba’s Super Music Friends Show. When the Aquabats—dressed in swim costumes reminiscent of Batman and Robin from 1968—sing the lyrics to their song “Pool Party,” it’s hard not to smile: Holy guacamole/we’ve got chips/so come and take a dip/cause my pool rips! And we all loved the Aggrolites singing “Banana,” an infectious reggae song that had us dancing for days.

Biz Markie drops a new beat

The Super Music Friends segment won me over. Suddenly, I felt like I was in college all over again. Yo Gabba Gabba was introducing me to new music and I liked it. And that wasn’t all. Other features from the show were grabbing me too. Biz Markie, best known for the 1989 hit, “Just a Friend,” offers kids the fun, Biz’ Beat of the Day. Watching my three and four-year olds try beat boxing is a hilarious experience—it never gets old.

Yo Gabba Gabba’s creators: if you’re reading this, congratulations! You have officially won over this reluctant, seventies-born Mom, and turned her into a fan.