"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Friday, June 11, 2010

strong like bamboo

Here it comes. A true confessional blog post:

Up until this point, parenting has been relatively easy for us. Not "easy" like "not hard," but "easy" like "doesn't suck the life out of you." Lately, not so much. My three-year old is working hard to earn the preschool superlatives Most Stubborn and Best Tantrum and my 8-month old has recently stolen Evan's former title: Mr. Early Riser.

Evan has never been a good sleeper, but up until a few weeks ago, when we kissed him goodnight and shut the door ("closed but not tight"), we could rest assured that he would lay in his bed, twirl his hair, tuck in his Tiger, and......eventually.......sometimes after two hours or more........fall asleep. Somehow, he has learned that those doors that open during the daytime also open at night, and he's taking full advantage of his new-found "freedom." He's not really "free," of course, because we're not just going to let him run all over the house at 9 o'clock at night (yet). He sneaks out of his room, tiptoes down the stairs and starts running around, shrieking this maniacal laugh, while we (I admit) chase him. We bring him upstairs, tuck him in and it starts over again. Last night he finally passed out sometime after 10pm. He was up for the day at 6am. He is three. This is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Max has learned that each of the two times he wakes up during the night he gets to eat. Soooooooo.....why not wake up three times? Oooooh! I know! Let's wake up every hour! Think she'll feed me every hour? No? Okay, then UP FOR THE DAY AT 5am IT IS!

This up-all-night behavior is making these boys cranky, whiny, clingy and in Evan's case: tantrum-y.

And all this chasing and feeding and not-sleeping enough is making this mommy cranky, short-fused, and yelly.

I'm not a yeller by nature. If something upsets me, I'll usually deal with it quietly. By ignoring it, crying about it later, or, in rare moments of productivity, I'll come up with a carefully worded response or argument stating my position. I've used a loud voice before. I've even yelled, but I don't like how it sounds and I don't like how it feels. So I try not to do it.

But I've been yelling lately. At my three-year old. [sniff.] I don't say mean things; I yell things like "Stop and look at me!" or "Just go back to your bed!" or [gulp] "BECAUSE I SAID SO!" I tell myself that it's the only way that he listens to me when he's in the middle of one of his all-out, raging, hysterical tantrums. But I don't think that's it. I think I do it because it's easy. It just comes out. It doesn't require restraint or patience or compassion. And, unfortunately, it's effective. Because I don't do it often, when I do yell, he knows I mean serious business. (And I do.) So I yell, he pauses long enough for me to get his attention, and then I can move forward to changing his hysterical or dangerous or just plain obnoxious behavior. And that is all the positive reinforcement I need to learn that if I want to get him to listen, I have to yell.

But that's about to change.

I'm frustrated with his behavior, to be sure, but HE'S THREE. He's a BABY! What is really troubling me lately, is my response to his behavior.....my yelling. It may be effective in the short term, but parenting isn't about the short term. I need to find something that works and doesn't make me want to cry. And I have to realize that HE'S THREE. This is a phase. I won't be sending him off to college [sniff!] telling him to Go Back To Bed for the 100th time.

So, I'm going to take the following pearls of wisdom and use them to shape a more positive, compassionate, patient response to Evan's tantruming:

From my Grandma, a beautiful, thoughtful, and REAL woman (and mother of FIVE boys!), whose compassion and wisdom I admire and try to draw strength from: "Just don't sweat the small stuff, sweetie." Because, in the big picture of our lives, this is just a blip. I need to look at the bigger picture, the fact that, in between the tantrums he is a loving, cuddly, thoughtful, and sensitive little boy. He is imaginative, creative, and passionate. He is playful and giggly and he loves loves loves his baby brother.

From a friend, a mother of three grown children: "Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems." Don't stress out now, there's lots of room for worry in the future. [gulp] As "big" a deal as this feels right now, when I ask my mom (mother of eight) how she dealt with bedtime troubles and tantrums, she says, "I don't know, we just got through it." EIGHT TIMES. See? So this won't scar either one of us. We'll get through it and move on to bigger issues, which again will feel monumental at the time.

And from a cousin, who reminded me of this quote that I first learned in an East Asian Art History class: "Be strong like bamboo; Always bend, but never break." I will be flexible. I will bend to appropriately respond to his behavior. I will not give in to his tyrannical demands, but I also will not break.

Lesson Learned:
Breathe. Ignore the tantrum. Hug that sweet, adorable boy.

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