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By November 17, 2005November 20th, 2005monkeys

So a piece of rope walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a drink.
“We don’t serve your kind in here,” says the bartender, gruffly.
The rope walks out of the bar. Once outside, he ties himself in a knot. Then he runs his hands ferociously through his hair til it is sticking up in all directions. Then he walks back into the bar.
The bartender eyes him suspiciously and asks, “Say, aren’t you that piece of rope that came in here a few minutes ago?”
“Nope,” says the rope. “I’m afraid not.”

Get it? A frayed knot?

That’s me today. Zoe and Lucy spent most of the morning roughing me up til I swear I looked like this. It came to a head when they took all the magnets off the free-standing freezer and threw them on the floor. And then refused to help me clean them up. Big deal, right? But at this point in this already warped day, I started feeling like I was just being their enabler.

So I thought I’d experiment. While they were throwing the stuff to the floor (laughing hysterically — drunk with destructive power), I, the queen of idiotic timing and, apparently, under the imperious curse, suggested that when they were done, perhaps they would help me clean it all up. They didn’t have to put it back on the freezer, just throw everything into, um, into… this tupperware bowl I’ve pulled from the cabinet. Imagine my surprise (not) when not only did they not obey my request, but they outright ignored me.

At this point, I had a choice. Engage, and fight it out until I got my way (tears guaranteed), or back down before they even know they’ve backed me down, thus preventing them from also celebrating the win over their weaker opponent (two-against-one works even when the “two” are 3-yr-olds and the “one” is 12 times that). I’m sure you all know which I should have chosen, and I’m sure that, being good readers, you can all guess that I did just the opposite.

For about 45 minutes we duked it out. They landed on the naughty step/chair (aka, time-out) no fewer than 58 times (such an effective tactic it was). They were furious, I was furious. It was, frankly, embarrassing, and I’m really glad that you didn’t walk into my house in the middle of it. But Zoe and Lucy, being the good red-headed Leos that they are, would not pick up one single magnet.

Finally, I realized I was completely at the end of my rope (welcome back to the rope allegory). Certain that I had already altered the future of Lucy and Zoe’s personalities by showing them that mine was acceptable behavior (note to self: get this book), I left. They were sitting on the floor of the kitchen, trying their best to ignore me, and I just said, “That’s it — I’m leaving.” And I walked out the door (slamming it behind me just to show them how a mature person behaves). As I sat on the front steps taking deep cleansing breaths of North Carolina’s crisp, 80° November air, I imagined myself telling you about this day, explaining how I was doing the right thing even though yes, I know they’re only three years old, but still — it’s the principle that matters… right? They need to learn to listen, right? Right?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Does it start with “A” and end with “hole?”

Back inside I went. I apologized to them for yelling and told them that I’d make a deal with them. I would try really really really hard not to yell at them anymore if they would try really really really hard to answer me when I asked them to do something. They said ok.

Then we left to go play at the park.

Later, while they were napping, I cleaned up the magnets.

And now I’m exhausted. Thanks for listening.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Connie says:

    The scenario is all too familiar. Start out trying to set a good example of reasonable and expected behavior – I (the mommy) have asked you (the child or children as the case may be) to perform a simple task which should be easily accomplished and will contribute to a household full of members who understand and respect their mutual living space and one another… And all this in just 1 minute with 26ish magnets or a bucket of blocks! I stand triumphant in all my maternal glory. Yes!, I think. I CAN mold these precious beings through thoughtful, constructive behavior. I CAN contribute to a better humanity. I CAN have one small corner of my house that is not overrun with toys, choas and destruction! And then, in an instant, domestic nirvana slips through my fingers… and suddenly I find myself in the throes of a pitched battle rivaling any classic tale of good vs. evil. Principle! Hold your ground! Show no sign of weakness! You are the grownup! The trenches become deeper. Emotions reach unparalleled heights. And then, I gasp in horror! Without warning I have crossed the line and now it is I who am throwing the tantrum! The game has shifted and is now being played by toddler rules. And guess what? THEY ARE WINNING! I cringe. I stumble. Humbled by own arrogance and terrified by their power.

    So where to go from here? A breath of fresh is a good place to start. But how to create a significant change in behavior (theirs and mine) that can avoid repeated wars and crisis? This week I decided to give the modern behavior chart incentive/reward approach a go (since determined non-acceptance of the undesired behavior has been a relative failure). The approach: focus on one behavior/task at a time. In this case, we are taking on unnecessary and relentless crying/whining over small things (it could easily be general compliance with reasonable requests). The day is divided into two periods – the time before nap/rest time and the day following nap/rest time. At the conclusion of each time period, Wilder has the opportunity to be rewarded a sticker if she has responded reasonably to minor infractions, requests, disappointments, etc. If she is rewarded a sticker, she places it on her chart (a sheet of paper with 21 empty boxes drawn on it). When all of the boxes on her chart are filled in, she gets a prize. So far it seems to be working! I do have to prompt her with “is this a little thing or a big thing?”, but we are definitely replacing infuriating behavior with constructive conversations over issues and solutions as well as identifying real (and to her often mysterious) emotions. And, to Wilder’s great delight, she is well on her way to a pair of coveted pink cowboy boots from Target. Whoo hoo!

    But there is another piece of this solution which is NOT in the parenting books… I, yes, The Mommy, has her own behavior chart. Gulp! At the end of the day, my children can award ME a sticker if I have responded reasonably (no yelling) to situations and interactions with them with the exception of extreme and dangerous situations or behavior on their part. Why am I doing this? One, it is a simple tool that keeps me honest. How did I do today? Did I live up to my parenting standards – did I even try? If I failed, what were the triggers? What REALLY happened? Two, it gives Wilder and Anabel a small sense of empowerment. We are all playing by the same rules. Life can be fair sometimes – even if you don’t get to wear styling pink cowboy boots right away.

  • Laurie says:

    Paragraph 1: Yes รขโ‚ฌโ€ that is EXACTLY the scenario, though written more eloquently by you. Thanks for that mirror.

    Paragraph 2: Congratulations on finding a clever and seemingly successful solution to combatting the ubiquitous 3-yr-old whining syndrome. I look forward to hearing about its continued efficacy and also to seeing the pink cowboy boots which will make Zoe and Lucy turn inside-out with jealousy.

    Paragraph 3: Wilder must LOVE getting to judge you. Is she juiced with power or is she playing fairly? What do you get when you get 21 stickers?

  • Marilyn G. says:

    In the early years of parenting, and more recently on the first day of kindergarten, I too behaved in such a manner. (Getting dressed at our house seems to evoke the best in each member of my family.) I agonized and verbalized to my girlfriends the consuming levels of guilt I felt for being such a bad parent. But alas, the next day my kindergartener got dressed quitely easily…I still felt guilt, but with just a hint of justification.

    These ‘incidents’ still unfortunately occur from time to time, but now my guilt is internalized and I must admit much more fleeting. Hey, my manic behavior gets their attention and we have only gotten on the bus once semi-dressed. I consider that a success ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Connie says:

    Surprisingly (to me anyway) Wilder is responding to her judgement power with relative sensitivity and fairness. It gives us an opportunity to review situations that may still be lingering in her mind. It also gives me the opportunity to present myself as human – not impervious to temptation or failure (although I have been awarded a sticker every day since we started – amazing the correlation between my behavior and hers…). So even though some adults I’ve discussed the situation with feel that the Mommy chart tips the power balance in their favor which is a “no-no”. I think it is giving us the opportunity to create an honest and equitable relationship within the parent-child construct. I do, after all, have the final word and set the rules.

    So what do I get with my 21 stickers? Peace of mind and a Loco-Pop (or maybe 2)!

  • Ami says:

    First – frayed knot – the running joke in high school. Still pops up at home.
    Second, nothing like getting ganged up on. It also feels like a conflict of setting limits and yet not getting nitpicking about everything. Pick your battles. When to intervene in the fights the boys have – after blood is drawn.

    I am a little bit on the prize chart – tried it with Eli and it worked for a bit. Particular behavior we tried to modify returned about 6 months later.

    The funny thing to me is my complete lack of patience at home while folks at work are amazed at the amount of patience I have at work.

  • Laurie says:

    Thanks everyone for your responses and stories. Perspective is an elusive beast, eh? So Ami, when I see blood on Seth, I won’t judge. And Marilyn — I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with kids half dressed. And Connie — I sure look forward to those pink cowboy boots! How’s the charting going?

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