Saturday, April 12, 2014

About the Yelling....

I know many really good parents.  All of them confess to yelling at their kids at some point.  All of them regret it to some degree.  It feels out of control and inappropriate.  Yelling at your kids makes you feel ashamed.  We want to be better than that.  Since we know we don't want to be that and we do it anyway we feel like we've failed every time it happens.  Arguably there are moments that's true.

I yelled a lot more back when Ian was deployed and I was doing everything alone and under great stress.  I wrote about it on Babble when I was blogging there, and got a lot of interesting feedback, mostly from other moms who were relieved to know they weren't alone. 

However, my kids are now 12, 10, and 7, and I want to share something I've learned about the yelling:  Your kids train you to do it.  Most of the time we do it because it works and that's that.  We don't yell because we are out of control, we yell because it's efficient.

How do I know?  Because yelling only works with one of my children.

There is no point in ever yelling at Quinn.  There are moments I want to, but it never helps.  We have dubbed Quinn "He who shall not be rushed" because at whatever pace he's doing something is the pace at which it's going to happen.  The other choice is for it to be slower.  If he is slowly and deliberately looking for his shoes and you yell at him, he will either burst into tears and everything simply stops, or, more likely, his passive aggressive wiring kicks in and he moves more slowly.  I've tried to hurry him up, and he gets this determined look on his face with flickers of humiliation and resentment running across it, and just keeps at what he's doing the way he's doing it.  So if we are in a hurry do we yell at Quinn?  No we do not.

It is equally pointless to yell at Mona.  It might hurry her up, but she will definitely cry, which at some point slows things down, so it's useless.  Mona freaks out if she's merely in the crossfire of any yelling, so on occasion we yell at her that we are not yelling at her, which is about the dumbest thing ever, but we're human and these things happen.  She is utterly destroyed at the thought that she may have disappointed us, so yelling is so over the top and out of proportion to anything Mona might do that we don't do it.

Now, Aden....  Let us speak of Aden, who I will wager is more typical of the average child.  Aden needs to be told to do things again and again.  And again.  And then those things still don't happen.  She's a wonderful and capable girl, and if you ask her to do something that interests her then by all means it will get done and done well.  But loading the dishwasher does not interest her.  Nor does picking up the !@$%*#!$ laundry off her floor.  We have very few rules in our house, and even those are barely rules and more like good ideas, so when she doesn't do the couple of things we ask of her it gets annoying.

Because I could be Mary Poppins and lead her with a game and a song and have a wonderful bonding moment of mother-daughter love and fun over picking up her clothes, but I can't do that EVERY TIME.  That's ridiculous.  At some point she has to have respect enough for my time to simply do what I ask when I ask.

So the other day after asking her nicely five times over as many hours to pick up her laundry so we could get it in the wash and it wasn't done I looked at her and said, "Do I actually have to yell for this to happen?"  She looked at me sadly and nodded.  I sighed, and said, "Please don't make me do that.  It hurts me to yell at you and ruins my day."  A little of the laundry got picked up.  I didn't have the energy to yell about the rest of it, but I may this weekend.

It's an interesting thing to know that the yelling isn't quite the loss of control that it feels like.  If it were, it would be indiscriminate, and it isn't.  In our house we sometimes yell at Aden because it works.  (And occasionally at the dog, which doesn't really, but sometimes just UGH stupid dog.)  But if I were really a maniac I would be yelling at Quinn and Mona, too, and then everything would grind to a weepy halt and we would never get anywhere.

Still, even with Aden I'd like to avoid it whether it works or not.  I find the biggest factor for me for curbing the yelling is getting a break.  When I work long days, and the time I get with my kids is limited, my patience for everything about them is increased to a point where I am more likely to just overlook a lot of issues and just hold them close.  The Mary Poppins song and dance routine is easier to muster when all I crave is time with my kids.  Other days when all I have with them is time, and I feel like I've been reduced to a maid and a cook, then my fuse gets shorter.

I will say, though, that even at those times I try to remind myself of one of Aden's wiser moments.  Ian was deployed the first time, she was four, Mona was two, I was pregnant with Quinn, and I was at my wit's end with the mess of toys on the floor.  I found myself flailing my arms around and barking about how my whole life was consumed with nothing but picking things up, that all she did was play and all I did was clean.  Aden smiled up at me sympathetically, surrounded by toys, and said, "Why don't you come play, too?"  That kind of stopped me dead in my tracks.

This same smart and sweet little girl, however, apparently prefers at times to be yelled at.  I don't quite get it, and I'd be happier if things were different and I never yelled, but I no longer feel as if I've failed when I do.

Because we train each other, parents and children.  It's not a one way street.  But some days it is a noisy one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Funeral for a Fish

Mona's pet fish, Rainbow, died this week.

The fish was not looking good for a while, and there were many tears in anticipation of his death.  Mona had a lot of time to contemplate life without her beloved fish.  Now that the worst has happened she seems to be doing okay.

Mona and Rainbow, 2011
Mona got her fish for her 8th birthday.  She has been an excellent fish owner.  We never had to remind her to feed Rainbow and she was good about cleaning out his bowl.  She made him a stocking that she hung up by the fireplace every Christmas.  (He usually got a small bottle of water.)

Mona put his bowl on her favorite plate.  She always provided colorful items nearby so Rainbow would have pretty things to look at.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Filling in Gaps

Either you are a collector or you aren't.  It's an irrational tendency disguised by order.  Some of us simply derive deep satisfaction from grouping items until they seem to create something complete.  In its healthy forms it's admirable (as in assembling collections of art or insects, etc. for learning and appreciation), and in its unhealthy forms it's a sickness (as in hoarding and obsession.)  Any of us with the desire to collect must struggle with what we think we want vs what is reasonable (in terms of space and expense and sanity).

I remember one of my brothers telling me he blamed Bert from Sesame Street for his own bottle cap collection as a child, because there was an episode where Bert placed the last bottle cap in the gap in his perfectly mounted collection and was happy.  It looked so simple!  So my brother began collecting bottle caps, hoping to achieve that same perfect sense of accomplishment when he had them all, only to discover that you can never have them all.  He had many bottle caps before he realized there would be no perfect sense of completion to that project, and he let that collection go.

I grew up in a home of many collections.  My husband whose home had more limited space did not.  He's content to read everything on a Kindle, but I prefer real books that I can then add to my shelves.  He doesn't crave physical reminders of places and events the way I do.  His needs require far less storage than mine, and there are days I envy that.  Especially as I watch my children attempt to save everything from everywhere and it becomes harder and harder to organize the clutter.  I don't have much of a leg to stand on when I find my own rocks or Rubik's cubes impossible to part with, but find their bottle collections or piles of perler bead creations hard to bear.

But collecting, when managed properly, is fun.  Our family Mold-A-Rama collection is fun.  And when a collection reaches a certain size it becomes less about amassing things and more about filling in gaps.  We'll never reach that perfect Bert moment of popping that last piece into place, but as we focus in on finding the things farther out of reach there is real satisfaction to placing figures on our shelves that are odd or harder to get.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Foolin'

We could always count on my dad to try and trick us every April Fool's Day.  The version in our house growing up was extremely mild and always involved his telling us at some point that there was "a pig in the sink" and/or "a duck on your head."  He'd usually get us with some story about having the car repainted or something along those lines.  We didn't do pranks, and there were never lies designed to upset anyone.  (Unless briefly thinking you had a duck on your head was upsetting.)

My children, however, are sensitive and literal.  They don't like teasing.  They don't approve of lies.  They don't like pranks.  I did get Quinn to run down to check if there was a pig in the sink this morning before he figured out what day it is.  And I tried to convince the girls that the balloon/tissue/glue/paint project that has taken over our kitchen table was chewed up by dog after they went to bed, but Mona didn't buy it.  (Despite the dog looking appropriately guilty, but he's always guilty of something.)  Mona reasoned: Why would the dog suddenly want to chew on that?  It's been out for a couple days!  Are you fooling me, mom?  (I told her yes, but there really was a duck on her head.)

Today I sent out an email to a few people telling them there was a mix up at the groomer and now Chipper looks like a mini-panda, but at least we didn't have to pay for the dye job.  I've fooled two people that I know of with that this morning, but not my brother who knows to be wary today.  The most successful April Fool's joke I ever played was when Quinn was a baby and I told everyone that he said his first word but it was a swear word and I didn't know what to do about it.  Nearly everybody bought it, including my dad, so that was a good one. 

I tried a really minor deception on the way to school but then the kids became unhappy and asked me to please stop.  Ian told them he just doesn't listen to anything I say on April first.  A sensitive lot I live with.  Luckily there is Facebook, and I announced a "reverse sale" at the store where today only everything is One Million Dollars.  At least if someone falls for that we can retire.

So be a little cautious today!  And try to forgive those of us who are used to being trustworthy and just want to play a little for once.  You can trust us again tomorrow.

(And, seriously now, there is a duck on your head.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

That's My Girl!

My Mona.  In some respects she's my easiest child, but in many she's the most complicated of my three children.  She's gone from being a bold and fearless toddler and preschooler to a more self-conscious and emotional grade-schooler.  She's creative and funny, sometimes reclusive but other times eager to join in as long as a group makes her feel safe.  She can work on projects silently for hours, but she can also be loud.  She's shy and silly and sweet.

Tonight I was really proud of her.  We went to St Ben's to do our monthly volunteering there, and she seemed much more at home.  She was nervous the first time, handing out forks and spoons to people in the food line and not making eye contact.  The next couple of times she handed out fruit or desserts and was better about engaging everyone.  She even brought a stuffed animal to give away to a child in the line.

This time she was comfortable enough that I didn't even have to be in her line of sight.  She and Quinn handed out desserts together and I was able to go into the back room and help wash dishes.  (Someone back there joked that I must have drawn the short straw, but the truth is I like the harder work.  I like feeling as if I'm getting something done.)

When it was time for us to go eat, an old man came up to Mona at our table and used a line on her that was intended to be charming, but was in reality a little awkward.  He said, "I bet I know your name!"  Mona smiled politely and looked interested, and then he said, "It's Cutie, right?  Because you're a cutie?"

What would you do with that?  I may have laughed a little and then turned away.  As a self-conscious ten year old I didn't know how Mona would respond.

But you know what she did?  She said, "Actually, my name is Mona.  But thank you for the compliment."  And she went back to her meal.

I was really impressed.  That was a dignified response that left the man happy, too. 

Also impressive:  Mona's recent model of the Wright Brothers' plane that she made for the upcoming Science Fair at school.  (Which relates to nothing else in this post I guess, except that I want to show it off because I think it's so freaking cool.  Now that Mona has permission to use the hot glue gun on her own the sky is no longer the limit.)

Love that Mona.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All Kinds of Strangers

I read an alarming Facebook post by someone in our neighborhood right before I picked up my kids from school today.  She reported that her eleven-year-old daughter was out walking their dog when she was grabbed at by a man who wanted to get her into his car.  She outran him, found her sister, and the two of them locked themselves in their house.  She's safe, the police were notified, and everyone is on the alert.

I hate this kind of story.  I hate when a small number of people commit evil random acts and it forces the rest of us to modify our innocent behavior.  It's one of those instances of life not being fair.  It's been nice to entrust the girls with walking our dog in the morning or after school, and Quinn just last week was given permission to start walking Chipper around the block alone.  He's been so proud to be doing a truly "big kid" chore by himself.  Now I have to rethink all of that and figure out if it's worth the risk.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What a Difference a Pope Makes

I'm an atheist.  I'd say I was an agnostic because there is always room for doubt, but that term implies being more on the fence than is accurate in my case, and it seems disingenuous to use it.

Since I don't believe there is any plan or cosmic justice, I think the responsibility of caring for one another and providing our existence with any meaning falls squarely on us.  My philosophy is we should try to leave the world better than we found it, and to err on the side of compassion whenever possible.  The Golden Rule is a good idea, regardless of where you think it originated.  I honestly believe we are happiest when we are being our best selves, and when we help others instead of behaving selfishly.  Ethics are important to me, and I believe love is at the core of what matters.

The problem with a label like atheist, however, is that I'm lumped in with people based on what we don't believe, not what we do, so we aren't really a group.  We're a vague category at best, and not organized or unified by anything in particular.  There are atheists out there with whom I do not agree on much.  Many people of faith jump to conclusions about what being an atheist may or may not be based on what they assume we lack.  Most of the time the assumptions are negative, so I have found myself in situations where I'm careful not to offer that information about myself.  I don't like being prejudged. 

In turn I try my best not to prejudge others.  I've known people of varying faiths who I thought were admirable, and others who were horrible.  There are people I love dearly who find comfort and inspiration in their religions and I would never begrudge them that.  There are those who cling to their faith out of lazy habit, or to prop up their egos with a sense of superiority, and for that I have little patience.  I don't care what you call your belief system.  I just care that you come to it with intellectual honesty, good intent, and that you don't use it to inflict harm.