Introducing Ms. Salt

I am a wuss when it comes to discipline.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, is one of my favorite books.  My third grade teacher, Mrs. Simonson, read it to us chapter by chapter.  When we got to Chapter 13, “The Big Day Arrives”, she brought in Wonka Nerds for our class to eat as we listened to the tale of Charlie finally entering the factory.  That memory is burned on my brain.  I have read the book about once a year ever since- kind of an homage to a great teacher who imparted a love of reading on her students.  Today, I am reminded of the book for a different reason.  You might as well call me Ms. Salt.

After Veruca and her parents fall down the shoot for bad nuts (yes, nuts, not golden eggs.  This isn’t the Hollywood version, although I enjoy that too), the oompa loompas sing a song of her demise.

For though she spoiled, and dreadfully so,

A girl can’t spoil herself you know.

Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?

Who pandered to her every need?….

..They are (and this is very sad)

Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.

I admit it.  I cave in to my seventeen month old.

Kellen is a force to be reckoned with.  Perhaps it’s the red hair, but that kid has the temper of a drunken Irish boxer.  Up until recently, discipline was minimal in our house.   As a new mother, I read pretty much every parenting book I could get my hands on.  Gone are the days of strict punishments, spankings, and no nonsense.  Now, the keyword is “redirection.”   If your child starts flinging mashed potatoes with an intensity to rival Richard Dryfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, do not tell him “no!”  Do not scold him.  Simply distract him by offering him his sippy cup of water, or tickle his toes.  You’re right- it doesn’t sound like frustrating advice.

There is also the “Love and Logic” school of thought.  Give your child acceptable choices, and he will feel empowered to make the right decision on his own.  I don’t know about you, but my baby is very prone to logical thought when he doesn’t get what he wants.

It’s not that these are bad pieces of advice.  Both approaches worked very well with my first child, Liam.  But there always has to be the kid that challenges the 99% rule.  Kellen is that kid.

Up until recently, Kellen had been an angel.  Strangers and friends alike remarked on how he always seemed to be in a good mood, how his smile lit up the room.  He still lights up the room, but it is now with his fiery outbursts.  He stomps from wall to wall, banging his fists with a loud thud, vocalizing a single loud “Unh!” to let you know he is pissed.  Believe me, if that kid knew the word “fuck” that is what he would be saying.

I find myself at a crossroads as far as what to do.  Liam very seldom threw tantrums.  I was usually able to redirect him if he got out of line.  I reserved time out for acts of physical violence, or for when he was throwing a full blown tantrum.  Kellen is not on the floor kicking and screaming, but he is past the point of redirection.  I could put him in time out every time he throws a crayon or slams a table, but the kid might be stuck in time out until he goes to college.

In my eyes, he is still a baby and I have a difficult time convincing myself that he is old enough to understand and benefit from punishment.  Infants spend their first year learning that if they are in need of food or water or a dry diaper, they must cry to signal they necessitate assistance.  Kellen is now learning to communicate in words, but the majority of his experience is based on expressing discomfort through yelling and crying, to clue me in to his needs.  I feel like I should ease him in to this new world of words to communicate his desires.

I’m way ahead of you- I can already hear you murmuring “but he’s not a baby!”  Even if he isn’t a baby anymore, he is still MY baby.  He is my last child, and I am a little reluctant to let go of him being an infant.  I admit it.

Guilt is part of my personality.  If I can take the blame for something, I will.  If I hadn’t been born in the 70’s, I might very well have confessed to shooting Kennedy.  Liam was lavished in attention from the moment he was born.  I think I actually have pictures in his baby book marked with the written caption “sixth bath,” because I photographed each and every one.

Kellen is a second child.  That means from the day of his arrival, he has been sharing the spotlight with a much more vocal and physical counterpart.  My nature to over-mother has flourished into an obsession over the individual attention Kellen has been lacking.  Of course, this has led me to overcompensating.  Kellen is football player in the making.   He is seventeen months old and twenty seven lbs, yet I still carry him for much of the day.  If I’m sitting, he’s sitting in my lap.  If I’m in the shower, he’s near the drain at my feet.  Lately, if I set him down for thirty seconds so I can season a pan of hot stir fry, he wails as if I’ve taken away Christmas.  He’s a mama’s boy, and not-so-secretly, I like that.  I like having a baby to cuddle and snuzzle and love.  I’m reluctant to let it go.

The real story is, sometimes I am just so tired, so drained, and so beyond my limits, that I just give in because I feel I can do nothing else.  I know I am not supposed to say that, and I’m certainly not supposed to do it, but it happens.  Go back to thinking about that baby- the one who must cry to signal a need for food or sleep or milk.  Now imagine that baby is your boss.  He doesn’t calmy inquire, “Do you have those TPS reports that I need?” Instead, he begans screaming until he is red in the face “I NEED TPS REPORTS!  I NEED TPS REPORTS NOOOOOWWWW!”  You wouldn’t stand for it for a single day, yet moms do it daily, and with a smile, for years at a time.

I’m trying to get tougher.  I’m testing the waters with Liam and naptime.

Naptime has become the equivalent of a duel at sundown in an old West town, except generally when you watch or read about such a scenario, the tension mounts as you wonder who will be the faster draw.  There is no such question in our house.  Liam wins.  Every day.

I had given up on naptime and given over to completely losing my sanity.  Then Liam began preschool.  Having spent the morning in an exciting and stimulating environment, he would happily snuggle with his blanket after lunch and take a much needed snooze.  Against my better judgment, I allowed my hope for free time to be renewed.  I finished crocheting a blanket.  I began cooking fresh meals again instead of defrosting two month old leftovers.  Heck, I even started writing the material that would eventually get posted on this blog.

As you can guess, Liam’s new found love for sleep did not last long- just long enough for me to get a taste of freedom and know I craved more.  I tried being the “cool mom” about it- big mistake.  We generally try to limit TV watching when it comes to our kids.  TV to toddlers is what chardonnay is to their mothers.  I made a deal with him.  He could watch one episode of Curious George, if he agreed to taking a nap afterwards without any fussing.  To my surprise, this worked for about a week.  It worked so well that we had the spoken agreement down to the minimal amount of words- “One George, naptime, no fuss.”

Never underestimate the intellect of a three year old.  I could see him internally cranking it out.  If she lets me watch one episode of George, I bet if I act up a little, she’ll let me watch one episode of Caillou as well.”  He kept upping the ante.  George and Caillou, then nap.  George, Caillou and a glass of milk.  George, Caillou, milk, and a lollipop.  He began to want to nap in my bed, not his bed.  Then only on the couch.  I knew there would be no end to this kid’s demands.  I had to get tough.

I weaned him down to a George and a Caillou.  At the end of the episodes, I turned off the television and said “time to read books and take our nap.”  He sweetly said “More TV,” with that angelic smile that normally makes me melt like butter.

“Nope.  Naptime, no fuss.”

No fuss morphed into A LOT of fussing.  Kicking, thrashing, screaming, crying.  It was quickly spinning out of control.  I had to do something.

“Naptime or time out.  Your choice.”

Liam paused mid-screech.  The dual began.  He sized me up with a “you’re not serious” scowl.  I retorted with a “try me” stare.

What followed was the most ear-splitting scream as I dragged him to the wall for time out.  But he somewhat got the gist.  We now play a new game where he good-naturedly goes to his room, lies on his bed, and acts as if he will go to sleep.  Except he peeks his head out every few minutes to proudly say “I took a nap!”  I’m back to begrudgingly giving up on Liam’s naps, but that does not mean the showdown is over.

Liam and Kellen are now in cahoots- writing up lists of demands, taking my keys hostage if I don’t comply, threatening to crayon my walls and pee on the couch cushions.  They feed off of bad behavior.  If one climbs on the table, after I have distinctly told them “no,” within seconds the other one is right there.  When Liam starts begging for juice, Kellen responds by chanting “Juice! Juice!”- knowing full well that they are almost never given juice.  I hold out of as long as I can before screaming “Enough! You’re making me crazy!!”

My husband, the man in white, returns from his day at the office.  As our hero, he hands me a beer and tells me to relax, before grabbing the children in his arms to go for an evening swim.  I know, he sounds great and he is.  But internally, I know he is scolding me for being such a pushover.  He worries about us becoming the parents with the kid banging his fists on the floor of Applebee’s because the waitress advised they were out of chocolate milk.

He’s right.  I have to toughen up.  But how do I do it?  Do I put Kellen in time out fifty times a day?  Will it start to lose all meaning?  Or with a little tough love, will my fiery Irish lad settle down into a sweet natured boy?  I don’t know, and I’m scared to find out.  But it is high time for this sheriff to reclaim the town.

Shhh, don’t tell him I said that.

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