Sunday, May 31

Finding our way to nothing

Day Three of the Parenting On Track program:

By Friday afternoon, the mess had started getting to us. Cereal all over the living and dining room floors, the couch cushions on the floor, and the ubiquitous toys, toys, toys everywhere. So - we cleaned up. We thought, maybe it would be our version of nothing to throw everything into a trash bag and stash it away somewhere.

Friday, we filled two trash bags. Yesterday, we filled one. Today we filled another one. And then we realized. They don't care if we take away the toys. They are pretty sure they'll get them back one day. If not, they have plenty more. And when we cleaned up, we did just what they wanted and expected. We reacted.

So, tonight, we dumped the trash bags out on the floor of the living room, where they will stay until the week's end. This will pose some problems for AD's meetings in the home office, but I suppose we'll figure something out.

The past three nights, we also made dinner for the family. We are used to family dinners. We like them ... but they are another thing that causes family fights. The cook (usually AD) feels disgruntled when the fruits of his efforts are not appreciated or even consumed. And then there's the cleanup. We left their dishes from the last two days where they were, but cleaned up the food, out of concern that they would get food poisoning from eating it. Tonight's dinner still sits partially eaten on the table.

We also clean up food that gets left out that we may want to eat. Well, I think we'll continue to do that. I like to have smoked salmon on my bagel. I'm sure the cats would like the fish, too, but they didn't buy it.

Then there are the dishes. So far, we have done partial cleanup of the kitchen several times - the kitchen mess really is mostly our mess. In fact, the kitchen is the biggest reason that we hired a house-cleaner to come once a week. She usually cleans up the bedrooms, changes the sheets, cleans the bathrooms, floors, living room and kitchen. I asked her not to come this week.

R & E have been up more than two hours past "bed-time" each of the last three nights. I have been putting V. to bed at a somewhat regular time. I usually nurse him & rock him to get him to sleep. But should I? He is 16 months old now. Should I give him the opportunity to get really tired and fall asleep on his own?

Of course having a one-year-old in the house complicates the rest of the clean-up issues as well. When the boys broke a dish as they played with their dinner tonight, we cleaned it up so that the baby wouldn't get glass in his feet. Should we have left it there, for big brothers to see the consequences of their inaction, instead of our reaction to it? I don't know. To be fair, they had cleaned up all the big pieces - just hadn't thought of a broom.

I also don't know if R will go to school tomorrow. And what should I do if he doesn't? Call the school to vouch for him? Let the absence be unexcused and wait for the truancy officer to call us or knock on our door? Complicating this issue is that he is underchallenged and unenthusiastic about school. We have decided to homeschool in the fall, but the paperwork is not yet filed, so officially he needs to go. Should I file the paperwork to homeschool and let him just skip the rest of the year?

Although it must sound like it, the past few days have not been all bad. We have doled out a lot of hugs and kisses. We have played games with the boys. We are learning to use questions and "I statements" instead of solving the boys' problems for them. We have become more aware of our habits and emotions. We have discovered that R is capable of making French toast by himself (although he needed help lighting the burner). E can wipe his own bottom after using the toilet (although we felt the need to help him clean up his hands and feet afterwards). R & E are capable of going around the block by themselves. And, if we tell them, "we are leaving, we have our cell phones, you know how to reach us", they believe us. (We had V with us, and fortunately, R & E decided at that moment to hurry out the door after us, so we didn't have to test our resolve.)

Tomorrow I will try to write more about the discoveries we are making about ourselves and the boys.

Friday, May 29

Parenting On Track: Day One

Parenting, recently, has been exhausting and exasperating. I don't think much has changed besides my perception, but perceptions can be powerful. Thanks to some intriguing reporting on the program from Jena, we decided to try Parenting On Track.


Saying nothing is extremely difficult. Doing nothing is extremely difficult. The results are powerful.

It started this morning at least an hour before I was hoping to get up; "Mommy, how do you turn the computer on." In my drowsy, hopeful state, I murmured, "The power strip is unplugged."

That was my first mistake. But I was really hoping for another hour of sleep.

He took the initiative to look up "power strip" in the dictionary, but apparently the search was not fruitful. For the next hour, all I heard, in increasing desperation was, "What is a power strip?"

Since then, I've been hit, yelled at, doused with water, pestered with incessant repetitions of the same question, and told, "this is my worst day ever."

I also watched my son follow me up and down the sidewalk on his scooter, with pants on backwards, only one shoe on, and screaming the entire time. I saw him look me in the eye, pick up a can of soda from the counter and drink some. I could see the gears turning, Mommy is not answering me/paying attention to me/letting me control her. I'll try something else that usually gets a reaction. I have also witnessed fighting with his brother to get attention, attempting to disrupt what we are doing to get attention, and, after being told that unsafe behavior will not be tolerated, yelling for help, to be rescued from a marginally safe activity. Oh, and he didn't go to school today.

It's freeing, really, not to have to respond to this atrocious behavior. I have witnessed from the receiving end that repeating a request does not make it happen. That yelling does not make it happen. That violence does not make it happen. That threats (even when carried through) do not make it happen. I ashamedly admit that I already know what these behaviors look like from the other end.

It is much more difficult not to respond to comparatively easy requests delivered in a somewhat reasonable fashion. But doing things for them is what they want, part of the way I interfere with their growth towards independence, and only fosters more requests to take care of things they can do themselves. So I consider the request, and help if I suspect that they really need it. If I suspect they don't, I attempt to ignore it and let the situation escalate.

A byproduct of this approach is that because I am not soliciting/serving/cleaning up after the boys, I suddenly seem to have a lot more time. I don't know what to do with myself.

And so I write.