Wednesday, July 11, 2007

7/11/07 Wise Words

"Stay calm -- you'll have more control."

Some good words from SuperNanny this week. Ones that hit home, since I've been giving a lot of thought to my furious outbursts, beyond my relief that there are no SuperNanny cameras to capture and publicize my indiscretions.

As a kid, I remember respecting my mother more than my father for discipline issues, since Dad was more likely to lose his temper. Mom is much more even-tempered, didn't yell or lose control, but when she was mad at us, we hopped to. Dad was fallible, Mom the pillar who could do no wrong and whose respect we didn't dare lose. (And that's still the case!)

Unfortunately, I take more after my father than my mother in temperament. And I know that my tendency to lose my temper and raise my voice and slam things will ultimately result in my kids not respecting me. They need me to keep cool.

I wish I could be more like my sister, or like Betsy, both of whom are far calmer and more patient than I am. I've seen both of them gracefully handle situations for which I'd have been teetering on the edge of an ugly outburst. Why can't I be more like them? I try, I observe, but I can't consistently implement.

I can give myself a slight pass on two counts, I guess. For one, Betsy and Stephanie's primo troublemakers are really mostly just mischievous. Curious, envelope-pushing, testing, enterprising, endlessly creative. Oh, I know Gina and Remi can dish it out, and I've seen both their moms get frustrated with them. But both girls fall far short of the out-and-out belligerence, defiance, rudeness and incredible obnoxiousness that is my beloved Gabriel. His astounding lack of contrition and relentless determination, combined with my naturally more volatile personality, makes for a constantly brewing tempest. Julian "the sponge" watches and learns and takes on a lot of his big brother's negative behavior. Still, it is perhaps because of this extraordinary challenge that I especially need to keep control.

Pass #2 comes from the spirit-sapping scourge of migraines. I learned in my Most Miserable pregnancy #3 how chronic pain affects you in so many blatant and subtle ways, and chronic headaches are just the same. They make me very short-tempered and irritable, not just from the presence of intense pain, but also from the absence of the little sanity-preserving breaks from children that one is granted at random times throughout the day. Instead, I spend those times lying down, cringing, desperate for a few scraps of nap to give me a little protection from the pain.

The effect of nonstop pain was underscored today when incredibly, I think this 10-day headache storm finally broke. Last night, it wasn't looking good: as I was drifting off to sleep, violent images flashed through my mind, such as an axe digging into my skull, or a shark grabbing my head in its teeth and shaking me back and forth, or a tower of squares building on top of me and crushing me. Disturbing dreams, being woken up by a new wave of pain, being unbearably tired in the morning -- all collateral damage of migraines (not to mention your 3-year-old's hair). They take away the critical refreshers everyone -- especially moms of Gabriels -- need.

But this morning, I had no choice but to scoot everyone out of the house, because the cleaners were coming. I took Julian and Katrina to the Y, in the hopes Katrina would get a nap there, and to work out for a few minutes. (As it turns out, I spent 20 minutes signing Julian up for a week-long morning daycamp, which he'll do during Tonya's vacation later this month!) Then I did a few half-hearted ab exercises, and then whisked off my mini kit-n-kaboodle to swim class.

And through all this, forgot about The Pain.

Poor Katrina only had a 10-minute nap at the Y, and she was a mess the rest of the day. And what a day to be crying at swim class: Dave stopped by to see them, and all he saw was his little daughter miserable. She took a long nap later, but she cried so hard several times today that she was coughing uncontrollably.

But during Katrina's nap this afternoon, a wonderful thing happened. I didn't try to nap. I read email. I sorted through address labels. I scanned an interesting article. I web-surfed. I sat and chatted with Julian about his treehouse drawing. I made some peach sauce for Katrina. I talked about cashews and moons with Julian. I chilled. I putzed. I relaxed. I enjoyed my son.

Who, after he'd had his fill of Mom's attention, requested his Sesame Street CD, and promptly fell asleep on the floor, a la brother. I guess he needed a nap too, oops.

Then when Katrina woke up, I played a game with her and Julian, in which Julian hid under a blanket and we "looked" for him. All three of us were giggling and laughing and just being silly.

Who's this happy, fun, playful Mom, laughing and enjoying her children? When's the last time I was like that? What's different?

What's different is that I think, I hope, I really hope, I was experiencing a phenomenon I've only recently come to recognize: an odd burst of energy at the end of a migraine. It's like whatever resources my body summons to finally oust the headache go into overdrive, leaving me briefly inspired, optimistic and full of energy and cheer.

Or maybe it's just that I decided to have some caffeinated coffee.

Whatever it was, it made for a pleasant -- even delightful -- afternoon, even though Katrina was really at her worst. Poor thing, something was bothering her, though I never figured out what. She went right to sleep after crying through her bath tonight (she never ever cries in the bath anymore!), so I think she was just really really tired. Missing a morning nap really messes up the whole day.

Here she is really, really, really trying to crawl, and getting frustrated (unlike her, but again, it was a bad day for her):

(There's Julian in the background playing with his adorable Ryan's Room Clubhouse, a perfect birthday gift from Bonne Maman and Papa Paul last year.)

Stay calm, you'll have more control, says SuperNanny, who I watched say that while nursing Katrina before dinner. I was inspired and enlightened and newly determined to keep my cool, soberly remembering my own perceptions of my parents.

But then came the excruciating nightly ritual of prying the boys out of the backyard to come into dinner.

First, the heads-up: "Almost time for dinner!" A few minutes later, "It's time to come in now!" I give them a few minutes to transition, park their bicycles....nothing. First warning. Nothing. Next warning, said very clearly, "If I have to come back out to get you again, I'm locking the bicycles in the garage."

That sort of worked: Gabriel came in, but then was drawn back outside to warn Julian of the danger ("Mom's really going to do it!"). Cool. But then, he got distracted out back, then found one excuse after another not to come in, and once again, I found myself going outside numerous times to get them to come in. Very annoying while I'm trying to serve dinner (Dave was 100% occupied with a miserable baby).

Then it quickly devolved: I started to put the bikes away. Gabriel hurled blood-chilling hate words at me and slammed a door. He got timed out upstairs, refused to go, I had to drag him, he slammed another door and said more unacceptable things. Spank. Meantime, Julian is still putzing around outside. Resolve is out the window, and I am livid, glaring, shouting, blood pressure skyrocketing, situation out of control. Please, turn off those cameras.

It seems obvious what I should have done. After the warning about locking up their bicycles, I should have immediately followed through and done that. Dave said as much too -- "and that is that."

But that is not that. That starts a HUGE confrontation, far worse than what we had, resulting in them both screaming and crying and wailing at the injustice, and then washing hands and coming in for dinner is long forgotten -- they're both much too worked up to cooperate. I know this from painful experience.

Fine, they'll learn then, won't they?

Who, my boys? No way!

Where are these children that remember the lesson and apply it the next day?! (Peekskill and Saratoga, I'll be bound.)

It just turns into a major confrontation every time. I'm much better off giving in a little after I start to carry through, and using their alarm to get them to cooperate. But that's hardly reliable, as tonight proved. There just doesn't seem to be a way to win. Fully carrying through every time, and I most usually do, is extremely, extremely painful, and a huge investment that rarely yields an applicable lesson.

So I asked the boys at dinner: "What do you think we should do so that you come right in for dinner?" Gabriel said, "Well, here's what I would suggest..." (who are you, Dr. Phil?) "...just FORGET ABOUT IT!" OK, thanks. About as useful as Dr. Phil.

I talked to them about a chart...but right away, all they could talk about was the trains they imagined they'd get for the gold stars. I tried a chart once, and it completely backfired. It turned into holding gold stars over their heads, and it wasn't a very powerful incentive. Besides, it rubs me the wrong way to set up a reward system for something as basic as coming to dinner. Some things kids just have to do because that's just what kids have to do.

But how to get past these ordeals? How do I stay calm? How do I have more control?

I mused over all this as I ran off my guilt and self-doubt at Rancho San Antonio tonight. How much of the way I am is because of the way Gabriel is? And how much of the way he is is because of the way I am? Who's affecting who here? How would Stephanie or Betsy or any of my other mom friends, all of whom have far superior self-control, dignity and grace under fire, handle Gabriel? But really, that's rhetorical. How can I do it?

"If you know the why, the how will follow." More wise words, from my Dad, actually. Now if only I can connect those to "Stay calm -- you'll have more control."


p.s. As an aside, I'm totally loving this Web site Rancho Runner that Betsy told me about, one that calculates distances for routes at Rancho San Antonio.

5) Parking -> Equestrian Parking -> Coyote (west) -> High Meadow ->
Wildcat Loop (south) -> Upper Wildcat -> Wildcat Loop (east) ->
Coyote (east) -> Equestrian Parking -> Parking

Results for route: 12VWUPSTUWV21
Route Miles Up Down
12 0.29 0 30
2V 0.51 195 0
VW 0.67 0 120
WU 0.25 0 50
UP 0.90 465 0 <-- amusing, the points are labelled "UP" (and it WAS!)
PS 0.61 0 285
ST 0.12 0 20
TU 0.53 0 180
UW 0.25 50 0
WV 0.67 120 0
V2 0.51 0 195
21 0.29 30 0

Total Distance = 5.60 Miles, 860 feet of climbing

No comments: