Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1/13/10 The Favorite Child

Parents aren't really allowed to have favorites, though of course we do have preferences for ages, stages, and certain situations.

Today Katrina was our easiest and most agreeable child.

Charming. 13 minutes later, she was still in full swing, but I was able to settle her down about 25 minutes into it.

Though she's outraged about the camera, the screaming is exactly what she was doing before she noticed the camera; the object of her rage just shifts to the camera while it's there. In fact, sometimes the camera gives her a graceful exit: I "concede" by putting it away, and she calms down. Not tonight though. I love how she squeezes her eyes shut as though then the camera can't see her.

I still marvel at the "oh just ignore the tantrum" advice. No one can talk, hear or think during these episodes. 25 minutes of that screaming, folks! That's a very very long 25 minutes!

However, semi-ignoring her -- that is, pretending to ignore her -- did help get her out of it. Or at least, robbed her of fuel to keep it going. But it's not "oh just ignore" -- it's exhausting, labor-intensive, frustrating and very very annoying.

And the family dinner concept? Fiction!

But this was peanuts compared to the blowout with the boys this morning.

We didn't even exactly have the usual problem of the boys not getting dressed this morning. I wanted to avoid that today, so I essentially dressed them. It infuriates me that I have to put socks on my almost 8-year-old, but I swallowed it today to keep them moving.

But Gabriel was in a serious snit about something. He kept hollering -- screaming at Julian if Julian made any sound at all. Julian figured out fast that he could control his brother, and made as many annoying sounds as he could, that were just under the "unacceptable" threshold. Gabriel was shouting, threatening and being unbearable, and I had to tell him to hush up numerous times and remind him he had 2 minutes left to finish breakfast.

When breakfast time was up (neither boy finished), I instructed Gabriel to go straight upstairs to brush his teeth. Instead, he followed Julian into the downstairs bathroom and again started to shout and accuse him, provoking the umpteenth fight.

That defiance pushed me over the edge, and I gave him a (ok, several) sound swat on his crocodile-hide rear end. GO UP STAIRS!!! I fumed. He slipped and fell, and started bawling that he'd hurt his back. Uh-huh. I had to force him upstairs and brush his teeth for him, then he started complaining that he'd swallowed too much toothpaste and his tummy ached. He was crying so hard that he started to cough -- and he does have a slight cough from having been sick the last 2 days -- and cough more, and choke. Then he'd pause and go right back into defiance, insults, refusal, unbelievable rudeness.

Disgusted, I ordered him to get his knapsack and get in the car, and turned my attention to Katrina -- who is the only one who should need any help, since she can't reach or open everything she needs.

Katrina was sweet and cooperative and happily bounded into the car. I strapped her in, wiped off the windows, sat down, started the boys. They were standing inside defiantly, refusing to get in the car. I was livid when I stormed back inside, then shoved them both onto the porch. I threw Gabriel's jacket and knapsack into his arms and said with death dripping from my voice "G E T I N T H E C A R >> NOW!!!<< "

Gabriel was a mess. Bawling and hyperventilating and crying, he had finally conceded. Julian shifted into concern for his brother, since he was so out of control. I had no sympathy at all and focused my attention on driving safely while my blood pressure soared, counting the nanoseconds until I could send my two rats scurrying out of the car. Gabriel carried on and on and on, bawling and complaining, even after I'd dropped him and Julian off. I heard Julian say, "Gabriel, I'll help you walk if you need it." Good riddance.

This month since I'm not working, I've been dropping Katrina at preschool first, then the boys at school, but we were too late today. I gritted my teeth and inched my way through the school traffic, dropped the boys off (on time), then emerged to get Katrina to preschool. I lingered with her, since she was still being sweet and funny and adorable, and my working-parent guilt was taking hold. "Is Dad at work?" she asked. "Dad is always at work, work, work!" Ouch.

But it wasn't over yet.

I drove straight home, and there was a message from the school. "Gabriel's here in the nurse's office." Apparently, a parent saw him standing on line outside his classroom, and he was coughing and crying and still carrying on, so she kindly brought him to the office. No doubt with a very poor opinion of this poor child's mother. (Actually, the poor child's shaken mother also had a very poor opinion of herself at the time.)

I called the office, and to my surprise, the office staffworker I talked to was sympathetic and understanding when my response to her description of Gabriel's plight was an unfeeling, "Uh-huh...I'm not buying it." I explained that he had plenty of energy this morning to yell repeatedly at his brother, and it all turned around when I forced him to brush his teeth -- that he does have a slight cough and he's been out the past two days, but he's not sick anymore. She suggested he hang in the office for about 10 minutes, then she'd send him to class, and see how it goes.

I called about half an hour later, and she said, "He's fine, he went to class, I called his teacher and explained everything." I was very grateful! I also called the CDC to give them background in case Gabriel came up with a tummy-ache, and called again after school to see how he was. "He's in true form," was the answer. In other words, bounding good health and tormenting Julian as usual.

On the way home tonight, Gabriel asked for a Nintendo DS (a hand-held video game). I laughed a genuine laugh. "Are you kidding?????? No kid whose mommy has to put his underpants on for him in the morning gets a video game! Absolutely, positively, definitely, completely, totally, utterly NO!!!"

I hate these blowouts, and I hate losing control. But what was I to do? I guess I could have backed down and comforted him when he finally conceded. He even demanded in the car on the way to school, "CARE for me, Mom!" But I was too mad. Dave and I are absolutely fed up with how difficult it is to get them going in the morning, and something has to change. Julian's putziness is still mostly just incredibly annoying, but these full-scale battles with Gabriel tip over into true stress, and weigh on me all day.

Consequences, anyone?

Today I wrote down the number of minutes each boy delayed getting dressed and downstairs (even though I dressed them), which will be subtracted from the next computer game time they get (which will be a while). Gabriel gets no computer game time at all on Saturday for the tooth-brushing detour (not that he gets computer time every Saturday anyway, so unfortunately that's sort of weak). And both had to go upstairs to get ready for bed at 7:30 tonight, sharp, hard deadline no matter what.

The boys actually went about their homework and dinner without too much trouble. Katrina picked up the slack though, resurrecting her old pre-dinnertime tantrums. But her 25-minute screamfest was in the noise compared to what I'd endured with the boys this morning.

Dave got home a little earlier than usual, and we worked the evening around the 7:30 deadline. And this worked well tonight -- very well. I didn't care if homework didn't get finished, or sharing presentations didn't get properly rehearsed, or if birthday invitations didn't get addressed. 7:30 upstairs, 8pm lights off, sharp, period. I hate to run this household like a military institution, but maybe that's what's needed.

Hmm -- some "punishment"! Somehow since we were so firm about bedtime (which meant there was no fun or games or laughing, something I missed), they were mostly calm throughout it, and went right to sleep. (Oh yeah, except when Julian ran out a deadline to get undressed and got put in the bath with his clothes on.) This is how it should be every day! I've believed for a while they need to get to bed earlier, but haven't set a hard time to drop everything and get ready.

Maybe this morning's blowout was an important wakeup call (no pun intended), a dress rehearsal, for the crushing logistics that we will face starting February 1st. What I spit out in anger as a consequence this morning -- "you're both going upstairs at 7:30 tonight no matter what" -- should take hold as permanent routine around here.

I don't say this often, but tonight, I really could use a drink. Motherhood was not good to me today.


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