Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/16/2010 Ten years!

Our 10th wedding anniversary today! What a joyful day it was 10 years ago, and what a so awful one today.

Anyone following Facebook knows what I mean, but for those who don't I'll brief you. In addition to work overload at work, being tired as usual, and home overload getting ready to go our weekend trip tomorrow, there's the email we got from the principal today.

Gabriel hit another kid and both were sent to the office. For once there's no ambiguity or disagreement about the story -- the other kid (a friend, or former friend he claims) did something with a ball several times that made Gabriel mad, and Gabriel punched him. His friend told on him, and they were both sent to the office to sort it out. Gabriel completely admits to this, and has no remorse at all. He was furious when I took away his remote-controlled car until Sunday though, then sent him to his room so I could talk to Dave. He completely refused to go upstairs, so I started counting additional days his car would be suspended. By the time he finally conceded, his car's timeout extended into October.

He risks suspension next time. I'm really mad!

And I'm worried: this is only the 4th week of school. By the end of 2nd grade I was just barely hanging in there, grateful for every day that passed without incident. But there's a LOT of time left for trouble in 3rd grade. And what do we do about a suspension? We need to be prepared with a serious consequence, and warn him of it as a deterrent. Yes, we also need to do all the warm fuzzy talking stuff too, but Plan B must be solidly in place.

My mind has been completely occupied with this tonight, instead of getting ready for our trip or chatting happily about our beautiful and joyful wedding 10 years ago. I hope we can leave this all behind us tomorrow. Actually, I hope I don't feel too guilty about just how quickly we will.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9/15/2010 "Natural Silliness"

I felt the dread building as I left work to pick up the kids.

I was already tired and strung out, irritated at being scolded at work for my blatant honesty about a very sensitive topic: software quality. Because, you know, we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings about....bugs. This political correctness lecture comes from someone who refers to a skilled engineer as "my girl" or who makes a comment about another high-ranking engineer's bald head in front of the whole group, or who embarrasses a manager by saying he's being sexist for referring to his team as "my guys." That stuff is all OK. But if I inform that documentation quality is "spotty" -- -breach-breach-- call Emily Post, quick! Then get condescended to for 15 minutes on how not to present the truth.

Sorry dude, what you see is what you get, I tell it straight and don't know how else to work. Pussyfooting, sugar-coating, and tiptoeing on the border of lying-by-omission wasn't in the job description. I'm about network protocol, not royal protocol.

That's far far more than I should ever post to a public blog, but this sort of thing weighs heavily on me, it's my life, and I stand by it. Even when I'm not thinking about it, it's there, churning in the background. I need chill, transition, relax time to let it go before turning to my other life at home.

But there is no such time -- from home to work, it's truly out of the frying pan into the fire.

I countered my apprehension by picturing Katrina's joyful face when she sees me, running with her arms outstretched and laughing, "MOMMYYYY!!!!" That's really fun. She's happy to see me and cooperative about going to the bathroom, washing her hands, and carrying her lunch to the car, usually in character (crocodile today). Miss Amanda says she loves drama!

But the chaos and crushing work really starts in picking up the boys. I have to tell them numerous times to get their things and go, about 1 time out of 5 storming out in anger and swearing they'll have to walk home. Other days, like today, I get diverted by a CDC careworker who's had some issues that day. She pulled me aside to talk about Gabriel.

"He's been really difficult lately," she said in a serious tone, "And nothing we do fazes him -- he just doesn't care!" She was looking for support and suggestions, and got a lot of support. For suggestions, I told her that too were at our wits' end and had no idea at all what to do. As parents we're supposed to be in control, but we relinquished that fantasy a long time ago.

Fortunately, incredibly, the boys have a Camp Day coming up on Friday. And Gabriel wants to bring a radio-controlled car that's been on timeout forever. I told him he had to be perfect tonight -- not ONE offense. If he was, then I'd talk to Dad over dinner about getting it back to him. That meant no reminding, no scolding, no telling him to stop doing something he's not allowed to do, no countdowns, no ignoring, no rude responses, and no pestering.

And he pretty much succeeded. Having this incentive turned the evening around. That and some Calvin & Hobbes books we got at the library on Sunday -- the boys are hooked ever since getting some C&H books from their cousin. The evening was far far more peaceful and manageable and .... dare I say ... almost pleasant than it has been in weeks. No one was sent out to the front porch for screaming, no one got timed out, I didn't have to chase anyone out of the room, I didn't have to take anything away. Multiple reminders sometimes, but overall it came a little closer to a normal night.

You know, I was only going to write a short paragraph tonight, but I guess I needed to dish on having a fairly normal evening. We just haven't had a lot of those. So here's what this post should have been.

At dinner, Gabriel pointed a double-barrel finger gun at Katrina and got her to put her hands up. Then he aimed at Julian and said, laughing, "Pay up, squirt!"

For some reason I found this so funny it flipped my anxious frustration into a hysterical giggle fit, which they found funny too. "Pay up squirt?!" I laughed, "Where did that come from?" (They have been reading a lot of comics lately.) Gabriel smiled at me and said, "My natural silliness!"

That's what he says anyway, but I'll take it. Finally, a day in which my own children are not my top aggravators. I think I'll channel his natural silliness some more now.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/14/2010 Minor improvement

It wasn't looking good getting home tonight with the boys, a repeat of yesterday's struggle just to get them out of the car.

But somehow it turned around; Julian went right upstairs to finish his homework packet for the week, and later Gabriel later helped him review his spelling words. To my surprise and delight, so far Julian is solid in spelling.

In fact, the old Julian who impressed us with his work diligence in kindergarten is back. He insisted on finishing his whole week's homework packet tonight, he gladly did his reading (two science books he picked himself at the school library today), and his teacher sent me a note that he finished all his work in class yesterday and was rewarded with teaching the class a song. She'd been having trouble getting him to stay focused and had to redirect him a lot (all expected stuff for new first-graders of course), but he's been much better the past two days.

No evening at the Doudna household could possibly pass without some screaming, yelling, chasing, scolding, threatening, warning, voice-raising or countdowns, but overall it went a lot better tonight.

And lucky me, I haven't grilled in weeks, but I happened to be outside grilling chicken when I heard a large whooshy jet-ish sort of sound above, and saw a large form in the air through the redwood leaves. It wasn't moving fast, maybe just a helicopter, but it didn't sound like that.

And then, a real live C-17 emerged in its magnificence, looking even more tremendous in the sky than we saw just a few weeks ago on the ground.

I called out excitedly for the boys, who came running, and we ooh'd and aah'd together as the behemoth, modestly hiding its stunning agility, nonchalantly approached Moffett Federal Airfield. The older C-130s we see fly overhead all the time seem to approach much faster. I don't know anything about jets v. props (except that it's easier for props to take off from aircraft carriers), but maybe the engine properties of this plane make a slower approach possible, or maybe the C-17 pilot, aware of his plane's awesome power, was just being polite to the appreciative -- and very thrilled -- residents below. This is only the second C-17 I've seen land at Moffett, I've seen far more F-16 fighters than this gigantic cargo plane. WAY cool.

The first C-17 we saw from home (May 2009), before I knew I'd see this plane fly in an airshow a few weeks later and be blown away. At the time, this first C-17 sighting was so impressive that I grabbed my camera:

Then the C-17 we saw at the airshow at Edwards AFB last year. I got to meet the pilot a few weeks ago at the Watsonville airshow (unfortunately the demos were grounded due to a recent crash in Alaska).

Come to think of it, that's what pulled the boys out of their obnoxiousness and turned the evening around into a relatively tolerable one. Thanks, C-17. Fabulous, functional, and great timing.


Monday, September 13, 2010

9/13/2010 Athletic Feat

Yay! Katrina can finally, finally, climb up and down a barstool herself. And she's very proud of it!

She's been so adorable and fun and delightful. Tantrums are no longer a daily thing, and she's cooperative and cheerful about doing the few things we ask (like putting lunch or shoes away), and super happy playing with everything else, or just chatting together. This is total fun!

I had an amusing conversation with another mom at preschool today. I made a comment about her daughter's cute funky outfit, laughing, "Hey, cool psychedelic pants, Alison!" The girl's pants were brightly colored with lots of designs, and matched her T-shirt; it was really cute. Her mother rolled her eyes semi-joking and said, "Now that she insists on picking her clothes, that's what we end up with!" I answered in partial corroboration, "Hey believe me, I know -- Katrina picks all her clothes and we end up with this --" pointing to her purple striped shirt paired with dark-blue flowered leggings (changed after she got home to brown polka dots). "Oh I know," answered the mom, "Doesn't that make you crazy?!"

Uh, no, not at all. Compared to what her brothers put us through in the mornings, the fact that she picks her own clothes and usually puts them on herself is downright delightful. And I really, truly do not care that her pants and shirt don't match. If I even notice, I think it's funny.

The boys meantime...the painful saga continues. Starting at 5:30am today. Since we instituted a "no toys after 6:30am" rule, Gabriel made sure to get up extra-special early today to drop marbles on the wooden floor, waking the rest of the house except Julian who was already forced awake by the lights on. Needless to say, the "after 6:30am" concession was nixed immediately for "AT ALL until you're COMPLETELY ready for school." And add to that, "No lights on until 6:30am" -- it's just not fair to the other brother.

Gabriel was nonplussed when I informed him of this development in the car on the way back from school, so the resistance picked up right where it left off even before we got into the house. I'm finding that the video camera goes a long way toward improving their behavior -- and mine, because I'm certainly going to save my screaming like a lunatic and losing control for off-camera.

Here's Gabriel deliberately refusing a direct order, and losing 20 minutes of playtime as a consequence.

(Could I just leave him in the car? Sure, it's safe in our cushy suburban neighborhood. But what if it weren't? What if we lived where my sister does, where the car is in a parking lot and you have to go through two locked gates to get to your door? And what if you think your kid just needs to do as he's asked? What if you need to move on with the evening without getting stuck at the first step? I'd already tried ignoring him for a few minutes, to let the situation defuse, but if that goes on too long then I find him playing outside and ignoring me. It is not too much of an imposition on his childhood to ask that he get out of the car, put his lunch and knapsack away, and start his homework -- which he could easily have chosen to do after school.)

Here's Gabriel later when I attempt to implement that consequence.

I'm glad to say that the camera put the kibosh on most of his rude comments, but sorry to say that both interactions ended up with palm-on-butt; the second time because he said something so offensively rude I'm too ashamed to post it.

Half the people who hear and read about our issues think we're being too soft, and the other half think we're being too harsh. Some say that he needs more attention; others say he needs more consequences. In the old days, there was consensus on how to raise children, and that's not necessarily better. I'm glad that spanking isn't a way of life for all kids anymore, but I'm sorry that it's viewed as so extreme that you're categorized as old-school, intolerant or unwilling to consider modern methods. I don't think spanking or raising your voice is necessary or desirable for most children (Katrina), but I do think that some children need very very strong measures (Julian). No one seems to know what to do with this one who rises to the challenge, embraces conflict, and meets you every step of the way.

If you do think of something, replace the part where you say "and that's IT" with "and that STARTS it," and you'll see the problem. There is no "and that's IT." Every consequence leads to another reaction and more escalation.

It was a better night for me though. I mostly kept my cool, though I was furious at having to literally put Gabriel to bed -- undress him, force him into the bath, brush his teeth, pull him out of the bath, put his pajamas on, since even after having his current favorite toy put away (the noisy morning marbles) he had nothing to lose and resisted and refused every single step. When I offered him a book to read in bed, he retorted, "Yes, a book called 'Why Are Moms Stupid'!" and I left.

This child is going to change the world, for better or worse, starting by changing me.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/12/2010 Negativity

I know I seem negative about child-raising sometimes. People who know me well know that's mostly just the way I talk, that in fact I tend to be optimistic and positive about life in general, but I also am the first to look for the flaw in a plan too.

Lately it's been difficult to be anything but negative about the boys. Everything, and I do mean everything, we do has become a huge struggle with them. Every step of the day can be a fight, and every consequence carried out only escalates.

Even the one thing I could count on is gone with Gabriel: getting out of the bath. It used to be that a cup of cold water would put a quick end to his defiance about getting out, but no longer. Tough-cookie that he is, his willingness for conflict is stronger than the normal human dislike of sudden cold.

It's really bringing Dave and me down. We try to find measures that are consistent and that get them to comply with a request quickly, without the painful ramp-up and without all the screaming and yelling, on both sides. We try to give them warnings, we try talking to them when it's not in the heat of the moment, we try separating them, we try compromising, we try not compromising at all and being absolute, immediately. But every conflict has its own parameters, and no one approach works in every situation. Often no approaches work at all and we find ourselves in a massive hysterical conflict that started with something as simple as putting shoes away. We can expect both being furious, overwhelmed, frustrated and miserable.

Today was no different. It started off badly even before anyone was dressed. The boys got into a fight, Gabriel whacked Julian and made him scream, Gabriel got something taken away, and then the trouble really started. I had to put him outside on the porch because of unbearable high-pitched screeching, which he does specifically to punish us (he doesn't have Julian's vocal strength but it's still awful), and then when he was outside he started ringing the doorbell incessantly. Spanking, back outside, then more doorbell-ringing and banging on the door. More spanking, more threats, more yelling, more scolding, more conflict, more incredible unpleasantness -- all at 7:30am before I've even woken up. When I let him back in, he rushed at me with a raised fist.

The whole day doesn't go like this of course, but even just 10 minutes of it is too much. I got Gabriel to recover from the morning conflict by talking to him in the kitchen (it wasn't easy, I had to get Katrina out). He says blood-chilling things like that he just wants to kill himself, that he hates being alive, that he'll find a machine gun and shoot himself. But if he's sitting talking to me telling me this, then with enough time I can talk to him and get him out of it. I tell him I know how he feels, that it's OK to be really angry, and ask him if there are other ways he can express that anger, and make suggestions. I tell him he can't hit Julian like he does, even when Julian makes him really really mad.

While I talked to him, I was making biscuits, where there's plenty of opportunity to divert the conversation to more pleasant things. "Oh, can you push that flour over here? thanks." Or, "Do you think that's 1/2 an inch high?" By the time the biscuits were baked, Gabriel only wanted to kill Julian, not himself, and he was on track for the moment. He liked the biscuits though there were sort of plain.

I had offered to take the boys to the BMX park today, but decided I had to take that away because they were being so awful. One place we had to go was the library, as Gabriel has his "September" book report due. I reminded the boys before we entered the library that they had to be good here, and was met with rude, "AAUUUGHHHH MOM -- I'm NOT LISTENING! WE **KNOW*** !!!"

But a miraculous thing happened. Not only were they really good in the library, they were both mostly much better for the rest of the day too. The immediate conclusion is "oh they must be bored!" and that could be part of it, but that's not the whole picture.

When it was time to get ready for dinner, I let Julian know ahead of time, and asked him to go wash his shirts, then get ready for dinner. He completely ignored me, but I was cooking so couldn't deal with it right away. I knew that following through with this simple request would likely be a huge fight again, so I got the camera to document it. Dear readers, I do not make this stuff up!

However, the presence of the camera drastically improved his reactions. He still ignored me, but he didn't launch right into his screaming rude objections. This was the best he's been in days reacting to my asking him to do something.

Why is this? Why do we seem to have such a harder time with them than other parents? Or maybe that's not true, and I'm just more negative or brought down by it?

I really do think that 70% of it is Gabriel. Julian is no innocent, but he's more impressionable and open-minded, and is egged on a lot by Gabriel. Without Gabriel, Julian's troubles decrease somewhat. Gabriel, on the other hand, is is own man and I think conflicts with him would exist pretty much as is, no matter who else is involved. His hyperactive pest mode is created by having others around, but his will for conflict is his own. His independence and toughness is extraordinary, and he's extraordinary in several ways, but as I've said many times, that does not make him easy to live with. In this particular phase of life, it's a real downer.

But we have a very very bright spot in all this. Without this bright spot, Dave and I both would be feeling like this whole parenting thing was a total bust, except for our delightful joyous darling daughter.

I don't know if Katrina is sensing that her brothers are sending us over the edge and she's milking it, but she's been the picture-perfect charming child lately. She's fun to talk to, she makes up characters and stories and is fun to listen to talk about it. She likes to be silly, and she likes to be serious, asking me about what I'm doing in the kitchen or anything else. She likes to sit and play with a calculator, finding sums with great joy "Look Mommy, 8 + 3 is ELEVEN!!!". She's been huggy and affectionate and saying "Daddy, I love you!" out of the blue. She's cooperative when we ask her to do something, and while we might have to remind her to put her shoes away a few times, she does it sweetly.

What a drastic difference. It's like a completely different universe. Scolding, warning, taking things away, spanking -- all completely unthinkable with her. She still has her tantrums from time to time, but they're toddler-type tantrums (and I hate those), they're not ones you can respond to the same way as defiant-kid conflicts.

Yesterday I took her to a birthday party for a pre-K classmate. It was nice chatting with other moms and being in a happy-child place for a while.

Katrina was very impressed with the pilot with the purple plane at the Watsonville airshow two weekends ago, a pilot named Vicky Benzer. She plays with this cardboard roll plane and makes it flip around the way Vicky did, and talks about Vicky the pilot. Quite the role model!

I'm filled with guilty relief at the weekend being over.