Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three and one

Every so often, when I'm out and about with the kids, someone asks me their ages.  "Three and one," I say.  The look of profound pity I receive always startles me a bit.  Sometimes I wonder if they'll hug me in commiseration.  Sometimes they just say, "You must stay busy."  Which, of course, I do.

One, I knew was hard.  Marko was hard at one.  From twelve to eighteen months he was unstoppable and into everything and wouldn't take no for an answer.  And then from eighteen to twenty-four months he wouldn't nap and wouldn't go to bed and collapsed in a puddle of tears if you said no to him.  He threw tantrums lasting into two hours.  I thought he must be a difficult toddler to make up for having been such an easy baby.

Nope.  Michael was a much more high-needs baby, and he is even more into everything than Marko was!  He's fifteen months today, and he never stops except when he's sleeping.  He can scale onto the couch, over the arm of the couch, and onto John's desk to grab his computer in about four seconds.  This morning I heard yowling coming from the bedroom, and then Michael toddled out carrying the cat.  He pulls vegetables and likes to take a single bite out of every unripe plum.  My one consolation is that he cannot yet open doors, but I am sure he'll figure it out very soon.

But with all that, he is very good natured, usually happy (unless you take away something he wants; then he flings himself on the floor dramatically and wails) and relatively predictable.  He doesn't yet talk much, but he makes himself understood well enough and isn't often frustrated with his vocabulary of "ba" and "shyah," which two words he manages to use to describe everything.  He certainly understands us fine.  For instance, he'll go to the door and say "shyah," which in context must mean outside.  So I say, "No, you can't go outside, you're not wearing any clothes."  Next thing I know he toddles into the bedroom and comes back with a shirt and pants.  "Shyah!"

Michael is exhausting, but he's cute and charming and likes to hug, so it's not so bad.

Marko, though, is hard in completely different ways.  I wasn't expecting this.   I thought three was supposed to be easy.  My mom said it was.  But then she said two was hard, and Marko was delightful pretty much the whole time he was two.  I guess he's on an opposite schedule from my siblings or something.

All I know is, the kid who used to get very excited every time I asked him to do something, now has learned to say that no, he will NOT clean up this mess.  And furthermore, he will empty out the diaper basket onto the floor.  And then come up and spit on me.

It's something of a shocker.  I have been off balance for a couple of weeks, so startled I am at my formerly agreeable kid.  He hits, he makes guns out of everything, he pushes Michael to the ground.  He empties drawers and bookshelves onto the floor.  In the middle of a standoff with me about something else, he pees his pants while laughing maniacally.  Sometimes he is so far in fantasyland he seems not to hear what I am telling him at all.

At first I just tried yelling louder, being firmer, taking all his toys away, sending him to his room.  The trouble with the room thing is that he universally dumps out anything that can be dumped in there, and then he pees on the floor.  This is a child who has been (more or less) potty trained since Christmas.  I can't figure out if he's doing it to be defiant, or if, in all the screaming and sobbing and raging about how he doesn't like being in his room, he just loses control.  But at any rate it does not help my patience.  And anyway it wasn't helping at all.  The second he got back out, he was right back to the misbehavior.

So I tried to step back and observe.  To try to be absolutely calm, and to watch.  When was he doing this annoying behaviors?  What was I doing when he was doing them?  How was I reacting, and was that helping?

Well, what I learned was embarrassing.  It would go like this.  I would ignore him most of the time.  Michael would be getting into everything, dumping everything, digging in the litterbox, dancing on the table, and I was paying attention to Michael, getting him out of those things, and then trying to get back to whatever I was trying to do (computer, housework, whatever).  But the more I dealt with Michael and his mess, the more frustrated I got, so my temper would be eroding more and more.  Then Marko would make a mistake, usually something really unintentional like spilling something or having an accident.  And I would snap and scream at him.  I wasn't keeping track of who was doing what bad thing, so I would think "the kids are being bad, this is the millionth awful thing they've done."  Only it would only be the first thing Marko had done.

Once I started yelling at Marko, that's when the bad behavior would come out.  It was like he was practicing passive resistance on me.  He would tune me out, ignore me, sing when I was trying to talk to him, wander off.  And if that didn't work, he'd try being actively destructive or aggressive.  Obviously he wasn't getting very much out of this approach, but he was getting some attention and he was getting back at me for yelling at him.

I've figured out the calmer I am with him, the better he listens.  I have to be calm, or his brain shuts off and he just opposes me.  This has been very difficult, because with the amount of trouble the two of them make, I get very frustrated very fast.  When I've spent time cleaning, it's hard to see spilled dirt as an innocent mistake.  It feels like deliberate sabotage, and I start shrieking.

But children are little mirrors and they reveal to us all our faults.  Marko hasn't just learned phrases like "what the freaking heck" and "I hate this."  He's also giving me back the level of negativity and anger that I give him.

Now, that isn't all of it.  Some of it, I think, is just boundary testing.  I am not really sure what to do about that.  Do I step up the "punishment" side of discipline and send him to his room more?  It seems to backfire.  Or do I try to give him more control -- won't that create an even worse monster than I have?

I've been experimenting with different approaches, and finding a few that work.  One is giving him a choice.  At two, he collapsed in indecision if I tried to make him choose between a red shirt and a blue shirt.  At three, he will readily pick between walking to the bathroom and being carried there or between putting his truck away himself or having me do it.

The other is basically the trick I did when he was a toddler Michael's age.  I didn't punish him -- I made it impossible for him to misbehave.  If he was misbehaving with a toy (i.e. hitting the dog with it) I took it away.  If he was misbehaving in a certain room, we left the room.

That sort of thing isn't the main issue now; it's more a question of him following instructions, like "clean up the diapers you just dumped on the floor."  I decided that cleaning up messes he makes on purpose is a non-negotiable.  First, because I will be tempted to violence if he spends his time dumping stuff and watching me clean it up.  And second, because he'll dump less stuff if he has to be the one to pick it up.  So I'm resorting to a technique I thought I'd never use, "hand over hand."  In other words I take his arms and "make" him do the chore.

This could be awful, and I thought it would be awful.  I thought he would fight me and it would be a huge battle.  But in fact he always cooperates with this.  I give him a choice, "Clean it up, or I will help you clean it up."  Usually he chooses to do it himself, but sometimes he chooses to have me help him, so I hold his hands and "help" him.  I'm not sure what the appeal in this is for him.  Maybe he felt uncertain about how to do the chore, and having me direct him makes things clear.  Or maybe it's like a game to be operated like a puppet.  And maybe all he really wanted was my full attention.

Which leads me to the preventative stuff, which means giving him attention proactively instead of only reactively.  There have been stages in his life when he didn't need a whole lot of attention, and if he needed it, he would come and demand it.  Lately if I wait for him to demand it, it's already too late.  These days he really does better if I spend Michael's nap reading to him, like I used to when he was a new big brother.  I realize that sibling rivalry is becoming a bigger issue lately, as Michael gets into his toys or interferes with his games.  He needs extra love right now, and he's getting it.  I'm also trying to get out of the house more, heat not withstanding, because he is somewhat bored and understimulated (which leads to a lot of destructiveness right there, as he tries to find new uses for old toys).

I also have to supervise him a lot more closely when he's playing with Michael.  Michael is no longer the easygoing baby who readily gave up one toy for another.  He now has demands and can be rough.  I often see (now that I am watching carefully) Michael grab a toy from Marko, right before Marko decks him.  While the aggression isn't okay, it's not out of nowhere.  So I'm hovering a bit more, trying to prevent Michael from encroaching, and trying to coach Marko: "See, he's not trying to take your toy, he's trying to show you his.  Maybe he would like to trade?  Uh-oh, he's tugging at yours -- would you like to go into your room so he doesn't try to take it?"  I am not trying to remove the conflict so much as teach Marko what responses are and aren't okay.  He's getting much better at it.

For the rest, I'm trying to go to bed early, drink tea in the morning (I am afraid I am now addicted to it, sigh), get breaks when I can, do housework early in the day while the kids are mellower so I'm not scrambling to finish it in the evening when they're being awful, stop getting into Facebook debates so much, and overall nourish my mental health.  Because lately I've needed to have a LOT of patience, and I can't be running on empty.

Together they weigh 70 lbs.  This is not the sort of thing you can do while running on empty.

(Oh, and in this picture you can see that I have recently gotten a new haircut AND a new cat.  The cat is named Keva and she is John's cat.  Sadly she does not get along well with my cat.)


Enbrethiliel said...


Gosh, Sheila. I don't really know what to say. I'm happy that you've found your equilibrium again, of course, but I have no practical advice or even similar experiences to share. And I don't want this thread to resemble a Facebook debate timesuck. ;-)

But this might be relevant and interesting to you, so I'll go ahead . . . Last week or so, Mrs. Darwin wrote about feeling really exhausted now that she is pregnant with Baby #6, and a commenter left her a link to a post which compared modern housewives' exhaustion to the ease with which their counterparts from 100 years ago ran their homes. The writer argued that the nuclear family model, while characteristic of the American ideal of "rugged individualism," really will exhaust women who can't ask for help. In the past (and in other cultures today) women have helped each other and got by; these days, a woman is more likely to ask her husband than another woman for help.

Now, I didn't agree with the writer's conclusion that deviating from the women-helping-women model and asking your husband to pitch in is a bad thing. But coming from another culture, where it's still quite common to have live-in help, I have seen what a HUGE difference it makes for a full-time housewife to have an extra set of hands just for the housework, or for watching the children for a few hours so that she can do that housework. The stereotype of a woman with a nanny is someone who doesn't want to spend time with her children, but I've seen some very hands-on mothers who still want a nanny around because a full night's sleep is no joke. It's not an abdication of parenting, but a fully functional tag-team.

In any case, I think that we can all agree that housework is simply epic, and if it had been the thirteenth labour of Hercules, it would have been what had finally broken him.

PS -- Does Marko's shirt read, "Seize the sleep?" ;-) That's my motto these days!

Sheila said...

I would like to read that article -- it might make me feel less like a failure!

Husbands are wonderful for helping out at home, and it's great for kids to spend time with their dads. But expecting one's husband to take up all the slack is setting HIM up to feel like a failure too, because he's gone a minimum of eight hours a day and has to come home to a litany of all the things that went wrong because he wasn't there.

So yes, "alloparents" or helpers would sure help. The trouble with nannies, though, is who's taking care of the nanny's kids? I don't want it to be a class thing, where the rich children get two moms and the poor children get none. Extended family is better. We see huge amounts of depression both in teenagers and in the elderly. Could it be because they don't have enough to do? I think there is something seriously wrong with a world where I can see, commenting on the same internet thread, women saying "oh, poor me, I am single and what I wouldn't give to hold a baby for a few hours in the evening," and women saying, "oh, poor me, I have three children and what I wouldn't give for someone to hold my baby for a few hours in the evening"!

I know when I was a teenager, it was my little brother who pulled me out of severe depression. Just the thought that I was NEEDED by a small person made all the difference. And my mom felt *her* life was saved in turn by having me around to share the work, even on the side of the other things I was doing like schoolwork.

And yet, with all my talk about extended family, what have I done about it? We live in a different state from either family, and haven't so much as applied to a job in the places where any of them live. We want to live here, and I guess that trumped living next door to my parents. Hardly a week goes by that my mom and I don't moan about how nice it would be to be able to trade off kids, but she wants to live in Washington and I want to live in Virginia, so there we are.

I don't know how to restore this sort of community living. I do know what we use today to replace it: machines. From the baby swing when your arms get tired, to the TV so you can shower without your toddler destroying anything. And then we wonder why people grow up caring more for machines than people!

Tiffany said...

Your hair looks so pretty!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is comforting at all, but the peeing in defiance thing was common for #1 and #2 at my house at age, you guessed it, 3. #2 also throws things. We'll give him back his beloved stuffed hippo at the end of the day if he throws it down the stairs, but if he rips all the sheets off his bed, he either remakes the bed or sleeps on the itchy mattress pad. We do not help -at all. We have carried dirty diapers out to the trash for over a year though - I would not want to risk THAT.

We are just about done with diapers! Shew!

Enbrethiliel said...


Your comment about having a nanny turning into a class thing hits home for me. Almost literally! My family has employed at least one woman who took the job so that she could provide for her own children; she lived with us and wired the money back home to them.

I also ache for community living--or what I've started calling "shared experience"--but I don't know what to do about it any more than you do. Well, I'm reconsidering my decision to have only two witnesses at my wedding so that my family won't be in my hair. Does that count? ;-) Not that there's even a groom on the horizon or anything . . .

This is the article I told you about:

Sheila said...

Thanks, Tiffany!

Momsomniac, how long did it take for them to grow out of it? I should have said, clean cloth diapers ... he hasn't tried to dump dirty ones, thank goodness! Though he did poop on the couch last week, but I don't think it was on purpose. :P

If you figure out the secret of community living, I want to know. I've tried getting to know my neighbors, but they don't seem to want to know me. And my friends live far away. I started a Facebook group for exchanging favors, but nobody uses it. I guess no one wants to admit they have needs. It's a very shameful thing these days to admit you don't have it all together.

My first tentative step has been this: when I'm out and about, when I see the pitying looks (I get that a lot) and people start offering to carry that for me, get that door for me, put the cart back for me ... I'm going to SAY YES. Not because I need it, because I don't -- I know how to manage with these kids. But because if I always say no, they'll stop offering, and then maybe they won't offer help to some other poor mom who DOES need an extra pair of hands.

It's a start. Although it's embarrassing to me because it makes me feel like they think I can't handle having two kids. I just have to suck it up and put on my grateful face. Really, I am thankful people here are so helpful and I should let them do it.

Anonymous said...

It didn't take long for the angry peeing phase to end - maybe a few months, max. But we had to stop changing them immediately and start handing them cloths to clean up behind themselves.

We did end up changing them within the hour, and of course we did have to clean behind them, but that seemed to go a long way towards communicating that defiant peeing was in no one's interest.

The angry throwing thing still goes on. It's decreased but for Son 2, not going to crazytown when he's upset is going to be a lifelong effort. What helps with that is again, having him clean his own messes, and simply getting older and wanting to not be "that" guy. He's Prince Charming when he's happy.

I know the community living question was for your other friend, but...

We recently started using in my community and it's been great. I like that the same technology that broke us apart is helping us get back together. I do live in a very friendly neighborhood to start with (YAY) but Nextdoor has opened up more possibilities.

If I lived anywhere near you, I'd help, and that's just from getting to know you on-line. If you are anything in real life like you are here, you ought to be able to build a community of caring parents/people to share the effort.

And don't be afraid to ask child-free female friends if they would like to help - sometimes they are only childfree due to having no appropriate partner and cherish the chance to participate in the life of a child. I know I did.

The little boy I looked after in my mid-30s(for free - because I wanted a kid and was single and it just wasn't going to happen that way) is 15 now, and is still my friend! I had a friend who did this for my oldest boy for a few years. She moved away, but it brought her GREAT joy to be part of his life when she could.

Hugs to you. Your boys are beautiful!

Sheila said...

If I had childfree friends right down the road, they would totally be over here all the time. Sadly ... I don't have a whole lot of friends within an hour, with or without kids.

I should look up that website. I'd be curious to see if anyone here uses it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...