When we made our cross-country move from the land of coastal desert to the land of lush forests, our children were fascinated with all of the sticks. They loooooved to play with sticks. Everywhere we went, they were picking them up and fashioning them as swords or arrows or other agents for impaling themselves of their siblings.
I didn't care much for this stick playing stuff.
I respectfully asked them not to do it.
Kindly at first and then, with increasing frustration.
Because I have a propensity to worry about things, I worry that one of my children will poke their eyes out. And since my cousin is married to a man who actually lost his eye as a child due to a stick incident, this fear is very legitimate for me.
Two days before school started, Elizabeth came running in to the house with a huge gash beneath her eye, that extended to the bridge of her nose. She and her sister had been - you guessed it - playing with sticks and there was an accident. I summoned all of my children and told them, "I'm not sure how to communicate this with you. PLEASE do not play with sticks. We need to be so careful because it very easily could happen that a stick could slip and poke someone's eye out."
While I communicated this message to my children, I knew full well that the chances of it sticking were slim. Pardon the pun.
A few weeks later, a similar incident happened. This time it was Henry with the gash beneath his eye. He had been "accidentally" jabbed by his sister, Carolyn, when they were outside playing.
There was another session with me, chairing the discussion of the dangers associated with stick playing and telling the children, "Guys, if I have to tell you again, I might go a little insane. DO NOT PLAY WITH STICKS and if the temptation is too great and you absolutely MUST pick up a stick, DO NOT POKE SOMEONE ELSE IN THE FACE WITH IT. OK?"
Last month, the day before I was scheduled to fly off somewhere on a business trip, we sat down to have dinner as a family. And when I looked over at William, I noticed that he had a big gash beneath his eye. "William, what happened to your eye?!" I exclaimed. "Well... he looked over at his sister and said, Carolyn tried to poke me in the eye with a stick."
When I looked over at Carolyn, she smirked at me.
That's right. THE CHILD SMIRKED. AT ME.
She had just taken a bite of her dinner when I told her to go to her room. Five minutes later, when I thought that I had sufficiently pulled myself together to go in and talk with her about this matter, I found her sitting on her bed, smiling. Clearly, whatever message I was trying to convey was being lost and/or she was trying to see just how angry she could get her mother. So instead of flipping out, which I very nearly did, I informed her that she was going straight to bed, without finishing her supper.
This absolutely stunned her and she cried. And I felt a little sense of satisfaction that maybe, just MAYBE, I had gotten through to her, because POKING PEOPLE IN THE FACE WITH STICKS IS WRONG and the fact that you've done it THREE times tells me there is a problem here. You are not going to get attention from me by acting badly. And if you think you are going to get attention from me, I'm going to remove you from the situation and you will get no attention at all whatsoever, goodnight.
I shared a little of this story, last month, on my blog.
And the very next day, I received an e-mail from my mother.
In essence, my mother wanted me to know that it was cruel to send a child to bed without their supper and I need to find a way to be kinder and gentler with my children.
To be perfectly honest, it took me a few days to recover from my mother's note. Partly because I was worried that perhaps I really was a cruel parent and even if not, people might THINK I'm a cruel parent. (For the record, if it was indeed cruel, cruelty works. In six weeks time, no one has attempted to poke anyone else in the face with a stick.) In the midst of all this, my sister called and in all of her wisdom shared with me three things.
1. It's not always easy to keep your cool when raising children.
2. Don't write about things like this on my blog because I'm just opening myself up to criticism.
3. Read this book on Positive Discipline. Then she sent me her copy.
When I received the book, I read it cover to cover and I immediately felt empowered. I started to use some of the tactics. Which, I actually had been using previously, but never knew that I had been using and that they had a name.
Things were going swell and I felt very Zen.
Until ... last week, the day after I tumbled in the parking lot and severely sprained my ankle and ripped open my hands. I had to drive myself to the doctor's office because Charlie needed to be home to pick up the children when they returned from school. After my appointment, I needed to hurry home because Charlie had to run out the door to a dentist appointment.
As I was driving home, my husband called to tell me that one of the neighbors had dropped by, with her seven-year-old daughter, and had invited all three of the triplets to her house for a play date. And because at that point, Charlie and I hadn't fully worked through our "strategy" surrounding play dates, he thought it would be a swell idea for the kids to go over, without one of us in attendance.
When he called to tell me this, I nearly swerved off the road. It was at that very moment, I realized it went against my parental instinct for our children to go on a play date without one of us.
"GO GET THEM" I said.
"What do you mean? They've only been there for 45 minutes!" he exclaimed.
"Listen," I said. "I'm very concerned that 1., we just moved in to the neighborhood and we don't really know these people and I don't feel comfortable with our children at their house, without one of us in attendance. And, 2., they have one child, we have TRIPLETS, and it would be very easy for us to overwhelm them and who knows how they are behaving without us there supervising them?"
The more I spoke, the more frantic I became.
"Charlie! You know what they're like when they go in to a NEW environment! They tend to get a little excited and if they are climbing the walls and swinging from the chandelier pretending they're Tarzan, I wouldn't be surprised. PLEASE. GO GET THEM. RIGHT NOW!" I pleaded.
"Well, Henry just went down for a nap. I can't leave," he explained.
"FINE. I'll get them on my way home."
We hung up. Fifteen minutes later, I pulled in to our neighbor's drive way, hobbled out of the car and slowly limped up to the front steps. An hour is a sufficient amount of time for a play date, I thought as I rang the doorbell and a minute later, our neighbor, an absolutely lovely woman, answered the front door. She was slightly surprised to see me, but I explained that Charlie was leaving for a dentist appointment, Henry was taking a nap, I needed to get home and put my foot up, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
She said that she'd be more than happy to bring them home in another hour or so, but you know me with me all my "issues", I politely declined.
I went to go collect my children who were playing in the basement. They were running about and playing Wii and dressing up new dolls and clearly, having the most fun they've ever had their entire lives. And here comes gimpy Mommy who is audibly groaning with every step.
"I am so glad that you guys are having a fun time," I told my children, "But it's time to go. Daddy is leaving in a few minutes for a dentist appointment, Henry is taking a nap and I really need to put my foot up." Then, I brightly added, "It will be great to get together some other time. Maybe we can invite our neighbors to our house!"
The kids didn't even look in my general direction. They completely ignored me, as I stood there, debating how to get them to put on their shoes and coats and FOLLOW before I collapsed on the floor, crying in pain.
My first attempt was to tell them that they had TWO minutes to finish playing and get ready. When two minutes were up and they were pulling more toys out of the toy box, I told them it was time to go NOW. The kids continued to play. Meanwhile, my neighbor is standing next to me, undoubtedly critiquing every move because, really - how does a handicapped woman with THREE six-year-olds who are clearly disobeying her, handle such a situation?
I did my very best to keep my cool and hope that my head didn't complete a full rotation on my shoulders as I started to count.
"ONE. TWO..." The kids don't even look at me. "THREE" I declare.
Carolyn stands up and shoots me a dirty look. Elizabeth turns her back and keeps playing. I limp over to them and hiss, "We will NOT come back if you do not GET UP AND PUT ON YOUR SHOES. IMMEDIATELY." The girls slowly oblige, while rolling their eyes and sticking out the very tips of their tongues.
SOOOO cute. I could PINCH them they are so adorable.
I limp back to William who is playing the Wii. I bend down to his eye level and firmly place my hand on his arm, "William," I continue, "It's time to go, put this down and put on your shoes, thanks for your cooperation, Little Man."
But! Instead of cooperating, my son turned a few different shades of red and started to scream. My precious son, who I cannot recall ever throwing a public tantrum and is usually very reasonable, started to jump up and down and then (God Help Me) KICKED THE NEIGHBOR'S COUCH while yelling to the whole world that he is NOT LEAVING and HE HAS THE MEANEST MOMMY EVER.
And me, being the meanest mommy ever, leaned down and glaring in to my son's eyes said between clenched teeth, "You think I'm being mean now? JUST WAIT UNTIL WE GET HOME." My face was contorted in to something from a horror show (partly from pain and partly from frustration) as I completely disregarded everything I'd learned about "POSITIVE" discipline.
It took me another three minutes to get my furiously angry children upstairs to the front door. And just as we were walking out the front door, the girls dart out the side door to the garage, jump in the daughter's 4X4 Barbie Mobile, and take off driving out of the garage and across the newly planted flower beds.
I'm absolutely aghast at their behavior and wondering if this my fault because I'm not home with them full time? Lord knows that when I'm home, I run the show like BOOT CAMP and when I say jump, the kids say HOW HIGH LOVELY MOMMY?
Clearly, this is a bad thing as the neighbor runs over and says, "Whoa, Whoa, STOP!" and then she helps them turn the wheel to get the car back in to the garage. At this point, all I can see is red. Not from embarrassment but from ANGER. My children were acting as though they were the spawn of Satan.
I'm finally able to get the kids in to the car. William is scowling. Elizabeth and Carolyn are both frowning. As for me, there might have been venom dripping down the side of my face as I looked over the back seat at them and started to UNLOAD. At first, they start to laugh thinking that I'm acting like a funny crazy nut, but then they see that my eyes are bulging out of my head and the veins in my neck are about to rupture and whoa is that Mommy's esophagus? That's when all three children actually held hands, closed their eyes tightly and evoked in my memory the scene from Toy Story 3, where the toys prepare to meet their demise before falling in to flaming pit of fire.
More and more, I hear about the no-spanking movement. People who are convinced that spanking is bad and harmful to a child and no one who loves and respects a child would EVER spank them. Before I tell you how I handled this, I'd like to hear from my fellow Pioneers as we are gathered here, around this virtual campfire.
Please, share with me what YOU would have done?
I need ALL the details.