* Little lessons

Busy busy, lots to cover. First of all, Rio ended last week with more smiles, so I had to come clean on an old promise and take him to *gasp* Burger King. Those of you who know me will realize what an altruistic act this was, for eating fast food is right up there with killing baby seals and driving an SUV in my book. But I survived the ordeal, and really didn’t mind so much, so pleased was I with little Hercules. This was by far his best week of school since the beginning of Kindergarten, so it was a worthy event.

Second of all, Christmas is fast approaching and with it comes all of my holiday angst. Have I mentioned how much I hate Christmas? Yep. Hate it. I like the idea of it, mind you, just not the actuality. And it really brings out the worst in my Evil Twin. For instance, while shopping for stocking stuffers at the dollar store, Evil Twin tried to persuade me to buy each of the little ones a vampire action figure. They were perfectly hideous! Inspired by Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Evil Twin was actually cackling with glee, right there in the store. Whenever she does that, I know I must resist. So I did, however reluctantly, and went for the toy planes instead.

Finally, I had to come to grips with the fact that I need a serious attitude adjustment. Spending part of Saturday with The Diva certainly helped. She completed her latest move by donating a large quantity of furniture and household goods to my home, and in between trips we wallowed together in our mutual humbuggery. This also gave me a chance to escape the chaos of my kid-filled home, where they were preparing a holiday pageant for the grown-ups, and waiting my return so we could finish decorating our tree. I secretly hoped they would get tired of waiting and do it without me, but to no avail. However, my afternoon with The Diva gave me the oomph I needed to face Christmas cheer with a happy face. Or maybe it was just all that rum Pa put in my eggnog, but I think I may have even enjoyed myself.

Sunday was a perfect day to recover. Rio and I started the week off right with a hike in the woods. It’s the perfect activity for today’s spiritual lesson from The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, for Sunday is the day of pure potentiality. On this day, we delight in the wonders and beauty of nature, remind ourselves that with God anything is possible, and take some time for quiet meditation. So instead of going to church, Rio and I drove on down to our favorite trailhead and did some exploring down by the river. While we were hiking I explained to him that meditating was like praying, except that praying is how you talk to God, and meditating is how you listen to him. He watched me curiously as I meditated under a grove of trees, as if he were hoping to eavesdrop on me and God.

I learned a new lesson from Rio this weekend. Saturday was kind of a hard day for him, which was a bit discouraging after such a record-breaking smiley marathon at school all week. We had endured a few meltdowns over fairly trivial requests that he flat out refused to comply with. Later that night as we were preparing to let all the kids watch a movie (The Dark Crystal, a timeless classic in my book), we asked them all to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas before we got started. Rio, however, objected to brushing his teeth on the grounds that we were supposed to get movie snacks, and his teeth would get yucky again. After we’d spent a good part of the day combating his defiant attitude, my instant response was to bristle and say “Too bad, little man. Mama said brush your teeth, so you better do what you’re told.” But instead I paused because, after all, little Hercules had a very good point. It really does make sense to brush your teeth after popcorn, rather than before. So I let it go. He happily agreed to brush his teeth after the movie, and life was good.

Those of you with any sort of inflexible-explosive child will know what an immense relief it is to narrowly escape a total meltdown. Because really, that’s exactly what was in store for us if I had insisted on absolute compliance. But I am learning that sometimes absolute compliance is just not worth it.

I know my dear husband is bristling already at that statement, so I will elaborate (we’re both having to shed some old, ingrained patterns of behavior – it’s not easy and we’re still making sense of this new approach). For years I’ve been operating under the belief that my child must always do as he is told, without back-talk and all that sass. That’s standard operating procedure from Parenting 101 – Parents Are Boss. Consequently, I’ve spent years fighting an endless battle with my little Hercules, who most certainly flunked Intro to Acceptable Behavior. He’s the sort whose automatic response to most requests, particularly those that are barked at him in the sternest of voices, is “NO!” or maybe “But I . . .” or just “BLAAAAAAAAH!”

In my old way of thinking, I got it into my head that if Rio doesn’t like to be told No, then he must need to be told No more often until he damn well gets used to it. Because when I say NO I mean NO! You heard me, Dammit! NO NO NO NO NO NO!!

Well, you can imagine how that turned out. What a disaster. This is what Dr. Greene refers to as “the parent as adversary.” However, even before I got my hands on his book, I figured out a couple of things. First, barking orders like a drill sergeant will not get good results from Rio. You are much more likely to get him to cooperate by phrasing your request as a favor: “Hey Rio, could you please do me a favor? I really need you to put these legos away so I can vacuum in here.” Or just saying please and asking in a calm, soothing voice will also do the trick. Amazing revelation, I know. It’s kinda sad how long it took me to figure that one out. But even now it’s not easy to remember when Rio has taken my last nerve and maimed it.

Secondly, Rio gets far more negative feedback than he does positive feedback, which in all fairness is because he spends quite a lot of his time doing things he’s been told repeatedly NOT to do. However, the point is that Rio doesn’t need to hear NO more often and he doesn’t need to be punished more often. There have been times when I’ve felt like all I ever do is punish the kid, and it doesn’t seem to do a damn bit of good because he’ll go right back and do it again. And again. And again. Welcome to my downward spiral of exasperation.

Instead, what Rio needs is more positive feedback, and less punishment for punishment’s sake. In other words, it’s a matter of choosing my battles, really. There are obviously some things Rio should not and cannot do under any circumstances, like play in the street or sneak into Mama’s closet and open somebody else’s present (like he did on Sat). However, some things can be negotiated, like brushing one’s teeth before you have your movie snacks, even though Mama really wanted everyone to have their teeth brushed before the movie so we could skip the post-movie rush for the bathroom when everyone’s sleepy and cranky. So, we can either induce a meltdown whenever “because I said so!” is the best reason, or we can negotiate a little bit and try to make everyone happy, even the little warrior god.

What a concept! I really should be a diplomat:)

UPDATE: Um, it occurred to me that equating SUV drivers with baby seal killers might piss some people off, so please don't take that too literally. I won't judge you if you drive an SUV, I just choose not to drive one myself (as if I could afford to! ha!). However, if you are a killer of baby seals then I will personally kick your ass. Unless you are an Eskimo and you eat or wear every last piece of said baby seal. Then I will forgive you. I'm glad I cleared that up, I feel much better now.


Blogger new_eyes said...

I'm privelged to be present and have access to this great diary at the same time. Keep it going, R.M. You are a talented writer and photographer.
Strange to say, it fascinates me how much I miss. Thank goodness I get a second chance, by having your perspective. I wish Pa would write too.
Check this out:

12/13/2004 2:41 PM  
Blogger new_eyes said...

sorry, no html i guess: http://www.dooce.com/

12/13/2004 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Renee May,

Thank you very much for this post, it was an informative post, very useful.

I'm currently researching information for children adhd, would that be a topic that you are familiar with?

If you could help point me to the right direction it would be much appreciated.

Thank you for your time and effort.

Warmest regards,
Hoe Bing

11/21/2005 10:25 PM  

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