It's been a hectic couple of weeks, what with trying to get my house fully decluttered by next weekend for this holiday potluck we're hosting, and with lots of crafting for the several craft fairs I'm in, and with lots of exciting things going on with Heritage Makers and my new clients, plus all of the usual craziness which abounds in my life. And don't forget it's the holiday season, and the kids are old enough to start hitting that CRAZY-EXCITED level... but then the weather is also turning colder, and everyone's stuck in the house, and boredom sets in; especially when mom's attention is otherwise occupied. And my attention has been everywhere but on my kids lately, thanks to the factors I mentioned mere moments ago. So they've spent a lot of time behaving exactly like you'd expect a 3 and 5 year old with limited parental interaction to behave; which is, to say, like a pack of wild animals. I do a lot less intervening and a lot more yelling than I'd like. As a result, I set myself down yesterday and had a nice chat with myself, at the end of which we decided that we... I mean, I... would make a concerted effort to banish yelling from my repertoire of disciplinary actions. After all, Michelle Duggar never seems to speak above a whisper, and look at how well-behaved those kids are! The crazy baby-making homeschooling mom hiding inside me wants so badly to emulate her family at times, you see.
The problem is, I'm not sure I'm wired to be a Michelle Duggar. Yelling is something I grew up with, something that seems to come naturally to me, a family trait, if you will. Most of the people in my family communicate primarily with raised voices; I'm not sure some of us know HOW to talk softly. Whispering is a lost art amongst my clan.
Then comes problem two: if I can't yell at my wild beasts, how DO I discipline them?? Beat the hell out of them? That doesn't exactly fit the vision of "kinder, gentler mother and happier family" that frolics in the fragrant meadows of my brain. This is how it's SUPPOSED to work: I stop yelling and communicate with them by speaking gently and politely requesting things of them, and they immediately appreciate my soft demeanor and pleasant tone and behave like lovely little Duggar clones.
This is how it works in reality: I politely and softly ask my children to do something, say, be quiet and occupy themselves at my parents' house while I finish the last bit of crafting I need to do for the craft fairs this weekend. They don't even acknowledge that I was speaking to them, and immediately start getting into things. They chatter nonstop and bicker and nitpick and knock the Christmas train off its tracks and we've been there five minutes and I have an hour's worth of work to do and already my parents are asking me pointedly "um, SO, how long are you staying today??" with a 'please get the hell out of here with your demon minions' tone to their voices. I am growing exasperated when, like magic, the kids settle down for a little while. I start working frantically and suddenly they want snacks, everyone wants snacks, multiple snacks, hot chocolate and ice cream (the MOOOON one!) and peanuts and rolos and pudding and kit kats and naturally, Grandma has all of this, and it's all stocked within easy reach of my children, who are adept at helping themselves. But they are NOT so adept at remembering that they now have to eat in Grandma's kitchen and can no longer eat downstairs while watching TV because Grandma has a new rug. AND IT'S WHITE. So then I find myself repeatedly asking my darlings to eat at the kitchen table, and I check on them periodically and all is going well until I realize that the plate of Cheetos, BRIGHT ORANGE PUFFY CHEETOS, that I just made for them a second ago is NO LONGER AT THE KITCHEN TABLE, and neither are my angels. "ARE THOSE CHEETOS DOWNSTAIRS??!" Crap. I just failed my self-imposed 'no yelling' rule. But I knew it would take work to break a lifelong habit, and the good news is I caught myself and remembered that I was making a concerted effort to be MLM (More Like Michelle). I correct my children, more gently this time, and the Great Cheetos Crisis of 2009 is successfully averted. But Drake is eating a giant grape Tootsie Pop (yes, at the same time as his Cheetos), and for some reason Grandma allows him to finish it downstairs. 'OK,' I think, 'it's HER rug after all.' But then a few minutes later Grandpa catches him wandering around on the new rug, dropping sticky grape sucker-bits all over, and nearly blows a gasket. Grandma quickly advises that she allowed this to happen, but clearly it was a bad idea, so Drake is ordered back upstairs. By now my stress levels are rising, all I want to do is finish my damn craft tiles so I can get the hell out of here, and my children are getting antsy again. My son wanders into the kitchen for yet ANOTHER snack and I tell him no, NO MORE snacks, you've had plenty and we'll be leaving in about half an hour and it will be dinnertime, you don't need anymore snacks. He argues with me and though I'm not yelling yet, I can feel the tension in my jaw and the snap in my voice as I begin to contemplate, once more, exactly HOW one is supposed to discipline children that never listen, and that argue and beg and whine and plead, if you can't scream at them when you've finally reached the point where debating with them is no longer an option. As he's arguing with me, he pulls a bag of marshmallows out and asks me if he can have some, and AT THE EXACT MOMENT I AM TELLING HIM 'DRAKE, NO, I TOLD YOU NO MORE SNACKS', he DUMPS A LARGE PILE OF MARSHMALLOWS OUT ON THE KITCHEN TABLE. The kitchen table, unfortunately, is where I am super gluing ribbons to the backs of my craft tiles, and he dumps the marshmallows RIGHT ON TOP OF SOME FRESHLY GLUED TILES. I fly into a rage, screaming at him about how I JUST TOLD YOU NO GODDAMNIT AND YOU DID IT ANYWAY, and in the process I inadvertently glue two of my fingers to the bottle of super glue.
My first day of MLM training is NOT going well.
We managed to get out of there relatively unscathed, although I AM missing a few layers of skin on some of my fingers now. In the car I decide that fast food is the dinner option for the evening, and I let the kids decide where we'll feast tonight. They are both unanimous in their choice of the Golden Arches. Hooray, no fighting, I think. Oh, how stupid of me. For when I ask them each what they want, they start fighting about EACH OTHER'S choices. Drake wants apple dippers instead of fries; Oksana wants fries. She screams at me, or him, I'm not sure which, "NO APPLES! FRIES!" Then she wants chocolate milk, but he wants apple juice, and they begin bickering about their drinks, and it doesn't stop even when i REMIND them that they both get to choose whichever they want and they don't need to have the same thing. Then she's trying to talk to him and he's making monkey noises over her, which prompts her to scream at him, and I lose it and scream over both of them. We've become one of those "she who screams loudest, wins" families. It's god awful. Time outs aren't even an option when I'm driving. At home, I can just send them to a time out whenever I'm about to lose my cool. At Grandma's, when I'm involved in a project, that's less easy, but still doable. On the road, or when we're out and about (for instance, when my daughter screams at me at the playground by my son's school for no good reason), time outs are not exactly feasible. Screaming at my children isn't always the best option either, especially when it's in public, but I'm at a loss as to how 'normal' parents discipline their children consistently. Yelling has become a good friend to me, but it's a bad friend, an unhealthy friend that runs with a bad crowd, and pretty soon I'll be chain-smoking and wearing hoochie clothes and riding home after curfew on the back of an older man's Harley, and then where will my children be?
I am contemplating the discipline problem as I drive home from McDonald's, my children still sniping at each other in the backseat, 93.9 (the Christmas Lite!) playing merry holiday tunes that I surreptitiously turn louder and louder so as to drown out the din from the backseat, when it happens. "You better watch out... you better not cry... you better not pout... I'm telling you why..." HOLY CRAP. I am missing out on a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY here. My children are now, finally, both old enough to understand that Santa only brings presents to GOOD girls and boys! I haven't been making use of the time-honored holiday gift that Santa brings to parents every year: the gift of FEAR. It may be cliche to threaten your children with a lump of coal, but with god as my witness, I LIVE MY LIFE BY CLICHE. Thank you, Bing Crosby, for teaching me how to discipline my children this month. If anyone is qualified to give parenting lessons, it's you.
Post-Christmas, I will once more be struggling with the best way to discipline my darlings, and endeavoring to follow in the Duggar's footsteps. Until that jolly day, I will be using the big fat man with the long white beard as a tool of guilt and fear - just the way my parents, and their parents before them, did.
By God, I love the Christmas season.