I'm sure I've lost a few brain cells over the past six years, but when I think back now, I seriously cannot remember ever having any question about the way things were supposed to be done. I was proficient with baths, diapers, feeding and the treatment of diaper rash. I knew how to effectively stop a baby from crying. Infact, I was so tuned in to my infants every single need, they very seldom cried. Because of my mothering expertise, I dished out heaps of (solicited) advice to people with singletons, twins, triplets and more.
People would track me down asking for help and I'd cheerfully give it.
I was instinctively good and my babies were perfect.
My babies slept 12 hours through the night when they were only a few months old. They napped and ate and pooped and cooed and rolled around the floor like precious little dolls. I took them out for walks - every day - and then, I'd prop them up in little bouncy chairs and read them books. We listened to classical music and I would dance around the house, with my babies in my arms, and marvel at my greatness as a mother.
These days, I don't feel like the greatest mother, anymore.
Sometimes, when the stars are aligned just right and everyone is getting along well, I'm a maternal beacon of awesomeness. My husband will stare at me in awe, as I coordinate arts and crafts projects and summon our children's help to bake something tasty.
But then. It ALWAYS happens that someone does something and the whole perfect scene that I've worked so hard to create will unravel before my eyes. I try to summon great patience in these situations and sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn't.
This past weekend, when Henry ambushed the marshmallow supply, William gave him a full-body tackle. As I was standing in the kitchen, I could hear them running around behind me, and the next thing I know, Henry is sliding in to the kitchen on his face and William is on his back, grabbing at his neck and SCREAMING, "Henry! Spit out the marshmallows!"
Henry is three and just by virtue of being three, he is a pill. It's how three-year-olds are wired.
William is six and by virtue of being the older brother, he was trying to help keep things in order. That's his self-imposed job and he takes it very seriously. William is generally a very docile child, but he knows it's not OK to ambush the marshmallow supply so it's absolutely WRONG that his little brother would dare attempt such a thing.
BOOM. THUMP. TUMBLE. TUMBLE. TUMBLE. WAHHHHHH!
As William and Henry are sliding in to the kitchen on their faces, the girls are coloring quietly at the kitchen table. But then, sensing that The Crazy is happening, Elizabeth leans over and uses her scissors to slice a picture that Carolyn just drew. This evokes a screaming response from Carolyn, who then stands up and smacks her sister in the head. Both sisters cry, both brothers cry and the mother tries her best to keep her patience in check.
The mother does well.
But the rest of the day was much the same. Fighting. Bickering. General Loudness. Me realizing that these kids are going stir crazy, since they've been in the house for the past week and there's really not much I can do about it because we're all still too sick to pack up and go anywhere.
BOOM. THUMP. TUMBLE. TUMBLE. TUMBLE. WAHHHHHH!
Finally, I lost my patience a little bit. OK, a lot. But not nearly as badly as I lost my patience a few weeks ago when I dropped by to pick the children up from their "non-parental supervised play date" and they all IGNORED me in my crippled state as I hobbled after them.
***************How did I handle that situation?
I brought all three kids home, gave them a single swat on their bare bum with my family's Blood Spatula (because my hands were too torn up to spank), and then, I made them sit for 20 minutes in a room, by themselves, while I regained my senses. When they came out, very apologetically, I calmly talked with them about WHY they behaved the way they did, WHY it was wrong, and WHAT we could do better next time. Then, we wrote a letter of thanks to the family that we dropped in the mailbox.
I was surprised how many people suggested that I should have left the children there and let the neighbor take them home. That never crossed my mind for a number of reasons...
First, her daughter had a ballet recital later that afternoon, and I didn't want to encumber her with our children, when they would be leaving in an hour.
Second, there is a big maturity difference between an almost eight-year-old and three newly turned six-year-olds. It's important to me, that either my husband or I be there to supervise that interaction.
Third, these are very nice people, but we just met them.
Fourth, we've had less than five babysitters in our children's entire lives. I don't trust just anyone with our kids. Never have. Never will. At least not until all of my off spring have earned their black belts in martial arts and are proficient with a cell phone.
When I spoke with Charlie about this later, he actually told me that his initial reaction, when our neighbor asked if the children could come over, was NO. But then, he caved under the social pressure when all the kids were jumping around and begging him to go. It turns out, my husband didn't want to disappoint the children or our new neighbor. Also, he's a lot more easy going than I am and doesn't fully possess what I consider a well developed MATERNAL instinct.
Paternal instinct = outdoor play while wearing a short sleeve shirt in November is OK.
Maternal instinct = outdoor play while wearing a long sleeve shirt, sweater, jacket and hat is OK.
Also, even if I had been willing to leave and let the neighbor drive my children home an hour later, they lost that privilege the minute they started to act up. Most importantly, what message am I sending to our children if they throw a fit and I promptly cave to something that I otherwise feel very strongly about?
It's almost as if God thought I needed a sign to justify my "One Of Us Needs To Be With Our Children When They Are At Someone Else's House Rule", because two weeks ago, I attended a play date with just William. Since this was after the play date debacle where Mommy lost her marbles, before we even arrived, I laid out my expectations. I told William that he will have time to play, but when it is time to leave, it is time to leave.
He fully understood.
Less than an hour in to the play date, the two boys start to tumble, the family dog gets riled up and snaps at William and five minutes later, we're packed up and graciously saying goodbye.
I'm just so glad I was there because I could immediately tell William was afraid and ready to leave. If I hadn't been there, I'm certain he would have been too timid to say anything to the boy's parents. And if they had picked up on his anxiety, who is to say they would have called me, straight away?
Four years ago, when I wrote a post about losing my patience, someone left me a comment which essentially read, "Shame on you for not possessing the same control you expect of your children." That comment has really stuck with me, because with time, I've come to believe that it is absolutely correct.
While I do believe that there are certain situations in which a spanking is the fastest way to get a child's attention, I have a hard time believing that it is the correct thing to do. Sure, it's quick and it's easy and it gives the resemblance of assuming control. But striking a child? It just seems so wrong, regardless of what they've done.
But yet, I've done it.
I am definitely not a spankaholic. Very rarely do I spank our children. Infact, I can count on one hand (and one Blood Spatula) the number of times I've spanked them in their entire lives. But, those times are all in the moment of pure anger. Once I have an opportunity to calm down, I can always think of several more sensible and gentle ways to have handled the situation. Unfortunately, when I'm in that stressful and frustrating moment, my senses elude me and I turn in to a raging lunatic that cannot string words together in a cohesive sentence.
As my children grow, I find that I am struggling with maintaining my patience on a daily basis. At the innocent age of six, these children have become experts at targeting my weak spots, pushing my buttons and teaming up to see just how far they can push me to the edge. But as my children grow, I also find that sense doesn't come before age ... and wisdom is often hard.
I am in awe of those fully conscious, non-drugged out people, who are intentionally peaceful and do not yell at or spank their disobedient children. I am also in awe that 29 countries around the world have banned spanking and parents can serve time in JAIL if they hit their child. If I'd been living in one of 22 European countries, there's a good chance me and my Blood Spatula would have been put on trial and I'd be in the lock-up.
(If I May Address The Court Your Honor ... The Blood Spatula isn't really a tool to induce bleeding. It's a regular spatula, used to flip omelets and pancakes and scoop warm cookies off a baking sheet. The tradition of the Blood Spatula has been passed down for generations in my family. It could possibly be traced back to my great grandmother who came to the United States on a boat from Ireland during the 18th century. Or perhaps her mother, that pulled potatoes from a field. What is in the marrow is hard to take out of the bone! I've only used it this one time, Your Honor, because my hands were ripped and torn from falling down in asphalt! Also?! Before I inflicted it upon my naughty, naughty children, I tested it out on my own leg and it hardly hurt at all. It almost ... dare I say ... TICKLED!)
(To which the Judge would undoubtedly reply, "Solitary Confinement! Off to bed, with no dinner for ye, ye cold heartless witch of a mother!!!")
***************Yesterday, after the tussle between the boys and the girls, I sat the children down and asked for each of them to tell me three things that they love about their sparring partner.
Once everyone had a chance to talk, I continued, "Sometimes, people that we love don't act as kindly as we'd like. And as difficult as it might be for us, we need to be kind, anyway. We need to forgive them and be gentle and do our absolute best to love people especially when they are acting ugly."
William looked at me and said, "Like when you hit me with the Blood Spatula? That was terrible, Mommy, but I love and forgive you for that."
His sisters nodded in agreement and then they all stood up and took turns kissing me on the cheek, while I imagined the countless hours they'd spend in the future, on a therapist's couch.
What kind of role model am I?!
Of course, I love you! But I also want to CHOKE you!
I've already written that last month, my sister mailed me the book, "Positive Discipline" and I read it cover-to-cover. But obviously, I need to read it again, more slowly this time. I need to take notes and discuss it. I need to absorb the message and implement it in to in my every day life. To this end, I'd like to form a little book club, specifically to discuss this book. Hopefully, it'll go better than my knitting club which has been idle for two years and never made it to the cast-off.
To kick this off, I'm giving away two copies of Positive Discipline which will hopefully, give me (and two people who are equally curious) a better road map of how to raise my children in a more positive way. If you're interested in joining me on this quest, leave a comment on this post and I'll randomly select two people by Sunday, December 5.
I'm not the greatest mother that I once was.
Or, that I once believed myself to be.
I definitely need to get that feeling back, again.