November 9, 2016
Parenting solidarity: listening skills, change is hard and dirty forks.
There are days when you absolutely WIN at being a parent:
The children are listening and obeying every single word you say!
They're exuberant and joyful and asking how they can help you!
There are days when they remember to throw their dirty clothes in the hamper and bend over backwards to try to help one another!
There are days when everything is pinterest + facebook + instagram perfect!
I have never had a day like this.
Don't be fooled by my instagram account, my house is loud (me) and noisy (Vivi and I) and bossy (Vivi, Lila and I) and messy (the three of us).
Our house is not picture-perfect in manner or physicality; and truth? I'm cool with that. I think everyone else who lives there is cool with it, too.
However, lately -- these children have been pushing me to my b-r-r-r-eaking point.
I shall sum it up like this: NOBODY LISTENS TO ANYTHING I SAY.
Actually, let me take it a step further. I think they HEAR me... they just don't do anything with the sounds they hear. The sounds seem to rarely translate into action. My children don't think that what I'm telling them to do is anything more than a stop sign in Mexico: it's optional.
In full disclosure, I'm sure it's not easy to be our kids. We set the bar high and assume and expect them to reach it. We're trying to raise empathetic non-jerks.
It's to the point where it goes like this with my seven-year-old:
Me: "Lila, you should go get your PJs on and lay out your school clothes for tomorrow morning."
(Lila doesn't move.)
Me: "Lila, did you hear me?"
(She's still not moving.)
Lila: "Yes, I did... were you asking me to do that or telling me?"
Me: "I AM TELLING YOU."
"Are you asking me or telling me?" is a question directed toward me at least a thousand times a day.
What makes them think that I'm ever asking them to do anything?
My orders are sometimes shrouded in niceties and my pleasant, on-the-phone voice because I am trying to be a sitcom, nice Mom who does crafts and patiently teaches her children to read. But make no mistake, I am not ASKING YOU to do your homework.
I'm telling you.
I am not ASKING you to put your bath towel on the hook.
I'm telling you.
I'm not sure about your kiddos, but with mine? Asking gets me nowhere. And then I repeat the request. Twice more. And then I yell.
There's good reason why I'm so short-tempered.
Case in point:
Scene: Five-year-old Vivienne has finished eating at her small table and her fork is mysteriously on the floor.
Me: "Vivi, does your dirty fork belong on the floor?" (Serious. This scenario has happened.)
Her: Completely nonchalant: "No."
(It's like she's saying with her body language, "Fair question, Mom." But there's no urgency here. She does nothing about the fork.)
Me: "Vivi, please put your fork where it belongs."
(The Vivinator puts the fork on the seat of her chair as she walks away. I'm shaking my head. Dirty forks belong on chairs?)
Me: "Vivi, your fork does not belong on the chair. Where should you put it?"
Vivi: "Ok, Mommy."
(This does not answer my question. She walks away. The fork remains on the seat of the chair. Apparently she's done with this convo?)
Me: (Holding it together, sort of.) "VIVIENNE, put your fork in the kitchen sink."
(She puts it on the kitchen counter.)
Me: "VIVIENNE KATE, IN THE SINK." (I give up. I give up. NO ONE LISTENS TO ME. Uncorks some wine...)
Vivienne is completely unmoved. She looks at me like, "Why don't you put it in the sink?" and off she goes. She can't even hear me anymore. Her mom-tolerance-timer has ding-ed.
So, because of these random occurrences I've felt like a Bad Mom (capitalization necessary) lately. I've been yelling a little more than I like. I yell about homework, dirty clothes, toys everywhere, paper clippings from random crafts projects all over the floor... (Yes, I know... all of the things I'll one day miss. I don't question the missing part, I will miss them and I'd love to keep them small and loving me like crazy for as long as possible, however... I have to teach them to clean up after themselves lest I raise entitled children. Those are the worst...)
So anyway, one of the topics of constant conversation in our house is Lila's front tooth.
Correction: So there are her top front adult teeth, then there's another tooth next to that. This tooth has been SO loose for so long that it has actually changed its direction in an effort to flee it's position in her mouth. It's sideways. It's gross. It's snaggly. It's horizontal. The tooth in her mouth is horizontal.
The tooth has actually become a HUGE issue for the husband and I because in an effort to protect the tooth, our daughter who does not embrace change, has been ever-so-lightly brushing her teeth by sliding her toothbrush over her landscape tooth in a feather-light manner thus resulting in not-so-clean teeth.
And, nope. Sorry. But you will brush your teeth in this house.
So, I started brushing her teeth.
I'm not a feather brusher.
Tonight I was brushing her teeth and there were tears. There has been mucho dialogue about this tooth. There have been incentives offered, positive reenforcement given, encouragement lauded, empty threats, bargaining and ultimatums.
There has been yelling, calm talking, tears, giggles and whining... from both of us.
"Tonight's the night, Lila. The tooth is coming out."
"No, it's not," she says. "I'm not ok with that. You need to respect me and my body."
"I respect you and your body and I know you can do this."
She says, "...I don't want it to hurt."
"It will only hurt for a second! Think about it, I can keep brushing your teeth, slowly and painfully ripping out your tooth for at least a week or so, or we can just PULL IT OUT and you'll be done. Pain over."
With no hesitation, "I'm fine with the brushing."
"Lila, it's like tearing off a bandaid. You can do it slowly and feel the pain, or you can rip it off and get it over with!"
"I always take my bandaids off slowly." (True story.)
"The tooth fairy will bring something great for you, I'm sure."
"I'm sure she will. But not tonight."
"Lila, we have family photos coming up. The tooth is coming out. It's not welcome in our photos."
"Mommy, it will be out by then.
"Lila, I have a surprise for you. Do you want it?"
And without hesitation she says, "Yes, let's go upstairs and do this."
What happened next?
Lila and I went up stairs to my bedroom; she asked that just she and I and our trusty and loygal Havanese, Ferg, be in the room. We tried the 'ole paper towel around the tooth technique. It didn't work. We decided to duplicate what Vivienne did with the babysitter a spell ago: we tied mint dental floss around her oblong, horizontal tooth and we discussed various methods of extricating the tooth: pull it out quickly, pull it to the left, to the right, front, back, pull it down, hard. Karate chop the floss?
She wouldn't do any of it.
She didn't want me to do it, either.
We sat up there, in my room, on the floor and waited.
You guys: I didn't lose my cool ONE time. NOT ONCE. Calm as a cucumber.
She was scared, but she wanted the tooth out. The fear of the pain was holding her back, but she so badly wanted the result; the benefit of getting this tooth out of her boca. She was tired of the tooth, too!
I encouraged her and told her that I thought she was strong and she could totally do this. She asked me, "Do you really think I can?"
And the look in her eyes... sigh... oh that look...
"Of course you can. If your Mommy says you can do something, you can do something. I know you better than you know you and I know you can do this."
Still, we sat there.
I asked her, "Do you want me to just pull it out?"
"Yes, I do," she said. "But I'm just so scared that it will hurt."
I'll be honest, I had zero intention of pulling that tooth out. I talk a big game, but seeing your daughter in pain and then potentially doing something that would hurt her more? Not in my parenting wheelhouse.
I asked her, "Want me to get Daddy to do it?"
She said, through tears, "No. You're stronger than him anyway."
Finally, about 45 minutes into the silence, we agreed that we needed music. I asked, "What do you want to listen to?"
She said, "Let's get some Lionel."
I smiled inside and out.
This kid totally is mine.
With the string of floss looped around her barely-hanging-on baby tooth, she continues to "tug" on the floss. Truth be told, our ceiling fan had more of a chance of blowing out that tooth than Lila had of pulling it out. She was putting virtually no elbow grease behind those tugs.
This period of time of watching Lila's inner turmoil regarding the loss of the tooth was like watching paint dry. But everything is relative, isn't it?
She's seven and the BIGGEST THING IN HER LIFE RIGHT NOW was this tooth.
You've got to respect that.
Change is hard and scary for ALL of us.
NONE of us want to walk through the fire, especially when we can feel the heat.
Finally, with one quick shared tug - the tooth popped out. No drama. No yelping. No pain. It just popped out.
We locked eyes.
And then we laughed.
And then I told her that I was so proud of her. She was SO brave. Her eyes were so bright; so filled with joy for what she had just accomplished.
We hugged more.
We laughed more.
We screamed more. (As I said, we're a loud household.)
I may have cried a little.
Then she said to me, "You know what, I think I'll probably do this same thing the next time I have a loose tooth."
And I smiled because that night I did my job well.
I encouraged my daughter, I pushed her. It made us both uncomfortable. But, I followed my instincts. She in turn, shared her true feelings and real emotions with me and I held space with her and listened. Still, I pushed her and she DID the thing. And then she felt SO PROUD that she did the thing that she didn't think she could do that she made a plan for how she was going to handle the next thing.
So that night, my daughter went to bed feeling proud of herself, feeling confident and brave. I also went to bed feeling thankful that I get to be part of it all:
I get to remind them to pick up their forks.
I get to correct them and encourage them.
And I get to be there for the moments that stretch them and grow them.
I'm so blessed that I get to do this.