Monday, November 05, 2007

Pick Up Your Shit

7 a.m.

Here's the scene: dirty white tablecloth on table. One green poker chip in the center. Salt and pepper shakers. Folded over section of yesterday's newspaper. Kid's brightly-colored plastic place mats askew as if fallen from the sky. One empty foil chocolate candy wrapper. One Matchbox car, blue, upside-down, occupants presumed dead. All six dining room chairs are pulled away from the table, like everybody left in a fire.

My entire house looks like this. I can't do anything about it. No force can stem the tide.

Sometimes I feel like my real job around here, if we are to be frank, is putting items back where they belong. Because really, that's what I do all day. I put away the laundry, the food, the shoes, the coats, the toys, the mail, the recycling piles, the stray scraps of paper, the kid art, the bulletins from school, and the dog's toys. Then there are my own things, such as the contents of my huge mama-purse which regularly get dumped on the counter because I'm in a fit and can't find my keys (Chapstick, money, ID, whatever). It's ongoing. We stubbornly keep taking things out and using them. But that's not the only cause of the constant mess.

My daughter is in a power-trip phase right now where she drops things on the floor at dinner and stares at me to see what I'm going to do about it. Typically, I stare back and raise an eyebrow. Then she yells, "GET MY FORK!" Then I look away and say, "You can get it yourself."

Can you guess how this goes over with her?

"No, YOU get my fork!" she says, eyes squinched shut, fists balled.

At this point, my blood pressure rises. Nobody likes being ordered around by an imperious three-year-old, but to add to my irritation is the keen awareness that if I'd ever uttered such words at home, I'd have been smacked and sent to bed immediately.

Anne Lamott says that when you overlook a kid's bad behavior, you injure them. "You hobble their character," she says.

I believe this. So, I don't want to overlook this behavior, but I don't want to smack Audrey and send her to bed. The alternate consequences we tend to employ do not often have the intended result, and they exhaust the whole family. Still, not knowing what else to do, I pull the same ones out every time.

In any case, picking up her damn fork is the last thing I want to do at dinner, since, as I mentioned above, I've been picking things up off the floor all day. Not to mention that I would hate to set a precedent that I'm Audrey's servant. So I'll be damned if I'm picking up that fork.

And so will she.

Hence the exhaustion, noise, and stress that will ensue.

I guess this is just life with kids. Why do I expect anything different?

Anyone have any tips, techniques, or sage words they would like to share with me? I could really use them.

5 comments:

Rose said...

Wait, did I just write this? Are you spying on me right now?? I too am in the heat of it with a 3 year old that keeps yelling at me....boys do it too. I have no words of wisodm for you but you have my empathy and sympathy! You are sooo not alone!

Anonymous said...

I think I met y'all when Josie was 3. Remember how frantic I was? The only thing that worked (and still works) consistently for me is a straight face. Wow. Your fork is on the floor. Would you like me to pull out your chair so you can get down? You are really feeling frantic about that. Do you need to go sit on the couch? If you need to shriek about it I'll help you go sit on the couch until you feel calm enough to be at the table. That kind of thing. But 2/3 of the time, I would totally forget and start shrieking myself, partly because, like you, I would have gotten my hide tanned and sent to bed if I ever talked to my parents that way. Or am I remembering a somewhat later stage of my life that isn't accurate for when I was 3? Anyway, I think that this sense memory of fear-based parenting acts as a scrambler of the electronic impulses that are trying to take route in our post-modern parenting brains. And sometimes I do wonder if my dad is right, and all my kids really need is a good spanking. Hell, I enjoy a good spanking every once in awhile. Woops, I'd better post this one as Anonymous... :-)

Anonymous said...

No advice here, Susie. Just hugs and understanding. I've been there w/ K and now C is put in her high chair and proceeds to throw all food onto the floor. I am not sure how to help her eat at this point. It just becomes a giant wrestling match because then she wants down and it's up and down for the rest of dinner. Frustrating. Meal times are the times when I have the least patience and just want to take my plate upstairs and hole away--no, scratch that. Take my plate out to the car and listen to some music and be alone while I eat in peace! Aaaahh... Hope things improve soon. Love, Vicki PS--I just remembered that distraction at the table was effective at that age--reading a book if I was done eating, telling knock knock jokes, being utterly engaging and fascinating and giving lots of positive attention.

Kit said...

Hi Susie,

I can so relate to having a 3 year old tyrant in the house. Once upon a time, a little girl lived here who seemed very frustrated at being a baby. Her words came out like baby talk, so she relied on screeching until she was 4. She had her parents well trained with this technique "do what i want, or I'll bust your eardrums!"

Sometimes could be calm, like Josie's mother (anonymous), using the straight face. Wow, looks like you are having difficulty. What would you like to do about it? Remembering that this child was really frustrated helped me not take it so personally. Other times, I'm sure I just simmered as quietly as I could.

And my dear mother was very direct. "Try using your pretty lower voice, oh that sounds so much better". And dear, your mother is working so hard, it's time to learn to do these things for yourself."

And now, this frustrated little girl has grown up to be the sweetest, kindest, and usually cooperative young adult. She like being grown up, and it remarkably independent. It's a miracle, and I give thanks every day for my good fortune.

So, what i mean to say is, know that you're doing the best you can, and what will happen will happen. I'll bet she turns out GREAT!

Kit said...

Hi Susie,

I can so relate to having a 3 year old tyrant in the house. Once upon a time, a little girl lived here who seemed very frustrated at being a baby. Her words came out like baby talk, so she relied on screeching until she was 4. She had her parents well trained with this technique "do what i want, or I'll bust your eardrums!"

Sometimes could be calm, like Josie's mother (anonymous), using the straight face. Wow, looks like you are having difficulty. What would you like to do about it? Remembering that this child was really frustrated helped me not take it so personally. Other times, I'm sure I just simmered as quietly as I could.

And my dear mother was very direct. "Try using your pretty lower voice, oh that sounds so much better". And dear, your mother is working so hard, it's time to learn to do these things for yourself."

And now, this frustrated little girl has grown up to be the sweetest, kindest, and usually cooperative young adult. She like being grown up, and it remarkably independent. It's a miracle, and I give thanks every day for my good fortune.

So, what i mean to say is, know that you're doing the best you can, and what will happen will happen. I'll bet she turns out GREAT!