Back in Control

I am the mom of least resistance.

This is to say, I’m pretty hands-off with my kids. I’m a bad helicopter. I embrace the philosophy of “free range” childhood.

Maybe to a fault.

(Bad Helicopter would be a kick-ass band name.)

I don’t think it became a fault until Michael was born, because then it became less “free range” and more “benign neglect”.

Three-on-one is hard, yo.

And that’s what it is most of the time.

But I’m tired of not being the one in charge. My older two children act without asking. On Saturday morning, that’s okay. I’ll take that extra half hour of sleep, thankyouverymuch. But every single day, especially in the evenings? And mornings? Oy, mornings are fusterclucks of the highest order.

(I gave up swearing for Lent. I vowed to put a $1 in the swear jar each time I uttered a curse word, including Lord’s Name In Vain, and I’m going to donate it to charity. So far Animal Friends is getting $12. Which I guess isn’t too bad — for me — but this Lenten sacrifice is making it hard to write this post.)

It’s just not cool anymore. I’m so tired of yelling — and I yell A LOT. So much so that Michael is learning to yell. Not good. So I am reconstructing boundaries, and installing schedules. This is a work in progress. Here are some of my goals.

1. To get Flora to calm down. Because I am such a reactive parent, she is a very reactive child. I need both of us to be able to step back and take a deep breath instead of losing our sh– I mean, crap. I, obviously, have to lead by example here because she’s 7.

2. To get into a groove. I have schedules for the girls, for mornings and evenings during the week. I typed them up months ago, and I showed them to the girls. And then they ended up in the piles of paper that spring up around my house. Dan dug them out and laminated them, and bought grease pencils. And they ended up in the arts & crafts drawer.

So they just got posted (on Wednesday), and as the girls do the steps, the they check off the boxes. Again, to be obvious, Kate needs a little assistance with this because she can’t quite read on her own yet. The thing is, though, Kate is actually a little better about these steps. Flora gets distracted. Easily.

3. Ask before they act. Flora knows how to turn on the TV, Wii, Blu-ray player, and even surf through streaming Netflix. She has a DSi that she enjoys. My children know where snacks are, how to open the refrigerator, and pour their own beverages. If they are getting a yogurt or some cheese for a before-dinner snack, that’s all fine. But when they are raiding the candy stash instead, it’s not fine. And the screen-time restrictions are tough, tough, tough to enforce. But Flora is not allowed to watch TV, play Wii, or play her DSi unless she is done with her homework.

4. A cleaner house. My children know how to clean up after themselves. They know how to make their beds, put away their toys, clear the table. They need to be reminded to do these things, quite often, but night time treats and/or TV time is on hold until they do them. Heck, they even had to help me sweep up the kitchen floor the other day, and then we went upstairs and read three books before bed. Honestly, they didn’t seem to mind.

5. Follow through. I have thrown out candy (because they didn’t ask), turned off the night time show (because they didn’t ask), and started bedtime early (because they aren’t listening). It is hard when they whine and cry because I don’t really like the whining and crying. It gets on my nerves. But they are (slowly) learning (again) that there are consequences to their impulsive actions and/or not listening to mommy.

Did you ever find yourself in a place where the lunatics were running the asylum? How did you retake the reins?

(Aside: I want to make clear I’m not here to disparage my husband or despair that he doesn’t do enough. He does plenty. Do I wish he were home some of the evenings he’s seeing patients until 8 p.m.? Sure, but that’s not the situation right now.)

Free Range Kids

Living next door to one’s in-laws has its perks. (If you’re me, anyway. I’m sure mileage varies.)

For example, my MIL makes sure the lawn guys cut our lawn, and she gives them our payments. She will sit with the baby while I take the girls to Flora’s soccer practice. Once a week, she comes over at 6:30 a.m. so I can get to work early. (This is especially helpful if I have to unexpectedly bolt early another day to take a child to the doctor or something.) And we all usually have dinner together once a week, at her place. Tadone sits with an under-the-weather Kate and keeps her entertained with YouTube videos of laughing babies so I don’t have to burn personal or vacation time.

Because of our arrangement, my children often feel free to go over to Bella and Tadone’s whenever they feel like it.

Unfortunately, this arrangement has blurred the boundaries when it comes to the rest of the world.

My children operate under the false assumption that if it’s okay to just go into Bella’s house, it’s okay to go into our other neighbors’ yards if not houses. Kate has, actually, walked into the house of the people who live across the street from us.

She wanted to play with their dog.

Mind you, we have attempted to instill in them boundaries. They have been expressly forbidden to go into anyone’s house, even if the person invites them. They are to come to us first. And we will, nine times out of ten say, “No. You cannot go into that person’s house without Mommy or Daddy.” (The tenth one had better be the ILs, otherwise it’s 10 out of 10.)

They are not even supposed to go into any yard except for ours or Bella’s. Again, unless I am with them, for example, on an evening walk.

The neighbors across the “street” — we’ll call them the Smiths, and they live across the driveway, really, not a street — are a couple the same age as Dan and I, but their children (a boy and a girl) are 20 and 17. They are done with the baby/toddler/childhood stages. They are very friendly, with Dan and me as well as with the children. They have never, ever called or taken me aside to say, “Please keep your children out of our yard.” Their daughter has babysat for us.

The time that Kate came into their house, they laughed it off. Mrs. Smith just said, “We just wanted you to know in case you were worried where she was.” Mr. Smith takes great delight in our Kate, actually, even enjoying my exasperation with her.

Now Dan and I have differing philosophies about children outside. My thinking is that a 6 year old and a 4 year old are fine outside, without direct adult supervision for up to half an hour at a time, for example. Dan thinks the children should be supervised at all times — this even goes for in the house. He wants them in sight, always.

I have clear rules for outside: They have to stay in our yard (or Bella’s). When I call, they have to come. They know these rules, and Flora, for one, follows them to the letter. (There is one other yard they are allowed in, with permission — they have to come ask — and they have to stay outside, and they are not allowed on the trampoline. If they go into this yard with the children who live there, I seldom let them stay longer than 15 or 20 minutes without me.)

Kate, not surprisingly, is another story, and is making me rethink my “free range kids” philosophy. She, clearly, is not abiding by the boundaries we have set. Lately, she has been asking to go outside with Flora, and when I hesitate, she says, quite seriously, “I will not go into Mr. Smith’s house.” Well, okay, kid, but there are larger issues here.

I am struggling with this, especially after such a long, rainy spring season. Children need to play outside — hence the backyard playset going up this weekend. Yet, I am not in a position to be outside with them every second. Sometimes I am stuck giving Michael his bottle or changing his diaper, or I am trying to get dinner to the table. I think letting them go outside while I do these things — with the rules outlined above — is reasonable.

Should I have different rules for Flora and Kate? Should I make Flora her sister’s keeper (i.e. she can’t do anything Kate can’t do)? Should I tell them they can’t go outside unless I am going with them — without exception?

We have also instituted another rule that I was very relaxed about until this week. When we come home, we are to get all of our stuff — purses, lunch bags, stuffed animals, what have you — out of the car and go directly into the house. For awhile, I was relaxed about it because if they didn’t go into my house, they went to Bella’s. But lately they have taken to roaming into the Smith’s yard (especially if they are outside in their garden), or looking for Kate’s friend “Lisa” who lives in a house below us. I can’t have that when I am juggling my stuff and the baby, and anxious to get dinner ready. So I’ve put the kibosh on that, and  now it’s “in the house until after dinner” for the most part. Seems to be working.

What do you do? Let your kids roam, or don’t let them out of sight? How do you balance it? What are your kids’ boundaries, and do they obey them?


Kate had a tough weekend.

Kate is trying to figure things out, and testing her boundaries in a big (and rather relentless) way. I mean, it’s pretty bad if she’s hiding under the table at a restaurant and hitting Pap-pap. Otherwise, aggressive behavior and pushing her big sister’s buttons (not to mention her mommy’s) are par for the course.

She decided she wanted to wear big girl underwear, but also decided to poop in it instead of going on the potty.

She said no. A lot.

She had tantrums and melt downs and was generally cranky.

Kate missed my nephews’ birthday party (Saturday) and didn’t get to go to the toy store (Sunday).

On the plus side, she spent a lot of time outside and was too tired to wake up in the middle of the night. She adopted worms and rode her scooter. She got a lot of one-on-one time with daddy (on Saturday) and mommy (on Sunday).

I don’t know if she is old enough to internalize what she missed and try to behave better (yet). She’s only 3. (Only 290 days to go!) I do know that enforcing boundaries is hard work. With Flora, it’s getting her to listen and getting her to finish a task. With Kate, it’s… everything.

We work hard to let her control what she can control. But I think we work harder in making it clear what she cannot control and what our expectations are. When she pushes boundaries and buttons, we try to respond reasonably and consistently. As the cliche goes, we try to pick our battles, and when it’s overwhelming (at least for me), I give myself a time out.

It’s the only way we’re going to survive.

Same Ol’, Same Ol’

Monkey tested limits this weekend, and found out where they are. It was just great. She threw a fit for being asked to pick up her toys, then threw even more of a fit when we made going to see her cousins (for ice cream) contingent on picking up her toys, and then threw the biggest fit of all when — after about 20 minutes of this — DearDR and I pulled the plug on ice cream altogether. Because she wasn’t listening to us. (Bun and I went. DearDR picked up the toys.)

I really hope it’s a typical almost-5-year-old thing, or a “I’m-really-ready-to-go-back-to-preschool” thing (she doesn’t start until next Wednesday), but the not-listening combined with the fly-off-the-handle meltdowns have got to come to an end.

Here is Monday night’s conversation:

Monkey: Kennywood is the funnest place on Earf … Earth.
RPM: It is pretty fun. (thinking: too bad we didn’t get there this summer.)
Monkey: Bun, Kennywood is the funnest place of Earth. You’re going to love it. Mom, can we go there tonight?
RPM: No, it’s too late tonight —
Monkey: No, Mom, really, can we go after dinner?
RPM: Monkey, we can’t go tonight —
Monkey: You mean we CAN NEVER EVER GO AGAIN?
RPM: No, Monkey, that’s not what I said, I mean —
Monkey: So we can go tonight?
RPM: We can go on a Saturday, soon. (thinking: Oh dear Lord, please tell me Kennywood is open weekends for a couple more weeks.)
Monkey: Can we go tonight?
RPM: Monkey! No, we will–
Monkey (wailing, complete with tears in her eyes): WHY CAN’T WE EVER GO TO KENNYWOOD AGAIN?? WAAAHHH! (stomps off to wail in another room)
RPM, thinking: WTH?

(Video taken live at the Green Day concert in Pittsburgh — not by me. I thought of Monkey during that whole first of the last two songs. Sigh.)

DearDR advises that I have to stay even-keeled during these conversations (which, DearDR, that’s pretty ironic. You know what I’m talking about). I am trying: breathing deeply, talking softly. If I get upset, the girls just get more upset. But attempting to reason with an unreasonable creature… Well, it sure is challenging.

The worst part? I keep picturing these conversations when Monkey is 15, and we’ve added hormones to the mix. (Okay, more hormones. Never let it be said that I don’t have my crazy, PMS-induced moods.)

Help. Send beer.

Time Out

I am having some serious doubts about this parenting gig.

As much as I want to not have disobedient, whiny, fractious children, as much as I believe in parenting by instinct and not by the book(s), as much as I am trying to be a good mother to my children — not by being a Good Mother, but by doing my best by them as my flawed, imperfect self enables me to — I am starting to worry.

The end goal for me parenting-wise is to raise well-adjusted, happy, responsible adults. I don’t propose to do that by parenting out of a book. I don’t propose to do that by being a helicopter parent. I don’t propose to do that by being super-strict or loosey goosey. I don’t propose to do that by giving my children everything they want.

I also don’t propose that any of the ways in which I am choosing to parent my children is going to be the way you should parent your children.

But on Saturday morning, I came smack up against the idea that maybe “this” isn’t working. Whatever the hell this is.

You know how you say, “I will turn this car around if you don’t knock it off” to your children?

Yeah, I turned the car around.

I am seeking to be a little more quiet with my children — I hate to yell at them. I find it very stressful, and they find it very upsetting. A lot of times this means I have to walk away from them — give myself a little time out. A lot of times this means I have to put them into time out in their room, set a timer (usually 2 minutes for Bun, and 4 or 5 minutes for Monkey), and walk away from the tantrum.

I do not want to spank my children. I do, still, sometimes. But less often than I feel like it. As I’m typing this I am thinking that I don’t remember the last time I actually spanked them (I’m sure I had the urge recently, but I didn’t do it. That’s progress).

I am picking my battles. However, I’m not 100% convinced I’m picking the right battles.

Saturday, we were scheduled to be in Meadville for my youngest nephew’s baptism. The girls and I were going to drive there, then go the rest of the way to Erie. DearDR was going to drive up after work so he and I could attend my 20th high school reunion.

I managed to get everything and everyone in the car and pulling out of the driveway by 10:30. I had to stop for gas. On the way to the gas station, I had to reprimand Monkey about five times. Hell, I had to stop at the bottom of my driveway, turn around and say, “If you do not listen to me, we will not go to Erie. We will stay home today.”

She did not listen to me. She would not share with Bun. She would not stop yelling at Bun. She called me a mean mommy. When, as I was filling up the tank, I saw her yank something out of Bun’s hands and Bun start to cry, I thought to myself, “No effing way am I doing this for the next two hours.”

I got in the car, told her I saw that she was not sharing with her sister, and that we were going straight home and staying home for the day. No baptism, no cousins, no Nonna and Pap-pap, no Erie.

Monkey went ballistic. She screamed and cried all the way home. Even as she was saying, “I’ll calm down. I’ll be good!” she was flipping out.

I was sorely disappointed, to say the least. I wanted to go to the baptism. I even wanted to go to my reunion. But no way in hell was I going to fight with my daughter as I was driving a car, and there was no way in hell that she was going to get what she wanted if she was not going to listen to me.

Once home, I let the girls out of the car, changed them out of their dresses, and let them run around outside. As they were chasing butterflies in the yard, I wondered if this was even going to matter to them. If the lesson of not going to Erie was going to be lost because, hey, look, a sunny day and butterflies to chase!

Despair is not too strong a word for what I felt. Also: disappointment, rage, and frustration.

The rest of the day went a little better. Lunch went well, as did quiet time (not perfectly, mind you, but it wasn’t a nightmare). They did not get to go to Bella’s house, and we did not watch TV.

We did eventually go to Erie for my reunion, and thus my girls did get to see Nonna and Pap-pap. But by the time we left at 4 p.m., they had been behaving remarkably well, and they were fricking angels in the car. (Of course, Bun passed out, so that kind of helped.)

Am I doing something wrong? Are they more inclined to listen to their father? Why do we have these battles? Will? Power? Boundaries? Why does Bun hit me? (Yes, she gets time out for hitting me.) Why does Monkey whine? Why does Monkey flip out when I say “no” to her?

I am exhausted from the weekend. I am exhausted from mothering my children right now. When they push, I don’t know if I should push back or not.

This shit isn’t for the faint of heart. And I am feeling distinctly faint these days.