Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Bad Parenting Moment: Let Them Eat Cake.

Before we begin this tale, I need to tell you something; I don't bake. At least, I don't bake desserts. I can make a MEAN vegetarian lasagna, but cookies, cakes and pies I leave to the professionals. There are 2 reasons: Mainly, I don't like to measure when I cook and secondly, I hate decorating. Don't get me wrong, I desperately WANT to like decorating, as I consider myself somewhat of an artist. I even have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to awesome fondant covered designs. The problem is, I have the attention span of a gnat. So, lets say I bake 2 dozen sugar cookies; I will decorate the most beautiful hand painted cookie you have ever seen, but the next 15 will just have frosting smeared across the top. The last 8 cookies I'll throw at the kids, plain, and tell them they are lucky I feed them. Frosting food is boring.

My boyfriend's daughter was turning 6. He didn't have much planned for her birthday. She had been planning for 6 months, though, since she was five and A HALF, so I KNEW we had damn well better do something. I decided I would make her The Cake of Her Dreams. Basically, I was kissing up, so he would be awed by my sexy, domestic skills and his parents would see how much I loved her. I wouldn't bake a birthday cake for MY kids. I go to the grocery store and buy cupcakes, candles and have the nice bakery employees squirt their names on top with green icing. I said I would make this cake so his little girl would know I loved her and so she would love me more than anyone else who ever made her a cake for the rest of her life. Plus, I dig a challenge. Bad parenting problem number one: self serving love.

Me: If you could have an cake in the whole world what flavor would it be?
Her: Pink.
Me: Like strawberry?
Her: Yes.
Me: And what animal would it be shaped like?
Her: I don't know.
Me: What's your most favorite animal in the world?!
Her: Rats.

And so, I faced the challenge of making a STRAWBERRY RAT CAKE. Like the kind every demented little girl dreams about for her 6th birthday. Yeah, no problem.

I planned the cake for weeks. Once an idea settles into my head it doesn't go away. My brain is like Miracle Gro. That idea roots in and becomes enormous; well nourished by habitual daydreaming. I plotted exactly how I wanted to go about constructing The Rat Cake. I told myself it was completely possible. I told everyone I knew I was baking it, thus, making it impossible to back out. They all eagerly awaiting pictures of the cake. I pretended to know what I was doing and set my plans in motion.

Step one: make the cake batter. I mixed strawberry cake mix (from a box, I'm not a masochist) into two loaf pans. When they were done baking I placed them on the counter to cool. I was amazed. The little pink mounds actually looked like they were made of cake. So far so good. I turned to my kids and said "NOBODY is to touch these cakes. They need to cool." Which I assumed they did. I wasn't really sure if cakes are supposed to cool, but I think I read about cooling cakes in a book, so it sounded legit. "DO NOT touch the cakes!" I warned. Being that my kids had heard me talking nothing but Rat Cake for weeks, I knew they knew how important this was. So I retreated to my room, with my computer, to stare at pictures of rats, still determining the appropriate fur pattern.

About an hour and a half later (I admit, I might have drifted into Sleepytown for a few), I emerged to frost the cake. I walked into the kitchen and saw it; bite sized chunks taken from the sides of the cake, from head to tail. Some little mouse had been nibbling on my rat. Following the crumb trail it became quickly apparent who the culprit was. After all, it was cake. And I have a fat kid. One who doesn't listen. My eyes kept widening. I felt that wave come over me, my rational brain said, 'Stop. Breathe. You are going to freak out in a completely inappropriate way.' But my other brain (temporary disassociation?) said, 'Fuck you brain. I HAVE to freak out, so they get it. I'm going to go overboard, ON PURPOSE and I don't care.' I herded the children into their room where I unleashed it; my Very Bad Parenting Moment. Just understand, I had really put A LOT (of thought) into the stupid cake! Bad parenting problem number two: great expectations.

"HOW DARE YOU!? How could you? Why would you do this to ME? You knew! You knew! I can't do this! There's no more time! There will be no cake, no birthday, no birthdays forever! WHY?" (Incoherent sobbing) "I just wanted to make a cake! I can't get anything I want! You ruin everything! I'm running away! I'm not just running away, I'm running away to another country. FOREVER!" (Run into my room and slam my door) "I am done! I can't do this anymore! I hate you people! I hate my life! I can't!" And I sobbed myself into a pity pile. "I'm never talking to you AGAIN!" I screamed through the closed door. I called my boyfriend. No answer. So, I texted him, "Don't come up. The weekend is canceled. There will be no birthdays for anyone, ever, again." I sent it. And I sobbed. "I'm running away, forever, to another country, without the kids." I texted him a second time. No answer. So I screamed at the door. Not anything in particular. I just screamed from the core of my emotions. From my desperation.  From the complete and utter sense of overwhelming that sometimes engulfs me as a mother. I heard my son crying, "mommy doesn't love me" over and over.

As I screamed I told myself to stop it. I told myself I was being abusive. I told myself I was acting like a child. But, I could not stop. And, the fact that I could not stop, the fact that I hated my utter loss of control made me sink even lower. I collapsed into a pile of unfolded laundry and cried.

And then about 30 minutes later, I got up. And went into the kitchen. I got out a knife…
And I began carving the cake into the shape of a smaller rat.
And I frosted it.

I apologized to my children for my words. "We know, mom" my daughter told me. "You are always fine if we just leave you alone for a while. You never run away." She told me. I knew no mother should ever make their child even consider these things, but I appreciated the understanding. It's not easy maintaining sanity when the going gets tough. Or when silly micro-problems break the stressed out camel's back. Especially, for single parents. We have to learn to ask for help. We have to learn to say "Oh RATS" and move on. The only people who will ever think we are perfect anyways are right there in front of us: Our kids. As to what anyone else thinks… let them eat cake.

We continue to forgive each other. <3 JK

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Part 1, Spit for Spat: The Not Quite As Easy Child

My daughter was born exceptional. She nursed like the la leche league gave her in-utero latching lessons. She could hold her own in an adult conversation at two years old. She wasn't a picky eater, she potty trained easily, she didn't whine and she always slept through the night and never left her bed. Her Kindergarten teacher loved her so much that she asked to babysit. Her principal had her work with special needs children. In Kindergarten. Her brilliance continued on every IQ test, in every class and at every competition that followed. She is generous and compassionate and hysterically funny. Even animals adore her. Everyone has always loved my daughter. 

People like my son. But he wears on them. With my daughter people begged to borrow her, with my son people beg me to go home. And to take him with me.

My son is exhausting. He's fidgety. He always looks like he is doing the pee-pee dance. He never stops talking and he stutters, so basically, it takes forever for every conversation to end. He makes up stories and convinces himself they are true. He is far more interested in ghosts, vampires, the people who live in the apartment beneath us, the beetle he found in garage or basically, anything which holds the possibility of a grand tale, far more than he is interested in anything of this realm. His indoor voice could be heard in a packed football stadium. He wets the bed at night and he draws on walls. He is the child that has cut his own hair and drunk the bottle of cough syrup. Emotionally he is like a menopausal woman; he is overly sensitive, prone to outbursts, sedentary and just wants to eat and chat. He is chubby and has a belly like a happy Buddha.

Mom and Z Fall 2011
I, of course, adore him. He is funny and inquisitive. He loves people and will question them for hours, discussing everything from what their grand-kids like to eat, to why they have a blue car. He loves love. He is sensitive and giving. He snuggles and wants kisses. He loves stories. He thinks I'm funny and laughs at all my jokes. He likes to hold my hand. He loves babies and wants to have 10 kids one day. He's not competitive. And he tells great jokes.
In fact, sometimes I feel I relate the most to him. I, too, just want to hang out, tell stories and jokes and eat a lot. Being an overachiever, 
like my daughter (or me for too many years), is exhausting. Life should be fun.

This year he attended preschool and daycare, before and after. He is at school from about 7:45 a.m. until about 5:30-6:00 p.m. each day. During that time he has about 6 caretakers. Some of them love him. Some of them do not at all. I get it, kids can be annoying. Especially those like my son. The adults that like him think he's funny. The others like the nice little girl with matching hair bows who always sits criss-cross applesauce, hands on her lap. My son is the one trying to lick her and simultaneously tell her about the life cycle of snakes... in his "indoor" (screaming) voice.

Too frequently I would arrive to pick him up, after work and find a note in his folder. It was usually the same... morning (when the crabbies work) time... behavior... disrespectful... unruly. And I generally threw it out. After all, I didn't like the morning staff either, so imagined the urge to scream and kick them was just overwhelming for him. Sometimes they would approach me. And there I would stand, staring blankly, while they tell me how he was screaming and impatient and turning legos into guns (does he do that at home?)... "Oh my" I assured them, "I am so sorry," I obliged, "no, he never!" I would recite, vaguely aware a good mother should have some response. All while he would dance around me, trying to pull down my pants and screaming "she's lying!" Which did not help his cause.

Camping Summer 2011

 His preschool lead teacher adores him. She thinks he's exceptionally bright and just needs stimulation. She has given him more responsibility and watched him shine. She thinks he's analytical and creative. His brain never turns off and so neither does the rest of him. She (being proficient at her job) has harnessed his energy into a positive force. In return, he trusts her and acts accordingly. Because he feels loved he gives love in return. 

So on the day the folder produced dual notes, I knew there was a problem. My son had been spitting in the mornings, but now he had also spit in preschool. It seemed something he was just "doing", when he was frustrated, without any forethought. He spit at the teachers, at other kids and at the ground. Despite our many talks, threats and positive reminders, he continued the behavior. Even in preschool. I knew we had a problem.

What do I do, though? I can't very well take him home at 6 pm and give him a time out for something he did at 10 am. Lecturing was not working. Rewarding didn't seem to work because he so quickly forgot about it during the day and spitting was a thoughtless reaction. He would cry to me at the day's end, "I didn't mean to! My mouth has a ghost in it!" He promised me it was not his fault. What is a working mom to do?! Daycare was at its wits end. Our loving preschool teacher was concerned. The more he felt they were frustrated with him, the more he seemed to act out. Tit for tat and spit for spat. Conferences were going to occur. And I had no solution.

I called my boyfriend, Mr. Perfect, in a tizzy. He is always far more rational than me. Punishment? He asked. I explained he was doing it as a reaction, with not enough premeditation for cause and effect. There would just be a lot of punishing happening. And I'm not there. Rewarding? Again, he's just being reactionary, plus what, how do I track? A chart in school? But he moves classes and has 6 different care workers, all with a different idea of "good" behavior. How would it be consistent? Not to mention, I'M NOT PRESENT FOR ANY OF THIS. Then, I had it, my mom of the year brain explosion.....

On the back is a sticker that reads: To love someone is to allow then room enough to grow.

I made him a "no spitting" necklace and incorporated every learning/ discipline tool I could think of. It was simple for the multiple caretakers to understand. If he spit, the green card flipped inside out and turned red. It went with him throughout the day, it was portable. He wore it and felt it, so it was a constant reminder of his task. And we had a song:
Green means GO, green means GO, 
green means GO get a toy, 
its time to be a good boy!
We went to the dollar store and he picked out 5 toys. Every day he came home with a green card he got a toy. Every time he came home with a red card he would lose a toy. The only time he was ever allowed to spit was when he was brushing his teeth. Not wanting to see his necklace "turn red" he carefully removed it each time he brushed his teeth. We sang the song all night and in the morning shared the plan with all the teachers.

Day one: I picked him up with his green carded necklace and was told how well it worked. He played with it all day, making him constantly aware of his own body and reactions. He sang the song. He felt proud he had it. We went home and he got his toy.

Day two: I arrived, looking for the green around his neck and saw the necklace was gone. I walked in and the caretaker nodded her head no. "It's in his folder." She told me. It was red. He had refused to wear it after the color changed. As soon as he saw me, he threw himself on the ground and started screaming that he hated me. He received no toy.

Day three: We were back in swing of things. I wasn't giving up! We sang the song all the way to school. Green at pick up.

Day four: We forgot to put it on. No spitting.

Day five: It got wet and the green and red ran together. But it wasn't wet with spit, just water table fun. No spitting again.

Its been two weeks. No spitting. And I am just counting the days until summer and I can change his venue. At least new caregivers give him a clean slate.

This is who my son is. I have charts and bags of rewards. We have constant talks. He laughs at me and tickles my cheeks when I'm trying to be serious. He bangs toys on glass and jumps on beds when I'm trying to hold his attention. He peed in a vase once because "I just really wanted to try it, mom". He hates wearing pants. I have to repeat everything to him 3232 times. He's four. And he's a handful. And he's also an armful, of love.