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.


  1. Love this! (except for the mean childcare providers)

  2. oh my goodness, this is awesome!! I'm laughing hysterically at several things; "Emotionally he is like a menopausal woman..." that whole paragraph had me cracking up.
    But then I was completely compelled by the 'no spitting' card story. I'm so glad he has changed his behavior. And props to you mom for coming up with that idea.
    Sounds like some of those caregivers could get a stick or two pulled out their ass.
    I look forward to the next chapters!

  3. I love the idea of the spitting card! I have a son with Sensory Delays and this would work wonders for him. I hear you on the childcare. I've gone the rounds with mine so many times! I've had similar reactions about their little "notes". lol! Love your blog!

  4. I love this! My son is also 4 he hasn't started school yet, but at home I have problems with him hitting and kicking. I'm going to try this technique with him.