Corruption

Despite all of the kid-drama I’ve dealt with thus far with Brogan, one thing I’ve held my hat on is the fact that he and Beckett actually get along. Sure, they chase each other around and fight over toys, but you can tell that they really like each other.

But recently, Brogan has begun to exploit Beckett’s admiration… and it would seem that our oldest has found a little recruit to help execute his mischievous efforts. In short, we have entered the corruption phase.

Brogan spent a considerable amount of time this weekend “calming down” in a chair in the living room. And since he was physically unable to assault us, he calls Beckett over to him. “Beckett, do you know how to spit?” Brogan proceeds to spit in demonstration… not a full-on spit, just the really aggravating kind that sprays slobber in every direction. Beckett smiles and gladly follows the command. Spppttt. “Now go spit on mommy.” And Beckett happily walks over to me, grinning ear to ear, and spits at me. Freaking fabulous.

Blake and I looked at each other in disbelief. Was this really happening? Already? Brogan using my sweet Beckett to carryout his antics. It can’t be. But it was. And it didn’t stop at spit. Brogan tried teaching Beckett a new vocabulary of things to call Blake and me. “Beckett, go tell daddy he’s a poopy.” Again, commands from the “calm down” chair.

I suppose this is not totally outside the realm of normal. I suppose this is how it works with brothers (or siblings).  I suppose when you imprison one kid with a strong will he will find a way to get you back. And I suppose three-year-olds don’t quite understand the concept of ethics.

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Leading by Example

When I picked Brogan up from the sitter’s today, he was in one of those moods.  He was running all over the house, talking (obnoxiously and intentionally) loud while the sitter was taking an important call, picking on Beckett (like, literally trying to pick his nose), and not listening to anything I asked of him. And then it was time to make it to the car. Now this daily ritual is always a fun one. Beckett demands to “walk!” (one of his new words), he screams when you put in him his car seat because he wants to turn on the overhead “light!” (another new word). Then he wants to help buckle himself in. Meanwhile Brogan is typically running around the car, ignoring instruction to get in. He’s typically picking up rocks or acorns, or he’s taken off to ride the lawnmower parked in the carport. But today, he decides he’s going to drive my car. Which means he’s in the driver’s seat, turning on my lights, honking the horn, blaring the radio, buckling himself in and locking me out. And while I’m equipped with the keys, the very act of him hitting the lock button and starring at me through the window with the nah-nah-na-na-nah grin is enough to send my blood boiling.  Breath.

I finally negotiated him into his car seat, but by this point, my nerves were shot and I was highly aggravated.  Then Brogan asks (because the sun was in his eyes), “Mommy, can I wear your sunglasses?” “No.” I responded. “When you don’t listen and you misbehave, I don’t do nice things for you.” This was not the first time I’d given him this response. Previously it felt right, like a justifiable response. In the moment today, it felt good too. It was like, Ha! You don’t listen to me, I’ll show you! But after that fleeting moment of vindication, another thought occurred to me… what am I teaching him? Am I teaching him that acts of (my) kindness are dependent on him acting a certain way? Am I teaching him that when someone upsets him, he too should resort to pettiness? Am I teaching him that some part of my love is conditional? I thought I was teaching him that there are consequences to his bad behavior, but that was not the message I was left with today.  I began thinking about the parallels with a marriage. I believe that a marriage is a 100/100 proposition – each spouse should give a 100% regardless of what the other is giving. It is not 50/50.  But I felt like in this tit for tat I had going on with Brogan, I was not giving him my all.  Shouldn’t I be leading by example? Shouldn’t I show him giving, and consideration despite his rough attitude? After all, that’s how I try to live my life in other arenas. Why does my maturity wane when I’m tested by a three-year-old?  Maybe it’s because it my non-mom world, people don’t relentlessly aggravate me until I’m shouting four-letter words under my breath (typically), but it’s really no excuse. I’m the adult. It’s really mind over matter, and I should learn how to deal. In this circumstance, I was not wearing my sunglasses, the sun was legitimately in his eyes, and they were within my reach. I simply said no because I was pissed, and I wanted to make him mad too… and somehow teach him a lesson. Well today, I was taught the lesson. I need to be the example of a caring and calm adult who does not let her emotions dictate her behavior.  Funny how I get on to Brogan about not being able to manage his emotions, but I can’t always manage mine.  Funny how I tell Brogan to share, to be nice to his brother, to calm down (and take deep breaths), and to lose his smart-mouth attitude, but then my go-to response contradicts all those things I say. The good thing about today was that I had a moment of clarity that reminded me I have to show him.  Trying to be a good parent is a daily mission and I’m coming to believe it’s a perpetual work in progress. But I’m going to keep on working.

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Things I never thought I’d say

Becoming a parent means you subject yourself to new experiences – new joys, new challenges. You often find yourself in situations you could have never, ever fathomed.  And in these situations, there are things that come out of your mouth that are just crazy.

Brogan has put me through the wringer over the past two weeks… which makes for some serious stress on the home-front, but hey, it gives me something to write about! (Although in all seriousness, these are not all things I’m happy to be writing about!)

So here are the things my three-and-a-half year old has caused me to say as he’s been testing boundaries, pushing the limits and being downright defiant.

  • Don’t lick the gum on the sidewalk!!!” Oh, I wish I were making this up. At Stone Mountain this week, he was messing with some (very old) gum on the sidewalk, when I said, “Hey, that’s gum, don’t mess with it.” I turn around and before I knew it he’s down on all fours licking the gum. Freaking disgusting. Goldfish off the ground ain’t looking so bad anymore.
  • Put that ax back where you got it!” Brogan was playing outside and I notice that he’s carrying Blake’s ax from the shed around the backyard. I run outside to address the situation, and he says, “Don’t worry mommy, I’m really, really careful with sharp axes.” Right.
  • Do not put gas cans in the back of mommy’s car!” Followed by, “and don’t ever play with gas.” Pretty unfortunate story here… In an effort to not engage him in a power struggle and not yell and not chase him around my car, I allowed him to “drive” my car when we arrived home one afternoon last week. I took the keys and went inside with Beckett. Less than 10 minutes later he comes back inside, in a great mood and being somewhat compliant. I was thinking, Win!  Fast forward to the next morning on my drive in to work. Something caught my eye in the rear view mirror and as I look closer to figure out what in the heck it is, it dawns on me that there is a can of gasoline in the back of my SUV, sitting on top of my stroller. I start the four letter words under my breath (or maybe out loud, I was by myself, after all). Fast forward about 5 minutes and all the stupid cars in front of me slam on their brakes, requiring me to slam on mine. I checked the rearview mirror and there was no more gas can. The four letter words are certainly audible at this point. Seconds later the smell of gasoline hit me like a ton of bricks. And so although it was 20 something degrees outside, all the windows went down as I tried not to get high/pass out/die from the fumes. And now a week later, my car still reeks. I’ve had the carpet vacuumed, fully detailed, tried kitty litter, baking soda, airing out my car all weekend, all to no avail. Still riding around with windows down, hoping I’m not doing permanent brain damage to my kids (or me). The best advice I’ve received was from my neighbor – she suggested I put it on Craigslist, because there just might be people into that sort of thing.
  • It’s not okay to pee in the garage!” One morning last week, Brogan, while waiving me goodbye, proceeded it pull “it” out and start peeing, right there in the garage. Holding “it” with one hand, waiving to me with the other.
  • Do not kick your brother in the forehead down the stairs!” Okay, admittedly this did not come out of mouth verbatim. Unfortunately, it did happen, however, I was too busy screaming in horror as I watched Beckett fall backwards down the entire flight of stairs to reprimand Brogan in the moment. Thank God Beckett was okay – nothing more than a bruise on his face. Beckett was wearing a heavy coat so that helped keep most of him protected as he went down. Brogan was acting out of anger towards me… I had taken a toy away and he was throwing a fit on the stairs and when I told him to be careful (obviously, because he was on the stairs) and Beckett happened to crawl up and got a shoe to the noggin. The little guy was just an innocent bystander. We had Brogan write Beckett an apology note…

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Sorry Beckett Love Brogan (squiggly lines at the bottom are the stairs)

On a positive note, the boys were really good tonight. It was low-stress, fun times in this house. Frozen pizza for dinner, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat and no major catastrophes. After the last few weeks, I really, really needed it. So say a prayer for me… and Brogan… and Beckett… and might as well throw Blake in there too. Pray for listening skills, composure and safe keeping. Pray that this rash of incidents was just a blip on the radar and that we’re sailing into calmer seas. Pray that age four will agree with Brogan a little better and that we will all reap the benefits. And then lastly pray that Beckett does not pick up all of Brogan’s bad habits and that I’m not writing about the same stories in two years, authored by my youngest son. Amen.

Choices

As I was tucking Brogan into bed tonight, we were talking about his day. I was using the whole “bad news sandwich” technique… you know, the one where you start and end with something good, but the middle is where the ugly stuff comes out. Well, as I started in on some of the good decisions he made today… “Buddy, today you made some good choices, like when you picked up toys, when you put away your dirty clothes and…” He cut me off. “Not really,” he said. “Not really?” I asked… “I didn’t really make good choices in the bath, or when I was in your bed, or when I was drinking your milk like a cat.” He told me he was sorry for not listening. I told him he was right, that those weren’t good choices and that I accepted his apology. We hugged really tightly and I savored every second of that calm, sweet moment.

It was a really trying day today. With Blake working weekends, I’ve got the boys solo, and as was the case last weekend, by Sunday night the fuses (on both ends) are pretty short. (I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it – Saints!) But I tried really hard to keep it together. I did keep it together.  But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some four letter words being said under my breath. Like, a lot of four letter words. See, Brogan’s not used to this new mommy. The one that stays calm, that doesn’t chase him, that’s not yelling at him to behave. So we’re going through a little bit of exploring of the limits. How much can I do and how bad can I be before she snaps… Well little buddy, you tried your darnedest, but you didn’t break me! Here’s his resume from today:

  • While I was bringing my food to the dinner table, he grabbed my milk and proceeded to drink it with his tongue – just like a cat. Meow.
  • I was running the bath water and went to go grab PJs, came into the bathroom to find him in full PJs (the ones we never changed out of today lol) in the water. But I got in the bath, mommy!! 
  • Using my scarves as ropes to pull his toys around. My new scarves, mind you.
  • Decided to play musical instruments while Beckett was sleeping. First the trumpet (until he made the choice to get it taken away), then the train whistle, then the drum sticks. The the tambourine. Grrrr.
  • Knocked over folded clothes on my bed, while I was trying to fold them. Not once. Not twice. But three times he scurried on my bed and trampled my clothes. You can’t catch me, you can’t catch me…. wanna bet?
  • Decided he needed to get the water hose on outside to water the plants. And in the process make a lot of mud. And was wearing his new tennis shoes to tromp through the mud. Then he took them off (good choice), but went back out in socks. :/

Probably a typical day for many “spirited” children. But what gets me is he does this all with a smile, like he’s trying to be charming while he’s being awful. He’s constantly looking for a reaction and I tried hard not to give him one.  But what I haven’t mastered is how to get him to immediately stop something (like any of the items above) without going down the crazy trail with him. I guess it’s choices, but even those can be tricky. When you’re laying out their choices, picking the right options is key, and harder than you may think, especially when you’re about to lose your mind over whatever aggravating thing they are doing to warrant a “decision discussion”. A couple of choice propositions that worked well today..

  • When faced with a mess to clean up: Would you like me to help you clean up the mess, or clean it up on your own?
  • When trying to get into the bath: Would you like take a bath or go to bed? (win/win, really)

Yep, there were only two that went well. I fumbled through the other 58. As I become an expert in this (ha!), I hope to have some more to share.

Cheese on stairs

One of the sweet moments from today. They both listened and sat still for a picture and actually smiled!  They must have known I was on the edge and needed a little something to keep me going.

Oh, and mommy got the last laugh today. I did the bath 30 minutes early and had them both in bed by 7:37 without them realizing it was early. Suckers!!!

Oh Santa, why aren’t you here year-round?

This is the first year that Brogan really gets the concept of Santa. He knows that Santa brings presents to good boys and girls and being the self-aware toddler that he is, knows that where he lies on that “naughty and nice” spectrum is a little questionable.  If you’ve read any of my kid-related posts, you know that it’s been a struggle to find this child’s currency. And while I’m happy to report that our recent shift in focus on the positive and rewards versus punishment has shown us some improvement, there is nothing, I repeat, nothing that gets my little misbehaver to mind like the mention of Santa.

Now I know some will say that we’re bribing our child with the promise of gifts come Christmas morning. Well, we are. But we’re okay with it. We own it. To be honest, finding something that speaks to him, makes him think about what he’s doing, weigh the consequences and make the right decision is refreshing (and by refreshing, perhaps I mean relaxing, since it drops what would have been a 20 minute pre-Santa meltdown to 5 minutes, tops).  Now I don’t want to sugarcoat this, his tendency is still to push the envelope, talk back, not clean up his toys and not share.  But, when we tell him that either Max (our Elf on the Shelf) sees what he’s doing (and will tell Santa), or (and even more effective) that we’re going to call Santa himself, that kid will shape up. And these are not entirely empty threats. You see, my brilliant husband found a phone number online that you can call and get a recorded version of Santa reminding kids to be good. For anyone interested, the number is 951-262-3062. Works like I charm. When we actually have to call, all it takes is Brogan hearing the first couple of “Ho, ho, hos” and he’s yelling, “Nooo!!!” And then he’s like putty in our hands.

And for those of you out there who do not need to use the Santa-threat 42 times each night, you obviously have a child who listens better than mine. And for those of you who have kids who share in Brogan’s “spirited nature,” don’t you wish we could use Santa all year round??

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Brogan and Beckett with Santa last year (2012)

The Email from School

The email from school… similar to the call from school – the heart drop that follows seeing the school’s name on the caller ID – it’s not what a parent wants to see in their inbox.  So today’s email from Brogan’s preschool director went something like this…

I told Brogan I was going to email you to let you know about his behavior today walking to and from the library.  He was refusing to acknowledge whether or not he heard us talking to him, calling his name, etc.  On the way back he was walking across an area closer to the road so I called his name to stop.  He didn’t respond so I called it much louder (Brogan!) while moving over to stop him.  I told him it was very dangerous to ignore people when you are walking down the sidewalk because he could get hurt.  I love Brogan.  He is a sweet child who wants to please people but he also has been stubborn recently and refuses to acknowledge us when we talk to him.  Could you please speak to him about working on that for me? 

I’ll tell you, it’s one thing when they don’t listen to you… but it’s another when they don’t listen for others.  Although I shouldn’t be surprised because this is the same Brogan we are constantly trying to wrangle.  It is upsetting and it’s scary that his disobedience could really get him hurt.  During the car ride home, I started the conversation of disappointment and scolding, to which Brogan responded, “I don’t want to talk about it!!” (Is he 16??) But talk we did, both Blake and I until we felt he finally listened.  And then it was time for the punishment… and since nothing has seemed to work, we went back to the drawing board.

Blake’s (mastermind) punishment was that Brogan had to sit on the couch for the entire evening.  No playing outside, none of his TV shows, no toys, no helping mommy cook.  He tried to push the boundaries, but Blake was firm. Blake stayed in the living with him the entire time to make sure he wouldn’t get one over on us.  And despite Brogan’s pleads and trying every possible angle he could think of to get off the couch (pretending to fall off, needing to throw something away, extending his leg just so far so that his big toe would touch the ground, etc., etc.,), that kid stayed on the couch.  When dinnertime rolled around, I have never seen him so excited to eat.  And subsequently, I have never seen him so excited to take a bath, and then to go to bed.  What a turn of events. These “transitions” from one nightly routine to another are always difficult, but I suppose for an active 3-year-old, when the alternative is sitting on the couch, anything else is fun.  Brogan was begging for bed 30 minutes early, but we made him stick out the couch confinement until his normal bedtime. And to continue the antagonizing, Blake insisted that he be the one to bathe Brogan, dress him and take him to bed (all things that only mommy can do on any normal night) – and we continued to explain that this is what happens when you don’t listen to grown-ups.

And in a last-ditch effort to butter me up, Brogan drops a couple of lines on me right before bed.

Brogan:  Mommy, I love you. Did you know that?
Me: Yes, buddy, I know, and I love you too.

Brogan: Mommy, you’re a great mom!
Me: Thank you, buddy.

Brogan: Mommy, you are a hard worker-girl! You work so hard, but you don’t have wear a hard hat like the hard-worker men.

This kid just makes me smile sometimes, even in the midst of all his shenanigans.

I emailed the teacher back, apologized for his poor behavior and ensured her that we spoke to him, punished him, and that we were trying.  Any notifications of misbehavior at school will mean the couch for Brogan. Crossing my fingers and saying a prayer that some part of the tot-torture he endured tonight will sink in and he’ll start listening. And if he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long, long week…

Brogan on the couch

Why I’m Not the Soccer Mom I Hoped I’d Be

Soccer mom – it’s what a lot of us strive to be – myself included.  Ever since I found out there was tot soccer in our area, and Brogan expressed an interest in playing, I was pumped to get this title. I didn’t have great expectations for this 6-week “season.” I knew there would not be any real games, just “sessions” where the kids play, run and kick around a soccer ball.  I was happy to ease into it all and thrilled to see Brogan in what I thought would be his element.

But what being a soccer mom has meant for me is embarrassment and shame.  Trying to deal (unsuccessfully) with a child who does not listen at all. I’m talking not at all. So there are a couple of things here – I don’t think he likes organized soccer; he liked kicking a ball around at home; he liked watching it on TV. But he doesn’t like listening to a coach; he doesn’t like having to remain focused. I get it, he’s three. This is not my issue. The problem is that he, in repeated acts of defiance, runs off.  And by running off, I mean runs into other live soccer games going on in the adjacent fields.  By running off, I mean he goes and lies in the nets of said live games interfering with kids trying to shoot goals.  And let me set the stage – the park where he plays soccer is the quintessential suburban-American soccer complex.  There are 20+ fields; probably 5 games and +/- 10 practices all going on simultaneously.  It is the mecca for upper middle class families to show off their mini-vans and SUVs and their stick people families (I have one on my SUV, so no judgment).  So here I am, chasing after him, trying to act like I’ve got it under control, shouting for him to stop, using my I mean business tone, all to no avail.  Sometimes I eventually catch up to him; sometimes it’s a ref or coach of another team that intercepts him.  Every time I’m met by judging eyes and smug looks that are just screaming you’re an awful parent.  I look around – no other kids are acting this way.  What the hell??

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He does this for Blake too. Blake and I were in this together on two Saturdays and then we’ve each had him solo. Brogan thinks it’s a game. He thinks it’s funny. I can’t tell if he’s doing this because he doesn’t want to be at soccer and he thinks this will get us mad and leave… or if this is just another outlet for his defiance. It could be all the attention and his endless desire to be the center of it; or the fact that the audience is much larger than he’s used to and that is freaking awesome.  I’ll probably never know. What I do know is that it’s the first time as a parent that I have felt this sort of shame. Sure, he’s embarrassed me. But those are just one-off situations that typically don’t happen in front of the same people more than once. But this is recurring. We’re that family with that kid. We’re four weeks in and that means two more weeks of torture. Perhaps for all three of us. Blake and I feel we should stick it out (it’s only six weeks, after all). We want him to learn that when you start something you finish it, that you shouldn’t quit a team.  He was the one who wanted to play soccer (before we started of course).  And on the chance that part of his acting-out is because he wants to quit, we don’t want to reward his bad behavior. He’s smart, so we always have to factor in the potential for some good ‘ole manipulation.  But I have to admit that part of me says forget it and we look forward to the next thing he wants to do – baseball when he’s four.

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Becoming a soccer mom was supposed to be a rite of passage. But instead the experience has left me feeling pretty down on my parenting skills. As the saying goes, misery loves company; it actually makes me smile when I see other parents dealing with bad kids. It reassures me that I’m not alone.  I know we’ll get through it – these are first world problems. I will try to look on the bright side.

And when someone sees my three-year-old playing tot soccer wearing a 20-foot leash, don’t judge.

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