I have been doing a lot of soul searching in the recent weeks as I try to work on a personal goal of having a yell free year towards my kids.
For those of you that really know me, this is not an easy task. My fuse can be short, but I have found that it has grown drastically in regards to my children. I might want to (and more often than not, do) immediately scream at a terrible driver who cut me off, but I try very hard not to be this person around my kids or to my kids.
This is a lofty ideal living with a three year old. I don’t know exactly what it is about turning three, but it clearly requires the least amount of rationality a human being can muster. It can be filled with the most magical moments of imagination and wonder, but it can also be riddled with crippling tantrums and mindless negotiations.
I work full time and try to find something fun for the family to do most weekends, at least one small activity, be it a movie, a day trip to pick whatever seasonal fruit the area has to offer , a trip to the zoo, etc. Simply some activity so we don’t have to keep up with the same monotonous regime we generally practice during the week. Because my husband is a musician and his work requires frequent travel, this quite often means I tackle these outings on my own.
My boys, have an amazing nack at wanting to do the opposite of what the other wants to do whenever we’re in public. At home, they generally play very well together, I often find them sharing in ways I wouldn’t have been able to imagine such young boys to do, but in public, they become very different creatures.
Riley, my three year old, is very strong willed and generally does what he can to get his way. Balancing this dynamic, is his sweet, charming, and caring side that will melt your heart.
Desmond, my 21 month old is my quiet stoic type. He clearly recognizes that his brother takes the lead in voicing opinions, and while he does speak up every once in awhile, he is generally happily along for the ride.
This weekend I decided to venture out with the boys to a local place called Monkey Joe’s. For those of you that don’t know, Monkey Joe’s is an inflatable facility, where hoards of kids can run around and play on varieties of bounce houses and structures. They also have a small video/arcade facility, and a small snack bar.
We had all been cooped up inside for well over a week for different reasons, snow and surgery recovery mainly, but whatever the reason was, we needed to have some out of the house time. Riley and I discussed the outing in detail while getting ready and before leaving the house. We talked about what you can do at Monkey Joe’s, what types of food they had there (not that I was really excited about him eating anything they serve there), and what the rules were for going into the facility. We talked about how we were meeting our neighbor friends there and how much fun it would be to see them and get some play time in. We talked about how he had to listen to Mommy, how he needed to stay within my sight, and to not run away. We also discussed the video games, that we weren’t there to play them, that we were there to enjoy the inflatables, burn off some steam, and then get some lunch elsewhere at a healthier location. The energy wasted on this conversation became plainly evident the moment we walked in the door.
I should have expected the place to be a total madhouse, but I went in with the lofty notion that I could handle it, we would only be there an hour or so, and the amount of parental appreciation I would achieve from this outing would all but make up for the short time frame of stress. To state it simply, I was wrong.
We walked right in to wait in line for about 10 minutes before even paying to get in. One twenty-something girl was managing the register and solely responsible for checking in children, placing their arm bands on, and charging their parents the nominal fee to play. I made the best of it, my boys were actually behaving at the time. We took some pictures to document the amazing cow lick Riley had that day, & I was able to let both walk around the lobby area while we waited our turn, and they somehow understood that they had to stay behind the velvet rope until we had paid and gotten our wristbands.
The first thing you walk past once you have been marked as “official” is the snack bar. The selections here are what you can expect of a place that caters to children & not parents, various ice cream bars, icees, hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and of course, candy. Immediately I get drilled about getting a “smoothie.” Somehow, my intelligent three year old has modified the term of “Icee” to the more acceptable and healthy alternative of “Smoothie.” I honestly have no idea where he learned this, as we make and consume REAL smoothies very frequently in our household and Icee’s are a very rare treat (or they were, I will never again buy my son one of these demon creations.) I negotiate with him that maybe if he’s a good boy and plays nice, I will buy him an Icee or a treat after we have had some play time. So we take our shoes off and head to the inflatables. Walking past the few game machines that have now peeked Riley’s interest.
By this point, we have met up with our neighbor friends who I’m trying desperately to have an adult conversation with while I let my children play, but Riley did not see the merit in allowing me to do so. Desmond was beyond excited to get in the bounce areas designed for toddlers, and Riley would have had a great time as well had he never spied those stupid game machines, but since he did it was all he could think of. While Desmond played in the “farm” bounce area, Riley proceeded to have tantrum after tantrum, noodling his way out of my grasp, flailing on the floor, and making great attempts to run away. As Desmond starts to crawl out of the bounce house, I negotiate once again with Riley to try the bigger structures, maybe the slides would peek his interest more?
I have not mentioned that there were probably 100+ people in this place, so keeping track of your children can be daunting to say the least. I decided to hold on to Desmond while seeing if I could interest Riley in playing on the bigger structures. My poor “Bean” as I like to call him, clearly had had a fantastic time in the toddler areas and wanted to go back I was desperately trying to not only keep up with Riley, but also attempt some form of communication with my friend. I had invited them to meet us up there, so poor Bean was going to have to squirm a bit longer until I could get Riley back into an area where I could watch the both of them at the same time.
I finally cornered Riley and politely “requested” he spend some time in the smaller areas so his brother could get some play time in, hoping that once he spent more than 30 seconds in one area he would start to have fun. The flaw in my plan was that these toddler areas are right on the edge of the game areas. I had only brought my debit card inside, so no matter how much pleading Riley did, he wasn’t going to be able to play those games because I simply didn’t have the cash to allow him to. After a few minutes of repetitive begging, flailing, crying, and pleading, I told him that if he would give me just a minute to get Bean out, maybe we could get a treat and try to have a good time.
This tactic actually worked, we bought an Icee and were able to sit at a table, where I was finally able to enjoy some much needed adult conversation with my friend. We chatted for a short bit, while I requested Riley share his Icee with his brother. As the Icee started disappearing, the squirming to get out of chairs began. We were sitting next to the games and I let both boys play on them, but told them I did not have any cash to get them to start. This seemed to work until paying customers came in and enlightened them on how much more fun those games were when you actually payed to play them. At this point, Riley starts asking strangers for money. As if he was this poor, destitute child who was depraved and neglected, not the little boy who gets 99% of what he asks for most of the time.
My friend and I were both clearly ready to get out of that place, it was late for lunch and we both needed to get our kids fed, so we said our goodbyes and made our separate exists. I was honestly jealous of the seamlessly easy way she and her husband were able to get their son to stand on their sit/stand stroller and vacate the premises. I wrestled my kids into their shoes and started the discussion on where we would go to eat. Once it dawned on Riley that this meant we were exiting the building, all hell broke lose.
While toting his 26lb little brother on my hip, he started screaming that he wanted to go back and play on the “bouncy things.” Must I remind you that he really didn’t want to have anything to do with the bounce areas earlier, and had it not been for the 10 minutes of fake game time, my money had not been well spent on this adventure? Either way, I was trying to keep a cool head. I knew he had had both vast amounts of sugar and Red Dye 40 and more than likely this was leading to his behavior. I knew 100% that this was my fault in allowing him to have the treat, but figured I would get him calm when we got in the car. As we are exiting the door, he breaks free from my hand and attempts to bolt across the parking lot.
This is where I feel like I am going to lose my shit. Like I mentioned very early on, I don’t have the best temper, but I can usually keep it together for the sake of my kids, but after making every attempt to make them happy, my tactics resulted in failure after failure on this trip. Then Riley attempts to run into the extremely busy parking lot. As my internal flames started to grow, I grabbed his arm and walked him to the car, he screamed like a banshee, scaring a smoking parent around the corner, noodled out and forced me to carry both him and his brother to the car.
I was mortified, but figured based on the location, this was not the 1st time, nor the last, that this type of behavior would be witnessed in their parking lot. He started screaming for his daddy (noted above, was out of town) and that just down right hurt my feelings. I know I shouldn’t have let that happen. He’s 3, I’m 32. I should know better, but I had spent my entire morning trying to show him a good time and treat him and his brother to a fun day out. My bad for making such a ridiculous choice of venue for a sunny Saturday, but hey at least I tried, right?
Somehow throughout all this I kept telling myself that it would pass. I believe in attachment parenting (for the most part) and although I have had my moments, do not believe in “conventional” methods of discipline and like to talk problems out with my children. Time outs are ineffective for us, although I still result to them when I need the second to cool down, spanking is a definite will not happen in my household, and screaming just teaches them that screaming is ok as well. Lead by example, right?
I would like to make everyone believe that I practice what I preach, but I have moments where I lose sight of my personal goals as a parent. I have screamed at my son, I have put him in time out, in his room – with the door closed (GASP!), and I have most certainly lost my cool. Miraculously, just at that moment when I start to lose control of myself and even think about physical discipline, the light bulb flicks on. I can see on his face that he really doesn’t understand what is going on. This is painfully difficult when he is laughing at my attempts to control him, but those are the moments I think it hits me the hardest. He’s an individual human person, but a toddler version of one.
If he is anything like me, he HATES it when people try to control him. He relishes in his own individuality. He embraces his personality and doesn’t take life too seriously. (Yes, I understand he is three and most likely does none of this, but I hope one day he will.) He’s just trying to learn how to be a little boy.
In my attempt to get him to understand this particular situation and why the way he acted out, including his physical attempts to escape and run into traffic, would not be tolerated, I mustered up just enough personal strength to keep from yelling. I was firm, I was clearly upset, but I didn’t cave in and show him that I was angry. I made it clear that it hurt my feelings that he kept asking for daddy, but I stuck to my guns and reminded him that his daddy would not tolerate that sort of behavior either. We then called Daddy over the bluetooth speaker in the car and had a discussion as a family about how to behave. It was obvious he was embarrassed, he wouldn’t say a word. He showed his temper and threw my phone when his Daddy asked to speak to him directly, but after a couple minutes of this dynamic, he calmed down and so did I.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my younger son Desmond during this exchange. This is where he shows his personality the most, in moments of struggle between his brother and his parents. He just shuts up and doesn’t make a sound. Somehow in the midst of all the madness that can be negotiations between a three year old and their parents, this amazing little toddler somehow just knows to stay out of it. He could start screaming too, he does this under different circumstances, like excitement over toys or movies, etc, but he somehow recognizes that this is a time to sit back and just observe. I would love to think that since he is taking all of these moments in, he will never have the tantrums that his brother does, but that is not the case. As he approaches two, he is want to his own set of struggles and tantrums are already happening, but they are never during times when his brother is having one. I don’t know how or why this happens, but it is almost magical. (As I write this, I feel the weird sensation that I am jinxing myself to years of dueling tantrums ahead of me…)
Once we all have regained our sense of rationality and had calmed ourselves adequately, we discuss where to go for lunch. I suggest “Noodle Pie” (what my husband and I charmingly named Noodles and Co. a few years back), while not the organic farm to table restaurant I would love to frequent, it at least offers better choices than others in the area. (Note: Farm to table establishments are almost non-existent in the suburban areas of Richmond. Such a shame, I wish we could be more on the ball like Asheville, NC.) I could get whole grain pasta and the boys could eat mac and cheese. Again, I am not perfect. For some reason the name itself set him off again, I don’t what it was about noodles and pie that bothered him, but I had to explain to him that that was a made up name and once he understood the real name, he was ok with the idea. Three year olds.
Food has been a struggle of late with Riley, he just doesn’t want to eat unless it is chicken nuggets and french fries. Making this even more frustrating, is that he only wants a particular billion dollar franchise’s version of these items. We are trying very hard to change this, we no longer buy McD’s, although he gets it on occasion from elsewhere. Where mac and cheese used to be his favorite, he now says no nearly each and every time I suggest it.
I place our order, when I mention mac and cheese, he protests, but I stay strong. I figured that he won’t let himself starve and if anything, the organic chocolate milk they were both getting would satisfy some nutritional value. We sit down and wait for our food, they are both having a great time. The runner brings the food to us and must have overheard my son complain in line and tells me that they will exchange his food if he doesn’t like it at no charge. She lists off the different options that are kid favorites and I thank her profusely. Then I start the negotiations again, I had mentioned to Riley the night before when he was playing with his Play Doh that maybe we can get him a new playset if he behaved. I bring this up and use it to my advantage. I let him make the decision on what he wants to do, eat lunch and get new Play Doh, or just have milk and no Play Doh. He chooses Play Doh, but struggles with getting the first bite down. Once he gets past that reaction and realizes he likes what he is eating, he manages to get in just enough to qualify as a meal. Meanwhile, Desmond is covered head to toe in cheese because if there is one food that that child loves more than anything else (and apples) it is mac and cheese.
Once we wrap up lunch, we head over to Target to get that agreed upon Play Doh. Me vying for the set I think he will be able to understand and play with the most, Riley vying for the most complicated and difficult set available. Guess which one we get?
We get home and I put Desmond down for a late nap, and help Riley get set up on the kitchen island to have some quiet time with the new Play Doh set, and allow myself some much needed veg time on the couch. None of this actually happens though because the five minute nap Desmond had in the car is now keeping him awake and, just like I knew it would, the new Play Doh set causes several more fits of despair on Riley’s behalf. Since Desmond is now up, I use this to my advantage to stop the Play Doh madness. I quickly put everything away and hide the new playset (as it is the devil), throw on a movie and finally relax.
For the remainder of the day, I find anyway I possibly can to avoid any drama. I cave to several requests and in general let my little dictators rule the night.
This is a typical weekend day in my household. A vast series of negotiations and battles. I win some and I lose some. I generally call it a draw by the time the day is wrapped up, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I honestly enjoy the struggles that parenting has so far provided. I can only imagine how painfully boring my life would be without them, and wonder what the hell I did with my time before I had children. I look forward to Fridays when I get to do it all over again.