A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker invited me, or really Riley, to have a playdate with his daughter. He was anxious about the request and began rapidly and apologetically explaining his reasons behind it. He explained that his wife was going back to work and that they would be dropping off their two children, ages five and three, to daycare for the first time. His daughter, the three-year-old, would be in Riley’s class. He further explained that his daughter was very shy and that he was worried about her making friends. He said that she didn’t warm up to others quickly, and it would be great if she could have a friend there before she started. I told him we were happy to do it and hoped that it would indeed make that day a little bit easier. I also over-shared with him that Riley was a member (perhaps founding member?) of what I call the “mean girls club” at school–a group of three girls that includes her best friend, Hawk (a nickname made up by Riley for a sweet little girl named Juliet when she was unable to pronounce her name). This group of girls are very competitive with each other, which is probably putting it lightly. Basically they don’t share well together, they battle over who will be first for anything, and it sometimes comes to blows (well, pushes). By pickup time though, they are the best of friends. I’ve often gotten a confused tilt of the head from the daycare teacher as Riley proclaims while leaving, “Mommy, can we go to Hawk’s house? She’s my best friend.” That’s when you know it’s been a particularly rough day. (more…)
Nurture Her Nature
Hi, folks. This week I’m going to tell you a heartbreaking tale of how two best friends will forever (for a while anyway) be separated from one another (no more sleepovers).
Meet Remy, a playful and talkative German shepherd who will have a conversation with you even before you have your coffee in the morning. She is quite well behaved for being just a little over a year old. Her only “bad dog” moments involve chewing the feet off of some of Story’s stuffed animals. And I’m sure they deserved it.
This is sweet Savannah, a Rottweiler. She belongs to Ali’s pack and has so much love for the family that her little bobbed tail never stops wiggling. At six years old, she still has some of the puppy playfulness with the responsible nature of an older dog. Her “bad dog” moments involve giving too many kisses and slobbering all over people.
When Remy and Savannah met, it was not BFF at first sight. The clusterlove had gathered together at my house for a picnic. The usual sniffing and circling took place, of course. But the kids added another element. Each time Remy would get close to Riley or Maddie, Savannah would jump in to guard them. Remy did the same when Savannah came close to Story. It took a while, but once they finally realized that they both had the same goal—keep the children safe—a friendship was born.
Recently, Ali has had to travel a bit, and I volunteered to watch Savannah, knowing it would be a special treat for Remy. Savannah seemed to be at ease rather quickly. Playing with Remy distracted her from missing her pack too much. The two had a blast together. I swear they were smiling the whole time. I would soon find out, however, that their grins were not of pure happiness; there was a big dose of mischievousness—nay, devilishness—as well.
Savannah does not handle being confined very well. Her crate is a metal heap somewhere in Ali’s garage. Remy is used to being crated. Because I was going to be gone during the days, I had to figure out what to do with the two of them. I couldn’t crate or confine Savannah to a room, and it wasn’t fair to Remy to crate her in her own house while her guest ran free, so I let them have run of the house. What could go wrong? Savannah would drool on things and Remy would de-foot a stuffed animal left out? Not a big deal.
I was wrong. Our two angel dogs become the hounds of hell when together. Over the course of the week, their sins moved from understandable to unbelievable. It was as if they spent the day double dog daring each other. Story found excitement in running into the house before me to report on what the dogs did this time. Let me give you a few examples.
- They scattered the bathroom trash into each room.
- They smeared coffee grounds all over the kitchen.
- They used the den as their toilet.
- They shredded all the cardboard from the recycle bin.
- They chewed holes in some of my clothes.
- They pulled down several hangers from Story’s closet.
- The chewed a hole in the padded part of my lap desk and shook out the thousands of tiny Styrofoam balls, making it look like it had snowed in the living room.
- They pulled pictures off the walls and chewed on the frames.
- They quartered a doll and chewed up her bits.
- They pulled books down from the shelves and attempted to eat them.
- They ate the still-packaged pasta and sauce before I had a chance to cook it for dinner.
- They played tug-of-war with my computer cord, while I was using my computer.
These are just a few things the demons got into. If I dared clean up their mess, they would retaliate by upping the victims: Story’s school papers, her artwork, my books, my favorite pillow. By midweek, I understood that I was dealing with pure insanity and left things as they lay. By the end of the week, in the living room alone, I collected an entire trash bag full of destruction.
After being separated, their demons were somehow exorcised. They have gone back to their good-dog selves, acting like nothing ever happened. It did happen. I know it. But I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I am not the insane one.
We arrived. And as I suspected might happen, I did not arrive the same person I was when I left. I arrived with a little more pride in my heart and a little more self-aware.
The night before we left, I lay in bed and ran through my game plan for the trip. I thought out what my strategy would be during screaming battles. I decided what I would consider a “pull to the side of the road” emergency and what “emergencies” would be considered a lesson in patience. I packed the car with toys and snacks close at hand. I even took some time to repent, for I had committed a good parenting sin and borrowed a portable DVD player from a mom-friend. Absolved and feeling prepared, I went to bed.
We left bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7 am for our estimated six-hour drive. I was prepared to make stops frequently, to spend the night somewhere about halfway through, and to practice meditations. I must admit, I was a little nervous. At 7:30, we made our first stop because of me. I drink a lot of coffee in the morning. We piled back in the car and drove peacefully, until 8:30, when we made another stop, because of me. We unbuckled, the girls waited, we rebuckled, and hit the road again. The girls snacked on muffins and veggie chips in the back seat. Maddie babbled something to Riley; Riley laughed and babbled something back. I heard from the back seat, “Mom, my baby is funny.” There were times that they would space out in front of the DVD player, but the majority of their time was spent talking, reading a book, and playing with their toys.
By 3:00, one hour from our destination, I had broken up one verbal disagreement between the girls. It lasted a total of two minutes. We had stopped frequently, mostly to take care of my own needs. Even with all the unbuckling, rebuckling, and the 90 degree heat, the girls did not complain one time. We had smiled, laughed, and patiently tackled each mile.
It was during that last hour that I realized I had planned and strategized fully assuming that my girls would be poorly behaved. My hope was that we would have a fun road trip, but I didn’t really think that that was going to happen. I hadn’t given them any credit. After a little more self-reflection in a traffic jam, I realized my expectations of their behavior are often pretty low. I expect gymnastics class to be a nightmare, the grocery store to be a disaster, and restaurants to not be worth the hassle. Sure, I’ve been burned by tantrums before, but isn’t my job as a mother to be their continuous cheerleader?
I grappled with this question for the next twenty miles, my mom guilt thicker than the traffic. I knew my answer to this question had to be unequivocally “yes,” which meant I had to sort through a lot of “but they” statements. But they bicker. But they didn’t listen that time. But they just wear me out sometimes. The list goes on. I started tackling these statements, changing my answer from the negative to a positive. It was time to have a growth mindset in my parenting.
We arrived at the hotel after eight hours on the road. Riley burst into the hotel room jumping up and down. “I love my new house! I love my new bed! I love my new TV! I love my new table!” We spent the night at the pool. No meltdowns. No fighting. All smiles. This was the perfect road trip and it taught me an invaluable lesson; I have some amazing little girls, and I could not be prouder of them.
Following are a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way. You aren’t likely to find these in any parenting magazines, but they’ve worked quite well for me!
- Pick a fight. Story was worse than a teenage boy when it came to sleeping in. I could jump up and down on the bed, tickle her, drag her from one corner to the other—it didn’t matter; she wasn’t going to budge from her slumber. I tried nearly everything and then hit the sweet spot. Story loved to argue, and she just had to correct anyone who got her name wrong, so I picked a fight. Over and over. “Wake up, Story Banana.” “My name is Story Bolton.” “Oh, yes, Story Banana Colton.” “No. My name is Story BOLTON.” “Right, right. Wake up Bolton Banana Story.” “Mom-my! My. Name. Is. Story. Bolton!” And she was up! This worked for at least a year.
2. Instill a healthy fear of sugar bugs. We can all agree that oral hygiene is very important and that kids don’t give their teeth’s health a lot of attention. To give Story a better reason for thoroughly brushing her teeth, I told her that every time she ate, she would get sugar bugs that would eat holes in her teeth if left long enough. (She wasn’t really sure about this until I asked her to see if she could feel them crawling around and let her imagination take over.) The only way to kill the sugar bugs is to brush them with toothpaste. I’m happy to say that Story has excellent brushing habits. She especially likes to drown any that may have survived the brushing with mouthwash.
3. Lie. Don’t judge me. We already do it: Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Elf on a Shelf. I just take it a bit further. Story is not allowed to have caffeine. She understands and accepts this (after a longer-than-I-cared-for question-and-answer session about the effects of caffeine on children’s bodies). Her acceptance was too good to pass up. So now, anything that I don’t want her to have has caffeine. That glass of red stuff I’m having with dinner? Oh yeah, that has caffeine. You want a root beer float in the car? Sorry, that has caffeine. Of course, I can’t use it on everything or Story would figure it out, but it certainly comes in handy when avoiding an argument or endless questions,
4. Use her competitive nature to your benefit.
Story is verycompetitive. I tried tempering this somewhat but eventually gave up and used it to my advantage instead. For instance, Story was quick to potty train, but she was afraid to use public restrooms, or maybe it was just her way of manipulating me into going only where she wanted to go. Who knows? But the fact remained, her stubbornness took the spotlight anytime it was necessary for her to use a public toilet. I was able to help her past this fear by challenging her with a timed event: “I bet you can’t go pee by the time I count to ten.” Her eyes would sparkle and there she’d go. I’d count faster every once in a while to make her lose and stir up that competitiveness a bit. I certainly didn’t want it to become too boring for her.
5. Teach the meaning of grounded early. I had the wonderful opportunity to instill the fear of this particular punishment early on. Story asked me if the older neighbor girl could come over to play, and I informed her that she couldn’t because she was grounded. This, of course, piqued Story’s interest and led to several questions. I used a broad definition: “Being grounded means you cannot do anything fun.” One evening, when Story was being particularly disobedient and asked me if she was going to be grounded, I said yes. Anytime she asked if she could do something, I would respond with, “Is it fun?” If yes (which was every time), she couldn’t do it. At one point, she was sitting on her bed doing nothing, and I asked if she was using her imagination. She said yes, and I told her to stop because that was fun. That one evening had quite the effect on her, and now I have an effective replacement for the now-ineffective time-out.
Let’s hear from you! What parenting tips and tricks do you have?
I love my planner. With work and family, I have multiple things going on and need a place to get it all out of my head. It helps keep me sane. It also offers me a new inspirational quote each week. This week’s quote was especially fitting as I prepare for a road trip with my two little ones to my cousin’s wedding, about seven hours away.
I learned about three years ago, when Riley was born, that no plans are fixed. Okay, it took me about a year to fully let go of the control I longed to have over plans, but I learned and relearned how to be flexible. By the time Maddie came around, I’d mastered it (or at least as much as any control freak can). So, on my road trip, I do not plan to have any fixed plans. There will be no “I will arrive by this time” or “We will stop at this rest stop.” I fully intend to either arrive early or late. I may stay a night in a town I hadn’t planned to stay in, and I probably will be stopping along the side of the highway at some point.
The second half is a little harder. I fully intend on arriving.
Like you should with any quote, I am choosing not to take this quote at its literal meaning. We will arrive, although I may arrive a little wiser than when I left. I have traveled by air with a baby, then a pre-toddler, and then a toddler when I made my yearly trip home for Christmas with Riley while we still lived in Colorado, and I know that you do not arrive as the person that you were when you took off. Usually the person getting off of the plane is much more haggard, a little wiser, and either set back by or touched by humanity.
As a new mother, I had my first airplane adventure with Riley when she was three months old. Still new to the scene of motherhood, I hung on to a small amount of my dignity. I had the diaper bag packed with all the essentials, had my own carry-on with my essentials, and was in a generally cheery mood. Most of the passengers were mothers with their children, which I was happy to see. We were going to do just fine.The doors locked, the flight attendants went through their spiel, and we were cleared for takeoff. The front tire had barely left the runway when I felt a rumble. It was too early for turbulence, and unfortunately, I knew that type of rumble all too well. Then the smell hit. Yes, Riley had soiled her diaper at the most inopportune time. It takes about twenty to thirty minutes after takeoff to level out and for the “fasten seat belt” sign to turn off. I couldn’t muster the strength to look up at the other afflicted passengers during this waiting period. Even on a flight full of moms, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find a sympathizer who would overlook the stench she also had to endure. As soon as the flight attendants gave the signal, I made my way, eyes down, to change my little bundle’s bundle. It was my first taste of mom embarrassment. I arrived a little humbler.
Newly a toddler the next year, I was prepared for some embarrassing moments. By this time, I’d been through my share of them. I wasn’t prepared for the maddening adventure that ensued. This time, I was seated between two very busy, very self-important businessmen. If there wasn’t sympathy on the previous flight then there definitely wasn’t any now. Again seizing the opportunity, Riley did not waste a minute and began squirming, climbing, kicking, screaming, and lurching her tiny body in every direction. Keeping flailing toddler hands under control in that confined space is nothing short of a nightmare. My apologies fell on stony stares. Just when I thought I could not take anymore, the businessman to my right pulled out his laptop. A laptop. Riley’s kryptonite. She lost all control and lunged toward it, trying desperately to pound away at its keys. She spent the remainder of the flight completely sideways in my arms crying, reaching, and twitching her body every way she could. The businessman didn’t even look up. I swore never to fly again. I arrived a little harder.
The next trip, Riley was full swing into her toddler years. This time, my mom was visiting to help me move to Indiana. The day prior, my mom and I had packed up my entire house and loaded it onto the moving truck. The next morning, we were exhausted and very eager to get on our way. Getting to the airport, though, proved harder than it sounded. Our flight was at noon, so I scheduled a taxi to pick us up from my house by 9:30. It would give us plenty of time to get there, check in, and grab a bite before getting on the plane. As 9:40 rolled around, the taxi was nowhere to be found; 9:50, still no taxi. I was on the phone with dispatch by that time, and they regretfully informed me that in fact there was no taxi on the way. The request had been misplaced, and they would send another taxi. At 10:20, the taxi finally showed up, slowly hovering past each house looking for its destination. I ran to the bottom of the driveway, frantically waving my arms. Its reaction to my hurried call was less than quick. I rapidly explained that we needed to leave quickly and make it to the airport as fast as possible. This fell on deaf ears. There was not a fast bone in this taxi driver’s body. He reversed as if he were driving through molasses, and the pace did not increase much by the time he got to the highway. I made a fateful mistake of asking him if we would be charged for the fare due to the oversight about halfway to the airport. He diligently pulled over to the side of the highway to call dispatch. I was beside myself and desperately begged him while he chatted to please start driving again. Again, it fell on deaf ears. At that point, my mom and I were so stressed and fatigued that we couldn’t help but break down laughing. We eventually made it and still had about five minutes to spare and grabbed some McDonald’s for Ri before getting on the plane. Surprisingly, she sat and behaved like an angel the whole way. There is something to be said about the presence of a grandparent. I arrived a little more jovial.
With my past traveling-with-a-kid experience tucked safely in my memory, I will embark on this road trip fully intending to arrive. I won’t be fully the person I was when I left. I just hope that my sanity arrives with me.