Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Longest Day

The other night, I took Thing 1 and Thing 2 to Koo Koo Roo, an inexpensive chicken restaurant chain, for dinner right after picking them up from school.

They're always excited to go out to dinner, though Koo Koo Roo is one of the rare places I dare take them these days, given their proclivity to stand up in restaurant booths, run around the tables dancing, and in general, behave in ways that would make Emily Post resign her post.

Dinner actually went okay, despite a few overly rowdy, loud-voiced, gleeful (on their part) and mortifying (on mine) moments, and their insistence on ringing the big bell by the door that you're supposed to ring if you've had a great time, but which annoys staff and customers alike. We'd even managed to get out of the ladies room after a semi-reasonable ten minutes (both kids had insisted on using the toilet, rolling out too much toilet paper, changing their pull-ups, washing hands with too much soap, and pulling repeatedly on the paper towel dispenser). I was counting myself lucky, and considering the excursion a success, when we left the restaurant.

But once inside the parked car, it all went south.

Thing 1 announced he had pooped in his pull-up and needed a change, clearly not caring at all that he'd had every opportunity to poop in the bathroom just moments ago. Thing 2 refused to get in her car seat -- yet again -- even though we were but a three minute drive from home, where I could easily and quickly attend to Thing 1's needs.

Late Blooming Mom tried in vain to convince Thing 2 to get in her seat. There was car door slamming and there were raised voices -- hers and mine. Tempers were lost. Finally I had no choice but to troop back into the restaurant bathroom and have yet another marathon session. Thing 1 successfully cleaned and changed, we trooped back to the parked car ...

...whereupon Thing 2 once again refused to get in her seat.

Late Blooming Mom had already lost it once. And as the clock crept closer and closer to bedtime, the battle to control my temper was already lost.

I'd worked hard all day and tried to give my kids a treat by taking them out. This was how I was rewarded. I realize, of course, that's not at all how my three-year-olds saw it. But battle fatigue had set in.

After asking her to be a big girl and make me proud, after counting to 5 repeatedly, after an exasperated attempt to force a thirty-pound toddler into a seat, and after calling daddy, asking him to come and pick up Thing 2 because I was at my wits' end, Thing 2 twisted her foot in a seat strap. The injury was nothing at all serious, but it smarted enough to cause her to cry and to finally give in. She'd scared herself.

We drove home and I turned both kids over to daddy for their baths, unable to face them again until their much-delayed bedtime, when I -- and they -- were calm.

I hauled out the parenting books again in the aftermath of what seemed a never-ending day. I read all about how you can't give in, you can't reward the limit-testing kid with negative attention, and how most of all, you're not supposed to lose your temper. You've got to manage your own anger or you're modeling bad behavior, not to mention playing into their drama.

The books are right. But in practice, they're hard to put into practice.

Again I am confounded by the fact that being a later-in-life mom hasn't given me any more patience than a twenty-something mom ... in fact, because I get tired more easily and it's harder to recharge my batteries, I may have less.

I also wonder about the differences in temperament and gender: so often it's my daughter doing the limit-testing these days, and I wonder if it'll always be thus. The kid makes it harder for herself. But I am doing her no favors, I know, by not figuring out ways to short-circuit the drama before it blows up.

My friend Melanie, reading an exasperated email, writes to me about how she responds when her three-year-old acts up. "Let me know when you are ready to listen," she says, then leaves the room. I'm going to try that advice when the tantrums happen at home. But I'm not sure what to do when you've got two toddlers in the car you've gotta get home, and one is throwing a fit about a car seat that she's required by law to sit in.

For starters, I'm going to forgive myself for losing it. I have a feeling the kids are more resilient than I suspect, and watching mom lose it is not going to scar them for life. Then I'm going to pray to the patience Gods for more. I'll vow totry to enforce limits quickly without negotiating -- the bad habit/crutch of educated parents turning kids into mini-lawyers -- and hope with all my heart that Thing 2 will someday soon be a little easier to manage as a result ... or at least as a result of getting a bit older.

Fingers crossed.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I believe forgiving yourself is mandatory. And I think it's good for kids to know their parents are human and have limitations just like they do. We had a lot of success with letting the tantrum ride out and saying we'll deal with you when you're not acting like this. Of course, the middle of Koo koo roo may not be the place to do it.

Pretty amazing you do it with two and have yet bolt for the hills (or at least a spa).

Keep the faith. It's just a really long, really annoying, incredibly aggravating phase. Then comes puberty.