November 17, 2011

Tears and Much Gnashing of Teeth

Some households have problems at bedtime. Tears and much gnashing of teeth as kids refuse to go to sleep. For whatever reason, that’s not us. Our challenge is mornings.

This is how it goes. My husband gets up and jumps in the shower, and I get up bleary-eyed and got down to make breakfast for the kids. We’re usually pretty well-rested, though we complain, because my husband puts a high value on schedules and sleep, which is nice. Still, I’m not a morning person.

I go down and let the dog out and make breakfast ~ usually scrambled eggs and cheese or sausage, toast or a muffin, some kind of fruit, and juice. (I try to get each food group into each meal, though usually not veggies at breakfast, and I try to base our lunches and dinners on vegetables. But you know, some days a diamond.) We have short-cuts. The scrambled eggs are made in the microwave, and we cook the sausages first thing when we bring them home from the grocery store and then freeze them, so you can just heat them up in the microwave too. I try to get a little of my husband’s stuff going ~ make him tea or heat water for coffee.

About the time he’s out of the shower, I’m headed upstairs. I pick out clothes for the kids and bring them down and put them by the stove so they can dress right there where it’s warm. Then I head up to take my shower. My husband wakes up the kids with hugs and brings them downstairs one at a time ~ often carrying them ~ and wraps them in their blankets and puts them at the table. Then he goes about doing his own breakfast, feeding the dog, and sometimes putting dishes in the dishwasher away.

Sounds like a well-oiled machine, right? Wrong. Five-year-olds are involved.

By the time I’m stepping out of the shower, I can hear the kids through the grate right below me. They’re messing around, poking and laughing and dragging their feet. Soon my husband’s voice comes up, a warning tone to get on with it. Ten minutes later, he’s yelling at them to get upstairs and brush their teeth, but they don’t yet even have their pajamas off. Finally they come dragging upstairs. They piddle around till I lose patience and yell at them to get their teeth brushed. It goes downhill from there.

All this yelling at them can’t be good for them. And my husband and I get really grumpy.

It’s all about self-control and responsibility, I think. Oh, and because they’re only five. But there are other families that don’t go through this EVERY MORNING. There must be something wrong with us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-control lately. I think it’s inevitable to ponder it when you’re a parent. Every child is different. You’ll have the kid who is just naturally a responsible people-pleaser, but then you’ll have the ones who aren’t intentionally bad, they just have another agenda. But the basic question is: How do you instill responsibility and self-control in a child? How can you know, when they become teenagers and are out of your sight, that they aren’t doing something really stupid and dangerous? And it’s when they’re really young that you need to instill this. How do you do that without yelling at them constantly or putting them in fear for their lives?

And it’s not just them. I think about my own self control. I wasn’t raised with many boundaries, so I’ve had to learn them along the way. I’m a pretty responsible person ~ being raised on a ranch does that ~ but as far as personal schedule and self-control, it’s a bit dicey. My eating habits are iffy. I’ll be really good on exercise for a while and then totally stop for months. Left to my own devices, my sleeping habits suck. And what about the writing? You need self-control and motivation to get anything done.

We as Americans like to think of ourselves as exceptions to every rule. The rules apply to other people. “American Exceptionalism,” it’s called in academic circles. It started with the founding of our country ~ our country was founded on the idea that we are exceptions to the religious rule of where we lived. And since then we’ve always been for the underdog, for the rebel.  We believe that other people should control themselves, for heaven's sake, but we don't have to.

But I digress.

My husband and I are trying new things, new creative approaches to getting ready in the morning. This is how this morning went.

A couple of days ago we told them that it was their responsibility to get themselves dressed and ready in the morning. We’ve done this before ~ oh the tears and gnashing of teeth! But this time we told them that they had to earn the right to watch any TV in the evening. They got one warning, and after that ~ bam! ~ no TV that night. For 2 days they’ve done pretty well.

My husband is out of town, and this morning I just let them go. My husband can’t do that, and I felt the urge to come down on them like the wrath of God, but I let them go. I said, once or twice, very calmly, it’s your responsibility to get ready. You might want to think about it because you’ve only got a half hour. You’ve only got ten minutes. At one point, my son tried to turn on the TV and I quickly put the kibosh to that.

Needless to say, when I was ready to head out the door, they weren’t ready. My son had managed to get his teeth brushed after the whole TV incident, but he didn’t have his shoes on, his hair combed, nor collected his coat and backpack. My daughter stood in front of the stove completely naked, hair uncombed.

I said, “I’m heading out the door in three minutes. You better grab your clothes and shoes and anything else you want to take.” Then I discretely grabbed a brush and threw it in my bag and walked out the door.

“You wouldn’t really leave us here, Mommy? Is it one of those fake times?” they asked.

Of course not, I said to myself. You’re only five. But out loud I said, “We’ll see, won’t we?”

I went out to the garage and started to get in the car and wait. Very quickly, here came my son, tears streaming down his face, hair standing on end, socks on his feet, shoes and backpack and light sweatshirt clutched in his arms. Did I mention we’ve been having windchill in the negative digits? “I’m sorry, sweatie,” I said, “ but you’ll need to get your coat." Off he ran.

In the meantime, I hear loud screetches and then here came my daughter, tears streaming down her face, miraculously fully clothed, shoes even on her feet, with everything but her backpack. “You’ll need your backpack,” I said.

“Here, Mommy, will you please hold these?” she said. She’s no dummy. She figures if I’m holding something I won’t leave.

Back came my son and got in the car. Back came my daughter and got in the car. I tossed the hairbrush back to them, made sure they’re buckled in, and started to drive to school.

Silence for a few minutes, then my son said, “Do we still get to watch TV tonight?”

1 comment:

Pembroke Sinclair said...

LOVE IT! I know exactly how you feel when it comes to kids and getting them to do ANYTHING! You did the right thing. They have to learn there are consequences for their actions. Good job!

And trust me, I know it's not always easy!