Monday, January 16, 2012

big changes afoot

So. I've realized something. I've realized we have a situation here and that I created it. This was not by accident, not for lack of attention; I willingly created a breeding ground for lunatics in my home. Oops. They're not lunatics elsewhere, and everyone is surprised when I tell them they are here. In fact, I don't generally think of them as lunatics, which is why by role in all this escaped my attention.

On Sunday I went to Wegmans by myself at 3pm. If you have a Wegmans near you, you know what folly this was, though to my credit I at least did it without kids. It was a ZOO in there. As I was walking in, a dad and three kids were coming in at the same time. I had plenty of opportunity to study this family, as we weaved in and out of each other's aisles the rest of my visit. I took a good long look at these kids: the one in the cart probably 3 1/2 - Clark's age - and two on their feet, probably 5 and 7. Everyone was calm. The dad did not once have to rein them in, tell them to be quiet or calm down. They browsed the produce, discussed which color pears to buy, hung out. If I had been there with my kids, they would have been laughing, pulling at each other, making faces, getting wound up until I shushed and reminded about the Great Big Bribe at the end of the trip.

Thing is, Clark and Frances love each other so much, and they love to be together, to play together. I have friends with kids further apart in age (mine are 17 months for those of you who are just joining the regularly scheduled program) and their kids just don't really interact. They're not interested in creating pretend games together in the plastic car attached to the front of the cart. They don't laugh with each other. Generally, what they do is tolerate. But my kids think all time is playtime. Anytime they are together is the opportunity for play. Of course, eventually someone gets hurt, gets offended, whacks the other over the head. This I want to avoid, which is why I shush - before it happens.

But the shushing makes me crabby. Who wants to be the person telling everyone to calm down? Sometimes Frances looks at me with pure hate in her eyes. No wonder she feels that way; I'm constantly grouching at her.

We've allowed them to run wild in the house, did it on purpose. We have this great big rambling house and little furniture, and I've purposely not furnished it so the kids can have the space to tear around. When they were toddlers it made sense to me: it felt like a privilege that I could offer them unlimited exploration of their world. Now, however, they are bigger. They are louder. They are making me insane.

No wonder I always feel like I need a break from them.

So I just decided: no running in the house, no jumping on the furniture, no wrestling or carrying each other around (I don't know why this is a big activity), no climbing over the back of the couch, no no no screaming. I know plenty of people who have these rules in their house, and I have until now thought of those people as uptight and unfair. Ha! A lot I know.

The kids forget, of course, but they really are adapting pretty well to the new rules. Mitch thinks it will take them about 3 weeks to acclimate. Will see. I'm holding the line for sure. We have a bouncy house in the basement and they are willingly and quickly going down there when I tell them it's the only place they can play like that.

The most interesting thing to me are the side effects I didn't see coming. The kids are calmer overall. Usually I have to force them apart to calm them down, which is why we have strict alone play for at least an hour each day. But today they played for ages and didn't get exhausted, found ways to regroup and recharge in each other's space. They would be playing Mama and Baby, for example, and Frances would go to her room to fetch the plastic fruit or whatever, and she'd get distracted in her closet. Meanwhile Clark was distracted with his trains, and they played a little while alone before coming back (calmly!) together. This is radically different from, say, last week, when all their play consisted of shrieking and grabbing and chasing and having an uproariously good time until it wasn't anymore. You know where that story ends. With a grumpy mama.

Not only are they calmer in the house, but - surprise surprise! - I am a more patient parent! I don't watch the clock for Mitch to come home or the sitter to get here! I LIKE being near and with the kids! And here I thought maybe I simply wasn't cut out for this. Holy crow.

I do see the irony that I did this to myself.

That's okay. I'm going to undo this thing.

I'd forgotten how much children love discipline, how much they thrive when they understand the rules and the limits. I've known this before, but I'd forgotten.

Also, I've started using different language. We had a big long discussion about Community, being a part of a community and which ones we participate in - school, neighborhood, family etc - and what the community rules are. And how, since we are part of a community of family, we have to have some rules that take into account everyone in the community. I've also started to talk about Playtime. As in "now it is dinnertime, not playtime. Now it is time to get ready for school, not playtime." The rules make everything so much simpler. I just remind them of the rule (in my calm mom voice), rather than try to impose my own agenda (generally after becoming irritated), which I'm pretty sure is how they see any limitations without specific rules anyway, as the grownups' agendas.

And here I was trying to come up with schedules and routines and approaches and techniques when all I had to do was change the house rules. Funny when the answers are surprisingly simple.

Will keep you updated.

No comments: