Friday, June 15, 2007

Status Report: Five and One Quarter Years.

(NOTE: I actually wrote this on May 17th, and I'm glad to say that things have definitely improved (even though I never got around to updating the chart). But still, I wanted to share it with you. And also, I'm too lazy right now to write a new post.)

We used to have the morning routine worked out:

Bean wakes up. We snuggle for a little while before it's time to really wake up. Depending on his mood, he or I will pick out his clothes for the day. Depending on his mood, his getting dressed will take very little or a whole lot of reminding (and, on slow mornings, assistance). He will also go potty and, on a good morning, brush his teeth. Once he's ready, he comes out to his little table in the living room for breakfast in front of "Charlie and Lola." ("Charlie and Lola" is the single best cartoon on television and deserves its own post.) After breakfast, we leave for school.

It took us the better part of the last school year to get this down. I devised a rewards chart with pictures of the tasks he needed to complete each morning; if he completes most of them, he can watch a DVD that day; if he completes all of them, he can watch television that day. It's not perfect, but it works.

Except that, for some reason, and fairly suddenly, we can't start the day without a full-fledged screaming fit from Bean. The fit is generally preceeded by me doing something, usually standing in the wrong place or, like yesterday, talking when Bean didn't want me to. Not responding is not an option, as that makes him lose his shit. If I attempt to stand in the right place, or if I say gamely, "OK - sorry, I'll be quiet," it is still no good - I have ruined it, I have done something unforgiveable, and now we must all be miserable until the mood passes.

The screaming, slamming of doors, and stomping of feet are so regular and so loud that I've pointed out that they could result in our being evicted.

Evenings are worse, though at least not in terms of decibels. The mornings may be loud, but there is still less effort needed on my part to get him ready than there is at bedtime. Bean takes after me: he is not in the least bit interested in going to sleep. At all. Ever. Unless he's sick.

Here's our bedtime routine:

It becomes evening. Bean goes batshit crazy at the mere mention of bedtime. One night last week, I suggested that he get all ready for bed and then we could watch part of Night at the Museum. Getting into pajamas went fine, but he balked at using the bathroom and brushing his teeth. He ran around the apartment and ignored me when I told him to go in and get ready. When he did, he brushed his teeth but didn't go to the bathroom. Then he went to the bathroom but didn't pull up his pants. Then he pulled up his pants but wouldn't wash his hands. Every few seconds he spent in the bathroom accomplishing a small part of these tasks was punctuated by his racing out of the bathroom to go somewhere else in order to do something else. That night, the "something else" was yelling at me for making him brush his teeth when he didn't want to do it.

What was most maddening about that night was that I told him clearly, patiently, and repeatedly that if he didn't do what I asked him to do, there would be no movie. On top of this, he began screaming, which I have outlawed in our house. Finally, of course, after umpteen chances, I had to tell him that there would be no movie. And then there was a fountain of frustrated and disappointed tears.

What happens, I suspect, is that by 7:30, he is wiped out. He does not get enough sleep, and he does not wind down for bed easily. So when it is time to get ready for bed - and I always suggest special stories or snuggle time, which he always wants - he becomes overwhelmed: he does not want the day to be over, and he's too exhausted to realize that if he simply gets ready, he'll still have lots of time before he has to go to bed. And when he finally does lie down at night, he will nearly always lie awake for HOURS. When I used to read to him every night, he would fall asleep more quickly; however, I'm now in a bind. It takes so long to get him ready for bed that when he finally is in bed, it is far too late for a story.

But on top of this, I think there is something else going on. Bean is attached to me, and when I say "attached," I mean, the kid is like glue. He loves Mr. Plain(s)feminist, but the sun rises and sets on Mommy. And now that he's 5, I think he is starting to pull away a bit, and so he's got this battle as he wants to make sure I'm there all the time and also wants to separate himself from me by, it seems, taking out all of his anger and frustration on me.

Here's what this looked like the other morning:

Bean is struggling to put on his pants. The back pockets are bunched up and the pants are therefore uncomfortable and not going on properly. Bean is frustrated and doesn't understand what is wrong with his pants.

Bean: AAGH! My pants! The pockets! GRRRRR!!! Help me!!

Me: Oh, let me fix those for you. (I fix the pockets.) There. Is that better?

Bean: I hate you! (Runs into his room. Calls from room.) Mommy, you know I don't really hate you, right? I don't want you to feel bad. I hate you!!!

I left out the part where he called me a disgusting piece of poop, by the way. I also left out the part where I spanked him for slamming the doors. We are neither of us very good at this, sometimes.

I am reading, once again, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. Though it sounds like a handbook for parenting a "problem" child, it's really just a handbook for helping parents to control themselves and to model this self-control to children - to teach them, in effect, not just to do or not do certain things, but actually how to manage difficult emotions. It's a great book, and it helps me a lot. For one thing, it reminds me how to be human and how not to turn into a shrieking person who constantly doles out punishments.

After I hit "publish" for this post, I will update the chart to include evening tasks. There, the rewards will be bedtime stories, with more stories won when more tasks are completed.

Wish us luck.

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