The Nice List

Dec 23 2009

In the spirit of Christmas goodness, I thought I ought to update you all on my two children who found their way to the Naughty List with only a week to spare before Christmas Day.

Well, I did receive quite a few comments, both in person and electronically about the last blog post.

First, I should clear the name of the kids’ music teacher at church.  In her defense, I think she took the only action that was reasonable under the circumstances, and I whole-heartedly support her decision to remove the kids from the Christmas program.  This was a GREAT learning experience for them.  And… dare I say it?… I doubt that this will ever happen again.

Second, I heard clearly from a number of you that I failed to appropriately leverage Santa and the Naughty List in the scenario with my kids.

Never one to shy away from constructive criticism (ha! that was a total lie, as I pretty much hate any kind of criticism… but let’s go with it…), I took your advice to heart.

I sat down with my two naughty list kids the day after the Incident, and I told them that I’d had a chat with Santa.

They know that I talk to Santa every Fall to work out how we’ll be handling gifts and stockings, including which part my husband and I will do and which part Santa’s responsible to handle.  This helps explain why Santa brings presents to other kids but only fills stockings at my house; I explain that we’ve agreed that we, the parents, can do presents, but we’d love Santa’s help with stockings in exchange for leaving milk, cookies, apples and carrots as “fuel” for Santa’s Christmas service.  Each parent works out their own family’s system with Santa, thus the apparent “Santa Inequities” are resolved.  My kids buy this, although I’m not sure why.

Despite my annual Fall call to Santa (using the secret phone number all parents are issued upon the birth – or, in our case, adoption – of their first child), calling Santa the week before Christmas, his very busiest time of the year, is unusual and significant.  I impressed this on my kids before I told them about the conversation.

Here’s how it went:

I had a chat with Santa about your behavior at Christmas program practice.

There’s good news, and there’s bad news.

The bad news is, Santa was very sad to have to place you on the Naughty List.  Since Christmas is next week, I’m sure you’re aware that this isn’t good timing for being on the Naughty List.

The good news is, Santa is willing to work with us on a Remedial Reinstatement to the Nice List Program. That means you have one more chance to get back on the Nice List.

The program will be pretty straight forward.

There are 7 days left until Christmas Eve.

You will have an opportunity each day for 7 days to display Nice List behavior.

If you are able to exhibit Nice List behavior for ALL 7 days, then Santa is willing to put you back on the Nice List just in time for Christmas to come.

I will need to make daily calls to Santa to report on your behavior.

Does that sound fair to you?

Sure enough, it did.  Both kids were fairly wide-eyed at this point, but they were eager to work on their Nice List behavior.

I’m happy to report that, throughout the last week, behavior modification has worked pretty well!  We’re able to make minor course corrections throughout the day with a gentle reminder.

Nice List?  Or Naughty List?  You choose.

And, pretty swiftly, behavior drifts back into the Nice currents.

It’s amazing what proper motivation coupled with a dash of Santa-threat can do!

If all goes well, you’ll be relieved to know that Santa will be stopping at my house tomorrow night.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night.

The Naughty List

Dec 17 2009

Not one, but two of my children just got kicked out of the church Christmas program.

Cue Christmas music…

“A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight…”

Oh, sweet irony.  We are SO not happy tonight.

My 10-year-old and my 7-year-old elected to use their non-listening and anti-obeying skills this evening.

Awesome.

I’m not sure how to measure this milestone against others like the time my son punched another kid in the nuts.  Let’s just say it’s up there on the list.

In response, I employed that oh-so-useful parenting technique called Lecturing, and then I combined it with its close companion, Over-Disciplining.

(Legal notice: This blog should be used for entertainment purposes only. Do not try this at home.  Parenting techniques herein described do not reflect experts’ opinions on how to best rear a child or children.  No child was harmed in the making of this blog. I hope.)

First things first.  In order to be an accomplished lecturer, you must set the stage accordingly.  A good lecture should follow some time alone for each child in his/her room.  When the children are brought out of Solitary, they should be required to sit quietly and make eye contact with the parent.  The lecture should be delivered quietly, yet passionately, as though to communicate that there are some very strong feelings bubbling just under Mom’s surface.  If said child breaks eye contact, which is likely, then a silent parent waiting for appropriate attention is typically enough to cause a refocus.  If it’s not, then you have not effectively established yourself as nearly mean enough.

I am very, very mean.

Lecturing Goes Like This:

  • Step #1, The Disappointed Phase: “I am SO disappointed in this behavior.  Not only is it disrespectful to your teachers, it’s frankly very embarrassing to me.”
  • Step #2, The Lying Phase: Despite current evidence that says otherwise… “Woolsey children do not behave this way.”
  • Step #3, The Rhetorical Phase: “Does this kind of behavior make you feel happy inside?”
  • Step #4, The Repetitive Phase: “So, how does mommy feel about this? Disappointed, sad, a little bit angry…” [this part is also part of the Lying Phase since I’m a lot angry]… “and embarrassed.  Woolsey children do not behave this way.  Does this behavior make you feel happy?”
  • Step #5, The Confusion Phase, Wherein the Parent Requires the Child to Answer the Rhetorical Question: “Well?  Does it?”

It’s worthwhile to take a short break here to let you in on a subset of the Lecture technique — Omission.  Sometimes as important as what you say is what you don’t say.  For example, I neglected to mention that we were, in all likelihood, going to miss the entire church Christmas program anyway due to a family obligation the same evening.  Why spoil a perfectly good chance to Lecture?

Over-Disciplining (while continuing a solid Lecture component) Goes Like This:

  • Step #1, Outline What’s About to Happen (in order to achieve maximum dread): “There will be several consequences for your behavior this evening.  Sit back and relax because this is going to take a while.”
  • Step #2, State the Obvious: “You have just lost the privilege of performing in this year’s Christmas program.”
  • Step #3, understanding that neither child cares one iota about whether or not they get to perform in the program, Drive Home Exactly What He and She Will Be Missing:   “You, Miss Aden, will not get to wear your pretty Christmas dress… ” [the one I haven’t bought her yet]… “in front of an admiring throng of people.  You, Mr. Man, will not get to have Nana and Papa attend the performance…” [the same Nana and Papa to whom I haven’t mentioned the performance] “…and tell you what a good job you did.  And neither of you will get to go to the party afterwards… ” [the 10 minute gathering after the program — “party” may have been pushing it a little] “…for Christmas cookies and playing with your friends.” [And, by playing, I mean the part where the kids run around the room on a sugar high and we tell them to stop running and play quietly.  We adults are delusional.]
  • Step #4, Require Extra Effort: “Each of you are going to write the music teacher a letter of apology.  It will be long.  It will be sincere.”  [Being realistic is clearly not my main goal.]
  • Step #5, Eliminate Imminent Privileges and Get Really Creative So You Can Pretend This Meets “Logical Consequences” Criteria: “Nana and Papa are coming over tomorrow night to babysit you while Mommy and Daddy go out.  You will come home, do your homework, eat your dinner, and then you will go to bed.  You will not get to play with friends.  You will not get to play the Wii or watch TV.  You will not get to help Abby and Nana make cookies…” [which they weren’t going to get to do anyway since we planned it to occur after their regular bedtime, but, hey, it was available, so I used it] “…because… um… because…. because you must be awfully tired to behave like this, so, um, you need a lot of extra sleep so, um, you can remember your manners and find your appropriate behavior.  Yeah.  That’s why.”
  • Step #6, Try to End Well So As to Not Come Off as an Unmitigated Trainwreck of a Mother: “The good news is, if you can show me in the next day that you can respond kindly and appropriately to your consequences, listening and obeying, doing your homework nicely and treating your siblings kindly, and if Nana and Papa report good things about your behavior, then you get to start earning back some privileges.  Maybe this weekend you can spend a little time with your friends.”  Alright.  Fine.  I also said, “and with your Wii.”

So, here Greg and I sit on this peaceful, pre-Christmas winter night.

The tree is lit.  The house is quiet.  The children are all a-bed.

Visions of mean Mommy dance in their heads.

Our stockings are hung by the staircase with care. (They clash with my terracota-colored fireplace.  Sue me.)

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there.

I have one week to help two kids remove their names from the Naughty List.

Wish me luck.

My mom yells from a distance.

Dec 16 2009

“My mom yells from a distance.”

Abby is 11 and in 6th grade.

She has spelling words every week.

During the weekly test, students must use each word in a sentence.

Abby brings her spelling tests home so we can check her progress.

It appears that one of the words this week was “distance.”

That’s all I have to say about that.

I said, THAT’S ALL I HAVE TO SAY.

Jelly Monster

Dec 4 2009

“Mom, you be the jelly monster, and I’ll be the kid.”

“Ummm… OK.  What’s a jelly monster?”

“Jelly monster goes like this: RRrrrrrraaaaaarrrrrrrr!”

“RRrrrrraaaaaaarrrrrr!”

I love being a mom.  Mostly because the kids are so great.  But partly for the power rush.

There’s Something About Cai

Dec 3 2009

Dear Readers,

Someday, my blog won’t be all about little boys and their little boy parts.

I promise.

Well, I hope, anyway.

For now, I have two three-year-old boys.  And, for three-year-old boys, their boy parts are pretty central to their concept of self.  What’s a mom to do?

Sincere apologies,

Beth

…………………………………….

I was half way down the stairs, one three-year-old in hand, when the screaming from the other three-year-old started.

I immediately knew the cause.

Seconds earlier, Cai had unzipped his footed pajamas, and he was in the process of zipping them back up so he could come downstairs with me.

You can see where this is headed, right?

Here’s what I heard:

“Mama, mama, mama, mama.  Wait for me!  I coming!”

Ziiiiii…

…and what should’ve ended in “…iiipp,” was cut short and ended in cries of pain.

I was already dashing back up the stairs when my eyes confirmed what my ears already knew.

Cai had zipped a bit of his penis into his PJ’s.

I don’t know why, exactly, but I really never expected to have a There’s Something About Mary moment with one of my sons.

So I did what any reasonable mother would do, and I unzipped him.

The injury wasn’t so bad.  Honest.  Just a little red sore.

But Cai was confused, bewildered and definitely offended on his penis’s behalf.

Some parents offer a cookie or a lollipop in similar situations.  It distracts the child, cuts short the crying, and it’s soothing.  Not wanting to pass along eating issues, though, we don’t use this approach.  Ever ever ever.

So I bundled Cai on my lap and sat right there on the top step to rock him, and he started to cry and to chant.

Sob.  Sob.  “My penis is NOT OK.” (Emphasis on NOT OK.)

Sob.  Sob.  “My penis is NOT OK.”

Sob.  Sob.  “My penis is NOT OK.”

Thus ensued bereft wailing and gnashing of teeth.  If we had had rags and ashes to hand, Cai would have donned them.

We spent the next several minutes with the ritual chant resounding throughout the house.  And eventually, Cai wound down to the sniffles.  Sniffle.  “My penis…”  shudder… “isnotOK.”  Sniffle.

I was able to slow the rocking a bit.  We finally moved downstairs to the couch.  Twin brother Cael got in a few hugs and awkwardly adorable pats to his brother’s head to express his sympathy.

And then, when Cai was able to speak again some 30 minutes later, he said,

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Cai?”

“Can you kiss it?”

Um.

Huh.

Nope.

Wow.

And just when I thought the situation was improving.

How exactly do you explain to a three-year-old that Mommy’s magical healing kiss powers come with certain use clauses and limitations?

I went with the simplest approach.

“No, Cai Cai.  Mommy can’t.  Want a cookie?”

Happy Halloween

Oct 30 2009

You know when it totally pays off to have five kids?

On Halloween.

Now, some parents are actually nice to their kids.  They start Halloween and Fall Harvest preparations weeks in advance.

There are trips to the pumpkin patch that result in adorable photos of tiny tykes perched on enormous squashes, galoshes covered in mud, cold-kissed red cheeks peeking out over puffy coats.

Nice parents do art projects that include jaunts to gather Fall leaves for pressing, scissor and glue time to create construction paper spiders, maybe even fun family time making their own costumes.

Next come the fine candy and shiny new bucket purchases.  And then the big night arrives.

Kids are dressed to the nines, candy is delivered in mega doses, and everyone heads home happy.

Good parents, after going over every piece of candy and looking for injection punctures and razor blades (ah, the fun of Halloween), even let their kids keep all of their own candy.

There there’s our family.

In lieu of the pumpkin patch this year, my kids have free pumpkins that were sitting outside of an insurance agent’s office in our home town.  We don’t even have to carve them since the agent’s face is on a sticker stuck to the outside of the pumpkin.  Two birds (pumpkin patch + carving), one stone.  Yay!

And costuming five kids can be tricky.  Did you know that new costumes for children run $25-50 each?  For our family, that would be $125-250 for one night’s worth of Halloween fun.  No, thank you.  I’m simply unwilling to spend the money for new costumes… but I’m also unwilling to spend the time making five costumes.  What’s a mom to do?

Get creative, that’s what.

Last year, for my two-year-old twins, I raided the pet costume section.  Yep, that’s me.  No shame at all.  I gleefully ignored the “not for children” warnings on the labels and purchased, at $7 a piece, matching bumble bee costumes meant for canine companions.  They fit like jackets.  So the head-piece with the antenna was a little weird, what with the giant gaping holes where dog ears should poke through; so what?  It was dark.  They got candy.  Everyone wins.

We had lost the hats by this point, but here are the dog costumes in all their glory.

This year, my now three-year-old twins are costumed out of the pajama section at Target.  In good old UnderRoos fashion (if you’re a child of the 70’s, you’re totally tracking with me right now), I found baseball PJ’s one size too big at $9 each.  The extra size is important so you can bundle the kiddos up in all their warm gear and then squash all the fabric down by pulling the PJ’s over the top.  Sort of a Baseball on Steriods effect; we can have fun and stay current on current events!  Best part is, they’ll have “new” PJ’s a year from now that are already purchased.

My nine-year-old has been outfitted from house-wares.  I found a giant, bendy spider with large, pipe-cleaner-type legs that’s meant to be used as home decor.  I can bend those legs around my son’s arms and torso, and he looks like he’s been attacked by a monster spider.  Add some fake cobwebs that are supposed to be used to decorate outside, and splash some of my white-girl foundation on his tan skin, and he looks like a spider victim.  Sufficiently morbid for any boy to love.  And a total of $10 for the whole bit.

My girls make costume-life easy since I’ve been paying through the teeth for dance costumes for years.  They get the “oh, go get something out of the dance box” line.  Which is followed by the “but that’s not fair!” response.  Which leads to the “life’s not fair” follow-up, or the preferred, “that’s because we love them more than we love you” statement… and on and on and on.  Free fun for everyone!

And on to Halloween night and trick-or-treat time.

I’ve already stated that kind and generous parents let their kids keep all of the candy they collect.

We’re neither kind nor generous.  Sorry, kids.

Here’s how I figure it.

You (my children) can’t go trick-or-treating without me.  I am a necessary part of your candy-harvesting intentions.  I, however, due to social and cultural impositions that I do not support, am not allowed to trick-or-treat myself.  Therefore, I’m out there doing most of the work (costume acquisition, make-up, and hair included) without any of the benefit.  These are unacceptable working conditions.

Commence contract negotiations.

I, the parent, will take you, the child, trick-or-treating.  I will act as costume designer, make-up artist, hairstylist, safety patrol, cheerleader, manners instructor (say “thank you”), and coach/trainer (“just do one more block”).  In return, you, the child, agree to pool your candy.  You will have one bag, marked with your name, in which you can reserve your 15 favorite pieces of candy for your sole use.  All remaining candy will reside in a communal vessel (aka, the candy basket) for all family members to partake equally.

On birthdays, we throw our kids parties.  On Christmas, they get stocking fillings and presents.  For Easter, we arrange egg hunts, fill baskets and make bunny cake.

On Halloween, we make it all back, baby!  Kids, start your engines.  It’s time for the Woolsey family candy-acquision machine to roll into town.

Who has five kids?  We do!  Who’s getting candy?  We are!

Happy Halloween.

 

All My Byself

Oct 12 2009

For three more days, I have two two-year-olds.

Watching kids grow up is bittersweet.  I’ve never been the parent who mourns the stages that are past; I more champion the present and look forward to the future.

I think I realize that, as much as I’d love to have one more chance to cradle my 11-year-old as an infant, I also don’t miss the lack of sleep.  And I really enjoy that she can use her words now, even if I don’t always enjoy the words she uses.

Having twins when my eldest, Abby, was 8 years old, though, has given me a different perspective on time.  When she was little, I remember my mom and my mother-in-law both telling me how quickly the years fly by.  In my head, I knew they were right.  But in my heart, after months filled with no sleep and Disney movies and spaghetti-o’s, I wasn’t sure.  Time could drag.

By the time the twins were born, I’d learned a different heart lesson.  The days are often slow, but the years are a blink and over in an instant.  I’ve learned, I hope, to savor the best moments and to be more relaxed about the hard ones.

Even though I’m not much of a mourner for time gone by, I do try to take a little time to reflect.

Reflecting on the past year of age two (times two), I realized we’ve had a lot of “me do it” moments.  When kids push hard for more independence, we end up with a lot of spills, a lot of owies, a lot of learning from mistakes, a lot of triumphs, a lot of tenderness, a lot of laughs, and a lot of fun.

Cael, in particular, insists on doing everything “All My Byself.”  It’s a phrase the rest of the family has adopted whenever we don’t need help or if we want to just be left alone for a while.

Sometimes, I think it’s not fair that I’m a grown-up and, therefore, required to use my nice, grown-up words.  Sometimes, I want to do things all my byself, too.  I want to shout it at the top of my lungs whenever I perceive someone encroaching on my space and my stuff.

  • I want to make juice without a minimum of 3 kids stirring it with grubby hands ’til it’s all over the floor.  ALL MY BYSELF!
  • I want to go potty without an audience.  ALL MY BYSELF!
  • I want to sleep at night in a bed not littered with kid-made crumbs ALL MY BYSELF!

I think, though, that occasionally,

rarely,

every once in a while,

with age comes wisdom.

Because I know that if I start to ask to be all my byself, eventually I might be all my byself.  And… shhhh, don’t tell the kids… I don’t think that’s what I really want.

I had a dear friend, Gloria, who was laugh-out-loud funny, always creative, and incredibly loyal.  When she died unexpectedly, a group of her friends painted WWGD mugs in her memory.  Mine is next to me as I type.  What would Gloria do?

Gloria was impulsive and friendly and compassionate and stubborn.  My seven-year-old, Gloria Aden, is named for her.  Go figure.

One of my favorite Gloria memories was watching her organize an impromptu game for high school kids at camp one year.  It was a game of chair frisbee.

Chair frisbee was just like regular frisbee, except you had to stand on, and weren’t allowed to leave, your chair.  If you’ve ever played real frisbee, you know that it’s pretty much impossible to play it from a stationary position.

So, when the frisbee was inevitably over- or under-thrown, the players had to figure out what to do.  They started asking passersby for “a little help, please.”  “Um, a little help?”

Pretty soon, non-players would pick up the frisbee and hand it back.  Sometimes, they would grab a chair and start playing, too.  Either way, the frisbee was back in play.

It was hilarious to watch, this silly non-game with lame rules.  And it was an incredibly beautiful example, too, of building community.  People were included and embraced… and needed.

We eventually named the game “A Little Help, Please.”

I love learning things from my kids and from my friends.

The “All My Byself” stage is important.  Being self-sufficient builds confidence.  It’s good and right to struggle with something, and it’s gratifying when we figure things out after our determination and work-ethic saw us through.

I want my kids to learn to do things All My Byself.

I also want them to learn when to throw in the towel and ask for a little help.  Sometimes, we all have to have permission to stand on the chair and say, feebly at first, “A little help, please?”  And then more confidently, “Really, folks, I need some help.”

So, standing on the precipice and looking at my boys turning three… and then Ian turning ten… and Aden turning eight… and Abby, well, being a middle schooler, I say,

Bring it.

You know why?

Because I’m ready.  I’m confident.  I know I have this in the bag.

All my byself.

And with a little help, please.