F is for Fed Up. Lately, The Prata Baby pushes my buttons every day, all day. But the last couple of weeks it has taken a particular toll, because we have had the added bonus of a "teething" baby. I'll use the word "teething" because I'm not sure exactly why she's started waking on an hourly basis (at best), refusing to sleep anywhere but held upright against someone's chest, or crying inconsolably for up to two hours a day, chiefly around midnight, so by my mother-in-law's reckoning it must be "teething". (The first few months it's always "wind", then it's "teething" until such time as they can actually articulate some alternative.) If you ask me, she needs to see a doctor - and tomorrow, we will. But in the meantime The Prata Baby is pushing everyone's buttons as hard as he can, seemingly just to see what happens. By Saturday, I was badly overtired and fed the fuck right up.

A is for Angry. That's what everyone within a hundred metre radius could tell I was as I carried The Prata Baby under my arm, kicking and screaming, through the shopping centre in the afternoon. He had played happily in the playground with Mr Bea whilst I ran a few errands, but the trouble started as soon as I said we were heading across the mall to the supermarket to pick up some groceries for dinner. I don't mind a bit of dawdling and a bit of window shopping, but this time he was darting into just about every shop we passed, hiding amongst the merchandise, and throwing it onto the floor. I dragged him out of one shop, then another, replacing things onto shelves and tossing apologies around as fast as I could. I stripped privileges one by one. Mr Bea tried to give him time out at the front of one store, but he just laughed at us and rolled across the floor, nearly tripping half a dozen shoppers over on his way. In the end I told him he was going straight home to his room and staying there for I-don't-know-how-long-but-it's-going-to-take-a-long-time-for-me-to-calm-down-that's-for-sure. Then I picked him up and marched him to the door of the supermarket where I thrust him at Mr Bea in exchange for Surprise Baby and stormed inside to do my shopping.

I is for In Your Room. Somehow - though I guess it shouldn't surprise me - even though Mr Bea took PB straight home and I went on a detour through the supermarket with a baby for a week's worth of groceries before following them, I still managed to beat them to our front door. When they arrived I gave PB a clipped, "In your room," and ushered him there, and locked the door. With a key. Because these days, it's the only way to ensure the whole time-out process doesn't turn into a prolonged and completely ineffective game of springing in and out, arguing at every turn along the way. Not that giving him time out that far removed from the offense was completely effective to start with, but I suppose it kept me from throttling him at least.

He cried, of course. And yelled. And banged on the door. None of it was very coherent and all of it was expected, so I gave SB to Mr Bea whilst I went to prepare dinner - sausages and frozen vegies (it was a "no cook" kind of day). Whilst I put the perishable items in the fridge and the sausages in the pan, PB stopped yelling and started singing instead. It was a high-pitched, wavering kind of song, as if he was trying to console himself, so I decided he had served his time and I let him out of his room. He came out waddling and saying he needed to go to the toilet. Turns out he had both wet himself and dirtied his pants.

I am the worst mother in the world.

The worst ever.

L is for Level. That's how I kept my voice when I went in to discuss things with Mr Bea. "I'm going to say something and you may not like it," I began, and before I could draw breath to get out the next bit he cut in.

"You're going to say I'm a terrible father. That I don't know how to handle my son. That I'm unnecessarily mean and nasty to him and that it's my fault he's out of control lately."

"I wasn't going to say that at all," I replied, a little taken aback. I had been thinking it - but about me, not him. "I was going to say that the last thing we need to do tomorrow is visit the zoo." We'd organised to meet friends there for a day out with the kids.

"Do you think that's effective punishment, though?" Mr Bea asked dubiously. "I mean, he misbehaved over an hour ago, and now you're going to tell him he can't go to the zoo tomorrow."

"It's not really about punishment," I said, "although if he chooses to take it that way it's fine by me. But this is about setting him up for success instead of failure." I corrected myself: "It's about setting us all up for success instead of failure. If we go on the zoo trip we'll have to stress to get everyone out of the door early, we'll be taking him to a new place where he doesn't know all the rules and which is exciting enough to erode his currently-limited impulse control. On top of that, we'll be investing not only our money, but our scant reserves of time and energy, which will only serve to raise our expectations of his behaviour. It's a recipe for disaster. It's just not a good idea. We should do something low-key and familiar, just the four of us."

I'd been thinking about the discussion I'd had with his kindy teacher on Friday. I'd been mortified to hear he'd been kicking the other children, but when the teacher told me she'd also had to pull him up for his enthusiastic hugging and kissing (it scares some of his classmates) I figured he just needed some guidance in terms of his interactions with peers. But then she'd told me about the destructive behaviour - kicking of walls and furniture, ripping plastic covers off desks and shredding them to pieces, throwing toys and smashing them around. I think she'd expected me to take issue with him then and there, but instead it had given me pause. "Thanks, I'll talk to him," I'd said, and she'd hesitated, then she'd nodded and said her goodbyes and we'd left. I'd been slowly getting the pieces together since then.

Six months ago he was praised everywhere for his placid and easy-going nature. Sure, he would get a little unsettled if we tried too many things in a row. At one point I had a rule that there would only be half a days' excitement in every forty-eight hours, as it seemed to be all he could handle, but I thought he was growing more resilient with age and experience, and he was cooperative and happy. Then he got a new baby sister. Then he moved into Grandma and Grandad's house for a month. Then he moved overseas. And of course, he turned three, and that never helps. Then we went home for a visit and came back and he started kindy four days a week for the first time and he started swimming lessons one day a week and Surprise Baby started "teething" and we all got tired and cranky and impatient and... somewhere in there we started spiralling out of control. Somewhere along the line it all started coming undone, and it was time to take a step back, simplify, return to basics.

We needed to take Surprise Baby to the doctor, for starters. On the one hand, this was exactly what The Prata Baby went through at the same age and there was nothing to be done about it except survive, but what if? What if we were missing a treatable ear infection or something? It was worth checking out. There were things we could re-organise around the house. Toothbrushes off the bathroom bench, laundry off the couch and into the spare room, breakables in a cupboard or out of reach. I find it hard to deal with regressions, to childproof our house back to when we had an eighteen-month-old because damnit, isn't he supposed to be twice that age now and know better? But backward steps are part of growing up, and we all have the ability to revert to childish behaviour in times of stress. Set him up for success. If you can't stand to pick your clean laundry from fifteen corners of the living room twelve times a day, put it somewhere out of sight and mind. He obviously can't handle the responsibility. And I resolved to take him out of kindy one day a week, at least for now, because these problems always seem to crop up on the fourth day. And I asked Mr Bea to reorganise his work day so he can help me through the bedtime routine because the screaming infant interruptions which happen every ten minutes and take twenty minutes each to resolve can spin it all out til 9pm or later - well past The Prata Baby's bedtime - and that doesn't help at all. And apart from that, I told myself to remember to keep it simple, low-key and familiar. I need to focus on achievable goals. I need to set us all up for success.

That night, last night, I lay down beside him, put my arms around him, and told him I loved him very much. I wanted him to realise I still do, even on the many days I am one big parenting FAIL. He grinned and hugged me back, and we exchanged kisses. But then he ruined it all by whinging about every little thing I did - the speed I sung his bedtime song, the order of the verses, the angle at which I was lying down and how I'd plumped his pillow (to name but a few) - until eventually I sucked a deep breath in through my teeth, kissed him on the forehead, whispered goodnight, and closed the door behind me on the way out. Over the next twenty minutes I listened to him weep himself into a fitful sleep and I didn't really care.


W is for Wakeup Time this morning. I told myself to start with a clean slate, but I could feel that some resentment had followed me through to the new day regardless. Try as I might, I could only push it aside so far. When The Prata Baby whined through breakfast - everything I did was wrong - I had to force myself to count and breathe before telling him I couldn't understand him, I could only hear whiny noises. Then when that didn't work I had to force myself to count and breathe again before opining that he must still be tired and what about going back into his room for some extra rest?

"No! I'm not tired!" he yelled.

"Feeling unwell then?" I suggested. "That needs rest, too."

"I'm not sick!" he yelled even more adamantly.

"Oh good," I said calmly. "So if you're not tired or sick, and you have food and drink in front of you so you can't be hungry or thirsty, and you've already been to the toilet this morning so you don't need to do that... then I can't think of a single excuse for you not to talk properly to me." He started whining again. "I'm going to give you three seconds to stop whining before you go to your room," I announced placidly, getting the hang of it now. "One!"

The whining stopped. The resentment dissipated slightly. The next couple of hours weren't too bad.

I is for Incidents. We had a few of them over the course of the day - he threw a toy at his sister and I scooped her up and pointedly left the room, closing the door on his protests. But I had to let him out temporarily with a pang of guilt - did I say pang? was that the understatement of the century? - when he complained that he needed to go to the toilet, and I know we will have to work to re-establish the rules of time out because of where we went wrong yesterday. He got himself into trouble again for hitting his father with a toy and again for biting him, and he had a colossal meltdown before bedtime.

And that is what counts as a WIN these days. I call it a win because at the end of the day it was a soft and gentle voice with which I put my foot down and told him he couldn't possibly need to go to the toilet again, and he left off and fell asleep in my arms.

N is for Never. That's when I get to stop trying anew. That's when I get to stop wiping the slate clean, taking a step back, looking for an untried solution. That's when I should lapse in consistency. That's when I should forget, when I should let him forget, that he still means the world to me. That I'm glad we have him, that it was worse, so much worse, when we didn't know we would.


BigP's Heather said...

Did you write this post just for me? I surely needed to read it today. To remember.

Thank you.

Lut C. said...

I've been feeling like a bad mom too lately.

I'm tired and irritable (I blame it on the hormones, hoping that this is not simply who I am). Linnea is an easygoing girl generally, but with me she's uninhibited. I mean she lets all her emotions out - no need to be on her best behavior with mom. I'm glad she's at ease with me, but the crying pushes my buttons.

I have to ask or tell her to do things several times in a row. Often she starts going "yes, but ..." or she simply keeps doing her own thing (so concentrated she genuinely doesn't hear me). I lose my patience faster than I would like to. I get angry and raise my voice at bit too quickly.

Your last paragraph is the nail on the head. I'm not perfect by a long shot, but I do want to keep trying.

HereWeGoAJen said...

Oh, these toddlers are SO good at pushing our buttons. Me too. She's been a lot of work lately so thanks for sharing this.

Serenity said...

Oh my god. You just wrote about O. Right down to the whinging after a kiss and cuddle.

I'm miserable, too. And I hadn't thought about locking him somewhere for a time out. Because our time outs are a pissing contest too.

But yes, the last paragraph. I so need to remember this. Right - very right.

Thank you.


Thalia said...

damn where did my comment go?

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