They say it takes thirty days to make a habit, but I’m just going to shoot for two weeks. Two weeks of soft. Two weeks of not reacting, of giving, of opening. Two weeks. (I might really be trying to actually change, but shhh…don’t tell me!)
For two weeks I will try to give all the kids the me they need when they need me, instead of demanding and battling or just rigidly resisting. It’s obvious that’s going to focus on Rory, but I can already see it’s going to get spread around.
Soft doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules, though. Far from it. I love this quote Sarah offered me in the comments yesterday from Parenting On Track’s Vikki:
â€œYou will find no comfort in defenses or toughness. You will find comfort and solace and peace and healing and understanding by staying vulnerable and open. No one will attack you. And if they do, it is but mist. Stay open. Your kids need you open.â€
Ok. Open. Open to what they need. Here’s how that went last night:
I came in from nordic skiing (I help coach Lily’s group) at 5:30 with Lily and Sam. My fabulous babysitter is ready to hand off Rory and Wyatt. Within two minutes–seriously–the following happened: Wyatt attached himself to my leg, shrieking that he was hungry, hungry, so hungry. Rory attached herself to the babysitter and demanded that she not go, or in the alternative, that she take Rory with her. Sam pinched his hand in a barstool somehow and became convinced he’d broken his finger, and one of the dogs pooped on the floor. All of this in less time than it took to write it.
I gently removed Rory from the babysitter (dragging Wyatt) and made a big fuss over how she had to stay with me until I realized how big Sam’s problem was (don’t worry, it wasn’t really that big) and then the distraction over that (ice! tears!) plus the poop enabled the babysitter to slip out and somehow, everything shifted back to normal. Dinner was made and served (sausage and shrimp over rice, green beans on the side, kind of a low-rent jambalaya, that I made entirely because I had buttermilk and wanted to make biscuits, and then forgot to make the biscuits).
Rory popped into her seat, took one look at dinner and announced “Oh! I hate that!”
That’s just about the one thing you can’t do at dinner, and Rory knows it. I sighed. “Ok, you can leave the table now.” NO! “Yes, you have to go.” NO! I SORRY! “So am I, but you have to leave the table. Go upstairs.” NO NONONONO!
I sighed again, set down the rice I was dishing out and moved towards her, and she jumped up and ran upstairs. No crying, no more objections. Done.
Served everyone and helped Sam serve himself (Rob wasn’t home yet). Went to the foot of the stairs. Technically, the rule is that if you say anything mean about dinner, you don’t get to eat with the rest of us, you have to wait until we’re done or take your dinner to the bar. (You don’t have to eat it. You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to taste it. But you’re not allowed to be mean about it, or say you don’t like it except in the context of being askedâ€”so I know if I should make it againâ€”and you’re REALLY not allowed to say “I hate it!” No, thank you, we tell them, is the best response.)
She wasn’t mean, just thoughtless, I could tell. It wasn’t the shrieked objection that we really don’t allow. And, honestly, she doesn’t hate it–she likes every part of that meal except the green beans. So I went to the stairs and called up that she could come down when ever she was ready. The only answer was massive, angry stomping and banging, so I ignored her and went to eat. Called up to her again a minute or two later. More banging. I finished eating, and Lily went to the foot of the stairs and said “she’s still crying.” She wasn’t crying before, just stomping, so I went to check and, yes, now there was wailing.
I found her in her bed, rubbing her head. To make a long story short, she hit her head while banging angrily on her bed. Yes, she knew she could come down. Yes, she was just mad. I picked her up and carried her downstairs. “Do you want to try again?” Yes.
Seated, she took some rice. Sniffled. Rubbed her head (She even howled when I brushed her hair this am, so she must have got it good). Sniffled. I want you come get me, she said. “I know, but I was eating. How about, next time, you come down and ask me to pick you up here and hug you, and I’ll do that.” Ok, but…sniffles. Sniffs.
I pulled her bowl towards me and took the spoon. She looked worried, until I lifted her into my lap and offered a spoonful of rice. “How about I feed you?”
You have never seen a child enjoy something so much. And it was like a little glimpse back at what she must have been like as a baby–after a few spoonfuls, she started doing very specific things with the spoon, gobbling at it and sucking off the last rice pieces. I put her milk in a cup with a straw so she could suck it. And she settled in. I think she would have eaten forever.
There are books that argue for doing this to bond, and suggest that you ask the child to look into your eyes as she takes the bite. (I believe the line is “food tastes better when we look at each other!”) I did a little of that (without the commentary), but mostly, I just fed her and held her. For a long time. Wyatt gave me a snake eye and insisted on wrapping his arms around my waist for a while, but let it go (he needed extra reading to, later.) Sam and Lily cleared plates, moved on to homework and the night went on. When Rory was done (or rather, when the bowl was empty), we stopped, and lunches were packed with the usual complaints, and things were generally about as peaceful as they ever were.
But I did get this, later, as a little reward. It’s a lousy video, but a superb piece of cuteness. It’s only about 15 seconds long, and the “OOOOH” is priceless.
Background: we sent her a video of each child reading a book, and of me reading and singing “Snuggle Puppy” before we came to China, and she watched it, often.