Today, in defiance of winter… a bought a new bikini. And sandals. I think it was a combination of seeing great stuff at great prices – and thumbing my nose at the stormy day. I know the winter has been exceptionally long, snowy and cold when I feel that I am really and truly ready to be done. Usually, I am content to hibernate through the snowy season, while making the best of it with different forms of outdoor play. When people around me complain, I just nod and continue on – but not so much this year. This year, I am ready to be done. Bring on the SUN!
So today, my impulsive summer-wear buys were tokens of my commitment to taking a vacation to somewhere hot and sunny. (I wish it were sooner, but we’re planning for April) For now, having the plan in place – with a new bathing suit to add to our weekly vacation savings – and announcing our plans in my blog clinches it. THIS HAS TO HAPPEN! The idea of sun, sand and family fun has become my dangling carrot as I continue on through my cold and blustery days.
And yet, if you were to ask our kids, they might tell you that “Mom’s planning a trip.” or “We might be going away this spring.”
What they may neglect to tell you was that I took that offer off of the table two nights ago.
After weeks of listening to my kids bicker, fight, whine, bug, cry and drag their feet through every task at hand – I finally had enough. Mornings before school were becoming a yelling match. I had to ask them at least 5 times to do anything. Brushing teeth could take 20 minutes, getting dressed another 20. While I whirled around the kitchen making breakfast and packing lunches (amidst getting myself ready for work or my workout – the soundtrack I got to hear most often was Audra flying off the handle every time Ethan so much as looked at her. (While I rarely witnessed if he was doing anything to instigate these tirades, I have no doubt that he took the opportunity to push her buttons many times when I wasn’t there to witness it.)
I partially blame the extreme cold, which lead to prolonged times of indoor play at school. While there were some days that were simply too cold to venture outside, there is a reason I buy our kids good outdoor gear. They need to run around, play, and burn off steam – and apparently, I need them to do so to keep a semblance of sanity in our home.
So, two nights ago, I picked them up after a long day at work. It was almost 9:00 – which is bedtime in our house. I sat them down, and asked them to PLEASE make this an easy night. To PLEASE get ready for bed quickly and without fighting. And to PLEASE do so without me having to ask and ask and ask ….
Unfortunately, the tired look on my face and heartfelt request didn’t quite do the trick.
By 9:30, they were both still up, with “things” they needed to do. Audra was looking for something in her book bag, while Ethan was dragging himself around the floor like a snake. (Don’t ask – I often don’t know why they do the things they do!) I don’t think I had it in me to get mad. I was too tired. Tired of cranky kids, tired of feeling unheard, tired and wanting to sit down and put my feet up – without a thought to another person. I quietly stated in a flat monotone (read: calm before the storm) that they were to go to bed. Nothing else. NOW.
Which in one sense they did – by crawling down the hallway on their bellies. Pulling themselves along, slow as snails. I stood and watched them for a minute. Amused? (no, not at the time.) More like incredulous. Was it possible that my two children – the two people that I most devote my time, energy, love and care to – could be that oblivious to my requests for them to help? Was it possible that they could be that disrespectful that they could do the exact opposite of getting quickly into their beds as I had asked?
And so, something in me snapped. With an immediate change in tone and volume, they had THREE SECONDS to GET. INTO. BED. There was no “or else’ needed. My wonderful, perceptive, intelligent children finally picked up on one of my vibes. I was mad. I was fed up. And they had better get themselves to bed.
From the hallway, I dictated to them my new rules. I announced that I was taking a break. From that moment, we were cutting back on all of the added bonuses that were usually provided. Oh yes, I would feed them, hug them, love them and keep them safe and warm. But all extras were off the table. Family outings. Family trips. Treats. Movies. Computers and ipads.
IF they started to demonstrate respectful, helpful and co-operative behaviour, I would reconsider our ‘contract’. For the time being, they were effectively on probation. “What does that mean?” they asked – (maybe panic was starting to set in). “You have to earn back all the bonuses.” I answered. “HOW LONG?!” they asked – to which I replied, “THAT is totally up to you. Show me you can get along, listen to me when I speak, and help out when I need it – and THEN we will talk about it again.”
No doubt, when Dean came home a few minutes later, he was surprised to find both of our kids in bed, upset. “Mommy’s mean!” Audra wailed to him. “I’m sure mommy wasn’t mean,” he placated her – to which I quipped, “Yes, I was.” With a brief pause from Dean, he countered with “I’m sure mommy had a good reason to be mean.” “Yes, I did.”
The thing is that I would usually feel badly if I lost my cool, yelled at the kids, or acted in a less-than-pleasant manner. I have had times of being consumed with mommy-guilt, wondering if other moms were better at holding it together. But THIS TIME – there was no guilt. I didn’t lose control. I expressed my frustration – and it was very well-founded. And I wasn’t giving lip service to idle threats. I meant everything I said.
I want to go on a trip. I want to bring our kids. But not if they behave like this. I want to spend time with them – as much as humanly possible. I want to buy them things, treat them, watch their faces light up with delight. But not if my days with them are a constant fight.
I WANT MY KIDS BACK. The ones who get along most of the time. The ones who are fun to be with. The ones who make me laugh. Who fill my heart with joy. Who hug me with all their hearts. Who add new dimensions of purpose to my life.
The ones I want to take on vacation with me.
I know that there are days (or weeks) that are much like running through a gauntlet – where parenting feels like taking hits left, right and center. But most of the time it’s more like taking a wondrous stroll though life together. I am choosing to have more of those kinds of days.
As for now, I can say that the recent experience of laying down new rules seems to have paid in dividends. For two days in a row our house has been peaceful, happy and enjoyable. It bodes well for the gradual re-introduction of the perks of family fun.
A few more months of this, add a little sun… and I hope we’ll find ourselves creating fantastic memories together. The ultimate reward for good behaviour. And worst case scenario… I guess just Dean and I could go away!!