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S has memorized the How To Be An Annoying Younger Sibling Handbook. Hell, she may have revised the thing, adding new chapters such as “Sitting on Big Brother’s Head – Appropriate Situations to Employ This Most Dangerous Tactic,” and “When Hurting Yourself is Worth it in the Spririt of Getting Big Brother in Trouble,” and “Let’s Make Sure Mom Drinks Tonight.” My sweet little girl pulls hair, claws eyeballs and puts her own fingers into L’s mouth for him to bite. In her defense, she only does this stuff when she’s bored. And she will handle a whole minute of boredom before resorting to these measures.

She’s most bored when L watches TV. This is problematic for me because I plug L into the TV when I have something to do. Like cook dinner, make a phone call, or not kill him. So while I’m super busy cooking, talking on the phone, or not killing, S is in the other room stirring things up. She’s instigating a monster, and she knows it. She will sit on his head, (keep in mind, she’s usually not wearing anything on her bottom half,) pull his hair and claw at his eyes until he retaliates. In his defense, he has a HUGE tolerance for this type of crap. I have seen him watch an entire Wild Kratts with his sister on his head. When he does retaliate though, he does so with gusto. A swift twist, push and throwing maneuver and S is thrown from the couch altogether. He may leave it at that, or he may leap down after her and then the two are a blur of legs and arms as they wrestle it out on the floor.

L weighs 45 lbs. S weighs 23. Fighting is in L’s DNA. S doesn’t stand a chance.

This morning, L is plugged into a movie while I try to pack up all of our stuff as we can finally head home after a week of living with my parents. We have our electricity back and I can’t wait to get back to our normal lives. S does not want to watch a movie. So, naturally, she grabs a handful of eyeball. Like a pitbull, once she’s latched on, nothing can get her off. L is screaming and I’m yanking on S but she’s glued onto that eyeball. I finally free L from her clutches and put S into a time out. She does not stay in time outs so I am re-putting her in the corner again and again and then something strange happened.

A man came in and scooped her up. He gave her a hug and asked her if she will promise to be good. Through pathetic fake tears, she promises. He then releases her back into her freedom. WTF? Who is this man? He looks like my dad, but can’t be.

When I was growing up, my dad was the scary one. When we were naughty we quickly asked our mother, “Please don’t tell dad??” I think he still doesn’t know about the brand new ski jacket I lost in the 5th grade. (Sorry, Dad.) So who’s this softy letting my daughter out of her time out? I could have used this guy 30 years ago.

I guess the moral here is that we all have to wait about 30 years. Then when our terrible children have terrible children of their own, we can do whatever the eff we want. We can be the nice guy if we used to be the mean guy. We can give them Sugar Puff Honey Crack O’s for breakfast and then give them back to their parents. We can babysit and keep them up way past bedtime. All this is to say, that one day, we will have our revenge. Good things come to those who wait.

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L comes up with new, crazy-ass ways to be bad on a daily basis. It’s 9:45 PM and we hear him walking around after he had been sleeping. I go upstairs to check on him. He’s happy, gives me a big hug. His hair is wet. Really wet.

“Why is your hair wet?”

“Because I’m so cold.”

Hmmm. Not a good answer. I go into his room to tuck him back into his bed. His bed is soaked. The whole bed. From pillow right on down.

“Why is your bed wet?” No answer. “Did you pee?” (All over it?) No answer. I need to investigate further. I go into the bathroom where I find a soaking wet towel in the sink. Shit. What did he do??

Back in his room I begin to strip the bed. As I do I feel my blood pressure increase. My temper rises. Suddenly I’m seeing red. Here I go. I’m about to lose it…

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? YOU CAN’T BE TRUSTED TO LIVE IN A HOUSE WHERE YOU HAVE ACCESS TO A BATHROOM??? ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO START LOCKING THE BATHROOM DOORS? WE’VE ALREADY LOCKED AWAY YOUR SOAP AND YOUR TOOTHPASTE BECAUSE YOU CAN’T BE TRUSTED WITH THOSE, BUT NOW YOU CAN’T EVEN BE TRUSTED WITH PLUMBING??!!”

I can tell I’ve lost it completely. I am now officially crazed. I can’t stop. My anger is overwhelming. I keep screaming. It’s like a freight train. Unstoppable. L is crying. As I move around his bed, remaking it, I step on something wet. Underpants, lying next to a wet pair of shorts.

“What’s this?” No answer. “WHAT IS THIS?”

“I peed.”

“How did you manage to pee in underpants and shorts when you’re wearing a pull-up?” No answer. Uh-oh. Here comes the red again. I can feel the surge, my heart pounding. Suddenly I’m screaming again…

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?? WHY DO YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO?? WHY DON’T YOU THINK? DO YOU THINK I WANT TO BE HERE SCREAMING AT YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? DO YOU THINK THIS IS WHAT I WANT? WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BEHAVE?”

I went on and on with no sign that this tirade was ever going to end. T finally came in and ushered me out of L’s room. And now I’m here writing this while T finishes with L upstairs and puts him back to bed. Adrenaline flows through me. My hands shake as I type. I still don’t know the full story of what happened: what was water, what was pee or why. All I know is that I seem to be hanging on to the very last shred of the last tiny millimeter of the end of my rope.  I no longer have a cushion of patience, understanding or perspective.

I am well aware that I overreacted tonight in a big way. I screamed like a crazy person. Like a very bad mother. My throat hurts. I’m sure my neighbors heard through the open windows, even though their houses are far from mine. L is now back in bed sleeping, not 15 minutes after this whole episode. Clearly he was not terribly distressed by my tantrum, which only means that he’s seen it before. That he’s not shocked like he really ought to be.

This is The Ugly. This is what happens here that I’m sure doesn’t happen in your houses.

I’m so sick and tired of fighting all the time, of the constant vigilance I have to keep with L, the nonstop battles over every little thing all day long every single day. It’s just too hard. It feels so unfair sometimes. Like I was given the wrong child. This kid needs a better mother – someone with more patience and kindness. I give up.

Hello, Universe? You made a mistake. You didn’t give me a challenge I could rise to, but one that has totally destroyed me. Please check your records and make the appropriate adjustments. 

OK, the adrenaline has subsided. My tantrum is over. Now I’m just stuck with the shitty emotional cocktail of failure, weakness, guilt and sadness. Really, what was the big deal all about? He played with water? What the fuck is the matter with me anyway?

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I want you all to know that I read every comment I get here and on my FB page and every single email. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the feedback, support, advice and points of view. There are too many awesome points for me to respond to each one, so I’m writing this as a general response:

  • Yes, I am still going to go forward with having L evaluated by someone who is not that douche-bag doctor we saw the other day. My objective is to find out what makes L tick, so I can help him tick in a way that will not piss me off is more socially acceptable.
  • You’re right, all kids behave worse at home. I should be happy and proud that L can behave so well at school. It does mean, at the very least, that he’s not a psychopath, sociopath, or any other kind of terrible-path. And it also shows that he trusts me enough to never really sell him on eBay.
  • I will try to look at L’s ransacking the baking/junkfood cabinet and the freezer at dawn today as a step towards his becoming an independent, self-reliant man. (Damn, some of you are very glass-half-full people!)
  • I had an aha moment today when I read this comment:

….I’ve found my kids doing the exact same things. They ignore rules they’ve known for years, make messes just for the sake of being messy, and misbehave for me while acting the angel for everyone else. I’ve also come to realize that every time they act this way, it’s because they know they can get away with it. I realize I’ve fallen into the parent trap of frustrated speech, not following through, and trying to plead with them to do what I told them. When I follow through with discipline and kind words, all goes back to normal…

Dean is totally right on. Things were bad with L a year ago, I got really strict and mean, things got better. Things were so good that I thought I was out of the woods. I let my guard down. I let small things slide. Small things snowballed into an avalanche of bad, and now I’m here. Time to bring back mean mommy. This will not be fun, but will probably provide blog-fodder.

So, watch out, L! Mean-Mommy is back. And Daddy’s going to bring back Hammer-T. I will try very, very, very hard not to react emotionally. I will suppress my inner combustible self. I will be nonplussed, calm, and mean.

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I don’t really think I suck, and I don’t really think that I’m fucking up my kids (any more than every parent fucks up her kids, anyway). I wrote yesterday’s post immediately after blowing up at L so I was feeling maximally emotional about it. I pounded it out on the keyboard while L screamed for me upstairs and S screamed for me at my feet, while my throat still smarted from my own screaming. I’ve written a few posts in similar situations and they always seem to resonate with other parents.

The first post I wrote in the middle of a bad moment was scary, (read it here). I hit “publish” and then thought, “well, there goes my blog!” certain that revealing my real truth would repel any readers my fledgling blog had acquired. But the opposite thing happened, and it took my blog in a new direction.

I started blogging thinking I’d write wildly funny posts about parenting. It started out that way, but then I ran out of funny and was left with L shitting his pants (it took under a month). So I hit publish and I learned something: it’s one thing to read about a bad parenting moment after the fact, once the writer has regained a cool level head. It’s still nice to read about it, still relatable, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as something written mid-tantrum.

I love the responses I get to my angsty posts. I feel so low and angry and then out of thin cyber air comes tons of support, empathy and others willing to admit that they’ve been there, done that. For that I thank you. I can’t tell you how grateful I am, and how lucky I feel to have this platform and my readers.

So Motherhood, WTF? isn’t the uproariously funny, side-splitting blog I imagined I’d write. Instead it’s much more honest. I’m not always funny. Sometimes I’m pissy, or upset, or bitchy, or angry, or feeling out of control. Sometimes the responsibility of parenting weighs heavily on me, and other times I can see it all as a huge prank the universe plays on us and I’m just waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out laughing “haha, you should have seen your face!” So, I’ll start another day stealing myself for the former, and hoping my hair looks nice enough for the latter.

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Dammit. Another parenting fail here. I just overreacted and I don’t know how to take it back. It’s 6PM and I just sent L up to his room for the rest of the night. He’s already eaten dinner, but the punishment is still overly harsh for the crime(s). I just lost it. Damn.

It was one of those afternoons of a million little things. I kept choosing not to choose each battle. A tongue stuck out went ignored. So did a fresh comment. I even only responded with a stern look when he (very lightly, but still obnoxiously) hit me for insisting he return to the bathroom to wash his hands again after a pathetic fake out attempt. I just was not in the mood to get into it with him. Seems like my choices are to either fight it out all day long, or let a ton of shit slide.

Then he hid his food on the floor under the table and told me he ate it all and asked for dessert. When I asked if he hid the food under the table he said no. When I asked him to pick up the food he said “I’ll only pick it up if you give me dessert.” WTF? That’s still not what did it.

What did it was a pom-pom. My ever-tidy S has a container full of little craft pom-poms to dump out and refill. I come into the living room to find them everywhere. Just everywhere. Strewn around in a very non-S fashion. I ask L to help pick them up. When he insists it was S to made the mess, I just said that we’ll all work together. Instead of collecting them, he grabs handfuls and chucks them around creating a bigger mess. I tell him to stop it and he sticks his tongue out at me.

That was it. The proverbial straw. I yelled that he has to go to his room for the rest of the night and that’s where he is now, sobbing.

So now what? Go back on my word because I think I overreacted? The truth is that I under-reacted to the rest of it, but it was still building up inside me. Then I blew at a relatively minor infraction.

Why doesn’t this job come with more training? Or kids come with instruction manuals? This sucks. I’m not able to just be good at this all the time, and the result of my being so bad at it is potentially fucking my kids up for life. That’s a pretty big consequence. Ugh.

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Another Thursday, another miserable day. Instead of having fun at the Children’s Museum, like we planned, we’re still home and L is in a time out. Why the F he has to F with me on Effing Thursdays, I have no idea. (I’m doing a good job curbing my swearing. I already emptied our checking account into my swear jar.)

Clearly something BIG and BAD happened to send L over the edge into obnoxious land costing him a trip to the museum. Right? Of course. The BIG BAD thing was that I asked him to wash his hands after peeing. That’s right. I’m such a bitch. Not only did I ask him to wash his hands, but then when he crumpled on the floor into a puddle of whining misery, I did not acquiesce and come help him wash his hands.

This is after a morning of walks and a bike ride, giving him his favorite lunch (a Nutella sandwich) and letting him watch a show while eating it, all with the promise that afterwards we’ll go to his favorite place ever. All he had to do was pee first.

Another special day, another huge disappointment for everyone. Maybe L and I just shouldn’t spend any time together. I’m so pissed off. I told him that if he made one more fresh face or comment that we wouldn’t go to the museum. He promptly stuck his tongue out at me and said “No, YOU won’t go to the museum.” So, up to his room he went. Apologizing, crying, wailing against the injustice.

And now I have to follow through. In order to be a good mom, I have to find something else to fill the next few hours with. Something certain to be harder for me and less fun for him than a trip to the museum. This sucks. And will he learn any lesson from this? Will he actually internalize anything about actions and consequences? About how mommy is serious when she threatens something and you’d better listen to her? Not likely. He’s missed out on so many things, been dragged out of so many fun places. I always follow through. And he’s still the worst behaved kid I know. (When he’s being bad. When he’s being good he’s a freaking angel.)

Thursdays always suck.

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Why should my kid know the alphabet? Because “the man” says so? Well, fuck the man. I don’t like the letters C, P or U so I’m not going to teach them to my kids. If they decide, at some later date, that they do like those letters, then they are free to add them into the alphabet, wherever they please. My children are special small people and I believe they know what’s best for themselves.

That’s right. My kids know what’s best. That’s why L has cookies for breakfast and is allowed to use the stove. If he burns himself, which I doubt he will, he will learn organically that placing his face on the element is a poor choice.

S does not like her carseat. She’s 1.5 now and old enough to know what’s best for her. I don’t give a shit that “the man” says it’s the law. Laws stifle my children’s freedom to develop at their own pace, into whomever they please. So I allow S to climb around the car freely as I drive. People are shocked by this and want to take my daughter from me. It’s not their fault that they feel this way. They harbor long-standing resentments towards everyone because they were made to share as children, and are still trying to seek retribution for having to give other kids a turn with the shovel in the sandbox.

I don’t stop my children from hitting your children. Confused? Don’t be. If my child wants to hit yours, yours probably deserves it. By not forcing my child to keep his hands to himself, my child will learn the natural way that hitting does not gain friends. Your child is free to walk away from my child. I am not willing to shove nonviolence propaganda down his throat just to please judgmental parents, society at large, and the children mine are beating on.

I don’t discourage my children from putting forks into outlets or drinking from the toilet, if they feel so inclined. Those might not be my choices, but they are not me. They are free to make their own choices, even if it means that I will suffer the heartache of mourning the loss of my electrocuted toddler. At least she had her freedom.

I don’t have to conform to your ways because I’m not going to send my children to school. They won’t be forced to confront society until they are adults, or whenever they decide they are ready to move out of my home. At that time, they will have the maturity to navigate the world on their own, because I’ve let them navigate the world on their own since the day they were born.

I’m not judging you for kowtowing to “the man” and sheepishly doing random things like teaching colors just because you’ve been told to. (If my kid wants to call blue red, then that’s his creative right.) I’m not better than you just because I’m not stunting my children’s individuality like you are.

I know I’m really cerebral about this stuff, but that’s just because I’m really freaking smart. Smarter than you are. But that’s OK.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out Blossom’s latest. I probably should have encouraged you to read that first, but I thought it would be funnier this way. I really don’t see my post as much more outrageous than hers.

Blossom says, “I have heard people say that those who force their kids to share, be polite, and excel on adult terms are really just creating children who are monkeys…” Really, Mayim? You’ve heard people say this? What people? Where? Well, I’ve heard people say that those who force their babies out of their vaginas are really just birthing children who are witless losers. I would never push my baby to come out if she didn’t want to. Just because by our “adult terms” we could both die if I don’t push. Why force your baby to enter the world that way? If my baby wants to be born, she’ll come out on her own. She knows what’s best for her.

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What is motherhood all about? I’ve noticed a few things lately that make me feel like I’ve arrived.

Motherhood is:

  1. letting someone whose face is covered in snot nuzzle into your neck;
  2. hearing a crash anywhere in the house and freezing for a count of 5 to see if crying follows. If not, just continuing about your business;
  3. knowing all the words to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of annoying songs. And singing them;
  4. thinking that tush in front of you is adorable, even though you just finished cleaning poop off of it;
  5. having more things in your purse that aren’t for you than things that are;
  6. the ability to drive while constantly passing things to the backseat, collecting things from the backseat, and answering the unanswerable questions of the universe: “Will Santa die? How will Santa bring me my presents when I die?”;
  7. having your heart burst because of a moment of unbearable sweetness;
  8. getting kicked in the shins with hard plaster casts while dragging a 45 lb person somewhere he doesn’t want to go, (OK, this one might be unique to me);
  9. knowing when another person needs to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom before they know it themselves;
  10. going from utterly frustrated and annoyed to utterly touched and happy and then back again within a minute;
  11. a lot like having the world’s worst house guests, who
    • eat all your food and never replace it,
    • make huge messes and never clean up,
    • contribute exactly nothing towards household needs,
    • leave smudgy handprints of questionable origin (apple sauce? snot?) all over your house,
    • shit their pants,
    • pick their noses,
    • wake you up at night and at ungodly hours in the morning,
    • demand you serve them,
    • demand the TV is tuned to their shows, not yours,
    • and most of all they never, ever leave.

Did I miss anything?

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When do I get to not be involved in my kids’, er, elimination? I want to not know and not care when or if they’ve pooped. I want it to be their problem. I’m sick of wrestling, reminding, wiping, reading to etc. I’m so sick of it all.

S is at the squirm stage. Think spooked greased pig amped up on red bull. But she’s still the easy one.

L has poop issues. He withholds, which is the most frustrating, annoying, infuriating, maddening thing in the world. I never could have guessed that another person’s bowel movements could have such an effect on me. Never in a million years.

We have a new plan. It involves a “treasure chest” full of small toys and rewards that he earns by not putting up a fight when it’s time to go. He is so excited about the treasure chest. He talks about the treasure chest. He constantly wants to check on the treasure chest. And yet, he has so far not earned any treasure. His aversion to pooping is stronger than his desire for new matchbox cars, batman tattoos and lollipops.

My job is to pretend I don’t care. If I take the power out of it all, it won’t be a power struggle, right? I can’t do it. I do care. It bothers me to see him squirm because he can barely hold it in any longer. And yet he holds it. It bothers me that he can’t eat his meals because he has to poop so badly. It bothers me that he’s awake in his room until 9 or 10 at night because he can’t fall asleep because he is holding in what really just wants to come out.

This new plan is plan number high-number. This has been going on since his 1.5-year-old sister was born. I can’t stand it. I know that one day when he’s a teenager with teenage problems I may wish for these smaller problems of a small child. Well, people tell me that anyway. But right now this feels like a big problem. L’s poop or lack thereof shapes my days. When he’s gone he’s a happy, cooperative child. When he hasn’t he’s grumpy, contrary and looking for a fight.

His poop, my pain in the ass.

 

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When I wrote the post on spanking I expected criticism and a full-out mommy war in the comments. I mean, it’s touchy stuff! But instead I received a ton of thoughtful, helpful and supportive feedback. How awesome is that?

In the end I think I’m so undecided about spanking because something about it doesn’t sit right with me. And, I don’t think it would work for L. If I felt like it would be effective, I’d probably give it a go. But knowing L, I believe it’s something that would end up backfiring in an unexpected way at some point down the road.

I still need to find the holy grail of consequences that will work for him though. We use time outs now, and the threat of one does often curb immediate behavior, but it’s not improving things long-term. I’ve tried taking away favorite things and that doesn’t phase him in the least. We consistently leave fun places, also with no real effect. This child of mine is so strong-willed and determined when he’s mad, that his satisfaction from just being mad and saying mean things outweighs how bad it is to leave a birthday party. It also outweighs how much it sucks to have all of his toys taken away. And all of his superhero pjs/underwear/t-shirts.

I’ve said this before, but I think consequences don’t mean much to him because he knows that bottom line I’m still going to love him. In fact, infuriatingly, he’ll often remind me that I still love him in the middle of a battle. I’ve tried the stern, “I’m very disappointed” approach and he just smiles and says “but you still love me.” He’s done this after I’ve had to drag him out of playgrounds/parties/playdates and wrestle him into the car. When I’m screaming mad. When I’m ready to drop him off at the local fire station. Do you know how annoying it is for someone to remind you that you love him in a moment that you want to kill him?

Many of you have assured me that this is a phase, and I hope you’re right. But I’ve also been told that I have to get this stuff in check now, before he’s a teenager. This warning keeps me up at night with visions of a totally out of control teenaged-L. Flunking out of school, staying out all night, drinking, drugs, crime, orchestrating shooting rampages….

Lately my feelings about L have been highly schizophrenic. One moment I’m cracking up at some hilarious thing he says, the next moment I’m marveling at how adorable he is, and within a minute I want to put him up for auction on Ebay, priced to sell.

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I’m getting a lot of pressure from some people in my family to spank L.

In their opinion: everyone used to be spanked, and turned out just fine. In the old days, kids were afraid of their parents and therefore behaved, and that was a good system. Never would a child dare say some of the stuff L says to me. Spanking would whip him into shape, show him who’s boss, and may only have to be administered one or two times.

I’ve been bombarded with this message for some time and have mostly tuned it out, thanked for the input and went on about my non-spanking business. But L does seem out of control. Are they right?

I don’t think spanking is evil, and I don’t believe that if used as one form of measured discipline it is child abuse. I just can’t imagine doing it. And I can’t imagine it working.

L is a smart kid. When he uses a bad word and I correct him, he says “but you do it!” So how will he react, post spanking, if he swats at me or S and I tell him not to hit?

Then again, he does seem to be confused about what level of respect he should show towards me. Am I not authoritative enough? Would spanking him show him that I am, in fact, the boss? Maybe it would shock him enough to get the message through that he is not allowed to speak to me that way. Then again, could hitting a young child on his bottom possibly garner me more respect? Isn’t respect something someone feels out of reverence, not fear? Or maybe a little fear is good?

The other day when he didn’t get his way he told T that he was going to break everything in the house. T replied, “Well, then you’d have to find somewhere else to live.” L’s mad face vanished and was replaced with real worry as he asked in all sincerity, “But then who will keep me safe?” (Insert heartbreak and paternal guilt here.) Do I want him to feel that his place with me is at all tenuous? Isn’t early childhood the one time in a person’s life when he should feel entirely free from worry and fear?

My pro-spanking relatives would tell me that I’m way over-thinking. That back in the day parents didn’t think of all this stuff and that kids’ emotions weren’t really considered important. And that everyone turned out just fine. But did we? All the parents I know think a lot about our kids’ emotional needs. Is that a reaction to our own parents dismissing ours? Maybe we’re raising our kids differently on purpose.

It’s hard to be on the receiving end of so much pro-spanking rhetoric, especially because it’s from people who know and love L and only want what’s best for him (and me). Is it possibly true that one or two spanks could lead to total L reform? That this simple solution is just sitting there waiting while I bang my head against the wall trying desperately, but in vain, to solve the problem with assorted new-fangled approaches?

So there you have it. My tangled mess of thoughts on spanking. What do you think?

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“If you don’t let me stay home, I’m going to be bad all day, break everything in the house, and punch you in the face!”

Today is Thursday, which is my special day with just L. Worried that L wasn’t getting enough individual, special attention, I arranged for S to go to daycare on Thursdays so L gets a whole day alone with me. We have a library story time in the morning, gymnastics in the afternoon, and in between we get to do whatever we want without the constraints of S’s naps, moods, diapers etc.

I hate Thursdays.

This morning L refused to put on his socks, boots, coat etc. He wanted to stay home alone while I drove S to daycare. The quote above is what he said to me when I told him that he’s not allowed to stay home alone. Great way to start our special day together, right?

I’m so annoyed. I feel like I keep doing the right things and they keep not having the desired effects. I know it’s hard on L to have S around all the time. I know it’s hard on him that he’s constantly told NO! while she’s gently redirected. I know it’s hard on him that strangers comment on how cute she is, while he stands there virtually invisible. So I took S entirely out of the picture for a whole day. I try my hardest to protect him from her as often as I protect her from him, so he’s not the one always in the wrong. I always respond to strangers’ comments with something like “…and L is such a great big brother!”

And yet, I’m told that he’s going to break everything in my house and punch me in the face. W. T. F?

Is this even a normal thing for an almost 4-year-old to say? Or is my boy especially bad? What’s the correct response to this? Ignore? Calmly say “that’s 1…”? Put him in a time out? Punch him in the face so he knows how it feels? Or tell him that it’s totally unfair that I have to put up with such obnoxious behavior and that our special days together are just not working out and I’m going to put him in daycare instead?

Every day with L is a battle. Nothing is easy. I wake up and have to steel myself for the day ahead with him. When he’s finally in bed at night, I feel myself relax for the first time. Another day survived. Is it supposed to feel this way?

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L has been good. Too good. I’m getting lulled into a sense of peace and harmony – that I am a normal mom and can just take my kid anywhere and have a normal-to-good time. This is a trap. It must be. There is no way a person can change so dramatically so quickly, right? Then again, he’s only 3. Is he sophisticated and cunning enough to pull off a farce like this? To behave so well that we let our guards down? Is it the Santa effect?

OK, I’m mostly kidding. I don’t really think that L has an elaborate scheme. I’m mostly sure that he’s not devising a plan, waiting for me to lower my guard and raise my expectations, just to crush and destroy me with a doubly evil outburst during some inopportune outing. I’m really mostly sure that’s not what’s happening. So what is it?

“L, it’s time to get ready for bed.” “OK, Mommy!” WHAT?
“L, let’s get shoes on, it’s time to go.” “OK, Mommy!” HUH??
“May I please have bezzert?” [sic] “Not tonight, you had a cookie earlier.” “Ok, Mommy.” WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY REAL SON?

I feel myself relaxing. I sense that my expectations are rising, despite my best efforts to keep them at rock bottom. If this is due to Santa’s list and the nearness of the reward for being good, then I’ve got to figure out some way to have an old, kid-loving man spy on L all year round. Parents everywhere would thank me! If not Santa, could it be that L is, gulp, outgrowing his desire to constantly be at odds with me? Dare I even think it? I just jinxed myself, didn’t I?

Whatever it is, I’m soaking it up. L is bursting with pleases and thank yous and agreements and general good will. I should record it. I’m sure you’d appreciate me whipping out my camera to show you a video of my good boy next time he’s shooting and chasing your child in the playground or knocking down a display rack in your store.

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L is really a great kid. It’s too bad he tries so hard to hide that from everyone. I feel like his problems and issues are outshining his positive attributes and that people who don’t know him well aren’t liking him. And people who do know him, and even love him, focus only on the bad. Myself included. I try so hard to give him more positive attention than negative each day, but he makes it near impossible.

If he’s sitting and independently playing or reading (which is rare), I might walk over and give him a quick kiss on the head and let him know I love him. More often than not that is met with an angry face and rude noise. “Thbbbbbbbth!” he blows raspberries at me.

When he shows the least kindness to his sister I try to “catch him being good” and let him know how proud I am that he’s such a good big brother, that he’s so thoughtful etc. Generally he will immediately go and make S cry by snatching a toy, hitting her on the head, or tackling her.

So, giving him positive attention seems to elicit bad behavior. What about no attention?

When he feels that I’m not paying enough attention to him, he certainly knows how to change that. He’ll take everything out of all of his drawers and throw it down the stairs. He’ll commandeer S’s toy stroller and ram it into walls, furniture and S herself. He’ll demand food and drink. He’ll kick and scream and cry and shout and hit and call me names and hurt S and break things.

So, positive attention and no attention don’t work. What about when he gets the negative attention he seems so keen for?

When we do get angry with him he fights back with a vengeance. Anyone who has experienced a 3-year-old tantrum knows that the 3-year-old has more energy and commitment to the tantrum than you could possibly have to placate him. When he gets his consequence, be it a time out, losing a toy or privilege or just getting us screaming mad, he seems terrified that we’re angry. That we won’t love him anymore or something. Then, as soon as I assure him that I do still love him, that I’m just angry, he will tell me I’m stupid and bad and not his mom anymore.

I’m at a complete loss. Why is he so hellbent on being angry? His first mood when he wakes up in the morning is anger. What have I done so wrong in my parenting to have made him this way? It’s like he is identifying with being bad and feels compelled to fulfill what he thinks is his role in the family. His role as day ruiner, outing destroyer, misery creator. He’s quite good at those things.

This is a phase, right? Tell me you’ve all been there. Tell me that you can see that L is a great kid (if you know him) and that he’s not bad all the time. Tell me about your now 6-year-old who is a perfect angel who you almost sold on Ebay when he was 3. Tell me anything that will make me believe something different from: I am a bad mom who has done something wrong which ruined my child who is now a monster.

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My zen is crumbling around me as I return to the familiar territory of irritability. Just like the ugly, gigantic pajama pants that I normally put on every night after tucking the kids into bed. (You know, the ones I bought when I was 7 months pregnant, that were then cute(ish) capris but now drag on the floor even when hoisted up all the way to my boobs.)

The pants disappeared with Nana’s visit. I just pretended to be the type who keeps her jeans on until bedtime. I also pretended to be calm. I pulled it off so well that I even fell for it. But as soon as outsider eyes stopped watching, I hitched up my huge pjs and I got annoyed at everything.

I am a duck. I am a duck. I am a duck.

Fuck it. I’m no duck. I’m the mom who took off L’s doorknob yesterday and turned it around so I could lock his door from the outside, after a solid hour of back-to-back time outs where I had to stand there holding the door closed pretending I couldn’t hear his “stupid mommy!” and “poopy mommy!” and him hurling himself and all that was not nailed down at the door.

Maybe a little bit of my flirtation with zen did stick. Although I eventually yelled, it was only a little bit. I quickly regained control of myself and did the door knob thing instead, which certainly shocked and disturbed L more than any yelling I could do. When all was said and done I was able to bring my blood pressure back down to a low simmer and get on with the day.

So, I’m no zen master and I’ve lost that zenny ease I had while Nana was here. Then it was easy. I simply had no choice. Now I’m free to show my ugly-mommy side and it really wants to be seen. Here’s hoping I have some zen-retention though. I know it’s possible anyway.

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I’ve been so good. I’ve really kept my cool despite extraordinary circumstances. I’ve held it together. Apparently this really annoyed L. He needed to try harder and harder and harder to get me to blow. Of course he eventually succeeded, like he always does. That little turd.

I did not lose my temper when he purposely head-butted S leaving a big bump on her forehead.

I did not lose my temper when he whacked S with a serving spoon.

Or when he tripped her.

I did not lose my temper when he stuck his tongue out at Nana.

Or when he told her that she’s not his friend.

All of these incidences were met with cool, measured consequences. No yelling.

What did it? When he told me he was going to punch me in my face.

That’s when I grabbed him by his shirt, ripping it, and dragged him to his room yelling that I had enough. I threw a pull up through the door and told him to put himself to bed and that I was sick of his obnoxious behavior and that he just cannot talk that way to me.

I was told today that respect has to be earned, not demanded. But honestly, what do I do that doesn’t earn it? I provide him food and drink, entertainment, enrichment, and a million other niceties every day, and, lately, even a very calm demeanor! I think that I deserve not to be told that he wants to punch me in the face. Reasonable, right?

Oh, and by the way, it’s totally fucking awesome that Nana is here to witness all of this. That right now she’s in the next room while L is wailing upstairs, “you broke my shirt!”

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I met with Al again today and talked about my concerns. I explained L’s escalated obnoxiousness and my hope that it’s due to me actually making a change in the right direction, even though it feels like failure. She thinks that it is what it means. She said that L is persistent and will push back, hard, against any change. Yipee.

I also asked her about the specific scenarios I encountered during the week where I didn’t know what to do. Here’s her take:

  • L climbing all around the car refusing to get into his carseat: first she said that she thinks it’s fine for me to give him a time out loose in the car. She asked, “what’s the worst that can happen?” I described how he handles the windshield wiper and directional levers, and my confidence that he’d break them right off if left alone with them. She said that what I should do is sit in the driver’s seat and ignore him. Let him climb all over the place, but pay him no attention whatsoever. If he asks why I’m not talking to him, say calmly that I’m waiting for him to get into his seat. I like this plan and wouldn’t have thought of it, even though it seems so obvious. I thought my only choices were to catch/wrestle him, yell at him, or let him have free reign of the car.
  • L yells insults from his room for his entire time out: She said to just ignore him. He’s trying to engage me and I should pretend that I just don’t hear it. The time that he’s yelling still counts as his time out and I just have to act like I didn’t hear anything. If he starts coming out of his room, that’s a different story. If need be I can stand there holding the door closed, pretending I can’t hear him. If he wrecks his room he has to help me clean it up. If, after an insult-slinging time out, he continues the behavior, he goes in for another insult-slinging time out. Fun for the whole family!

I also asked about consequences for L that adversely affect S at the same time. I gave the example of driving home in the pouring rain at 5PM. S is crying because she’s starving and I have nothing in the car for her. (Because I’m a rock star mom.) L hits S and needs a time out. Pulling the car over and taking S out to leave L alone, or even just sitting there ignoring him, both punish S the most. She’s either stuck in the pouring rain, or just stuck in the car, either way prolonging her time before she can eat.

Al said that in these circumstances I should weigh the effects, pros and cons, etc on each child and decide case by case what to do. She said in that particular scenario driving home and giving L a time out when we get there is a good choice. I asked, what if L continues to hit S the whole drive home? She said, siblings will be siblings and although it sucks, he’s not going to break her. L will get an appropriate consequence upon arriving home, and S will be just fine. Poor S!

So, there you have it, folks. She told me to stay the course and work on not losing my temper. She’s very kind and told me that just taking longer to lose my temper is a good start. I’m glad she’s set the bar so low for me.

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L has been startlingly more obnoxious than usual. I’m used to him knocking S over or grabbing her toy when I’m not looking, but lately he’s been doing those things openly, blatantly, more forcefully. Also, he’s taken to throwing (soft) objects at her at close range. Right at her head or face. In fact, he’s taken to throwing things at my head and face too. WTF?

Feeling very low, I just had a great ah-ha! moment. I remembered something Al said. She said that it will get worse, before it gets better. That L will notice a change in my reactivity and he’ll try his damnedest to get me mad again. To try to regain the power he had – the power to make me lose it. (By the way, he usually succeeds. He’s a persistent little guy.)

So, his horrible behavior is actually (maybe) good news. Here I was thinking that I’m doing a terrible job. That my son is too far gone towards the dark side, and I’m a lost cause completely. After all, I’ve been failing at Al’s plan. I have lost my temper a number of times. But I must be doing something right, at least going in the right direction if he’s noticing it enough to push back against it, right?

I’m grasping at straws here. Al said it would be worse at first. And she said that in 3 weeks we could have a whole new dynamic. If this is really the “worse at first” part then maybe she was right about the whole new dynamic part too! Of course, this could just be L becoming more and more out of control and not at all a reaction to me trying to be a better mom. I’m hopeful though. I have to be. This feels a lot like rock bottom. Things can only get better from here. Right??

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Need to talk to Al about a few scenarios that came up where I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to kill the boy.

  • Getting into the car. As I get S strapped in I ask L a million times to climb in. Finally he does, but will not get into his seat. Instead he’s climbing all over the car. I could count him, but then do what for the time out? I can’t leave him loose in the car, and to get him out would involve a game of chase (which he’d love) and some rough physical wrestling and dragging (which he’d also love). So, what should I do?
  • He’s in his room in a time out, and the whole time he’s yelling down insults at me. Do I just keep him in his time out forever? Do I just pretend I don’t hear the insults and ignore them and let him out of his time out as normal? Or do I finally get to strangle him alla Homer Simpson?

The whole plan sounds so reasonable and sensible until actually put into action. So frustrated!!!

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I met with an early childhood family counselor, Al, today about my problems with L. I’m going to meet with her weekly, without L, to discuss what’s working, what’s not, etc. Of course, I’ll let you all in on it so we can all benefit from some family counseling!

I explained my problems with L: that we lock horns; that he pushes my buttons and I react accordingly; that I feel like I’ve lost control and no matter how strict I get, things keep getting worse. Her advice was to lay off. What? Lay off? The kid needs consequences! Right?

Apparently (maybe) wrong. He should get an immediate time out for any hitting or the like. Time outs should be in his room for 5 minutes. (Horay! 5 whole minutes!) Any other obnoxious behavior should be counted, like 1-2-3 Magic. No emotion. No more taking away toys, shirts, special meals. Only the time outs for physical violence, and counting for everything else. Instead of engaging in battle when provoked, disengage completely from him and ignore him.

Eg: Now, L kicks my seat in the car to annoy me. I ignore. He kicks harder. I ignore. He keeps kicking until finally I am so annoyed I tell him to stop it (angrily) and he uses that opportunity to call me stupid and make rude noises. The new way would be: L kicks my seat. I immediately pull the car over, turn it off, and sit there staring straight ahead saying nothing. L may be confused, may get upset and when he finally asks why I stopped I calmly say, “I’m waiting for you to stop kicking my seat.” Nothing more is said. When he stops, I drive.

When I feel like wringing his little neck, when I want to scream at him, when I want to kill him, I need to go lock myself in the bathroom. This part is going to be the hardest for me. I’m pretty volatile. And in the heat of anger it will be so hard to reign myself in.

So that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how I do. And if it has any impact on L’s behavior. Al said that within 3 weeks L will be different. And that I’ll probably like him again. Wish me luck!

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