Monday, October 28, 2013

The Fun Side of Four

Despite mornings when I want to rip out my hair and run home screaming to hide under the covers, like last Friday, I love age four. The Grape at four, when he's not pitching a fit or sending me over the edge over some ridiculous demand, is really fun.

Four is articulate. Four is game. Four is still babyish enough to be really flipping cute. Check out his Halloween costume:

The Grape told me, back in September, that he wanted to be Paddington Bear for Halloween. No problem, I assured him.

A quick Google search indicated we indeed had a big problem. A Paddington movie releases in late 2014. All the old Paddington merchandise has been discontinued, presumably so the Paddington people can rake in the cash from new, movie-inspired Paddington merchandise.

I did what any not-crafty mom would do in this situation: I backpedaled. I asked the Grape, repeatedly, and at various times, over many days, what he wanted to be for Halloween. He never wavered. "Paddington," he told me again and again, with a mix of earnestness and disgust over the fact that I couldn't seem to remember this basic thing.

Even though I knew the costume would be a project, I was thrilled he a) chose a character from literature, and b) still wanted to be cute rather than ghoulish.

I don't sew. I have never owned a sewing machine, unless you count this little toy Holly Hobby one I received from a family friend for Christmas circa 1979, and promptly broke by sending my brother's winter hat through it.

I did not sew this costume.

R's mom did, and I think it came out unbearably cute (ha ha).

I'll spare you the details of our family adventure in the fabric store. Who knew the patterns were cataloged in a kind of crafty Dewey decimal system? Or that notions weren't just thoughts? Or that you had to have your stuff measured at one desk and then get in line to pay at another?

We added a sunhat in place of the bush hat (those cost huge dollars—who knew?), and yes, I caved and bought the coat (On clearance! And he can wear it all winter, and maybe next winter, too!). R. made the suitcase out of a cardboard box, brown duct tape and a handle fashioned from braided clothesline. We sacrificed a manila folder for the decal Wanted on Voyage and the tag that reads: Please Look After This Bear. Thank you.  And voila: Cute Paddington outfit complete.

The Grape had a blast walking to a Halloween party Saturday night. Passersby recognized the iconic bear and the Grape tipped his hat at some of them. On the way home (I won't say how late it was), as we stood outside by the Public Garden in search of a taxi, he fixed a few drivers who passed us by with Paddington's legendary hard stare.

I doubt they noticed, but four is fun.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Memo to Grape: We regret to inform you that you are NOT the CEO.

The Grape labors under the dual assumptions that he is the CEO of our family, and that he has veto power over any and all parental directives.

He is bossy, defiant and sometimes masterfully manipulative. These qualities may translate into executive leadership skills, someday way down the road, but for now, I don't see them as good points.

The Grape woke up this morning and declared, for not the first time, that he wants "everything he does not already have" for Christmas. Never mind that Christmas is still two months away.

When I calmly repeated, for about the millionth time, that it doesn't work that way, and that he is a very lucky boy who has way more toys than most kids, and maybe he should be grateful for all that he already has, he pitched a fit. "It does work that way. It will work that way!" he shrieked, milky Cheerios flying from his mouth. He started listing the kids he knows who have more stuff than he does.

I poured myself another cup of coffee and smugly congratulated myself as I heeded the preschool director's advice: don't engage with a child who is having a meltdown and/or acting like an entitled little twerp. (I'm taking poetic license with her directions. She has NEVER uttered the word twerp, or brat, or any applicable swearword, in my presence.) Score one for Mamma.

After the holiday demands got him nowhere, the Grape screamed and whined (back and forth in roughly 30 second intervals) the entire 13-minute walk to school, because he does not want it to be fall.

"I can't do anything about the seasons," I said, with as much brightness as I could muster. "We live in Boston. We have at least six months of chilly weather coming up and we need to deal."

"I want summer!"

"Keep moving and stop whining. By the way, you're a very lucky boy to have that nice new jacket."

"I want to go to Bermuda and stay there!" he hollered repeatedly outside busy Back Bay Station.

Maybe his recommended solution to autumn was funny and cute the first time he proposed it, as we walked through the park on a brisk late September morning.

Let me assure you, there is nothing adorable about a four-year-old crying and screaming in front of harried commuters and shivering homeless beggars at rush hour that he DEMANDS to move to Bermuda.

Parents of many children say, find his currency, and believe me, I've tried. I'm certainly not above bribing my kid, because it sometimes works. Sometimes, but not always or even most of the time. It works when I want him to do something, but not so much when I want him to stop doing something. Also, a big part of me thinks, if I, his mother, tell him to knock it off, that should be enough. Since when is he the CEO?

The other issue with bribery is that older the Grape gets, the more I worry that his currency might be actual currency, as in cold, hard cash. The Grape refuses to work for treats. He's not food driven. He rolls his eyes and openly mocks kids who will consent to work for stickers on a chart, even if they represent some delayed reward. In the moment, he doesn't give a damn that three more stars on the chart symbolize some grand prize. He will occasionally work for a new toy, and I have a pack of Matchbox cars stowed in a secure, undisclosed location, in case I get desperate.

But something else has to change, because I refuse to bribe my son with toys just for getting to school without incident.

Despite the morning's low grade fuss on continuous loop, we did make it to school on time.

Where we promptly disagreed about where to park his balance bike.

Me: "Park your bike here, where it's less it the way."

Grape: "NO!" (attempts to shove me out of his path)

Me (yelling louder than I maybe should have, considering the preschool is in a church): "Knock it off RIGHT NOW or I am taking away ALL YOUR CARS!!!"  [NOTE: This may sound nuclear, unless you've spent your morning with us, in which case you'd be wondering why it took this long for me to lose my cool. At least you would, if you know me. Patience isn't one of my virtues, though I've made modest improvement over the years.]

Me (in my head, to myself): A kid who pulled this crap back in the Dark Ages, when I was little, would have been smacked into next Tuesday.

Grape: NO!!!!  (surveys corridor, realizes he has a big audience of other parents): "I'm sad. I just need a hug." (surveys other parents' reactions and flashes me a triumphant smirk as he climbs into my lap for the requisite hug)

Clearly I need to regain control of the situation. I can't go through the school year dreading the leave-the-house-get-to-school-drop-off shuffle.

A friend who's an occupational therapist advises that when a child protests something, like leaving the playground in five minutes, for example, the parent should present a choice: "We go in five minutes or we go right now," and then enforce whichever the child chooses. Her advice: give a choice, but do not negotiate with terrorists. And make no mistake, a hysterical preschooler is a terrorist. I give her BIG credit: her tactic worked and we had a relatively uneventful play date departure.

So, with the benefit of four hours' hindsight, I think this morning I should have said, "Park the bike where I say, or I will take your bike and park it."

If I'd had a third cup of coffee, I might have put that together in the moment. Maybe it would have spared us becoming a major spectacle.

But maybe not. The toddler terrorist is like any other terrorist: you can never reliably predict when they'll strike and when they'll sit one out.

Part of me (call me old fashioned) believes the Grape, being the kid in this relationship,  should follow directions, because I said so, not because I stepped him through some process to make it feel like obeying was his idea.

Maybe it rankles me, because I really hate the  commonly repeated belief that "the way to manage men is to make them think [whatever you want] is their idea," also occasionally repeated as "The man is the head of the family, but the woman is the neck and the neck can turn the head wherever it wants."

If I empower him with choices (albeit of my choosing), am I creating a monster down the road? One who has to think he owns every good idea? Nobody wants to work with or for that guy...

Or am I over thinking this?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So Long, Siesta? Say it isn't so.

Today might represent a new parenting low. I bribed the Grape to take a nap. I literally took him down to our local toy shop (which has lovely things, by the way), picked out a pack of cheap little toy cars, and told him he could have them if he would take a nap.

The Grape goes to preschool four days a week, where they "rest." Rest means they lie on cots with blankets with the lights dimmed and listen to stories. Once in a blue moon, the Grape dozes off. That leaves three days a week when the Grape isn't at preschool, which he loves, but which kicks his little tail.

Until a few weeks ago, on those three at-home days of the week, he'd sleep in the afternoon like a champ, and I'd get stuff done. This space has looked abandoned in recent weeks, because I got used to using nap time once a week to fill it. I also use his naps to "catch up" on reading, not that I'll ever succeed, to pay bills, to prep dinners and generally make the household run better.

I know. He's four. Lots of four-year-olds quit the nap. But the Grape needs his. Really. I'm not saying this because I need to figure out a new time to blog. Well, not just for that reason. He turns into a hot mess if he doesn't get enough rest.

If we go too many days in a row without a nap, the situation deteriorates. It's not just the bags under his eyes, which make him look like he's fresh off the red eye. I'm talking about hour-long hysterical crying, flailing jags because he didn't get to watch all the bubbles go down the drain, or take his sweater off by himself, or eat the dessert he requested. Ridiculous, overtired stuff that folks in the medical profession evidently call "stressed and irritable behavior."

I notice these so-called experts are silent on what to do about the nap for four-year-olds. Their handy chart goes to three years, then skips to "over age 5." Lazy doctors.

Although, if you waste your child's first nap in three weeks digging around the internet, you can learn that 20 per cent of five year olds still nap. Dr. Judith Owens at the National Children's Medical Center told the NYT so for a maddening feature about when a child should give up naps. It's the kind of article that promises the secret to life and leaves you feeling unsatisfied, maybe even more confused than before.

I realize the nap's days are numbered, but I was really hoping we'd get to age five before saying arrivederci to the siesta. For both our sakes. Nobody likes living with—or presumably being—a hot, hysterical, overtired mess. And I don't have an alternate work-mom routine ready to roll out.

I already keep his school hours set aside for two things: First and foremost working on my next novel, and other writerly pursuits such as pitching and writing magazine work, and promoting my existing novelsSecond, physical exercise, which I've found keeps me sane and healthy, and is therefore a nonnegotiable aspect of my life. (I can already see the writing on the wall: I'm going to become one of those very early morning exercisers.)

I don't run errands, cook, do laundry, or call or meet friends during the hours the Grape spends at school. I don't answer the phone, much to the annoyance of my parents and perhaps some others.

I'm disciplined about my writing routine, because I fear falling down a slippery slope. I'm one bad step—a fast manicure, a coffee date with girlfriends, a swing through the grocery store—away from sabotaging my system. And it's a pretty good system. It's regimented, but it's worked for me for two years.

I have a shorter work week than I'd like (my writer's rhythm would break down best into two daily 3-4 hour stints, separated by a break), but I understand most moms don't get their perfect work schedule, or anything close to it. I'm grateful every day that I can do what I love.

So I plug along on my novel in progress at roughly half the pace my brain would like.

It works well enough for now. I have almost three-quarters of a first draft of a new novel written.

As do bribes, apparently. The Grape has been happily snoozing for two hours.