Tag Archives: battle

Teenage showdown

It was a showdown in our living room this past weekend. I gave her a task to complete, she refused to do it. And finally, when she saw that I was just as stubborn as she was, she huffed off and went to go do my bidding…or so I thought. When I came to her almost an hour later, she was face down in her bed, doing her best to ignore me. And when I asked her why she hadn’t finished the task I set out for her to do, she mumbled into her pillow that she was better equipped to do it in the morning.

ARGH!!!!

The next morning, she informed me that she would be hanging out with one of her guy friends. No asking. Just telling. And it was insinuated that I was not invited. So I informed her that this sounded too much like a date, and as she was only weeks from being just 13, this was not going to fly. The argument from the night before made an encore into this tense conversation. And fireworks were soon being set off right and left as we danced around a battle of wills to see who would win and who would submit to defeat. Thing is, I’m the mom. That is supposed to automatically make me win, right? And in her mind, she was just RIGHT, so that automatically made her the winner.

Obviously, neither of us was even close to backing down.

We eventually stated our final testimonies, leaving each other to stew in our own anger before letting it simmer to a gentle roll of thoughts and emotions that included a “maybe I was too harsh”. Of course, uttering those words would mean automatic disqualification, so neither of us was really keen on saying them out loud. But I am the mom, after all. And that gives me a slightly bigger responsibility to stop being immature and try to diffuse the situation. However, my daughter made it a little easier in her own way.

I continued making breakfast – soft boiling the eggs, pushing the bread down in the toaster, and buttering the already toasted pieces. She silently stepped in beside me, flipping the bacon when she saw that I was too occupied with the rest of the breakfast to keep them from crisping too much. And she helped me crack the soft boiled eggs and put them on the plates for the rest of the family. It was her way of making peace without ever uttering any words of concession. And it helped to soften the argument to the place of actually getting down to the root of the whole problem (which was separate from what we were actually arguing about, as it usually tends to be).

“I understand where you’re coming from,” I told her, regarding this separate issue. “I really do. And it sucks. I’m sorry,” I said. And she just smiled a small smile, letting me know that while she still didn’t think it was fair, she was willing to at least work with me on it.

And with that, it was over.

It was reminiscent of the arguments I used to hold with my own mother, the ones where we’d be at each other’s throats, screaming awful things at each other as we both struggled to be the one in the driver’s seat. And eventually we’d become so enraged that we’d be forced to separate and retreat to our own rooms where we could wish the most horrid things upon the other while mourning our own suffering and pain. And after a time, we would calm down and be able to diffuse the situation in a matter of moments, giggling and laughing as if we hadn’t just been guilty of leaving the household in an uproar as we bombed each other with the words we used as weapons, nicking anyone who was stupid enough to get in the way. And it would leave my poor dad wounded as he shook his head in disbelief that two totally stubborn women who had waged such an embarrassing war of words were now carrying on like nothing happened. I mean, where were our battle wounds? Because he seemed to be carrying the bulk of them.

And this was the case of DQ and me. Mere hours after our blowup, she insisted a seat next to me in church (an ironic place to be after a hell of an argument), and then spent the rest of the day hanging out with me as if she sort of liked me. And Mr. W was left to shake his head at the whole incident – though he had managed to avoid injury by quickly retreating during our flurry of angry words earlier that morning.

She turns 13 next week. And as my aunt (who raised three great kids who are even better adults) told me when I shared my story, “You’ve got a mountain to climb my dear, but you’ll eventually reach the other side. And it will be wonderful again I promise. I speak from lots of steep, rocky, avalanche-prone climbing experience.”

Ah, teenagers. Here’s to some steep mountains of torrential avalanches and gorgeous views.

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The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Howler MonkeyThere is a certain sound resonating in my household that is akin to fingernails on the chalkboard or a dog howling out of tune in the middle of the night. Without warning, this noise modulates into a higher pitch with each note, getting more frantic if it is left to continue. This annoying clamor, unfortunately, is an epidemic. What starts out as an innocent first becomes a habitual occurrence. They come more frequently as time goes on. And the result of this reverberation to anyone within earshot (mainly those it is directed at), is an elevated heart rate, a clenching of the fists and teeth, an ability to see red, and a sudden burst of mania that comes forth as a string of shrill commands even louder than the original sound.

I am, of course, talking about the “excuse maker”.

It’s funny. I used to view whining as the all-time most annoying sound ever to experience. I would tell the Taz to put his things away, and fight him as he gave me a slow, “But whyyyyyyy……..?” The whining would grate on my nerves, and would usually result in said item to be taken away. But now? I would gladly welcome back the innocent whine to this:

“Pleasemompleasedon’tmakemedothatIjustneedtofinishdoingthisandyou’re
ruiningmylifeandIwilldieifIcan’tfinishdoingthisandIjustwanttofinishthislevel
itwillonlytakeasecondwhyareyoualwaystellingmewhattodoIcan’tstandthis
pleasemompleasepleasepleaseplease…..”

Except, imagine that run-on sentence made in one breath and getting shriller with each syllable until it is barely a squeak by the time it ends. And me? I am clenching and unclenching all parts of my body until I am one big ball of stress ready to unleash. And unleash is what I do.

Mr. W was describing his own mother’s conduct when he and his brother’s would pull some sort of childish action. For many years, she would remain calm, talking in a quiet voice about their misbehavior and what the consequences were. But being that there were three boys in the family, and being that their antics were only getting more mischievous as they got older, Momma W ended up correcting them in a much louder way. Read: she turned from a controlled superior to something that more resembled a screeching howler monkey. And, of course, this would leave her boys in hysterics (on the inside, of course), and unable to take her seriously.

Frankly, she had lost control. And when I look back at how I’ve dealt with the Taz as he’s frustrated me to no end, I wonder what kind of screeching animal he’s comparing me to.

The biggest obstacle I’m struggling with the Taz on right now has to do with responsibility. Our biggest dispute is over his ability to remember important details I have laid out for him. When he goes to his father’s house, he forgets half of his clothes at his dad’s house when he comes back to me. When he goes to school, same deal (it’s amazing he doesn’t come home naked…). Getting ready for baseball games is an interesting ordeal, as he has left his uniform all over the county (his dad’s house, school, his friend’s house, my parent’s house…). He consistently gets late notices from the school library for the books he has failed to turn in despite reminder after reminder from me. Homework that we have meticulously worked on the night before comes back unread in his homework folder because he hasn’t turned it in, or he has left his folder on the kitchen table. When it is time for chores, he will goof off if left to his own devices. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. And after 10 minutes of that, the “excuse maker” and the tears start.

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I can understand the importance of keeping on him to get all of his responsibilities straight when he was younger. But at 9 years old, it is my belief that he should be able to manage his own responsibilities to a degree. At the very least, he should be able to remember to bring home all the articles of clothing from his father’s house or his classroom, turn in his assignments on time, and not have to be reminded constantly to do the same thing that is required of him every single day. And, unfortunately, growing tired of repeating myself, the Howler Monkey comes out in me. I think the Taz has successfully learned how to tune out the Howler Monkey.

When relaying the tug-of-war I’m experiencing with the Taz to one of my friends, and lamenting about my reaction to his irresponsibility, she relayed to me how her grandmother handled it when she was young. Her grandmother rarely raised her voice. Instead, she’d keep her voice in an even tone, alerting them of their screw up. And then she would calmly point them in the direction of the bathroom. For the next few hours the mischievous child would scrub the room from top to bottom. And when they were done, their grandmother had to inspect it and approve. More times than not, she would find one or more things wrong, shake an entire can of Ajax over the whole bathroom, and order them to clean it over again. To this day, my friend cannot stand the smell of Ajax, and will not let it anywhere inside of her home. And she also learned to stay the straight and narrow.

What I got from my conversations with Mr. W and my friend is that a quiet voice and a firm composure is much scarier and more effective than a screeching Howler Monkey.

This weekend we had the chance to test this theory. The Taz left his baseball hat in his desk at school on Friday, meaning that he wouldn’t have it for Saturday’s baseball game. The old me would have howled at him, ranting and raving the whole way to the store as we bought a new one. His punishment would have been ineffective, as the screaming and yelling on my part took up a good majority of the energy I could have used on creating a real consequence. Instead, I kept calm and told him that Saturday morning would be spent cleaning my bathroom top to bottom. And I explained to him that the yelling in the house was going to be kept to a minimum. If he failed to execute the minimum responsibilities required of him, he could expect to do some heavy cleaning as a consequence. This seemed to go over well with the Taz. And the next morning, he woke up before I did to clean the bathroom and get it over with.

cleaning 002

He woke me up to come check his work, and I did with a critical eye. I told him all the things that still needed to be done.

“ButMomIhavebeenworkingsohardonthisallmorningandIjustwanttohavefun
whydon’tyouevencareaboutmethisistoohardyou’reruiningmylifeIjustwantto
goouttoplaywithmyfriendsandI’mhungryandthebathroomlooksfinewhycan’t
Ibedone?”

Instead of clenching and unclenching my hands, hyperventilating with a raised heart beat, or seeing red, I stood there watching him in anticipation. His “excuse maker” tapered off and he waited for my reaction.

“Are you done?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. Now do what I’ve told you to do. You can eat breakfast only when you have finished.

We went through three more occurrences of failed cleaning attempts until I finally sat cross-legged by the door and pointed out one by one what needed to happen for me to be satisfied. 2 hours of total cleaning time, and he was done.

I’d love to say that this one event has cured him of all irresponsibility altogether. Of course I would. But come on, we’re talking about kids here.

“Mom, I’ve decided I want to quit baseball,” the Taz told me last night as I drove him from the meeting point his dad and I set up halfway between our homes.

“Why?” I asked. I had just finished telling him that we had an extra practice the next day.

“I just want to quit. I’m not enjoying it.”

I told him we weren’t just going to quit like that. And then it occurred to me why he was having a sudden change of heart.

“Did you remember to pack your uniform from your dad’s house?” I asked him.

“Um….no. I have everything except for the jersey.”

Right now I am enjoying a quiet house with a purring kitty, fondly eating some strawberry yogurt. And upstairs, the Taz is plugging away at making sense of the chaos in his room until I deem it acceptable. Maybe it’s going to take some time until he has mastered the art of responsibility. But my house is about to get really, really clean.

Is there a Howler Monkey living in your home? How about an “excuse maker”? Share your horror stories, or how you accomplished getting those two unwelcome guests evicted.

Loving the Bully, part 2

Follow up from Loving the Bully, part 1

We live in an area where bullies are a part of day to day life. There are kids who have families that are not exactly on the right side of the tracks, and who are destined to go down the same road. Except, in this day and age, that road is a lot rougher. A mom wrote me today regarding an article I wrote about bullying, and relayed her own story of her son being bullied. When the school wouldn’t do anything, her husband finally went down and let the bully know in no uncertain terms that if he bullied his son again, the bully would be dealing with him, the dad, in the same sort of manner. This was years ago, of course. Nowadays something like that could never happen without legal repercussions resulting. But how many of us parents have been tempted to knock the block off of the overgrown kid that is tormenting our child?

As you remember, my son has also been the victim of a bullying situation. Basically, there was a 12 year old kid, “Trevor”, who was as big as a linebacker and picking on all the other kids who like to play basketball in our apartment complex. My kid happened to get in Trevor’s way, and the kid pushed my kid around. I found out when the neighbor kid came running breathlessly to my door to let me know that the Taz had been hurt. The Mama Bear in me came out, and I wanted to wrap my hands around this “little” twerp’s neck and squeeze. But I couldn’t. However, I did get involved by marching Trevor over to his parents (all 5’4″ of me to his 6 foot brawny self) to settle matters. Thankfully there have been no problems since, and the kid has actually been staying away from the basketball courts.

At the time, I was furious. I wanted to murder this kid for touching my child. And I don’t excuse that feeling. Kids who are victimized over and over grow up with feelings of low self worth, and are constantly haunted by the bullying they endured in their youth. I’d have a hard time feeling any kind of love for anyone who was hurting my son, now and in the future with the repercussions that ensue.

However, everyone has a back story.

As a counselor at the summer camp the kids and I attend every summer, I came across one of these difficult kids. This boy had done his best to be as difficult as possible with the staff, and with all the campers around him. He didn’t want to participate in any of the activities. He would verbally berate anyone who tried to get him to join in, going so far as to tell the teen staff to “F- off”. He threw rocks at the other campers. Whenever I’d step in, he’d glare at me and ignore me.  The last straw was when he broke the bathroom door, and then denied that it ever happened. It seemed like every bit of trouble that was going on involved this kid. What was worse, he was starting to gather a following of boys who were joining in on his misfit actions.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

We ended up talking with the camper. I started out really closed off. I wanted nothing to do with this kid who was making everyone’s life miserable. And if we ended up sending him home, that was fine by me. But one little trick I learned was to keep my mouth shut and listen as the other counselor asked him about camp and how he liked it. And little by little, the kid opened up about his home life. He didn’t see his mom at all, and he lived with his dad. The only other camp he attended in the summer, besides this one, was one called “Alateen”, a camp for kids of parents who abuse alcohol.

The kid was acting out because of his anger at a life that he had little control over.

It’s just like that kid who was going down the bully path in my daughter’s 3rd grade class who I wrote about in “part 1″ of this topic.  He was the one that caused trouble in class and was kicked out, and I followed behind to talk with him and see what was going on. It became clear that this kid was hurting. He had no mom, and he hardly saw his dad. When his dad was around, he came down hard on this kid. The kid, in turn, lashed out at everyone around him to compensate for the hurt he was feeling on the inside. For the rest of the year, it was apparent that there had been some sort of connection. He would actually smile and wave when he’d see me, and seemed to respond to me the rest of the year whenever I called him on his behavior in class. Of course, I’ll admit that it was easier for me to be kind to him because he had never tried to hurt my child.

“Whatever happened to that kid in your class?” I asked DQ today as I drove her home from school.

“He moved away,” she said.

“He kind of has a sad home life, doesn’t he?” I mused outloud.

“Yeah. His dad scared me,” DQ said.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“His dad was huge, and looked like a gangster. And he always seemed really angry.”

When it comes to dealing with bullies, I really have no concrete advice. It’s easy to feel helpless in such a situation, not knowing how to wrangle in the wild horse that wants to run free and lash out at anyone trying to corral it. But in one of my comments on the story of Trevor and my son, Jo came up with a more positive way to deal with bullies:

“Being the eldest of 10, and having worked with kids a lot (not having any–by choice) I would like to suggest something. It may not feel like the right thing to do but I’ll bet it just might work. Taking a batch of cupcakes out to the basketball court some afternoon with your little ones may put a period at the end of the sentence…. Part of the issue is the not knowing when it will happen again—and in Trevor’s case–looking good to his buddies. So many kids these days don’t have enough supervision, attention, love –whatever. When a group of kids come together over “goodies” and sit around enjoying them, they can begin to shift the focus. If nothing else, all of the other kids will see your attempt and appreciate it. Your two will have a community of support and I’ll bet Trevor will be among them. I think you might have his respect and your children will see that by taking the high road it just feels better.
I don’t suggest this will work in every case–but I have a feeling….

It seems such a grandmotherly thing to say “you can catch more flies with honey”. But it’s true. The kid at camp? He smiled a lot more after our talk than he had the first part of the week. And the trouble ceased. I grew to understand him more, knowing where he came from, than I had when I just saw him as a bad kid. I was able to act differently toward him, with actual care. And he, in turn, would respond much more kindly. And my daughter’s classmate responded in much of the same way. But can every bully situation be handled so kindly? It’s hard to say. When it’s your own child at the hands of an angry kid, how can you remove yourself? There are so many different levels of bullying, and some of it is more than painful.  And there are times when more serious action needs to be taken.  But in every situation, whether big or small, the problem needs to be tackled somehow positively, whether by a parent, a teacher, an officer – anyone who can – so that the human inside is reached, and the bully is conquered.

Loving the Bully

Years ago, I was helping out in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The classroom was a room of organized chaos as the parents and I helped out on the latest project. But the vibe in the class was good as everyone participated in something that was more creative than doing seatwork for hours on end. But in a corner of the room, there was a different vibe. One of the kids, a noticeably larger kid than the rest of his 3rd grade peers, was doing his best to create conflict. He was taking pens from another student to finish his project, and claiming them as his own. And when the student complained, the bigger kid yelled out that they were his. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get away with it, he finally threw his papers and the pens across the room in defiance.

“Outside!” the teacher yelled out. The kid was angry at being called out, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door as hard as he could. The teacher made a quick call to the office, and then went back to her students.

This wasn’t the first time that I had seen this kid act out in the classroom. My daughter had shared a class with him once before, and the story had always been the same. Teachers didn’t know what to do with him, and he didn’t care one bit about school or in behaving properly. But for some reason, I liked the kid. He was funny and had a great smile. And I knew there was something underneath that just wasn’t being reached.

I quietly excused myself from the classroom and joined the kid outside. He was kicking the wall to the classroom in frustration and defiance, determined that if he was already going to get in trouble, he was going to make sure that he got enough of it in. I sat next to him.

“Hey,” I said. He didn’t answer. “Rough day, huh?” He gave me a sideways glance and continued kicking the wall. “You know, your teacher called the office. And they are probably going to call your parents,” I said.

“So,” he said.

“Well, what do you think your mom is going to say?” I asked him.

“I don’t have a mom,” he said.

“Alright, what about your dad?”

“He won’t care,” he said.

The kicking of the wall did finally cease as he finally opened up a tiny bit about his home life. His dad actually got mad at him all the time. And he also lived with his grandmother. We talked about what things he liked about school (nothing, he reported), and what he liked to do for fun. And throughout the conversation I could see that this was a boy who was crying out for attention, somebody to notice him as a good kid and worth something. And he wasn’t getting that at home, at school, anywhere.

Sometimes we, as a community, fail our kids.

It’s not like my family is immune to bullies, or at being angry over victimizing members of our family.  Just this summer, the Taz was involved in a skirmish with a kid that was three times bigger than him.  It was a scary situation for him, and for me that had to then think quickly about how to deal with it.  In the beginning I saw red over a giant of a kid picking on a kid so much smaller than him.  And I was ready to string him up in a mob mentality.  But as I talked with him and his parents, I saw a young boy inside of a big body that was so insecure that he took offense at my little son laughing at him.

“Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies, and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves.”  (www.safeyouth.org)

Thing is, it’s hard to show love to a kid who is lashing out. You can’t hug a thrashing wildcat. And let’s face it, if it’s our kid on the receiving end of a bully’s rage, we’d prefer to throttle the kids than to try and help him.  Thing is, this kid had it so ingrained that he was unlovable that he was determined to fit the mold. Focus on a kid’s bad side too much, and that’s all they will see as well.

I was in conversation this weekend with a man who did work with kids who were classified as bullies. He passionately told me about these kids. These were the kids who were picking on smaller kids to feel power. They were the ones who decided that the rules didn’t apply to them. They were the ones being sent out of the classroom so that the rest of the class could actually learn something without disruption. Many of these kids who were trouble in their younger years were the same ones who were joining gangs or causing illegal trouble when they were older. The black and white of it is that they are a problem. They are picking on our kids and making them victims, causing so much fear in some kids that they are afraid to go to school.

But there is a gray side. And that is what their family life looks like at home, and the reaction to them as events escalate. It is very rare for a kid from a loving and attentive family to join a gang. Gangs feed on those kids who aren’t getting love and attention at home. And the kids who join, join up with the desire of being accepted once and for all, to have a FAMILY. And on the outside that is what they feel they are getting. For once, they have a group of people that are there for them through thick and thin. And the loyalty in a gang is strong. So strong that when a kid decides that they can’t be involved in the tumultuous life of a gang, it is near impossible to get out.

How would a bully’s life change if they had someone there to tell them that they matter, that they are worth it, that their talents are great and their possibilities even greater? The program that this man briefly told me about sounded so hopeful and enlightening, it made me wonder if programs like this exist in our community. What are we doing, or what can be done, to help change the direction of bullies who are going down a slippery slope? I hear all the time about programs dedicated for victims of bullying. And that is definitely necessary. But are there any bully prevention programs that help the child that might be reacting to something bigger than just victimization, and to ward off future violence and trouble?

Tweens and Privacy

A mom I know recently told me the story of her daughter and herself. As a single mom of just one girl, the two were incredibly close. My friend relied on her daughter to help out around the house and take care of her own responsibilities. And she was never disappointed. The two worked as a team to get dinner on the table, keep the house straight, and that all homework was done promptly and turned in on time. The two spent a lot of time together outside of school and work. The daughter talked often with her mom about problems she was having at school or with friends, when she thought a particular boy was cute – pretty much anything that crossed her mind. Jr. High came, which meant a new schedule at a new school, and new friends to meet. It’s interesting, things didn’t change overnight, as my friend remembers. But they did change rapidly. Her once sweet and kind daughter suddenly became sullen and angry. She stopped helping so much around the house. And the biggest change?

She stopped talking to her mother.

The daughter’s phone would buzz, and much like my own daughter recently, she would hunch over her phone so no one would see what she was typing to the mysterious receiver. My friend no longer had any idea who her daughter’s friends were, and if she asked she was dismissed by her daughter without any information given. Simple rules she was giving her daughter – from finishing household chores to being home right after school – were being broken right and left as her daughter stretched the boundaries to the limit.

My friend was at a loss. She didn’t know this girl anymore. As a working mom, she couldn’t be home to monitor everything that was going on in her own home, and she was starting to wonder if there might be things, now or in the near future, that she needed to be concerned about. So she did the only thing that she could think of. She took her daughter’s phone that night and read through every single one of her texts.  What she found only made her feel bad.

She found…nothing.

The texts back and forth were basically one word texts, obviously just their way of staying in touch even in a minimal way. Some were with girls, some were with boys. There was no talk about drugs, or sex, or sneaking out, or anything that might be cause for alarm. My friend even found out through one of the text conversations that her daughter hadn’t even experienced her first kiss. Basically, even though her daughter had experienced a major attitude adjustment in the past few months and was no longer her mom’s little buddy, she was still the good girl that her mother had raised. And she had just violated her daughter’s trust by snooping through her phone when her daughter wasn’t even guilty of anything wrong.

Yet.

What is your take on tween privacy? As the parent of a minor, is it ok to check up on them through their Facebook, cell phone, or some other means just to ensure that they aren’t doing anything illegal or dangerous? Or is this kind of snooping a total infringement on a tween’s rights to privacy? Do you “snoop”? Or is this a violation of your tween’s trust?

Take part in Santa Rosa Mom’s March Challenge!  See forum for details.

Inked

My mother called me over the weekend before the clock even hit 9 am.

“Are you at home right now?” she asked.

“I am.”

“What time are you going to take the kids over to their dad’s house?” she asked.

“Around 2,” I told her.

“Oh. That’s too late. Nevermind.”

She was being awfully cryptic, which of course got my curiosity up.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Well…..” She asked me if I remembered the Ninja Star that the Taz had been coloring at her house. Of course I remembered. He had colored it pure black and told me how all he had to do was throw it and it would whip through the air slicing anything in its way. I suggested that he not throw it in the kitchen, at least.

“I remember. Why?” I asked her.

“Well, apparently he was coloring it in my living room…”

Crap.

“Where?” I asked her, almost afraid for her to continue.

“On my couch. With permanent black ink.”

“We’ll be right over,” I told her. I was still wearing my robe and slippers. I hadn’t brushed my hair or teeth yet that morning. I looked pretty scary as I marched outside to go find the Taz. He was not out at the basketball courts in our complex like he said he was going to be, and his friends who were already playing out there said they hadn’t seen him yet. So I tried my luck over at one of his friend’s house. The Taz opened the door.

“You’re coming home. And you’re in trouble,” I told him, not even beating around the bush.

“Mom, I tried to call you to tell you I was at Todd’s house!” he protested.

“That’s not why you’re in trouble.” He followed me home, asking me over and over what he did.

“But it wasn’t me!” he said, once I told him of his crime. I saw red. I laid into him as we walked home, fully aware that the neighbors were probably hearing every single word I was saying to my son. I didn’t care. Now I was not only furious about the ruined Ethan Allen couch that sat in my parents’ living room, I was furious that he had the audacity to LIE to me. The next door neighbor sat on her front porch, smiling and waving at me as we walked up the walkway. Without breaking my tirade against my son, I smiled and waved at her. It was only seconds later when I realized how ridiculous I must have looked as I lectured my son and still kept up appearances, somewhat, to the neighbor – all while still sporting my robe, fuzzy slippers, and wild hair.

We got dressed and went over to my parents’ house. My son sat miserably in the back seat, occasionally letting out a sniffle. If there was anything scarier than his mom (and lately, I think I’ve lost the scariness factor…), it was his grandparents.

“They’re going to kill me,” he sobbed, finally admitting fault about the marked up couch.

“You’re right,” I told him. “And this time, don’t even look to me to protect you. You’re on your own, buddy.” It brought back memories of the golf ball through the window. I had felt it my duty to take the brunt of the punishment of my father’s anger before it was passed down to him. But this time? No. It was all on the Taz.

We got to my parents’ house, and my dad greeted us with a smile, obviously trying to lighten the situation. My son slunk out of the car and faced my dad, much like walking the long pathway to his executioner. My dad led him into the house and called my mom. Together they went over the various things that the Taz had done just this past week. He had left the gate open so that the horse was able to get out and potentially stomp all over my dad’s newly landscaped backyard. He had missed the toilet and peed all over the floor. And now my mom’s couch held numerous black marks that might never come out.

It came time to talk about correcting this situation. My parents looked to me, the hopelessness in their eyes. They had been growing increasingly frustrated over the past year as the Taz messed up at their house. He had been eating their leftovers planned for dinner after school. He had been eating food in the living room. The house was growing messier and messier because he wasn’t picking things up. He was going to his friends’ houses and not coming back when he was supposed to.

“Maybe he needs to go back to daycare,” my mom said. “I’ll even pay for it if I need to.”

“No, Mom,” I said. I couldn’t let him go back to daycare. His teachers there had been wonderful. But the Taz was a handful there too. I was constantly being called in because of something the Taz had done – breaking the pencil sharpener, experimenting with potty language, not following direction, doing gymnastics during circle time… With a bunch of kids as his audience, the Taz’s behavior would only get worse. “But he can’t come over here anymore. I’m probably just going to have to take him to work with me and let him sit and be bored for the last 2 hours,” I said. It was the only option. At my parents’ house, he had too much unsupervised time. My dad was there, but he was working. And the Taz’s ideas for self-entertaining were just not working. I turned to the Taz.

“And your Xbox is gone, again.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s ok. At least I have my friends,” he said. Seriously? I mean, seriously? The kid was under scrutiny right now, and actually had the audacity to brush off his punishment?

“Well, they’re gone too. Is there anything else you’d like to mention that ‘at least you have’?” I asked him, daring him to speak.

“I’m thinking…” he said. I think smoke may have been coming out of my ears at this point. “Nah, I have nothing.”

“Taz, aren’t you tired of getting your things taken away from you?” my mom asked.

“Well, I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “I get my things taken away from me all the time.”

And it’s true. The Taz screws up. And then he opens his mouth and denies it. And then we argue about it while he shifts the blame on everything and everyone around him. And by the end I am so mad that I have taken away his video games first, then his friends, and then, if he continues, anything else that is within eyesight that he cares about. He’ll then be on his best behavior for a couple weeks or so until he has earned everything back. And then, the cycle starts up again. It’s never ending.

It reminds me of my childhood. When I was a teenager, I was a punk, straight up. And because I symbolically stuck my middle finger up at my parents by blatantly disrespecting them in all things I did, I constantly had things taken away from me. First to go was always the car. Then it was time taken from being with my friends or my boyfriend. Phone use was taken away, as was my stereo. Little by little, all my belongings were taken out of my room and stashed away until I had learned to talk a little more respectfully and had done my time for whatever infraction I had committed. Thing is, I got in trouble so much that I stopped caring, and pretty much acted like I could do what I want. If my parents took the car away, and everything that came after that, it stopped phasing me. And it definitely didn’t improve my attitude.

And now, I am having this same battle with my 9 year old son, struggling to reach him as he makes himself unreachable. And if he is acting like this now, what is it going to look like when he is a teenager? If he has a constant need to break rules as if he’s forgotten them, lie and blameshift when he gets caught, backtalk when the conversation isn’t going his way, and then get in a power struggle with me as I try to correct the situation and he acts like he doesn’t care, how horrendous will it be several years from now?

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried talking to him, getting down to his level and allowing both of us to talk about our feelings in this situation. I’ve tried the silent treatment, limiting my conversations with him to one or two words, telling him I cannot speak with him until I have cooled down considerably (and sometimes taking days because it has set me over the limit). And of course, I’ve been mainly resorting to taking away his possessions.

Nothing’s working.

The only answer I have left is constant supervision. Obviously I have to be the Taz’s shadow. If it’s attention he wants, well, he’s going to get it. When he isn’t in school, he will be at my side. Truth is, he does better when he is under my thumb. So I will be taking the extra measures to make sure that this is what happens. I might be losing my freedom in a big way, but the behavior issues need to be addressed and put to a halt before they get any worse.

I’m not going to lie, though. This bites. Totally open for suggestions…

10 things I learned as a parent

As parents, it is our job to guide our children and teach them important lessons in life. But sometimes it is our kids who are teaching us. Here are some very important lessons I have learned from my children.

1. Girls don’t always dress like girls.
My daughter was the very first girl of the family. This resulted in piles of pink clothes with frilly lace being thrust at me from all directions. Me? I was never a girly girl. I preferred to dress my new little girl in neutral colors and overalls. And when she got older, she abhorred pink with a passion. But her grandparents always tried. She’d receive pink shirts and pretty dresses – all of which would end up in the back of her closet or in a pile of clothes to return that would just end up going into the Goodwill bag because I was too lazy to make it to the store. Did I wish she would dress more like a girl? Have I tried to sell the idea that pants can still be worn under dresses to make them somewhat less girly? Have I bribed my daughter with money to make her dress like a girl for one week? Yes. But still, my daughter’s preferred look consists of black shapeless t-shirts and jeans, and she refuses to wear a swimsuit without boy’s swim trunks in the summertime. But is she happy and like the way she looks? Yes.

2. Having the kids help clean the house may mean that the TV remote and your linens may end up in the bookshelf.
We have been really good about our 30 minute clean-ups. Every night, the electronics get turned off, some cleaning mood music goes on, and everyone pitches in and cleans an area of the house. I usually reserve washing the dinner dishes and clearing the kitchen table during this time. My daughter will resign herself to the bedroom so that it gets cleaned her way. And my son is left to clean the living room since it’s all his crap that is littering it up. At the end of the 30 minutes, the house looks decent enough that I’m not embarrassed to open the door to anyone who comes by. But once they go to bed, I realize I can’t find anything. And it is soon discovered that nothing was put in its proper place, but was instead hidden in little pockets of the house. The roll of tape that you couldn’t find the week before when you were wrapping their birthday presents is safe and sound in the Lego’s box. All the little Lego’s, that have caused the most colorful language to roll off your lips as your bare feet land on a *$&%  little piece of plastic that is 2 feet away from the Lego box, are now under the couch. And the book shelf holds more junk than books. Good idea – getting your kids to help you clean. Better idea – checking their progress (and under the couch, in the bookshelf, and in every single nook and cranny of the house) before you let them go to bed.

3. According to your child, it’s never his fault.
“How did you do in school today?” I ask the Taz every day. “My teacher hates me,” he’d tell me. “For no reason at all, I had to sit on the bench at recess while the other kids played.” “Well, why is that?” I asked him. “Billy was talking during class, and when I told him to be quiet, the teacher told me that I was interrupting the class. When I tried to tell him what happened, he told me I had to sit out at recess, and Billy didn’t.” Upon further investigation, it came to light that my son was being a distraction to everyone around him, and that his seatmates had ceased talking when the teacher told them to the first time. Then there was the time that the principal called to let me know that my son had been misusing the bathroom – again. He had been caught flickering the light switches off and on. He had to call me from the office to tell me what he’d been up to and then hear a lecture from me and from his principal. But I was proud that he had fessed up and was taking ownership of the misconduct, as small as it was. That is, until he got in the car. “I lied in the principal’s office,” he stated. “Oh? How so?” I asked him. “I wasn’t really fooling around in the bathroom. It was all Billy. I just didn’t want to get him in trouble.” Oh, my son the martyr… Too bad he had been caught red-handed…

4. Great!  They are making their own lunches.  Sort of…
This past year I have given over the task of packing the school lunches to the kids. I figure that not only will it save me time as I get ready for work, it will allow them to pack the things that they want to eat so that we are wasting less food. But it’s not foolproof. “I’m concerned about the Taz,” Mr. M told me the other week. “By the end of the day he is too tired to keep his head up off his desk, and he seems to be eating his clothes.” Sure enough, there were bite marks on the stretched out end of his sweatshirt sleeves. “What’s going on?” I asked the Taz. “I’m just hungry,” he said. “Well, what did you pack in your lunch?” I asked him. “A cupcake, some goldfish crackers, and a Capri-sun.” There was no sandwich, no fruit, nothing nutritious at all. And yet, I had been making sure that there was plenty of stuff in the fridge for them to pack something. Now I ask the kids what they have packed before we leave for school, sometimes resorting to making their sandwiches just so that they have something in there that will hold them over. Of course, it’s probably just ending up in the garbage anyway. But at least the lunch meat isn’t being wasted in my fridge.

5. Just because he said he brushed his teeth doesn’t mean that he did.
Once the kids took over the brushing of their teeth, it was easy to assume that they were doing it. It’s a natural routine in our house – teeth are brushed every morning and every night. Once they are 9 and 12, you’d think that you don’t need to give them that twice a day reminder. But when the Taz smiled at me and all I could see was a layer of gunk on his teeth, it was obvious that he had skipped the routine for several days. But it gets worse. I give the reminder, and he swears that he’s done it. And when I ask him to smile at me, the gunk stands out like orange rust. Either his toothbrush is seriously malfunctioning, or the kid is a little liar. So I have him do it again. Another smile and it is obvious that I am going to have to do it myself, or just get out the chisel. So I hold his head in a headlock, pry open his mouth, and brush every one of his teeth till they are gleaming. He, on the other hand, is squirming and twisting and trying to get away. And when we are done I ask him, “Don’t your teeth feel better now?” “No,” he tells me. Job well done.

6. Sometimes we parents are an embarrassment to our kids.
“Goodbye sweetheart!” I said as she left the car. “Give me a kiss goodbye,” I instructed. “Mom, no!” she cried, trying to get away from me. “Come on!” I said, wiggling my toes in my slippers and running a hand through my unbrushed hair. “I love you!” I called out as she shut the car door. She ignored me and walked away as if she didn’t even know me. After school, she waited on the sidewalk talking to her friends. “Sweetie!” I called. “I’m over here!” I waved wildly, hoping to get her attention. “Honey!” I called. I got in the car and pulled up closer, honking the horn. Her attention was caught, and the look on her face told me that she wanted to sink into the ground. “Did you have a good day?” I asked her. “Mmmmph,” she grunted. That night I found a really cute picture of my daughter and her brother when they were little. I posted it on her Facebook so that all her friends would see how cute she was when she was 3. And then I wrote a blog about her when she was little. I included a link to it on her Facebook so that she would be sure to find it and read it.
Am I doing this on purpose? Am I aware that this is mortifying to her, that to her I’m just an ignorant mom who makes her life miserable? Hey, as the mom of an almost teen, I am already the most embarrassing and clueless person on the planet. I might as well have fun with it.

7. As a mom of a boy, sometimes I miss diapers.
Skid marks. Enough said.

8. Your kids think you’re the best cook in the world.
There’s a stipulation, of course. The quality of your cooking is directly proportional to how long you spent on it. If you spent all evening making a meal from scratch that is sure to fill them up and it fills the house with heavenly scents, your kid will hate it. But pop some fish sticks and French fries in the oven and serve it up with some ketchup, and your kid will rave about your cooking and let you know that this is the best meal they ever had.

9. Reading is reading.
Every week my kids are assigned to read a book for 20 minutes a night. My daughter will read fantasticly long novels, getting completely engrossed in them. And she reads a lot longer than the 20 minutes allotted. My son, on the other hand, hates reading. Well, actually, it’s not the reading that he hates. Once engrossed in a book, he thoroughly enjoys it. What he hates is that it is getting in the way of his free time. So reading has to be just as fun as going out. Comic books, silly stories with superheroes in underpants, diaries of wimpy kids, poems that are more funny than literature – they’re all words that have to be read. They may not be Mark Twain or Hemingway, but they are still helping him with his reading. He has to get 20 minutes in, right? If he likes what he’s reading, there’s less of a fight. Problem solved.

10. Even when their belongings are stolen, your child will still leave their items in your front yard.
My parents used to threaten me with this logic. I would leave my bicycle out on the front lawn, and my parents would tell me that if I didn’t put it away, some kid was going to come along and steal it. Being that we lived in a quiet neighborhood with no through traffic, this logic was a little ridiculous. Nobody was going to steal my bike. But just to get my parents off my back, I’d put it away. Now that I have kids, I can hear my parents echoing in my words as I tell my kids the same thing. “Put your bike away,” I tell the Taz. “Somebody’s going to steal it.” Of course, in our neighborhood this is perfectly plausible. We live on a busy street with lots of people passing by our front yard. A bike out front is an invitation for some kid to suddenly have a new green bike, and for my son to suddenly have none. But still, he wouldn’t. A week ago I was getting the mail and our next door neighbor’s kid rode by on a very familiar green bike. “Did the Taz let you ride that?” I asked him. “Uh huh,” he said. “Whenever I want.” I called the Taz over at his dad’s house where I was informed that no, the Taz had NOT given permission. Thing is, this wasn’t the first time the bike had gone missing, or the first item. Skateboards, our newspaper, basketballs, soccer balls – they all had gone missing and were either returned from whoever “borrowed” it, or were never seen again. And still, the Taz refuses to put his things away so that they are safe. As much as I lecture him about it, having his stuff stolen is not teaching him any lessons, and it is only wasting my money. So sometimes it just makes more sense to put it away myself. And the bike? He gave it to a girl only days after telling the neighbor boy he couldn’t ride it. Go figure.

What lessons have your children taught you?