This is a tough age and a tough time for my son. He’s still such a really little kid, but wants to be big, know everything, decide everything and have every single thing go his way, every minute of every day. And he’s become spoiled, mostly by his father, which is hard to combat every on an every other week basis. I understand the urge to spoil as it comes from guilt. I don’t parent that way. Whatever guilt I have will not be manifest on my child if I can help it, but sure, it’s a struggle.
There is positive progress: this past weekend, he actually ASKED to go to the library, where we get movies and books. I just checked out an assload of books for him right before Christmas, books I thought he’d be thrilled to find waiting for him on his bed as he went through the scholastic flyers that came home from school and marked dozens and dozens of books that he wanted or didn’t want, putting an X through anything “for girls.” I finally got around to reserving the first crop of these and picked them up before Christmas, and we’ve been making our way through. And of course he received a lot of books for Christmas as well, which he was not particularly happy about. I know books are not toys, but he has a bazillion toys already and Santa was very selective in what he brought to him, especially since he got presents at two different homes this year. But he wanted to get a movie. We had a movie to return to the Westlake library but he said no, Mom, I want to go to the other library, the one with the two big glass Earths when you first come in. I had no idea what he was talking about, but guessed he meant Strongsville. We visit three regularly – Middleburg, Strongsville and Westlake, and I reserve all the books I get from Cleveland Public Library downtown and just pick them up at the drive-through, the only drive-through I ever visit. So off we went to Strongsville, where indeed there are big, glass partitions separating the checkout desks from the main part of the library, with the Earth etched into them. I’ve never even noticed them before. It’s so cool what kids observe. We argued, as usual, about what to get, with him always wanting to pick up something episodic and stupid, like Scooby Do episode 842,252 where OMG THEY SOLVE A CAPER AGAIN, and I want to hit myself in the head with a brick. We settled on Rango with Johnny Depp, which he almost agreed to last time we were in Westlake, when he finally realized I wouldn’t let him watch the Sylvia Plath movie (which he’s still asking to watch, by the way). I really cannot stand children’s movies so I only watched part of it, but it was actually pretty funny and perfect for his personality. He had to admit afterwards that I made a good choice.
And there are negatives. There’s little more embarrassing as a parent than your child acting like an ungrateful brat when opening presents in front of family that don’t happen to be toys. When he took out the beautiful red sweater and tan cargo pants that I bought him at Target, he threw them on the ground and yelled, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I kept my composure as best I could, and then returned those items the next day. The following morning at breakfast, I calmly explained to him that I had painstakingly picked out that sweater and pants, spending a lot of time looking for the pants that had the extenders in them so they would fit him in the waist and that he had basically nothing long-sleeved and I bought something I thought he would like, in a color he prefers. I then went on to explain how much it hurt my feelings when he reacted the way he did, and that I had taken those items back and he’d never see them again, and if I’d have had the Lego t-shirt with me that accompanied those items, I’d have returned that as well. “Why?” Because I’m not spending my hard-earned money on someone who is not grateful for what they have, I told him, and you WILL learn to be gracious about what you receive, even when it’s something you don’t like. I further pointed out how badly it reflects on both him and me when he acts like this in front of several family members; it makes him look unmannered and me look like a crappy parent. I pointed out that if he acted like that at his birthday party next year, I would not hesitate to tell every guest to take their present back to the store, because if you act like someone spoiled and undeserving of presents, you’re sure as hell not going to get any. He had tears welling up in his eyes at this point, so I laid off, and instead focused on explaining how to be gracious and giving him lines to repeat and practice, and behavior to mimic to at least pretend to like something even if you don’t.
I know it’s a rough time for him with all the back and forth and missing one parent while spending the week with the other parent, but that doesn’t mean you can act however you want. I feel like part of what he needs to feel like he can count on in me as his parent is to continue to expect things of him that are reasonable and appropriate, no matter if I see him for one day or for the whole week. A constant, with some guidelines. You pick up your goddamned toys when you’re done with them. Put your dirty clothes in the laundry. Make your bed and brush your teeth. Eat what’s put in front of you and be glad to have it, as there’s no fun snack later if you don’t eat your meal. And there will be love in return, always. Snuggling on the couch under a blanket. And picking something fun to eat at the grocery, and picking out a movie at the library, and popcorn and maybe some of that candy from your stocking, and sure you can sleep in my bed tonight, as long as you don’t crowd me out or kick me with your little bony legs all night.
Doing the best I can here.