This parenting thing is freaking hard work. Every growth spurt and new phase brings a new set of challenges for which I never quite feel prepared, and that I never seem to know if I’m handling the right way. I do a lot of reading, I’m obsessive like that, have been since the positive pee on a stick test. I still check Dr. Spock about things and have a great social structure of local and national moms I can tap for advice, which makes me lucky. But in the moment, you have to just go with what your gut tells you, and hope you’re doing it right.
D’s father and I parent differently, and that’s fine. One of the refreshing things these days is that I don’t have someone under the same roof who is constantly contradicting the way I choose to handle issues and address problems and make decisions. I think it’s clearer now that there are separate homes, that there are separate rules, and that works better for all of us. The weeks when I have my son, it takes him a couple of days to stop being so whiny and mean and understand that he does not make the decisions or rule the roost in my home, and backtalk and a shitty attitude will calmly result in loss of privileges, one by one. Once he remembers how shit works by me, we get along very well and have a marvelous time, quite a bit of the time. I only had him one day this week, yesterday, I picked him up in the morning and we spent the day together. A single day mid-week is a real challenge.
I know he can do the different-type-of-kid-at-different-places thing, as I did it my whole life growing up. When we went to Baba’s on Saturdays, you sat in the corner of the kitchen. You didn’t talk. You didn’t run around. You played tiddly winks, Chinese checkers or pick-up sticks and you didn’t touch anything in the house or sit on the furniture. It would be time to go home when it was time, and don’t ask when. On Sundays, at my grandma’s, it was anything goes. If you want to be heard, you have to yell louder than everyone else. Brash laughter, dirty jokes, a lot of clanging and banging in the kitchen and grandma with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth always. They’d shove food at you in a non-stop stream and you were free to explore anywhere in the house, whether it was counting the stocked up bars of soap and TP grandma had in her tidy, perfumed hall closet, a habit she couldn’t let go of having raised a family in the Depression, or playing the organ in the front room, or trying on all her costume jewelry. It was a bit of a schizophrenic existence, but my sister and I managed it well. D will adjust, too.
Best thing to get him past the whiny brat deal is to put him to work, so as soon as we got home we set about disassembling the tree. I let him pack up all the ornaments and he only broke one, and we got it all done and put away in the storage closet in less than a couple of hours. Then we went over to my Mom’s and she put the finishing touches on a big, wonderful meal for us while D played with Matchbox cars and the Rose Parade blared in the background. It was great. He was just as good as he could be, until the end when he was tired and too whiny, but that’s ok. We came home and I convinced him we needed to “rest,” as he refuses anything called a nap, and he insisted we would only lay down for 10 minutes and only if we could pick out recipes on Pinterest, a nap time hobby of ours, so that’s what we did. Except 10 minutes turned into a two-hour snooze, and then we were all discombobulated. I threw together a dinner for him out of dribs and drabs, haven’t been to the grocery in two weeks, and I wasn’t eating, not after that giant lunch, and he covered my floor with little chibbles of paper and put Batman window clings all over the patio window. With the fuel of dinner in him, he raced around like a nutcase and I finally suggested we watch the Kennedy Center honors, which he loved last year and which we watched like 10 times. I only got to tape about 3/4 of it as I forgot it was on, and when the recording started, it was a portion where they were honoring a ballerina, and he was disappointed. “I thought there would be fun dancing,” he said. Luckily, things picked up with the Tom Hanks tribute and he spent the next half hour imitating everything he saw on TV. I jokingly told him he had good moves for a future dentist, our running joke being that he can become a dentist so he can make a lot of money and take care of his mother in his old age, and he informed me, “MOM, I AM NOT GOING TO BE A DENTIST. I’M GOING TO BE A DAD.” Which was interesting. I told him most parents, Dads in particular, still also hold some other kind of job, and what was he going to do during the day if not be a dentist. “WORK!” he yelled, and kept spinning like a top.
He whined so damn much during bedtime routine about how mean I was sending him to bed, even though I let him stay up an hour past bedtime because of the nap, and on and on about how he doesn’t like me, he hates me, that I finally said, that’s it, I’m done, you finish his own teeth and tuck yourself in. I am not a yeller but I do have a point at which I won’t take any more crap, and he crossed it. So then he cried and brushed and cried and stuck his footie PJ-covered feet into his little covers and I waited a few minutes and finally went in and gave him a hug. I tried to explain to him again that his Dad and I work very hard to provide a nice life for him, two homes full of clothes and toys and warmth and food and a TV to watch and books to read. I told him a little bit about some of the things he has that I never did, and that he needed to work on choosing his words better when he was angry as it makes me feel like he doesn’t appreciate what I do for him, and it’s very hurtful. I understand your anger, I told him, I have it too. But you have to find a way to work with it and keep it under control or you will really hurt people’s feelings with what you say, and you always feel worse after you hurt someone’s feelings than if you were just angry and then calmed down. It took me a long time to get that concept, myself. Perhaps too long. I was thinking last night of some really cruel things I did and said to people when I was young – not as young as D, but old enough to know better. I hope to do better with the boy.