Sunday, August 19, 2007

Clean up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere...

"...Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share." So sings Crabtot at preschool and she is, apparently, immaculate in this regard, humming that lovely little ditty as she picks up Lincoln Logs and Lego, a helpful, obedient Crabtot every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

But Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends...not so much.

Today we reached an all-time low after I begged, threatened and went mad with rage, insisting that Ctot do just the tiniest bit of cleanup after weeks and weeks of fun and filthiness and vacational mess. To begin with, I tried to be like her teachers. I sang the song. I spoke in a calm, friendly manner. I used positive reinforcement and avoided stern commands and negative constructions. I "helped" her help herself. No dice. The tot simply refused to lift one tiny, but chubby, pinkie in the process. I switched gears, lost the sweet voice and got down to business. I demanded she obey. I spoke in a low evil voice, a high shrieking out-of-control voice, a loud non-nonsense voice, a sinister soft threatening voice. Again, nowhere.

Because I have been trying to avoid my true self, i.e., my incarnation as the Spankmommy who loses her temper, I have been trying to come up with alternative threats that will speak to the tot with power and consequence and make her do my bidding. I long to be one of those parents who is spoken of as "never having raised her voice" yet somehow she commands respect and fear simply by a slight altering of the voice register. Alas, Crabtot doesn't care what my register is. She would rather anything than capitulate to the cleanup song at home. So she spent over an hour refusing to put her miniature fuzzy beaver toys onto their little red-and-white-striped wooden deck chairs, the one chore I was hell-bent on seeing her accomplish.

I needed those beaver-butts on their tiny chairs. The room was a vortex of dolls, toys, clothes, pillows, dried pasta, odd socks, ripped books...but somehow I felt that if just the beavers were in place, all would be manageable once more and a crucial battle would be won, with lessons imparted and parent-tot relations appropriately aligned once more, after weeks of rules-be-damned- there-are-too-many-guests-to- pay-attention-to-tot-rearing vacation!

It is amazing how long a tot can hold out. Even when the punishment is terrible. And, yes, Meanmommy that I am, I have devised an alternative to spanking. When all is lost and nothing will stick, I threaten to pour water on Tot's beloved Blankie, also known as Bangie. It sounds vicious doesn't it? Threatening to maim the loved one's lovey! But what's the alternative? Spanking? Please don't tell me Time Out. That's just a joke round these parts.

But I do find myself wondering what is worse: physical or psychological torture? I picture Crabtot in later life accusing me of child abuse for maligning that filthy Bangie with water. Indeed, you would think one should call Child Services judging by the bloodcurdling shrieks that accompany my threats of pouring water on Bangie ("pouring" means wetting the corner, people. Relax. Don't call.) She screamed and screamed, but God forbid she place those weird little fuzzy beavers on their bloody deck chairs. Even after the corner of Bangie was thrust beneath the faucet, she still refused to obey. And while I am unclear as to the right methods for punishing kids, I am clear on one thing: follow-through. You must do what you say.

After Bangie had two corners wetted, I sort of just lost it altogether. Crabtot was flinging herself at her dad, to whom she goes for all cheering up. Crabhub and I had been bickering about discipline to begin with, and I had a flash from my own childhood, where my stepdad was the popular one and my mom the disciplinarian.

Feeling my imminent meltdown about to happen, I nearly spanked myself. And then I just went and did something I've never done. I quietly locked myself in my bedroom. And I didn't say a word. Ctot knocked at the door, and Crabhub padded near it from time to time, but I answered no one. I lay on my bed, then I did something else I haven't done in yonks: I took a bath. Long after the Bangie edges must surely have dried, I remained in my bathwater, listening to the bemused sounds of Crabtot as she called for me through the keyhole. "Hi, Mommy! Can I come in?" "Mommy, are you there? What are you doing? Do you want to cook some pasta with me?"

I spake not a syllable.

I am not sure I can say that silence speaks louder than words. But bathing feels better than screaming. And when I came out and explained to Crabtot that Mommy felt very upset and didn't want to come out of her room because Crabtot's beaver-hineys weren't on their deck chairs, she promptly went and did her chore. True, it was several hours after the fact. But she did it.

I guess I'll lock myself in my room more often.

Funny, as I have stood and held Tot's bedroom door shut during tantrums, I often wish there were a lock on it. I often halfheartedly plan to put one on so I can lock her in her room during her wildest rages, in order to prevent her from constantly coming out of her room... But I never thought of the alternative: locking myself away from her. There's a lock on my door. Duh! I just never thought to use it.


Inky Ink Inc. said...

When I was but a wee lad, lo those many years ago, my brother and I used to wrangle with substantial frequency. When this happened on, say, a Saturday afternoon when we were out driving about with our mom in her Volkswagen (with the big '60s flower decals on the doors) she had a no-fail method for bringing things under control. She'd just pull over and stop the car and pull out a book (she always seemed to have a paperback in her purse). And there we'd sit, while she read in seemingly contended silence. I must elaborate by noting that this would take place in an un-air conditioned Volkswagen Bug in New Orleans, often in summertime. When finally my sibling and I could take no more we would have to beg forgiveness and promise to behave, but if our capitulation came with undue rapidity the sincerity of our assurances would sometimes be called into question. And so we'd sit some more. I'm sure it was probably over 110 degrees in that car on occasion, but my mother's zen-like steely resolve was a thing of wonder. No screaming or threats—just a terrible silence. Of course, these days if you leave a cocker spaniel sitting in a car for 5 minutes you'll end up on the evening news, but those were simpler times.

Jege (Jen) said...

My mother used to pour water on my sisters and I whenever we were fighting, or just plain out of control. Or, if we were foolishly throwing tantrums anywhere near the kitchen sink, she'd turn the vegetable sprayer on us. My mom later told me that the first time she ever dumped water on me to extinguish my preschool tantrums, she had a horrifying flashback to her own childhood. Seems my grandma did the same thing to her.

And me? I have been known to spray water on my cats, should they do something extremely naughty.

Anonymous said...

CrabMom, a lock on the door is THE way to go! Despite "expert" advice to the contrary, the old hook and eye has given me countless moments (hours? days?) of peace. In our house, we all affectionately refer to it as "lockdown." Just be careful not to leave the dryer running and travel more than 20 miles from home with child in solitary. I might mention not to leave any burning candles, too, but who the hell's doing that, anyway?

Anonymous said...

Ha! Self imposed Mommy Time Outs! You are catching on! These are my favorites, I go to time out a lot, I am such a bad mommy :)!!

Anonymous said...

Ahh... great post! Mommy Time Outs!? Umm... genius!! It's funny, I so don't want to be the Mommy who is always yelling... or worse, screaming out consequences that will never happen. My kids (they're under 3) think they have me wrapped around their finger... and, they may... Daddy is the more disciplinary one. But I will say this, we were at the beach a couple of weeks ago and William was running into the water and wouldn't stop going in deeper and then he was running off with some friends... so I kept saying "WIlliam we WILL go home!".... FInally, in front of abou 12 parents all down there... I had grab his arm before he ran off again and he actually says "Ouch MOmmy! Why do you have to hurt me!?" OMG! I nearly DIED!! All these parents look at me with such disgust! NOw... if there is ANYTHING I would never do is hurt my child! I wanted to hide and hide and hide away!!!!! I needed a MOmmy Time OUt to HIDE!!
- Audrey

Crabmommy said...

Apples, glad I am in good company. Drcaw, thanks for encouraging lockdown. Pinks&Blues don't feel bad. Read my spanking post and you will feel far better about yourself.

Jessica @ Little Nesting Doll said...

Oh, my daughter has had tantrums where I haave to hold her door shut too. AWFUL. And then she gets spanked and I feel even worse and end up in tears too.

Lately, with the cleaning up, any toys she doesn't pick up go on time out on a hig shelf--so she can see them, but can't play with them. It seems to be working ok so far--although the shelf can get crowded sometimes.