Wednesday, April 9, 2008

four for fighting

We just spent a delightful 40 minutes having one of Bug's patented knock-down, drag-out temper tantrums. Dang, those things can wear a body out. The inciting incident, as always, was minor and snowballed quickly. She wouldn't sit down in the tub; announced she wanted to wash her body standing up.

We do have a certain tolerance for standing in the bath (I know, I know; you can report me to the parenting police later), but 1) less so when Boy-o is in the tub, as he was tonight, and 2) not at all when it is unsafe. Tonight, when she lost her balance a little, we insisted she sit. And she wouldn't. There's a lot of backtalk going on right now in general: "No, I don't have to do what you say." "Yes, I can too act however I want at the dinner table." Generally ridiculous statements that make me stifle a laugh. Anyway, tonight she started kicking me - not hard - but deliberately enough to get her point across.

So we gave her a 1-2-3 warning that there'd be no more kicking or she'd forfeit her bath. (I know, I know - who are we really punishing with that one?) A fourth kick and out she came. I hustled her down the hall where I tried to get her into pajamas and PullUp, because she had already lost stories and bedtime ritual privileges, and that's when she really came undone. She went nuts, screeching and hollering. "I wanna take a bath!" "I want my hair braided!" "Open the door!" "Move your body [away from the door]!" Then she really started hitting and kicking. Now, the kid weighs maybe 34 lbs in shoes, soaking wet, so she doesn't exactly pack a mean punch, but you could tell she was putting her all into it.

I took away morning TV privileges, and that was about all we had to take away that would've interested her. I try very hard to make the punishments relevant, so it's not like removing toys from her room would've had an effect under these circumstances. I was able to stay relatively calm except when she hit me in the face, which prompted a growly, "We do not hit, kick or push. Stop it."

I continually feel challenged by the lack of appropriate consequences. All the parenting advice seems totally logical when you're not in the throes of a fit, but none of it really seems to do any good in practice. Other than demonstrating consistency in our behavior, does any of it lead to her improved behavior? The hardest part is, who wants to spend 40 minutes of the two hours you get at night with your kid mediating a temper tantrum? I knew she was overtired and whining more than usual, and those can often boil over into tantrum mode pretty easily. (And of course, self-conscious mom that I am, I hate that all of this happened in front of our housekeeper. Who, as the mom of four, has probably seen more than one tantrum in her day. But still.)

There was no real end, just a gradual winding down. I agreed to open the door if she could show me she was ready to be calm by retrieving and putting on her PullUp. Boy-o's bedtime had arrived, and in our little house, it's really unfair to have one screaming, wailing kid while the other is trying to go to sleep eight feet away. She went to sleep in underpants under her PullUp (her request... and you should've seen her crushed, confused look when she realized the underpants were wet...), with no stories, no camp, no braids, no clothes picked out for tomorrow, and not even teeth brushed. Knowing her, she'll wake up sunny and cheerful. It takes me longer to recover.

She's 4 now. I'm waiting for the rational being to emerge, any day now. Maybe, like Athena from Zeus, it'll spring, fully formed, from her forehead. I'm not sure what I'll do with her then, but I'll be waiting for it. And probably kicking myself for not being more present in every moment of her savage-beasty-preschoolerness.


Anonymous said...

Um, Jami? No rational being is going to emerge - the pre-teen/teen years are coming.

Mine always forget about the tantrums and the pain and crying, the next day. I never do.

Hang in there.

Nanette said...

Quick question - is there a law that says I can only keep the kid in my uterus for 40 weeks? Because maybe I should keep this one in until it's time to go to college...

I kid.

And you're an awesome mom.

Just thought you should know that. :)