Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dinner Time Vignette

It’s 5 pm, any day of the week, and Charles and I have recently returned from a lovely walk/trip to the park/playdate at the Children’s Museum.  It’s time to make dinner.  I’m hungry, Tony will be home at six, and Charles, despite eating snacks (apples, crackers, cheerios, Pirate’s Booty) since 4 pm, is ravenous.


I pull out whatever I have prepared for dinner.  I don’t know what you do for dinner in your house, but ‘round here, the process invariably calls for actually cooking something.  You know.  On the stove.  And thus the drama begins.


Charles is a bit of a monkey.  He is curious and a climber.  Perhaps we should have named him George?  I, for one, just want to keep him alive.


By five o’clock, Charles wants to be in my arms, helping with the cooking, stirring the hot stuff, or he wants me to play with him, in the backyard, on the floor, in his room.  I try to set him up with pots to bang around, herd him outside to play with the dog, set him on his tricycle to crash into furniture… but what he really wants to do is climb up the oven and touch the stove.  He waits until my back is turned, chopping something or getting something out of the fridge, and he hoists himself up by the oven door handle to stand on the handle of the under-oven drawer and peer over the edge of the stove.  If he’s quick, he reaches out to touch something on the backburner before I can physically pull him off of there. 


Wash, rinse, repeat, again and again, the punishment more severe every incident, starting out more severe every night.  Charles first gets his hand slapped or his cheek flicked, along with a resounding NO! and an explanation that the stove is DANGER! HOT!  I know I’ve done it well when he cries, looking at me with teary eyes as if I was the one in the wrong here.  At the next offense, he gets a harder smack and is physically pulled out of the kitchen to other toys, something more interesting to play with (at least, I would think so - were it not for the need to feed my family, I would play with blocks instead) for a few blissful seconds.  However, within moments, he is back, climbing up underneath me to touch the stove, usually when I am at the point of stirring, not easily able to fend him off. 


This is when it all starts going downhill, rapidly.  Charles cries because he was told “no.”  I remove him from what he wants, which he does not understand is dangerous.  He cries because he got smacked again.  And then he cries some more, shrieking, throwing a terrible tantrum, wailing and beating his head on the floor.  Not to be distracted by toys, the dog, or even food to tide him over (you know, because after all those snacks, he is clearly starving), he is removed to his locked room for a timeout so I can finish dinner with muffled wails of abandonment wafting down the stairs.


He perks up immediately after a hug and a nose-wipe (on my shoulder, of course).  We go play with the dog and wait for Tony to come home so we can eat.


Every night, the same old story.



It’s tax day, so life gets dramatically better starting now.  No longer alone each night and weekend, I imagine my overall stress level when it comes to my son will decrease dramatically.


It’s tough for me to relate my relationship with Charles.  He is a delight.  He is a treasure.  He is a devil, a djinn sent to make my life difficult.  He is a monkey, an animal, a lovebug.  He is curious, and vibrant, and active.  When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrible.  Charles chews everything, exploring the taste and touch of his world.  Dog hair, toilet seat, bathtub, chair, grass, stick, shoe, other shoe, someone else’s shoe.  He pinches, searching out the feel and resilience of all materials, human, animal, or otherwise.  Food is squished through his fingers, cheeks are pinched until his friends cry and parents notice to pull their child away from mine, their glares letting me know that I should figure out how to CONTROL MY CHILD better. 


I know most moms (really, everyone I know) would give anything to be able to stay home or stay home more with their children.  I am embarrassed to say that I have steadily ramped up Charles’ daycare hours to the point that he has been full-time since he turned one year old.  And I am relieved.  I love it.  I love him, but I cannot stand to spend that much time with him, to be on my toes every day of the week, every hour of the day, working to keep him entertained, out of trouble, alive.  Oh, sure, the cuddles are amazing.  But how does one deal with a child like this?  A child who at 17 months is defiant, seeming to deliberately pick fights with me.  He DOES NOT UNDERSTAND the meaning of the word “no” – rather, he thinks of it as an invitation to rebel, to push the boundaries, to do whatever it is he is not supposed to do and see where it gets him (a smack or a timeout, usually).  Then, he comes back and does it again five minutes later to see if the consequences have changed.  It takes all of my physical, emotional, and mental strength to battle his will and keep the upper hand each and every day. 


I know that Charles will continue to be a challenge.  I know that the research on “strong-willed,” “spirited,” and “difficult” children states that they become amazing adults who are honest, hardworking, and dedicated.  I know that Tony and I have our work cut out for us keeping Charles in line and providing him with enough love that he understands that the boundaries are there for a reason.  I know that I love him and he lights up my life.  I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but I will happily pay someone else to teach him and mold him 8 hours a day so I can have some downtime. 


Plus, he truly adores daycare.  And all the kids know his name, it’s like Cheers.  And most of the teachers have degrees in Early Childhood Education.  And it’s safe there.  He’s love it there, too, just like at home, but with better toys and more kids.  And strict naptimes.


And I pick him up at the end of the day and he gives me a great, squeezy hug.  I put him down on the floor and he grabs my hand and drags me to the door, ready to go home.  Before bed, he grabs me around my neck and gives me a slobbery kiss, then beams up at me as if I am the most awesome human being on the planet.


When he is bad, he is very, very bad, but when he’s good, he’s amazing.


Our happy crazy home said...

I've been there. We live in a different house now, but when my spirited child was that age, I put a gate across the kitchen entry way, she wasn't allowed in the kitchen when I was cooking. She'd often stand on the other side of the gate and cry at me, but it wasn't safe for her to be in the kitchen. I could see her in the living room and it was pretty much totally childproofed.

Is there a main room in your house that is totally kidproof where he can safely play while you cook? What about putting him in a pack n play in the kitchen? I've also been known to occasionally put a fussy toddler in a backpack (ya know the heavy duty kind for hiking??LOL) while cooking dinner.

K Schimmy said...

I, too, gate the kitchen. It's just not a place where he can safely be, at least at our house. This is the only way I can get anything done! I often get the "crying at the gate" boy who is demanding a snack (after just having had one... sound familiar?), but the gate assures me that he won't be able to pull down that boiling pot onto his adorable head.

I know that, at some point, Ruary will have to learn to exist in the kitchen safely, but I'm not ready yet.

Mom and Dad said...

I don't mean to giggle, but you know I was a working mom and strongly feel that I am a better person for having worked rather than stay at home when the kids were young. I feel good about the time I spent at work and was happier at home because of it. No guilt for me. On the other hand, I have great friends who were terrific moms and stayed home to raise their kids. It worked for me and them. You feel great about Charlie being there like I did with the kids at Thelma's.
The kitchen thing will be a challenge for you in your setting, but there are some great ideas here. they do grow up to be tremendous kids because they are loved. Keep up the good work.

Amanda,, Travis, and Izabel Rainha Felton said...

We Got for Izabel What they call a play yard. Its 6 size and you can put in the middle the living floor and put the kid in with toys and let them play while you cook. You can also take it outside. If you no longer need it you can use to block of Dvd Shelf or the TV/Blue ray player (after being in over and over and dinner time Izabel has learn not to come int he kitchen much when cooking. I have th Gate But the opening to the kitch is two wide for a gate to fit right.

Carole said...

Have you thought about investing in a play kitchen? I have a curious little girl when I'm cooking, and when it's time for me to fix dinner, I send her to "her" kitchen to cook "her" dinner. Now that Michael is old enough to understand that the stove and oven are hot and dangerous and not to be touched, he loves to get his step stool and "help" with dinner. I let him stir things and crack the occasional egg.

This too shall pass, and in another year and a half you'll have yourself a kitchen helper!

Amelia said...

We have borrowed kitchens and grocery stores and the like from friends. We also have a big bowl and a spoon for Charles. It doesn't work - he wants to help me, no matter what I'm doing. It's not so much imitation as wanting to touch what I touch, do what I do.

Our kitchen/living room is not set up in a manner that makes it easy to bar the area off. Also, that would just end up with a screaming fit, I am sure. Everything is pretty kidproof except for the stove.

Charles is large enough to climb out of the pack n play.

Amanda,, Travis, and Izabel Rainha Felton said...

play Yard is not a pack N PLAY. It comes in six sides. Also you can add more sides to it. Anyway if he a climber might or might not be ablet to get out. The Play Yard is larger then a gate so we use to block the dvd player and xbox and the Movies.

soizic said...

Hey there, I've not come up here for a while now.. Crazy busy life !
But I love how you speak about Charles and your choice to leave him at daycare and have time for yourself.
After three kids, I still feel so guilty and at the same time so happy to have done so too.
And you know what ? Now two of them are "grown up", they never mention the fact that I've been absent :-)