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.