Thursday, January 15, 2009

Parenting without a net

Do you ever feeling like, as a parent, you're making things up as you go along? I do, you betcha.

The other morning I left the girls alone in the living room for two minutes, tops, while I ran upstairs. I needed to retrieve a sweatshirt for Chicky before I brought her to preschool. Both girls were dressed - okay, almost dressed. Chicky was completely attired, from her smock-type dress she received as a Christmas present to her cheap Target snow boots (she had left her other shoes at school the week before and I was too lazy to drop by and pick them up). The baby was in her pajamas. Why go to the effort?

I had sweatshirt in hand and was at the top of the stairs when I heard the most horrific screech come from CC. It was the type of scream that you hear just the first bit of but then it reaches levels that are only audible to dogs. I knew when I got to the living room someone was going to be in trouble. When I got there, Chicky was sitting on the couch with her hands over her ears and CC was wailing and crawling away from her sister as fast as her little chunky monkey legs would move her.

CC's cries are easy to interpret - she has one for sleepiness, one for hunger, one for Dear God, I've lost my pacifier and I can't find it OH THE HUMANITY, and one for pain. That last one is the most horrible cry; as painful to hear as it is for the poor baby to experience. This cry was the granddaddy of all Pain Cries. Oh yeah, this was going to be bad.

"What happened?" I demanded of Chicky as I scooped up CC and started checking her from head to toe.

"She did it herself," she replied with her hands still over her ears.

"Really?" I was dubious. There was nothing close to CC that could cause her that pain and I didn't hear any thumps that would have indicated another trademark CC bump to the floor. That baby of mine is cute but graceful she is not. Then again, she's seven months so there's hope.

"No," Chicky admitted. "I kicked her in the head. With my boots." She sat on the couch lazily kicking her feet up and down as if to prove her point.

"You what?" Now I was shrieking. Once it was out of my mouth, though, I just stared at her with my mouth open. I didn't know what else to say. She was grinning and it wasn't a sheepish, oh-shit-I-got-caught grin. It was a heh-got-ya grin.

Is she acting out? Oh maybe just a little.

What does a parent do in that situation?

No TV for a week, young lady! (Whoops, just screwed myself with that one. Let's be truthful, that's more of a punishment for me. For the rest of the week it will be nothing but whining and crying for television and I won't have that go-to tool for keeping her quiet for a half an hour while I put the baby to bed. Or for when I wanted to take a shower. Or when I need a minute to scratch my butt in peace. Damn.)

Do you need a spanking?? (Uh, no. Kinda counter intuitive.)

You just wait until we tell your father about this. (That's my favorite. I mean, really... Ooh, scary. And I've just admitted that Daddy is scarier than Mommy. That hurts my fragile ego.)

I'll tell you what I did - I made her sit in time-out until the millisecond before we were ready to walk out the door. When we were about to leave - and when I was calm and had assessed the situation with CC and determined that she was not, in fact, hurt in any permanent way (that I could see anyway. We'll see what happens when we're waiting for those college acceptance letters) - I got down on my knees in front of her and we talked about how unhappy she had made me, how disappointed I was in her. We talked about how much she could have hurt her sister in terms she could understand, with lots of boo boo talk and threats of going to the doctor's for shots. There were tears and promises to never do it again.

And after the discussion and after the threats I was at a loss.

I'm sure there are answers in a book somewhere, probably lots of books actually, but who has the time when they're too busy making sure they're three year old doesn't cause lasting harm to her baby sister.

I don't know how to keep Chicky from harming CC each and every time I leave the room. I don't know how to impress upon her how dangerous it is to grab her sister around the neck when she tries to drag the baby away from the toys. I suppose I could dress the baby in bubble wrap, leaving only the important parts exposed, and hope for the best.

I keep telling myself that this too shall pass. Does that make me feel better when I'm wringing my hands over thoughts of telling the television reporters that No, my daughter really was a lovely child... Before she drowned her 7 month old sister in the dogs' water dish? Not really.

Parenting is about thinking on the fly and being fast on your feet but if this keeps up I think I'll need a better pair of running shoes.

Kill her with KINDNESS, my child. I'm begging you.


Heather said...

So glad that CC is okay. I know that we too went thru this phase when the girls were younger-I am pretty sure it resolved itself on its own-or when the Chicken learned how to pinch and bite her sister.

Anonymous said...

I worry about this a lot (even though #1 is only just on the way) because I was the horrid big sister (although as teenagers my sister got me back 1000-fold).

I actually locked her in the toybox and then sat on it pretending I didn't know where the noise was coming from. I've always worried about how to handle it - how is Chicky with CC in other ways? I think sometimes its just about getting away with as much as you can!

Cate said...

Oh, this is horribly familiar. I have no idea what to do either. If you figure it out, let me know, okay?

ewe are here said...

Have definitely been there... and now the little one knows how to retaliate which just ups the stakes.


Blog Antagonist said...

Well, the efficacy of this kind of depends on the temperment of your kid, but one thing you might try:

Lavish attention on the victim. Hold her, cuddle her, make a big, fat fuss. Maybe give her a special treat (although CC probably isn't old enough to have anything Chickie really covets)...the works.

Ignore the aggressor. No punishment, no lecture, no discussion about the whys and wherefors. The more of that you do, the more her efforts are rewarded. She has your attention, and the fact that it is negative attention is irrelevant.

Yes, it's sneaky and passive aggressive, but you have to be cunning when dealing with a toddler.

Mine were far enough apart that this wasn't a huge issue for us. The one or two times it didn't happen, the above worked like a charm.

He got the message pretty quickly that naughtiness would not be the way to gain my attention.

Heather B. said...

I agree with Blog Antagonist! This is what we do with our son if he decides to act the way Chicky did! I really does work!

Also, maybe Chicky needs some one on one time with Mommy. Maybe take her to someplace special where it is just you and her. Or maybe do something special at home where CC is not involved in any way! I know when my son is acting out this always cures it! He just needed Mommy!

Hope this gets better for you!

mamatulip said...

Yeah. I've been in this position too. What I do in response depends on many factors - you handled it really well.

SciFi Dad said...

I think you handled it really well.

Personally, I've got the opposite problem (my daughter won't leave the baby alone - to cuddle him and kiss him - long enough to sleep), so from my perspective you've got it easy. You can tell your kid "Stop it or the baby will end up in the hospital!" What can I tell mine? "Stop loving your brother so damn much. He needs to sleep, or, you know, breathe.

Chris O said...

When I was a kid, I was always in trouble for tormenting my sister. Now my sister was 6 yrs older than me, but she was a wuss and an easy target. My mother never knew how to handle me, so I'd get to sit in my room and wait for my father to come talk to me. The waiting was what always did it for me. Disappointing mom was ok, but I adored my dad. He never yelled (ok, once but that was when I was teen and drunk). He would just sigh and tell me how disappointed he was in me. He's shake his head and I'd become the most contrite, sorry kid in the world, vowing to be good etc... Well, until the next time an opportunity came up. It wasn't my fault that my sister was an easy mark.

My kids see me as a pushover. So dad is more the one who does the talking to about what bad decisions they make. He's much better at this kind of interrogation than me, since he's a cop.

Mandy said...

We're struggling with very similar issues over here, but my oldest (almost 4) is reacting by hitting and pinching at his preschool.

I wish I knew what to do too. Right now we take away tv and wii privileges for 24 to 48 hours. Sucks for us, but he notices it more than a time out or a talking to.

Sorry I have no "ass"vice for you. Let me know if you hear anything good. :)

motherbumper said...

CC probably had it coming.

BTW, Chicky paid me to type that - and she paid me with money she stole from your purse ;)

Issa said...

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?

I don't know what to do about it either, as I'm right here with you. My four year old has this inability to walk by her brother (3.5 months) and not smack him. But my older daughter did it too. I guess the only thing you can do, is exactly what you did. Because eventually it sinks in a bit.

Also, eventually the baby is big enough to fight back. Oh my god, the first time Bailey smacked or pushed Morgan back, Morgan about freaked out. I was like dude, you had it coming.

Give Chicky time. Adjusting is hard, especially when you are three. Plus there's that whole part about her being three.

Binky said...

The only reason Number Two hasn't gotten the sh!t beaten out of him by The Boss is because she's still ignoring him. He's been around almost nine months and she just won't admit he exists. While that's good for Number Two, it kind of makes me wonder about The Boss. Like, shoudn't she be exhibiting SOME emotion for her brother? I careful what you wish for...

Anonymous said...

I think you did great.

I'm going to hope that mine continue to merely yell at each other. It's scary how kids really don't understand the potential consequences when they're so little.

Heather said...

My boys are 8 and 6 and I still have to watch them at times to make sure they aren't trying carve each other up for a light afternoon snack.

Parenting is a never ending job that sucks a LOT of the time.

Heather said...

The thing about parenting that I love is the fact that most of the time, the way we handle things are exactly the best method for ourselves, our children and our family. I often feel like I don't know what I'm doing, but things generally turn out fine anyway.

Magpie said...

Once upon a time, my mother was nursing my little brother while reading a book to me, you know, multi-tasking. Out of the blue, my brother let out a holler - I'd picked up his foot and bitten it.

So, fast shoes aren't necessarily going to help...

Melissa Martin said...

My girls are 4 and 2 and we constantly go through this. Now the little one fights back and yanks out clumps of hair! Oh what fun to be a parent.

Tania said...

I thought you did a good job, until I read Blog Antagonist's comment, and now I want her to adopt me.

Anonymous said...

This kind of reminds me of a story that my mom likes to tell my sister and I about from when we were little. My sister is three years older then me. She liked to pretend I was her doll. One time my mom found her pushing me around in one of her doll strollers and I was still really little so my head was kind of flopped over to the side. I don't remember what my mom did after that, but I think it's kind of funny that she would push me around in her doll stroller.

Patois42 said...

We're all just parenting by the seat of our pants, aren't we? You clearly do marvelously under pressure.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I agree with BA on this one---sometimes I forget and start yelling at the hurter and forget the hurtee, but it's always better to do what she said. In fact, I scoop up the one hurt and leave the room while I snuggle her/him, which seems to piss of the hurter even more. THEN, I give them a time out, once I'm calm and don't want to strangle them anymore.

Or, just do what I've heard dog trainers say they do with dogs and little kids---don't leave 'em alone. In other words, take one of them with you when you leave the room. Sucks, but you could explain to Chicky that until you can trust that she won't hurt her sister, she will not be allowed to be alone with her. A few times of pulling her away from the tv to watch you make dinner may make her more anxious to 'prove' that she won't do it again.

Hannah said...

Yeah, something similar happened when #2 was four months and #1 was just turned three. I left them in the living room - we have a bungalow so I was just down the hall, literally 20 feet away - and I heard the pain scream. Rapid check of baby, finally confession from #1 that "baby's finger went in my mouth and I bit it".

#1 was immediately sent to his room, do not pass go, do not collect $200. #2 got lots of hugs and attention. and I made a big deal about how only responsible big brothers get left alone with babies. he got the message.

I think you handled it just fine.

Avalon said...

My suggestion? Superglue.

If one of them can't get to the issues.

Then again, I only had 1 child 25 years ago. Maybe my advice is outdated by now.

Debra said...

I just found your blog on BlogHer.....I love this post....I have only 1 little one though. But, now that we are entering the toddler phase, I know its gonna be an as you go deal. Who knows what to expect?

It'll be a fun ride!

Kate said...

I agree with the passive aggressive tactic. My sons haven't gotten into any physical stuff, if anything, the younger one hits my older one!

BTW, love the line about the pacifier, OH THE HUMANITY. RFOL. Pacifiers rule in this household.

Carol said...

Beautifully written!

My now 24-year-old stopped me cold on a day when we were oh-so-busy moving into our new house when she was 4.

"Mommy," she started in, and then took a huge breath. "You know all those times I told you that Peter falled down in our old house?"

"Uh-huh," I said, waiting to get back to unpacking.

"Well, all those times I pushed him and I hurt him and I made him cry."

I was speechless! Turns out, I think, that she wanted some sort of amnesty or forgiveness, or SOMETHING, before starting fresh in our new home.

Kids are weird! (Teens are weird. Young adults are weird...)


Anonymous said...

I only have one son and I feel like he is already starting that phase of manipulation. And nothing I say or do has an impact on him, whatsoever. But then, (like right now) they get sick and want to be your baby again, or you peek in on them when they look like a sleeping angel, or by chance you did something to make them laugh and smile, and it's so easy to forget all of the other stuff that goes on. your giels are cute! P.S. You can borrow my running shoes. I'm sure they have never been used!

Christina said...

Just the other day I had to stop Cordy from wrapping a jump rope around Mira's neck because she wanted to pull her around like a puppy.

I guess we have to be on guard until the older one knows what is only annoying, and what can really hurt. I swear I've gained dozens of new white hairs in the past year.

Unknown said...

I totally feel like I'm winging the parenting thing. My eldest is 6, and so different from my two year old. And I agree, taking away the tv is possible just punishing us parents!

Alex Elliot said...

My younger one is recovering from having his tonsils and adenoids out and I have to keep peeling my older one off of him because he just can't seem to leave him alone. We keep on explaining to OS that he can't make YS scream because a) it's not nice b)YS is supposed to keep from screaming, shouting etc while his throat is healing c)he's going to put me in a mental institute at this rate! All right I leave c out but I'm thinking it. Oh yeah, my older is 5. I keep on thinking that perhaps this type of behavior is why the younger one is so laid back.

BOSSY said...

Yes. Bossy recommends New Balance.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you had the presence of mind to go with the time out so you could check on the baby AND let yourself cool out before addressing the situation. I find that very little good comes when attempting to parent when I'm having my own tantrum...