Friday, December 10, 2010

Back to the drawing board...

Well, Jacob's back to his uncooperative self. He hasn't gotten the check next to "Cooperative" for most of the week, and we've been getting those notes on his daily sheets about not listening. I know he's been spending some "timeout"-ish time in the office, which is really the best way they can get him away from the trouble and the situation, which is what timeouts should do. We discussed how he doesn't like being away from the group and being excluded from things (hence why he usually comes running when I say that Daddy and I are going to eat dinner without him and eat up all the food). We've also had horrible issues at bedtime (most nights this week, all except Wednesday), which could potentially be partially the fault of Craig's birthday cupcakes, which we've been having for dessert most nights. He's been up late, throwing out his animals, and being just generally difficult. I've been wracking my brain all week trying to figure out what's different from last week when he was being so good. I haven't figured out anything specific.

Tonight is another hockey game, and once again I'm debating whether or not we're going to go. His behavior may not warrant it, but he's usually good once we're there, it gives us an excuse to have dinner out (I only have so many ideas for "Jacob and me" dinners--we've already had two this week), and it kills a few hours. Usually we'll leave after the second period to get him home for a reasonable bedtime, so it's not a bad way to spend the evening, but if his behavior at daycare today is bad, we might just have to skip it. It'll make for a simpler yet potentially more frustrating evening for me, but there are pros and cons on both sides. I could get a head start on cookie baking, perhaps, or finally catch up on one of my Biggest Loser episodes on DVR, do some online shopping, or maybe even go to bed early. But at the same time, I do want to give Jacob a night he will enjoy whenever possible. It's a tough balance, made tougher by demands of the holiday season and his recent behavior.

I want to be consistent with discipline, but at this age it's hard to know your child's limitations. I mean, what is he cognitively able to control and what isn't he? One thing that kids take a while to acquire (and this is scientific--I read an article about it once) is impulse control. They have no filter, so when they want something--whether it's a desire to say something or do something-- they do it. It takes a long time to learn to restrain those actions. And I guess in the meantime it's up to the authority figures in their lives to teach them what isn't appropriate and should be restrained. But until they actually get that, it's hard to find the line between teaching them when they go wrong and punishing them when they willfully misbehave. I find myself thinking about this stuff a lot--not simply to give Jacob an excuse, but more to reframe my thinking of how I deal with his misbehavior. Sometimes it's a knee jerk reaction to yell and punish, but when you step back from the situation and think, "Did he really understand what he was doing?", it makes you stop and rethink things. Here's a simple example--Kids have to learn the simplest of concepts from scratch, like when you drop something, it falls. That's why dropping things off the high chair tray is so fascinating for babies. But when things fall, not everything responds the same. Most things babies have in their possession just fall. Maybe they make a noise. But if they drop something of mommy's, it might do something different, like break. So when your child is young enough to still be experimenting, and not old enough to realize that what they're touching will break, it's hard to really punish them for dropping and breaking something. They just didn't know. But if they've been constantly told not to touch that object, have the understanding to get what that means, and still disobeyed, it gets more complicated. Should they be punished because they knew something was wrong and still did it, or is it that impulse control issue, that they simply can't hold back? I truly have no idea how you know.

Lately I've been thinking a bit about how it felt to have a new baby. Like I mentioned the other day, two of my friends just became first-time parents in the last week or so, and another is welcoming baby #2 (baby #1 will be two in February--yeah, they're daring) tomorrow. And while I know about a million other thoughts and emotions cloud your thinking when you have a newborn, there's one thing that I've decided is truly special about that time. When you have a new baby, they've never done one thing to knowingly wrong you. Sure, they may keep you up for hours at a time, or be a fussy eater, or scream through a diaper change. But all of that stuff is just instinct. It's unavoidable and it's certainly not on purpose. They would probably rather be cooing happily, but when something in their world isn't right, crying is how they tell you. So no matter how frustrating and hard it may be when your baby communicates like that frequently, they're not doing it to make you crazy. I suppose things get less clear as you go along, for example, understanding that when they cry you come to help, and knowing to milk that for all it's worth. But until your child starts knowingly disobeying, they're still your little angel most of the time. However, once that obvious disobeying begins, you start bringing the emotions of disappointment, distrust, and anger into the relationship. It's a sad moment, quite frankly, because this perfect (albeit stressful) relationship that you've had experiences a big change that pretty much lasts forever. Those sweet, innocent days become fewer and fewer. Some days I get conflicted with Jacob. I love him beyond words and always will, but there are some days, after a particularly rough battle or bad night, that it's hard to look in his face and see that perfect baby. I see a touch of mischief in those eyes or in that smile, and it makes me sad. I miss the days of looking at him and thinking he's the most perfect thing on the planet. Do I still look at him and marvel at the amazing creation he is? Of course. But I get many vivid reminders that he's not perfect, and they take me even farther from the sweet days of his infancy, challenging as they were in their own right. At the end of the day I still love him so much, and I think that the "hard" feeling I feel goes beyond his behavior. I worry about what that behavior indicates about what he's feeling inside, I wonder what it means for his future (behavior and otherwise), and I probably beat myself up for whatever flawed parenting may have caused it all. Would more or less or different discipline have changed things? Should I not have drunk all of those Nutrasweet-laden beverages when I was pregnant? Have all these months of daycare finally turned him into a rebellious child? You just wonder what has caused it all, and how you got so far from the sweet baby you brought into the world. And in true parental form, you just want to make it all better.

Don't get me wrong. We're doing okay. It's a challenge but it's more or less what we signed up for. Every day is an opportunity to figure it all out, and that's what I will try my best to do. He's worth the effort.

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