Friday, January 16, 2009

Adventures in Real Parenting: The Bitch Is Back


On a blog far, far away, I would refer to myself on my worst mothering days as BitchMom. Oh, those were the days. I skimmed some old posts and realized that I have become a much more sedate mother than I used to be. I don't yell quite so much and I hardly ever threaten karate chops anymore. I'm more likely to use stealth psychological warfare, passive-aggression and periods of long silence. Look, I didn't suggest that I'm now Mother of the Year material, but at least I'm less volcanic.

In gratitude, The Spawn should be dancing around me, singing songs of praise and joy. Instead, they carry on as if they haven't noticed the diminished rages and my new ability to not lose it so much, so quickly, so intensely.

I worry, though, that the calm is about to be tested. MathMan leaves today for a trip to Washington, D.C. with his school. The marching band is going to be in the Inaugural parade and MathMan is one of the chaperons. I tell you this with just the slightest bit of envy because he gets to go. The reality is it's going to be cold, crowded and he's traveling with a bunch of teens. My envy is definitely tempered knowing that.

What this means to me is that I will be alone with The Spawn for five whole days. There will be no buffer, no one to point at and say "ask him." No escape! Fuckery. And this goes on until Wednesday, which will actually mean Thursday because when he gets home on Wednesday night, I'm hardly going to be able to turn the whole mess over to MathMan until he's had a chance to unpack and get his bearings. Again, I say fuckery.

The Spawn, of course, are doing what they can to test my placid demeanor. The Dancer isn't really a problem, though she's developed some aches and pains that are going to require a trip to the chiropractor, I suspect. The Actor has been pushing the limits with his mouth and can get on my last nerve as he narrates whatever the hell he's doing. However, none of this is new and we've both learned to adjust. I admonish him for cursing, he rolls his eyes at my hypocrisy. We know where we stand with each other.

It is Cupcake, though, who may try my patience most these next few days and I'm trying to steal myself so that BitchMom doesn't make an appearance. Were I honest with myself and you, I would just admit now that BitchMom has already returned from her long exile and has hissed an ugly thing or six at Cupcake already this morning.

(Note - it's likely, if queried, The Spawn would scoff at the very idea that BitchMom had actually ever been exiled, but who's asking them? Not me. And if you do, there will be a karate chop coming your way.)

Back to the child on the hotseat. Cupcake is nothing if not predictable. We're finishing up week three of school after the winter holidays and she's over it. Done. Ready to move on to fifth grade after a looooooong stretch in front of the television, of course.

Twice this week, I got the call from the school nurse. Cupcake doesn't feel well. She doesn't have any real symptoms, but she's crying and disrupting class and generally not endearing herself to her teacher or her classmates. After a brief conversation about options, the nurse and I decided that a combination of threat, torture, isolation and deception would achieve our goal of keeping Cupcake in school for another day. Thankfully, especially for Cupcake, it worked. She stayed. She might even have learned something. Who knows? I'm barely speaking to her.

I'm not kidding about the predictability of this nonsense. We go through it every single school year. She turns another year older in January and all the sudden her entire person becomes one gigantic, quivering, defiant head case who requires frequent, clutching, declared love and liberal amounts of time alone with her best friend the television.

When I'm feeling particularly like BitchMom, I point out the fact that she's channeling my departed mother-in-law who once got terribly bent out of shape when she was delivered a half of a bratwurst instead of the third of a bratwurst she'd specifically requested.

Cupcake can make that look sane. Don't get me wrong, I love this child. I just don't like her all that much right now. So yesterday, when the call came and I could see on my cellphone that it was the elementary school, I snarled to myself, took a deep breath and answered, knowing what was coming.

I opened with a direct plea, "Look, I'm working from home today. Can you please keep her at school?" Seriously, I was not in the mood to have a kid underfoot. Oh sure, they promise that they'll be unobtrusive, keeping to the back of the house, asking for nothing but a crust of bread and bit of water, but oh no. There's always scope creep when dealing with children.

The old adage "Give them an inch, they'll take a mile" was invented especially for kids. You go from tucking them in to watch dvds or television with some water or juice and by 10:30a.m., you're standing in front of the stove warming up a can of Campbell's Soup that they'll take four spoonfuls of before asking if there's any ice cream while you're busy running about pulling together the components of some ridiculously complicated art project the child just found in Highlights magazine.

Well not yesterday. And not the day before. I asked the school if there was any physical reason to send her home and the answer was no. I asked the nurse if there was someplace Cupcake could be isolated in case she became too disruptive with her crying. Yes - the Vice Principal's office has a place for kids to sit and read. Fine. And lastly, and this was critical, I asked the nurse to lie and tell Cupcake that I had gone to the office after all and wouldn't be able to come get her anyway, nor would I be home to take care of her. She had to stay at school. The nurse agreed. I must remember to get her something and send it in with Cupcake when she returns to school.

Yes, you read that right. When she returns to school. Cupcake is home today. While MathMan and I were rushing to get out of the house so I could drop him at school for his trip, Cupcake started lobbying to stay home sick. MathMan and I tried to stand firm, but eventually caved out of convenience.

When MathMann approached me this morning about letting her stay home because she had a low grade fever, BitchMom took over. MathMan and BitchMom were never happily married and I watched as MathMan made an enormous effort to remain calm in the face of me being on the verge of launching into a full-throttle fury.

His calm pulled me back from that precipice. I made my conditional statements to him, took a few deep breaths and struggled into my bra and underwear so I could stomp across the hallway to issue those conditions to Cupcake who lay pathetically in her bed. Her large brown eyes surveyed me warily. I could read it on her face. She knew I meant business since I was standing half naked and angry, ready to chew her to pieces.

"I'm so disgusted with this behavior. We both know you're not really sick," I began. She nodded.

"No television. No dvds. No art projects. You just stay in your bed and read until I get back," I ordered in clipped, angry tones. She nodded again.

"And as punishment, " I took a breath and watched as her eyes got huge. I could tell she was thinking that having to stay in bed and read was the punishment. "I'm not going to have a birthday party for you this year. If you can't go to school, you can't have a party. Understood?" I could tell by the way she was considering that last statement, she was trying to determine my resolve. Finally she nodded and her mouth opened and then shut as if she thought better of what she was going to say.

I turned to go. "Mom," came her tiny voice.

I stopped, but said nothing. "You mean it don't you?" she whimpered.

"I do. Now are you going to get out of that bed and go to school?" I asked, stooping to pick up some kid effluvium that was on the floor.

She didn't answer immediately. Finally she sighed and pulled the covers up to her chin. "I don't feel well. I'm going to stay home." That was her story and she was sticking to it. With that she rolled over and faced the wall.

"Okay. It's your choice, but don't ask me again about your birthday party. Your tenth birthday stuff is now officially over. Got it?"

I could see her shrug under the comforter. "I know," she said.

With that, I left, only returning to kiss her goodbye and to reinforce the instructions until I could return. As I drove MathMan to school, I indulged in ugly thoughts. Why didn't I just cram her into MathMan's suitcase so he could deal with her? Would I be fighting this morning battle with Cupcake every damn school day until spring break? And if so, how was MathMan going to like living full time with BitchMom again?

So Cupcake got her way and is home lolling about, pretending to be miserable. Then we have the weekend. Monday is a holiday. By the time Tuesday rolls around, I may as well quit my job and home school the evil little troll.

For her part, BitchMom smiled slyly as she thought wistfully about the fact that she is off the hook for having to pull together a birthday party for a bunch of ten year old girls, especially those who'd been plotting an overnight.......

32 comments:

  1. Wow...I think that went well. I guess I will have to check back four days from now! Take long deep breaths.............

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  2. Good one. Don't cave. You gave her a choice between birthday festivities and melodrama, and she chose the latter.

    BTW, it could be worse. Starting at about age 4, my youngest sister mastered the art of dramatically puking whenever she felt "sick."

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  3. my son tried that and with me it cut no ice but with hubby, he fell for it every time. and it's always the baby I notice who tries these stunts, as if with them all can always be given and forgiven.

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  4. Thank you for reminding me again why I didn't have kids! ;-) Seriously though, poor Cupcake and poor you. I remember going through a phase when I was a little younger than Cupcake (about 7 or 8) when I would get sick (actually throw up) if something disrupted my routine at school, i.e., having a substitute teacher or something like that. I was a very rigid child I guess and couldn't deal with change! I remember once getting sick after eating my Wheaties (one always remembers what one ate before one gets sick...) and then my cruel mother made me go to school in the afternoon after lunch.

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  5. Now that's the way to do it. You can choose between A or B. A sucks, B is suckier. Pick.

    Of course, if they get extra psycho, you could always toss on the headphones and pretend they're invisible.

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  6. First, I suspected that you expect me to come back. Now I know for sure. Finally, I agree Bitchmom and I don't get along. She is sort of like the evil captain kirk from that episode where he and spock split in two. Then non-evil kirk has to figure out how to become whole again. Star Trek is full of nice metaphors.

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  7. For the next five days,

    Relax.

    Relate.

    Release.

    Breathe easily and drink heavily.

    Sherice

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  8. I love reading about your kids and BitchMom... because suddenly my dead end job and rent issues don't seem so bad :P

    I tease but my, you are a trooper! Don't worry, MathMan will come home and then you can dump tthe Spawn on him for a few days yes?

    LOVE the nicknames by the way :)

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  9. I hate it that the men and fathers in the family blythely escape to work day after day never having to stay home with the kids when the kids have a holiday from school... and never get called when a child is sick because it is assumed that their job is more important than the mom's..... (And the fathers shrug their shoulders knowingly and say, "...but I have to..." as if the mom's don't....)

    Can you say "Road trip?!" C'mon up!! We'll pretend we're camping... my three can entertain yours, and it'll be fun for them because it will be new for them... And they will HAVE to behave, because it is MY house...and it is MY rules.... (I'll slap 'em upside the head if they misbehave....!)

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  10. I'm often left to solo command and have learned important lessons.

    Having almost put myself over the proverbial cliff trying to exercise control and standards, I've changed my tact and taken a steady ship approach.
    Keeping my own sanity is now the most important goal.
    Before He takes the trip, I inform Them (12 & 10) that I will remind but not hector or argue with them them to do homework. If it doesn't get done, that'll be their issue with the teacher.

    Other rules too are relaxed - bedtimes stretch a bit and there might be a little more TV time.

    I include them in my conspiracy. This leads to good will and co-operation. Promises are made not to tell!

    When he comes back, it all snaps back to normal and there are lots of winks and nudges. And I am not feeling like a wrung out old dishrag.

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  11. Although Star Trek does provide helpful metaphors, allegories and life lessons, even on the one with the most children - The Next Generation - parenting is only addressed in reference to Klingons.

    I only have one kid and I still feel outnumbered.

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  12. Let the beatings commence!!

    You could always use that old stand-by: Wait until your father gets home! No, really, wait right there and don't move or speak until your father gets home. Wednesday. Well, no, better not bug him until Thursday morning...want a chair or something?

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  13. I used to do the same thing, but I usually waited until the middle of girl scout overnights to get fake sick. My son did the fake sick thing at the beginning of third grade, and after the third time, I realized he was right, his teacher was freaking nuts. I got him the hell out of her class immediately after that.

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  14. My take on it is with Mathman gone, you can lock everyone in the basement. ha,ha - kidding - but not really - yeah, I am.

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  15. Fuckery indeed! So you do know what I mean by the reflexive verbal bitch slap. Humm. Humm!

    Poor Mathman. His youngest daughter is his mother and then there's well, bitchmom.

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  16. well done, sweet bitchmom...you really have them all fooled! and good one with the bday!

    I did this to one of my kids once(and I think it was the baby girl too) and it turned out
    she had walking pneumonia - I felt so guilty and she has never let me forget it either...another time, same kid, she had a piece of metal in her eye and we didn't go in to the doctor because she wasn't complaining about it....

    what a relief they are all grown and I no longer have to be a "mom" in quite the same way....who knows what would happen!

    ((((lisa)))) I will pray for you, dear...

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  17. as entertained as i was by your writing, lisa, i also had horrible flashbacks to when i was a kid and would feign sickness to stay home from school. i hated school. it was a series of panic attacks, and i couldn't tell anyone for fear of being labeled nuts. i don't know cupcake, and i hope that this is not the case with her, but maybe it would be a good thing for her to talk to someone about why she doesn't want to go to school. let me just add that i hate when the knee-jerk reaction to anything a kid does is to take them to therapy, but it really was my first reaction.

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  18. It's funny, when you look back at these challenging times, you will chuckle. Honest. DK is now 35 and I still remember how hard it was to be a mom.

    Have a great weekend.

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  19. God bless you for not breaking her knees.

    I'm SO glad to be past that bullshit.

    Which is to say, Hang In There, Lisa, it'll get better, if you don't kill her first.

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  20. And all I could think, when you mentioned the birthday thing, was, "I bet she's nine!" What a terrible age. We have terrific kids - all three of them - and we've had little trouble. But nine was the pits. Emotional, whiny, hot and cold and hot and cold, insecure, painfully shy all over again, roaring with anger, depressed... Wow. Our youngest just turned ten last week - what a relief.

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  21. Kudos Lisa. Must add: this is why I am an aunt. I love my nephew and nieces, but I don't know if I could do the parent thing. sounds exhausting.

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  22. It all started with my youngest at about 9. Her already headstrong personality took a dive into the negative and nasty.

    Then the whole drama started with stomach pain and chest pain. We have been to doctors and the ER dozens of times for her ailments. She is unwilling to follow their protocols or take the meds they offer up. They can find nothing wrong anyway.

    So is it stress? Manipulation?
    I find it hard to give a damn after all this time.

    She is now 15. I do try to cobntroll myself because I don't want to ruin our relationship. At some point I hope she will grow out of all the nastiness.

    In the meantime, I do the same sort of stuff - no party, no phone, no internet. Just stick by your guns!! Consequences are important.

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  23. Smile, it could always rain, sleet or snow in DC on Tuesday. :)

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  24. Wow-fucking-wee!

    I think your post is so damn perfect I could take out a loan and print your works on raising a family.

    Sadly, my credit rating isn't what it used to be..sorry. ;p

    I bet you cave...not saying that you will, but I will run a pool on this issue for you if you like.. ;)

    Thank Gawd I only had 'the boy'. That little bag of fuckery drove me to drive..of course I never really need a reason.

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  25. Shit...its not drive, its drink!

    Its such a bitch being stoned and commenting sometimes.

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  26. Such depth in self understanding should not go unrewarded. I'm sure Cupcake will thank you someday in the future.......NOT!

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  27. I don't call that being a Bitch. I call it being a smart, clever mother. Every once in a while I have to remind my children that I am far smarter, not only than they, but smarter than they could imagine me being. It's an important part of parenting.

    My older daughter, who is standing next to me wondering what I'm doing, has a problem with a boy, Noel, who goes out of his way to say something mean to her every time he sees her. She was quite upset about it the other day, and my wife told Moriah the boy probably had a little crush on her and didn't know what to do. Moriah insisted that Lisa didn't know what she was talking about. I went and talked to Moriah and told her (a) the boy probably liked her; and (b) if she didn't like what he was doing, to just take a good long look in his eyes, put her hand on her hip, and say, "Why are you flirting with me?" Best to do it when he has a bunch of friends around, too. I don't know if she took my advice, but it put her on notice that Dad and Mom aren't quite the clueless old farts she things they are.

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  28. I wonder what this is actually all about. With her, I mean, not with you. I get where you're coming from.

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  29. My bet is the coming changes. My son went off the deep end when I divorced his father and then less than a month later moved back to Cali from Virginia.

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  30. My first reaction is, is the girl a Pisces? That's typical behavior for most of them. I'm raising one so I speak from experience.

    There's a reason I took him out of public school last year and decided to homeschool. No more nasty rages, no more "I'm soooooooo sick and can't go to school" days. Now if he stays up past midnight reading I don't worry about it. At least he's reading, which he didn't for most of the last 10 years. Not willingly, anyway.

    If I could I'd say send her over here. My daughter's home this weekend and would love the company. Other than that, Randal's suggestion of headphones is what usually works for me.

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  31. How timely! I am enjoying a temporary retreat from my daughter's sleepover birthday party . . . which I am hosting ALONE because my husband suddenly had to go out of town for five days. I feel deeply jealous that your daughter chose to "be sick" instead of celebrate being 10 with her buds. There's always a silver lining, right?

    It's weird, Lisa, but about 4 years ago I was working full-time and working on a Master's degree. I didn't have a spare minute -- and I had a permanent migraine. I was only a hair's-breadth from being BitchMom at all times. Despite this fact, one or more of my children were always getting mysterious sudden sinking spells which required being collected from school! Now that I am a stay-at-home Mom it never seems to happen anymore. Go figure.

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  32. Beautiful piece. I loved reading your slice of life. (I recall a few years back a friend and I left Starbucks as he couldn't handle a screaming baby. After walking out he said he was so happy to not have kids. I thought, I am so ready for those problems.)

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And then you say....

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