Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adventures in Real Parenting: I Must Admit That Sometimes I Dislike Intensely My Children

Yesterday was MathMan's first day of the academic year with students. He shared with me his plans to discuss patterns as a math concept. Patterns are everywhere and in everything. Thankfully for his students, MathMan narrowed it down a bit to a manageable concept.

As we were discussing this, we noted the fact that each of our children have twenty letters in their very long names. (each has two middle names) This was an unplanned pattern that was brought to or attention this summer by which kid? I can't remember.

But that's not the only pattern we noticed regarding our children.We've noticed that they each have their ways for showing us they love us and many more ways to show their utter and complete disdain for us as thinking human beings.

The patterns, as I will outline below, seem to hold steady in nearly every situation. Each child has her or his own pattern and they stick to it with great regularity. MathMan and I have joked that being inconsistent is the only consistent way that we parent. Our children have turned that on its head and have become models of efficiency when it comes to getting their way and/or expressing themselves vis a vis subtle parental guidance and outright directives.

Let's dissect the techniques, shall we?
The oldest, The Dancer, employs what I like to think of as The Much Aggrieved.

Physical characteristics include:
  • The pulling of a sour face or
  • A poked out lower lip with sad eyes*
  • Rolled eyes**
  • A posture and overall attitude of "Are you through yet? Can we get real now?"
  • The occasional laughingly-delivered "You must be joking!"
*The result depends on where she is in the monthly cycle of things.
**A well-delivered annoyance can result in both the sour face, followed by a quick shift into the pouty face verging on tears.

The conveyed meanings include, but are not limited to:
  • I cannot believe you would say that to me!
  • Oh, please, as if.....
  • But surely, you're not addressing me. You must be thinking of one of your other children.
  • How dare you!
  • Do you see the shock that is registering on my face, for I am truly and most-assuredly shocked!
  • Uh huh....
  • Of course, you don't really mean that....
  • Yeah, right!
  • But I'm the best behaved child you have! This little thing shouldn't matter in the larger scope of things, right?
  • I can never please you! I work my butt off at school and that is not enough! Now you expect me to clean up after myself, too? The nerve.
  • Are you quite finished? Can we inject some reality into this situation now?

The Actor/Ninja - a mostly classic middle child, except for that bit about being a peacemaker - is a fan of what we refer to around here as The Righteous Indignation.

A spin-off, of sorts, from The Dancer's snorting and derisive eye-rolling and shaming approach, The Righteous Indignation is rather like watching a political operative trying to shout down an opponent on one of the cable infotainment channels. Volume is critical. Speed is critical. Being the first to attack and holding forth in an unrelenting, crescendo-building manner is essential.

Physical characteristics include:
  • The afore-mentioned volume;
  • The afore-mentioned speed in which one delivers one's defense or argument;
  • The flailing about;
  • Arm waving;
  • Bulging eyes;
  • Throbbing neck veins;
  • The gnashing of teeth, or even more disturbing, the nibbling of thumbnail and spitting it out in disgust, while delivering some kind of abusive language;
  • The repetition of the word "What? What? What? What?" much like Uncle Percy in the Jeeves and Wooster books by Wodehouse.
  • Dashing dramatically from the room, slamming of doors, breaking of items, general mayhem;
Conveyed meanings are not difficult to construe and, in fact, hinge on one simple hypothesis:
I shall be horrible until I get my way and you cannot stop me!

I must tell you that The Actor/Ninja has employed this method nearly from day one. Even as a wee man about the house, he was known to flail and wail and create disturbances that we lovingly dubbed "Hitting the Dirt." He would throw himself face down on the floor to have his fits. He did it so often that we even shortened its references to "Dirt." He would wind up to do his thing and one of us would laugh "Dirt" to let the other know that a tantrum was in progress.

He doesn't spend much time of the floor at his age, but his actions are hardly less annoying.

Our youngest, Garbo, is probably the most frustrating of all because her predictable behavior leaves you wondering if she is daft or dangerous, even after so many years of demonstrating that she couldn't give a flying fig for what we really think. Her approach is one of quick admission and dismissal. I like to think of it in that lovely vernacular The Bum's Rush.

Borrowing from both The Dancer's The Much Aggrieved and The Actor/Ninja's Righteous Indignation, Garbo's aim is to finish with the offending, meddling parent as quickly as possible.

Physical characteristics vary depending on whether she is standing while addressed or lying on her floor wallowing about in her own filth, but in general one might see the following:
  • A quick stand at attention;
  • A marked shifting of the eyes from the television screen to the person addressing her, one eye wandering away again quickly to the television, indicating that she is quite through listening;
  • The nodding of the head;
  • A vacant smile;
  • A phony salute and quick getaway;
  • And if you have had the temerity to encroach upon her space to have a word, a dismissive wave of her hand to indicate that she's "heard" you and now you must leave her to it.
Except "it" never gets done. Or more precisely, "it" rarely gets done.

And when pressed for confirmation that she's received the information - if a directive is being issued - she can parrot back with the best of them. I do believe, however, that when she is paraphrasing the orders, the meaning behind the words flies immediately out of her head.

As I noted, she will, on occasion, swipe methodology from her elders - slamming doors, bringing on the tears, goggling her eyes and attempting to shout down her opponent, when necessary, meaning when playing the part of precious waif isn't working for her.

Conveyed meanings include, but are not limited to:
  • Got it. Now go away quickly!
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, and when I don't do it, Mom will just come in and take care of it anyway...
  • Leave me the hell alone! Can't you see I'm watching What Not to Wear?
  • Lalalalalalala I can't hear you!
  • Philistine!To you this may be a heap of toiletries. To me, it is art.
  • Don't let this smiling facade fool you. I couldn't give a shit what you think of a clean house or how cluttered my room is....
Like all children whom I've known (including myself and my siblings), each of my children also possess an arsenal of denial, deflection and disdain for adults and their silly notions of cleanliness, order, responsibility, fairness and education.

In that arsenal, there are favorites, of course. For example:
  • A Robert DeNiro-esque Who me? Are you talking to me?
  • The Homer-Simpson-esque Don't Blame Me, I Didn't Do It!
  • The Don't Let Your Lyin' Eyes Deceive You
  • The Ignore Her and She'll Go Away
Parenting, as we all know, is not for sissies. It's time-consuming, inconvenient, sometimes maddening and often disheartening stuff. Of course it's rewarding, but I'm not writing about the happy, easy stuff today. I'm on about the idea that kids are a major pain in the ass and they will try to get away with whatever they can, using whatever methods they have at their disposal. They are wily, too. When they find something that works, they stick with it. Which brings me back to the idea of consistency.

Last night, MathMan and I sat with the children after supper and discussed how things could go more smoothly around here. To the children's dismay, the long commute together gives Mathman and me plenty of time to plot and scheme against them. In preparation, during dinner I announced that after clearing, each should return to the table before resuming activities that exercised their thumb muscles, involved the mixing of concoctions of tissue, glue, water, powder and shaving cream on an antique desk, or simply lying face down on the love seat, breathing through one's mouth while watching Tyra Banks tell women how to be the next top model. They groaned, predictably.

After dinner, as I took the lead in issuing our latest State of the Family and announcing our roll out plans for budget requests, after school rules and responsibilities, the meaning of my closed office door and a few other odds and ends about clothes getting into the hamper and cats who require sustenance and clean litter boxes, each child performed in their most predictable ways.

The Dancer clicked her tongue, rolled her eyes and interjected right before The Actor/Ninja exploded in a shower of indignation that we were to be reminded that she was moving out next week and we already have arrangements to deposit X number of dollars into her bank account each month and so this was all moot to her.

Like Old Faithful, The Actor/Ninja erupted like an adolescent geyser, his changing voice swinging from octave to octave with each gush of righteous indignation. And Garbo? Well, she was true to form, as well. The minute I half-jokingly suggested that someone take notes so that they could all have something to refer back to because they seem incapable of retaining and following simple instructions, Garbo raced off to find a notepad. And she did take notes. She even read them back to us when the family meeting was about to adjourn. And then she promptly got up from the table, leaving the notes, the pen and the clipboard forlornly behind, sitting next to a barely drunk from, but requested glass of Tropical Punch Kool-Aid. Later, as I noted this waste with annoyance, a housefly tiptoed along the glass's rim. I gathered it and the other things up with a sigh.

After all was said and done and one child was back to exercising this thumb, another was off creating sculptures in her bedroom using toiletries, and the third was mouth-breathing in front of the living room television, MathMan and I discussed what the reception to our ideas. Regardless of what those children think, we are not complete idiots. We know full well that the children will ignore us and treat us and our wishes with disrespect. This must stop because I've reached the point where my dislike for them is outweighing my love for them. And they should be aware that they are not the only ones capable of drama.

MathMan and I discussed options. I wanted to move away and not tell them. MathMan rejected this as inhumane to the cats and probably illegal, the killjoy. I was about to suggest that we take the cats with us when he shook his head in anticipation of my own predictable idea.

I suggested that I go back to New York City and stay this time, leaving him here to deal with the children alone then. MathMan didn't cotton to that idea much either.

I suggested we go Mrs. Piggle Wiggle on their lazy, disrespectful asses and let them have what they claim to want - parents who don't care and who leave them alone. Groceries? Clean clothes? Sign this permission slip? Money for all those things they like? We cackled like Hamlet's witches at the idea of casting our children adrift in their wishes - allowing them to live in chaos, clutter, and filth. That would show them. But if I couldn't get MathMan on board with moving out, that meant that we would have to cope with all the resulting squalor, too.

We slumped our shoulders, leaning on things as we thought. "We could modify it some," I began,"It might work," I added as the idea grew brighter, more clear in my mind.

I shared with MathMan my idea. He liked it. Now, of course, being consistent will be key to our success. Giving in for the sake of quiet and expediency will wreck this plan for sure. And if the children don't hold up their end of the deal regarding the budget request idea, as mentioned in no detail earlier, life could be pretty miserable for them, as long as we insist on written budget requests for any items requested or money for activities outside the normal items of lunch money, for example.

The plan is simple indeed. We shall respond to our children in the same manner that they respond to us. When one of them asks what we're having for dinner, I am going to simply ignore them until they go away. If one of them wants to know who deleted their favorite programs from the DVR, I'll holler "I didn't do it!" All those other things that they request? Yeah, yeah, I'll get to it. Sometime. Or not at all. Were you talking to me?

And MathMan and I can keep them bouncing back and forth all day on decisions. Want to spend the night at your friends? What did Daddy say? What did you mom think?

The real fun, though, will not be in the execution of the plan, but in the announcement of it, as it takes shape. I want to see their faces as we respond to them with the pat answer that "I'll address that with the same alacrity that you use when I ask you to do something."

And when they ask me what the hell alacrity means, I shall simply shrug, take another drink of wine and pretend that I did not hear them.......


  1. Ah my dear Lisa, it just doesn't get any easier does it.
    My children, mostly the girls, have this annoying in one ear out the other problem, and when questioned, they swear I never said it, it's amazing!
    I'm up for running away, maybe we can share a boho chic place in NYC! LOL

  2. I love your plan! I will give you props if I can execute it...

    I'm wondering if it is better or worse that my son is a combination of your Actor & Garbo - exactly all of those things put together instead of divided between two people.

    *best of luck*

  3. Remember the lesson of Wild Bill Hickok - and always keep your back to a wall and your eyes on the door.

  4. For MathMan, I recommend Chycho...


  5. good luck I say. What ever plan you come up with you will need to keep on step ahead

  6. Children: they keep you young but first they make you old.

    So now you're writing my posts? Our big complaints are wet towels on the carpet, dirty dishes in the living room, dirty sneakers in the hallways, dirty socks everywhere, verbally abusing Mom, making insane faces about the food, and leaving half-full cans of pop around. I'm thinking of going on strike - in the tub.

  7. Boy, after reading this post, I'm sure glad I don't have any ki - oh, yeah. Thanks for ruining my day. Care to pass that wine?

  8. Thank you (I think) for exposing what my sibs and I must have looked like to my parents.

    If you can keep yourself from killing them until they are thirty, you will be rewarded with halfway decent people. (That sounds rather like a reverse prison sentence, doesn't it? Must be why I never wanted children.)

    Meanwhile, perhaps you and MathMan can vacation somewhere, because you both probably need to.

  9. So, this is what I have to look forward to as my boys "mature?"

    And just when I've started to get Brendan to pick up his dirty clothes most of the time!

    I do like your plan. Keep us posted on how it works!

  10. Ha! As difficult as it may be for you to believe when you're feeling this way, you give me hope. Because for all of their faults, your children are great.

    Also, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle!! I adored those books as a child, and plan on reading them to my own children when they're old enough.

    Keep the faith, sister.

  11. Thank you thank you thank you. You make my increasingly complicated life look sane by comparison. I wish you the best! lol....I can't stop laughing. I'm serene again.

  12. Sometimes I wonder how many kids were frog-marched down to the Army recruiting office, at least back when there weren't two wars going on.

  13. aaaaand I just fell in love with you.

    I will be watching your plan unfold with great eagerness to try it myself. as soon as the monkey can make his own bowl of cereal. yes. *evil cackle*

  14. I'm sure my parents intensely disliked me at times, too, particularly during that long stretch known as adolescence.

  15. Stay with the plan, and they'll get very annoyed. You may want to revert back to using their toddler sticker incentive chart for good deeds and listening.

  16. I hope you stick with it and it helps.. Trust me it doesn't get any easier as they get older.. They still stick those knives into the heart as they get older no matter what you do when they are younger.. Mine is really sticking it now.. So hang tough and teach them well now.. hopefully they will learn and grow.

  17. i've said it before but i'll say it again my Mom would have loved you more than me!

  18. Kids...can't eat them, so put up with them till they move out, and then they never call (unless they want something)and you wonder what they are up to without supervision.

    Have a fab Wednesday.

  19. Um, they don't read your blog, do they? Because I think the element of surprise is your best weapon.

  20. I hear you sister! I have confiscated things, let the hamster die (not reaaly on purpose...),grounded them, cancelled their plans, made conditions, made lists, made contracts, made threats.

    Eventually they move out and in the world of roommates they realize what you were talking about, and if you are lucky, you'll get the call I did from my daughter apologizing for all the messes she made and left for me to clean up.

  21. Wonderful post! Look, I hate kids as much as the next person but the best way to handle them is to get them a trampoline and set it up on a slight incline.

  22. I seriously love this post. Bravo, madam!

    (PS: Thanks for the reminder to continue my birth control. My fiance's techniques are an adult hybrid of The Actor & Garbo. Ask me how arguing in bed at 1AM went for me last night. Egads.)

  23. My eldest is the master of divide and conquer. To it we are nearly defenseless. Its most potent characteristic is its stealthiness.

    I am afraid that on eof my responses to this was, "Wow, you guys are ambitious," and then I recognized myself in that neglectful model.

    My newest parenting approach? Trying my darnedness to shift the burden of my children's actions to them. Granted, teachers are not all that fond of my not kissing their asses to hold their hand every step of the way, but after we had a dip in The genius's grades mid-year, he had a later in the year upturn. I pretend that means things are working beautifully.

    btw, this is further proof he and Garbo are soulmates. He employs the exact same technique. I've even seen the "in-your-face" salute. It's disgusting. :)

  24. ...And this is why cats are better than children. ;o)

  25. This post is a blast from the past! Yes, kids do all these things and MORE! Being consistent, and parents being a united front, are your best weapons but that doesn't mean that they always work. Curse you Brady Bunch high expectations! By that I mean the idea that if you sit down and have a heart to heart, the kids will realize the error of their ways and change and no one gets yelled at. Lies, all (mostly) lies I tell you.

  26. Oh, you make parenting sound just so wonderful and rewarding!! *grin*

    I know, I know, you're just having a "time" right now with them. I hope it gets better soon! :)

    And hey, did you ever check out the show "Supernanny"? It's amazing what that lady can do with such horrible children. *smiles*

  27. Have you heard the latest twist on the classic "Keep Calm and Carry on?" It is: "Now Panic and Freak Out!"

    Any parental defense which employs the word "alacrity" gets my vote. Children are such hypocrites, aren't they? They are deaf and dumb when it comes to our directives, and yet they want to us to jump to attention to meet their needs and hang on very precious word. Love the line about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle . . . but of course she WASN'T the parent.

    What wonderful writing; you must have been inspired.


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)