Peaceable Kingdom

Like a wildlife photographer from National Geographic stalking the Serengeti plains, I crept upon my subjects with ninja-like silence.  I held my breath and slowly raised my camera to capture the moment before it slipped away.  I debated whether I should even try to take the shot, but if I didn’t, who would believe it actually happened?  I could hardly believe it myself.  I decide to take my chances, set my iPhone to silent mode, and quickly snap this stunner:

Yes, a picture of my girls actually sitting together in peace!!!  Katie listens rapturously to Sarah as she reads to her from a Dora book.  And I am so elated at this rare display of sisterly love, that I let out a little squeak.  And just like that, the moment is lost:

I’ve been spotted.  The girls returned to their usual banshee antics but I know that for one fleeting second, they were quiet and happy.  And perhaps maybe one day, they will be so again.  Until then, I have these pictures to sustain me.

Power Play

A couple of weekends ago, I read just about the funniest thing I had read, well, since 50 Shades, while researching parenting strategies on the web. Back story: Katie had a urinary tract infection and REFUSED to take her antibiotic.  I tried for 2 hours using everything in my rather pathetic arsenal of parenting skills: bribery, punishment, trickery, reasoning, coddling, and even force.  I sent her to her room and told her she couldn’t come out until she was ready to drink her medicine.  To which she responded by staying inside for 45 minutes, which in toddler time, is equivalent to a 3-day hunger strike.  Touché, Katie.  I cuddled her and comforted her in hopes she would acquiesce but instead was met by clenched mouth and pursed lips that could  only be pried open with the jaws of life.  I told her it would continue to hurt to pee if she didn’t take it, to which she retorted in a firm and angry voice, “I WANT MY PEE TO HURT!”  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this girl has balls.

With nothing left to do, I turned to the savior that is Google to look for ways other parents had broken the sprits of their young ones.   A quick search revealed nothing new…mix it with juice (check), mix it with yogurt (check), promise candy (check), force it into her like a cowboy inoculating a calf (check and a big stain of sprayed spit and pink goo on my sweater, face, and hair to show for it).  And then, I read an entry on Yahoo answers that had me almost busting a gut from one marshfield_meme:

You know I hear this from time to time, “My toddler won’t”, or “My child refuses”. You are the parent! Get with it! Your child is ill, get off your back side and be the parent – give them the medication! There will never be a time when you have a greater advantage over your child! Parenting is not for cowards. 

You wanted this job, now step up to the plate. No wonder we have a generation of children that won’t listen to their teachers, and have no respect for the law. When a child, not yet two can refuse to take medication, what can we expect from that child at 14? Do you honestly expect her to listen to you when you tell her she can’t take the car out on Saturday night?

I’m sorry; but, stop and listen to yourself. You are the person responsible for her well-being. You need to come to grips with the fact that you are her mother and there are parts of your job that are not pleasant. If that means you give her a swat on the back side to show her you mean business then do it. Then give her the medicine and hold her and rock her and sing to her.

Might I respectfully offer my rebuttal, Mrs./Mr. marshfield_meme? While I do agree on principle that I am the parent and I should be the “boss,” some times (oh hell, many times) that just does not happen with a two-year old.  There is a reason why when you enter a plane with your toddler in your arms, passengers around you freeze up with a look of sheer terror in their eyes and send up a silent prayer to whoever their God might be that you will not be sitting within a 5 row radius of them.  Because toddlers are masters of retaliation and you, even as an adult with many more inches of height and many more pounds of girth than these munchkins are held hostage by their whims and antics.  Like a teeny tiny Charlie Sheen hopped up on too much blow, you just don’t know what on God’s green earth will happen next.  There is no such thing as a “reasonable” reaction.  For example, a simple request to put away their toys may result in them peeing on your hardwood floors.  Or they literally bite the hand that feeds them when you try to get them to eat more of their veggies.  Or they poop in their underwear.  Or they slap you.  Or they scream so loud and for so long, that you just want to curl up in a fetal position and whimper until it stops.  The agents at Gitmo could pick up a few pointers from our kiddos.

After hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS of this kind of treatment, these kids wear us down.  And while we don’t want to cede all powers to these tiny terrors, we do embrace a new mantra: Pick Your Battles.  We have to prioritize those “just let it go” moments with the “bring down the iron fist” moments.  Girls running amok at Barnes & Noble while I browse for a chick-lit novel that will hopefully provide me with 386 pages of escapist drivel?  Doesn’t even register on my Mommy Meter.  Katie won’t take her antibiotic for a UTI that, if left untreated, could result in continued infections, permanent damage to her kidneys, and maybe even a transplant in which I will have to bravely give up one of my own functioning kidneys?  Damn straight this mom will get down to business.  So yes, Katie might have won all the battles in that two hour test of wills but this mommy won the war.  I sat her in front of the TV,  watched as her eyes glazed over to the opening tune of Doc McStuffins, and poured the medicine into her unsuspecting gullet, followed by a grape juice chaser.  Katie: 0; Mommy: 1.   YES!

Pay It Forward

Children are possibly the most self-centered creatures on earth- and I mean that in mostly a good way.  Although their only thoughts may be of “me me me,” very rarely is it malicious or with evil intent.  It’s just the way their little minds are programmed and they are so stinking cute, they can get away with it.  While this sort of self-absorption may be acceptable with children 4 feet and under, it is certainly not becoming in an adult (witness all of the “Real Housewives of…” series on Bravo…or any series on Bravo for that matter).

In the interest of sparing the world another set of Hilton sisters, I look for ways for Sarah and Katie to either volunteer their resources or time to help others in need.  I use the term “volunteer” in the most liberal sense of the word.  Our efforts usually involve the girls picking out a bunch of things (such as toys), me purchasing them, the girls whining about why they can’t have the toys themselves, me telling me they have no choice, the girls crying at the check-out line, me dropping the items off in a huff while screaming to the girls about what a nice thing we are doing.  This is usually the M.O. with food drives as well.  And although I try to explain to the girls about how lucky we are, how some people are not as fortunate, and how wonderful it is that we can help people, I am sure all the can think is “Why doesn’t anyone drop off a bag of toys at my house?!”

Of course I understand: Kate is only 2 years old and on most days, I can barely get her to share a bite of her cheese stick with her starving mother much less give away bags of goodies to people she doesn’t even know.  But Sarah at six years old is at an age where she can begin to understand about concepts like generosity, charity, and compassion.  With this in mind, I wanted to find a way for Sarah to help people firsthand rather than through donations.  Opportunities, however, for children to volunteer are pretty scarce.  Luckily, my friend Wendy told me about a program at her church called Community Meals where children are welcome to help out.  I signed myself and Sarah up with hopes that it would open Sarah’s eyes to people who were struggling to make ends meet and in need of some help.

The program is unique in that rather than a typical soup kitchen, the church sets up a restaurant-like atmosphere.  Tables are set with silverware, coffee mugs, etc. and volunteers not only prepare the meals but also serve the meals and drinks and clear the table for the guests.  It gives the patrons a chance to sit, enjoy a meal, and have someone serve them.  They even have a musician playing live music for the crowd.  In addition to the meals, the church also provides free non-perishable food items, toiletries, and fresh bread.

I signed the two of us up as table servers.  When I told Sarah about it, her eyes lit up with anticipation at the chance to play “restaurant” in real life.  Hmm..not the take-away I wanted for her but at least she was excited.

Prior to getting to the church, I explained to Sarah about who would be coming to dinner and why they were there.  Honestly, I don’t know how much of it she understood.  I know she was trying to process it in her mind and would ask questions like, “Why don’t they just get help from their mom and dad?”  But then, she’d also say things like, “Mom, I can’t wait to be a real waitress!”  Of course I wanted her to enjoy her volunteer experience but I also didn’t want her to think of it as one massive play date either.  I was hopeful that my message of charity and helping others would settle in after her experience.  And that she wouldn’t ask anyone for a tip.  Or tell anyone to “Kiss my grits.”

When we arrived, Sarah and I chose a table to be ours for the evening.  We helped to set all the tables with drinks, silverware, coffee cups, salt and pepper shakers, and the like.  Since it was “Taco Night,” we also laid out bowls of tomatoes and lettuce.  Before the dining room opened, the program leader warned us that at a free veterinarian clinic earlier that day, someone had pulled a knife out of anger and frustration.  I began to wonder whether this was the best idea but before I could have any second thoughts, the doors opened and people came flooding in.

My reservations were unwarranted.  Almost everyone we encountered was courteous, friendly, patient, and most of all: hungry.  Most would ask for seconds, thirds, and even fourths after polishing off their first plate.  It had been a very long time since I myself had volunteered my time in such a way and it made me realize how insular my life had become.  I spend most of my waking hours taking care of my own small family; I had forgotten that there was a larger world out there with needs much, much greater than our own.  Most heartbreaking to me were the families who came in together.  Mothers, fathers, and children all sat down together to receive what must have been their only real meal that day.  I said a quick prayer of gratitude for our own good fortune and that the people at the tables would find better days soon.

As for Sarah- she loved it.  It was her imaginary playtime come to life with real “customers,” orders to be taken, food to be served, and dishes to be cleared.  I don’t know how much thought she gave to why the patrons were receiving these meals in a church basement but she too seemed affected by the sight of families at the table.  I think in her world, adults may need help because their parents are not there to take care of them but all children should be provided for by their parents.  If only that were the case.

I hope that Sarah and I (and eventually Katie and Chris) can make volunteering together a part of our regular routine.  I’ve signed Sarah and myself up again for Community Meals and I’d urge any parents in the Twin Cities looking for volunteer opportunities with their children to look at the Community Meal program at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.  It’s a wonderful (and fun!) way for our little people to help others firsthand and begin to learn some valuable life lessons about service to others, compassion, empathy, gratitude, and love.

For more information and to sign up online for an upcoming Community Meals night, click here.