Thursday, April 25, 2019

Sticks and carrots

Alexander calls Andrew "Daddy," which, as a multisyllabic word, is a rather high honour considering nine short long (very long, very exhausting) months ago Alexander decided he didn't like anyone but Mommy. He now will (sometimes) choose to go to Andrew and will allow him to do things like change his diaper and get him ready for bed (without screaming through the entire process).

Thinking about how nice it is to be able to pass Alexander off sometimes almost makes me choke up, which means the last several months of being The Most Loved Person in Alexander's world hasn't been entirely easy.

He's still incredibly clingy and hardly lets me get anything done with his constant desire to be held. But, I think we'll make it through this season of life.

My current worry is how we're going to get Benjamin through his phase. It's a doozy.

Whenever he gets caught doing anything naughty he just shrugs and says, "I was tempted," a classic the-devil-made-me-do-it-move. The problem is that he is tempted a lot and I just can't keep my cool through all of it.

Today he was wild after school, as he usually is, and he ended up spilling pretzels all over the kitchen. And I mean all over the kitchen. So just imagine the few pretzels you're imagining because you're sure I'm over-exaggerating, and then multiply that several times and spread it all over the kitchen and there you'll have it.

I heard the mess happen and could tell it was an extensive one, but I was upstairs nursing Alexander (who—have I mentioned?—is one clingy, demanding baby) so I decided I'd sit this one out. Benjamin is nearly seven years old. That's plenty old enough to know how to tidy up a kitchen mess of their own creation.

"What happened?" I called down the stairs.

"Spilled some pretzels!" Benjamin called up to me.

Some? SOME? Sure.

"Pick them up," I called back down.

"I will!" he assured me.

But when I went downstairs to check I found pretzels all over creation.

Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

Also the dishes aren't put away because Zoë "doesn't want to," which, like, fine. But also...I don't care because doing things you don't want to do is kind of the essence of life. Like, if you were to take life and boil it down to its very basic form it would be entirely made up of things no one wants to do (but which are rather essential to a functioning unit of society). So I guess what I'm saying is, quit whining and do the dishes. Or whine. Whatever. But do the dishes.

We had Riley this afternoon and Grandpa thought it would be fun to take everybody swimming so I had this wonderful carrot to work with, which surely would motivate my children, right? Wrong.

I tried it, but it didn't work.

"We can go swimming with Riley this afternoon," I said, "But only if our work gets done. So, I need Benjamin to pick up all the pretzels from the floor and I need Zoë to empty the dishwasher. We also need to clean the bathrooms because we haven't done that yet this week."

Miriam volunteered for the basement bathroom, Benjamin said he'd do the middle floor, and I took the top (because Rachel was already gone off to Young Women's for a temple trip).

So Miriam and I went off to clean our respective bathrooms and Zoë and Benjamin went off to play.

I came downstairs after scrubbing the tub, cleaning the toilet inside and out, wiping down the counters (et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) and nothing in the kitchen had changed. So I called Benjamin and Zoë upstairs and I dangled that carrot again and told them that it wasn't too late to not go swimming. They got repentant very fast and started doing their kitchen jobs and then Benjamin started on his bathroom (I don't even have very high standards for him when he cleans the bathroom; just a mild freshening up of the joint).

Miraculously they managed to finish their jobs before Daddy came home, and were in their swimsuits ready to go before it was time to leave for the pool. So Grandpa sent them down to the basement to play so that they wouldn't drive us all crazy with their excitement.

They were down there for maybe five minutes—and we have so much for them to do: Lego, dollhouse stuff, trains, a toy kitchen, a toy house, a roller coaster, hopscotch, a car mat, dress ups, books.

Were they doing any of that? No. No, they weren't.

They were jumping on the bed in Grandpa's office, which might be overlook-able but we already had an incident involving the spare bed in Grandpa's office on Sunday and reviewed the rule of the basement, which—admittedly complicated—is to stay out of Grandpa's office unless expressly invited inside by Grandpa himself.

I was...livid. Perhaps more angry than I should have been but, honestly, I can't let every incident go with a slap on the wrist.

I pulled Benjamin back into the house, tore the flip flops from his feet (seemed logical at the time), and fumed about what we could possibly do to punish him.

"Why would you do that?" I raged. "We just talked about this!!"

"Well, Riley wanted to go in there..." he said.

"I don't care what Riley does. I care what you do. Riley's behaviour does not excuse your behaviour. Riley is four. You are almost seven. You should be the one setting the example, not the one going along with whatever the babies wants to do!" I went on quite the diatribe (this is a truncated lecture, trust me). "Why can't you just behave!?!?!?"

"I was tempted," Benjamin simpered.

"Oh, you were tempted? Well, in that case I guess you don't need to be punished!"


"NO! Not really! There will definitely be a punishment!"

"You'll just stay home while everyone else goes swimming," Andrew said definitively, coming down the stairs looking equally wrathful.

"NOOOOOO!" I wailed, literally almost on the brink of tears. "Because then my choices are to either stay at home with Benjamin or take both of the babies* swimming by myself and I don't want to do either of those things!"

"Ooo...kay..." Andrew said, trying to navigate the very choppy waters of an emotional wife versus recalcitrant child. "Then we can all go swimming...but how will we punish Benjamin?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "But we will."

It came to me on the way to the car.

"We will all go to the pool," I explained. "We will all shower off before entering the pool (because we are a family of rule followers). And then everyone will get into the pool—everyone except for Benjamin. Benjamin will watch us all swim on the side of the pool, wet and shivering."

So that's what we did.

Zoë joined him for the last three minutes of his sentence.

And then we let them both into the pool. We swam, we played, we laughed.

I left Andrew with both of the babies* and went down the waterslide with Benjamin and Miriam. The pool was pretty empty so we were able to just go down and then hustle up the stairs to go again.

I gave Benjamin a few minutes of a swimming workshop; he's getting pretty good.

We floated around in the lazy river.

And then it was time to go home. And I just hope that those forty-five minutes of playing together was enough to offset the few minutes back at home where I flipped my lid at Benjamin.

I don't regret punishing him by making him sit on the side of the pool (cold and wet) while everyone else was swimming. But I do regret yelling at him so much.

I don't know how to make us not drive each other quite so bonkers, but I have a few ideas.

One thought is to get a trampoline because I've thought to myself multiple times a day for countless days in a row that if I only had a room that he could bounce around inside of to his heart's delight without anything around to break or bump into that my life would improve tenfold.

It took me more days of imagining this "room" than I'd care to admit to realize that my brain was describing a trampoline.

Trampolines are dangerous, I suppose (but, like, so is jumping on the bed—my sister broke her arm jumping on the bed but we had a trampoline growing up and 0% of us ever broke anything on it (Andrew's family, meanwhile, had...three...broken arms on the trampoline?)) and I've heard whispers about how they affect your house insurance, but it's definitely something we're considering looking into because my only other idea for how to make if for Benjamin not drive me quite so bonkers is for him to magically start minding his momma.

Or magically turning his momma into an angel of patience.

But I'm not very good at magic (and I feel like I was patient today and that I waved a whole lot of carrots in his face before tossing the carrots out in favour of a—very metaphorical—stick).

So, either tell me how much you love your trampoline. Or give me other ideas on how to get through this stage. I'm all ears.

(Also, I realize that spilling pretzels all over the kitchen and jumping on the bed in Grandpa's office doesn't sound like a very terrible afternoon...but on top of all sorts of other chaos (both Benjamin-bred and otherwise), it was a bit much).

* Zoë often falls into the category of "baby," which she hates. I guess we'll have to stop calling her that soon considering she's very nearly four years old. But in this case "baby" was an umbrella term for "non-swimmer." She's pretty good at getting around in her Puddle Jumper (fearless, actually) and I took it off her the last time we went swimming and asked her to float on her back and she just...did...without even thinking that it might be tricky. So maybe she can swim. BUT MY HANDS ARE FULL and I don't want her to drown so she's keeping the Puddle Jumper on until I can be sure of it.

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