Thursday, March 19, 2015

Desperate times...and flying by the seat of my parenting pants.

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, you know? Although I'd love to be one of those mamas (I'm sure you know some, or at least one) who never seems desperate, sometimes I am. just. that. Desperate.

Yesterday, I startled awake with a set of slimy, chubby baby fingers working their way into my mouth. The next thing I noticed was the ambient sounds of Disastrously Rude Children, already hating on each other first thing in the morning.

"You will NOT play with my things, Lucy!!"
"Oh, yes, I WILL!"
"YOU DO NOT!!"
"I WILL IF I WANT!"
"SHE WILL IF SHE WANTS!"
"You smell like POOP!"
"Well, you are STEW, Sammy!"

"Stew" is what they say now. They say it because they think I don't know that it's a stand-in for "stupid," which we don't allow them to call each other. I definitely know this. It's just that I usually let it slide. We can't actually control what they say, and they always find another way to be unkind when they really need to be.

It is still so weird to me that I'm on the other side of this, that I'm the parent and not the child who is trying to figure out how to score the most mean points and do the most damage to her brother without her parents knowing what she's doing.

(Aside, to Abram: I have no defense. I'm sorry. I was horrid at least 63% of the time.)

When I went to check on them, they wore three of the grumpiest, most unpleasant expressions I have ever seen. I encouraged kindness. Remember our "be kind" rule? Well, you're all acting like you might need a reminder about that. Remember how we treat each other with love and kindness? Ok? There is NO HITTING. We do not use our bodies to control or hurt other people. Yes? Yes. Ok. They looked unconvinced, but at least no one was screaming or smacking anyone else in the face with an empty coffee can from the recycling bin.

The uneasy ceasefire lasted approximately until I crossed the hallway and went back into my bedroom.

After I took a shower and had half a cup of coffee, I suggested they all go back to bed for five minutes so I could come wake them up again and let them start the day over.

As if their footie pajamas had cinder blocks in them, they trudged off to their rooms. I followed, Felix on my hip, pulling open the curtains, singing loudly the way my grandma always did when we spent the night at her house. Good morning to you! Good morning to you! Good morning, good morning..." I adopted a low, rumbly voice, moved Felix's arms and pretended he was singing the end with silly, operatic style. Goooood morrrrnnnning...tooooo...YOOOOOU! They giggled.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for this total morning rescue (good job! You were silly! You didn't yell! It's all better!), Sam smacked Lucy in the back of the head with his beanbag chair for trying to play with one of his stuffed planets. She screamed like a hyena who has just witnessed its hyena best friend being flattened by a speeding garbage truck and bit him hard in the shoulder.

We had not yet even made it to breakfast. The baby was crying. I felt like crying. The situation was officially desperate.

Enter the strangest parenting decision I've ever made in desperation.

Enter The Manners Wolf.


Sam's stuffed wolf, Akela, was lying in the hallway. Scooping him up with my foot, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper- where on earth do these ideas come from?- and hastily wrote his name on the front.

Sam read it, intrigued. "Manners Wolf. What does he do?"

I had no idea.

"He watches you," I told them. "He is an observer. He is looking for signs of good manners and kindness."

"Well, what do we get if we do a good job?"

I looked straight at him. "I don't know, Sam- I have no idea. I've never met a Manners Wolf before. You'll have to ask him."

Sam looked fascinated. Unbelievable. Isn't he too smart for this kind of stuff? I knew the whole idea was completely ridiculous.

To my complete amazement, this completely ridiculous idea ACTUALLY WORKED.

They stopped being rude.
They started being overly polite and helpful instead.
They were positively deferential to the stuffed wolf.
And, every few minutes, I'd say something like, "Oh, the Manners Wolf notices that people are sharing the rest of the apples!" Or "The Manners Wolf sees that Lucy got a towel to help clean up Nora's spill."

He never praised or corrected them. He didn't really pass judgment at all. He didn't do anything but sit on the table all day with his sign...the sign bearing his totally uninspiring name...and watch us, but he completely changed the climate in our house. People spoke kindly to each other. People were more patient. People helped and shared and volunteered for things that weren't their usual jobs.

There's no way to know if this can ever be replicated. I have no idea if it will work again. But on this day, in this place, doing something completely ridiculous totally saved the day. I didn't yell, not once. There were no rewards or bribes. Just the Manners Wolf, sitting on the table all day long, watching us.

I hope he comes back tomorrow.