Punishment

We’re two weeks in to a rather substantial punishment for one of the boys. I guess I should protect the guilty so let’s just say his name rhymes with helix. No phone, no laptop, no xbox for a month. A month.

Granted, I meted out that teenage death sentence in the heat of the incident but I am still of the belief it is fair for the crime. Every now and then my cold dead heart melts a little and I consider shortening the sentence but then he asks for his laptop back and my steely resolve is shored up once more.

I know the length is appropriate because last week one of his wails on not getting his laptop back was “I didn’t even hit him that hard”. He’s lucky I didn’t add another week for that one.

The weekday evening moping is deliciously excruciating involving a lot of lolling about on the lounge or the floor wrapped up in a blanket personifying misery.

But here’s the kicker, it’s SO NICE having him back when I didn’t even realise he was gone. We hang out on the lounge, tonight has been a relentless campaign on who can get in a tickle before the other one flees or, in my case, wets their pants in hysterics. There’s discussions about politics, about what he’s learning in science at school, about STUFF.

There’s two long weeks to go and I’m quite sure this week will be as hellish as the last with moaning and wailing but there’s a perverse pleasure in that anyway.

Onward.

Rage against the machine

 

A war is being raged in this house and I SHALL BE THE VICTOR!

Sure, it’s been attacking my morale, calling me to question my whole approach to parenting, undermining my confidence and lulling me into false hope with occasional ceasefires but I WILL NOT SURRENDER.

This battle happened with the stealth-like characteristics just like most battles do. A squirmish here, a negotiation there until whoomf all hell breaks loose.

On the one side is me.

On the other is a burly conglomerate of electronic devices, gaming consoles and computing devices resorting to the dirty tactics of recruiting my children in to do their tawdry work.

Since the beginning of this year there’s been the no television at night rule. Primarily because I couldn’t take the clanging of cymbals it resembled in my head but also because homework is now a serious deal for some and silence – or the illusion of such – is growing in importance.

For as long as I can remember there has been a blanket no console games (xBox, Playstation, Wii) during the week.

Technically there has been a no-technology (ie computer) after 7pm rule as well but that has been tricky to police as I try to clean up from dinner and deal with all the other stuff raising 100 children involves.

But the console and computer games saw this weakness and have been slowly creeping over these battlelines for several months, occasionally more aggressively through the form of tantrums and fighting and more subversively through good behaviour and reward systems.

The casualties of this war have – as can now be seen with the benefit of hindsight – sibling infighting, poor communication between comrades and combatants, lowered tolerance, disappearance of empathy and the rise of the Reactive Parenting Technique*, aka yelling. A lot.

The situation reached such a point I was daydreaming of just walking out of the house – many times – over the course of a weekend. I was miserable. The boys behaviour to each other and to me (and Chef and Grandmama) was appalling.

So I tasered them. Metaphorically of course. There’s no way I’m going to prison for this lot.

No, this was my taser: THAT IS IT. NO XBOX, NO PLAYSTATION, NO WII. AT ALL. INDEFINITELY. THAT MEANS UNTIL I SAY SO.

(It annoys me how you have to explain yourself while yelling – it’s like slamming the soft-close drawer.)

 

I knew they knew I was serious by the complete lack of response. This is also known as “shock”.

 

Of course, they found a loophole and moved their frontline to the computer to satiate their need for mindless bright colours moving across the screen with some awful muzak. I conceded this ground until last Saturday morning when Jasper reacted with the equivalent verocity as you would if you’d have a limb ripped from your body by a speeding car.

 

This time the assault went something like this: THAT IS IT – THE COMPUTER IS NOW ADDED TO THE BAN!

 

Shock AND Awe boys, shock and awe.

 

 

And then something happening. I think it was because all bets were off, all cards were on the table, there was no room for negotiation, no trade-offs, it was a total, complete fullstop.

They didn’t ask for it. They just got on with … living.

Within 24 hours there was play, sibling jibes taken with good humour, GAMES and all the rest.

With each passing day the peace becomes more assured. Bouyant even.

I would say that the past two afternoon-evenings are pretty close to my idea of perfect.

I am not shitting you. The results have been nothing if not breath-taking.

But I know this won’t last. As this becomes the new normal something will creep back in or something will step up and suddenly I’ll be having to re-evaluate all over again.

I know a blanket ban on these things is not sustainable. For these guys computers, console games and some form of connectivity is as much part and parcel of their day as matchbox cars, barbie, wendy walker, scalextric and strawberry shortcake were for us.

So where to?

1. I’m going to ride this baby for as long as I can

2. We’re reigniting Team Berry and as part of that bringing in a weekly family meeting. The idea behind that is regaining control and giving the boys a heads up on what is expected of them. So we’re going to look at what is happening during the week for each of us and then discuss which Family Value we’re going to work on that week. Remember our Family Values?:

THEN we let them know the consequences if that Family Value is not adhered to, the first punishment being something like no dessert/ice cream, the second having far more gravitas (so IF using rights are reinstated for the console games on the weekends they will lose that).

 

So there you have it. I tell you, this parenting gig is a rollercoaster and a half. Just when you think you’ve nutted it out aWHOOSHka it all goes to hell in a handbasket and you have to re-evaluate everything you’re doing.

I’ve been really buffeted by the last few weeks and was at quite the ebb over it.

But here we are, a new strategy at the fore.

 

ONWARD!

 

 

 

* The Reactive Parenting Technique is that perfected by our parents’ generation – you know:

Parent: put that down

Child: NO

Parent: I asked you to put that down

Child: NO I DON’T WANT TO

Parent: GILBERT I asked you to put that down. PUT IT DOWN NOW.

Child: YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!

Parent: *SMACK* DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO ME LIKE THAT. GO TO YOUR ROOM

CHILD:  NO! I HATE YOU.

… and so on and so forth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver linings and all that

So yeah, last week kicked my butt big time. One of those weeks I’ll look back on with a shake of the head and a loud exhale of air.

But there was good in there too. The phone call from a Sydney Children’s Hospital social worker who is going to action some things for me.

The most ridiculous care package of magazines, a DVD of the first episode of the Australian Grand Designs, a card of kind words and another CD tackling something else I’m dealing with from the lovely Leisl.

I won a magazine subscription over at Woogsworld.

I joined the crew of Boombahs over at The Fatty Boombah Club and decided enough self-loathing is enough and if I am that fucking miserable about my weight to go and do something about it. I lost 4.5kgs in one week.  I posted about that here. I have never lost that much weight in one week ever. I don’t expect to ever repeat it either, but it was the start I needed. 

You know that first big meeting at the Pain Clinic and how something had unsettled me? I had the follow-up meeting today. It went for over an hour, talking about Oscar, things that we find challenging, changes I have seen (this was really interesting because there have been loads) and some ideas to help us as well as talking about other agencies who might be able to assist. I had walked away from the first meeting feeling judged, that we didn’t fit their criteria or something, that there’d be a big red flag on our file as a family in crisis or failing to cope.

So, at the end of our meeting today, when the psychologist and physiotherapist said to me that what they see is an incredibly capable mother who adores her children and is very skilled at identifying problems and in-turn problem solving I was, well, I was really touched. The psychologist said that after the initial meeting their view was that we were doing such a great job and that their role would be to simply provide some icing on an already well-baked cake.

Bloody typical. I walk away from a meeting feeling judged and inadequate and meanwhile the real situation is the complete opposite.

These guys are there as another resource for us and that is so bloody refreshing.

Sunday saw us finally return to some level of business-as-usual with Jasper having an extra dance practice for the upcoming end-of-year concert and Felix having his best mate’s birthday party to attend.

Jasper and dance. He loves it. Sunday’s extra session was unique in that parents were allowed to stay in the room. It seems a strange quirk of dance school etiquette that parents are not allowed to stay in the room for the whole lesson. Weirdos. Anyway, I’ve kinda got a total girl crush on his teacher, Miss Jen. She can totally wear those weird not-quite-harem pants with her metallic multi-coloured hightop Adidas sneakers, kicky singlet top and incredibly good haircut. She is awesome with the boys (can you even imagine getting 25 5-7 year old boys to all face the same way let alone do dance moves in unison?), seems to be having fun and well yes, girl crush.

So it stands to reason I totally embarrassed myself on Sunday, going up to her following the lesson and telling her how amazing she was and how much I appreciated her energy and effort. Yep. Creepy.

Felix’s best mate was going to have a pool party for his 11th birthday. Of course if it had been on Saturday it would have been sensational w/ high 20s and crystal clear skies (until the thunderstorms). But it was on Sunday. When it was about 12 and rainy. So they had a change of venue and held it at the gymnastics centre they are heavily involved with. It now appears Jasper and Grover will be starting gymnastics lessons. And also – Oscar and Felix did a gym program at another centre from when they were wee until around Year 3. Oscar hated the foam pits, freaking out if he ended up in one, paralysed in fear as to the sensation of it and how the hell he’d get out. So you can imagine Chef and my shock when there he was on Sunday, bounding down the trampoline and into the foam pit, AND climbing out over and over again. Progress comes in the strangest of forms. 
These delightful images are evidence of my foray into the world of hooking. Also known as crochet. I’m rather enjoying it as I can now produce a square in a couple of hours tops. And you know me – always in need of instant gratification.
***** 
It appears that despite a week of antibiotics Grover and Jasper have been hit with some cold/flu/croup bug and indeed my tonsilitis returned with a vengeance today. We’re all back at the GP tomorrow. This will be my fourth round of antibiotics in about five weeks. Wicked.
*****
Onward!

12 years

So I started this whole post with pictures of Oscar through the years and the whole grim triumphant (of sorts) journey that it’s been since he was born all those years ago on 25 February 1998 and well, SNORE.

Instead I thought I’d give you 12 things I’ve learnt in the last 12 years because let’s face it, it is all about me.

1. You will never get enough sleep in the early years of your children’s life. In fact, your sleeping patterns are basically fucked for at least the next 20 years. Get over it.

2. Your husband is your partner in parenting. It is not a competition (as to who got less/more sleep, who does more/less).

3. You must always try and find the humorous side. This is particularly important when a) the family is struck down with some dreaded lurgy that involves having to handle/smell/touch/deal with way too many bodily fluids that are not your own or b) it has been a particularly stressful moment due to multiple children having monumental meltdowns simultaneously or c) it’s 3am and no-one’s getting any sleep because the baby is screaming and no-one knows why and wow who knew you could be this tired and I could really go a cheeseburger.

4. Don’t ever say you don’t have the time to do something for yourself. Organise it and it will happen.

5. Schedule everything. Sex, exercise, time alone, you name it. If you don’t schedule it then suddenly your husband is looking forlorn and you’re inexplicably narky. Well, more narky than usual.

6. Learn the phrase ‘this too shall pass‘ and remember to repeat it, out loud if necessary, as a mantra when the going gets tough. That can be when you can’t make dinner fast enough and children are melting faster than the polar ice cap; when you literally have no money to buy food, petrol or pay for the school excursion; when your child’s most funnest game in the world is pulling every single DVD/book/toy off the shelf/out of the box and then walking away; when one of your children breaks one of your last remaining things of emotional or financial significance; when your kids decide to put their ride on cars through a car wash and use motor oil as the shampoo; or when every surface in the house is deemed worthy of an artwork, in a Sharpie.

7. You are not alone. Pick up the phone. Get out of the house.

8. If ‘it’s’ not working, change ‘it’. ‘It’ being how you’re trying to teach your kids to be nice to each other, or right from wrong, or that the toilet is a much better place to take a dump than the back verandah, or that sleeping through the night in their own bed is an absolute trip, a fun trip! with fairies and unicorns and rainbows and chocolate! lots and lots of chocolate!

9. Pick your battles and turn off the television. Oh and always be willing to say you’re sorry and/or admit you were wrong. Even to your kids.

10. Kids do this ridiculous thing where not only do they get bigger they develop, as in, their own character and opinion and ideas. This can catch you off guard. Just accept you have to change your parenting as your kids get older. It makes everything easier.

11. Sit on the floor. Avert your eyes from how filthy it is down there and play a goddamn game with your kids. Yes, 28 games of Connect4 when they don’t even play it right will make your brain bleed from your ears but your kids will love it. That’s right, the train-track could be better designed and that’s way too many carriages for one engine to pull and yep it is always going to fall off the track on that corner for that exact reason but let.it.go. OH come now, just how many marbles can there really be in Kerplunk! See #6.

12. The activities that you find the most painful/boring/least rewarding/intellectually debilitating will be the ones your kids love the most. See #6.

Crazy zebras are on the loose!

Can we all nod and agree on the cold hard reality that pretty much the entire decade (cut me some slack, two decades is just too depressing to contemplate) from the age of around 8 to 18 is not about becoming and being a teenager but about being a tormentor.

While parents are drip-fed the torment in the form of constant requests for expensive toys and designer clothes and complicated dinners with a splash of impressive tantruming, door-slamming and wall-thumping and a smattering of impressive displays of just how far they brain has yet to develop, tormentors store most of their tricks for their siblings.

Think the screaming of statements of fact like:
STOP LOOKING AT ME!
WHAT?!
GOD (insert sibling name here)
YOU’RE SO ANNOYING
WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO DO WHAT I’M DOING???
MAAAAAAHHHHHHUUUUUUUUM, (insert sibling’s name here)’s ANNOYING ME (like their behaviour and presence is just so delightfully scintillating and enjoyable)

Cast your mind back to physical signs of love and affection such as:
– the shove just because you were walking past
– the rumble that was so borderline assault you still wear the scars, mental and physical
– the face in your face telling you to get out of their face even though they just thrust their face into yours not visa versa
– the sharing of some food stuff whereby you get 1/16th and they get the rest but then collapse in a flail of ‘how unfairs’ when your parent gave you something else to make up for their mathematical remedialcy
– the.relentless.teasing.

Is it any wonder that by the time we reach adulthood and think our parents are completely lame they probably are after years of soul cobbling from enduring all this and trying to mediate it for years and years on end.

It is actually quite amazing that more parents are not bitter lunatics looking for revenge when, after all that they watch their offspring suddenly discover they quite like each other and start going to the pub or nightclub together and start secreting rolling-eyes and particular faces at each other when parents try to strike up a conversation about what they’ve been up to.

You know the parents who are getting their own back? Those mums who go clubbing with their daughters and dance around their handbag on the dance floor like it’s 1999 that’s who.

It is in the framework of this parental experience that I share with you the following incident.

Felix is particularly skilled at the sibling taunt and torment with the final scene an impressive display of self-righteous indignation along the lines of, ‘BUT HE WAS ANNOYING ME’. This is always so perfectly in proportion to what has gone before when his sibling has basically entered the room after a shower to get dressed.

Following several months, nay years, of Felix carrying on like this and many many many discussions with him (both in the heat of the incident and at the far more effective time of later one) about how it isn’t acceptable and how if he is feeling particularly frustrated with a sibling (let’s face it, 98 per cent of the time we’re talking about Oscar) there are strategies and actions he can engage to help him.

This of course results in a period of time varying from three minutes to even a couple of weeks of marked improvement in sibling relations until we begin the steady decline once more to another Ground Zero of Screamy McScreamy Tormentor Pants.

So imagine this. The regular nightly event called showering is taking place. Felix has finished and Oscar is getting in. This swap over coupled with the cleaning of teeth can basically never transpire without some form of contest, conflict or contact. Clearly, the idea of simply getting your towel and letting your brother pass is clearly so laughable, so ludicrous I’m not sure why I struggle with it being such the warzone it is.

On this particular evening I was actually in a good, even humorous, mood. So I cajoled Felix and for about the first time ever actually used a swear word while talking to him:

Me: “Felix, you are, what many people in the real world would call, a shit stirrer.”

Felix: “What does that mean?”  

Me: “Well, imagine if you will all the turds sitting in the bottom of the toilet bowl. They’re happily minding their own stinky business, sitting their, stinking it up and generally feeling OK with the world. Then along comes Felix with a big wooden stick and stirs them all around.” (Imagine this with me doing quite impressive actions and Oscar finding it hilarious while in the shower) “So all the happy little turds suddenly are all ‘WOAH! What’s going on, what’s happening, I’m feeling all weird” (Imagine some impressive jazz hands with crazy hands and whole body conniptions that a turd must feel when flushed down the s-bend)

Felix: Wailing, flailing, storming off to his room, “NOBODY LOVES ME!!!!!” (cue door slam)

Me: Not being one to shy away from tormenting my children because people, revenge? such a cure, go and force the door open. Sticking my head around the corner I go “ba ba ba BOO!”. Several times.

There is general laughing through his indignant tears at this stage.

I force my way in.

Me: “Felix, you know I love you more than I can ever ever express to you, but there are times when you have to accept that it is your behaviour, not that of your brothers, which is causing the incident. What was it that Oscar was doing that made you so angry?”

Felix: “He was annoying me.”

Me: “No. That was how he made you feel. What was he actually doing that made you feel annoyed.”

Felix: “He was looking at me.”

Me: on the inside: belting him around the head with a dead stinky fish because OH.MY.GOD.
Me: to Felix: “Right. And instead of yelling and screaming and pushing him, did it occur to you to simply turn around? Or perhaps leave the bathroom area?

Felix: silence.

Me: “Felix, I know that a lot of things Oscar does and how Oscar is are very frustrating and annoying for you. There are aspects of Oscar that I find really frustrating and annoying. Do you know how hard that is? For a parent? To admit that about their child? But you know what? That is who he is. That was how he was born. And – as we have talked about many times before – you simply can not change people to suit you. BUT you can change how you respond and interact with them. So what are some of the things you can do?

Felix: “Ask him to stop.”

Me: “Yes, what else?”

Felix: “Move away.”

Me: “Yes, what else?” realising that yes, this child truly is the son of the father.

Felix: “Ask a grown up for help”

Imagine fireworks, fanfare!

Me: “Exactly. So how about we develop a code word or a saying which you can use when Oscar is getting in your face or you feel like you’re about to lose it with him so I can come and help you out?”

And, not a word of a lie, the i.n.s.t.a.n.t. reply from Felix?

Felix: “How about ‘Crazy zebras are on the loose’.”

And so, dear friends, life goes on.