Friday, June 3, 2011

thanks, we'll be here all month

When you live with people, they get to see all sides of you.  When your kids live with you while you live with people, it's just that much more fun because everyone gets to enjoy the show when the kids decide to act out.  And with a bigger audience, some kids decide to go all out.

For a few weeks I have been meaning to write a post about this dynamic and about what I am seeing more clearly about other folks' parenting choices now that I live with my inlaws.  If I ever wrote that post, I would say something about how important it is to remember when that toddler/preschooler is hopping around and squawking during church, or cackling while they yank rows of books off the shelves at the library, or smacking their mom in the face, that you don't know that kid.  If the parent seems less than interested in intervening and only pats their back or whispers to hush, maybe there is more to the story. 

Maybe: someone in the family--maybe even the child--is recovering from a serious illness and the parents can't bring them to crack down very hard on their misbehavior.  Maybe: if the parent intervenes, the kid knows that while they are full view of others, they could get away with much worse and they intend to.  The parent also knows that ignoring them is the best survival technique.  So maybe it's the kid's fault and maybe it's the parent's.  Maybe: the child is developmentally delayed in some way that is not obvious to you.  Maybe: dad is out of town and mom is just trying to survive and not lose her mind, or her sh*!.  Maybe: there is a crisis in the family.  Maybe: they just got back from a trip and the kid is trying to make sure he is still bound by the same rules now that vacation is over.  Maybe: that parent doesn't know what the heck to do or how to parent this kid (or any other) and this is the best they can do.  Maybe: they will ruin that kid's life (they might).

The point is: unless you have lived with that kid since they were born, you don't know him/her as well as you think you do.  The even bigger point: you don't have to parent that child.

My son, the four year-old, has not yet completely outgrown either his naps or his toddler years.  In the meantime, if he doesn't get an afternoon rest, I know to expect an evening of...mischief (there's a nice cute word).  The dinner hour was uneventful so I was betting that the pyjama-and-teeth-brushing routine wouldn't be.  It's hard to really explain what he was doing, but I tried to later when I described the scene to my father-in-law.  As a starting point, you should know that I know better than to leave him unattended when he gets like this so everything that happened was happening right in front of me.  And he wasn't even trying to hide it, because it's like he had lost his darling little four-year-old mind.

Imagine that I hand him his toothbrush and he starts brushing with one hand while the other one starts yanking open drawers and rifling through and pulling open jewelry cases and tossing things around the bathroom and I say, "stop doing that" so then he rushes over to the toilet paper roll and yanks on the tissue until the whole roll has unraveled onto the floor and I say, "clean that up" and then I finish his teeth for him because he is obviously too manic to do it himself so then he starts compulsively flushing the toilet over and over again.  And then, on the way down the hall to his room, he quickly yanks open the hall closet and starts shoving things down the laundry chute (just for fun or to piss me off, I don't know and because he's so far beyond being rational it's hard to tell).  Up until that point, I was real proud for keeping my cool but right then I seriously considered grabbing him by the shoulders ans yelling: "If I become a drug addict, it will be all your fault!"

But just thinking about that (and my inlaws' reaction to it from downstairs) helped me to quietly laugh through the rest of his bedtime shenanigans and retain that idea only as a mental image.
"He gets like this when he's exhausted," I told my father-in-law once I got downstairs, and then without thinking I said, "he'll be asleep in five minutes" and regretted it immediately because now I've made that not happen. 

I grabbed a beer, my father-in-law and I got settled in the den and talked Roman history for awhile because that's what he likes to read these days.  There were little feet running through the house but I ignored them for the moment.  When I finally did go up to check on him, it was all quiet and although I couldn't see him under the covers I figured the little guy had finally dozed off.  Maybe he was hiding under the bed or in the closet when he finally fell asleep?  If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

After getting distracted chatting for a few minutes with my mother-in-law, I resumed the search.  After all, we wouldn't want the boy to wake up in the middle of the night, in a dark closet or something, and freak out, right?  (Among other reasons you should probably take the time to find your lost kid.)  So I looked under his bed, around the bed, in the closet, in his sister's room, in my room, in my inlaws' room, the laundry chute--I even checked the bathtubs.  There was no point in calling his name because, even if he were still awake somewhere, I already knew he wouldn't answer.  That's just the way he is.  The front door was locked from the inside and there was no way he could've gotten out a different way unless he launched himself out a window so I checked those, too.  After ten minutes, I got the inlaws in on the search and it took us all another five to find him.

Having focused on traditional enclosed hiding places, I neglected to check the wide-out-in-the-open places where in fact he had been all along.  Under a rocking chair in the dining room, watching us hunt for him and hoping I would get around to changing the poopy diaper he hadn't told me about.  There's some four year-old logic for ya. 

The best option, I quickly calculated, was to keep quiet.  If I yelled or showed how angry I was, he'd just want to do pull this same stunt again sometime.  Anyway I had started to get a little scared so I just said, "Don't do that again, we were really worried about you" and he seems a little remorseful, sort of.  Later, when I got downstairs again, I plopped onto the couch and picked up my beer again.  "If I become a drug addict, you'll all know why" I said out loud. 

Who cares what the grandparents think.  Tomorrow I'm having that beer early.


  1. Well. I am totally laughing AT you right now. And all those Maybes? I hope they don't all apply to you right at this moment.

    We were just at a birthday party and were introduced to a new friend with two small children. I see them occasionally in church and more often than not her boy has a really, really, really hard time in church. From the outside he looks perfectly fine, seems old enough to control himself, etc., etc. While being distracted by him during my Mass I occasionally hear my mother's voice tsking in my head, asking why she can't control her kid. Turns out he has severe developmental delays, and while he looks 7, he acts 3 on a good day, 2ish on a bad. My big reminder not to judge!

    You think I would know better by now, what with my kiddos teaching me lessons every. single. day. What I have learned is to keep my judgyness in my own head, saying ugly things out loud is too awful. Someday I'll manage to quiet the voice in my head... until then, i'll just keep learning lessons.

    And I firmly believe in the cocktail hour. You should have that beer BEFORE the bedtime routine. Unless you're a mean drunk, then maybe wait.

  2. No, no, those aren't MY maybes, they are just some thoughts I had while watching a particularly misbehaved child in church a few weeks ago. I was alone, having dropped mine off at Sunday School and I found myself so easily jumping into the role of Judger when it came to the children of others. Yuck.