Parenting is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. The challenges you face when they are babies are huge physical challenges: learning to function on massive sleep deprivation, sore backs and shoulders from carrying someone around all day, etc...then, they start to get older....and smarter....and you not only have someone who depends on you for many, if not all, day to day needs (buckling into car seats, serving meals, bathing, brushing hair, brushing teeth, wiping poop off butts...you get the picture) but someone who is learning (more quickly than you could ever have imagined) how to challenge your authority. On the logical side of your brain you know, as does every other person who doesn't have to be the one playing the constant mind games with them all day, that this is a healthy--hell, an even ENCOURAGING quality in a small person. It means they are becoming strong individuals and are testing waters and boundaries....as they should, of course. The exhausting part of being their parent though, is that you have the honor of being the one they get to test everything out on because they trust you and know that you will love them no matter what they do to you. It's honestly shocking and, if you are in the right mind-set, pretty impressive to witness their determination and rapidly developing manipulation skills.
Sometimes I get this feeling that we are playing a demented game of chicken with Zoe. There was one night about a month ago when she came into our room at 3am wanting to sleep in our bed. We banned this practice a while ago, due to the fact that she is a COMPLETE bed hog. When we put Owen in her room, we put a sleeping bag on our floor so that if he woke her up crying, she could come sleep in our room, but sack out on the floor next to the bed instead of in it. It worked like a charm for a really long time, but suddenly that night she decided it would NOT do. We stood our ground and she pushed the limits for an hour and a half. Yes, if you do the math that means it lasted until 5:30am...actually if you do the math it's 4:30am but I'm a strung out parent and have been thinking all this time that I'd endured this behavior for one and a half hours. My brother (the actuary) just pointed out to me after reading this though, that 3am-5:30am is two and a half hours! Yay me! Anyway, after TWO and a half hours, she finally gave in and went to sleep on her sleeping bag. The journey to that magical point in the wee hours of the morning involved every angle you can imagine (on our end, anyway---her side of the argument held firm at screaming and crying pretty much the whole time)...reasoning with, sympathy for and finally threatening her. It resulted in the biggest punishment of her entire 3 1/2 year life: No TV the next day, no swimming pool the next time she asked, no participating in "Water Days" (a weekly summer Family Housing activity) the next morning and no two-wheeler for a week. After we took the two-wheeler away for a week, I started threatening to take one of her other favorite bikes away and the second I said "1", she hit the deck like there was machine gun fire in the air...I felt bad for her the next day when the realization of the punishment sunk in, but she took it like a champ. I'm so glad it happened, even though it sucked at the time because now she REALLY takes me seriously when I say "Do we have to have a conversation about your bike again?" She's not willing to call my bluff (actually, I guess it's because she knows I'm NOT bluffing) and I'm feelin' the power. I'll let you know when my reign is over, as I'm sure it will be sooner rather than later but I'm enjoying it while I have it.
She is so smart, though because although I hold the power in many ways, she is constantly finding footholds for herself. So far, I usually come out on top (don't worry, I "give" her some victories here and there) but it takes some intense stare downs sometimes. Like the other day, when we were in the car going to the grocery store, she must have said "I'm HUNGRY" 50 times, and we live 3 minutes away from the store. Since I was on my own for the weekend with both kids, I was dreading this grocery store run. As soon as we got there, I got a steak roll for Owen and a cookie for Zoe and shopped as fast as I possibly could, timing myself against the amount of snack that was left in both of their hands as we went. We made it out with snacks to spare and I gave myself a huge pat on the back and thanked both kids for being so well-behaved. As soon as we got home, I made lunch for all of us and we sat down to fill our empty bellies. Zoe took one bite of her sandwich and said "I'm done!" When I told her that couldn't be true and asked her politely to sit and eat her lunch she just said "I'm not hungry". I told her that if that were true, it must be because she had a cookie in the grocery store, so if she was going to fill her belly with treats, then I thought it best that we take a break from treats until she could learn to save room for meals as well. She calmly said "Ok, I don't want treats." I asked if she was sure that come the next day, when she asked for a treat and I said no that she wasn't going to be upset, she said "Yes, Mommy. Maybe you should write it down so we don't forget." I told her that was a brilliant idea and as I explained the concept behind a contract in as simple a way as I could, I drew one up and had her sign it.