After a really challenging Zoe day yesterday, I woke up with a new resolve to relax a little and stop taking everything she does so seriously. This stage she is in is relentlessly challenging and I was starting to let it bring me down. It's hard when you feel yourself going in that direction because it never helps the situation. The kids sense you are tense and on edge and they keep trying to nudge you over the brink. To be more fair though, I think it's that they sense your unease, and it makes THEM uneasy too and more likely to act up. Still though it's hard to think that rationally when every single button of yours is being crammed into the "turbo" setting every day for days at a time.
Yesterday was sort of the pinnacle in the most recent run of "Mommy V Zoe" match. After a LOVELY anniversary breakfast out with Nathan (thanks Jessica!!), we got home, picked up the kids and went about our day. Everything was going great until Zoe and I went to the grocery store during Owen's nap. We were fine in the fruit and vegetable aisle but the peanut butter aisle was were it all went sour. We were passing by the machine that grinds the peanut butter right there for you and she asked if we could get some. I told her it wasn't on the list, but maybe next week we would get some. She stood there pouting and I pushed the cart down the aisle a bit, just out of her view (this approach usually works wonders as she thinks I'm about to walk away from her and runs to catch up). She wasn't following though, so I was giving it a few beats before giving in and going back to peek at her. Just before that moment, though I heard the peanut butter grinder GRINDING and smoke immediately started coming out of my ears. I stormed back there to find her holding the little container, filling it with peanut butter. I snatched it away from her and picked her right up and put her in the seat of the cart. I wish I could say this little alpha showing was the end of it, but you will probably not be shocked to hear it was just the beginning. The rest of the shopping trip was a mix of threats, whining, "well-that's-what-happens-when-you..."'s and kicking (her kicking me of course, not the other way around). Needless to say I was livid on the ride home.
When we got home, I told Nathan we had to have a serious discussion and we sent Zoe out on our patio and told her to not move from the doorstep until we told her to come in. When we brought her back in, we told her to sit at the table as we stood next to her and told her that because of her behavior that day and lately in general, we were cancelling her birthday party at the Carousel of Happiness. She asked us where we would have it and we said we weren't having a party with friends. We would have cake at home with just us and that would be it. She quietly said "But, you'll give me lots of hugs and kisses, right?" and I BARELY hung on to my melting heart to squeak out "Well, yes of course but no party with friends is what we're saying." This is the point in which Nathan and I fully expected her to get completely upset and, after letting her be upset for a few seconds we would tell her she could earn her party back by getting 20 beans in her bean jar and we could all move on with our day. Of course, though in keeping with the fact that kids almost NEVER do what you expect them to in these situations, she was quiet for a few seconds, looked me straight in the eye and said "Okay!".......complete silence....before I finally said quietly "Okay, then".... The look Nathan and I gave each other said nothing other than "Well, what NOW?"
As I washed the dishes downstairs, I listened to Nathan and the kids talking upstairs and I was racking my brain trying to think of what to do next. We didn't really intend to cancel her party, but she really didn't seem to care and we had meant to give her a really huge punishment but if she didn't care then it wasn't a really big punishment. I was at a total loss. I do know from experience that it's better to take away something more immediate like a toy or something, but the party just seemed big enough that I had been sure it would work. That's when Nathan's genius kicked in when it must have dawned on him that even though she's excited about the party, it's the actual carousel that's most important to her. I heard him casually say to her, as she was misbehaving in some way up there with him, "Well, I guess we really shouldn't go to the carousel at all anymore" and, that did it. She immediately started wailing: "Not EVER again?!" "Like, never in my whole entire LIFE??!!" She came downstairs to me and said "Mommy, I'm not going to play Candyland or anything with you anymore if you don't let me go to the carousel not ever again in my whole entire life." to which I said "Well, you know honey the thing is that I play Candyland with you because YOU like to so..." The poor thing, we had to let her squirm a few minutes before telling her about having the chance to earn the carousel back (including her party of course--I mean we do have a deposit down for cripes sake) and we were back on track.
All day after that she was one puddle after another and even managed to scrape her big toe so badly that I wasn't sure for a few minutes whether or not we'd have to get her to the hospital for stitches (we didn't). Bedtime was even a mess as she wailed to have me put her to bed when it was Daddy's turn. To top it off, she was crying while asleep and couldn't stop until I woke her up to talk her into laying on the sleeping bag in our room. (Not night terror crying, just....sad crying. She's been doing that off and on ever since school started and it's bumming me out big time, even though she never remembers it in the morning) So, when I went to bed I was feeling pretty crummy about how the day with Zoe had gone and I couldn't help thinking that my short tempered attitude lately, while a direct result of her defiance these days, is not helping ease that tension and since I'm the adult in the situation it's my responsibility to try and change the tide.
Anyway, I decided this morning (or more likely at some point during my tossing and turning last night) that I was going to make a huge effort to just lighten up. I walked into my bathroom to brush my teeth and looked at the daily calendar we have in there. It's called "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson and it's based on a book of the same title that he wrote. I didn't read the book but when Nathan and I made our annual post-New Year's trip to Barnes and Noble to get our 2011 calendars, this one jumped out at me and I convinced Nathan to get it. Low and behold it's been kind of a dud. The stuff in it is fine, but not exactly inspiring or very original so I humbly admit that Nathan gets to make the choice next year. This morning, though I ripped off yesterday's page to find exactly what I needed in that moment:
"Your life will always be filled with challenges. It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway."
So, what else could I do but take a deep breath and start over....I have to say today was a MUCH better day.