Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad Mommy - A Cautionary Tale

A couple weekends ago, the kids bounded into my bedroom one morning practically chanting, "What trip are we going on today?"

No trips planned. And I said as much. But their repetition seeped its way into my sleepy mind. It wasn't quite 6:00 a.m. yet. Through my morning haze, I calculated what I needed to accomplish and offered, "Well, we could go see Santa today. . . ." The rest of my sentence was kind of lost beneath their cheers.

Once the excitement calmed down a bit, I explained more. You see, we had to go grocery shopping. And Jason was still sleeping. And two kids grocery shopping is, well, let's just say it's not my favorite thing in the world. On my list of things I could probably live without doing, it's higher than taking the trash out in a down-pour, but lower than emptying the dish washer. So I made a fatal error. I predicated the Santa trip on good behavior grocery shopping. This was an error for two reasons: 1. I wanted to take them to see Santa and 2. I feared I was setting them up for failure-- riling them up with such an exciting promise.

To combat the potential disaster, I started our shopping excursion with a trip to Starbucks, where each child was awarded a cup of chocolate or vanilla milk and a slice of banana walnut bread. And off to the grocery store we went.

They were mostly good. But there were some issues. No one screamed bloody murder in the aisle. Marcie didn't insist we visit the restroom. No one knocked the grocery cart over on top of their sibling. No one ran down the aisle out of site requiring me to go chasing after. Sounds relatively successful, right? The thing was, they constantly whined. And fought. And provoked each other. And when Marcie climbed out of the cart, Casey threw a mini-fit because I wouldn't put him in it. But nothing that would really justify skipping a visit with Santa.

At the end of the trip, we pushed the cart to the car, and Casey began banging it against the back. I asked him to stop. He ignored me. I asked again. No response. I began counting. Still nothing. Finally, I reminded him of our pending trip to visit Santa. No good. Instead of complying, he turned in sing-songy "Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!" voice and began imitating me, repeating everything I was saying:

"Casey, knock it off." Casey, knock it off.
"I'm serious." I'm serious.
"Get in the car." YOU get in the car.
"We won't go see Santa." We won't go see Santa.

Finally, I physically placed him in the car. At which point, Marcie immediately turned to me and told me she was being good and could she go see Santa. "We'll see," I mumbled, and stuffed her in her carseat. Where she immediately turned to Casey and said in that same sing-songy, annoying tone: "I get to see Santa and you don't."

Casey wasn't going to sit still with that. "Nuh uh," he replied. "You're not going either." And you can imagine what happened next:

"Yes I am!" Marcie shouted.
"No you're not!" Casey screamed back at her.
And so it went, back and forth, as I placed the grocery bags in the car. Until Marcie hauled off and whacked Casey.

And then Santa was no longer an option. I felt immediately sad-- like they'd robbed me of the experience of watching them with Santa.

Dejected, I climbed into the car and turned on the ignition. It was only 9:00 in the morning and I already felt defeated and beat down. And then the pummeling really began. The afternoon before, when Casey and Marcie were arguing and hitting each other, I confiscated television-watching and Wii-playing privileges for the evening. Casey responded by telling me he wanted to move out, and when he got old enough could he please have a car so he could leave us? It was hard not to laugh, but I admired his attempt at problem-solving anyway.

But that morning, Casey wasn't going to be so easy on me. From the back seat, I heard:
"You're a bad mommy."
I ignored it.
"Are you listening?" Casey asked.
Still ignoring him.
"You're just a bad mommy and you're not nice and you're just gonna die and then Daddy is going to find us a new mommy and she's going to be nice and we're going to love her."

The tears began. Slowly trickling down my face. Then Marcie chimed in:
"Yeah. Bad Mommy," she called out.

We live less than 2 miles from the grocery store. When I pulled into the garage, I turned off the car, and landed pretty much immediately in Jason's arms. Where I told him we had awful kids and I couldn't be around them. Then I slipped into our bedroom, closed the door behind me and began sobbing.

Of course that was an over-reaction. It's just that I wasn't expecting such strong words from my five year old. Or three year old. I was expecting them when the kids were 12, perhaps. But there they were-- a cold, hard slap across the face.

Someone later pointed out to me that when a five year old tells you that you're being a "bad mommy," that is obviously code for "good mommy"-- as in someone who sets boundaries and sticks to them. And of course that's true.

In the end, it turned out Casey was reading Hansel and Gretel at school. He claims it's a story about a bad mommy who sends the kids to the bushes. But then she dies, and the dad who is a (wood) cutter (Casey leaves out the "wood" part) goes and gets them, and they are happy again. Casey never mentions the witch. He doesn't understand that the woman is a stepmother. And he doesn't blame the father for leaving them out in the woods. Of course, I didn't have this context at the time of the incident.

So what did I learn? Well, first of all, don't set unreasonable expectations for your kids. Second, don't make a fun trip contingent on good behavior-- too much pressure. And third, no matter how rude or mean your kids are, you have to stick to your guns. Even if it hurts your feelings to do so. I know our kids will be better off for it in the long run. But geesh-- these little stumbles along the way sure to leave some painful abrasions, don't they?

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