Lying, Cheating and Stealing

Rose wants an American Girl doll. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re high-end dolls that can be customized to your tastes and there are tons of expensive accessories to go with them. They’re really not that different from regular dolls, except that they have that je ne sais quoi (French for marketing) that makes every girl want them.

I had no intention of buying one. I really didn’t. But then came the pacifier challenge. Rose had to quit using her pacifier, and I happened to discuss the issue with one of the country’s leading childcare experts (one of the perks of writing magazine articles), and he suggested we use an incentive program. What did Rose want more than anything? That’s right. An American Girl doll. Normally, I wouldn’t buy my four-year-old a 105-dollar doll, but given a choice between her and orthodontia, the doll, although not covered by dental insurance, seemed much more economical.

So we began the process of quitting the pacifier. We did not make her cut down on use. We’d already gone down that road and we’d already backslid, so we really needed to cut out the pacifier altogether. The only real problem area was sleeping. Rose really needed the pacifier to fall asleep, but we dug in our heels and she went to bed without a paci. The first couple of nights were hell. She cried and whined, “I want a paaaaaciiii,” but we didn’t crack.

I kept going into her bedroom and saying, “Do you want the American Girl doll?”

She’d creak, “Yeeeess.”

“Well, if you go two weeks without a paci, then you can have the doll,” I’d say.

“Ohhh kaaaay,” she’d say, frowning.

Once she got over the initial shock of it, she was doing really well. The last time we’d tried to give up the paci, she’d steal her brother’s pacifiers, out of his mouth, waking him up in the middle of the night. This time, we put a child lock on the outside of his door so she couldn’t get in. We also told her that Christian would be giving up his pacifier too.

“Christian doesn’t get a paci either?” she asked, worried about her source, but pleased that her brother had to suffer.

“No, he won’t,” we said, and we fully intended to wean him off of his pacifier.

But we didn’t. Christian isn’t the good sleeper that Rose was. He’s fifteen months old and his sleeping pattern goes through cycles. He’ll sleep through the night for a week at a time, and then he’ll get a new tooth and he’s back to waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. We are desperately trying to train him to sleep through the night and to take away his pacifier during this process would be devastating to all concerned.

For a while, we told Rose that Christian would indeed give up his paci, and we meant it, but then he got three teeth at once and we needed that sucker so badly that weaning him was out of the question. Rose was on top of this and she began to steal pacis, just like last time we tried to quit.

She’s a really smart kid, but she’s not very good at deception. Every time she had a paci, she’d tell me, “I don’t want songs or a hug,” before bed. Or “I don’t need a book” before her nap. And up until just recently, she’d hide the purloined pacifier under her pillow, every time, making it pretty easy to find when I went in to take it away. Did I take it away every time? No. I did at night, but naps were so tenuous that sometimes I just let her fall asleep with a paci and pulled it out of her mouth when she was sleeping. Sometimes I didn’t even do that. But when I found her with a paci, I’d tell her, “Well, now your two weeks for your American Girl doll start over.”

“Nooooo,” she’d cry.

“I didn’t make that choice. You did,” I’d say, as she burst into tears.

Well, after a month, Rose is still stealing pacifiers every chance she gets, but we’ve gotten sneakier about hiding them. So I’d say she sleeps with a paci about 20 percent of the time now. We know that until Christian quits using his paci, Rose won’t quit either, but we just cannot afford to interrupt his sleep right now, or ever, unless he somehow develops a consistent sleep pattern. At first, Rose was angry that he still had his paci and she couldn’t have hers, but she quickly saw the advantage. So she won’t complain about the inequity anymore. What bothers me is that we lied to her. We didn’t mean to. We really thought we’d wean Christian off of his paci too, but given a choice between sleep and no sleep, we just couldn’t.

When Rose was younger, I always kept my word to her. It was a point of pride to me. I said I won’t lie to my little girl. Now it’s “I wanna hear the SpongeBob songs!” and “I’m sorry, Sweetie, that CD’s not in the player right now and I’m driving.” It is in the player. I just don’t want to hear it. But that’s a lie she believes. When we failed to wean Christian off the paci when we swore we would, we went back on our word, and she knows that. I want her to trust us, and how can she if she knows we lie?

Maybe it’s not such a big deal to her. Maybe this is that earth-shattering moment when she realizes that we’re not perfect, although we’ve given her countless opportunities to learn that already. It had to happen sooner or later, right? I just hope that since our lie works to her advantage, she won’t focus on the fact that we lied. Instead, she’ll focus on the fact that she can still have a pacifier once in a while. That’s not such a bad compromise, is it?

The Taming of the Blame

“Let’s go, into the car! Now! You don’t want to miss circle time, do you? Come ON!”

At preschool: “Circle time is already starting. If you had put on your shoes and gotten in the car when I told you to, we wouldn’t be so late!”

How many times have I said this? How many times have I unnecessarily blamed my daughter for making us late, or making me trip over a toy or tromping over my garden? How many times have I criminalized typical toddler behavior?

The other day, when I stubbed my toe on the book I’d left on the floor, and I immediately tried to find a way to blame my husband, I realized I’m addicted to blame. Whenever something bad happens to me, finding fault is my first impulse. And then I fire off the blame, wherever I think it lies. Sometimes it’s legitimate. Living in a house with a man and two kids, I’m bound to stub my toe on a step stool or trip over a laundry basket fairly often, and I can’t control that. But I can control my response.

What good does it do to yell at a toddler for leaving the stool in my path yesterday? She’s too young to learn to correct past behavior. At her age, the behavior and consequence must be immediate. Is it worth it to instigate a fight with my husband because I tripped over his laundry? I’m sure he’s tripped over mine many a time.

So what good comes from blaming? It makes me feel better. For a moment – that moment when toe hits stool or knee hits hamper – I’m mad and railing against it gives me some relief. I still feel the pain but I try to dissipate the anger.

I think all blame is an attempt to relieve anger, or disappointment, or guilt. At least all the blame I dole out to my family serves that purpose. But it’s not healthy. I know it isn’t because, as an only child, I shouldered the blame for everything. My dad left the top off the cake stand – my mom blamed me. My mom dawdled getting out of the house and I’d stay with her – I got blamed. As the universal scapegoat, I developed an exaggerated sense of responsibility and enough shame to give me a permanent view of my shoes. It’s wasn’t just me, I have learned. All only children carry that weight. To add to it, for years my mom would tell me how she blamed herself for my 84-year-old grandmother’s death. “I should never have put her in that hospital!” she’d say through the flow of tears. I was 19 when Yaya died but I was still under my parents’ influence at the time. Accepting all blame came so easily it seemed like a normal part of life.

Knowing that, I realize that I am yoking my child with the same burdens I held. So it has to stop, or slow down, or something. There’s nothing wrong with teaching her to take her to take responsibility for her actions. That’s constructive and healthy. But taking away her scissors because she cut up my dress is different than making her feel responsible for dawdling every time we’re late. Toddlers are natural dawdlers. I am the adult and I need to find a way to be on time.

So I recently changed our morning routine. Getting Rose out of the house for school used to be a nightmare. I’d give us 10 minutes to get out of the house, and the whole process consisted of me yelling at her for that 10 minutes. Hoping to save time on the way out the door, I used to put Rose’s socks and shoes on her an hour before we left. She would inevitably remove those shoes and socks by go time and I’d get all mad and demand that she keep them on. It never worked.

Reminding myself that I am the adult and it’s up to me to captain our egress, I added another 10 minutes to get out the door. It worked. It’s still frustrating to urge the kids out of the house, but now that we’re not rushing, I’ve stopped scolding. And just recently, I decided that we would let go of the dream that she’d keep her footwear on. Now we adorn our shoes and socks at the door, just before we leave. And it works. It really does work. I still catch myself shaming her when we’re late, but it’s a lot less frequent and I’m a lot more aware. I also found out that circle time is at the end of the school day, not the beginning. No wonder she was always so baffled when I said she’d miss it.

Now when I shame her, I immediately shame myself. It doesn’t sound healthy, but feeling shame over doing something truly wrong is good for me. I don’t want to feel that way so I watch my behavior the next time. I think soon I’ll be able to get us out the door without any regrets.

Blaming my husband is another matter. He does know better but I realize that I don’t cut him any slack. When I stub my toe on the gym bag he left in the hallway I still get mad, and it’s not easy to forgive him. But it’s usually not long until I trip over my own laundry basket and want to blame him that I realize I try to blame him for everything. If I could leave my basket in my own path then it’s unreasonable to expect him to monitor our course through the bedroom every time he puts something down. I impose higher standards on him than I do on myself. The least I can do for the guy is hold us to the same measuring stick. This one’s a little harder, but I ‘m working on it. To do so, I have to remember that neither of us is perfect; and I have to ask myself, will it matter in two minutes when the pain subsides?

Blame comes down to pain. When I think of the long-term effects, I realize blame causes more pain than it relieves. It destroys trust and can ruin relationships. Hell, it’s even started wars. So why would I voluntarily inflict pain on the people I love? I can get over my anger faster than they can get over my words, so I have to remember to tame the blame.

Doctor’s Orders

I had a really hard time thinking of a topic for this week. I’ve covered my latest tragedies lately and I am happy to report that no new ones surfaced. But I’m so used to writing about them that a good week leaves me at a loss. Until Thursday. Best day ever.

Thursday started out normally. Staff meeting at 7 a.m., missed my turn to talk because I was mopping pee off the pack and play. Rose had JUST peed before she asked to go into the pack and play, naked. I thought “What’s the harm?” Anyway, my meeting ended; the babysitter picked Rose up; I worked for several hours and enjoyed her nap when she got home.

 I read for a while; then I heard the mailbox clink. Our mailboxes are mounted on the houses so I hear it when we get the mail. Thinking that the package I expected couldn’t possibly be here yet, I fished out the mail and I couldn’t believe it. It was there: the stack of bonds my mom had bought for me back in the seventies. I knew they were coming, but I thought Veterans’ Day Wednesday would have slowed them. I had discussed the bonds with my father, who told me how much he thought they were worth. It wasn’t much, but I thought the money might have bought that new living room set we needed.

I opened the envelope and signed on to the Treasury Department website. The first bond was worth almost five times its face value. I punched in the second one. Same thing. There were sixteen bonds. Now we could buy the man cave couch too and a new bed and new fireplaces and paint the house! Great day.

 After I’d finished looking up the bonds and was coasting on the news, my cell phone rang. I rushed to answer it because I didn’t want it to wake Rose. Our friend Eric greeted me. He said he’d lost his job but good news; he’d taken a job in Seattle. He and his wife, Lee, would move here from Maryland over Thanksgiving weekend. I tried not to get excited, though, because we have heard this before. Last time he said they were coming and he called me last minute to say he’d decided to keep the East Coast job, so I was careful not to get too excited.

But I am. Last time we were so psyched about them coming, we were making plans and talking about Rose growing up with them and getting the house ready for them to stay with us and it all came crashing down, right before we went on vacation. I cried for days. So now I don’t want to be excited, but they assured me they WOULD move this time.

But I can’t shake the urge to protect myself. I have load-bearing emotional walls. To tear them down, I have to replace them with something to hold me up. Growing up, my parents suspected and feared people but did not trust them. I trust people now but I did not survive my home unscathed. I am very picky about whom I trust and it takes me a long time to trust at all.

 I’ve gotten so used to bad things happening lately that I can’t trust the good stuff. But I’ve decided it’s time to take a page from my favorite poet, the renowned master of the rhyme, Dr. Seuss. In “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” he tells us that some days we’ll fly high on life, on other days, we’ll be mired in the lows. Dr. Seuss taught me that “Life’s a Great Balancing Act,” so I guess I can look at the best day ever as a way to balance all the recent struggles, and maybe I can accept that I deserve it.