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Journal Entry

Friday, January 20, 2006

A small parenting victory

The kids were in a lousy mood this morning. Grumpy at breakfast, and after Esther left and I was trying to get them dressed, they were squabbling over toys, smashing each other's towers, tickling at unwanted moments, and otherwise making hostile incursions into each other's territories..

Esther passed me a note before she left, to the effect that I should watch out for casting Aviva in the role of the aggressor (by doing the sternly disapproving Daddy thing), and that I should get them outside as soon as possible, to improve the mood.

Once they got dressed and fed, they had, by ancient convention, earned a video -- which anaesthetized them sufficiently that I could have taken a shower and cleaned up last nights' dishes.

Unfortunately, I really kind of had to find out about Dora becoming a big sister and the various puzzles involved, so I missed that opportunity. The minute the video ended, Noah burst into tears.

Time for a radical move.

Noah got calmed down and Aviva was having a helfpul moment. "This place is a mess," she said. "Should we clean up?" Or something like that.

I took her aside. "I really need to take a shower. Can you babysit Noah?"


"What are you going to do if he's got something you want to play with?"

"Come get you."

"What if he's upset and you can't calm him down?"

"I'll come get you."

"What if he wants you to sing him a song?"

"I'll sing him a song."

"Okay. " I nervously go off to the shower.

Three minutes later I hear screaming and yelling. I turn off the water and count to ten. The yelling subsides. I hear Aviva talking soothingly.

After another minute Aviva calls out "Daddy! Daddy!"

I climb out, dripping shampoo, and go peek out the bathroom door. "Yeah?"

"Noah is messing up all the [art supply construction] sticks and I can't get him to stop!"

"Just let him make a mess, honey, we'll clean it up later."

In the shower, I brush my teeth and start shaving.

"Daddy, he's still making a mess!"

This time I just turn off the water. "I'm still in the shower, honey. We'll clean it up later!"

A few minutes later, I get out, dry off, get dressed. It's deathly silent. Are they reading? Seems kind of ominous.

I go into the living room. Aviva is putting away the last of the art supply construction stick thingies in their bag.

"Where's Noah?"

"He's lying down."

I check in his room. He's lying down with a bottle, looking content.

Aviva is happy and industrious. She explains how she wanted to clean up, so she asked him if he wanted to take a rest, and he agreed, so she got him a bottle and tucked him in.

"Wow," I say, "that was a really amazing solution, Aviva. You did a good job babysitting."

"Yeah," she said. "Can you go away some more? I want to keep babysitting."

"I'll go do the dishes."

So for about an hour, I do the dishes. Aviva gets Noah ("Are you done taking a rest?") and they sit on the sofa and she reads him "The Knight and the Dragon", him sitting patiently with a bottle as she sounds out the words (more or less -- she replaces "things left by his ancestors" with "things left by this aunts", and so on). Then they play with dolls.

Victories are transient. I'm curious how far this will go, so I push it -- I start writing this blog entry. After an incredible amount of happy playing, eventually there's a door slamming and Noah wailing.

I hang out with Noah. He doesn't want a hug and won't tell me why he's crying. "Shall I cry too?" I say, and he nods. We cry together for a while, and he finds it too funny to keep it up.

"I'm crying about my slippers," I say between sobs. "What are you crying about?"

"I'm crying, about... the doll!" It's impossible to capture Noah's punctuated, dramatic cadences typographically.

We go knock on Aviva's door. The dolls, you see, needed to sleep, and Noah refused to honor their bedtime. Some bargaining ensues and he goes happily off with the most wakeful doll.

"I just wanted some alone-time," Aviva says, "because he's so frustrating."

"You did a great job babysitting, Aviva. But I guess enough is enough. I'll take over again."

"Thanks," Aviva says, and retreats to her room.

So I left them at it a little too long. But the mood has improved dramatically -- he's happily playing in here, she's happily playing in there, and any whiff of grim oppositional defiance, sulkiness, or playing at agressors-and-victims is gone.

I'm calling it a "parenting victory"

  • because it was the result of a conscious gamble: "Can the worst mood be transmuted into the best by stewardship delegation?"

  • and because it meant shifting from the mode of reacting (goddamn it, would you kids quit fighting? Aviva -- leave him alone!) to conscious technique (in this case, my cheat sheet being the excellent Siblings Without Rivalry).

But, of course, it's not really mainly my parenting victory; it's at least as much their sistering and brothering victory.

And Esther found my slippers! (They were squished in under the chair by the front door).

Posted by benrosen at January 20, 2006 01:05 PM | Up to blog

you better watch out when you guys come visit us in march or we'll keep your little daughter as filipa's babysitter ;-)

Posted by: rahel luethy at January 22, 2006 04:18 AM

I can so see you crying with Noah. That seems like a very Ben move!! I am very impressed by your interrogation tactics.

Posted by: Ling at January 24, 2006 03:20 PM
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