Some days seem to drag by and some fly by in a flash. Today felt more like the latter. Not necessarily due to the 4.52am wake up by my 3 year old. Not even because, despite being Saturday, my husband is at work and its a solo-parent day. I suspect the feeling of drag that chased me all day was due to the temperament of my son and the culmination of several days of early starts and no daytime sleeps.
I am not fortunate enough to be a stay at home mother. I work four days a week so I relish my Friday ‘Mummy Days’ with my son. Yesterday was one of those days – but although we both enjoy the time together, for some reason my son woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I just knew it was going to be one of ‘those days’. Hyperactivity, silly noises, then melting into tears at the smallest frustration. We managed the day yesterday with plenty of distractions, including the shopping, painting, jigsaws, lots of food breaks, and the school pick up run which can kill at least an hour!
You can imagine my relief when my little bundle of fire gently fizzled off to sleep, with me thinking tomorrow would be a much easier day. Sleep cures all.
Unfortunately it was not to be. And given that it was Saturday I had the further complication of Miss 6 at home, tired from a week at school. For 90% of the time these two are inseparable, and best friends. The creative games that occur between the two of them are wonderful. But today I struck a 10% day. On these days Master 3 finds every single thing that his sister does irritating at which point she delights in only doing it more. On several occasions they have been sent to their corners to calm down.
Perhaps my biggest error in judgment made today, though, was the decision to take all three (14 year old included) to do some shopping after lunch. Logically, I thought, this would use some of the hours that seemed to be moving by at half the normal speed. But on a 10% day logic does not work. In fact there is no rhyme or reason to what behaviour will follow.
We started well, and even successfully managed to navigate through the store with Master 3 year old in charge of one of the kids-sized trolleys. With only a few minor traffic violations we managed to select all the items we had gone in for (albeit decisions made in haste) and head towards the check out. This was when it all turned terribly wrong. Master 3 requested an ice cream, to which he was told no. In his eyes this was unacceptable. Coupled with the fact that I had now taken charge of his kid-sized trolley, due to careless driving (ramming his sisters trolley), he had had enough. It was that moment when you realise exactly how loud children can become in a store packed with people. It also demonstrated to me that my 14 year old has developed amazing skills in detaching from any association with his family in these moments. He became a ghost. My daughter was relied upon to hold my handbag as Master 3 (with me holding on tight) melted loudly into a mess on the floor.
So we waited it out. When Master 3 had calmed down and realised that he had no option but to walk his trolley to the parking spot and follow his family through the check out he began to comply.
Trolley parked, walking (avoiding being dragged) to the most available operator with the shortest queue (it is amazing how one can judge length of queue in split second emergency moments).
At this stage, my objective became simply to get through the checkout swiftly, with least amount of noise and with no chocolates, lollies or drinks (as they are lined up before the operator) damaged in the process. Turns out, this objective was beyond reach on my 10% day. Master 3 had not forgotten his original request for an ice cream, and as it became more apparent this was not going to happen, he became louder and louder protesting he was not ready to leave. He was given a warning to hold Mums hand, or he would be leaving the shop sooner than anticipated. Meanwhile, 14 year old was given an impromptu but life-saving lesson in the use of my credit card, and 6 year old was told to stay with her brother in case he needed me and could send for help. Amazingly, I do believe the checkout operator was oblivious with what was about to go down. As the protests became louder, the hands began to squirm and grip lessened, I adopted a rugby-ball hold and Master 3 was escorted (under arm) loudly from the shop.
We use a Time Out procedure in our house based in The Incredible Years programme. The focus of this is to allow the child to have a space to calm down. It is not a punishment. It is a way of teaching children to manage themselves and their emotions. So time-out ensued in an outside doorway of the building the shop was situated in. Master 3 was told he was in time out to calm down and would need to be sitting and quiet before he could move. I then stood with my back to him (and eyes in back of head on full alert) while he screamed, kicked, pinched and punched at the world around him. He was completely dysregulated. Fairly typical for a 3 year old who is learning to make sense of what he is and isn’t in control of. In this case, he was not in control of buying ice cream when he wanted it.
The stand off continued. The looks by passers-by varied. Some were of bemusement, others confusion. Pleasingly I did not seem to have looks of disapproval. Finally, Master 3 seemed to calm his body enough to be able to stand up and join me in returning to the shop. Of course, this was the one day when the checkout operator was struggling to remove the security tags on the clothes and my son and daughter were stuck at the counter!! When I was able to pay for the purchases (and recover from the shock of the total price – clearly price monitoring was not an objective in the afternoon ordeal), we left the shop in one piece. Master 3 continued to protest loudly all the way to the car about the illusive ice-cream…….but realised he either kept up, or would be left behind.
In all of this were so many wonderful learning opportunities for my son. Another experience (because it won’t be the only one) in which he has learnt he won’t always get what he asks for. Another experience in which he has learnt that when faced with not getting one’s way, crying, screaming, kicking and pinching will also not change an adults mind. That when Mum says no, Mum means no. That when he does behave like that, he will be put in a place to sit and calm down by himself and that he is expected to be calm before joining the rest of his family again. And for that matter, he is having many repeated learning trials in the art of self-regulation.
And the side-effect of today’s events? My 14 year old was being given more reasons why he shouldn’t plan on being a father any time soon (significantly younger siblings are fantastic contraception). My 6 year old also shared the very same lessons her brother experienced….but from observer position, rather than participant this time round.
For me……….while banishing thoughts of embarrassment ‘in-situ’ ……. I congratulated myself for managing to get through the incident without giving in to keep the peace, and for being able to get out of the shop without major (and possibly costly) damage!
Here’s hoping tomorrow brings one of my wonderful 90% days. But then, husband’s day off tomorrow, so it is more than likely it will be!