Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back to the Future


Today I put Arabella in time out.

Not really an unusual thing for a mom to do with their kid but since Arabella is three weeks from being 14 it was definitely a time warp moment in our relationship.

Arabella, most days, is intelligent, poised, thoughtful, helpful and an all around great kid. Like a lot of teenagers, she's self-centered and I'd say her worst fault is being a tad selfish. A trait I never would have attributed to her is "whiny".

Until today.

Today I wanted to spend a bit of time on the computer looking up hotels for a trip we're taking to a wedding next week. She insisted on chattering incessantly and I kept losing focus. When she's on the computer she is not to be bothered, however let me get near a television or computer screen and it's time to chat with mommy.

She is actually in the wedding we will be attending and my mission, since I chose to accept it, is to find her clear shoes and elbow gloves between now and next Saturday. She also wants some new anime materials from the local library. And although I had to beg her to wake up long enough to tell me what she wanted from the local drive-thru for breakfast, once she had eaten and walked the dogs, she was ready to go. Now. Please, mom? Huh? Can we go? Now? Can we? Can we? Huh, huh?

She seemed a little needy for mommy attention so I asked if she'd like to watch a movie together or hang out in the garden with me for a bit. But no, it's shop or die. And I'm all like, kid, chill. It's a holiday weekend and also my birthday weekend (July 3). I have four days off from work so let's just enjoy the morning, it's not even noon yet.

Then she started with the Cute Kid act. "Have you heard me sing this", then it was, "Mama, do you know what size shoe I wear?" and finally she just resorted to sitting down next to me while I'm trying to look up the hotel info and asking over and over when we're going to leave and then it was whine and pester and then just outright, full scale "I-want-my-way-and -I'm-not-going-to-stop-until-I-get-what-I-want" warfare.

She's lucky that she wigged out today and not yesterday. Ye Old Matey gave me that small click of the tongue yesterday that let's me know I'm being just a tad evil and it is around the first of the month so a PMS anger episode is only a head nod away if I'm not careful and I always regret those. They can be really ugly. Since I'd had some warning that objects in the PMS mirror are further away than they may actually appear on pissed off meter, I took a deep breath. I wanted to pop her on the behind but counted 10 instead.

When she's being a pest, I can usually say something snarky and she'll stomp off and sulk in her room for a while then come back cheerful, but I had one of those moments of mom clarity where I just knew that was the wrong move this go round. This was not your typical "MO-om" moment. It was tantamount to a meltdown I haven't seen the likes of since she was actually in preschool.

I have not felt the hopelessness of trying to head off an approaching tantrum for 10 years. There are times when I look at her and realize how much she's grown and wistfully remember "my baby" but today it all came back. For a moment, it was like a movie shot where I saw not the 14-year-old young lady but the 4-year-old she used to be without the rose-colored glasses.

The whining and pestering and her odd habit of speaking frankly and having to be taught to think before she spoke. How I didn't sleep well until she was every day of 7 because no matter how much I put her to bed in her room, I'd always wake up with her toes up my nose or her hair tickling my ears. The time she took revenge on a preschool classmate who called her a "meanie" by filling the other girl's shoes and miniature school bag with sand. How the vindictive stage lasted until she was about 8 or 9 and other parents thought my kid was like that little girl in the Bad Seed, so cute, but so evil. It seemed as though everything I never liked about my kid when she was small came to me in a heartbeat and I wanted my 14-year-old back.

So, I reached down into 13 years of mothering experience and pulled an old trick out of the bag. Since she was regressing right before my eyes, I decided to regress my discipline strategy and put her in time out. I sat her down, first in the hall out of sight (how quickly we forget) but of course she wouldn't stop fidgeting and playing with everything in sight and then she kept giggling, not taking me seriously.

I finally moved her where I could see her and explained the rules I had long forgotten. I told her that she would be in time out one minute for each year of her age and that every time I had to speak to her about her behavior her time started over.

At first she kept giggling but I used the tried and true mommy version of ignoring while keeping the "I Can Still Hear and See You" expression that means I'm only going to put up with your crap for about 15 more seconds. Finally she realized I was serious and then she settled down. I remembered that without a clock, she couldn't tell what time it was and how minutes of lost liberty seem to stretch forever so at the five minute mark I told she had four minutes left and she nodded meekly and was apparently grateful and none the wiser that I let her free five minutes early.

After it was over I sat her down and explained briefly that pestering and whining are not the way to get my attention or to get what she wants. Then I gave her a hug and she said "OK."

It was one of those win-win parenting moments we all hope for. I regained some authority as a parent; she kept her dignity in helping to punish herself. She has curbed the behavior and I have established a precedent for remedy should the whininess return.

Best of all I didn't lose my temper and she's still speaking to me, which is the ultimate sign of fairness.

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