A sink full of glitter residue is a hard thing for a photo to capture.
Why is my sink full of glitter, you ask? Because the truth is, even as much as you want to believe change is easy, it just isn’t.
I just wrote in a post about how well my four year old has handled the transition out of only childhood. And she has. She adores her baby sister and I hear her say daily how she is “exactly the baby she wanted.” It’s adorable.
And it’s not entirely true. Because by the fourth week, the novelty is wearing off and sh*t is getting real. Don’t get me wrong, she still loves having a baby around. But after so many times of being told to “quiet down” or having to be patient while mommy pumps or when evening routine gets changed up because baby is crying from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. then it starts to get old. And her four year old self demands a rebalancing of the attention the only way she knows how: by being naughty.
Now, I’m not an unreasonable person. Nothing we have encountered has been unmanageable. A little mouthiness here and there, a lot of bouncing off the walls and not following instructions, and the more creative ones like hiding food and wrappers under all the furniture in the living room. No major pieces of the household have been ruined, no major expenses incurred, no one injured or even truly put in danger. When this stage passes, the few incidences we even remember will be remembered with humor.
But I’m tired. Going on three to five hours of sleep per night for four weeks now, in addition to adjusting our entire lives, juggling visitors, and having my needs come last every day takes its toll, no matter how much I wish I could be super mom. So today when I came out from putting the littlest down for a nap and found a living room full of toys covered in glitter glue (as well as carpet, pajamas, and hands), I lost it.
I yelled. I stomped. I ranted. I confiscated toys and not-so-quietly deposited them in the sink to be washed. And I kept ranting, my anger growing, as I washed the glittery preschooler in the tub and then stood over her as she cleaned up her room and then went to time out. For a while. Like an hour, moving rooms with me wherever I went, jumping from one time out spot to the next because, as I explained to her, I could no longer trust her to be alone.
I washed the toys and finally sat down in the living room to supervise her still ongoing timeout. She sassed. She cried. She went through the whole lineup. And try as I might, I couldn’t stop being mad.
I know it is a cry for attention. I know it is. And it was a mess, but it was cleaned up. No permanent damage was done. But I just couldn’t stop being mad. This isn’t a two year old learning right and wrong: she knows we only do glitter glue at the table and not to put food or wrappers anywhere but the trash, etc. These are all established rules that she normally follows. How could I not be mad? As I sat there, trying to reason my way back to reason, I wondered for the millionth time what the right thing to do is.
Somehow in my life I have come to the belief that if a consequence isn’t severe enough, the lesson won’t stick. I can see the reason behind the theory. But human behavior rarely follows predictable equations. So I find myself wondering if it is true. Isn’t the very nature of a negative consequence to inflict discomfort, thereby dissuading the same behavior in the future? If it’s not uncomfortable, there’s no reason not the repeat the behavior.
I don’t know the answer. Theorizing aside, having to enforce consequences sucks.
But I believe it’s necessary. When you do something that impacts other people or their things in a negative way, you should experience discomfort. I hate being the parent that’s constantly nagging my kid to be polite, respect people’s space, and so on and so on. But I also know that I don’t want her to grow up thinking it is ok to be disrespectful and rude to others. Because then people will never see the amazing human she is, they will only see the bad behavior. And I would hate that even more. She is incredible and she deserves to be seen.
So I sit and I wonder: how long, how severe, how uncomfortable do I have to make this for her to remember? How can I make this an effective learning experience and not just a crappy afternoon?
She crawls in my lap and I look into her big brown eyes and ask, “What should I do? How do I teach you that this isn’t ok so that you will remember?”
She looks back at me and says simply, “You could always just use hugs.”
And my heart breaks and melts and I love what a beautiful little human she is and I hate that this is so hard. Because I would love to just use hugs. But it doesn’t always work like that.
And then her dad comes to get her. It hurts to let her go on the good days. It hurts worse to let her go in the distracted days. It hurts the most to let her go on the mad days. I spent the afternoon being mad at her and now I have to send her away.
Everything. About. This. Sucks.
But I help her put her shoes on. And I fake it so she doesn’t know how much I hate this. And I hug her and tell her for the millionth time that I love her even when I’m mad. Always. No matter what. And she brushes me off because she already knows that and she’s excited to go.
And when she walks out the door, the sleeping baby wakes up and is ready to eat. Life doesn’t slow down long enough for you to wonder if you should have done it all differently.
And maybe next time I will. Or maybe I won’t. The truth is, raising a human is one of the most beautiful things you will ever do, but sometimes things can get ugly and hard and uncomfortable. No matter what you do, there will be hard parts and consequences and anger and frustration.
But there will also be hugs. And even though it can’t always be only hugs, there will still be hugs.