Friday, July 20, 2012

.... black is the color of my true love's....

.... mood.

L, upset about... something
(I think her camera wasn't working quite right)*

As much as I don't want to, it's time to talk tantrums. As in, we've got 'em. Lots of 'em. More than we need (in case anyone is looking for some extras). And the worst of it all is that I'm fairly certain that I'm getting as good as I gave, back when I was a small boy.

Let's see.... some highlights from the past couple of weeks include: a 15 minutes lying-on-the-walkway-in-nashville-airport "i want more gum" meltdown, a 20 minute blowup at school over a missing car seat, a 2 hour going-to-bed screamfest at home from 7.30p to 9.30p and a 2 hour pantless riot due to ill-fitting underpants (also at home, and thankfully in cooler weather so the neighbors who'd heard the previous night's uproar weren't quite as privy to this Sunday morning issue).

In my foggy memory, this behavior ramped up while we were in Florida with the cousins. Not that the cousins were to blame, except in that they were coincidentally there while we had ripped L from her regular routines and normal places to take her to a hot, busy, intensely fun-filled week of family.

I think the girl was (and is) basically tired, not getting quite enough sleep, and needing some downtime (much like me, though I have learned to mostly keep my tantrums under wraps and relatively quiet, so only M suffers). She (I mean L, not M) and I spent at least one and possibly a couple of afternoons alone in the house in Florida, having fits and getting calm together in the air-conditioned, shuttered dimness of our room. Other family members came and went, and we muddled through.

The real fun began just after the first leg of our flight back to Seattle. The first hop was a quick hour from Florida to Nashville, and because L was somewhat stuffed up, M and I decided some gum would be a nice treat.

I have wonderful memories of being introduced to gum myself on an interisland flight between Kahului and Honolulu. This was back when Hawaiian Airlines was flying Corvairs between the islands, and airplanes had propellers and the final weather report was handed up to the pilot on the end of a long stick just before takeoff. My grandparents took my older sister and me on our first airplane ride, a daytrip to Oahu where we played in the water at Waikiki, ate lunch, and saw our first escalators in the Fort Street shopping district (Liberty House maybe?). My memories largely center around those escalators.

Anyway, we were given gum to help us clear our ears on the flight, and that's one of the other key memories I have of the day.

So, L, stuffed nose, gum....

I was sitting with K, so didn't get to witness the first taste of gum on L's virgin lips, but apparently she "kind of" liked it. As in, she chewed a piece for 30 seconds and was ready for another. (Along with sharing my need for downtime, she shares my love of sugar.) By the time we "deplaned" in Nashville, she'd run through multiple sticks and M had cut her off. I think the wording went something like "L, gum is for taking off and landing in an airplane. You can have another piece when we get onto our next plane." The reply, I believe, went something like: scream!!!!!!!

Once L discovered that I was going to back her mother up, she laid face down in the middle of the floor and cried and kicked.

She was conveniently located near the restrooms and an overpriced bakery shop, so M and I took turns going to the bathroom and buying some of the wost ham and cheese croissants we've ever had, while someone stood nearby and let L have her cry. Luckily most passers by seemed to, if not understand, at least resist getting involved. So we were left unmolested by non-family members.

When we were ready to move on to our next gate, we let L know, and while she screamed and said she wasn't going to come, she did eventually get up off the floor, having gotten her full dose of immune-system building germs from the carpet into which she'd been pressing her face. I may have carried her to the gate. Later she and I did a walk and she found these boots:

which, in her estimation, would "look really nice on Mommy." I moved her along, and in some sort of karmic return, was walking past a family bathroom just as L said she needed to go potty. We made it home, somehow, and have been fending off gum requests ever since.

M and I have some concerns that we're somehow encouraging (enabling?) the tantrums, so we struggle with how to deal with them. In that spirit, I took the "ignore" approach when L had a meltdown after daycamp last week. We're juggling 2 kids and 2 jobs and 2 cars and 3 car seats (the 4th loaned out), so this means that while rushing to get the girls dropped off in time to make 9a meetings, M also needs to remember to pull one of the seats out of her car to leave so I can pick it up along with the 2 girls. But she forgot last Friday, and when I realized it I told the girls that K would need to ride without a carseat or booster. Imagine the thrill!

Of course L wanted to ride without one too, and I told her no, that K shouldn't do so either, but we didn't have any choice, and she is bigger and older, so is closer to the age/size where she can legally go without. (I like to believe that throwing the finer points of carseat law can head off a tantrum, but experience hasn't shown this to be true.)

L's response was a crying, yelling jag. I left the van doors open because it was warm in the sun and stood out in the breeze after I pulled out K's snack, which she ate while seated in her booster-less seat. L screamed and cried behind her. I waited in the sun as an occasional other parent drove in and parked and picked up a child and left again. Mostly I didn't make eye contact with anyone, and I kept my cool, and eventually even K began coaxing L into the car seat (unprompted by me). And magically, after 20 minutes or so, she got in and let me buckle her and we headed home. I felt like a success at tantrum management. Things had turned a corner!

Pride and falls and all of that.

The following evening (Saturday) when L refused to go to bed and told M she didn't want M to lie with her and M said she was going to go do some work. Somehow we drew an un-erasable line in the sand, which we then had to carefully not kick to pieces. Which meant that I did my best to console L while she screamed and kicked and sobbed, and K lay in her own bed 3 feet away, not sleeping and wondering why her sister was getting all the attention. It was stressful, and ultimately a no-win situation for anyone, but because we didn't want to "give in" to her tantrum, M could not lie down with her (which is what L ultimately wanted, once she'd gotten her initial outburst out of the way). At the end of it I was shellshocked and feeling incapable of dealing with children ever again. Which is fine, because I didn't have to deal with any children ever again... until the next morning.

So to recap: L eventually fell asleep around 9.30ish, which is only 2 or 2 1/2 hours past her normal bedtime. And then she got up around 6.30a (which is her normal rising time). So we're talking about a 4yo who missed about 20% of her normal sleep (whatever "normal" means).

The morning was highlighted by a problem that involved L's new boots (yes, in spite of all this, M was brave enough to take each girl shoe shopping, an activity which seems about as appealing to me as having someone pull out my finger nails, and L got some new boots), jeans (which she somehow determined were the ONLY thing she could wear with the boots), and multiple pairs of underpants.

L currently wears her jeans tight. So tight that the inside band of her pants leaves hyroglyphics embedded on her waist. So tight that she cannot take them off herself to go to the bathroom (which, from a fashion/practicality point of view, seems like a bad tradeoff to me, but I like to be able to go to the bathroom when I need to go to the bathroom!). I think this tightness greatly complicates the comfort of underwear. We ran through multiple pairs of underpants, from monkey pants to unicorn pants, and nothing worked. (In describing this, I'm not doing justice to the sopping wet upstairs carpet that she was laying on and sobbing into, not to mention the way her cries rent the otherwise relatively still Sunday morning. You'll have to just take my word on those things.)

I don't even know how we eventually resolved this. Either she wore down, or her pants stretched out, or.... it's something of a mystery to me now, looking back. But somehow we ended up with parts of Sunday that stretched for 40 or 50 minutes without breakdowns. Which is good because M had to go into work, so I was on my own. Sort of like an appretice lion tamer who is left with a cranky old lion who needs to have his teeth cleaned. At least that's how it felt. But apparently we all survived, and last night we had the girls in bed by 7.30 and asleep by 7.40 and they slept until nearly 7a this morning, so clearly L needed her beauty sleep. As did I.

I think refusing to give into the tantrums is the right approach, if we can stick to it. I also think that L gets herself so down into her hole that she doesn't see any way out, even if she wanted to get out. So our challenge is helping her to figure out how to move from upset (and ideally, upset without screams) to just frustrated but willing to move on. Wish us luck....

*note: this was a minor blowout, but one of the only at which I 1) had a camera ready, and 2) was emotionally capable of doing anything but duck-and-cover

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