Okay, so I mentioned in my rant the other day that I've been reading this book called Playful Parenting. I requested it from the library not because I was having parenting problems (I wasn't in November!) but because a parent on the playground recommended it and I value her opinion as the only person I've ever heard say out loud, "Do you ever feel sometimes you just don't LIKE your child?"
The book is written by a child psychologist who is very interested in letting children express their emotions. This is different tack from the other parenting books I read, those that tend to offer instruction from a behaviorist approach. As in, if your kid is being a little shit it's because you're rewarding him for being a little shit. Stop that. This book is all: use play to help your children work out their fears and frustrations. Use it as much as you have to, up to 100% of your time. If they act crazy and frustrating that's good, it means they're working out their feelings. At one point I exclaimed, "Why, he doesn't even CARE how my child ACTS, he just wants him to FEEL GOOD!"
This probably underscores my own prejudice, one that John Holt aptly identifies as society's prejudice, that children are ungrateful spoiled brats, little vacuums of time and resources, and if you give them an inch and they take a mile and also your wallet.
But after the first half of December I was up for anything. My biggest problem has been Harvey's sudden inability to leave the house. Part of it is free-floating anxiety and part of it is just experimenting with defiance. Maybe the supermarket is a little bit scary, but also why should he do anything I say just because I say it? He doesn't WANT TO! But I should do everything HE says because BLARGH NO ONE HERE RESPONDS TO LOGIC!
Like I say, I'm maybe prejudiced against children, the little brats.
(I'm speaking of myself at my worst mental state, here. The one where I never sleep and the kids fight all day long. In my better moments I remember how I lovingly gave up everything in my life to stay home and stare into the faces of my sweet angel babies, but those better moments have not been in December.)
Anyway, I started using some of the techniques outlined in this book, to give Harvey extreme amounts of focused attention and to also help him cope with some of his (stupid) anxieties. The book mentioned making up a story that helps a child deal with troubling emotions. (I think I also saw this on an episode of Full House one time.) Well, my problem with Harvey is that he feels conflicted; if I say it's time to go out he wants to do a fun thing with me on the one hand, but he also wants to disobey me or stay in the comfort of the living room. Where he can fight with Zion over every stinking toy the he picks up.
So I came up with this story about a mouse who had a problem. He always felt two emotions at the same time. He wanted to play but he wanted to sleep. He wanted to eat a snack but he wanted to take a bath, so he ate in the bath and got his crackers all soggy and his bath all dirty. (Harvey thought this was hilarious, by the way. "And then he had to get a towel and spray and wipe out the bath!!!" he squealed, as if we ever do that in our house.)
So one day the mouse (his name is Lebright because I thought it should sound like he's saying he wants go left and then quickly changes it to right) takes a walk in the woods. It's slow going because he brought along his bike because he wanted to bike too but also walk in the woods and it's hard to pedal in the woods. ("Like I want to do!" Harvey exclaimed. It seems psyche 101 bullshit really does work on 3-year-olds.) And while he was going slowly through the woods he found a lion trapped in a net. The lion was a magical lion and said if Lebright freed him from the net he would give him a magic present. So Lebright gnawed all the ropes one by one and the lion was freed. The lion presented Lebright with a magical ax. This ax had the ability of cutting two emotions apart that were stuck together. So if Lebright wanted to go out and stay home, and he was all conflicted, he used his magical ax "CUT" and suddenly he had TWO DIFFERENT EMOTIONS! He could go out first, and then stay home later. He could eat dinner and then go to bed. ("Like you're supposed to do" said Harvey.) Lebright wasn't conflicted, he was happy again.
Harvey liked the story. Then I gave Harvey a plastic knife and told him it was a magical ax. We pretended to cut each other with it for a while. Each time he said, "I still want to go-out-stay home!" and giggled.
Then I said it was really time to go out. And with slow baby steps, using the plastic knife as a ax every three steps or so, Harvey walked out the door and into the car. And we went to the supermarket.
It was magical.
I can't believe that shit really worked!
At first I felt like a parenting genius for tricking him into doing something I wanted him to do. But upon reflection I feel a little bit like an asshole. Not for the whole mousey story, obviously that was helpful for all of us. But how can I not sound like a jerk writing this blog post? I'm talking about an emotional challenge that is very real for Harvey and I'm all: "How can I get this to stop ruining my life?" instead of "How can I free my child from painful anxiety?"
Good Lord, I hope by the time he reaches adolescence he will have no interest in reading through these past entries. With any luck he'll be all: Mom whining about us as babies AGAIN? Psssh, Snoresville!