Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mothers With Small Children

Of my regular visitors, only Wacky Hermit has small children, to my knowledge, though maybe Jerubaal does as well.

I try to offer some word of encouragement whenever I see a parent with children out in public, especially if anyone is looking ragged emotionally. This has to be done with some timing and delicacy, of course, so that it doesn't look like I'm trying to abscond with the kids. "Don't make your mother crazy. It doesn't work. Trust me on this." is a common line of mine. It cautions the child lightly and humorously, and is also meant to both comfort and caution mother. Yes, they are being difficult. You are in a stressful situation. You're not looking crazy yet, but it could happen.

Yesterday a boy of about four was leaving the supermarket with his mother and slightly older brother. The younger boy was looking at his perfectly unremarkable index finger and crying. It was a ratcheting up cry, which bid fair to turn into a melt-down scream soon. As in seconds. Mother was carrying bags and striding toward the car, talking him down with sweet, encouraging, but very weary words, like a rehearsed litany of comfort talk. A comment from a stranger can sometimes stop a crier in his tracks, the sudden change and uncertainty taking him out of his little self-focussed world just long enough to forget what he was crying about. "Your finger looks okay, lad" I said. Mom smiled "D'you want him?" "Oh, he's going cheap at the moment, is he?" "Very cheap." I got to use one of my other standard lines for these occasions. "I've had four. They don't graduate from highschool like this."

I honestly don't know why people tell parents with small children that these are wonderful ages and the best times, and that it's much worse when they're teenagers. Do they want to make these young couples suicidal? It's much, much harder when they're young. Yes, teenagers can get into worse miseries of drugs, crime, stupid driving, stupid sex, and a dozen other things that could ruin their lives, and worrying about that is stressful. But they aren't doing these things every minute of the day, requiring your attention. And they can go to the bathroom by themselves, so that you don't have to spend your day applauding excrement. And they can make their own sandwiches.


cakreiz said...

kreiz, here. Once again we agree. I have a 19 year old college sophomore and a 3 year old boy. You're absolutely right- teens are infinitely easier than small children. Not even close.

Anonymous said...

My son was making his own sandwiches at age 6 and his own ramen (w/ curry and hot sauce) at age seven. He turrns 29 later this month and has always been a joy.

My favorite time for talking to other people's young children is when they complain of being hungry. I explain that the third day is the hardest, and after that their body will adjust and as long as they get enough water they should be fine for a week.

jw said...

Oh boy... I still remember those days. Kids crying, too much to carry, too many things to do. Teens were easier, more worrying maybe, but easier.

One thing I notice is how invisible the primary care fathers are. Somewhere between 1 in 7 and 1 in 8 families with children it is dad who IS the child care ... yet it still seems that nobody notices. Invisible.

Weird, eh?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

triticale, that is definitely going into my standing repertoire

Jerub-Baal said...

"And they can go to the bathroom by themselves, so that you don't have to spend your day applauding excrement. And they can make their own sandwiches."

And they remember to wash their hands without a reminder, at least 50% of the time (at least, that's wat I see with my nephew).

And yep! We have three (two of our own and one who we foster) and one on the way.

The thing I look forward to the most when they become teens is the end of repetitive bickering. At least I hope when they are older that the bickering will have advanced from "He touched me!" "Did not!" "Did too!"

The version of 'comment-to-distressed-child' that we have used with great success with our own, and occasionally with others is, "Oh, let me see your finger! Oh my! You'll have to go to the finger store and buy a new one!" The deep 'concern', followed by the obviously ridiculous comment and then a twinkle in the eye usually derails them just long enough to forget why they were so upset.

Anonymous said...

AVI, what a delightful post, and how well you handled the lad with the sore finger. Kids only want attention, especially at that age. It reminds me of my wife and young daughter when she was about 4 or so, driving from San Antonio to Beaumont, Texas to visit the Grandparents. Daughter taps her mom on the shoulder and says "Mommy, I've been looking out the back and there is a bus following me." Mom replied "That's because you're cute." and that was all Daughter needed.

Now, she is 34 and has moved from the Valley to Austin. Sure wish she was around more often.

The bad news is that no matter what you do, most kids grow up pretty good. And that really isn't bad news at all.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the post and the comments. I'm going to use the finger store statement someday.
Reminded me of when when the family was on a ferry in Alaska and my 12(?) year old daughter with autism and retardation and bipolar etc absolutely would not stop masturbating in front of all the other passengers. I finally solved the problem by putting a suitcase in one hand and a briefcase in the other. Then I stationed her by the side where she could watch the seals on the bouys. I went to check on the other four children, and the three youngest were kneeling in an aisle playing something, and I told them to move to where they weren't blocking people, and found the oldest who was wishing he had different siblings (I think it took him fifteen years to forgive me for adopting the last one) and sat with best-beloved for a moment (he took the night shift on child care which is why he was invisible) I kept circulating to make sure no one was falling over the side or being disruptive or, you know, being too much like children in a crowded place, and on one of my circumnabulations, a lady with lovely white hair came up to me and said that I had wonderfully polite and obedient children. WOW. And here I thought they were pestering everybody. Well, here I am sixteen years later and I have never forgotten that word of encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I tell my niece, when her son gets to be too much to handle, that "he's not bad...he's just being two". That pretty much sums it up. They don't have to "misbehave" at that age to be a handful. They just require constant supervision. You can't turn your back for a second, or they'll be dunking kitty in the commode.

Lelia, it's so nice that someone (a stranger, no less) took the time to tell you that you were doing a good job! We should all try to do that when the opportunity presents itself. A few words of encouragement go a long way.

Anonymous said...

When my kids are obstreperous I thunder at them, "You are acting like a twelve-year-old".

Thing is, he/she IS twelve years old. Every single time, they stop and say, "But I AM twelve years old!" Then I say, "Oh, yeah! Well, that's why, then."

This almost always is enough to completely break up whatever is going on.

The trick is to use exactly the same tone of voice you'd use if you were telling them they were acting like a two-year-old, but use whatever their right age is.

(BTW, oldest is now seventeen and it STILL works!)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

teri, you also convey a complicated but powerful message with such comments: your behavior is normal, you are not a freak or an ax-murderer, but you still must improve.

I have a similar gesture of making a sign of the cross with my fingers to ward off vampires exclaiming "Back! Back! It's an adolescent."

It's stolen, of course. But never hesitate to steal good parenting lines.

Anonymous said...

At the elementary school I work in when a student is upset over a minor injury, I say, "Oh no! Are you dead yet?" That stops them and they say no. Then I say in a very relieved tone, "Oh good! I was worried!" Sometimes they even laugh.

Old Wacky Hermit said...

I appreciate the words of encouragement you leave as comments on my blog, AVI!

When I was potty training my now 6 year old, it was so difficult. He was perfectly capable of training and had just decided not to, making it a battle of wills. I kept consoling myself that at the least he would potty train before his high school prom, because he'd have a hell of a time finding a date who'd change his diapers. Just picturing him trying to find such a girl made me laugh.