Melissy Wissy

>> Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lizzy always seems to be moving faster than I am prepared.

When she was fourteen months old, she learned to escape from her crib. She swung one lanky leg waaay up, hoisted it over the edge, and pulled herself out. At the time, I fully expected her to remain in her crib each night, nicely contained, until she was at least 2 years old. But fourteen months?! I wasn't ready. I hoped it was a fluke. But she repeated the maneuver again and again -- not to convince me otherwise, but because it was so much fun and so powerful.

Well, she's caught me off guard, again. Here I was, fully anticipating 8 more years of non-teenage bliss. But I'll be damned if a teenager didn't walk out of her room one morning. It looked like Elizabeth, talked like Elizabeth, dressed the wacky way Elizabeth sometimes dresses. But it wasn't Elizabeth. Well, not the one I'm used to.

Did you ever fantasize about what you would do if you had to go back to being a kid or teenager, knowing all you know now? That's kind of what it's like. It's as if the future, teenaged Lizzy was suddenly cursed with this small body -- and she resents the hell out of it. Here's a sample of what it's like living with a 5-year old teenager:

"Hi, Lizzy!" I say when I see her in the afternoon. My cheerful greeting is met with a sour face and tongue to match.

"Lizzy, could you come here?" I ask. "Yes, Melissy Wissy," she says in her snottiest voice.

"Don't forget to pick out your clothes for tomorrow," I say, following her into the bedroom. She stops, turns to me, and says,"OK. (pause) Goodbye." It actually takes me a second before I get the hint. Oh. She wants me to leave, now.

"I don't like the way this pasta tastes," she says. (I understand. Frankly, I don't like it either.) But then she turns her back to the table, crosses her arms, and says (nose in the air), "You are not a good cook."

If this were anyone else, I would either cry or tell them to fuck off. But since this is my daughter, whom I love, love, love, I'm left in the middle of two emotional extremes, which feels a little like pain surrounded with bubble wrap.

Granted, none of these moments are horrible. She's not kicking me, throwing my wallet in the toilet, or spinning her head 360 degrees. And I think I'm dealing with these moments fairly effectively. Mostly I ignore her behavior so I don't feed the fire of her desire for attention. (Yes, I can see what she's doing.) Sometimes I demand apologies. Sometimes I leave the room. Sometimes I make her leave the room, as I did with the "you're not a good cook" remark (which I probably could have ignored, but come on).

Still. I want my sweet, huggy, happy-to-see-me Lizzy back! I'm not ready for this sullen teenager.

When I examine the situation, I can see why this time in her life is frustrating. I think she's bored at school -- most everything she's learning in kindergarten, she already learned in preschool. This causes her to "make things interesting" at school (the idle mind is the devil's playground), which is why her teacher is frustrated with her "unruly behavior". Then, when she comes home, Michael and I get frustrated with her because we're "making her" do all of this stupid "stuff" that she doesn't want to do, like homework, and putting her toys away, and brushing her teeth. (As you can see, we practically run a sweat shop for children.)

(Sidebar: We joke that if these were the olden days when toddlers had to work, we'd make a decent wage from Samantha who seems to enjoy housework, making the beds, setting the table, making dinner salads, dusting, etc. -- no kidding. But sweet Lizzy? Not. A. Dime.)

Anyway, I imagine Elizabeth feels very little support from either side right now.

Plus, she's not sure what to do on the friendship front. At dinner last night, she said, "The girls at school are too girly and the boys are too rough. I like some girl stuff, but mostly I like boy stuff. I'm a tomboy -- I'm in the middle." It's an Alice Cooper song in the making.

In a perfect world, Lizzy would spend her day taping things together, playing on the computer, making pinatas, finding new recipes for me to cook, writing and creating books, exploring and collecting things (rocks, shells, twigs, seeds, beetle wings), practicing math, creating art projects, performing experiments (like inventing her own drinks), and anything else she feels like doing. Who wouldn't want to live in "Lizzy's World?" It's a freakin' great world! In Lizzy's World she's smart, she's learning, and she's in control.

(Hey, can I live there?)

Two events are (maybe/hopefully) starting to put us on the right track:

First, I found a book at the library: Whining: Three Steps for Stopping It Before the Tears and Tantrums Start. Get this book. I will write more about it later (and I would love to get your opinions), but the gist of it is this: argue less, maintain control of your emotions, and implement swift and logical consequences. Simple, right?

Here's an example of how I used these techniques with Lizzy. Responding to the trouble we've had getting her ready in the morning, I delivered the following facts to her in a nice, but firm, and clear manner:

- She needs to be dressed by 7:05am each morning.
- Breaskfast is served from 7:05 - 7:25.
- Breakfast dishes are removed at 7:25.
- If she is not dressed by 7:25, I will dress her.
- We get in the car at 7:30 to go to school.

I placed a large clock in her room with a sticker pointing to 7:05. She understands the clock, so this is nothing new to her. Then, at 7:25 -- when she still wasn't dressed -- Michael cleared her breakfast dishes and I dressed her. She was not pleased when she discovered she wouldn't be eating that morning -- not pleased at all. She cried and fussed all the way to the school yard.

But this morning....

I wasn't sure what was going to happen. It didn't look good at first. She procrastinated, she doddled, she distracted herself. Then, at 7:02, she threw on her clothes, stood in the hallway with her hands on her hips and loudly announced, "I did it myself! I'M ALL DRESSED!" She said this with every ounce of defiance she could muster, not realizing that she had, indeed, complied. "Good job, Lizzy!" She tried to downplay her compliance further by saying she only did it because she wanted a reward. But then she later said she did it because she wanted to eat. Smart thinking, Elizabeth.

The second event concerns Michael. We're lucky. He and I usually balance each other out when it comes to handling the girls. If one of us is feeling short-tempered or impatient, the other usually steps in and takes over. Lately, however, we've been volleying back and forth like crazy trying to keep up with Lizzy's moods, and unfortunately there have been a few times when neither of us has been up to the task with any amount of grace.

Yesterday, however, Michael took the day off and spent the afternoon with Lizzy. He took her to his dental appointment. They went to Point Loma Seafoods and ate crab sandwiches. They visited the Point Loma Library which features a children's section with a giant ship. They sent me snapshots from his cell phone throughout the day, and when I arrived home with Samantha, everyone was in a good mood. Then later, Michael sat with Lizzy while she completed her homework and he actually managed to get her to smile by acting practically orgasmic each time she wrote her letters neatly. "Whoa, Lizzy! That's the BEST letter 'S' I've ever seen! Mom's going to think I wrote it." And so on.

I can't tell you how happy it made me to see her giggling and happy again. I knew "sweet Lizzy" was in there somewhere! She couldn't wait to show me her homework, and when she smiled at me, it was genuine. Clearly, yesterday's homework moment, combined with the quality time Michael spent with Lizzy, illustrates the power of positive parenting.

Of course, the problem is that neither of us is that damned energetic and friendly every day (what with these full time jobs and all). But it's good to know that when we're not, I can always pull out my copy of Whining. Because let me state in a nice, but firm, and clear manner: We are going to have a nice, happy little family -- a family in which the children are thoughtful and smile at their mother, the dad cheerily helps with the homework, and the mom makes homemade milkshakes for desert while everyone giggles. Oh yes, that's how it will be.

Because I checked out four more books from the library, and I'm not afraid to use them... Lizzy Wizzy.


Dating Trooper February 20, 2009 at 4:23 PM  

I have no doubt you will make that happen too! Lizzy Wizzy doesn't know what she's up against.

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