When Positivity Takes a Nosedive

>> Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Five positive things... positive things... I'm supposed to write about five positive things...

Well, our disagreements with the girls don't involve knives. Does that count? And the big black bus I saw this morning on the way to work, the one with bars on the windows from the San Diego Corrections Unit... well, I wasn't on it. That's good. And the breakfast Elizabeth didn't eat this morning (the 3rd breakfast she's missed in a week due to procrastination and general testing of wills), well at least she had the opportunity to eat, unlike so many other kids around the world. And the coworker standing in front of my cubicle this morning ready to bombard me with a request as I walked in the door... well, at least I have a job.

Five positive things... need one more... Oh -- I don't have a fever blister.

There. Five positive things.

I'm having a bad morning. I'm really struggling with Elizabeth. Where did she get such an iron will?! Generally, it's such a passive willpower -- really Gandi-like or like the guy from Tiananman Square standing in front of the tank. She won't yell that she's not going to do her homework (or get dressed in the morning, or put away her toys...) -- she just won't do it. Simple. I would admire it if I wasn't the tank she's resisting.

Thus, we've been implementing the "Logical Consequences" approach like crazy. Missed breakfast? Too bad. Not dressed? I'll dress you. Not done with homework? No dinner until it's done. Didn't brush your teeth? No stories. Not ready for the birthday party? No party.

I wish I could be one of those happy-casual parents who can do this with barely a shrug. Hey, well, she brings it on herself... But I hate sending her to school without breakfast. I hate eating dinner without her. I hate that we shopped for a birthday present for a party we ended up not attending. I hate having to ignore her sometimes obnoxious (and yes, sometimes funny) attempts to get our attention.

Last Thursday night, Michael sat with her to complete a very simple Spanish assignment on the computer -- a flash-card type game that she has played many times. She was not interested in doing this, so she simply did not do it. Michael tried to get her attention, but she talked about art projects, she looked at the cats, she played with the mouse cord... anything but complete her assignment, so he left her to finish alone (which she is fully capable of doing).

The good news is she finished her flash cards assignment. The bad news? It took 2.5 hours. During her dramatic roller coaster ride, I busied myself in the kitchen with dinner and cleaning, trying to ignore her attempts to get our attention purely for distraction purposes. Michael hung out with Samantha who was instructed not to bother Elizabeth. Here are some excerpts:

(Lizzy sings) "I'm being followed by a moon shadow, moon shadow, moon shadow..."

"I'm hungry. Tengo hambre! I'm hungry. TENGO HAMBRE!!!" (She ate snack a few minutes prior... at least she's complaining in Spanish.)

"I don't WANT to do this! It's too hard. I'll never get it!" (She has done this many times before...)

"I'm being followed by a moon shadow..."

"I have to go to the bathroom." (We allow her to go... she potties... she plays with the towels in the bathroom... she makes faces at herself in the mirror... she plays with the faucet... we drag her back...)

"Melissa... hello? MA-liss-AAH? Can you hear me?? Are you deaf? Did you stop speaking English? Are you speaking a foreign language, now, MA-liss-AAH??"

(plays with the mouse... clicks other links on her computer...)

"Tengo hambre!" (gnaws on the small wooden chair she's sitting in...) "I'm going to eat this chair."

"Why did you make this computer game for me, mommy?! Why?! I used to like it, but I don't like it anymore! Why did you do this to me?!"

"When is dinner ready?" (I bring her a clock and place the sticker next to the five to show her when dinner will be ready -- approximately 20 minutes later. She ignores it.)

"I'm being followed by a moon shadow..."

(clicks through some of her flash cards) "Noviembre," she says. (The Spanish voice on the computer confirms, Noviembre.) "Yes!" (She clicks through a couple more words and comes to a Spanish phrase.) "Oh, no! I'll never get this!! Never!" (She starts sucking on her shirt...)

"Ma-LISS-ah... come look! This shirt is wet! No really, come look. I think the clock stopped working. Really, come here. Something is wrong with the clock. The clock is broken. "

(Michael and I begin to have doubts. Is this working? Does she know what to do? Were we clear enough? Should we explain it again?)

(wails) "This chair is too hard to eat!"

(clicks through the flash cards...)

"I'm being followed by a moon shadow..."

Dinner comes and dinner goes. The dishes get washed. Occasionally we hear Elizabeth click through the flash cards... and sing... and wail... and click some more. At one point I sit on the couch out of sight and listen to her struggle with a particular phrase. She reads the phrase out loud and laments that it's too hard. She clicks the "Show" button to hear Mr. Spanish Man say the phrase in Spanish and she repeats what he says. She doesn't say it well. She clicks to repeat this particular card, saying it a little better this time. She clicks through it five more times, until she gets it right, and then moves on to the next word.

I smile.

Not long after, she zips through the rest of the cards. Michael wanders back in to help her with the last bit. When she finishes, it's 8:40 (their bedtime is 9pm). I congratulate her on completing her assignment and sit with her while she eats cold leftovers. She's in a pretty good mood (surprisingly good). After eating, she brushes her teeth and picks out her clothes for the following morning, then goes straight to bed -- no stories. I tuck her in, tell her I love her, and leave the bedroom.

At once, all the energy leaves my body and I fall onto the couch, comatose. This was hard. I can't move.

Like I said, I wish I could be all happy-casual, and maybe I'll get to that point someday. But right now, I'm struggling. I wish this kind of interaction didn't bother me. There must be a switch on my body somewhere. You know, one that turns off unrealistic expectations? The one that keeps me in a good mood, even when Lizzy's not doing what I want her to do? Where's that damned switch?! (I think it may be hidden at the bottom of a margarita...)

I realize that perhaps my biggest problem isn't (necessarily) her -- it's the fact that I want her to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. I'm struggling to decide when to put my foot down and when to be flexible. (When to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em, so-to-speak...) I want our family to run smoothly (pleasantly, even) and I want her to become a successful person. I have no desire to "break her" like a wild horse, yet I don't want myself to break in the meantime. Ultimately, I must remember: Elizabeth is her own person, living her own life, and doing things in her very own, uniquely Elizabeth, way.

I'm being followed by a moon shadow, moon shadow, moon shadow...

(Why do I have the feeling I'll be singing this someday as they throw me in the paddy-wagon...)


Rima March 3, 2009 at 5:41 PM  

I think we are living parallel lives. I've been struggling in a very similar way with the V-meister and it's wearing. me. down. She is so defiant lately! And it's really hard for me not to betray my emotion when she consistently refuses to do what she's asked to do, or purposely does the opposite.

Which makes me feel like a big, bad, mean mother witch almost every waking moment of the day. So I don't have any advice, just sympathy . . .

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