Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Live Life to the Fullest

This is Julia's third week of preschool, and Genevieve and I haven't really gotten into a routine of our own for preschool mornings yet. So far, Genevieve and I have mostly been using our M/W/F mornings to run errands (read: go to Target every day), host impromptu baby playdates, or hang out at home by ourselves. Which is all well and good--perhaps as much "routine" as you need when you're two--except somehow it seems unfairly haphazard. When Julia was this age, I had her in ECFE classes. But now? I use my preschool mornings with Genevieve to get things done.

Actually, now that I think about it, Genevieve has a little routine of her own. It involves coming home and immediately beginning a campaign for unlimited snacks and PBSKids television shows until it's time to go back and pick Julia up from school. This is a baby who does not understand the concept of "limits." Another way of looking at it would be that she believes in living life to the fullest. I mean, really: don't we all, deep down inside, hanker for unlimited snacks and TV? Genevieve's motto seems to be, "Let your inner hedonist out! Bottomless bowls of dry Cheerios for everyone!"

Truly, life with Genevieve is generally all about screaming, complaining, yelling, and crying--and I don't mean me, although I'm often tempted--and it has occurred to me lately that if only Genevieve got what she wanted at all times, co-existing with her would be a walk in the park. No tantrums! No yelling! No screaming fits! Just give her the cracker and get on with it. Let her watch the whole hour of TV so you can mop the floor in peace already.

Sad to say, Genevieve gets her way far more than she should, and far more than I would have ever predicted before she was born. You see, I used to have just one child, and that child actually followed rules. You could give her an extra snack one time, as an exception, to get through a shopping trip or a a wait in the car, and warn her, "This is just for today. We're not doing this every day, got it?" and she would listen. Testing limits was not in her lexicon.

Then I became the parent to this second, other child, and the one day I desperately shout, graham-cracker in hand, "I'll give you a treat in the car if you come over here RIGHT NOW!" in an attempt to make the preschool pick-up line on time, and what do you know? The very next preschool day, she's giving me the sly eye at 11:20 when I grab my keys and her sandals and head to the door, and she's going, "Deat! Deat, Mama! Deat!" and already tensing up her muscles in preparation for the tantrum she will throw if I say, "No, not today."

The truth is, parenting Genevieve so far--well, from about 16 months onward--has been so challenging and patience-testing that, on those preschool mornings when I should probably be accompanying her to toddler classes and library storytime, I often feed her a snack, let her watch Elmo, and--ever since that damn graham-cracker incident--let her take another snack along in the car at preschool pick-up time, all because Mama needs some spoiling just as much as Hedonistic Toddler. Give me a morning free of screaming; too many carbs and kiddie TV shows seems a small price to pay. I can actually get some housecleaning done, throw in a load of laundry or two, if Genevieve's happy in front of Sesame Street and Dragon Tales. The joy!

But, of course, you don't have to tell me--so please, please: don't tell me--that this is the wrong path to have started down. Genevieve already thinks every single stroller walk means cereal in her cupholder, and woe is you if you refuse her, or the container is empty. She's not the kind of kid with whom you can sometimes give in, and sometimes not. There are no occasional treats in her world. There is only, You did it once, you will now do it every single time for infinity or until I deem it no longer desirable.

Sometimes I wonder if Genevieve is such a surly bully because we pay less attention to her than we ever did to Julia. She's a second child, which means, as my friend Donna says, she has a different mama than Julia had. Would Genevieve still be a constant grump if I took her to toddler class every day? Or if I was better about not giving in to her whims? But don't I give in to her whims BECAUSE she's a constant grump, and it's human nature to sometimes just want a damn moment of peaceful coexistence? The chicken or the egg?

Sometimes I try to imagine what Genevieve will be like when she's older. She'll either be insufferable--moody and mean, demanding and unwilling to compromise--or she'll be out there conquering the world, grabbing every single brass ring she sees, never doubting her deservedness, never doubting anything, living life to the fullest.

Please, please, God, the latter. Please the latter. Have mercy on an imperfect mama.


donna said...

There is definitely something to be said for birth order! Sure, a fair amount of it is determined by who we are when we're born. But since our experiences are very much affected by our environment - which in G's case includes a sibling - and how our environment and us interact together, it all makes sense because parenting is different when you have one vs. two (and I'm sure three and beyond).

I've said it before, Julia's mom is different than Genevieve's mom in much the same way that my son's mom is different than my daughter's mom.

Lastly, I like your attitude toward G's personality - embrace the will and drive because it will get her places. Your acceptance of it will pay off when she's a strong, balanced woman. (Until then, you have my sympathies.)

Rob Hardy said...

I look at this photo now and can't even remember what pains in the backside they were at the time. Cuteness hides a multitude of sins.

sara said...

As a mother of a willful, intense, beautiful girl...I so get this. It is difficult to find the balance between giving in (me!) and finding those teachable moments without creating even more acrimony. I want to teach her that it (the world, life, our family) is not all about her yet still meet her needs and nurture that strong spirit. I’m still figuring out how to do that and what works today in terms of motivation, praise, and redirection might miss the mark tomorrow. It feels like she’s so often a step ahead of us. This is beautifully written by the way.

Mnmom said...

The mantra of a mommy should always be: choose your battles carefully, choose your battles carefully, choose your battles carefully . . . .

Save your energy for the big battles: safety issues, sleep, and no, you can't drink anything under the sink.

That extra graham cracker and Elmo aren't worth the fight. Take it from a well-tested veteran. And it doesn't change as they age. I swore I'd never let my teens wear thong underwear. Well guess what, I ate a huge chunk of crow and will not fight them on that but uphold all the rules about grades, boys, parties, curfew, horror movies, etc.

And p.s. - if I EVER see the thong panties over the tops of their jeans they are GONE!

Nonna said...

I totally agree with MnMom -- you must choose your battles and not worry about the graham cracker -- it hasn't spoiled her appetite for lunch, has it? -- or the enjoyment of "Sesame Street", even a whole hour! Doesn't she learn from that hour? Even whiny Elmo has had to learn some patience! And the extra peace this affords you? Priceless.

Anonymous said...

I can so identify with what you've written. My now-five-year-old (rule-abiding, type-A, parent-pleasing) daughter didn't have a lollipop from the bank until she was well over three. My two-year-old (strong-willed, determined, bright and spunky) daughter was just over 18 months when she uttered the words, "Go bank. Get lolly." And you know, she gets one every single time we go to the bank, because that DumDum affords me about ten minutes of peace and quiet. When she had a brief and intense love affair with a Barney video from the library earlier this year, I checked it out for a month solid and let her watch it every day. It is so true that you pick your battles! Thirty minutes with Barney means 30 minutes for mama to chill. An occasional lolly from the bank means a ride home in peace. I'll take what I can get these days!

Melissa said...

I have the same kids but in reverse order. My oldest, a boy(3) tests limits every single minute of every single day and definitely subscribes to the "do it once do it always" way of thinking. He is exhausting. I know that consistency is the key, but now I have a 4 month old who, while soooo mellow, still needs some attention thrown at her every once in awhile. So, on goes the TV (thank god for TiVo) out come the fishy crackers and off I go about my business. It's a small price to pay for a little sanity.

Shan said...

Ah, you all are so nice. And Rob's boys sure made adorable babies. Check out that photo!