The kids and I are playing a new game this week. It’s called “Name Your Favorite, ” and this is how it began:
We were sitting in the local Dairy Queen after a successful well-check at the pediatrician’s office. This Dairy Queen is the creme de la creme of the ice cream franchise: indoor seating, overdone seasonal decorations, and the smell of sugar in the air. After placing our orders and sitting down to indulge, I asked Baby #1 what her favorite book is. This was my attempt to reign in some of the dessert-fueled excitement that could potentially force them out of their chairs to run around. She spent some time in contemplation. Babies #2 and #3 offered her suggestions based on books they have heard her mention and, just like that, a new game was born. We came up with rules:
- Each person playing the game must offer a question, and it must be about something each person in the group will be able to answer.
- Each person, including the questioner, must answer each question as honestly as possible.
- If it is your turn to answer the question, the other players can offer suggestions and generate conversation about the topic.
- A round ends when each player has answered the question.
- There are no points or winners, but it’s fun to answer questions about stuff.
- These rules are subject to change whenever we get bored of them.
- Mommy has veto power for all rules that include: more servings of ice cream, dressing up pets, head-stands, planking, and pop music lyrics.
Here are the favorite book answers:
The game has become our new family preoccupation. During meals, at the bus stop, in the minivan, at bedtime, we find ourselves playing it. The answers can be surprising. Just when I think I have a child’s likes and preferences determined , he/she provides an answer proving, yet again, that I have no idea who these little people are.
In recent weeks, parenting has been a struggle. Baby #4 hit a playmate in the gym’s childcare room the other day. With a wooden toy train. Repeatedly. After being corrected multiple times. When I collected him following my workout, I burned with humiliation. As I drove home, I berated myself for the steady increase in rebelliousness and destruction I’ve observed in his behavior lately. My rational self makes plenty of excuses: he’s two years old, he plays with older children most of the time, children hit out of frustration, and I have been seriously ill more than healthy for most of his young life. My authentic self, however, knows that I wasn’t present for him as I wanted to be for the past two years, and now it is showing in his actions. I can rationalize that I did the best I could with what I had, but the damage is done, even if it is repairable.
I reprimanded Baby #1 harshly the other day for forgetting to bring home her science folder. Sure, she needs to be responsible for her homework, but how many times have I walked out of the house without my wallet or shopping list? Her desk has been compared to “looking like a yard sale,” which is a pretty accurate description. Her bedroom is cluttered enough to be a scene from a Where’s Waldo? book. She isn’t capable of being perfect any more than I am. Was I upset because she couldn’t study properly for a quiz, or because her mistake reminded me of ones I’ve made? Why was I panicking and rambling on about middle school, high school, college and beyond, and all of the dangers of disorganization, instead of keeping perspective? Of course she needs to be responsible, but, in her messy and chaotic way, she already is. She is an A student, with enough intelligence to find a website that was an engaging and comprehensive way to study the material.
Baby #2 is an early-riser, up before the sun and tucking himself into bed before 8 PM every evening. Having multiple ice hockey practices a week makes him exhausted by Friday evenings, even thought hockey is rewarding and enjoyable for him. He is prone to tears and to frustration when tired. When he began sobbing because someone was holding his precious Bun Bun–no toy in our household is loved with more intensity–why did I chastise him for crying? Isn’t it safe for him to have an emotional release in his own home?
I received a phone call from Baby #3’s teacher. “He had a rough day,” she said. To warrant a phone call, I figured she was being politely diplomatic. He had followed directions to take out his twistable crayons but then would not complete the assigned activity. (His version of events: “I took out my crayons, and red became fire and blue became water and green was an earth element and the evil, thick pencil tried to poke through Glue Stick…”) When he was supposed to be reading, he told his teacher her “books are too easy to read.” (Him: “It’s true, Mommy. She has Kindergarten books.” Me: “Well, it is a Kindergarten classroom.”) He had been whiny and challenging at every turn of the school day. Guilt swept over me. I had been out most nights over the past two weeks at volunteer events, leaving my husband to juggle putting all four kids to bed. Of course he was tired, when I wasn’t here to help ensure he received a good night’s rest. He was also missing the down time we normally spend together, so he can read books to me and tell me the imaginative tales floating around in his head.
These children are going to make mistakes. Some mistakes will be easy to brush off. Some of them are going to leave me and them in tears. Some will warrant a word of warning, or heavy guidance, or urgent attention. Some times the kids will figure it out for themselves, and other times it will take a few knocks before the lesson to be learned penetrates. Some times their poor judgment will stem from me and my inadequacies, but hopefully more of my good will stick than my bad.
Just when I thought I wasn’t doing anything right, that game brought us all back together. Our laughter burst the balloon of tension suspended above us. Baby #1 gushed on and on about all of the books she’s loved like a person that really, truly loves books. A question about new friends led Baby #2 to tell us how he is becoming friends with a boy on the bus, a boy that normally doesn’t speak to anyone. A question about favorite songs inspired Baby #3 to converse with me about transposing music.
That same question prompted Baby #4 to break from his normal bedtime routine. For one night, he asked me to sit with him and sing instead of having my husband tuck him into bed. Even the throes of the Terrible Twos can’t deny a mother this sweetness, and inspire her to keep trying: