Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm a grilled cheese sandwich

I miss Barky every time I drop food on the floor and realize that I'm going to have to bend over and pick it up.

I miss Mom every time I say something like, "I think I'll make myself a sandwich." and nobody else replies, "Poof! You're a sandwich!"

And I miss Dad every time I screw up parenting as I did last night. I don't miss him because he had all the answers or because he was always right. In fact, I still struggle to undo traits I learned from him that I don't want to pass along--like my temper, which explodes out of nowhere and slashes out with a sharp tongue, cutting deeply into anyone nearby, regardless of their relation (or lack of relation) to whatever set me off.

Unfortunately, I think that apple's already fallen from the tree and can't be put on again. Like any good parent, however, I'm blaming genetics--whenever 3B melts down, I point to his red hair and announce loudly to all who will hear me, "With red hair like that, what do you expect?"

It's at moments like that when I'm glad that my red beard has gone almost totally gray, allowing me to obscure my responsibility for anything my son does.

So, enough about my bad parenting overall, let's get back to last night. I was reading 3B bedtime stories, having a good time, until we had to transition from reading stories to going to bed. I reminded him that we had read the three stories he had chosen and now it was time to go see lovies when he spit on me--blowing a raspberry at point-blank range is how he does it--and punched me twice. In the face.

Fortunately for all involved, he's no Muhammad Ali, but his little whacks still sting, especially when he catches me in the eye, as he did last night.

At that point, I could have put 3B in time out, but that tends to wind him up more and my goal was to wind him down and get him into bed and into sleep. Often, when he's spitting and hitting it's because he tired, and last night was no exception. So, I handed him off to Mama, who had just come into the room and told him that I was leaving.

As I did so, I wanted to make clear why I was leaving, so I bent down low and whispered to him to get his attention. I told him that I was leaving because when he hit me he hurt me, that he made me sad, and that I wasn't happy. And, with that, I walked out.

But I'm not sure that was the best parenting. I was still pretty ticked when I said that, which is never a good place to be when trying to communicate clearly and model good communication. Also, my tendency is to walk away from rather than resolve disputes, partially because I strongly dislike disputes, but also to retain power, and what I'd like to do is show 3B how to successfully resolve disputes. Further, I have serious qualms about using guilt like that as a parenting tool.

After all, as a comedian once observed about his mother, my mom was a travel agent for guilt trips. Nevertheless, I prefer using something like guilt to using something like spanking, especially because now that I'm the parent, I don't really see it as guilt. I'm not trying to make 3B feel guilty; I'm trying to communicate clearly to him how his actions affected others. And yes, I'm aware that might just be a massive rationalization, but somehow he's got to build his superego.

Then again, is this the right way to build it? If so, was what I said the right thing to keep us on the right way?

These are the questions that lead me to miss Dad, not so much for his answers, but because he was a Dad who screwed up. I think that maybe he could tell me how to get past this, let go of it and get ready for the next challenge. And if not, we could at least commiserate about how hard this fatherhood thing is, maybe over some comfort food.

But he's not gone as long as I carry him in my memories and my heart, so I close my eyes and picture the scene...

Me: I guess none of us have the answer.
Dad: You do the best you can.
Me: OK. OK. Do you want something to eat? I'm going to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich.
Mom: Poof! You're a grilled cheese sandwich!

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7 comments:

  1. We're all just fumbling our way through parenting. Or at least that's what I tell myself to make myself feel better.

    Don't look at it as using "guilt," but rather, "teaching empathy." He needs to learn that his actions affect others.

    I'm going to go make myself a cup of coffee.
    POOF! I'm coffee.

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  2. Obviously I don't have an parenting advice for you, but I do know that you two are fantastic parents. Just the fact that you're asking yourself (and others) if this was a good way to handle the situation shows that!

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  3. L-P: It's way too hot to become a cup of coffee, unless you're making yourself a cup of iced coffee.

    LB: I was full of parenting advice, right up until I was a parent, so don't hold back. And thanks for your compliments, which are, I think, a testament to Mama's skills and 3B's resiliency. But don't think I won't cling to your compliment for comfort when I'm feeling inadequate.

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  4. You are a great dad, and reacting is a part of life (or at least that is what I keep telling my kids.) Guilt trips are a good way to let him own his behavior. Until he owns it, it is your fault he hit you. Either way it does not feel good. Try the phrase, "that is unacceptable" or it is inappropriate. One is from super nanny and the other from Carolee.

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  5. We've tried both, as evidenced by him telling us that what we do is either unacceptable or not appropriate, depending on his mood.

    Like water off a duck's ass.

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  6. Ah, guilt, the gift that keeps on giving. Sometimes the child goes in time out, and sometimes the object he was having difficulty with goes away. In this case, that was you. It is good you keep clever Mama around to help you.

    Not only are you and Mama good parents, you are the best 3B and Cutie have, so they are lucky to have you, even if you need to take yourself away from time to time.

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  7. Thanks. That's a good reminder. Several good reminders, actually.

    I used to remind myself that no matter how Barky's life ended, he had almost seven more years of life because of us.

    Wait, did I just compare my child to a dog?

    D'oh! Bad dad, no biscuit.

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