Friday, November 21, 2014

Somebody's Watching Me

Regular readers of this space are aware that Mrs. Blackwell and I have been working on our discipline strategy of late.

Early returns on "time out" are encouraging. 

Yes, incidents of hitting are down. However incidents of
hiding remote controls in the pantry are up. Not good.
Firstly, there's been a steep decline in hitting, so I think it's fair to say he's been receptive to this approach — which right now consists of being firmly told "We don't hit. You're going to time out." Here, we place him alone in our family room where he sits for two minutes. 

Let's be real, most of us faced punishments far more severe than sitting alone in a recliner for a couple of minutes. (Funny, but there are days I'd pay to be able to do just that.) But the boy clearly knows what's up. He doesn't try to get out of the chair. He doesn't resist the talking to. He just sits quietly, puts in his time and, when he's done, he's great company. 

So, things are trending well and this evolution has proved to be revealing that we in fact have a sweet little boy on our hands. I'm not given to praise frequently but, the boy has taken his fair share of grief of late so I'll pause and say good job buddy. 

To wit. A couple of nights ago, just after we started taking this tack, I put the boy in time out. He sat quietly and did his time before quietly working his way back toward interacting with me again. 
I never trusted this guy....

Not long after, he asked me for a toy and said "please." I was thrilled and, upon giving him the toy, he offered up an unsolicited "thank you."

These are the moments, when you feel like you've got parenting figured out. You take action and you get the right results and it will always be thus!

But, if life has taught me anything it's that whatever successes I've had, are invariably punctuated with failures. So, I'm not getting cocky and you can't when your still picks up food, chucks it across the kitchen and when he's told "Don't do that," he complies by switching projectiles from food to cutlery. 

So, Mrs. Blackwell and I are enjoying an "up" period at the moment. But, things could always be better right? We can't always be around to parent, so what do we do to continue the process of molding the perfect child. 

I don't know the answer but I know where to find it — TELEVISION.

Watching football last night I was jarred out of my coma by a commercial featuring a hyper-articulate pitchman billing himself as a toddler. (If I had to guess I'd say he was closer to five years old.) 

Anyways, for 30 seconds this Ron Popeil-in-the-making took us through a variety of scenarios which illustrated the need for parents to leave a camera to spy on their toddler. 

...and I don't trust this one either. (Notice the stylish camera
sitting atop the equally stylish fireplace? Supervision
never looked so sexy!)
As this pint-sized cyborg adorable little guy narrated the commercial, he used a variety of polysyllabic words before closing off the ad by coyly confessing he might not even know what they mean. 

It was all so cute one might have been distracted from the fact that this company is marketing surveillance equipment for parents. 

Mrs. Blackwell and I had a camera that sat over the boy's crib and the generation of parents before us had baby monitors. But, there's something about sprinkling the house with cameras to spy on your kids that feels creepy. 

We're often told that the true measure of character is how we behave when we know we're not being watched. So, what kind of kid do you raise when they know they're always being watched?

I'm not condemning this practice just praying that I never feel the need for it. For now, it feels reassuring to know that something as simple as a time out can cure a lot of ills. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We Don't Hit — But He Does

Three simple words.

We. Don’t. Hit.

We. Don’t. Hit.

We. Don’t. Hit.

“We don’t hit!”

See the quotation marks I put around the last one? That’s because through the last two weeks “we don’t hit” has turned into a mantra at our home. As it turns out, the boy does hit — all too frequently.

Pictured: hitting machine in recharge mode. 
There’s no rhyme or reason to it. He could be in a perfectly fine mood and then he inexplicably decides it’s time to smack someone.

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective), “someone” is usually mom or dad. Though we’re hearing ominous reports of shoving from day care.

A typical hitting scenario sees one of us holding the boy and him raising both arms and bringing them down on top of mom or dad’s head.

Often he’ll wait until making eye contact with us, then he’ll raise his arms go for it. He's been known to strike our faces too. 

Techniques to dissuade this behavior have run the gamut.

Naturally, we started off with a good, old-fashioned, “No.” We still do this, but it was clear early on that more than communication would be required. 

The next step was setting him down, holding him by the arms, looking him in the eyes and telling him, “We don’t hit.”

First we said it once. But he hit again.

Then we said it a couple of times and he hit again.

Next we said it over and over and over and over and over and…. you get the point.

But, he didn’t — and that’s the most important point.

Because even after all of this, he still hit.

So we’re looking for healthy, reliable answers from established, qualified sources. Naturally, our search began on the Internet.

All the experts on there said, essentially the same thing: stay calm, talk to your child and acknowledge their feelings, praise good behavior, yadda, yadda, yadda.

If that sounds dismissive, it’s because it is.

Putting his hands (aka Thunder and Lightning) to other
nonviolent use. 
I know what I know and what I know isn’t much — about most things. What I do know is that when it comes to kids, the most applicable information comes from talking — really talking — to other parents. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here.

Parenting books can offer some valuable advice. But, for what it’s worth from this parent, your best judgment and your knowledge of your kid, combined with feedback from parents you think are doing a good job, is the best information.

Some kids will need a spell in time out. Others will need the aforementioned praise approach. Another approach might work for others.

As for us, well, last night we gave time out our first shot. We timed it at a couple of minutes and we weren’t waiting by his side for it to be over.

The early returns were promising but, like every other part of this behavior-modification process, we’re prepared for the possibility that this is a step, not a destination.

And, until we get there and he's not hitting, I'll be happy that he's not biting. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The F-Bomb that Never Happened

One of the aspects of life here in Madison, Wisconsin that I enjoy most is the weather. I love four, complete seasons — including, and especially, winter. 

Snow is great, cold toes are fantastic and warming up by a fire is a beautiful thing. Shoveling the driveway isn't even chore I despise completing. We got the season's first taste of winter this past weekend, when a system moved through and left a two-inch blanket of snow and frigid temps in its wake. 

Another facet of life in Madison I enjoy is the sports scene. The University of Wisconsin has great sports teams. Football. Hockey. Basketball. Even women's volleyball. They're all top notch here. 

Snow: best viewed from the comfort of one's home.
The fans here are passionate but, being the commonsensical Midwesterners that they are, they keep the wins and losses in perspective. Madison has been rated America's #1 College Sports towns by a few different publications. 

It was interesting this weekend then to watch a confluence of all these features collide in a cluster of blood-boiling proportions.

Colleagues of Mrs. Blackwell's hosted a dinner Saturday evening and Mrs. Blackwell, the boy and I were all supposed pick up a friend and make our way there. 

Instead we found ourselves trapped in standstill traffic as 80,000 football fans emptied a stadium and clogged the streets trying to get home at the same time. 

Did I mention it was snowing as this was happening? It was, and Madison is home to some narrow side streets and some steep hills surrounding the stadium. 

Yes, yes, yes. It all sounds like loads of fun and, with an anxious two-and-a-half year old in the back seat, I can attest that it was. 

Actually, the boy was fine — Mrs. Blackwell and I were not. Watching as an oncoming truck squeezes between you and the cars parked on either side of you can have that effect. 

Similarly, watching cars slide sideways while trying to navigate inclines and observing other drivers make baffling, baffling decisions that only worsen the situation can also make one a bit anxious, if not a nervous wreck. (Also, there was a fire truck complete with roaring sirens added in for good measure.)

For the vast majority of this time we were simply sitting still (a frustration all its own), unable to turn around, park or otherwise take any route out of the situation, regardless of destination. 

All told, our trip was supposed to take us about ten miles, with a pit stop to pick up our friend about seven miles in. 

Now, go ahead and allow for heavy traffic and snow and what would your worst case scenario be for drive time?

If you said about 90 minutes to make it the first seven miles, you'd be correct. 

It was in the midst of this ordeal that I reflexively uttered the F-word several times. Yes, my son was in the back seat and, yes, I realize this makes me a terrible human being. But, please withhold your judgement, it gets worse.

I'm not sure how many times I said it (I'd bet about five times) but I can say with certainty that the second-to-last F-word uttered was by me. 

The honor of that final declaration goes to the boy. Upon hearing me use the word in its adjective form to describe the entirety of our situation (as in "Awww, this is all f*****!"), the boy repeated my entire sentence. 

Cutely, he replaced the "ed" ending with an "s," thus converting it into the plural noun, an apt description of some of the drivers we witnessed I thought, but still. 
The local news. When I'm behind the wheel, feel free to put
me with the resent folks. And yes, that does say 13 degrees.

No sooner did I hear the word leave his mouth than did a chill ripple through me that rivaled the temperatures outside my windshield. Terrified, I looked back at Mrs. Blackwell. Her eyes confirmed what I already knew to be true. 

"Yes, he said it."

Awkwardly, I tried to take the word back by reciting a stream of similar sounding words. "Fun" was on the tip of my tongue when Mrs. Blackwell, sensed my imminent, futile attempt and coolly stepped in. 

"It didn't happen. Just forget about it and don't draw attention to it," she said, in a tone that sounded like she was reading from a book. 

"Done and done," I thought to myself. 

I spent the next few moments observing the sweet, pristine little boy in the backseat that I was slowly polluting. There he sat, bundled in his winter gear, pudgy cheeks and a big smile on his face. And there I sat, ready at a moment's notice to ruin it all. 

About 20 minutes later we'd managed to creep into a parking spot and turned what was supposed to be picking up a friend and going to a wonderful dinner, into hanging out in said friend's house for the evening. 

Dinner was off, but a quiet night drinking a beer and not being stuck in traffic was on.

While we sat and waited out the traffic jam, I waited for the boy to repeat the word he'd heard daddy say. 

I'm pleased to report that, nearing 48 hours later I'm still waiting. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: a special thanks to our friend Sunaina who, in addition to having captivated my son's imagination for the past two years, is also a great host. If we had to be stuck anywhere I'm glad it was at your place.