Whew! Toddlers are no joke. And preschool? I have probably told you before, but I really felt that once the boys began school there would be a magical change that made life easier. That is a total myth. Little people, little problems; big people, big problems. The older they get, the more there is to deal with; I'm beginning to see this. I suppose that is why so many people told me to enjoy that first year. What they should have said is, "You think this is hard now? Honey, just you wait."
We found our groove that first year with twins. There were difficult phases, of course, and my girlfriends can tell you I made many frantic phone calls, "Why aren't they napping? Will the crying ever end?" But the crying did end. They did fall into a nap schedule. There was a good balance between the rhythm of the rest of the family and the pace of the toddlers.
Toddlers are complex little creatures. Much like a butterfly (or moth?) if you touch their wings, they can't fly anymore. They must do it themselves. They must learn, explore, discover on their own. They must learn to obey by obeying. They must learn to use utensils by using utensils. They must learn to color by coloring. As much as you want to assist, you can't. If you do assist, 1. they won't learn and 2. they will more than likely meltdown. (My mother swears my first words were, "Me do it!") One toddler is exhausting to deal with-- truly. Two toddlers? Lord, give me patience. While I'm unloading the dishwasher, one toddler is trying to pull out the silverware and throw it on the floor and the other is attempting to climb on the train table.
I'm halfway through Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and, so far, I love it. Written by a mom of a singleton and twins, I do wish she would say exactly how to talk to my toddlers in a way that works. I do want to have time for my pleasures and to get ready. We have a sunroom for the children's toys and we clean up their toys every night, keeping their space separate from our "adult time." We wait a beat before we jump up to help the boys. We have a strict "cadre" (frame) of behavior we expect from them (mealtimes, naptimes, house rules, and acceptable behaviors). I have the boys help me do household tasks, from cooking to cleaning. We eat our meals together at the table at the same time. And yet, the toddlers repeatedly throw in the house. Our preschooler struggles with self-entertaining. And all three of them have perfected their whine.
There are hints in this book, Bringing Up Bebe. She says a couple times that the French women tell their children, "I cannot pick you up right now because I am cooking," and if the child chooses to cry instead of listen, they let him cry. Or when they are taking care of multiple children, they tell the child, "I need to take care of your brother before I can help you." These small glimpses of what the book is suggesting make me feel that these French mothers with "astonishingly well-behaved children," according to the book description, deal with things head on from the beginning. They would rather deal with crying and frustration now as they build good habits instead of later when they will be breaking bad habits before they can enforce good ones (one of the main points of 12 Hours in 12 Weeks by Suzy Giordano). Perhaps we are on the right track, though it really doesn't feel like it.
Our biggest point of frustration is the evening "witching hour" (witching hour extending from 1830 to 2000). We have practically hit our breaking point on this one. On page 18 a Parisian mother tells the author, "For me, the evenings are for the parents... My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it's adult time." Amen, sister. However, our evenings pretty much go like this:
1730 Family dinnertime
1800 Clean up dinner and kitchen
1830 Clean up the sunroom while kids "help" and argue over toys
1900 Start getting kids in jams while kids cry and try to run away
1915 Do O's nebulizer treatment while he cries and tries to get down
1920 Stop C and D from stealing O's toys as he does his nebulizer treatment
1930 D meltdown saying it isn't his bedtime when we tell him to put on jams and brush teeth
1945 C and O meltdown when they attempt to go in the locked sunroom; proceed to throw all toys out of toy bin in family living space
1950 Carry crying toddlers to cribs and attempt to say prayers and do story
2000 Read D stories and deal with his meltdown when he wants "one more story" and he "isn't tired"
2010 Lay on couch with hand over eyes while toddlers cry in cribs, wonder when we should go in to soothe (when? if?)
Sound like fun? It didn't start so bad. For awhile, the toddlers would get fussy around 1900. Our preschooler, perhaps in an attempt to get some of the parental attention, shortly followed suit. Then the toddlers started melting down at 1645... 1630... until we have this messy, crying time from after dinner to bedtime. Our preschooler isn't even playing during this time. He follows us from room to room tattling on his brothers and yelling at them, "No! No! No, baby!" Our toddlers aren't playing. They are throwing toys, emptying toy bins, and yanking toys from each other. Occasionally an impromptu chasing game breaks out, usually ending with one of the toddlers sprinting into the corner of the table and our preschooler hollering, "I didn't do it!"
Supernanny? Pamela Druckerman? Suggestions?
So we are making ch-ch-changes. No more will an open bottle of wine be the wind under my wings in the evening. Nope. We are going to teach self-entertaining and reclaim our evenings. Page 124 states, "I'm also struck by the nearly universal assumption that even good mothers aren't at the constant service to their children, and that there's no reason to feel bad about that... In France, the dominant social message is that while being a parent is very important, it shouldn't subsume one's other roles." The other night, we talked about how we want our evenings to go instead.
Before we got into how the kids should be behaving, we talked about how we the adults wanted to spend the evening. We aren't big news watchers (he reads the news on the computer and I get the New York Times) and we don't like the kids hearing those horrible news reports. We want to sit in the family room after we clean the kitchen and talk about our day, read stories with the kids, perhaps play games like we used to. We want to enjoy this family time.
Our boys are 4-years old and 20-months old. Our 4-year old is old enough to play with toys quietly or to do his Look and Find books on his own. These are reasonable expectations. It isn't our job to entertain him all day long and we definitely do not need to be on the floor instructing him with these games. Our 20-months old are a bit of a different story. Their attention spans are shorter and their impulses harder to ignore. They may know not to touch the dog's water, but if a toy accidentally falls in there, they will have a hard time walking away. That's about the end of our knowledge on the subject. How do we get them to stop whining all evening?
We started cracking down on listening all day. When we say "No throwing," don't throw. When we say, "Sit on the couch," we mean sit on the couch. When we say, "Keep your hands to yourself," we mean keep your hands to yourself. We have D play by himself throughout the day, having him play with new Christmas toys in the privacy of his room. We get the toddlers to play in different areas of the house so they can stack blocks or do puzzles on their own. I'm doing more skill building activities with them, like cooking or drawing pictures. They are learning to take instruction and achieve results. It hasn't exactly translated to the evening yet. Yesterday evening, D did play with his Finn McMissile in the family room while C and O each stacked their own block towers. We even achieved a rare moment of calm. Both the toddlers were snuggled under a blanket with me, our dog perched on top, and D was snuggled up with Daddy. We sat on the couch watching some football thing for several minutes before a toddler wildly shoved a toy in my eye as he attempted to sit himself up.
This is a work in progress.