These are only a few examples of the thousands of warnings we say to our kids each day to promote development and safety. Alas, none of them seem to work right now with my 1.5 and 3.5 year olds. I may say these things more frequently, because I’m home with them more often. But, it may also be that I’m more attentive, more paranoid or more OCD. It could be all of the above. Listening to my own warnings, I began to consider the challenges I face as a father whose patience is tested when my kids tend to live in their own world with their own sets of rules and set pace. I wonder when they will join me in my world and start to listen to my instructions and warnings.
Consider this: When is it appropriate to expect children to leave the comforts of their own world and come and join parental reality for a while?
I feel as though that if I say these things repeatedly, they will eventually sink in. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Since I have two children under the age of 5– when kids learn the most, through play, doing and making mistakes—I expect a lot from them. If I give them the safety and security they need to foster this development. I also have my own learning to do, which mainly involves learning how to allow them to make mistakes. The other day, my oldest said to me after breaking a toy, “It’s okay Dad, it’s just a mistake.” He’s right, but he’s also spilled his milk in the same spot during lunch at the same time, three consecutive days. That’s not a mistake; it’s accurate, consistent, precise, annoying. No mistake. After voicing my frustration, I’ve apologized to him citing the famed phrase “no use crying over spilled milk.” At least he’s not saying, don’t cry dad.
So, I think it is safe to say that in the world my children live in right now,” urgency” does not exist. (There is one exception to this rule: Urgency only exists when they want something.) I notice this global lack of urgency when I visit my 9 and 12-year-old nephews. They still don’t understand this concept, my sister likes to say that she feels she’s raising the next generation of my brother and myself. It’s unfortunate for my temper, but none of them need to understand it the way we do and they should be kids and should not. They can relax in the comfort of their own world for now. But, then when is it appropriate to expect them to understand things from a parent’s perspective?
Although I won’t go into the stages of cognitive development, based on the work of Piaget, it would seem that children will remain egocentric until at least seven years old. In the concrete operational stage which typically develops between the ages of 7-11 years, intellectual development is demonstrated through the use of logical and systematic manipulation of symbols, which are related to concrete objects. In this stage of development, a child’s thinking becomes less egocentric and more focused on what is happening around them and external events, and involves concrete references. For more information on Piaget, you can visit this page from Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Psychology http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Piaget’s_Stages . Or….you can quote the immortal words of my Father who says to his Grandkids “Hey kid, stop acting like a kid!”
So, if my child is in the pre-operational stage of development and has not grasped “cause and effect” yet, it should be of no surprise that one of the most nerve-wracking excursions for a parent like myself involves….the Public Bathroom.
Today, AJ wanted Subway for lunch, because it is “Hunter’s (12-year-old nephew) favorite, he eats it all the time and he tells me jokes.” Well, how could I go anywhere but Subway for lunch? Even though at Subway we sat among a sea of empty tables, it was embarrassing for me to have my kids pound on the table and scream and laugh at each other. There was no one else in the restaurant, so I couldn’t pretend they were someone else’s kids when I went to the counter to order. The kids wanted….get this, pizza at Subway. Yes they serve pizza. I guess it’s not much better than my (mystery) steak and cheese. (Sorry Jared.) When I finally got to the table with their food, sat down and started to eat, I noticed that I was the only one doing so. The kids are still playing with each other as they have toys (food) to keep them occupied.
Just as we begin to get comfortable…. AJ says he has to go to the bathroom. Sigh. Still a fairly empty restaurant (eatery may be more appropriate, maybe slop trough), I left the baby at the table secure in his high chair that has seen more dirty butts than an ash tray, and took AJ to the bathroom–all the while keeping the door cracked open enough for me to keep an eye on Andy, also.
When I enter the men’s restroom, all I can think about is getting out as quickly as possible while limiting my breathing, touching and any kind of exposure with this environment. When AJ goes into a public restroom, it is like a playground for him to explore. He touches new door knobs and locks and textures. Although, AJ is pretty good about not touching much, he still takes his sweet time to watch the toilet flush, wash all the water and his recently splashed pee is gone. He takes the time to miss it for a moment as it was once part of him. AJ is too short to reach the sink, so I have to boost him up. This process seems to really test my patience. So, to speed it up, I decide to finish washing his hands for him. This was a big mistake. Of course, a major milestone for preschoolers is separation and independence. A parent should be thrilled when a child wants to do things for himself, but in this circumstance, I should have just let things be. , but I couldn’t help but worry about Andy at the table by himself.
At any rate, taking AJ out of the bathroom may have looked like I just savagely beat him because he was so upset when he wanted to wash his own hands and get the full public restroom experience.
Before knowing how challenging it can be to take two children under the age of four to a restaurant by myself, I think I tormented my brother and sisters when we went out to eat with their children.
I recall only a few years before my firstborn; I would encourage my niece to put her hands through her hair during meal time, by patting my head. Brother, for that I apologize, now that I have my own, I was a crappy brother. I can only assume that I did that with my sister’s older boys too. I only remember what I choose to, so scratch those last few lines and remember that I spent quality time with my niece and nephews during meals.
Meal times are so difficult when you’re outnumbered by your children. Single women and kinship caretakers have known this for years. There are so many things that could go wrong and your meal will suffer for your kids happiness, playfulness and silliness. My kids are always my #1 attention and thus they may get yelled at that much more. I’ve been advised on several occasions to attempt to reduce that; let certain things roll off my back. Easier said than done but it does work to keep a better understanding between my boys and I. It saddens me that Andy is exposed to so much more yelling than AJ was, poor baby #3!
Time will tell if I can reduce those terms I mentioned, but it is easier to do the following: (1) choose our battles, (2) accept that they will win anyway because we love them, and (3) drawing on the carpet, walls, brothers, dogs, Dads, tables, etc. will just require an earful that will hopefully sink in after the 700th repetition.
I still have a lot to learn as a Dad. AJ asks me often if I’m a teacher. I think I am, but I am constantly changing my ways to discover the best ways to teach them. So, cliché or not, these little guys teach me. I never would have thought that I would be in this position, after 23 years of work; I stay home with them and do whatever I can to keep them active and creative. But, they give me exercise and mental stimulation that I never would have had sitting at that godforsaken desk that I occupied for the last 12 years.
My poor wife comes home to find me at my wit’s end after spending the whole day with them. Even with breaks like their naps and preschool, they drive me nuts on a daily basis. Whether we are at Subway, toy stores or the park, I am grateful to have them teach me. I look forward to the day when they can join me in my world for a while, for now, I’ll enjoy my wife’s company in beloved misery.