grumpy about parenting (how to fail 101)

After a horrendous spring and summer, during which I’ve lost my voice several times from screaming so much at Jesse, and gained 10 stress pounds and 200 linear feet of stress wrinkles on my face, I have had an epiphany.

I know I know, I have a lot of stupid epiphanies. But this one is less stupid than usual.

I had been thinking that I’ve been on the edge of a parental nervous breakdown for several months. But I realized some time in the last 48 hours that I’m in the midst of a nervous breakdown. In fact, I’m thinking I achieved full breakdown some months ago. Instead of being on the edge of a nervous breakdown, I’ve been on the edge of reason.

The threat of putting Jesse on meds has moved me past insanity to reason. Anthony is taking her to see a psychiatrist next week. I’m not going. I realized after we started considering meds that I really, really, really don’t want Jesse on them, especially in these critical years when she heads into puberty and massive body and brain changes.  I understand the argument that anxiety-style meds may be positive – they may bring her down to a place where she can more effectively participate in behavior modification strategies and cognitive behavior therapy. But the same anxiety that makes her crazy also heightens her perceptiveness and imagination, and it lays some of the groundwork for her beautiful poetry, her insight into people, and her quirky humor. What would I feel like if meds take that away from her?

So the threat of it has made me come to my senses. I got down to practical business a couple days ago, which is to say I googled shit and bought some books. On the parenting front, I got “the opposite of worry,” by Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. It’s “The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears.”

I don’t know why the title uses no caps, but the sub-caption uses initial caps. Why? WHY?? You’d think that with a doctorate, Dr. Cohen could do something about that. Or at least afford a better editor. Who decided it would be cute to mix up upper and lower case like this? What, this guy is the ee cummings of child psychology?

What? Oh. It’s an okay book. I started reading it and it’s mostly about normal anxiety and fear, but stuff like this can be a refresher to help get my own parenting ideas flowing anew for Jesse’s more extreme needs.

I also ordered “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene. No, rude reader, it’s not about poop and gas. It is, rather, “A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children.” Right up my need alley. I’m sure I’ll read several chapters.

I have a theory about how books like this work, at least for me. The fact that they’re in major paperback publication, and sold on Amazon, tells me that there are a significant number of people who believe they have kids just like mine. That’s what these books actually do for me — their mere existence is much more important than their content. No one wants to be alone; solidarity engenders relief. I’m relieved I’m not the only parent with a jackass child. In fact, the Explosive book’s cover declares that it is “The Classic Parenting Guide–More Than 500,000 Copies Sold.”

In the 21st century does “than” get capitalized in that phrase? What the fuck is happening to my world?

Shit shit shit. I’m engaging in classic avoidance, and my long-beaten inner grammar nazi is raising its ugly head from the P-trap of my brain’s toilet. Wait a second while I flush it back down.

Right, I’m back. So I’m going to read The Explosive Child, because I need something out of the norm. And also, Jesse is explosive. From both ends, frankly, especially since we allowed her to be poisoned by a giant chewy egg-bearing Sweet Tart on our drive home last week. Two weeks’ of safe vacation, and on the very last day she gets exposed to eggs. How did I let that happen?

Speaking of eggs, I had to go to Home Depot tonight. I still hate Home Depot. 40 Home Depot employees wandering around the aisles like lobotomized cast members in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and only ONE — EXACTLY ONE — checkout stand is open, with 12 people lined up and waiting to get out of that shit hole.

Hold on. I need to flush again.

I bought Jesse some books too. Best to flood her as much as me with too much information and no innate ability to organize it. I discovered a “What to Do When…” series, written for kids (but not by kids). Pictures, simple talk, ideas for practicing and helping your grown-ups do a better job of parenting you. These books do a better job with capitalization, sort of. I got Jesse What to Do When…

-Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough. The Real Deal on Perfectionism.
-Your Temper Flares. A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems with Anger.
-You Worry Too Much. A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.
-You Grumble too Much. A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Negativity.
-Bad Habits Take Hold. A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Nail Biting and More.
-Your Brain Gets Stuck. A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD.

Do you think it’s too much?

I encouraged her to start with Grumbling. It’s actually really well done. It talks about being naturally pessimistic versus optimistic, and flexible versus inflexible. It describes pessimism as having a magnifying glass that makes bad things seem bigger, but a kid doesn’t know it’s the magnifying glass. The kid thinks it’s how the world actually is. And so on. There are exercises to help you be more flexible and optimistic. All good.

Jesse got through the first two chapters and started screaming.

Jesse is more interested in the OCD book. I don’t think she’s severely OCD, but she’s attracted to this book because the first exercise in it asks her to look in the garbage can and draw three things she sees in there. What kid could walk away from that? i may have to hide it. Avoidance seems to be a thing with Jesse too.

Anyway, bottom line, bottom line, here’s the thing. I’m fucking this parenting thing up big time. Right now, I’m getting the sense that this is the lineup of my major problems:

One. I have been yelling at Jesse too much when she’s really naughty, instead of properly separating and ignoring her.

Two. I have been shame-talking Jesse too much when she does really mean things, instead of properly separating and ignoring her.

Three. I have been nattering at and arguing with Jesse too much about stuff, instead of properly separating and ignoring her.

Four. I have been showing too much emotion, instead of properly separating and ignoring Jesse.

Five, I have been making idle threats. A lot of them. Instead of… you know.

ALTERNATIVELY, replace “properly… etc.” with “expressing understanding and compassion for Jesse’s feelings” in all of the above. But we’ve tried this model for many years, and it’s all used up.

So today I implemented drastic measures involving ignoring Jesse. A lot. I figure she got about two-plus hours of exclusion time today, based on 10-minutes-per-kick-or-hit and 5-minutes-per-threat and also 5-minutes-for-too-much-penis-talk. She had to sit on the stairs or go somewhere by herself, and she had to sit out a playground for 25 minutes while Nick and I played contentedly. Then she joined us and we had a great time.

It was exhausting and I felt awful. The hardest moment was when Jesse interrupted her “IGNORE JESSE” time by saying to me sweetly, “I love you, mommy.” And I had to wait 1 minutes 40 seconds before I could answer her. That sucked so bad.

But overall, at the end of the day Jesse and I agreed: today didn’t suck as bad as yesterday. So we may have to continue on this path for a while.

Until I discover that, instead of doing the right thing as a parent, I’ve been ignoring Jesse too much.