Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Punishment

            Did you hear that? Wait a minute – could it be?
            Silence.
            I actually have a moment to myself.
            It’s 10:30pm and everyone’s asleep except for me. And the amazing thing is that even though Celia will wake me up around 6:00am, I have absolutely no desire to go to bed yet. I feel an absolutely fulfilling desire to take full advantage of these precious moments as best I can.
            Celia is starting to act up. I’m putting it nicely. She’s become a handful.
            To give her credit, she did have a big day. I dropped her off at my neighbor’s daycare for the first time ever, literally downstairs from us. I’ve figured out no other way to actually get any work done anymore.
            Michelle is utterly exhausted with Joshua and all the midnight wakings, so she has no extra energy to deal with Celia. And Celia, poor Celia, is now not the center of attention that she used to be.
            Thankfully, daycare is a treat for her. She usually begs us to go downstairs and play with the other kids there, so when I dropped her off this morning, she didn’t even look at me when I said goodbye. She was so eager to play with the other kids, I think it was harder for me than for her. I watched her wander off and climb onto a giant rocking horse with a bit of a lump in my throat. She’s growing up.
            When I came to pick her up at noon she didn’t want to leave. And I don’t blame her. We put her down for a nap, then took her on some errands when she woke up. Not nearly as much fun as the daycare. I did eventually jog with her to the park, where we played with some other kids and explored all sorts of things like ducks eating seeds, sand castles other people had built, we kicked around a soccer ball, tried some Orangina from a nice family having a picnic (I’ve mentioned she’s ridiculously friendly, right?).
            But the climactic moment happened after I got back. Michelle was busy breastfeeding and had stopped cooking halfway, so I had to finish. Michelle plopped Celia down in front of my computer to watch a cartoon, and when dinner was finally ready and I went in to get her not only was she standing on the desk (a big no-no), she had scribbled with pencil all over the LCD screen.
            I was shocked and upset. Not overly angry. Pen would have been terrible – at least pencil can wash off easily. I wanted to teach her a lesson so she’d never do it again, but didn’t want to be overly harsh either, so I chose to scold her and put her in a “time out” chair. Michelle didn’t like my punishments one bit, and said I was being “too rough” and needed to read more from the book on parenting that she’s grown to love.
            I gave Celia lots of attention after that, so she would feel loved and receive positive attention from me as well, but I felt stuck. How do you deal with a kid who’s obviously doing something they know is wrong without punishing them?
            After putting Celia to bed, I cracked open Michelle’s new favorite book and read a few chapters on punishment. Their whole theory is that punishments and rewards don’t teach a kid anything. In fact, it’s the opposite, because you’re just cramming down their throats your own agenda. Their thesis is that you need to help the child understand the consequences of their actions, and you won’t be able to do that unless you engage with them coherently and provide a consequence that they can understand.
            Sounds good, unless your child is twenty months old. Still, I sit here typing away at a screen that’s half covered in pencil lead and think, “I can do something that shows her there’s a consequence. I can get her to help me clean this in the morning.”
            So, I hope she wakes up early tomorrow, because I have a feeling it will take us at least twenty minutes.
            I think this experience embodies the meat-and-potatoes of parenting. You can read all the books, and have all the best intentions you want, but at some point, the kid is going to have a need that you didn’t meet, and do something dumb. Something that deserves a negative consequence.
            It’s not my job to raise a perfect kid. But it is my job to figure out how to give her a healthy sense of how great she is right alongside knowing she’ll be better off with some serious limits.
            There was a lot of crying today. Both kids. At one point, I sat on the couch wondering what craziness got into our heads to think we could have two kids under two and keep our sanity. But then, I didn’t have much time to think about it, because I had to console not only the two children, but my tired wife. That’s the thing – there’s just not a lot of time to do much else but be present.
            Which is why quiet moments like these are like pure gold. I pray I can have many more to come!

No comments:

Post a Comment