Last night, I had the dubious honour of managing to make all my Offspring cry at the same time.
This happens very rarely, I have to admit. My emotions at the time were:
– sadness, because it’s never pleasant to listen to children cry
– annoyance, because of the mess I was having to clean up
– hilarity, because Second Offspring was crying and calling through the door, “BUT WE LOVE YOU!”
I had given them their tea – satay chicken with peas and carrots, with rice. They were all settling down to eat, and so I brought them all a drink of water, and then left the room.
This was my fatal error. When I came rushing back in less than five minutes later, to the sounds of yelling and crying, there was rice everywhere. It’s still not clear who started throwing the rice, but it was evident that by the end of it, all Offspring had taken part.
At first, I suggested they should clean it up themselves, but given the fact that they were upset with each other (and blaming each other) and the sheer spread of rice in the area, I changed my mind.
“You two,” I said to Second and Third Offspring, “bedroom. You two [First and Fourth Offspring]: bedroom. I will clean this up, and nobody will be staying up late tonight.”
(Friday night is their ‘stay up late’ night, when First and Second Offspring get to stay up to the wee hours of about 8.30pm).
Cue tears. I think Third and Fourth Offspring were just crying out of sympathy, because they don’t get to stay up late on Fridays anyway.
Of course, it’s school holidays. The LONG school holidays. That is good for being able to go to the beach and catch up with friends and do craft projects we don’t always have time to do. But in between those activities, there are still many, many long hours of daylight during which the children have ‘free time’. Read: they’re bored.
I’m first to admit that I don’t have an issue with their being bored. I think it’s good to be bored sometimes. Limiting their screen time comes with complaints, but it also usually precedes a period of creative, inspired play where they make up games, complete with their own specific logic and rules.
But still, the fact is that they are with me, all day, everyday, and by the end of some of those days, I do find myself a little frazzled. On another evening recently, all four of them were out of control – running around with that kind of manic energy which seeps into the core of young children, only to emerge at the times when you just need them to settle down and be quiet (for their sake, as well as your own).
Finally, the Handsome Sidekick and I got them into bed, and we talked about my exhaustion from having them at home all day.
“The trouble is,” suggested the Handsome Sidekick, “you negotiate. You reason. They are not very good at reason. They see it as a way to get out of what they should be doing.”
“But I want to be reasonable!” I sighed. “I know, I have to be more firm with them. I think my problem is, I sometimes doubt myself. They question what I’m asking them to do, and I think to myself, ‘yes, why should they pick up those clothes when someone else dropped them/stop playing a computer game/hang out the washing for me?’ And when I doubt that, I have a hard time giving them a reason to do it. But the reason should be, because otherwise I will have to do it.”
“And then you end up doing everything,” finished the Handsome Sidekick.
“Yeah, and there’s no more reason why I should do it! I stand there arguing with them about it, when it should be enough to say, ‘Please do it because I need you to help me,’ or ‘please do it, because I’m asking you to.’ But the ‘because I said so!’ seems like such a terrible reason. You know?”
I really don’t like “because I said so.” It lacks any kind of logic; it implies a certain dictatorship, and I always wanted to be able to debate things with my children. I want them to grow up, and question authority, and be curious. I want them to care about the reasons behind decisions, both those made close to them, and those made on a wider scale. I hope they will be political, passionate, engaged.
The trouble is, having young children who are curious, passionate and who question authority is very challenging! It means they’ll question your authority too.
I never wanted to be strict and authoritarian. I wanted to be easygoing and fun and open to change. If there were just one, that might be something I could handle. But with four of them, I’m seriously outnumbered, even with the Handsome Sidekick on my side.
With four of them, all with different personalities but who somehow manage to overcome these to merge into a unified tsunami of ‘whys’ and ‘it’s not fairs’, I need to be, above all, consistent. I need to have rules. And I don’t really like the idea of rules. They imply meanness and rigidity. But if I don’t have any, it makes for a rather chaotic and crazy environment, which nobody seems to really enjoy.
I remember my mother telling me about a conversation she’d had with one of her friends. The friend asked about my children and said something about bedtimes. “Oh, Rebecca has a very strict bedtime routine for her children,” my mother said. I was appalled! Me, strict?! Really? How disappointing.
But I am, I suppose. We do very similar things every night, and the children know what to expect. Rules seem to work for us, because otherwise it all falls apart, and nobody really knows what they are doing. Nobody knows what to expect.
In recent days, I’ve lamented about the ways in which individuals can choose to disrupt – and even end – other people’s lives. In a few seconds, everything changes. The only way to cope seems to be to fall back on what’s familiar. Routine. The expected, rather than the unexpected. It’s comforting.
I want my children to grow up to be responsible, interesting and interested people. I want them to ask questions and debate the answers. But for now, the answers they need are simple. They’re still very young. Shades of grey are hard to deal with, and they don’t have the capacity yet. I’m not sure even I have the capacity, at times. I wonder about the world and what’s right and wrong, and it’s so very hard to know. One day, they’ll be asking me questions about these very issues, and I don’t know what my answer will be. It can’t be “because I said so” or “because someone else said so.” It’s far more complex than that. I suppose I will have to face that when it happens.
But for now, first we establish the rules. And then we can learn how to bend or break them. Until then, sometimes “because I said so” is as much of a reason as they need.
Great news: WE HAVE OUR INTERNET BACK! Yippee!