I came across an article recently, but I’m not going to point out where or even identify it very much, because this isn’t about judgment. A young mom was describing her initially peaceful morning that had suddenly escalated into a realm of nightmarish proportions. Screaming, tears, storming through doors…and that was both child and parent. At one point this poor mom described forcing a comb through unruly knots in her child’s long locks–because she had to have her hair combed before going to school. Everyone knows that.
Everyone except grandmothers.
The reason this story touched me so quickly and deeply was that just a day or so before I read that article, I was babysitting my four-year-old grandson. This is our regular Tuesday thing and it is one of the best days of the week for me. To be honest, there are times I don’t differentiate between chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, but I don’t make a habit of it. I know the old joke about being a grandparent: You get to give the kid back at the end of the day. Who cares what you feed–or don’t feed–him? But I can usually manage some healthy snacks if not an actual meal for him every week. Because it is just him and me, we spend a lot of time together and for the most part, it’s pretty routine.
But that one day was different. It was after a long holiday weekend and a week-long school closing, one he spent every day with me. We went to the beach, we went to the movies, we shopped, had lunch with friends–his friends–and had a sleepover. So that following “Gramma Day” started out pretty typically…we were best buds after so much time together. Breakfast was smooth (waffles), building a train track around the playroom was imaginative, apple slices for snack–healthy. Then I asked him to change his clothes. What ensued after that could be classified as a full-on meltdown.
It began simply enough.
“Gramma, can I wear that sweater?” he asked pointing up into his closet to a thick, ivory cardigan.
“Sure, buddy, but you might get a little warm in it,” I said, taking it down off the hanger. He began to pull it over his shirt and realized he needed a short-sleeved T-shirt to wear underneath. And off he went. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but rather than put all the clothes back as he ripped them off, I folded them and laid them on the bed, in case he changed his mind…again. After four pairs of “soft” pants, three pairs of underwear, three T-shirts, two button-down “Daddy shirts”, two pullover hoodies, one pair of jeans and the Doctor costume he wore last Halloween, he settled on yet another pair of soft pants and a long-sleeved Star Wars shirt.
During this costume change, which lasted about 15 minutes, there were tears, a constantly running nose, crying for Mommy, crying for Daddy, clothing kicked under the bed and a couple of stuffed animals thrown across the room for good measure. What wasn’t present were any threats about “time” or ultimatums about “behaving like a four-year-old.” It took all the patience I could summon, but all I did was take down the clothes he couldn’t reach and help him on with his socks. I zipped my lip and counted to ten…about a hundred times.
When the Mom in the article angrily “forced” a comb through her daughter’s hair, I understood. I have been there before, with a similar comb, similar hair and a need to get everyone out of the house in as orderly a fashion as possible. Really. I get it. But I still wanted to shout through the Internet (and time) that getting the knots out isn’t really that important. Not in the long run. These kinds of arguments become the “pick your battle” standoffs that never really end well; not for the parents and not for the kids. Obviously, something is going on for the child who suddenly becomes the Tazmanian Devil at the drop of a toothbrush and it usually happens about 10 minutes before you have to transition to some other place or activity. In fact, transition is a big trigger for kids. They just process it differently, time is different for them. In the scheme of things, combed out hair, brushed teeth or proper attire isn’t as big a deal for a kid as it is for a parent.
What I did differently with my grandson–what I am able to do differently than I was ever able to do, particularly with my own two kids, is let him run his course. Granted, there’s not always time for that, but on another occasion when this happened–when he flopped himself on the floor because I gave him the fruit snacks he wanted, but I had the audacity to open the package for him first, I stopped everything. Naturally we were on our way to story hour at the library, so I picked him up and held him and told him I understood how frustrating it was that I opened the fruit snacks when he wanted to do it himself. His response was nearly immediate and surprising to me; he relaxed. His panic was over and he was ready to go. It appeared all he needed was a little affirmation. Not another scolding to “just eat them, you love these,” but an acknowledgement that he was experiencing something he just wasn’t able to express on his own. And that is easy to do, because affirmation is something we all yearn for.
About the Author
Cindy Eastman is an award-winning author whose first book, a collection of essays entitled Flip-Flops After 50: And Other Thoughts On Aging I Remembered To Write Down was published by She Writes Press in April 2014. She teaches writing classes online and in person and was a presenter at Story Circle Network 8thWomen’s Writing Conference in April 2016. Check out additional essays at Flip-Flops After 50 and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.