Theo at 4 1/2

We had parent/teacher conferences with the boys’ pre-school teachers before vacation. They are in Montessori pre-school, which is very much strengths-based – meaning they are so, so, so very nice about telling you where your child is developmentally and what they need to work on.

Theo’s teachers explained that he is obsessed with writing and is rarely seen without a pencil in his hand. Even when distracted by conversation, his hand continues to move in a writing motion. He is writing, drawing, and tracing everything. His teachers are excitedly watching him and waiting for a “language explosion,” where he begins showing signs of readiness for learning to read. He is asking how words are spelled and what things say and mean. We were not surprised by any of this as we have seen it at home as well.  He really has learned so much lately and it’s a pleasure to watch him grow in this way.


Next, his teacher so kindly said that Theo is very bright and perceptive. That he really picks up on others’ strengths AND weaknesses. Theo has recognized the power of his words. That doesn’t sound bad, right? Not necessarily. She said that there have been a few instances of him slyly mumbling things under his breath to other students. For instance, “that looks terrible” to someone working on a project. Or “you’re a cry baby” to someone who is upset. I can’t say we were shocked, as he taunts “Baby Dexter!” when Dexter is upset, but I was a little surprised to hear that he does this to his classmates. They have talked with him about it but wanted us to know that it’s something he is working on.

I hadn’t given this “Theo realizing the power of his words” thing much thought until vacation. I’ve been bragging on him recently about how much he has matured in the last few months. He has been pleasant in general and more willing to do things I asked him to do without arguing or refusing. Being sweet and helpful more often than not. It was as though the terrible twos and threenager years were behind us for good, for the most part. Theo has always been intense and sensitive but we started thinking that being able to reason with him had made a difference. He’s not a baby anymore and we were really heading into a good/different place in parenthood.

Well. Theo’s behavior on vacation was a mixed bag of tricks and treats. Yeah, he’s more mature and he’s smarter than he was a year ago, but this brings a new set of challenges along with the benefits. The majority of our vacation, he was great. But every day, without fail, there was some kind of epic meltdown (or threat of one) about something. It always revolved around the end of some activity or his worry over whether or not he was going to “get” something. When we finished doing something, it was “well, what are we going to do now that’s special?” Or “what am I going to get now that’s special?” Or “that wasn’t even that special so I hope we get to do something I REALLY like.” “You better get me something or you’ll ruin my vacation.” “Do you want to ruin my vacation?” “Do you want to break my heart?” “If you don’t _______, then I’ll ________.” Totally ungrateful. Sometimes we caved and did something else, or bought something small to avoid the blow-up, knowing this isn’t the right response. When our answer was, “that WAS the special thing and now it’s over” or “no, we are not buying you anything right now,” he had extreme outbursts, complete with “I hate you,” “you’re the worst mom/dad ever,” “I wish I never had a family,” and so on. These meltdowns ended with everyone being upset and for that moment in time, vacation being “ruined.”

So, it hit us. Theo has realized the power of his words. He has learned to manipulate to gain power. If he doesn’t control the situation by getting what he wants, he controls the situation by making everyone feel as unhappy as he does. He always, without fail, calms down and apologizes on his own. I’m not sure if he genuinely feels bad about his words/actions, doesn’t want us to be upset with him, or wants to butter us up so we’ll cave into his demands later. I don’t think he thinks about it and says to himself menacingly, “if they aren’t going to get me that _______ {fill in the piece of junk toy he impulsively asked for}, I’m going to ruin their lives.” But it’s still manipulation. On vacation, these things happened late at night so I do consider that being tired factored into the behavior. However, he is almost 5 years old and we can’t blame his behavior on being tired forever. His behavior is never this extreme at school or with anyone but us, so I know he can control these reactions to an extent.

Now that we’ve gotten ourselves into this situation, how do we get out? Have we created a manipulative, ungrateful person? We’ve talked to him about being grateful. About having and doing “enough,” saying “thank you” and moving on, and not always needing to do more or get more. He understands when he is calm, but he cannot recall any of this in the heat of the moment. We tell him that OF course we love him, want him to be happy, have fun, and do lots of special things, but that he needs to accept it when we say “it’s over,” “no,” “it’s bedtime,” or whatever it is that he’s not wanting to hear. He plays on our feelings because he knows we love him and want him to be happy, forgetting the part about accepting no for an answer.

Since the beginning of vacation, he has shown that sense of entitlement. Friday night we went to a community Halloween party. I told him he could go in the bounce house one more time, not realizing it was already 8 o’clock and the party was essentially over. The attendant said the last group was in the bounce house and no more would be going in. That was the trigger – within moments, Theo hated us and we were the worst parents ever. Saturday morning he was begging for forgiveness and asking “Mommy, what can I do to help you?” We talked to him about it again. This is our biggest struggle with Theo at the moment. Hopefully it doesn’t last long. He’s so big, but still little. He’s smart, but still has so much to learn. It’s kind of how I feel about myself as a parent. I’m doing my best but still have a lot to figure out. I owe it to my kids to teach them humility, compassion, and kindness. My headstrong, smart, sweet, spirited boy deserves the best. He’s something else!



filed under: most embarrassing moment #37,428

Now I’ve taught him bad words. Oh, and you can add “dropping his little brother on the concrete sidewalk” to the list of reasons why I win Best All-Around Mom.  
Picture it. Easter Weekend. 2014. 
(Real quick and then I’ll get to the point — did you ever watch Golden Girls? Do you remember when Sophia used to say “Picture it. Sicily. 1923” or some other year before telling stories about when she was young? No?  Right. Just me then? Okay…that’s what I figured anyway). 
We visited Ryan’s sister in Cincinnati for the weekend.  We were walking through Newport on the Levee and I was carrying Dexter because he was still tired after napping in the car.  We were on a mission. We were hungry. We were ready and excited to eat lunch at Tom+Chee (have you been? LOVE).
This lady (me) trips and goes flying through the air (not really, I kind of vaguely remember my feet going into auto-pilot, shuffling on the ground as I attempted to save myself and my baby son). My thought process was something like “I’m falling I’m falling wait maybe I’m catching myself no I’m for sure falling…” before there was a big SPLAT.
Next thing I know, I am lying on top of Dexter on the sidewalk and our group, who was walking ahead of me, turns around and starts saying things – I’m guessing along the lines of “are you okay?” but I really don’t recall specifics. I sat up and picked up Dexter, who was screaming, sure that he had a broken bone or massive bleed but there were no signs of injury.  I was in shock and pain and stood up, quickly looking at my camera to see if it was destroyed. It also appeared fine.  What wasn’t fine, however, was the fiery sensation coming from my left hand and both knees.  My knees were bloodied but we couldn’t just stop moving so we found a bench that was coincidentally in front of Tom+Chee (which was closed for remodeling for THREE days – why? Why, why, why on Easter weekend? Why on any weekend? Why on the only weekend I was in town and wanted to go there?).  I sat down and fell again – only this time it was into a deep well of self-pity. I wanted to cry, it hurt so bad. Ryan came back with some wet paper towels to blot the dirt and blood.
Theo. Sweet, innocent, little bitty baby Theo (okay, okay. I know he’s 4 – shut up. He’s still little). He was concerned about his injured mama. He came over to me and squatted down in front of me, wincing. Looking over my boo boos with great care not to get to close or touch them. Then he said it. Sooo softly, he said it.
“F*ck, mommy.”
Hmm? I said “WHAT?!”
He shook his head no and said “nothing! I didn’t say anything.”
I looked at Ryan and he shook his head as well. “He didn’t hear that from me!”
I looked at Theo again. Gently, I asked, “where did you hear that?  It’s okay. I’m not mad. I was just wondering where you heard that.”
He looked at me and ever so quietly again said, “from you, mommy.”  ~insert shock and horror on my face here~ He continued, “when you fell,” pointing to my knees.
Well shit. I mean, “jumping jellyfish” or something else more appropriate. Apparently I say bad words when I go flying through the air, drop my baby, and then land on top of him, while injuring myself in the process.
Whatever. I didn’t mean to. SO that whole lunch episode was pretty much a bust (literally, snort snort). End of story.  And that’s the tale of how I taught my 4 year old the F-bomb.
With that out of the way, it’s time for some reflection to ponder the remarkable, innate, motherly instinct within.  It is mind-boggling to me that Dexter did not have a single scratch on him. I don’t think I’m some sort of super-mom or anything, but in the midst of that chaos, clearly my natural instinct was to protect him. I don’t remember thinking anything along the lines of protecting him (apparently it was just “oh f*ck I’m falling and holding Dexter and these things are happening simultaneously) but I did.  How did I not slam his head on the concrete when I fell and landed on top of him?  I DON’T KNOW, other than adrenaline and natural instinct kicked in. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around that. I wish I could replay the whole 3 second debacle over and over to see what my body did in that situation while my mind was in panic mode. Oddly enough, it makes me more confident in my mothering abilities. It makes me feel like more of a mama bear than I already did.  I freakin’ excel under pressure. 
Well – aside from that whole language thing that I should probably work on.

theo’s struggle

When Theo was about 6 months old, we decided it was time to stop swaddling him at night. He loved it, but if I remember right, he was just getting too big for even the largest size and was strong enough to bust out of them.  He loved his pacifier more than he loved being swaddled.  Little did we know, there would be something he loved more than both of those things combined.

His thumb. 
As soon as he broke out of those swaddles, he found his thumb, dropped the pacifier, and never looked back.  Initially, we half-heartedly pulled his thumb out of his mouth whenever he started sucking, but what can you really do?  A kid that wants to suck his thumb is going to suck his thumb.  He was just a baby, after all.  
Until he wasn’t.

Last year right before his 3rd birthday, he visited the dentist for the first time. We’d noticed that his front two teeth were being pushed forward gradually. The dentist noticed too, but told us that he just needed to stop by the time he got his permanent teeth.  No pressure on us and little to no pressure on Theo.  We started talking to him about it regularly but didn’t push. Just told him that he needed to stop because it was going to hurt his big boy teeth. We also pointed out that his left thumb is dry and calloused as a result of all the sucking.  
In the past couple of months, he’s said that he wants to stop sucking his thumb. He even asked us to put a band-aid on it before bed a couple of times, but then took it right off.  We didn’t want to do anything mean in order to make him stop.  We explained that thumb-sucking is typically considered something that babies do and even though we know he’s not a baby, there might be kids at school or other places that say mean things about it if he continues.  Normally, he’ll grab his favorite blanket, put it near his face and start sucking his thumb while holding a bunched section of the blanket in the same hand.  When asked why he’s sucking his thumb, he’ll say “because my blanket’s fluffy.” The soft texture of his blanket goes hand-in-hand with this urge to suck his thumb.
As his 4th birthday is approaching, we’ve been talking about it with him. He’ll say “when I’m 4 years old, I’m gonna…” We’ll say “you know what else is going to happen when you’re 4?  You’re going to stop sucking your thumb! Yay!”  He’s agreed to stop, but never showed any signs of being ready. 
Until last weekend. 
While I was out of town, he told Ryan to throw his favorite blanket away because he wants to stop sucking his thumb, but the blanket makes him.  Ryan put the blanket away in our closet and Theo never asked for it the rest of the weekend.  On Monday night we were heading home from the gym when Theo said to me, “Mommy, I miss my green kanket.”  I played dumb. “Oh? What do you mean? What happened to it?” He told me that he’d given it to daddy because he wanted to stop sucking his thumb. I asked what daddy did with it and he replied “I told him to throw it away but I don’t think he did because every time I look in the trash, it’s not there!”  
My heart melted, picturing my sweet kid quietly and secretly checking the trash several times a day to see if his favorite blanket had been thrown in with the garbage.  I asked him what he thought happened to his blanket and he said he didn’t know but that he was going to talk to Daddy about it. 
He didn’t mention it the rest of the night Monday but Tuesday morning, he asked Ryan for it.  He promised he wouldn’t suck his thumb and that he just wanted to hold green kanky while watching a movie. Ryan quickly gave in. 
Tuesday night after the boys were fast asleep, I snuck into their room to steal a peek at them.  Theo wasn’t sucking his thumb. I felt incredibly proud and a little emotional to think that he was taking this seriously, like such a big boy.  He suddenly seemed so mature and dedicated to his goal.  I kissed both of their heads and went back to the living room to report my findings to Ryan. 
Thursday night, I did the same, but my findings were different. Theo was sucking his thumb. I pulled his wrist and instinctively, he started sucking and pulled his thumb back into his mouth.  In a split second, his eyes shot open and he pulled his thumb out of his mouth and stuck his hand under his pillow.  He looked at me and said “I wasn’t sucking my thumb!”  I told him it was okay and to try again.  He said “I’m still tired, mommy,” and I reassured him that he still had plenty of time to sleep. 
So in almost a week, that’s the only time I’ve seen him sucking his thumb and the only time I’m aware of him sucking his thumb.  I asked him once or twice if he sucked his thumb at naptime and he denied it so although I really have no way of knowing, there’s just something about this process that’s bittersweet. 
I’ve had people suggest putting little braces or gross tasting solutions on his thumb.  I know that he does this for comfort and self-soothing, and while I know he truly needs to stop, I couldn’t bring myself to use anything but reason to help him.  He genuinely wants to stop, and based on what I have seen so far, I think he will.  
Was your child a thumb-sucker? Until what age?  
How did you help him/her stop?