The Continuing Education Of “The Mens”

"I'm going to ask (his friend) how to get rid of you and JD. I don't ever want to see you again."

The downside of an articulate child who has been told off for having territorial fights with the dog recently over parts of their parents' bedroom. What, you thought he only says cute smarty-pants things and never anything mean? Uh, that's someone else's child. I wouldn't be giving you an accurate picture of him (or the care and parenting of) if I only showed the good bits. The temper and learning to manage it, maybe even turn it into a strength, are a big part of his personality. They should be a big part of this blog.

The Rockstar has always had a temper, and a fierce determination - and as the main disciplinarian at home, not to mention the one who's always around him - that temper is often directed at me. I am the bearer of bad news, most often in the shape of that mono-syllabic word that has the power to drop you from your child's good graces regardless how many scraped knees you bandaid, how many bumped heads you soothe. "No".

"No"s should get more credit. I charge that it takes a lot more love (and well, energy) to say "No," and suffer the "consequences" aka tantrum. And - extended family members out there who "spoil market" when parents are trying to parent - not cool. The number of mum friends I've heard from, across various nationalities, who bemoan the serial spoiling of their children by various extended family for reasons ranging from bo chap (don't care, easier to give in) to ego boost ("child 'loves' me more!") is seriously not funny. Selfish, your reasons. Yoda, I'm talking like. Time to lay off what little caffeine I'm having.

Happier times, torturing sea creatures

Sigh. And back to my own battle of wills with the Rockstar. If there's a silver lining in bearing the brunt of his wrath, it's that then I get to choose how to deal with it. I suppose it's still better than manipulativeness - none of that with Rockstar - meets you head on, like a bull in a china shop. That still allows me some time to anticipate, distract, talk him round - I just hope we've nixed the bulk of the bull-headedness before he grows old enough to outsmart me.

This the second or third time I got something like this, depending how you look at it. The first time ended with me initially leaving him in a secluded cafe whose wait staff are quite familiar with us, then hauling the spitting, choking, flailing result of thinking I had really left him behind and being both furious and scared about it into the lift and hitting two lift buttons: "If you pull yourself together by the 19th floor (we were on the 28th) you can still pick up (some cheap McQueen series car thing he collects when there is no Lego version available). If the lift reaches Ground floor we're going home with your day ruined." I remembered not to yell, that time. And not to repeat the instruction. He can follow the rules of the game - listening to how he can redeem his friday afternoon - or he can tank his whole day.

How that started was Rockstar saw a Mcqueen cellphone toy and wanted it. Through a team effort, we'd just lost his iPod, and in still mourning its loss I thought Plastic Mcqueen Phone was really lame, so I said no (Rockstar never dared to ask for another iPod, you see - I suppose he then thought he could ask for the cheap plastic toy but I just found it so LAME, not to mention it looked like one of those things that would interest him for like, 5 seconds tops...). The Incredible Sulk followed us all the way to one of his favorite after-school cafes where I then left him at the cupcake display without getting him anything because he refused to tell me what he wanted and refused to come sit down.

We spent 40 minutes there (all the while Rockstar being reminded as the clock ticked that we would leave when we were done, whether or not he ate anything). Rockstar didn't eat anything. I enjoyed my brownie, conspicuously devoid of Mum. Look At Me!s which usually accompany his time in the children's play area. He didn't make it into the children's play area either. Hence I suppose the incredulous look he gives me when I announce it's time to go. Friday afternoons with no school the next day, he'd expected to go a little more wild. Not spend the time sulking by the cupcake counter and then go home. But, I rather smugly remind him, sulking by the cupcake counter was his choice.

When it was time to leave and he wouldn't budge, I left him there. Hence the tears and fury. About time. While travelling, we once tipped a waitress to carry him off to the kitchen to illustrate why we didn't want him to keep wandering off the table at mealtimes (or really anywhere, especially when we're in a strange place). Rockstar was maybe 3 at the time. Identifying me as "the brains" behind the operation (he was right, but I never figured how he knew that :D), he wouldn't let me near him for about 5 days. He hasn't wandered away from a table in a restaurant since. But boy did he scream the place down, that time. Boy do we love a tipping culture. Boy did it take some will for me to carry on being the main disciplinarian in the home. Usually it's This Sucks. I Want To Be The "Fun" Parent For Awhile. But it isn't realistic when Kings is working and can't be there to say "No" for many transgressions.

As for the cafe debacle, when we were in the lift, he did manage to pull it together by the time we reached the 19th floor, though we had to stand outside the toy store for a few more mins before he walked in, whereupon I got him the little plastic car (and nothing else - certainly not the lame Mcqueen cellphone though he did try asking for it one more time). By the time we reached home, Rockstar had presented me with 3 paper flowers he'd saved in his school bag, by way of apology.

Now back to the current situation. Rockstar wants to get rid of me. Surprisingly I'm not hurt, and this pleases me. Because what I really want is to have a good think how to fix that and I don't want my own hurt affecting how I respond to him. (When he punished me for pulling the kidnapping-waitress stunt I was very much hurt. I cried, even <sheepish>.) I want what I'm saying to him to be what I think is the most effective - not what I blurt out because I myself am upset. If we two be adversaries (which we pretty much are), I should be the one in control. I'm the adult. But his is a growing mind of his own too. I keep thinking force your will on your child, and he just waits til he's old enough for you to be unable to force him. It was a thought that crossed my own mind when I was a child and forced to do stuff a lot. Wait til I grow up.

At job interviews when asked what I wanted most out of a job, I often said challenge. I've got that right here and I kinda like it. Except for the bit where my child doesn't want to see me ever again, I suppose.

Kings is horrified (obviously he never gets spoken to in this way) and gives Rockstar a stern talking-to, demanding an apology. Rockstar has that face on - the one that says The Rod Might Break, Child Welfare Services Might Come A-Knocking, But I'm. Not. Caving. I know that face. I recognize it from the baby we tried Cry It Out on - he screamed for like, 5 hours, before literally passing out in exhaustion. After a very long sleep, he awoke refreshed and started again. Before that in the hospital when I was trying to get him to breastfeed, the nurses would call every half hour and say "We just can't distract him or get him to sleep. Can we just give him the bottle?"

(I have this idea you get the best indication of your child's inherent personality when he is a baby and hasn't learnt how to "hide" some of it. Kinda like in dog training, whereby what you train the dog "overlays" its natural instincts - you never really "train away" a dog's basic instincts, and understanding that allows you to manage your own expectations as you communicate with the animal, for better results... It pays to research the dog breed. It pays to understand very well your child's inherent personality.)

Idly, I remember hearing about someone whose 3 or 4yr old suffocated from a crying fit in a freak accident that made the local tabloids maybe a year ago. Melodramatic and low possibility, but I'm thinking it's never a good idea to make screaming theatrics a habit. You're not even supposed to yell a lot at dogs, it's desensitizing and you end up having to do it more and more. I ask Kings to leave him, whereupon Kings gets on a pending NY conference call and forgets about it for the moment.

Ok. My turn. To my 4yr old adversary, "Know why I told Daddy not to force an apology out of you? Because I want you to actually be sorry, not say it just to end your punishment. You say you're sorry when you decide you are." Rockstar stares unblinking at me. A part of me is screaming You're His Mother! How Can You Not Punish Him Severely For Speaking To You That Way, You Wimp! The other part of me is going Do You Really Think Caning Or Screaming Is What'll Work, Or Are You Doing That Because You've Seen Other People Do It?

"You think it's ok to speak however you want to people, let me show you what it's like when I do what I want. You can finish your dinner or not - I don't enjoy nagging you to finish. Your body, and you're already a very small child. And if you wake hungry in the night (often happens if he doesn't put away an entire huge meal; sometimes I really wonder where it goes because he eats as much as I do at dinner time and I'm pregnant) you're going to have to get your own snack from the kitchen in the dark (he has a long cardboard roll he uses to reach the light switches around the apartment). Oh yeah, I'd rather read my own books tonight too - I'm not reading your stuff. Put yourself to bed whenever. Or not. But we will be switching off all the lights when we want to go to bed."

It's a mouthful. I don't really know if it'll work. Just somehow I didn't feel caning or screaming at him would. The "Asian Mum" in me is still screaming What The Hell Are You Doing??? Well I'm about to find out.

"Now, go away. Until you've apologized and meant it, I'm going to be doing what really want to do, including not speak to you." I go into my bedroom and purposely find something to read that I know will effectively distract me.

What's your stop-loss Aileen? When do I review this strategy if he doesn't cut this out? What "losses" can I accept in this battle, in order to try and win the war?

I'm thinking review after school the next day, as a first. If he makes it to school. Ok, I can live with him missing a day, if our fight drags on. I figure I'll go out somewhere deliberately to blog at school time, and our helper will receive strict instructions not to let him have tv and to beg off playing with him (I usually only encourage her to play ball with him anyway, if at all - which is very rare - a practice formed after a previous helper answered his question about a dead sparrow with a graphic foot-stomping and grinding motion she thought was hilarious... Basically I don't want my helper to fill my son's head with crap especially when he absorbs virtually everything he's told, but his ball-catching skills uh, leave a lot to be desired. :D)

I'm hoping if Rockstar misses school he's going to be so bored at home he'll come round.  One reason long ago I put so much effort into making sure he loved school. No-Xbox-As-Punishment to me is a weak compromise - it implies Xbox as a guilty pleasure. But in the first place why does he have to love something that's bad for him? It occurred to me recently, watching Kings inhaling potato chips (while watching mindless slapstick Canto tv) - WHY do we have to love so many things, in huge portions, that are bad for us? (Kings being a different story - no one could study like he could, with a real desperation because without a scholarship/ grant long ago he'd have had to drop out of college) Wouldn't it be a win-win if we derived our "guilty" pleasure out of as many things that were good for us as possible? I Eat Well, Look Great From Eating Well, AND Enjoy Eating It? Utopia, but worth a shot, just for general happiness purposes. 

Something behind me is making a clinking sound. I turn to see Rockstar standing at my door, fidgeting with a toy. Without a word I turn my back on him again. The clinking sound gets louder, but I ignore it anyway. Fortunately it's a good read I've got.

"Sor-ry." It's tearful and when I look in his face, appears to be heartfelt as well. Been about 30 minutes he's been standing there being ignored. If we'd met head-on, we'd be nowhere near done. I'm not even sure I believe it, I was steeling myself to last maybe 18 hours as a start. "You sure? You mean it?" Rockstar nods, "Yeah I'm sorry."

"Come join me for a cuddle," and he curls up in my bed. "I can't let you get away with that behavior - it's the same as when I nag you to eat or finish your Lego or change your shirt. My job is to make sure you grow up being able to take care of yourself - and if you grow up thinking you can be mean, people who don't need to be nice to you are going to be mean back. Understand?"

Barely perceptible nod. We continue to cuddle in silence.

5 minutes, 10. Kings emerges, having finished his conference call, and looks at us questioningly. "He apologized, I'm just explaining why we can't let him get away with behavior like that." "Oh, good boy! Here, lemme give you a hug too..." Kings climbs into bed, which is when Rockstar explodes with a self-pitying wail and loads tears. (The kind he only tries on Kings haha seriously, the waterworks can be turned on and off for the dad's benefit like the flick of a light switch.)

Kings recoils with a look of mild horror and heads out the door to meet a client for a late drink until the storm has passed.

Sigh. So close. The two men still somehow have to find a level with each other, esp when I'm in the hospital in a few weeks........ My money's on Rockstar (sorry darling :D)

The Mens. (Dis is not fair fight).

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • YTSL

     That was a great read.  Aileen, you sound like a wonderful mom.  I hope that one day, Rockstar will truly appreciate how special a mother you are.  Actually, I trust that Rockstar will because he really does sound like he’s being raised incredibly well.

    • Aileen

      Wow, really? So grateful, thanks!! I wondered if I was still seen as wimpy, thinking to seriously debate a 4yr-old on the “same” level…

  • zmun2

    Being a mother is tough! Reading this, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to make the cut.

    • Aileen

      i say the same to would-be shelter dog adopters 😛 it’s the people who actually consider they may not make the cut who probably make better potential parents/ shelter dog adopters etc than the people too arrogant to admit they might find it tough!

  • DoRaPrisCiLLa

    I hope I could be as good as you when the time comes.. for now, I try to figure out how to be a teacher to primary school children 🙂 reading this makes a lot of sense since we are not allowed canning any more and where are no good that come out of it.

    Thanks Aileen 🙂

    • Aileen

      Wow I didn’t expect praise for this post, you’re very welcome! The affirmation really helps, especially coming from a teacher, since Rockstar’s the only child I’ve ever really handled