Friday, March 9, 2012

Temper, Temper!

Last night's Purim service, the children's reading of the Magillah, was kind of a surprise, but kind of not a surprise, when it came to our children's span of attention. There was no children's Magillah at Rodef, where our preschool is, so we went to Grandma & Grandpa's temple, Beth Sholom. The reading was held in a ballroom downstairs, and there were many, many people there of all ages, with bright and shiny costumes of varying types. The boys were in their Spider-Man costumes again. There was also a video presentation - basically, a Powerpoint presentation with the readings in Hebrew and English - and a live band providing incidental music and playing along with the folk songs. The end of the reading had hamantaschen, the 3-pointed cookie specific to Purim.

It started a little rough, but not appreciably. The Boy went with his mother and The Baby, and they found a seat near the front. Some of the other kids were gathered around some noisemakers and drums in the middle of the floor, and he joined the throng. Little Bear decided that he liked the new place and wanted to explore - particularly the elevator by the front door. Knowing what he'd find, I followed him up the elevator. The second floor - the only other elevator stop - was pitch black. He took two steps out, freaked out a little bit, then latched a deathgrip onto my legs until I lit the hallway with my telephone and he could hit the elevator button again. He then went to the potty (his other favorite exploration besides an elevator). When Grandma and Grandpa got there, he walked around the other end of the temple with Grandpa. He settled down after a little while, and he watched the majority of the reading sitting in a chair, shaking his noisemaker at the appropriate points and singing the songs that he knew.

The Boy, on the other hand, never settled down after that initial period of musical instrument exploration. He decided to explore the upstairs a little bit, at least as far as his courage would allow him to venture into the darkness (farther than I would, naturally). After that, he found some of the indoor climbing toys that are used by the temple's preschool and played on those for an hour, much of it with a little girl around Little Bear's age (but half his size). It was a little annoying, but - considering my attention span when it comes to religious services - not as bad as it could have been.

The interesting thing, as far as I was concerned, was in the idle small talk I had with the little girl's mother. She was talking about how the girl related to her older brother. I found her choice of words interesting: "Yesterday was one of those days where she just, well, ruined everything. She ruined the picture he was coloring. She ruined dinner by throwing a tantrum. She ruined blah blah blah." I didn't hear the rest because I kind of stopped paying attention at that point. It was one of those moments where I made the unconscious decision of, "If I talk parenting with her, I'm going to wind up getting in a fight, so just nod my head and smile."

Think of the word "ruin" for a second. What does that mean? That's a pretty extreme word. The connotations, to me, say that the child destroyed something beyond repair. The ruins of Rome, the ruins of ancient Greece, the ruins of ancient Egypt... that's what the word "ruin" means to me. How can a 2.5 year old child "ruin" something? How does a tantrum during dinner "ruin" dinner? Does that affect your ability to eat? It might affect conversation, but that's relatively easily solved: move the child out into the hallway or up into their room. When they come wandering back, if they're still screaming, move them back outside into the hallway. Rinse, lather, and repeat. When they're calm, welcome them back with hugs and kisses.

It is true that the little ones love to get into everything. It is true, also, that younger siblings want any attention, positive or negative, from their older siblings. But, ruining coloring? How about, just for the sake of argument, moving the small child to a different activity? Giving them a toy? Giving them some paper and crayons of their own, and a chair next to her big brother? Again, ruining is kind of a harsh word. Little Bear loves to "ruin" The Boy's iPad time by trying to steal the iPad or by standing behind The Boy and whacking him in the head. If they can't resolve it quickly (I'm actually kind of waiting for The Boy to stand up and paste him one, one of these days), then the nearest adult grabs Little Bear and gives him a book or a toy or something like that.

I'm saddened and disappointed by hearing the mother describe her toddler's activities as ruinous, when I know darn well that it is, ultimately, a colossal failure of leadership. Children demand and deserve flexibility; rigid responses are not compatible with small children. It is true that some health and safety issues are rigid: can't drink the stuff under the sink, period; can't take Daddy's medicines, period; can't run out into the street, period. Aside from that, very little needs to be rigid. If there's a family heirloom out in the middle of floor, and it's breakable, then you need to monitor it and the children continuously, or you need to move it into a more secure location. If a kid doesn't want to eat dinner right then, that's fine. It doesn't ruin your dinner, but be proactive and turn off the television, computer, iPad, whatever they're using. (If a kid is going to read and doesn't feel like eating, I don't really have a problem with that. They're not getting a crappy snack later, though.)

Cancer ruins a family's day. Temper tantrums are a mild annoyance.

Words mean something, even at a young age. It's taken me a lot of years and a lot of teaching to figure it out. When you're angry, it's easy to lash out and throw hurtful words at those you love. All of us do it, and nobody can push our buttons more than our immediate family. When you're using words like that to describe your kid's daily behaviors - particularly when the behavior is age appropriate, like food-related tantrums and pestering an older brother - then there's a greater issue at stake.

Hmm. My original intention was not to attack a stranger's parenting abilities or styles based on a sentence uttered during small talk at a public event. I guess the whole concept is that you have to be careful with the words that you choose.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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