I was at such a loss for how to deal with his behavior -- simply not listening to the point of defiance, punctuated with a potty training regression that included exclusive pants-pooping -- that I bought a book about parenting, something I have scoffed at in the past. But I am so cerebral and over-educated that when under stress, I fall right back on strategies that have worked in the past.
There must, I thought, be a book out there that can solve this for me.
There is not, of course, but I did find one that was helpful: How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too by Sal Severe, Ph.D. It was the right mix of theoretical and practical, but I must point out the ludicrous "hope" he holds out for parents of children who have, like Henry, what Severe calls a "persistent temperament."
There is a bright side. Even though children who are bright, verbal, and persistent may be difficult to manage as children and adolescents, they typically do well in life. These are the achievers and leaders of the world. Having this to look forward to may help you get through their childhood a little more easily.
Really? Wow, thanks a lot. So basically the best I can hope for is the ability to brag about my son's professional accomplishments in thirty years. Amazing. I feel so much better now.
Anyhow, today I took my persistently temperamental preschooler, eight-week-old infant and neurotic dog upstate to visit a friend and her dog. Just as a refresher, my dog, Hudson, is afraid of nearly everything, including, but not limited to, vacuum cleaners, hoses, small children, other dogs, bodies of water, cleaning products, the cabinet that contains the cleaning products, riding in cars and feral cats.
What could go wrong?
The day started out nicely. Though it was sweltering, it was great to catch up with my friend. Henry mostly behaved, which is not the same as allowing me to relax for more than 45 consecutive seconds, but at least he did not pee on the living room floor, like Hudson did, twice.
In the late afternoon we were playground-bound. We took the dogs, which proved to be a mistake.
Upon arriving at the park, Henry (we think) accidentally tripped my friend, and they both tumbled down onto the pavement, seemingly in slow motion. Lucy the beagle sprinted away. Henry was screaming. I dropped Hudson's leash and my tote bag, abandoned the baby in her stroller, picked up Henry and ran after Lucy.
Luckily, she was distracted momentarily by another dog, and I was able to grab her leash and drag her back to my friend, who was just getting up off the ground. We moved off the main pathway onto a patch of grass.
I noticed blood on my forearm and saw that Henry was bleeding. And still wailing.
"Okay, baby, it's okay." I kissed his cheek and set him down. "Let me get some wipes to clean your knee."
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," was his obvious response. And off he ran, much like a six-year-old beagle.
"Come back," I yelled. "I'll be gentle!" I wrapped Hudson's leash around the stroller handle and started to go after Henry.
Just then, the dog that had minutes earlier been the hero who saved Lucy from escaping to Canada, passed by with his owner. Hudson began barking like a lunatic; he charged. The force of his 30-pound apoplectic body pulled the stroller over, and the baby, who was not strapped in (#momoftheyear), slid out onto the ground.
I scooped the baby up. She wasn't even crying. I think I would have murdered the dog had I had the right tool. Instead, I took hold of his leash and pushed his head to the ground. NO.
In the background, Henry was still crying about his bloody knee. My friend looked dazed. We decided that she should take the dogs home and meet us later. I convinced Henry to wipe his knee off and we went up to the playground. No harm, no foul.
Henry made a beeline for a "ship" structure on a patch of sand, and I sat with a heavy, tired sigh on a bench to nurse the baby, whose little bottom lip had begun to quiver.
"Mommy?" Henry poked his head out of the ship moments later. "Can I pee on this sand?"
"No! No you may not." I got up while still nursing and the cover-up blanket fell to the ground. "Okay, come on, let's find a bathroom."
Henry, of course, was not having it. I tried dragging him with one hand toward the bathroom, my exposed boob and flabby post-partum belly flapping in the wind. But there was no one around, and I thought that if he peed there he would not be the first. I had a change of shorts in my bag. Pick your battles, Moo Cow. I sat back down and continued breastfeeding.
Another two minutes passed and he came charging toward me. "Mommy! Quick, I need a diaper! I have to poooooooop!"
Yes, that's right. Over the last several weeks, in my desperation not to have to clean feces from yet another pair of tiny Thomas the Train underwear, I had offered Henry the option of going in the potty or asking for a diaper. He used to go in the potty; he would again, I reasoned, and I wanted to end the pointless power struggle. You can't physically make someone poop in the potty. You just can't.
Fine. I fished around in the diaper bag and procured a diaper.
"Hurry, Mommy! It's coming out!"
I hurried. With the baby in my right arm, I used my left to take off his shorts and underwear and diaper him up. At one point, I tried to let the baby rest on my knees while still keeping a nipple in her mouth by hunching over. You can imagine how well that went over. When I finally withdrew my hand, it had poop all over it.
I used wipes and Purell while Henry went off to poop inside the ship.
At this point, I texted my friend and told her we were coming back. It took a while for me to strap the baby securely into the stroller and get Henry to agree to "abandon ship," but eventually we were on our way.
"I want to push the stroller myself!" demanded Mr. Persistent Temperament. (How bright and verbal you are! I'm going to be so proud in 30 years.)
"Fine," I said, relenting. So exhausted. So very, very exhausted. "You can push it on this straight, flat part, and then Mommy is going to push it."
"Okay," he agreed at exactly the same moment in which he veered sharply off to the left onto a patch of gravel. The stroller's plastic wheels locked. And the stroller fell over again. This time my newborn daughter was saved by the straps, or else she would have fallen straight out onto her face (#momoftheyear).
I righted the stroller and grabbed Henry's hand. "We're LEAVING."
On the way home, Henry began to whimper. "My butt hurts." Well, of course it did. He was walking home with a huge diaper full of adult-style shit. I dragged him back to my friend's house and attempted a clean-up on the bathroom floor.
I will spare you the gory details of this operation. Suffice it to say, I came out of the struggle with feces smeared on both forearms and my voice hoarse from screaming.
At that point, I threw in the towel.
"Are you sure you don't want me to make you some quick pasta before you get on the road?" my friend asked. "I'm worried about you driving."
But I just really wanted to go home.
As I packed up the car, Henry ran around barefoot wearing only a shirt and underwear. "I'm hungry! I want to go to the dino [diner]!" The baby was also crying out in hunger.
I folded up the stroller and tried to get it back into the trunk of the car. There was an empty propane tank in there that Rayne had strapped securely with bungee cords this past weekend, in the vain hope of exchanging it at Home Depot. I couldn't get the stroller back in. I was getting agitated. I tried every which way until I decided the best way would be to yank the bungee cord aside and shove the stroller in as hard as I could.
But instead of stretching the cord, I ripped the hook with a loud pop straight out of the wall of the trunk, fuzz flying everywhere.
I lost it.
I let out a shriek that echoed off the street's old walls.
"Mommy, what did you yell?" (Henry)
"Waaaaaaaaaaaah!" (the baby)
"Are you okay?" (my friend)
I went inside and slumped down onto her couch. I nursed the baby and let Henry eat some leftover chicken salad from lunch.
Finally, the car was packed, and we were ready to go.
Except for Hudson, who was sitting fifty feet away from me, in front of the house.
I opened the back door of the car. "Come!" Nothing. "Come on, Hudson!" Nope. "Hudson, COME!" Nada. He looked off to the left and pretended not to hear.
I stormed toward him. And in that moment, somehow, in some way that must defy the laws of physics, I ran into a bug so hard with the bridge of my nose that I thought I had been bitten. But, no. I had simply charged a large fly with my nose, Taurus-the-Bull style, and connected. I now sported a small, fairly painful bruise on the bridge of my gigantic Italian schnoz.
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
On the ride home, Henry chattered at me the entire 90 minutes. ("Can we follow the 1 train home?" "The 1 train is only in the city." "But can we follow it home?" "No." "Why not?" "I don't know." "Can you guess?" Rinse, repeat.) The baby only cried for the last 15 miles. Hudson, wisely, did not make a peep.
But you know what? No one died. And that's what I call a parenting victory.
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