Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Defense of the Spirited Child -- Part II

I've been getting all kinds of feedback as I've been out and about walking with the grandboys this week. A checker at one of the stores I frequent told me, "You are such a good grandma." A woman in a van who came up to a Stop sign as I also approached it waved me across giving me the right-of-way and as I mouthed "thank you" as I walked in front of it she poked her head out the window and called to me, "I see you guys out walking all over the place!" My neighbor Sonny told me, "I don't know how you do it," about half a dozen times, then told me I have the patience of Job. I saw another neighbor, Alex, over on a busy street a couple miles from home and he waved at me like, "You're over here, too?!" Yup. Crazy woman that I am. Crazy. I spoke to my son on the phone this morning...he's been taking care of the boys on his own this weekend while his wife is at her high school reunion...and he told me, "I'm their dad and even I don't know how you do it!" I told him it's because I know these years won't last forever, and it's also because I love them to distraction. It's hard some days. I admit that. But I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. The joys far outweigh the negatives.

When the boys are in the stroller they're usually well-behaved and calling out "Hi!" to everyone who crosses our path. They're handsome boys and many people comment on that or tell me how "cute" they are. As long as Cooper stays facing forward and Dylan sits back and doesn't start messing with Cooper from behind, things stay peaceable and we have a very pleasant time together, noting every car and truck and bus and big dig and bird and squirrel and butterfly and chicken we see. Every jet, plane, or helicopter in the sky. Both boys are chattering and pointing in every direction.

And most of the time they're very well-behaved in stores or when we stop by the fire station to look at the fire trucks.

Most of the time.

Then there are days like Friday where I took Dylan out on a 'big boy walk', one where he walks along with me and Dear Hubby distracts Cooper so Dylan and I can sneak out of the house undetected. We walked over to the fire station and as we approached the open doors in the back, one of the fire fighters who was tinkering around at a work bench invited us in so Dylan could see the trucks up close. My grandson is crazy about fire trucks. Obsessed with them. I've lost count of how many toy fire trucks we have here at our house. To get up close was more than his system could handle as far as stimulus and excitement go. So when I grabbed him by the hand and told him we needed to get back home, Dylan went into meltdown mode. He cried like his heart was breaking and he twisted and pulled every which way, trying to get out of my grasp. At this stage I've had my fair share of coping with this kind of behavior out in public. I keep calm, I talk to him soothingly, and don't give in. I don't get flustered. I don't get embarrassed. I don't really care what anyone around me is thinking. I know why Dylan's acting the way he is and I deal with it as effectively as I can, trying to get him thru it without making too much of a scene. I kept steadily pulling him out of the fire house and as we got into the parking lot, the fire fighter pushed a button and the door to the trucks rolled shut. That got Dylan's attention. I told him from now on, when we come to the fire station, it will be in the double stroller and he won't be allowed to get out and go inside anymore, at least until he can behave. I told him it's a privilege to be allowed in there, that naughty behavior will take that privilege away. The fire fighter was letting him know that how he acted wasn't acceptable so he shut the door. If nothing else, Dylan is a very intelligent little boy. He understood what I was saying. So, the next few times we go there will be in the double stroller with Cooper. Then, we'll try another 'big boy' walk and see how it goes. Baby steps.

Grocery stores. The horror chamber for parents - and grandparents! - of spirited kids. I've learned to push the stroller down the center of the aisle, keeping everything out of reach. We pause to look at what catches their attention but we don't touch. And at the checkout stand I stay back out of reach of all the racks of goodies. I won't go in to it until the person/people ahead of me are completely out of the checkstand. Then I'll push the stroller all the way thru, parking it outside of the checkstand, out of reach of anything...garbage cans, boxes of fans on display, whatever. The boys are right there where I can see them but they can't touch. And it saves a lot of grief...mostly for me!

I am not going to make excuses for the actions of spirited children. But I am going to say I'm beginning to understand them better. I'm realizing what triggers off most of their actions is frustration. The way I define it is this: they're very intelligent and it's the lack of ability to communicate on their part that drives them to distraction, that causes the meltdowns and the constant inquisitiveness...the busy fingers reaching for everything, the inability to settle down in restaurants or anywhere else where they're confined and surrounded by people. It's the constant background music everywhere, in stores and restaurants. It's the bombardment of stimuli. I'm not sure if it's because their nervous systems are more finely geared or if it's because those systems haven't had a chance to mature enough yet. At home, where they know the routine of their day, where they feel secure and have the freedom to move about at their own will, meltdowns are almost non-existent. I learned early on when venturing outside that if I reacted in a frazzled, panicky way to their behavior, it only served to trigger off a larger, wilder meltdown. I had never experienced spirited children before these two entered into my life, and I had no clue whatsoever how to cope. Experience has been the best teacher for me.

A week or so ago, during our hot weather, I'd taken an early morning walk to the store with the boys. Cooper, who's teething molars right now, was cranky and out of sorts from his teeth and the heat. I'm not even sure what triggered him off but as we left the checkstand he came unglued, screaming at the top of his lungs and writhing around in his seat. I pushed the stroller out of the way and hunkered down next to him, stroking his hair and talking quietly to him until he calmed down. Two senior men were sitting on chairs nearby, stoically watching the scene without comment. I could see their thoughts, tho: "Another brat!" But Cooper did quiet down and as we passed by them one spoke up and said, "Well, she got him to shut up pretty fast, didn't she?"

Yup, I did.


Betty said...

Fascinating! Great post and such deep insights. I´m sure your son is so glad you are the one babysitting his boys!
Can I ask some questions, because I´ve only been reading for a little while and I´ve been wondering? You don´t have your posts in "labels", so I can´t search in your old posts.
Do you babysit your grand kids everyday? Or just when needed? How many grand kids do you have? How old are they?

the Baitlady said...

ahhh... the joys of grandmahood

Loretta said...

This reminds me of when my first grandson was age two to four. I had never dealt with such a child...and didn't have any idea how! Thankfully he outgrew it, but there was times I didn't think I was going to make it. Now, he is a very grown up 12 year old...but his little sister is following in his footsteps. At least now I am more able to deal with it.

Deborah said...

I'm sort of a adopted grandmother. My daughter's roommate moved in with when my daughter moved home. Jenni was pregnant at the time and we got to have a baby in the house for about 6 months. I loved it. I still get to babysit about every other weekend. I feel that, now that I'm older, I don't get upset with the fits as much as I did when my it was children throwing them. Like you said, we realize that this time goes so fast, take time to enjoy even the fits. Stores are bad about playing our kids against us...oh the tales I could tell about a screaming boy wanting to see the toys they were displaying at the front door of the store...oh wait...Walmart has it all on video!