Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Drastic Measures

We had a great routine before we headed out for vacation. The kids would wake up each morning and play, sometimes watching a little PBS Kids. By 10 am or so, we were usually out the door for a walk, a trip to the library, a visit one of several nearby playgrounds, the pool, the zoo, a playdate, etc. We'd either pack a lunch or be home in time for lunch. Naps came after lunch, with Miss C sometimes opting to take one as well. Once B was up, we stuck close to home, taking another walk or playing in the basement or outside until One Ordinary Dad got home from work. It was peaceful. It worked.

And then it broke. The first week after our beach vacation, we still kind of stuck to the routine. Gradually, though, C began to unravel. We noticed it in the little things at first-- talking back to us, telling us "no," grabbing toys from her brother and then lying about it. Actions that resulted in losing trips to the park and the pool and playdates. But those little things snowballed into bigger things, and after she ran ahead of One Ordinary Dad at the mall, despite his telling her to stay close, we decided it was time to do something drastic.

You see, we want to raise grateful, polite, loving kids. Most of the time, those are the adjectives I'd use to describe C and B. But not lately. And especially not C. And while some would tell me that her behavior is typical for a five-year-old and it's just her response to being out of her routine, it's behavior that is unacceptable in our family.

So we took away ALL of her toys. We had some empty Rubbermaid containers in the basement and she helped us pack up everything-- all of her Playmobil, Legos, dollhouse stuff, dress-ups, stuffed animals, EVERYTHING that she claimed as hers. We left out books, art supplies, puzzles, and games (and B's toys).

We had a discussion with her about choosing love and gratitude. We talked about how Mommy and Daddy always make sure she has good food to eat, and nice clothes to wear, and a warm house to live in, and that all of the toys and "stuff" she has are just bonus items because we love her. We talked about the importance of being her "brother's keeper" and putting him first (which is hard to to do for a five-year-old). Now that the only "toys" she can play with are B's, we talked about playing on his terms and going along with him. We talked about there being no such thing as saying "thank you" and "I love you" too much. We told C that as we "catch" her choosing love and gratitude, she will slowly start to earn her toys back. To be honest though, I'm thinking about selling some of them-- the ones she rarely plays with and just take up space.

It was hard at first, but we're starting to see a shift. B is 2.5 and so he's just starting to learn how to pretend play and follow a storyline with another kid. C is teaching him that as she plays with him. She's creating some different rules to some of her games so that B can play too and the game goes quickly and keeps his attention. I think this morning I've seen them playing together better and for a longer duration of time than I have in awhile.

It's not just about shifting C's attitude. It's about shifting attitudes for all of us. Over the last few weeks, we've cleaned out our basement and our closets. Kids hand-me down clothes have been sorted and distributed to friends and family (we keep the cycle going since we get so many from friends). Other clothes (like half of my wardrobe) were donated (our rule-- if you haven't worn it in the last year, it's gone). And One Ordinary Dad and I made a pact-- we're just going to save for the good stuff. Instead of buying a larger quantity of cheaper clothes and shoes (when we need them), we're going to save and invest in a smaller quantity that are better made and will last longer-- so they don't end up in the Goodwill pile, or worse, in the landfill, within a year or two. We're rethinking holidays and birthdays (not that we've been over-indulgent by any means, but when we buy toys, they need to be toys that will be played with and that will last-- like the kids' Legos and Playmobil-- instead of a ton of cheap stuff that inevitably breaks). Books, puzzles, and games that we can all enjoy will take a slightly higher priority too.

Living in a small house helps. We don't have a lot of storage room, which means we can't hold onto things. When toys are no longer played with, when books are no longer read or loaned out repeatedly and there's no more room on the shelf, when clothes are no longer worn, we find new homes for them instead of hanging onto them. We make room for the new stuff. I'm letting go of the sentimentality of some things ("oh, that was C's first Little People set" or "that was the dress I wore when I got hired" or "we can't possibly get rid of ALL 70 some pieces of artwork from C's preschool years"). There's a saying that says "take a picture, it'll last longer." I have plenty of pictures of my kids in the cute outfits that were my favorites, playing with toys that were "firsts," and One Ordinary Dad took the time recently to photograph ALL of Cate's preschool artwork so I can put it into a Shutterfly book (I kept one picture with her handprints that she made me for Mother's Day, the rest was recycled).

We're trying hard to be a family that recognizes that we are beyond blessed and we're trying hard to cultivate that recognition and gratitude in our kids. We truly have more than we need, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't feel entitled to more or find security in our "stuff." It's why we start out before-bed prayers each night listing the parts of our day and our lives for which we are most thankful.

And in other news, we spent a lovely weekend at a free Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops concert in the park (the second half of the show, they had a digital light show projected on Music Hall), One Ordinary Dad celebrated a birthday, and B went to his first Reds game.

 I'll let you know how our "drastic measures" and fight against excess works out and how effective it is in helping change C's attitude (really, all of our attitudes). It's part of living our better story.

~One Ordinary Mom