the tattle tally, explained

Several people have asked me to explain the Tattle Tally.  Before I share the details of this elaborate scheme, let me say this: Prior to having kids, I remember hearing moms correct their children for tattling, and I always thought, what’s the big deal?  I mean, don’t you want your kid to come and tell you if someone else is doing something wrong?

(Cue maniacal laughing of experienced parents everywhere).

My kids started dabbling with the tattle routine when they started preschool, but when Kembe came home, it really got out of hand. As it turns out, tattling is a universal language.  And that grating, sing-song tune that we used as kids?  They still use it.  Everywhere.  Even in Haiti. 

You know the one:

(Impressed?  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that an Associate’s Degree in Vocal Performance does not come in handy in real-life situations.  Like when you want to notate your child’s tattling song.  Or . . .  um . . . well, I guess this is the only situation thus far.)

As I was saying, once Kembe came home the sibling rivalry amped up, as did the tattling.  My kids were tattling on each other all day, over large and small stuff.  It was grating and annoying, and I finally saw why parents found it so undesirable. Because in addition to it interrupting my family time blog-reading, I could see that it was sowing a spirit of gloating and competition between my kids.  Hence, the Tattle Tally was born.

It’s very complicated.  Here are the steps:

1) If a kid tattles, they get an X. (Or a tally. You might forget which one you use mid-week but it doesn’t matter because the kids can’t read).
2) If they don’t tattle all day, they get a jelly-bean at night.

That’s it. Except that, the effectiveness of #2 is contingent on the fact that you deprive them of anything sweet during every other hour of the day. 

As simple as it is, this has really changed the dynamic in our home.  The first week was rough, but they HATED seeing an X go by their name, and the nights when only one prerson got a jellybean were very impactful.  And man, these kids love jellybeans.  I have to say that now, they rarely tattle.  We’ve explained that certain things are “tattling situations”, because I do want them to feel free to come to me if something inappropriate is going on.  But for the most part, they are working things out and learning to talk about their feelings.  Music to this music-major-turned-therapist’s ears.

gun control

I spend a lot of time pondering the disparity between the mom I thoughy I would be, and the mom I am. I was such a good mom before having kids. I had dreams of my children playing with quaint wooden toys, learning piano at a young age, and having picnics in meadows (eating only organic food, of course). Somehow my reality of motherhood involved a lot more plastic, McDonalds, and trips to Target than I ever imagined. That meadow picnic? Yeah, that’s never happened.

Also in my dreams of motherhood, our home would be free of toys that represent weapons. My oldest was a boy – but I imagined that somehow, with careful guidance, I could free him from the gender expectations that give way to a desire for violent objects. Unfortunately, no one warned me that a predilection for destruction seems to be coded in the DNA. Despite providing my son Jafta with a playroom full of peaceful, docile toys, he seems to be drawn only to things that produce explosions, loud noises, or (best yet), wounds of the flesh. He was begging for a sword by the time he could talk. Once he got wind of this light-saber business, everything in the house (paper towel roll, umbrella, drumstick) was brandished as a light-saber. And now, despite the fact that he’s never seen a movie much darker than Stuart Little, he is totally and utterly obsessed with guns.

I blame this on the tawdry influence of some of his older, more worldy friends. (The friends in question actually being the children of our pastor and one of the church elders. So, you know, unseemly influences). These friends have given in to the obsession and allow their kids to play with pretend guns, and on more than one occasion we’ve been on a playdate where he has observed these kids gleefully chasing each other with said toy guns, whereby I scramble to distract him with some benign fire truck or other object that seems incredibly boring in comparison to A GUN! A GUN! I’M FIVE AND I WANNA PLAY GUNS!

I finally confessed my concerns to one of the other mothers, who is the mom of several kids older than my own. She laughed knowingly, and patted my shoulder, and said, “Oh, that’s right. Jafta’s your oldest. I remember feeling that way, too. But now that I’ve watched three boys go through this stuff, I gotta tell ya: you’re fighting a losing battle. All boys want to play with guns. You can do everything you can to outlaw it, and they will make a gun out of a stick. Just let it go.”

I suspected she might be right, but I was sticking to my guns (or lack thereof). At this particular playdate, I encouraged Jafta to find other things to play with, as he stared longingly at the other, seemingly cooler kids as they ran and chased and rendered each other dead. I tried to distract him with Legos and trains. He stared longingly as every other boy ran by, brandishing a weapon. He also spent the playdate alone – excluded because his mom wouldn’t let him engage in what everyone else was doing. I left the playdate questioning my judgement. Jafta left the playdate devastated.

A few weeks later, we went to another playdate with the same group of boys. As soon as we arrived, I could see that the other boys were enraptured in another game of gun play. Jafta looked forlorn, and I had a little moment where I decided that my value for Jafta being included with his peers was more important than my rule about guns. I told Jafta to go get a gun, and start running. He looked at me like I was crazy. And then I heard myself saying, “Seriously, Jafta. You can do it. Go get yourself one of those guns. Get it! And RUN!!”

And as those words I never thought I would utter came out of my mouth, I reminded myself that parenting is not predictable. I have to be willing to change, to reconsider, and to budge a little. I watched Jafta look confused, and then hesitant, and then I saw a huge grin break out on his face as he joined in with the other kids. He had a great playdate, and he felt included.

We still have a no-gun policy at our own house. Although, he seems to be working his way around it.

the first rule about block club . . .

I got back from my conference late last night, and I must brag on my husband.  Jafta and I came home to a spotless house, and three bathed and peacefully sleeping children.  I don’t know what happened while I was gone (I’m guessing that bath before my arrival was the only one of the weekend), but from all outward appearances, Mark and the kids had a great time in my absence.  
There were really only two dire consequences from my time away:
1. Mark allowed a Veggie Tales CD to be played in the car.
2. Mark bought Kembe a real golf club.
Let me explain.  
First, I have worked hard over the past five years strategizing through every parenting decision, with the knowledge that setting precedence for certain things only means certain things will ALWAYS BE.  For example, sure, it’s a little stodgy that my kids have never had gum, or have never eaten a meal in front of the tv, or peed in the backyard.  But I know that if you slip just a little on such things and allow it once, these children will turn on you and ask for this special treatment all the livelong day.  This is why I have never . . . NEVER . . . played children’s music in the car.  Or ever, really.  I abhor children’s music.  I don’t think they even need to know the genre exists.  So wouldn’t you know, while I’m gone Mark takes the kids to Chick-Fil-A where they get a Veggie Tales CD, which he casually pops into the car on the way home.  Now I ask you, what do you think I listened to all day today? 
    a) Veggie Tales
    b) the sound of children incessantly nagging me to listen to Veggie Tales
(The answer: It doesn’t matter.  EQUALLY ANNOYING).
Now, to the golf clubs.  Mark also has a certain obsession with buying sports equipment for the kids.  Despite having a large collection of golf clubs in various sizes, Mark became concerned that Kembe is a lefty and was learning to swing with a right-handed club.  I know you are reading this right now and thinking about the gravity of a three-year-old forming a crippling golf swing in his formative years.  So clearly, the only option for Mark was to take him to Sports Chalet and buy a special left-handed golf club made of forged steel.  Which Jafta got a mouthful of this afternoon in the backyard, when he was standing behind Kembe while he practiced with his new toy.
Let me say this.  A couple inches too high, and Jafta’s eye would be black.  A couple of inches to the right, and Jafta would be missing some teeth.  Luckily, his cheek caught the hit, but now his mouth is swollen beyond recognition.  He has asked all day for me to put a band-aid on the inside of his mouth.  But I’m not gonna do it.  Because then he would always think he could have a band-aid on the inside of his mouth.

I sustained some injures in the backyard myself today, where I went to work on assembling a set of cardboard blocks I bought the kids.  I remember playing with these cardboard blocks at my own preschool, and I thought that a set in our home might encourage the kids to build a fort with something other than the sofa cushions.  And besides, look how happily this kids are playing in the promotional shot:

I mean, that little girl is HUGGING the block.  Surely this will buy me hours of quiet play, no?

First of all, it bought me hours of assembling pieces of orgami-detailed cardboard with razor-sharp edges.  Each block took about an hour to assemble.  I’m not exaggerating.  (Yes I am).  But seriously, it was annoying and my hands are covered it cardboard papercuts.  Which could kill you, FYI.  
And the kids?  Once they took possesion of the blocks, it looked less like the picture above and more like this:
(By the way, I was gonna put a picture of three people wrestling . . . because there was also a good bit of that once they had access to the cardboard blocks of doom.  But from experience, let me warn you.  It’s best not to search for images of  “wrestling threesome”.  Because Google is thinking of something else).

What Am I Doing Wrong Here?

There are so many days where, as a mom, I feel completely unequipped. I am often looking around and feeling like I am the ONLY mom fumbling this much and in so much chaos. I am the mom who forgets water bottles at playgroup, who forgets sunscreen at the beach, who forgets to pack lunch for preschool, who forgets the helmet at the skate park. I try very hard to overcompensate for this by being “intentionally organized”. I know my weaknesses, and try very hard to plan for things well ahead of time. I set things out, I make lists. I prepack. I mapquest. But then there are some days where even with good planning, I feel like a doofus. Today was one of those days.

My kids and I like to walk a certain bike path that leads to the beach. There is another post where I outline the 47 things I need to prepack in order to make this a successful endeaveor. Lately, Jafta has been wanting to ride his bike on the path instead of sitting in the stroller. Sounded like a win-win to me. So we got him a new bike, and it’s great. He’s happy. I’m happy. Let’s do this every day!!

We set out for this routine today, and I came prepared. The kids were suncreened, I remembered the sand toys and helmet, and I even brought some snacks. But our walk takes a very bad turn about a mile in, when Jafta rides his bike through a HUGE pile of dog poop. There is now dog poop covering his bike. It is caked between every ridge on each wheel, and it’s kicking up as he rides, and covering his seat and legs. I am mortified. I try to get it off by running the wheels through the sand, or by hitting it with a rock, but this poop is staying put. We have no choice but to keep going. Maybe it will come off as he rides, I think.

Well, yes, it does come off as he rides. In very small pieces that kick up from the tires and hit both India and I in the face. My walk is now a frogger game where I am trying to avoid being hit by a hailstorm of dog feces. But we carry on, because damnit, we’re going to the beach. (And I know the demon-possessed 3-year-old tantrum that would ensue if we turned back now). We arrive at our destination, where I realize I’ve forgotten the bike lock for Jafta’s bike. So I hide his 5-day-old bike in the bushes and hope that the poop will deter any would-be bike thieves.

We head down to the beach and there are tons of little tide pools. Now, I have a strict “stay away from the water” policy on these walks because I don’t like being outnumbered by two non-swimmers near the ocean. But the tidepools looks so welcoming, and my kids are so excited, and . . . what’s the harm?

So my kids start playing in the tidepools and I suddenly realize they are getting soaked and we have a 2-mile walk back to the car and no change of clothes. Oops. Naartjie clothes may be made of amazing cotton but boy it does not dry well. As we finish and load into the stroller, I realize I need to take the kid’s dripping clothes off. So I have a diapered baby in the stroller, who was only sunblocked according to her outfit. Her pasty white stomach and legs are now unprotected. And I have a 3-year-old ready to ride a bike in his underwear. And I think to myself, surely this kind of thing does not happen to other moms.

Fortuntely the bike is still there, unfortunately still covered in poop. Which is now compounded by the fact that Jafta has on wet underwear (only) and about 1/3 cup of sand stuck between his butt cheeks. He is not liking this sensation at all, so halfway down the bike path we have to stop while I take his underwear off and try to remove said sand from his butt crack. By spreading his butt cheeks and wiping with my bare hand. In front of approximately 20 people. I am just wishing for a pressure hose to appear from the skies at this point, to hose off this sand and poop. We have another mile to go.

Jafta gets tired and doesn’t want to ride his bike anymore. Starts crying. Loudly. I start yelling. Loudly. “KEEP GOING, JAFTA”. He starts falling on purpose, because he doesn’t want to keep going. This gets more poop on him. Every time he falls, I chastise him. We are a mess. People are staring. I have two children in their underwear, and I am only thinking about getting back to that car. I practically cattle-prod Jafta for the next mile, with both kids screaming, and seriously wondering. . . . what am I doing wrong? Do other moms have days like this??

The grand finale is realizing that I have to somehow get the poop bike into the back of our SUV to get it home. I seriously think about traumatizing my son further by leaving the bike in the parking lot, but finally decide to suck it up and load the bike in the back. I dry heave the entire ride home, as the smell of fecal matter permeates the car.

Happiness at the Misfortune of Others

DEF schadenfreude SHOD-n-froy-duh, noun: a malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.
My kids love a book called “No, David”. It is the first choice for reading of both my toddler and preschooler. I first saw this book in a bookstore, and thought that the depictions of this rascly little boy and the trouble he gets in to portrayed a negative message to kids. On every page, David is doing something naughty and being chastised by his mother. I thought, what a negative book, and put in back on the shelf.
A couple months later, my kids were given this book as a gift, and despite my best efforts, it quickly became their favorite. They laugh with glee at each page. They ask to read it over and over. They exult in joining me saying, “No, David”. They seem to think David and his troubles make for funny, funny stuff.
For some reason, this caused me to wax a bit philosophical about the human tendency to enjoy seeing others suffering. Were my kids little sociopaths in the making? Or are they just relieved to see someone else has impulse control issues, too?
The more I thought about this unfortunate human quirk, I realized that this played a big part in the value of this blog. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I know that I often feel a huge sense of relief when I see another mom struggling. Another kid’s public meltdown? Inside, I’m thinking “thank God it’s not just mine”. I tend to enjoy reading about other moms who don’t have it all together. So I hope that by being vulnerable about my struggles, others feel a little more normal. It makes me feel like we are all in this together, struggling alongside each other.
And, it satisfies that evil bit of schaudenfraude in all of us.