Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Opal in Public Places.

Two weeks from tomorrow, Opal and I fly to the mid-west to visit family.

Just us ladies, sans Daddy. And the visceral interpretation of yikes only just took hold, thanks to a short series of Opal-resistance-in-public-places-moments that have taken place over the last few weeks:

—The first involved Opal not wanting to leave the toy isle of Target. (I know better than to bring my daughter to this section was what a passing mom said to me.) I finally corralled her back to her stroller, after many unsuccessful attempts, using a distraction that border-lined on bribery, thus leaving me feeling a bit less powerful and communicative as I would have liked.

—The second involved Opal not wanting to get into her stroller in a public parking lot, bracing herself in the classic cat-resisting-a-carrier stance, kicking and squirming and wanting to walk the 5 blocks we had ahead of us. Insult to injury, she took periodic breaks from her fit to yell hello!! at every person who passed by, inspiring a half-dozen strangers to throw waves and smiles and she-is-sooo-cutes whilst we were smack in the middle of our tangle. I wound up carrying her. Again, not the ending I'd have preferred.

—The third involved the performance of an impressive tantrum when it was time to return to the car after a brief play-session at Childish Things (a kid-consignment shop in Boulder with a fabulous little play corner). Throwing slaps, kicking, screaming and all I could do was repeat in my most grown-up voice, this is NOT acceptable behavior. The words clearly toted no weight, as I admittedly had no idea how to back them up while in the car, and she eventually tired herself out enough for me to buckle the pink-doggie seatbelt covers over her shoulders.

Let the record state that I'd like to think of myself as the kind of mom who is not afraid to take charge and who doesn't spend much time trying to avoid confrontation. And it happens to be an entirely different story at home. When Opal doesn't listen to Mommy or Daddy, she gets a consequence, a simple time-out or she loses her stories-before-bed that night. And neither Mommy or Daddy get very flustered at home because the plan is clear. Most times now, all we need to say at home is remember what happens when you choose not to listen to Mommy? And the majority of the times, she hops to cooperating. Same is the case for grammy and grampy's; because she's had a time-out there as well, she knows the same rules apply.

But I just haven't felt right about putting Opal in a time-out in a public place. The main reason being, I assumed she'd rebound from the designated space with same intensity of a blast that she musters at home. Over and over and over again. (There have been time-outs at home that require her to be re-placed in the spot dozens of times.) However, Opal quickly became keen to the fact that mommy is discipline-confused in public places and has quickly turned them into her venue for high-drama theater.

Until yesterday. We were at the dog-park, had walked there in her stroller to whittle away some time on a sick day from Daycare. The overcast sky had turned bloated and heavy since our departure so I was feeling pressed to begin our walk back to the car. Opal noticed the adjacent playground and had other things in mind.

In the attempt to think on my feet, I extracted an idea I saw on Supernanny months ago, used by a mother of 5 children who not only didn't listen to her, but had a collective propensity to run into the street. In the small grassed area between the dog park/stroller and the playground, which Opal was moving through at a good clip, ignoring me completely, I ran to her and grabbed her hand as if we were suddenly in the throws of an excellent game. I trotted along side her chanting, go go go go, stop! She looked confused and tried to pull her hand away. Ready, set, go go go go stop! A contemporary version of the classic GreenLight-Redlight game, which was simply another way of practicing listen-to-your-mama. But Opal just kept going, my unanswered stop!'s sounding deflated and pathetic. I tried to pick her up and put her back where she was when she didn't stop-when-mom-said-stop, like the mom did on the show, but I was quick to remember that the tv-kids happened to be much older and they had much more time to practice the game than between-dark-sky-and-downpour.

Opal had made it to the edge of the playground, which was empty but for two older kids whose mother was spinning them one-at-a-time on a tire swing and then they all giggled and chortled when the dizzy kid subsequently tried to walk and felt down.
Play kids! Opal pleaded.

I squatted to her level, looked her in the eye and said honey, we aren't going to play at the park right now. It's time to go back to your stroller. Would you like to walk or would you like mommy to carry you?
To which she replied: No.
Honey, remember what happens when you choose not to listen to mommy at home.
She pulled away.
Opal, that tree right there would make a good time-out spot. Would you like to listen to mama or sit in the time-out spot?
No. Play kids.

So I picked her up, set her at the base of the tree and said told her, at her level and super-calm, that she was in time-out because she chose not to listen to mommy. Then I stepped a few feet away, turned to face the dog park where a pair of basset hounds scurried their low-thick bodies across the field with legs that were obviously too short, taking them twice as long to get to the thrown-ball as the other, more normal-seeming, dogs.

Much to my surprise, Opal did not run away. She let her body collapse and simply sobbed through the raspy phlem-buildup in her little cold-congested throat while I stared down the second-hand on my watch as it clicked 15-30-45.

To put it bluntly, I felt like a total asshole. Even though it was just us, a few distant geese floating like decoys in the man-made pond, the park-mom and her two dizzy kids who were close enough to see and hear. I turned back to Opal just passed 45 seconds and squatted to her level; her face was doused in a soup of snot and tears.

I repeated honey, mommy put you in time out because you chose not to listen. Now tell mommy you're sorry and let's have hugs, as Supernanny would have wanted. I may have even slipped in an inadvertent British cadence as I thought about how much of an obstruction my tongue seemed in that moment.

At home, Opal knows the drill; post time-out, she immediately says sorry and throws herself onto me for a hug. She then scurries off, totally unscathed, to the next area requiring deconstruction, as if she feels even more relaxed than before. And I feel briefly like such a parental success, like—sigh—that was obviously the right move.
Clear boundaries were set. Child understands. Moving right along here.

But yesterday, she continued to cry without sorry or a hug— an offense that is re-time-out worthy according to Supernanny. But I scooped her up and carried her limp body to the stroller, no longer caring if the rain came, trying not to exhibit this abrupt and unpredicted heartache.

Once the wheels started rolling and she had juice-in-hand and a few crackers in her tray, she perked right up, yelling zoom! at the passing cars as she reached to touch every low-hanging branch.
I thought of what a dangerous thing it could be for fleeting emotions to be what rule the show, with regards to both the adults and the children.

I still have no idea what I'll do at the airport or how many more comparable moments will accrue in the interim. But at least Opal has had one taste of experiencing boundaries in the world that exists outside her house. And that's a start.

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