Who's the boss? I'll give you a hint. It's NOT this guy:
As you could probably guess, this comes as somewhat of a shocker. What do you mean I'm NOT the boss? You've got to be kidding me. If I'm not in charge around here then why are you and that man always at my beck and call? Huh? Answer me that. I saaaid, answer me that. NOW!
It's the damnedest thing being bossed around by a kid. It's one of those situations I never thought I'd be in because I am totally not a pushover parent. I stick to my word. I enforce the rules. I give time outs wherever I need to (I've left Liam sitting alone in a Costco shopping cart while I went to another aisle for a minute so he could think about his behavior). Honestly, I think I err on the side of being too strict if anything.
But, if that was really the case, our Tuesday morning would have looked something like this:
8:15 - Get up, eat a healthy breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth.
9:10 - Leave for the YMCA.
9:30 - Drop Liam off at YMCA childcare, get a BIG sweet hug, head to Zumba class.
10:30 - Pick Liam up, change into swimsuits, go swimming in the outside pool!
11:45 - Drive home for a healthy lunch, a few stories and a nice long nap.
Instead, it was more like this:
8:15 - Liam gets up, whines about not wanting anything for breakfast, watches TV while his pancake and smoothie sit completely untouched.
8:35 - First attempt at changing clothes. Liam does not want to take off his pajamas. Especially if it means putting on shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Lots of, "But I want to wear long sleeves and fuzzy bunny slippers! I'll be too cold in short sleeves! I'll freeze!" ensues. It's eighty degrees and sunny.
8:45-9:00 - Watches TV naked while I beg him to eat.
9:00 - Second attempt at getting dressed. The clothes are on but he's pissed. And suspicious. "I don't want to do anything! I want to stay home in my pajamas! Where are we going?" I drop the bomb. "We're going to the YMCA for a little bit. And then we're going swimming!" Before I even get to the swimming part, he's lost it. "Just leave me home alone! I don't want to go! I don't like the YMCA!" He's really crying now. Damn. I really wanted to go to Zumba. I try reasoning with him - It will only be for a little bit, Mama always comes back, we'll get to go swimming... - but the more he carries on crying and bossing me around, the more it starts to affect me. After a few minutes, I'm pissed.
9:15-9:45 - Fight with a three year old.
9:45 - Take the fight outside so our neighbors can see what a good mom I am.
9:50 - Stubbornly drive to the YMCA despite the fact that class will be halfway over by the time we arrive.
10:00 - Realize I am in no mood to play nice with others. Flip the car around and keep driving. Get mad at Liam all over again.
10:05 - Pull into a Shoney's parking lot to take deep breaths and have a heart-to-heart with my son. Apologize for yelling and getting mad. Tell him that he needs to be able to go to the YMCA once in a while or he'll have to go back to school. Decide to drive to a different YMCA to go swimming.
10:15 - Try to ignore Liam talking about how great it will be to go back to school.
I swear, about 99% of the time I'm a really good mom. I don't yell. I treat my child with respect. I do the right thing. But then along comes that pesky 1% and totally undermines all my hard work. I mean, how do you get mad at a three year old? It's insanity!
By the time Bill got home that night, I was still mad (he always corrects me - you're not mad, you're angry - but I think this time I have it right). I had spent all day stewing and was in no better mood than if Liam had been screaming at me right then and there. Liam was fine, of course, and had totally gotten over our little fight hours before. While it makes me happy that he's able to let go of things and move on, it also makes me feel guilty and embarrassed that I'm more stubborn than he is. Even when mid-fight he says things like, "Just be happy, Mama," or "Do your lips like this (pushing the corners of his mouth up into a smile with his little fingers)" I still find it hard to give in.
I went to my hip hop dance class which always helps me shake a bad mood and came home feeling like a new person. Bill was on bedtime duty which was great for two reasons: 1) I was off the hook, and 2) he got his own taste of Bossy McBossypants (and even lost his own temper a little!). While he didn't come anywhere close to having a knock-down-drag-out like I had, he did see just enough to understand why I was feeling beaten down.
We had a long talk and realized that while we're pretty strict with some things, we're sort of loosey goosey with others. Yes, Liam has good manners and would never even think about going in the street without permission, but he also tries to call the shots whenever he can. Case in point: If I want to go to the YMCA, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't go to the YMCA! End of story. I don't need to ask my three year old for permission; I need to tell him what to do.
Because I'm the Mommy, that's why.
So Bill and I came up with a game plan. Every morning when Liam wakes up, I will get him dressed immediately in what I want him to wear (he'll have more choices eventually but for now, I need to reclaim my throne). Once he's dressed and has been given breakfast, we'll leave the house right away. If he doesn't eat, fine. If he pitches a fit, fine. No matter what, I will not get upset. I'm not going to whine or beg or try to convince him to go along with my ideas. I don't even have to tell him where we're going! I'm just going to do what I need to do to get us both out the door as quickly and painlessly as possible. No matter how he responds, I will stay positive and unaffected. Never let him see me sweat!
After Tuesday, which felt like the lowest of the low, the rest of the week has been relatively great. I moved his big boy bed into his room without asking if it was okay or wondering if he would be upset and you know what? It has been an absolutely seamless transition. I even went to Zumba yesterday! As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the YMCA, Liam started crying and saying, "I don't want to go there!" (as soon as we walked through the front door, he stopped himself: "I don't want to go here!"). I left him in the kids' room crying but was not the least bit surprised to return an hour later to a happy, cheerful boy who was reluctant to leave his new friends and insisted on saying goodbye to every last person we passed on our way the door. "We'll see you next time!"
Of course, we still have some work to do. Last night, for example, we were watching Yo Gabba Gabba! together when I started singing along to one of the songs. Liam freaked out. I mean, like totally lost his shit. He was screaming, "Don't sing! You need to stop singing!" and crying like he was going to hyperventilate and die. Bill and I looked at each other like WTF? and I kept right on singing (which was not easy considering how hard it was not to laugh). I even took my character voice, which was painfully bad to begin with, up a notch, making it even more high pitched and nasally. He was stomping his feet and flailing around screaming, "Stop singing! You need to stop!" When he picked up his chair and threw it, we decided that was enough.
After a time out (that Bill and I sang through from the living room), we had a long talk about choices and control and the fact that he doesn't always get to make choices or have control. Someday, sure. But right now? No. (Three year olds make bad decisions.) If Mommy wants to sing, Mommy is going to sing. You can ask her nicely to stop, leave the room or ignore her. But you cannot throw a chair or tell her what to do. And that's not just for singing. In fact, pretty much across the board, throwing chairs and telling Mommy (or Daddy) what to do are always going to be no-nos.
(Here's a video of Liam singing the song. He sings much better than I do but it's my house - I can sing if I want to!)
I will be working on my own rules as well. I have to remember (and not just 99% of the time) that my reactions can take the slightest blip of a misbehavior and turn it into an all out tantruming war. If I can just focus on what Liam told me in the Shoney's parking lot, I am certain everything else will fall into place.
"Liam, when you get mad, I get mad. And when I get mad, you get mad. Do you see what I mean?"
"Let's just be happy, Mama!"
"Okay. Yeah. That's a really good idea."