Sunday, April 10, 2005

Keeping Promises and Making Kids Cry

While Babygirl napped this afternoon, I decided to take my couch-potato, GameBoy-playing sons for a hike. I took them back to the trails at Point Defiance, which were so lovely that even the memory of Babygirl weeping and wailing as she hiked did not deter me.

The air was still, cool. The boys chattered incessantly as we briskly walked down the trail to the beach. I'd point out the trilliums and they wouldn't quite yawn, but really, all they wanted to do was find a good stick. I described the process of decaying tree trunks and new growth and they scarcely blinked. I used the word "ecosystem," but it didn't spark any flicker of recognition.

The tide was low today and so the beach stretched out before us. TwinBoyB nearly fell on his head as he carelessly scrambled down the last ten feet of the trail. Then he slid on his bottom as he tiptoed across a fallen log. He finally screamed, "I HATE WALKS!" I ignored his outburst and carefully picked my way down the stairstepping roots of the giant beach-side tree.

We meandered down the beach. TwinBoyA was intent upon finding "aquatic life," as he called it. We immediately came upon a pink and blue sea star. YoungestBoy held it and I photographed it. Then we discovered symmetrical holes in the rock, which turned out to be mudstone which contained oblong-shaped clams called piddocks. The piddocks opened like gaping bird mouths. If touched, they'd squirt and then sink back down into their holes.

We found rocks which crumbled in our hands and then it dawned on us that the rocks had broken off of the soaring walls of the bluff which bordered the beach. I think the rock was probably gypsum--it was soft as a bar of soap. We each carved our names into the rock wall. We could break the rocks with one hand, as if they were chalk.

TwinBoyB began to complain and suggest that we turn back. He is a whiner extraordinaire and always has been. His complaints are so tiresome and have ruined many an adventure. Today was no different.

We eventually turned back and found the roots of the tree which marked our trail. As we began our ascent up the trail, I said, "Children who do not complain will get a treat! Children who complain will get no treat!" I did not want to hear any bellyaching as we climbed back up the steep trail. I prompted YoungestBoy to tell the twins where we'd have our treat (Dairy Queen).

And then we trudged uphill. Although the trail was quite steep in places, it was not impossible. TwinBoyB immediately began a tirade of complaints: "I'm tired!" "I hate walking!" "Why did we have to do this?" "My legs are going to fall off." "I'm going to explode!" "I think I am going to die. Seriously. I mean it."

I realized that this boy would get no treat or my words would have no value. I even commented out loud and so in a great dramatic performance, he collapsed in tears and slid on his bottom on the path. His brothers were shouting encouragement and giving him their walking sticks. He cried, his face red, his attitude stinky. I dreaded what was about to happen. His brothers were frantic, cheering him on.

Just as we reached the parking lot, I mentioned that he would not get a treat. He wailed and gnashed his teeth, begging for another chance, for mercy. "Mom, what do I have to DO?" I said, "You needed to walk without complaining the whole way."

His tantrum reminded me of Babygirl's fit the other day. By now, his brothers were desperate. "Mom, PLEASE, you have to give him another chance!" YoungestBoy went so far as to suggest that if I'd been in his class the other day, then maybe I would have learned to think how I might feel if I were in another person's shoes. TwinBoyA cautioned me, "Mom, God is frowning on you! Whatever happened to mercy and compassion? Huh? Huh?"

I said, "Look. I told you the rules. I made a promise. I have to keep it. He made a choice, a bad choice, and I'm sad for him, but I can't break my promise." At that point, TwinBoyB broke into a mournful yell, "JUST KILL ME! KILL ME NOW! I WANT TO BE DEAD!"

I stopped the car. I said, "Get out. When you're finished, you can get back in." He stopped screaming and looked at me through narrowed eyes. I started the car again, he started crying again and the TwinBoyA, in a great show of moral support, burst into loud weeping. He hid his face behind the sleeve of his fleece jacket. I think he was faking.

Behind me, YoungestBoy joined the chorus, sobbing so hard he could barely speak his accusations aloud. "You are so mean!" I turned to see tears running down his pink cheeks. All three boys were now crying in unison.

I wanted to roll my eyes. I wanted to laugh. But I calmly pulled the car over--again--and warned everyone to stop. I explained again why TwinBoyB would get no treat.

I think they expected me to crumble--and how I wanted to collapse under the weight of their collective disapproval--but I held steady. I pulled into the drive-through lane of the Dairy Queen and said, "What do you want?" to YoungestBoy. Then I asked TwinBoy A. I ordered a hot fudge sundae and two Georgia Fudge Mud Blizzards (one for me, one for TwinBoyA) and told TwinBoyB that I was sorry he didn't get a treat.

He accepted his fate without a sound. TwinBoyA rose to the occasion and shared his whole treat with his brother. Before we'd gone a block, the sound of pleasant laughter filled my car.

I can only hope TwinBoyB learned something. I know I did. I need new hiking companions.


Blogger Gem said...

Oh, you are so good! I have such a hard time with holding the line. I can always justify why what they did didn't fit the exact parameters of my threat. Of course, this is why they often won't listen to me when one look from Daddy is quite enough. I need to bookmark this post for the times I need to stay tough!

5:01 AM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

Good for you, Mel. Following through with a consequence after a warning can be so difficult.

My mother may have made it look easy, but I know better!


PS: The hike sounded like great fun!

5:08 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Way to go! Tough as it is, you have to do what you say you'll do.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Cuppa said...

A big pat on the back is coming your way from me. You did the right thing, but oh it is sooooo hard to do sometimes isn't it? Hang in there kiddo. YOu are doing a great job.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I'll go hiking with you!! sounds great, I won't complain, I love the beach, the trees, climbing and I'll even treat at DQ!! good for you, hanging in there!

6:56 AM  
Blogger the reverend mommy said...

Not only did you do the right thing, they will remember the day -- probably well. I get the comments still from two years ago "do you remember the day we went to fly kites and you didn't want to go and mommy got me icecream and you didn't and I shared it? That was a great day!"

Great Day! I just remember the pain and mental anguish! But they remember sharing. Funny.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Oh, I just LOVE it when the mom wins!

9:28 AM  
Blogger Carla said...

1. I love Point Defiance, and miss it.
2. I want to go on the next hike with you and I promise not to whine
3. I hope weepyTwin learned his lesson.
4. Way to be strong!


10:14 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

I can so relate to having a boy who complains! We used to want to go on trips and see historical sights. We decided to save that type of trip until our boy was up and out. (We never told him that though.) He was so hard sometimes. He would complain during some really fun things.
I hope yours gets better as he gets a little older...mine did, and most do.

I have to congratulate you on keeping your word too. That is SO hard!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Demented M said...

You have more patience than I, good for you.

And hey, at least you know your boys are all bonded and care about each other. That had to put a smile on your face.


11:03 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

You know, that was a very Godly thing to do. When you said, "I made a promise and I must keep it," it reminded me that God has done the same thing. We all experience consequences for our choices, and it is wonderful to teach that to our children at an early age. They learned to trust your word out there at the aptly named Point Defiance.

11:51 AM  
Blogger barbara curtis said...

oh, mel -- the drama of daily life as a mom! it is so amazing. thank you for capturing it. you are so brave and strong and courageous. i can't tell you how many times i've collapsed in the face of the tears -- especially in that situation with a group where only one deserves to be punished. i will think of you next time i have to follow through. what a woman!

2:25 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

Oh my goodness does that sound familiar!

The hike sounded really nice! Wish we could join you!!!!

2:26 PM  
Blogger Demented M said...

Okay, Mel, re: Sahara. I'm not into Matt Mc. either and I thought he was the WORST possible pick to play Dirk Pitt, but he pulled it off. He really did a great job.

Have you read the books?

I don't campaign for movies, I rarely give a big thumbs up. So I have to believe you would like Sahara.

How sick am I? Proselytizing (sp?) on your blog about Saharar? :)


5:04 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

When I was still teaching, every two weeks we would have a reward day where the boys got to cook something and eat it (considered a "life skills" lesson). They had to behave the entire two weeks (I'd give them one day to mess up, or two not great days) to be able to earn the priviledge. Everytime, almost, I would have a couple that wouldn't earn it, and it was the hardest thing in the world telling them they didn't get it. Even though they were high school kids and should have understood, they still would try and try to get me to give in. A few times I did, but the times I didn't, I felt so much better! The best part is that when I didn't give in, those kids almost always got to eat the next time, b/c they learned that I wasn't going to give in. Your kids learned today, too!

8:21 PM  
Blogger Eyes said...

Way to go, Mel!!!! WOW. Good for you. A lesson like this will teach your child that good things come to those who think, and work hard.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Following through with a consequence is so very important! I have to say that I am pretty good with that, much to the consternation of Mr. Personality!

Good for you! I find that as time goes by, it gets easier and easier to follow through, because it almost always gets results.

You go, girl!

2:23 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

You seem to have managed a feat most parents these days cannot...following through with what you say! Good for you mel! I seriously doubt he'll be in therapy over one missed DQ dessert!

7:03 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Oh, it all sounds PAINFULLY familiar. My kids would respond to a hike the same way - outdoor activity must be a fate worse than DEATH!

Can we ditch the kids and just go for a "Moms only" hike? Hmmm... how about a cyber hike...

11:00 AM  

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