Wednesday, April 11, 2012


My mom was here for a visit last month and I was reminded how very, very good she is with preschool- aged children. She actually has a degree in early childhood education (I think? Maybe child development?) and has so many good ideas and strategies for dealing with kids. Our house when we were kids was full of games and activities far more creative than the usual array of legos and Barbies. She's pulling out or recreating a lot of those same activities for my 4.5 year old nephew who lives at their house now, and he is so lucky to have the benefit of all her ideas.

One of the things my mom talks about with respect to small children is civilizing them, and it strikes me as exactly the right term for the work of making these little beasts fit for public interaction. We spend pretty much the whole first year (at least I do) doing absolutely anything we can to keep them happy and not screaming. Then, we have to rather abruptly change tack and start to impose boundaries and rules and, frankly, a little humanity on them. It's no wonder, when you think about it, that the second year of kids' lives is rife with defiance and resistance to these new rules of life.

It's hard to strike a balance, really, between not inflicting unruly behavior on the rest of the world and giving your kids a chance to learn what it means to behave in public. I can certainly understand the perspective of people who feel that kids have no place in a restaurant...and I feel like it's the responsibility of parents to make sure that we are bringing our kids into appropriate environments in which we can reasonably teach them a few things while minimizing the impact on other patrons. On the other hand, the only way kids can EVER learn how they need to behave in public is to allow them the opportunity to try and, inevitably, fail a few times. I think we all have that one place we can't face going back to after a particularly heinous display of beastliness.

And don't get me wrong - we had an absolute moratorium on meals out for about a year when the combination of perpetually cranky baby and toddler who was excited about his burgeoning independence was just too much. But I've forced us back out there, equipped with iPad, our own supply of crayons and snacks for slow service experiences to practice. For the most part, we're getting there. It helps that we're spending more time eating together at the table at home, although we tend to take a much more lax approach to things like burping at the table when we are at home (nothing like accidentally letting out a huge belch in the middle of a crowded restaurant). I resisted the idea of the iPad at first, but the reality is that a meal in a restaurant typically exceeds the amount of time my kids are realistically able to sit still and behave. We don't turn the sound on, so I don't think it's bothersome to other people and it allows us to enjoy a little taste of our pre-kid life on occasion.

We still have miles to go before we sleep, however. Yesterday I watched one child swipe a hand across a snotty nose and turn around and wipe it on the kitchen cabinet. WHAT? Who does that? There is plenty of unedited (loud) talk about various bodily functions/fluids or other things best discussed in the privacy of one's home. Both kids still employ the flop-and-drop method when confronted with, well, any directive that doesn't fit into their agendas. There is an unwavering belief that if they request demand something loudly and repetitively enough, I will drop whatever it is I might be doing to fulfill their every whim. Both kids have a tendency to wander out of the bathroom with pants around ankles to request help, regardless of who might be in the house. Civilized? No, not yet. But I have to believe we're making progress.

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