Parenting: Isn’t it Ironic?By ELIZABETH QUINN,
Living with children is like living out Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic.” Isn’t it ironic that my children suddenly become allergic to playing outside when I need them to so I can cook supper? It’s almost as ironic as how quickly they flee the house when I we need to leave to go somewhere in the next 10 minutes. Isn’t it ironic that my children can’t sit next to each other in the car for the four-minute ride to school without bloodshed, but they can sleep two to a couch or shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor in a sleeping bag if it means they can watch a movie before bed? It’s just so ironic that they answer my inquiries about their days with grunts and mumbled consonants, but will get up out of the bed at 9:30 to come downstairs to ask the burning question, “Were dinosaurs alive when you were a little girl?”
Before I had children, people told me all kinds of things about what it would be like to raise kids. So far, some of it has been spot on and some of it hogwash. But nobody ever made the false promise that it would be logical or that my children would make sense—that’s something, I guess. But nobody ever told me it would be this hard to make my child go outside and play, either:
“Finished your snack? Time to go outside.” “I don’t want to play outside.” Because—of course not, that desire will come at bath time. “Then you can take a nap. But no T.V., no iPad. Outside or rest, you can pick.”
Child goes limp and slides off the couch while whining and moaning concurrently and incoherently.
"If you're too tired to speak clearly then maybe you need a nap,” I offer.
“I'm not tired.”
"Then go outside and play.”
“I'm in my uniform.” I barely managed not to thank Captain Obvious for this revelation.
"Okay.” I see no problem—our backyard doesn’t have a dress code.
“But it’s not comfortable.”
"Fine—just change quickly, please."
Ten minutes pass before I call up the stairs, "Child? Just put on a t-shirt and shorts.”
“I don't want to wear a t-shirt.”
“Then whatever, just put on whatever.”
“I want my such and such shirt.”
I don’t remember what shirt it was because I don’t care what shirt it was—she has 20 other shirts.
"It's in the washing machine; you wore it yesterday."
“Whyyy?” I decide this is a rhetorical ‘why is my life so hard?’ and not curiosity about the laundry cycle.
"Pick another shirt and Come. Down. The. Stairs.”
Child appears at top of stairs in subpar, runner-up shirt.
"Great, go play with your sister—she's hollering for you."
Child stops on the third stair from top and SITS DOWN. Portions of my brain begin to simmer when she says, “But I don't have on any shoes.”
"Then put on some shoes. There are two pair down here—but you would be fine barefoot."
“I don't have any socks.”
"Your Native slip-ons are down here,” I suggest these because they don't need socks and they are downthefreakingstairs.
“I want to climb trees.” Blank stare from me.
“I don't like bark in my shoes.” “Then get some socks."
Five minutes pass.
"Child, I know there are socks in your room, what's the hold up?"
“I want the crazy ones.” My eye begins twitching.
"Just pick a pair of socks and come down the stairs."
Child appears in ‘crazy’ green socks and does that annoying thing children do where they slip off each step onto the next one in slow motion.
"Crazy socks, good deal. Your old school shoes are in your cubby."
“I want my blue Velcro ones.” Slip... thump. Slip... thump.
"Those aren't in your cubby. Put your old ones on—they’re better for climbing trees anyway,” I try.
“But I want the blue ones.” Slip... thump. More whinage. Slip... thump.
"Well, then maybe you'll put them back in your cubby next time so we know where they are. Since you don’t know where they are you can wear your old ones."
“But I do know where they are!” she says with the excitement of a child who's found a loophole.
“Upstairs in my room.”
The same room that holds the subpar, runner-up shirt, the ‘crazy’ socks, and possibly the last shreds of my sanity.
"You have 10 seconds..."
Child moves like the wind.
She and her sister were back inside asking for water and snacks less than 20 minutes later.
This specific story isn’t recent, but it’s played out in my house dozens of times since. They beg for play sets and trampolines and bikes and Barbie cars and Gators and footballs and soccer nets and toys that spray water and turn your yard into a mud pit. But as soon as you make one of these dreams come true, they turn into puddles of limbs on the floor.
The energy they have to prolong bath time and the motivation pouring out of them to start some new project right at bedtime is nowhere to be seen when you have actually bought real food to cook supper on a day that everyone will be home and able to eat together.
They want nothing to do with you when you’re asking, ‘What should we do fun today?’ and then want to have dance parties when you’re trying to read them a bedtime story. They spend 20 minutes turning their clothes right-side out after undressing for a bath. You have been trying to make this a new habit because it’s a life skill. Also, because—turning dirty socks that aren’t your own right-side out is disgusting and adds time to the laundry routine. They have no interest in this until you want them to do anything except practice this new skill.
I get it that their frontal lobes are still developing and that they don’t come preprogrammed for critical thinking by the age of four. Ironically enough, I majored in educational psychology in college. Four years of studying the psychology of how kids learn taught me that they need years to figure out how to deal with big feelings in small bodies and that being hungry or tired wreaks havoc on their emotional stability—mine too, kiddo.
I know that part of my job as their parent is to help them learn how to handle disappointment and accept that they are not the center of the universe and find ways to not lose their minds when they don’t get what they want. I understand that these skills take years to master and I know plenty of adults who are still working on them with varying degrees of success. There are days when my kids show great promise in these areas and days when I’m pretty sure that a broken coffee pot at work will have them falling to the floor, throwing an adult tantrum and they’ll be fired and never leave my house.
It’s a dance of two steps forward and one step back and I can’t expect them to be rational beings all the time quite yet. Intellectually—I know all of this to be true. Isn’t it ironic then, that I would very much like for my kids to be the exception to everything I learned and master all of these skills ASAP? Since I’m not delusional, I know that’s not going to happen, but please for the love—just go outside and play! That’s asking very little of them, don’t you think?
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.