Well. At seventeen months (week 2), the Child Development Experts™ at BabyCenter advise me to Choose My Battles.
“Does your child deliberately ignore you when you ask him not to do something? Try not to lose your temper if he does. At this age, making a big deal over little transgressions like pulling petals off a flower or spreading newspapers around the house may inspire him to test your limits even more. Ignore the minor infractions and save your lectures for really big no-nos like biting a playmate or pulling the dog's tail.”
But what they are not telling us, these Child Development Experts™, what they are keeping a deep, dark secret that I am about to shine the incandescent, unblinking Eye of Truth upon, is this: it doesn’t begin and end with Toddlerhood.
According to my own experience, it is still well under way at age seven. According to my friends with even older children, it still occurs up to age 22. According to my mother it is still shockingly prevalent at thirty-mumble. And my Gran informs me that even at age sixty-someodd, children are still astonishingly prone to forcing you to ask that question: Is this a battle I care to fight, or should I save my ammo for the next skirmish?
So I’m not going to get an email from the Experts™ informing me that, hey! Congratulations! Here it is, Month 304 (week 3) and viola! No more having to choose your battles, no more having your kid(s) push the disciplinary envelope, no more having to decide if it’s worth yammering on about the toys on the floor, or if you’d rather save the I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it! voice for something a little more…serious. Like hitting your sister with a meat cleaver, or dragging the baby up the stairs using his neck as a convenient carrying handle.
But I digress.
My kids taught me long ago to choose my battles. I’ve become highly selective about what battle I’m going to fight, and I stick with that battle until it is won. In this way, I am slowly but surely chipping away at the barbarism of my young and converting them to the ways of the civilized.
Lately, it’s been the towels in the bathroom.
My children have trouble with the concept of the towel rack. To their eyes, once one has used a towel to dry one’s hands, the natural place to put it is on the floor. Or in the bathtub. Or perhaps draped artfully across the toilet seat.
But the last thing that would occur to them would be to hang it back on the rack. What a positively revolutionary notion! Hang the towel…ha! What a novel approach to things!
I’m ignoring the leaving of toothbrushes on the sink, or using the clothes hangers as toys, or putting your shoes behind the toilet for now, to focus on this one issue.
“Hang up the towel after you use it!” I sing out, two (or three, or ten) times a day.
“Oh!” they sing back. “Sorry, mommy!” And thundering feet pound into the bathroom, a scuffle breaks out over who gets the ‘privilege’ of hanging up the towel, and eventually the towel gets triumphantly perched back on the rack.
It isn’t because the other things don’t annoy me. It’s because I have learned that if I have one thing I consistently nag about for, say, a week, it becomes a habit for them and I can move on. Next week, I can get on them about leaving their ill-rinsed toothbrushes on the sink in their bathroom instead of putting them back into the toothbrush stand, and they will continue to hang up the towel because they’ve gotten used to doing so.
Also, I’ve learned that if I’m yammering on and on about Everything, they tune me out so completely that I can insert truly ludicrous things into my statements and not get a rise out of them. Like last night, when Boo Bug began tuning me out so I began telling her to watch out for the crocodiles Captain Adventure keeps in his diaper, because they’ll !!SNAP!! her little fingers right off if she isn’t careful, just like they did to the space alien that used to live under our sofa until the talking mouse moved in…
Didn’t even glance at me. I’d been yammering on too long at her, and she’d put me on “Ignore”.
If I say, “Hey! Don’t forget to hang up the towel after you use it, gang!” and that’s it – they hear that. They respond to it.
But if I say, “Hey! You guys need to hang up these towels, this is really starting to irritate me and WHO put their toothbrush on the counter and WHY is there toothpaste all over the sink and GOOD LORD is that toothpaste ON THE LIGHT FIXTURE and can you EXPLAIN to me what IN THE WORLD you kids have against flushing the potty once in a while and let’s go over again the concept of ‘enough’ toilet paper and WHY are these shoes in the bathtub and IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU ONE MORE TIME…!”
They tuned me out somewhere between the toothbrush and the light fixture. They never even heard the word ‘shoe’ and pretty much anything else I say all day long is going to be translated as ‘blah blah blah’ in their little ears.
Sometimes it seems frustratingly slow. Especially when you’ve gotten the older two trained, and them here comes Madam Four Years Old who leaves her toothbrush on the back of the toilet one (1) time – and suddenly all three of them are doing it again.
But choose my battles really does work the best. One field of warfare at a time, my children are becoming (reasonably) civilized little people.