Meet Vezok, “the Beast.” He’s a Piraka. If that doesn’t give you enough background, Vezok is essentially a Lego monster. He bears a striking similarity to one of the beasts of Daniel and has the ability to shoot deadly zamor spheres. He is also capable of being assembled, disassembled, and re-assembled in a new configuration within minutes by the eight-year-old boy who adores him. He is my son’s favourite toy, bought with his own hard-earned money (well, money that indulgent older relatives gave him for getting a good report card in school). And this weekend, I took him away forever. In essence, I killed Vezok.
While I fall down in a number of parenting areas, I hold this truth to be self-evident: You cannot make a threat you are not prepared to carry out. There’s no more hardcore or basic rule of parenting than follow-through.
Taking toys away is a fairly common disciplinary strategy in this house, but it generally involves a temporary removal of a toy, with the possibility of getting it back after certain restrictions have been complied with. I have rarely threatened to remove a toy permanently, and never had to carry out such a threat.
Vezok proved the exception. He tested my motherly mettle, and I emerged triumphant. I think. With parenting, unlike with Piraka, it’s not always easy to tell when you’ve won.
My son is a wonderful, brilliant, funny and charming boy, and if you read this blog you will be subjected to a number of mommy-brags about him. I will say, however, that he is capable of being rude, critical, and mouthy. Some of this I think he has picked up from school friends and from TV. Some of it might even be genetic, since his father and I have two of the smartest mouths you’re ever likely to hear. We, however, have learned to exercise some restraint and discretion in the use of sarcasm, and we are trying to teach this skill to Christopher.
We’ve tried it all. We catch him in the act and correcting him. We talk about how other people have feelings — especially his little sister, butt of most of the rude comments (hee hee, Mommy said “butt”!!) We try to model polite speech. We impose short-term penalties, like time-outs and loss of computer privileges. In the holy name of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, is there anything we haven’t tried???!!
Last week I warmed up with a warning that if the rude talk continued, a Piraka might die. Things actually improved — for a day or so. Then, last Friday, after several infractions, I impounded Vezok and put him on top of the armoire in the hall (catch-all area for things we don’t want the kids to get at). I told Christopher that I’d taken Vezok for the weekend, and if there was ANY MORE RUDENESS AT ALL, Vezok would be gone for good.
After church on Sabbath, Jason caught Chrstiohper in the act of smacking his sister in the rear end and when Jason spoke to him about it, Christopher laughed at him. There was definitely some rudeness flying around, so when we returned home, I took Vezok and transferred him to a spot much more secure and permanent than the top of the armoire, and I told Christopher he had lost Vezok because of his rudeness.
The weeping! The wailing! The gnashing of the teeth!! Oh, the promises of better behavior, the begging for another chance.
“You had another chance. When I took Vezok yesterday, that was your chance. You chose to keep speaking and acting rudely, so Vezok is gone.”
Do you think I got that sentence out in one complete statement? Absolutely not. I was interrupted a dozen times by tears and pleas. But I held the line. I stood firm. Vezok is gone.
I’ve suggested in the days since that Christopher turn his energies to figuring out how to act more kindly and politely so he won’t lose another Piraka. But he seems to want to put his energies towards figuring out how to earn enough money to buy another Vezok.
Was I firm? Yes. Does he now know that Mommy Means What She Says? Yes. Has his behavior improved? Not noticeably.
They say to pick your battles, and I believe this is a battle worth fighting. I also believe my strategy was sound. But in the parenting-as-warfare analogy (which is not really my favourite way to look at it, but sometimes it seems apt), this battle most closely resembles the trench warfare of WWI — dirty, dangerous and discouraging, with bloody conflicts waged over a few yards of mud and nothing gained at the end of the day except a paper “victory” after which both sides dig in for the next engagement in this endless war.
Did I do right? What’s my next step? Will Vezok ever return? I have no idea about the answers to any of these questions. I just hope other parents share the same frustrations. It helps to know I’m not alone down here in the trenches!