‘Tis the season of excess – over eating, over spending, over giving and over doing. For those of us in interfaith households, as we double up on lights (Chanukah candles and Christmas tree bulbs), presents (wrapped in reindeer and menorah paper) and prayers (in English and Hebrew), what’s becoming more and more apparent to this parent is the need for limits. I’m not only talking about gifts. The sky may be the theoretical limit, but I need something more grounded for my boys.
I heard Dimples on the phone with his father the other night, plotting out every night of Chanukah. It went something like this: I’ll get one big present on the first night, two presents the next night, a medium sized one on the third and so on and so on. Steve Martin’s rendition in The Jerk is much cuter; remember when he romanced Bernadette Peters by telling her how their eighth day together felt like the first day?
There are segments on the Today Show now about how to advise your kids to react when they get a gift they don’t like because, the correspondents assure us, they will. So, we have to both buy them what they want and prepare for them to get additional, unsolicited presents given by people with kind intentions who don’t possess the ability to read their minds (the nerve!).
This year, G’s mom was in town and bought our five kids an iPad to share. I thought it was a very cool idea – not just the iPad (who can argue with the coolness of that?), but the concept that it was one object that everyone would have to find a way to have Limited time with. It brings back the warm notion of wartime food rations…not that I was around then, but the Depression-Era DNA in me yearns for some of that deprivation, some of that sharing, when it wasn’t about being Mine or Going First.
I tout the cause of limits, and I firmly believe in it, but honestly I find it hard to set these limits my bloodstream craves. Like the psychologist on The Today Show said, we have this unhealthy, innate desire to spoil our kids. I don’t do it with fancy electronics (I still call for help to gear up the VCR), but with leniency. I want to give my kids – all our kids – the benefit of the doubt. I want my powerful glare to be all that’s necessary to make them see that they’ve done wrong and bring them to their knees to repent on the spot with permanent behavior change to follow. But who does this?
Just about all of us need a figurative flick on the forehead to straighten us out every now and then. I just don’t like punishing. There, I said it. I do it sometimes, but it takes a lot out of me. I’m not sure why I struggle with it and I’m a little disappointed, frankly.
Before I had kids, I was strangely excited about having the authority to banish children to their rooms or the garage and take their favorite toys away, but now I’d much prefer children who monitor themselves. Let them be the heavies.
Believe it or not, we have a child who does this (Dolly, wherever you are, give us your cloning secrets!). Lashes has an uncanny tendency – unlike anything I’ve ever seen - to march himself right to his room and take away his own playdates (for a week!) or recuse himself from video games (for a week!) when he’s done something wrong. Oddly, this commendable behavior has yet to rub off on any of the other children here. Usually, the consequences he imposes on himself are harsher than those his mom would dole out and she doesn’t suffer from my punishment anxiety.
I dove into the deep end the other day and took away all electronics from my boys for an hour, and I have to say, it felt good. Not only because it worked (they stopped fighting and saw that I was serious), not only because Dimples told me he thought he got an appropriate punishment (he really said that), but because I realized how electronic- dependent they are. Taking that stuff away relieved them of the television, the cell phone, the itouch, the new iPad, the old computer, the wii, the xbox and the toaster. Dimples followed me around like a lost puppy. Blue was so out of sorts, he got on his bike…the bike with cobwebs on the handlebars. Anything rather than sit at home without looking at a screen.
On the cusp of a new year, I have lots of ambition. I want to write every day; treat my body more kindly with regular cardiovascular activity, frequent massages and fewer late-night sprinkles; go back to using lanterns and inkwells like they did in colonial times when life was full without a 24-hour news feed, pervy music videos and thumb-operated sports games; and put more limits in place for my boys who aren’t used to being stopped on their way to the sky.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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