Monday, October 30, 2006

Let's talk about Viv, baby.

At the tender age of not-quite-yet two and a half, Vivian has finally entered the terrible twos, and entered them with a vengeance. I realized, when I was going back and adding "labels" to all my posts, that I haven't posted much about the kids lately, and especially not about Vivian. (Isaac's health issues have a way of ensuring I have lots to say about him; there is no similar issue for Vivian.)

For most of her life, Vivian has been remarkably easy to handle. Oh sure, as an infant, she had trouble nursing, and she didn't sleep enough for my liking. She cried much more frequently than her brother had, but I wouldn't classify her as a screamer. I could usually quiet her down fairly easily. And as time went on, she grew into a very mild-mannered, accepting child. She was not physical at all, refusing to walk until she was 18 months old, never really climbing onto chairs or crawling out doors. She was perfectly happy to sit and read books or play with toys, by herself or with her brother. She was fairly verbal, so I didn't have too many issues communicating with her. As she got older, she started getting slightly more passionate about things, learning to yell NO! when Isaac grabbed a toy, then learning to push back once she had been pushed, and finally graduating to pushing first when she wanted something. Still, those sort of occasions were not frequent, and I could comfort her or distract her easily.

In August, Vivian started school. I haven't written about it at all because, honestly, my life since August 1st has been full-speed ahead, and I haven't had a second to even consider it. Now that things have settled down a bit, let me tell you. The first day of school I took her inside (Isaac too; he goes to the same school) and she ran off immediately to play with some toys. When I told her I was leaving, and she would be staying there with her brother, she barely looked up from her game, mumbling "Have a good day, Mommy!" and offering her cheek for a kiss. That was it. She has never cried at school drop off since.

This surprised me a little bit. I mean sure, I knew school was a comfortable place for her, and I wasn't expecting a huge melt-down. She'd been begging to go to school for months, her brother was there to "protect" her, and new toys are always a big pull. But I thought she might struggle just a little bit more. I thought maybe after an hour when she realized I still wasn't back, she might miss me. But she didn't.

So, school. It's been two months now, if you don't count the two weeks we were in Hawaii. Here's one of the things this particular school teaches kids: stand up for yourself. If one child is playing with a toy and another one comes up and grabs it, they teach the first child to use words and say something like, "I am playing with that toy, it's not your turn". Well. Vivian has taken those instructions to heart. I first noticed this a few months ago, when we had a playdate with an old friend (Hi, Rachel!). Vivian was "playing" with her 14 month old (or so) son Evan when suddenly she leaned in, eye-level with Evan, and shouted, quite loudly*, inches from his face, "DON'T STEP ON MY FOOT, EVAN!!" She has gotten progressively more adamant as school goes on.

I find myself intervening in sibling battles much more frequently than I used to. Vivian is no longer mellow at all, and instead can be found yelling loudly at all times (it seems), "NO! I don't like that! Don't do that, Isaac!! NO THANK YOU!" and a new favorite: "I DON'T LIKE YOU ANYMORE!!" Worse, she has allowed this new defiant attitude to permeate all of her personality. When she doesn't want to do something, she sits down on the floor and screams. And now, she doesn't EVER want to do what I need her to do.

The other day, we were driving around our new neighborhood and passed a playground. Immediately both kids started clamoring for us to stop. When I explained that it was too dark and we'd have to go another time, Isaac whined, "Oh, man! But I wanted to go to that playground! Now I'll never get to go to the playground." Vivian, on the other hand, handled it this way: "STOP! LET ME OUT!! NOW!!! MOMMY!!! NO THANK YOU! I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND. MOMMY!! I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND! RIGHT NOW. I DON'T LIKE YOU ANYMORE! NO!!" This continued for several ear-piercing minutes (Isaac was long done complaining) and reached a new level of hilarity with this exchange:
Me: "Well, you don't have to like me, Vivian, but I will always love you."
Me, to Lance: Did she turn 15 while I wasn't looking?

Yeah, she's a little bit out of control, our Viv. Even her pre-school teacher, who up until last week has seemed completely enchanted with her, has started slipping little negatives into the comments she writes every day. ("Wow. Vivian is really started to use her words LOUDLY!" Or, "Vivian was very defiant today, she really knows what she wants these days, doesn't she?") I have to admit that much of this is my fault.

Here's the thing: by the time Isaac was 1 year old, he had been in too many time-outs to count. By the time Vivian was 2 years old, she had been in maybe 5 time-outs total. Therefore, Isaac knows, from experience, that when I start counting, I mean business. He knows that he has to stay in a time-out until I tell him to get out. He knows that when I threaten things, I will more than likely follow through. He still tests me, frequently, but he understands me. Vivian, on the other hand, has had no such experience.

Up to about age two, this was more a measure of their different personalities than any favoritism or birth-order discrimination on my part. Isaac was just into more things than Vivian. Isaac required much more vigilance, Isaac tested me more. In addition, the first few times Vivian did anything that might merit a time-out I was so surprised I only half-heartedly, and with much not-well-concealed laughter, meted out the punishment.

And. I must admit it. For some reason, Vivian has my number a bit better than Isaac. I don't seem to expect the same level of behavior from her as I did from Isaac at the same age. The last several months, as she has gotten progressively more difficult to handle, I haven't reacted the same way I would with Isaac. I suppose it is the second-born syndrome: I still pick my battles, but since there are now two children to pick battles with, I tend to pick them much less frequently. So she gets away with a lot more.

Now that Vivian has shown me how this lax parenting is "helping" her, I realize I've got to adjust my behavior. She needs to recognize that I mean what I say. She needs to watch her tone of voice. I need to be more in control. Sigh.

Isn't this parenting gig supposed to get easier as they grow?

(Please don't anybody mention teenage years now, okay?)


*And by loudly, I mean at decibel levels usually reserved for rock concerts. This astounds me, and makes me secretly proud. I have always been a soft-talker--people often don't hear me, or garble what I say, which just adds to the miscommunications that foster my social anxiety. So, on one hand, I'm really glad that Vivian has found her voice, and that it is so forceful. I mean, yeah, that hand has been plugging my ears for the last month or two, but . . .

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