sandwich stand-off
0 comment Sunday, April 27, 2014 |
Many years ago there was a fascinating programme that followed British teenagers nominated by their parents to go to an American bootcamp for delinquents. I'm not sure that was the exact name of the place, but That's what it was. A big fat boot camp in the deserts of America, where - as I recognise now - highly trained staff tried to help the kids become functional beings through a therapeutic parenting style.
I remember one particularly dysfunctional teenage girl, who used, amongst other things, drool and snot to try and get her way.
When the teenagers entered the camp, they went through a building where they had to surrender certain artifacts, take things out their hair and remove all jewelry. This particular girl did not want to remove her piercings. She cried, and wailed, and let snot hang from her nose in long, thin lines. She threatened to be sick. She dribbled saliva all over the floor. She was like a snotty, grizzly toddler in a teenage body.
She kept it up for hours.
And all the time a member of staff stood quietly by gently telling her every now and again that she just had to remove her piercings and she could move through to the next room.
Eventually, half a day later, she realised she couldn't win and she did what she was asked.
I think of this sometimes, with my kids behaviour. I remember the meltdowns over very small things. And at first, a little stress did send them into meltdown and I had to be very careful not to overstretch them. But then, time went by, I started to get to know them better, I started to see a change, and I started to see that they were like the snot/drool girl. They would trip themselves into a state of trauma in order to try get out of doing the smallest of required tasks.
Less so these days, but my kids will expand 100 times more energy trying not to do something than it would have taken just to do it.
If I am sure I am being reasonable and polite - tidy room, wash hands before food, pick up your lego - then I have to take the view that any traumatic overreaction is their problem. Otherwise they would be able to recognise what an effective weapon self-induced trauma can be and use it all the more.
We cannot have that. That way dysfunction lies.
So, take last night, for instance.
The rule in this house is that supper is fruit, yoghurt or cheese, unless anything is left in their lunchbox, in which case that becomes supper
Last night, daughter ate a plum for supper knowing she had not eaten her lunchbox sandwich. Husband found the sandwich and told her she could finish the plum, but afterwards she then had to eat her sandwich.
Daughter finished the plum and then picked at the small jam sandwich like it was something despicable.
The sandwich. One piece of bread with jam and butter. She eats it every day. She chooses it for her lunchbox. She could have finished it in eight bites.
But she didn't want to.
And so it started.
She didn't like butter! She felt sick! She didn't liiiiiiiike it! She had tummy ache!! There was too much butter!!!!!! She couldn't eeeeeeeat it!!!!!!! Mummy! There's butter on iiiiit!!!! She doesn't like butttterrrr!!!
Daughter has been doing this A LOT lately. Subtly setting up situations of conflict. The crazy lying and stealing, the pushing boundaries, the attempts at manipulation. All a reaction, I think, to the stress of that residential course she went on. She's not feeling safe. She's looking for boundaries.
So I gave her one.
I told her that she could go get ready for bed as soon as she finished her sandwich, and I sat her on the sofa and settled myself into the big old comfy armchair and watched. Just me, her and the sandwich. Cozy.
Sensing that outright defiance was not going to get her anywhere tonight, she tried a different tack. The eating-as-slowly-as-any-human-being-could-ever-possibly-eat tack. She picked off the tiniest amount of bread, in a sort-of slow motion fashion, she rolled it around her fingers for a few minutes until it was barely there anymore, then she placed it on her tongue like it was rat poison and chewed it like it was a piece of gum.
Clearly at that rate, she'd be finishing the sandwich around about the time of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Whilst she did this, husband had a humorous conversation about all the things we could do really slowly, like buy Christmas presents reeeaaalllyy sloooowly, so that no one got them for two years, or drive to McDonalds reeeeaaaalllly sloooowly so that we were really old before we got there.
The we concluded that that would be madness, and how sorry we felt for people who did things slowly because it must not be any fun at all.
At some point during all this, we put Son to bed, taking it in turns to watch Daughter, who would shove the sandwich somewhere if we didn't watch her. This we know.
Then, with nothing else to do, both Husband and I settled down in the same room as Daughter and her sandwich. I spent the time composing lymerics of the situation in my head, some of which I might just have text to a friend for amusement purposes.
Much later, lounging idly now, watching Daughter still not eat her sandwich, I reflected on how calm I felt. I knew that if I needed to, I would be there all night. I felt it was something I needed to do. I wasn't the least bit angry or frustrated. In fact, the image in my head was of me offering my cold and lonely daughter a big snuggly blanket to be wrapped up in and of my Daughter rejecting that blanket, wanting to stay out in the cold, feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable. I couldn't take away the offer a blanket, I had to sit it out.
As the hours went by, I felt sorrier and sorrier for her.
Then, as she realised she was not going to bore me into submission, another change of tack. The feel-sorry-for-me ploy.
She was cold. She had tummy ache. She wanted the toilet. She wanted a drink. She felt sick. The container the sandwich was in was dirty. She was going to be siiiiiick. She was being bullied at school. She was cold. She was tired. She wanted to be siiiiiiiiiick.
The answer was always the same. Well, finish your sandwich and ...
Wail, snot, false puke, cry.
Then she put the sandwich down and announced she was not eating anymore.
I said nothing.
Silence descended for a long while.
She said she was going to throw up.
I said OK, but do it on the wooden floor so it would be easier for her to clean up.
I could see she was getting very tired and knew it wouldn't be long.
Then, two and a half hours in, she announced she would be eating the last three bites of her sandwich at 9.30pm.
So I took the sandwich away and gave it back to her at 9.33pm. With permission to eat it.
And finally she did. Wolfing it down, with a big smile on her face. She seemed immensely relieved all of a sudden, like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She took a shower and I put her to bed and she was very affectionate towards me.
Kids might think they want to be able to control their parents, get their own way, but they don't. What they really want is for the parent to be bigger and stronger than them, to keep them safe.
That snot/drool girl off the telly? She came through boot camp a functional, matured teen. I don't know how long she stayed that way when she got back to the UK though. That would depend on whether her parents were the sort to stop up all night to make a child eat a sandwich if That's what it took.

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