I admit I often fall prey to the sentimentalization of childhood that is the prime annoyance for those who complain about parenting blogs. But I do also try to tell the truth. After all, I think of these entries as a record for my girls, a gift for their adult years, and it would certainly be a disservice to them to pretend like raising children is a shimmery, unicorn and rainbow-filled experience. Plus, I know that the stories of my misbehavior as a child ("Oh, gross! Don't eat that!") are probably more entertaining than the stories of how I won the Mathletics in 6th grade.
So here is a hard truth about raising a child who spends long stretches of her life in the hospital: they come home acting like Misbegotten Hellions placed here on earth to test the limits of human endurance.
The Hellion usually begins rearing her tiny, horned head during some particularly onerous procedure. So Annika, all red-faced and bulgy-eyed with snot dripping from her nose like the goo that always precedes the appearance of the Alien
before she devours some unsuspecting space explorer, will begin growling through clenched teeth, "I rule the world! I am going to destroy you
! I am going to DESTROY EVERYBODY
!" I glance nervously around the room at the various medical professionals assembled there, "Isn't that cute? She's going through her Evil Despot phase!" (For those of you who have been reading for a while, you will note that her Killer Bumblebee
persona has evolved considerably.)
There are certain well-known approaches for raising children that are Socially Potty Trained and eligible for trips into the public eye (and, in particular, to Taste of Heaven Bakery in Chicago
): judicious use of time-outs, loss of privileges, and natural consequences ("OK, we're leaving the store. Those croissants you wanted in the shopping cart are not worth injuring the eardrums of my friends and neighbors here at the local grocery.") And, of course, if you want a well-behaved child, I don't recommend giving them steroids.
But the steroids have been a fact of life for these past 4 years, and you just try any of those approaches above with your child in the hospital. "OK, young lady! No more I.V.'s for you! And you can just forget about that blood draw tonight." And time-outs? At home we put Annika into her room for a time-out. There aren't any toys in her bedroom, but there are always books (none of them featuring any Super Villains, thank you very much), and it's generally a quiet place for her to rein in her emotions. Jörg recently commented to me that my amazing redecoration of the girls' room means that it's not a very good place for time-outs any more. "It's just not the bleak
environment that we need for getting the message across, is it?" To which I assured him that the time-out wasn't really about jail time so much as allowing her some quiet space to regain control (and perhaps getting across the point that threatening to wipe out all of humanity in a demonic voice is likely to lead to a certain amount of social isolation).
Time-outs are wonderfully effective with Annika, who thrives on social contact. They are less so with Frankie, who has just hit the age (2) when time-outs can begin to be used. Frankie, who is much quieter than Annika and has spent her entire life with a big sister bearing down upon her in the oversized version of love that Annika favors, recently requested "More Time-Out, Peez!" when I came to pick her up from the playpen, where she had just spent two quiet minutes as a result of refusing to get off the table when we were trying to eat lunch together.
But the key to a good time-out is having a safe place to leave the child alone. I can think of no place less safe to leave a child with Annika's sense of daring than a hospital room. There are I.V. pumps with all sorts of alluring lights and buttons just begging to be pushed. There are more electrical outlets in that one room than in your typical 2,000 square ft home. And they're painted red, for added allure! There are I.V.'s in arms, that she would really rather pull out than have to deal with anymore. If you look in the corners and under the beds, you are likely to find some sort of medical implement that escaped notice during the recent I.V. placement. There's the computer screen, monitoring her heart and respiratory rate, with a handy touch-sensitive screen. Surely that's not too hard to break! And the chest of three drawers is placed handily underneath the monitor for easy climb access. There are buttons to push to move the bed up and down, with all sorts of moving parts just right for pinching fingers or catching and destroying I.V. tubing. So leaving her alone there when she's in the midst of one of her rages
? I might as well drop her off at the Museum of Sharpened Knives and Loaded Weaponry.
And loss of privileges? Well, the only real option would be to take away the T.V. We have used this to great effect at home (in fact, it's so effective that it leaves me a bit worried. I wish I could be one of those "no T.V. in this house" parents. But I don't know a single parent of a frequent-hospital-flier child who leads a T.V.-free existence.) But at the hospital? I can just see myself: "OK, Annika. That's no T.V. for the rest of the day. And since they had to put the I.V. in your left hand, we can't really draw or dress your paper dolls, can we? And mommy's voice is still hoarse from the 26 books we read last night before you would go to sleep. How about we play our 43rd game of Go Fish! Or we can just sit here on your bed together and play 'Guess Why the Baby Next Door is Crying!' "
So, yes, when Jörg told Annika, "No kicking!" last night when her feet strayed dangerously close to her sister, she replied, "Blah, blah, blah." She went straight to time-out. And then she came out of her room, happy to be home, evidently happy to be back to a place where the rules are known and snappy comebacks are met with the expected consequences. But those adorable dimples on full display when she comes out
aren't fooling anybody. We'll see the little despot again soon, I'm sure. One of the, shall we say, less inspirational
facets of life around here.