Recently I told a small group of friends about the daily challenge of Curious George. CG (or “Curious,” as Maggie calls it) is my daughter’s video of choice these days, and I immensely value the time it gives me to write an email, pack the diaper bag for an outing, or cook dinner uninterrupted. The girls get to watch two CG’s per day, sometimes three (and oh goodness, it was five or six during the month of sickness) – the problem is deciding when they get to watch them. As soon as they want to (i.e., 6 AM)? Or at a time that optimizes the video’s usefulness for Mama?
We’ve pretty much nixed the idea of 6 AM videos, except on weekends, so the question got moved up to lunchtime. Maggie gets out of preschool at 11:30, and her first two questions to me at pickup were always: (1) What are we having for lunch today?, and (2) Can I watch a Curious?
I was always torn. Lunch is a tough time of day for me – after being up taking care of kiddos for six hours, pregnant Mama is worn out and needing a break; and the girls are always plenty tired by then too. Putting on a video provided us with a much-needed break before the battles of naptime. But, using up one CG at lunch would mean I would only have one more to use during the afternoon. These videos are only 20-25 minutes, and that is not enough time to cook dinner.
So what would I tell Maggie? Could she watch a Curious during lunch? It came down to mood and circumstances. Exactly how tired and in need of a break was I? Were we having leftovers for dinner or something I needed to put more time into? Did we have any other plans for the afternoon? How confident was I that we’d be able to make it through the afternoon post-naps with only one CG?
As I explained all this to my friends (what a kind, patient group they are, listening to my dissertation on the Curious George problem), I realized that “mood and circumstances” could more concisely be described as … a whim.
And a whim was not fair to Maggie.
Now, I don’t think authority is unfair, even authority over arbitrary issues. There are many, many arbitrary issues during the day that simply have to be decided, and someone has to be in charge, and that someone is me. I’m OK with that!
But the Curious George problem wasn’t really arbitrary. It was a question coming up daily, and a question that was important to my daughter, and it was reasonable for her to be upset when my whim didn’t satisfy her wishes. She needed the lunchtime break as much as I did, but more importantly, she needed to know what to expect! So finally I decided, yes, you can watch a Curious during lunch.
And you know what? It’s been great. I don’t get anxious at lunchtime trying to figure out the CG question; I just put it on and enjoy reading a book for 20 minutes. And Maggie doesn’t get anxious at lunchtime either, because she knows what to expect, and isn’t having her four-year-old hopes dashed by her mama’s whims. (She still gives me grief over “what are we having for lunch” sometimes, but we’re working on that, and watching a Curious always makes her feel better about what non-favorite food she is eating.)
“Just make a decision” is a rule of thumb I’ve alluded to before, but it’s easy to forget, particularly considering the dizzying array of requests Maggie makes of me daily. Can I have a piece of candy for my afternoon snack? Can I borrow one of your pens? Can I play with the Scotch tape? Can I have a sip of your soda? Can I get out the play-doh? I think it’s OK to decide some of these things on the fly. I can’t possibly keep track of, let alone anticipate & make a prudent decision about, half the things she asks me every day.
But I can do better than I’m doing. I can try to keep track of the questions that keep coming up, especially if they cause tension. (Surprisingly, the Scotch Tape Question falls into this category. Need to make a real decision on that one.) Whenever possible, I can take a deep breath before answering, try to refocus my mind on Maggie instead of whatever housekeeping task I’m immersed in, and really think about my answer. I can try to default to “yes” instead of “no.”
I can also be up-front with Maggie about the reasons for my decisions; I don’t believe in trying to reason with a four-year-old, but if there’s a simple explanation, I can give it. No, sweetheart, we really do have to start naps now, because Mama’s tired. (Real example, and it really worked.) No, you can’t have a snack right now, because dinner is in twenty minutes. And if I don’t have any explanation for her? Sometimes it’s just too complicated to explain to a four-year old, but sometimes it’s because I’m acting on a whim again.
So it’s a work in progress. But I do think there’s progress.