As an education major at Baylor, I cannot even remember how many times I was required to write my “Philosophy of Education.” I frequently wish there had been a better system of data storage at that time (floppy discs?) because I’d absolutely love to read the educational philosophy of my 20 year old self. As I recall, it was normally about a page in length, and usually contained some sort of big picture idea translated to the little picture idea of a classroom I had as yet never truly experienced. I’m sure I had some lofty goals about changing the world, inspiring greatness (hah), and turning every child into an avid reader.
My current philosophy of education does not even come close to taking up an entire page and actually, has very little to do with actual education. In the same way I have swung from one extreme to the other in the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate, my new philosophy is that humans are born with a personality that is at least 90% genetic, and even the best discipline policy is not going to change someone’s natural inclination to be an asshole. However, every human also possesses the ability to make choices, and as long as the consequences of an action are clear and carried out with consistency, kids are capable of making the choice that ultimately suits their best interests in the end. This means that even the worst behaved kids in the world will choose to act in whatever manner best benefits them. As a counselor and then a classroom teacher, this simply meant making their lives more miserable than they made mine if they misbehaved, and catering to their wishes (within reason) when they didn’t. It took a lot of creativity at first (because you aren’t actually allowed to physically harm them in public school), but once I figured it out, my hourly existence wasn’t so bad. In fact, I think I probably ended up with more avid readers than I started with every year, I probably inspired a little greatness, and perhaps the world is a slightly better place as a result of Chief Claire and Mrs. Wait.
Parenting, I have decided, is not much different. Granted, my children are not juvenile delinquents. They are also not high schoolers. And I know that the grandparents (all four of them) think that John and I are like the strictest parents on the face of the planet, but what they have forgotten, all four of them, is that we learned from experience. And look at us. We’re normal, for the most part, and we don’t hate our parents.
I do sort of hate that I am raising my kids in a generation of non-spankers. This is a very quick point of disagreement and often one of contention among my peers with children, and I find myself announcing (before someone even knows my last name, sometimes) that, “We spank. Sorry. We’re spankers, so if that’s weird, well, we are.” And honestly, I can say that for us, it works, when we use it appropriately. But it certainly isn’t the only thing that works, and sometimes it doesn’t work. So we also use time-out.
When I was the neighborhood babysitter, I knew the difference between the kids who were spanked and the kids who simply received “time-out.” At 14, I vowed that I would never use time-out as punishment. It seemed so lame and ineffective. I’ve since learned that when used appropriately it is not entirely ineffective. And, as Eliott is four going on fourteen, I’ve learned that sometimes the most effective mode of behavior modification is the taking away of a privilege. Today it is pop-beads. Tomorrow it will be the car. C’est la vie. That said, it is always particularly frustrating to me when my children reach new behavioral milestones and absolutely no prior method of enforcing boundaries, organization, planning, goal-setting, rewards, or discipline seems to work.
Eliott giving up her nap was one of the most recent and certainly prolonged of such battles. I admit that I have been somewhat of a Nazi about sleep in this house. I was a bit spoiled to have both my children sleep through the night before two months, but I tell you what, the first time they went one 8 hour stretch and I realized they weren’t dead, I stopped getting up. Naps have been the same way. Our entire day’s schedule revolves around nap time. There have been days that this is more of an annoyance than anything, but in the end, my personal sanity always wins out. I must have me-time. Every day. For more than half an hour. Sometimes 90 minutes isn’t even enough. And napping in the car does not count. That is why, when Eliott was pushing 3 and trying to give up the nap, I almost slit my wrists.
I started by wooing her to sleep, with rocking. When rocking-to-sleep was lasting upwards of 30 minutes, I needed a new tactic. So I started threatening spankings. At this point we still lived in the condo and the girls shared a room. This meant Eliott was sleeping in my room while Carter slept in the crib. Carter’s nap was as much dependent on Eliott’s silence as my sanity was. I’d put Eliott in my bed and tell her, “I’m coming back to check on you. If you are playing, you get a spanking.” If I came back to check on her and she was pretending to sleep, I didn’t care. I left it alone. But if she was jumping on the bed, going through my drawers, kicking the walls, or singing/talking to herself, she got a spanking. The entire nap-time fight dragged out for at least 6 months. This is how long I refused to give it up.
I say as a point of celebration that it has worked very nicely since moving into a house (with enough bedrooms) for Eliott to have “Quiet Time” while Carter naps. This means she is in her room playing with the toys that her sister isn’t allowed to play with, and mommy is all alone, somewhere, not being bothered by anyone. I probably shouldn’t admit that my 4 year old is content to entertain herself every afternoon for at least two hours (I sense from my other mom-friends that this is highly unusual and I hate to karmically mess with it), but perhaps I am so blessed by my own genetics. I sincerely believe she needs me-time as much as I do.
This brings me to today. The pop-beads are at the top of my closet (the result of a pick-up-your-toys-battle that Eliott ultimately lost). This means her quiet time entertainment selection has been reduced, which punishes me as much as it does her. A faux pas I willingly acknowledge. My solution (a raw moment of personal genius) was to introduce her to a little toy called the discman. It so happens that my illegal copy of The Postal Service is burned on a purple CD, Eliott’s favorite color. Naturally, this was her first choice, and not a bad one, I might add. I went up to check on her about an hour ago to find the little cherub literally passed out asleep, on top of her covers, iPod ear buds dangling around her neck.
Had I only known. All those months threatening beatings, executing beatings, regretting beatings, tears (both of us), and angry tired frustration. All the girl needed was some double A batteries and a little mood music.
Once again, my Mother of the Year award comes 6 months late. But I’d like to take this moment to thank all of the little people who made it possible.