Monday, May 30, 2011

Hello, Summer! (And Magic!)

Ah, Memorial Day weekend as it should be. It was a miserable spring, with nothing but chilly grey days, until this weekend. Suddenly, it was hot. Toes breathed in sandals, white legs poked out of shorts, the window breathed open all night long, and dinner moved to the back porch under the umbrella. We've been on the beach every day for the last three days, where the girls now dig and collect and build with little parental interference. It's going to be the summer of fairy houses and beach combing, I believe. This Pennsylvania girl still can't believe the beach is a few short blocks away, and it makes me very, very happy.

May was a big month for us. Miranda turned four, with a little yoga birthday party this year, complete with a zebra doing tree pose (her idea) on the cake. On Mother's Day, all of us donned beaks and marched in the Make Way for Ducklings Parade. We celebrated Family Day with our annual ice cream outing, marking the two year anniversary of Phoebe's life merging with ours. And yesterday, with a fabulous date that started with--what else?-- a long walk on a white sand beach without the kids, Mark and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. In between all the celebrations, we had visits from Mark's mom, my parents, and our au pair's parents from Germany. Busy, busy!

There has been a little magic in the this house lately. About three weeks ago-- sometime in the middle of Mark's mother's visit-- I suddenly thought, when did my two angels turn into whining, arguing, negotiating, entitled little brats? It wasn't good. I was spending all day giving lectures about kindness and respect, and even the classic "give 2 choices" approach was resulting in 5 minutes of questions and indecision and protests. One night when I was on-call, Mark reported that bedtime took over an hour due to prolonged requests and elaborate procrastination techniques. Our happy home didn't seem so happy.

So-- thanks to a Facebook cry for help, I ended up reading "1, 2, 3 Magic." First, I'll say that my father should have written this book, because he "counted us" all the way back then, before the book was published. Oddly, I can't remember what happened when he hit three, but I think that's because I never really got that far; the threat was enough. I had a little meeting with Miranda and Phoebe, and explained the new rules. We role-played an argument and the warnings-- "That's one. . .that's two. . .that's three, take five"-- and the time-out. They got it. A few minutes later, Miranda shoved her feet into Librarian Phoebe's book, and Phoebe shrieked. Calmly, I said, "That's one." Miranda whipped her feet back to herself and silence decended onto the room. Later that day, Phoebe earned herself the first time-out. Without anger or emotion, I carried her to her room, set the timer to 3 minutes, and walked out. She cried for a minute or so, then played quietly, and when the timer went off, she got a hug and a kiss, and a resumption of the usual activities. After that, we had a fabulous day.

I'm telling you, peace decended onto our house like you can't imagine. My kids, thank goodness, were "early adapters." On the second day, I said with mild sterness, "Phoebe, sit in your carseat," and she did, asking, "Mama, is that One?" Miranda always pushes it to Two, and sometimes complies with a resigned pout of "You aren't being fair," but she stops the action, and more and more now is just letting it go. There are several effects-- one, when conflict arises, I win the argument quickly and restore the peace, elimating the long negotiations and arguments that used to be the norm. But more interesting is that suddenly there are very few arguments to begin with. We only have to "count the kids" about three or four times per day. We've been doing this for 10 days now, and I have gone back to completely enjoying my pleasant kids.

There's another part of the book that talks about "start behaviors"-- getting kids to do things you want them to (as opposed to "stop behaviors", for which we count). So we have instituted a 20 minute timer for bedtime. They have 20 minutes to get it all done-- put on pajamas, brush teeth, wash faces, do all the things they use as procastination tecniques AND read books before the timer goes off. The quicker they do it, the more books they get to read. The first night the timer went off and Miranda immediately said, "But we forgot to feed the fish!" and Phoebe said, "Where's my teddy?" I assured them that I was quite sure they would remember those things tomorrow before the timer went off, and turned out the light. This has worked like a charm. No matter how early or late we are for bedtime, once we get out of the tub or get up the stairs, the timer starts, and I know the lights will be out in 20 minutes. Tonight with 8 minutes left on the timer, Phoebe said she was hungry, so downstairs she went-- and missed story time that Miranda got, but made her own decision and took the consequences gracefully.

Why do I go on and on? Because a few weeks ago, I was so frustrated with the kids, and right now (could it be the weather, not the book??) I am blissfully in love with these two. We are at a great stage, where there are constant learning moments, hillarious observations, and charming expressions of love. May this be the beginning of a whole new phase in our lives!