As I’ve reported again and again, this last school year was a challenging one for us. By summer, we were all a wreck. Enforcing discipline with Mihiretu had become nearly impossible; the smallest correction would send him into hysterics. And because we couldn’t realistically discipline Mihiretu, we really couldn’t apply different rules to the girls. Home was chaos.
With every day of summer vacation, Mihiretu relaxed. With no institutional triggers, remnants of the orphanage, he was no longer in fight-or-flight. By July, we saw our opening.
While I’m an ardent reader – I carry books with me everywhere, to meals, to brush my teeth, to bed – I hate self-help books. I buy them, particularly child-rearing books, read a few pages and then they join the pile on my bedside table, never to be touched again. The reasons for this are two-fold; my reading time is my pleasure time – I don’t want to be working - and I hate being told what to do (even if it’s what I need to hear).
That said, this summer Ben and I read a book called “1, 2, 3, Magic!” Exclamation point aside, the title is accurate. It is magic.
The basic premise is this: you sit your kids down and reiterate the rules of the house. Then you explain that the first time they break a rule, a parent will call “One”. No explanation, no discussion. The second time, “Two”. And, the third time, you guessed it, “Three”. At this point the child takes a time-out in their room – for as many minutes as years they are old. When they come out, everyone moves on, no discussion, no guilt. Very simple, too simple, it seems. But, like I said, magic. Within a week of implementing the plan, we were living a different – and far more peaceful – life. There is no more arguing, no more screaming, no more teasing, no more bloody scratches etched on small faces. The kids abide by the rules and everyone’s happier for it, particularly the kids.
Mihiretu runs down the hall, shrieking, really just to hear himself shriek. “Mihiretu, that’s one.” Ten minutes later, Mihiretu chases the dog. “Mihiretu, that’s two.” Five minutes after that, Mihiretu climbs over the couch. “Mihiretu, that’s three. Here’s the timer. Go to your room.” No parental yelling, and then, beautiful thing, I have six minutes of silence.
It’s a bit baffling. When we tried time-outs before, Mihiretu would – I’m not kidding - climb out his window, run around the side of the house and make faces at us through the glass door. This time around, maybe because the consequences are clear, and we’re so even in the delivery of those consequences, he goes to his room and he stays there.
My favorite part, I have to say, are the howls of frustration when the kids are counted into a metaphorical corner. Lana sasses me – “Lana, that’s one.” “But, Mom, I was only –“ “Lana, that’s two for arguing.” “This counting rule is so stupid!” “That’s three, take nine in your room.” “Aaaargh!” as she stomps down the hall. Extremely satisfying.
Now when Mihiretu knows he’s broken a rule he’ll look at me out of the corner of his eye to see if I’ve spotted the infraction. If I count him, he’ll wave his open palms and say, “Oh, sawwy, Mama, sawwy” and skitter away. This is the kid who when we’d ask him to stop (screaming, slapping, swearing, spitting), he’d yell “Or what?” We’ve found our what.
I enjoy being with my kids now – something I couldn’t honestly say when we were deep in the pit of despair last year. We’re having so much more fun because we’re not spending our time arguing, redefining our boundaries at every turn. Ben and I are Charles-in-Charge and it feels so good.
Next book down on the dusty stack by my bedside? “Cesar’s Way”. Watch your back, Sunny, watch your back.