Sunday, December 27, 2009

Balls (update below)

I've disappeared into company-land; 5 guests arrived on the 23rd.  Oh, wait.  My father-in-law brought his dog.  As far as he's concerned the dog is a person, so I have to say 6 guests arrived on the 23rd.

This morning 5 of the guests departed.  My niece doesn't fly out til later this afternoon.

The house is ringing with the silence.  The boys and my niece are still asleep.  Bliss.

I came up the stairs and went into the kitchen.  My dad was standing at the coffee pot and had just begun a conversation with Gary.  He stopped when I walked up.  He said something like,"oh, nothing." I said, "Go ahead", and he said abruptly, "I want to talk to Gary."  So I left.

But that didn't stop me from pausing on the steps to listen.

Dad told Gary that he was upset by something disrespectful Connor had said in the car last night.  We'd driven in separate cars to a restaurant my MIL had taken us to, so I'd not heard it.  I instantly feared the worst.  There is a dynamic in the relationship between Gary and the boys that's really ugly and perhaps it surfaced to bite:  something will happen that will frustrate the boys...Gary makes a remark or takes action that doesn't soothe the roiled waters, but is a match to flame...the boys explode, swear, speak disrespectfully to him stupid.  I see this as a serious problem, and is going to get worse as they get older if he doesn't find a way to deal effectively with this.

Taking a walk with my niece in the woods the subject turned to how she would parent someday:  "I'll just do as my dad did.  Make them fear me early and then the rest is easy."

There is something to be said about parenting-thru-fear.  It certainly reduces the potential for awkward moments.  It makes for anxiety-free meals in restaurants. It means never having to be embarrassed by your children.

Fear can be effective.  And it tends to be easy, and convenient.  For people who advocate this as a method of parenting fear is synonymous with respect.

I've taken a risk in my own choices in parenting.  I am big on respect, but I believe it is a two-way street.  This means that if I want the respect of my children, then I have to earn it through demonstrating my credibility.  This is a process that has begun at birth.  It means that I have needed to invest my energy into attunement with them.  I've gotten to know their cues, their signals.  I then become their co-regulator, by making adjustments to keep them in internal equilibrium.  I can do this through monitorring external conditions and knowing when they've had enough.  When external conditions can't be adjusted I can do it through putting my energy beside them in empathy.  When they were little it frequently meant I didn't have the luxury of shouting at them from across the room to get them to stop touching something fragile:  it meant I had to follow them, and substitute another desirable object if they came under the sway of something forbidden.  Eventually I didn't have to do that anymore when they began to develop their own empathy and understanding of others' precious objects.  My job was/is to be their regulator until they developed the maturity to do it on their own.

It takes a lot longer, and a lot more effort than fear to parent this way.  But I think it pays off in that their respect for me goes well beyond fearing what I'll do to them if they step out of line.

Gary got it about not using fear of punishment as a parenting tool.  But he did not get it that he needed to replace fear with something stronger and more enduring.  Over and over he'd miss their cues, fail to see that they were becoming overloaded, and then blame them when they acted out, which would stoke the fire even hotter.  Then they'd call him names or worse.  I've told him that it really worries me that these conditions are present, and while he'll admit it's a problem with potential for some real trouble down the road, he persists in avoiding learning how to deal with it more effectively.

The boys do not call me names, and in general are respectful of adult authority.  They don't call other adults names.

I feared Connor had lost control and had been blatantly disrespectful to Gary in front of my parents.

I heard my father say, "I was...really shocked when Connor said that, and I was disappointed in you for not saying something to him and I was disappointed in myself for not saying something."  Gary said, "Yeah.  I kind of cringed when he said it."  Dad:  "Oh, it about doubled me over.  I thought about it all night."

I continued down the stairs, thinking about this.  In general, my father is not the type to tell someone if something bothers him, and he's very offended if someone tells him that something he's said or done bothers them, so it must have been pretty egregious for him to get this exercised.

Shortly after I had Gary alone and so I asked him what Connor had said.  Gary said Connor had mentioned having been "hit in the balls."  That's it?????

OK, so let's back up 4 days to the 23rd when my FIL arrives with his dog, Katie.  This dog is wife, girlfriend, sister to him.  He can't refuse her anything, so she looks like a grotesque barrel on sticks, with a little tiny head.  The morning they were to arrive he sent a message saying the day before she'd rolled in some dead salmon near a stream.  He'd bathed her, he said, "but the aroma still lingers".  No qualms about bringing her into our home.  No qualms about letting her lay on our sofas, because it meant she wasn't hogging the bed he slept in.  In fact, he gushed about "what a good girl she is, sleeping on the sofa so I could sleep all night."

Once in our home she barked whenever our dog went near my FIL (jealous), and so he asked us to take him out of the room.  She parked herself in walkways where I was trying to cook so everyone was continuously having to step around her and barked at no provocation at all.  Then he'd shout at her.

I woke the next morning, Christmas Eve and lay considering the situation.  Four days stretched endlessly ahead, and I thought I'd approach it as a game.  This was the hand I've been dealt.  I'm internally weighed down by the death of my friends' son.  There are nine people in my house, and an extra dog.  The adults, with the exception of my niece, brother, and partly my father, are very self-centered.  One of the children is hyperactive.  My MIL, who is also highly anxious and self-centered is going to be part of the mix.  I have 3 major meals to fix, and though I've been pre-cooking and preparing for days now, my organizational skills are so faulty I'm not sure how to coordinate it all. I'm not sure if I've planned sufficiently.  How am I going to play this hand?

The fact that this is the last time I'm doing this was my ace in the hole.

Somehow Christmas Eve dinner tumbled together perfectly and it was a marvelous meal.  The boys, particularly Scott, having waited 365 days for this moment were deliriously happy and playing together in the front room, adjacent to our dining area.  The adults were at the table and my FIL rinsing dishes in the kitchen.  The noise level was high in general from so many people all talking.

Suddenly, FIL shouted from the kitchen, "Scott!  Stop that shouting!  We can hear what you are saying without you having to yell!!!"

I was stunned, and then furious.  We had been listening to his dog bark, and him yell at his dog all that day from the moment they arrived the day before, with good grace and no complaint, and now he's telling my little boy he's too loud, in his own home, on Christmas Eve?

What's even more bizarre is that it would be considered rude for me to say something to him about trespassing some boundaries, and setting others:  if Scott's on his lap and shouting in his face, he has every right to say something.  If Scott's in his home and shouting, he has a right to say something.  If Scott's in our home, and we're not reprimanding him, he has no right.  Yet, my father feels free to confront my husband about what he saw as a lapse in his parenting, because my boy said the word "balls?"  He lost sleep over it?

There are so many things wrong with this picture it makes my head spin.

I really thought I was going to say something to FIL.  I told Gary he needed to say something to him, but I know he won't.  There were a few minutes I had alone with FIL when I was doing some dishes and I could have said it then.  Was it merely the force of socialization that stayed my tongue?

I didn't speak because...I didn't feel compelled to, in that moment.  I don't know if it was cowardice, or maybe it was wisdom about timing.  Maybe I flatter myself.  Perhaps it was knowing that he would see himself victimized if I did.  His feelings would be hurt, for telling him that his actions had hurt my boy's feelings.  How ironic is that?  Perhaps it's just the pointlessness.  If he's the kind of person who would yell at an 8 year old on Christmas Eve for being too loud in a loud house, he's not the kind of person who would get it anyway.

He'd demonstrated a classic illustration of people living in glass houses, throwing stones.

Interesting that my father would feel moved to do something beyond his comfort level, talk to Gary about something Connor said, yet feel no compunction whatsoever to speak with FIL about his--to me--far worse behavior.

I'm so glad they're gone I can hardly stand it.

I asked Connor about what happened in the car.  He said he'd been explaining to my mom and dad why he didn't want to ride with his other grandfather in his truck to the restaurant: The Dog rides with him in the front seat, but is jealous of the space by the window.  As my son explained to my parents, "she steps on my balls."

I realized I left out an important fact about my FIL yelling at Scott.  Scott had not appeared to have heard him.  I didn't see a change in Scott's face, or his play.  As I said, the noise level was high anyway;  and FIL was in the kitchen while the boys were at the far end of the living room.  I think his voice didn't rise above the general din.  I asked Connor later if he'd heard what Grandpa said, and he said he had not.  I suppose that was part of why I refrained from saying something in that moment.


Mrs. Spit said...

That sounds very trying. Glad you made it through.

And is your FIL related to my MIL? She brings her badly trained, nasty little dog to our house, and it drives me crazy.

I was sad for her sake, but thankful, when Kiwi died, that I wouldn't have to deal with her anymore.

PaleMother said...

Happy Holidays, Ex! (Although it feels sort of ironic calling them happy considering how trying it can be to share your space!)

The extreme offense at the balls remark ... hmmm. I'm with you; is that all? But then I guess it's one of those dog whistle boundaries of knowing your audience/culture/generational sensitivities where kids have to cross those boundaries a few times on the way to developing a finer tuned instinct?

I remember my boy cousins stayed with us for a few days one summer ... I loved them so. They had a habit of throwing around the word "sucked" and I picked right it up ... not realizing how it would grate on my parents' ears until they gave me hell for it.

I'm with you on respect being mutually earned, not a factor of age that only needs to be managed up. I think it's the only way to have any hope that your kids will listen to anything you have to say in the long run. Although I struggle sometimes with impatience. I channel an east coast bark sometimes when I'm truly stepped on. As the saying goes: even the most good natured dog must growl occasionally to have any peace. :)

The dog thing is so familiar. My IL's last two dogs have been ill-mannered barrels-on-sticks that go everywhere their owners go. The latest one is actually mentally unstable. They medicate her, but its only partly effective. She has actually bitten FIL, MIL, Aunt-In-Law numerous times -- enough that she'd be put down by authorities if the incidents were reported. Yet FIL insists on bringing her around the grandkids. I'm not sure what bothers me more ... the fact that he does it or the fact that his children allow him to do it.

This Thanksgiving was a doggie nightmare ... I had to find a centrally located venue for 23 people -- which is hard enough -- when FIL and BIL both insisted that the place accomodate their dogs. Dog friendliness in vacation rentals seriously limits your options. Somehow we managed it. And then for the trouble, we spent the entire holiday trying to keep three incompatible dogs (FIL's dog, BIL's standard poodle puppy in training and OBIL's lab) from killing eachother. Which ruined quite a few moods.

I can totally relate to your reaction to your FIL putting the hammer down on Scott from inside his own glass house.

Isn't it all so nuts? Such a head trip. Glad you survived. Thanks for sharing your processing. Enjoy your peace!

Best wishes for the new year.


Lavender Luz said...

First of all, congratulations for surviving. I'm glad you are getting your home back.

Second, I loved what you said about parenting and fear, parenting and respect. Such a terrific analysis.


Fourth, your Dad...hmmmm...he's bothered by a teen's use of that word, but not a verbal assault by an adult?

Lastly, we missed you during our Sister Time.

And at least you have that ace.

Sheri said...

It sounds like a trying couple of days. So many mixed many many things said...and so many things not said.

I am glad you survived.

I'm not sure I'd invite the extra dog, or should I say, "guest," next time.

Oh...that's right! No more "next time." Your ace in the hole. Yeah!

I second what Luz said, "we missed you during sister time."

Quiet Dreams said...

Families can be so hard. So many expectations and unspoken rules.

My grandfather parented my mother and her brothers by fear. She parented the same way. I am just now unraveling the consequences of that on my life.

So glad you had your ace in the hole. :)