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101 Ways to Mess Up Your Kid

I called Eric at work yesterday. "We've messed up our kid," I told him.

"Why? Which one, and what did we do?"

"Sam. I've caught him sucking his thumb twice today."

Now, you have to know that Sam has never sucked him thumb before, not even as a baby. He'd chew on his fingers occasionally when he was teething, but he was never a "sucky" sort of infant, except as it pertained to my breasts. This was new, and as such, it made me nervous.

"Could one of the kids at his preschool be a thumb-sucker and he's copying?"

"I don't know. I'll ask. I'm not making a big deal out of it where he can see, but...what's up with that?"

So I snuggled up to Sam on the couch after hanging up the phone. "Hey, buddy," I said, hauling him onto my lap. "So you're sucking your thumb now? Are you doing it at night, too?"

He smiled. "Sometimes in my bed, and sometimes in the day."

"Does it make you feel happy?"

"No. It makes me feel sad." (I'm fairly certain that wasn't sarcasm, but who knows with my kid?)

"Is there somebody else that you've seen sucking their thumb?"

"Yes. Gabe. He's a baby. I want to be a baby!"

Eureka; so that's it. I suppose it would have been more obvious to me if Gabe actually, you know, sucked his thumb. As it is, he just chews on the tip of his forefinger; like his brother before him, he's not a "sucky baby" either. Sam apparently doesn't make the distinction, so he's mimicking what he perceives to be a babyish behavior in his brother as best he can understand.

It is so hard to be an effective parent to two kids! Just when I think I'm finally starting to get things under some semblance of control, it comes out that I'm doing worse than I thought. Sam's been acting out quite a bit lately, driving me to parenting books for the first time since he was an infant, and all the books were full of comforting words about how the midpoint of the three-year-old year is full of challenging but temporary misbehaviors. We've been dealing with those issues as they arise - he's refusing to eat, throwing things, hitting, yelling, running around screaming like a banshee - and it's easy to see, in hindsight, how Sam might have come to the conclusion that being a baby would be a good way to escape our attempts to discipline him. After all, Gabe rarely is told to calm down, sit still, or surrender a toy to time-out.

I try to spend time giving Sam my undivided attention, but it compounds the problem when Gabe starts throwing a fit midway through a game or some activity and I have o leave Sam in the lurch. Additionally, he seems so starved for that sort of pre-Gabe-style attention that when he gets it, he loses control even more and turns into Gibbon-Boy. If I could give him more of that type of devoted time, I think it would get better, but in the meantime, Gabe is grunting and whimpering for me and I begin to feel like a rope in a game of tug-of-war.

Of course, the obvious answer is for Eric to spend more time with Sam, and he's trying to do that. The crazed gibbon behavior gets to him long before it bothers me, though, so he gets frustrated quickly. He tries to take Gabe, instead, so that I can tend to Sam, but by the time he gets home from work at night, we're on a shot clock before Gabe enters his "I'm tired, but I don't want to sleep; I need Mama!" period. Additionally, evening playtime can only go so far to make up for what he misses during the day while my attention is necessarily divided.

I wonder whether I could find a Mother's Helper this summer to hep with Gabe - some young teenage girl who can hang out with us a few hours a day, holding and playing with the baby while I work with Sam. How would I go about finding one of those, anyway?

I hate that Sam feels second-best when it comes to our attention and love. It kills me. I look at him, getting so much bigger every day, and he fills my heart with love, wonder, and awe, and then I think about how much time during the day ends up devoted to correcting his behavior, and I want to crawl under a rock. I hold him, love on him, tell him he'll always be my baby, but can he see that when I have to turn around and tell him to knock off the driving his Matchbox cars over the baby's face or I'll have to take them away? He feels like the injured party, the one who has to give up his fun all the time. I can see that, but short of not allowing him access to the baby (which would bother him more than removing the cars would; he loves playing with Gabe), there's little else to be done. The baby has to be with me; Sam naturally wants to be with me, too; and Sam likes to play with his cars.

But that's a single instance in a bad situation. Sam feels neglected, and no doubt he's simply trying to get my attention - any attention at all, good or bad - by doing things he knows I can't ignore. I wish I had better ways to give him the positive attention he needs. I'm constantly having to interrupt his time with me, so no wonder he feels like I'm more devoted to Gabe.

And the very worst part of it all is that sometimes, these days, with all of Sam's crazy monkey behavior, I do prefer to spend the time with Gabe, who is a lot easier on my wits. I feel like the most awful person in the world for feeling that way, and I know it's pretty close to a crime against motherhood itself. Sam can no doubt sense it, and it's creating a vicious circle. We're all at fault, and my precious Sam is suffering because of it.

Somebody tell me that the benefits of his having a brother will in the long run outweigh the problems we're having now. Lie to me if you have to.

(By the way, I'm not so much looking for advice on this issue as I am commiseration. I'm feeling bad enough as it is; I don't need well-meaning words about how I have to become a better mom or Sam will turn into a serial killer.)

Unrelated, I think, to his other issues, Sam's being camera-shy these days; he runs and hides, giggling, when he sees me ready to take pictures. On the other hand, I do have to brag on him visually in some way. I've been taking pictures of his various projects and artworks so we can have a record of them in the future. Here's one he composed after running to me and saying, "In a few moments, here, we're moving into a new house!" I outlined one for him, and he drew it.

Sam, l'artist

If you click on it, you can see where I've labeled the various parts of the drawing with what he told me he was making. I love Flickr.

previous one year ago:
Just now, while I was typing, Sam wandered out of bed and came to find me, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
two years ago:
When the television announced that yet another winter storm was expected for today, I almost threw my book across the room at the screen.
three years ago:
I sound like Barry White on quaaludes.
four years ago:
Near the end of the class, we watched the prerequisite birth video.
five years ago:
Our basement smelled like turpentine, and her hands were always tired from sanding alphabet blocks.
In the ears:
Dead silence

On the Bookshelf:
Touchpoints 3-6

Gratuitous Sam

Sorry; camera-shy!

Extra Gabe


Pick me up!



©1999-2003 C. Richmond.