Before we adopted John, you could gently say that I had "minimal" child rearing skills. My fractured family wasn't overrun with nephews or nieces, and my bratty sister was only a year and a half younger then me. Thankfully baby sitting neighborhood kids wasn't part of my gawky teenage years (so different from my impending gawky middle-aged years). Based upon this any reasonable person would have to grade my parenting ability as a solid "F-". But there is one spark of hope-- I've always been great with dogs.
I can expertly measure out a cup and a quarter of Eukanuba Reduced Fat kibble into two bowls while doing a little stutter-step to avoid the 70+ pounds of dancing and slobbering Shepperd/Rotweiler mix that is Tanzy, I have to quickly slam down the first bowl, and jerk back my hand before she accidentally chokes it down in a feeding frenzy. While in the other room Gus, the basset hound, waits with the patience of a priest. He requires calm as I attentively offer him a couple of pieces of kibble for him to sniff and consider. I pray that he will eat his breakfast before Tanzy comes ripping through the doorway on her constant hunt for his unattended bowl. Could feeding a four year old be any harder than this circus?
The parental problems of potty training? Please! Compared to trying to pick up some foul dog crap on a busy street with a pathetic plastic bag as my two dogs strain in opposite directions against their leashes? What about temper tantrums? I've only lost my temper once with Gus after he stole a new loaf of French bread from the kitchen table. After chasing him around the house and trying to pull the ruined thing from his growling clenched teeth, I only bashed him a couple of times on top of his rock-hard head with the reclaimed half-loaf of soggy bread.
I'm not even counting my experience with containing a quirky house cat (is there another type?) and trying to monitor the watery marine box of doom that I optimistically call our salt water aquarium. To balance out these practical experiences, Renee has provided the theory with her rapidly multiplying stack of parenting books, adoption attachment articles, adoption emails, and Martha Stewart magazines. We both agreed on the lofty goals of consistency, reasonable non-physical discipline, and the desire to have a fun and well-behaved child. What could we be missing?
Mostly I think we missed the fact that a four year old boy can be a dedicated bundle of bad. John's a great kid that usually wants to be a "good boy," but sometimes he is possessed by the devil. After I got home from work the other day, John politely asked, "Papa can I have some C'apstick please?" John was squirming, turning, and chattering about something as I reached for it. Suddenly ever watchful Renee said, "Did he try to spit on you?" I looked over at John as he plopped down on his butt and pleaded, "Good boy! Semi?" A few minutes earlier Renee had warned him that if he acted like he was spitting again, he wouldn't be able to play with a new toy semi-truck. He knew what he was doing. He understood the consequences of doing it, but he still acted bad? What was he thinking?
When we first got home we made excuses: he doesn't understand English, he's having adjustment problems, he misses his friends. or he doesn't like our food here. But we quickly discovered that these things may be a factor, but he obviously knows how to be good. We've been through the "I want to go back to Kazakhstan" phase, the "I don't like mama/papa" misery, and the brutal "throw myself down on the floor and scream" sessions. And we survived. Because of Renee's diligence, rapid responses, and late night bitch sessions over beers, we were able to make it through his "spells." And as Renee repeats hopefully every Sunday night or so, "I think I've finally got a handle on him."
Until the next time that he has a melt down over picking up his toys. Or cries because he doesn't want to get out of bed in the morning. My conscience mocks me by saying, "Hello, Jason and Renee! Welcome back to Square One!" And then things will settle down for a few days and it's like a dream. I don't realize how much work it is to drag a screaming and kicking monkey back into his room for yet another "talk" day after day, until we don't have to do it.
During the good days we laugh and play like characters in a sticky sweet Disney film. We coo and tell him how proud we are of him for eating dinner, and what a big boy his is for going to the bathroom. John basks in our attention as we explain how, "Good boys get toys, trips to the lake, all sorts of stuff! While bad boys..." On the bad days I'll mutter under my breath how bad boys will receive eternal damnation in a lake of fire.
It's a mystery to me how we can layout the easy path to good behavior, and he will just randomly decide to ignore it. Even our stubborn dogs can understand that their bad acts will always end unpleasantly. Why would someone choose to get in trouble? Renee's mother explains, "Sometimes boys just have to be bad." I hear her clearly, but I know that he's a good boy most of the time. My mind has trouble bending around his playful disregard of "the rules."
But today was a good day. No screaming over lost toys or gagging over eating green beans. It's been a day of peace. That night Renee will say with the utmost sincerity so that you'd think she just thought of it, "Well, I think I've finally got a handle on him."
In the movie of our life, the camera would approach an open window then slowly push aside a fluttering curtain to find itself within a young boy's darkened bedroom. The soft background violins takes on a slightly darker tone as the camera tilts toward a shape snuggled in bed under rumpled sheets decorated with playful construction vehicles. A slash of light sketches out the angelic profile of John's face. The camera zooms in tightly as he sleepily turns towards us. The violins crash towards the conclusion as his eyes snap open. A sharp-toothy smile splits his peaceful face, and when we see that demonic sparkle in his eyes we know.... this battle is not finished.