Cracking the Case

Wouldn't it be nice if we could solve the mystery of our kids' intended mischief...before they actually did it?

I look up from where I'm sprawled in the grass, reading to the three big kids. The three-year-old has just opened the back door and he's carrying a box of cereal in one hand, the other fist stuffed deep inside it. I thought he was in the sandbox behind me. He gets a little closer and I spot the first clue: the cereal box is streaked with black, the same shade of black that is smudged up his arms and legs.

Teeth gritted, I sit him on a bare plastic chair and tell him not to move, then I'm on the case. Just follow the trail: black hand prints on the sliding glass door, then picking my way over spatters of it that lead to the bathroom, where the sink looks like it vomited out a black sludge. At the bottom of the sink there's a crumpled piece of paper - half a page of a picture book thickly coated in paint - and I think I can piece together what was going through the perpetrator's mind: Oh darn! If mommy catches me painting a book...I better wash this off. Not. Coming. Off. Oh well... I'll just pretend that I came in here for a snack. That'll throw her off the trail.

I close my eyes briefly, not sure that I am prepared to dig deeper, not sure that I will have the fortitude to face the carnage that I suspect lies at the end of this road. But I swallow hard and square my shoulders, retracing my steps out of the bathroom and following the paint trail as it splits off towards the playroom. Rounding the final black daubed corner, I arrive at the scene of the crime and I replay feel like Sherlock or Poirot as I put all the pieces together: he started with scissors, plain scissors, and cut out a slice of a picture book. But he wasn't satisfied with his work and he went back for the fancy-edged scissors which he used to make one single cut on a piece of nearby printer paper and then it dawned on him: paint. There was paint next to the scissors! So he went back for it. Pulling out the red, the yellow, the blue and finally...THE BLACK! He laid out a square of paper on the carpet and squeezed out a hardy amount of paint onto it, then used each available brush to spread the paint over every square millimeter of the paper (exceeding the edges by a wide margin) before reclaiming the strip of cut picture-book-page and leaving his signature on that as well. At which point, it must have dawned on him that this may not have been the best idea and he began taking measures to destroy the evidence.

By the time he wandered back out to me, perhaps he thought it had been the perfect crime.

But he's underestimated me. Like he always does. And as I survey the wreckage that is our playroom, I kinda feel ready to quit. I wish I could be the kind of detective that solves the crime before it actually happens - like Minority Report.

By the end of the day (in which school work was constantly interrupted by the need to clean up after yet another "crime spree"), I frantically googled How to Fix Your Child So He Stops Causing Your To Be An Evil Parent - or something like that. And when the most forthcoming advise was Mischievous behavior is your child's plea for you to give him some attention. Try setting aside more time to devote to him and him alone...I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration. Because what about the other three kids that I was reading to while this happened? What about the baby who required needed to be fed while he was busy running out the front door in his undies? What about my own need to actually go to the bathroom with the door closed while he was quietly peeing in a closet? Is the only way to handle the "mischief" of one child to shortchange everyone else in the family?

I don't know. Maybe.

At this point, I don't have many answers.

I feel gratitude for a local Jewish day school that has graciously made space for my little mischief-maker to attend two mornings per week and play with paint and glue and scissors under the ever-watchful eye of nurturing teachers - and allowing me several hours per week of focused time for my big kids. I need that.

I feel gratitude for my kid's pediatrician who has a way of making these astute psychological observations of my kids. His observation in this situation was something along the lines of: "This kid is determined to gain power and influence. But he loves you and desires closeness with you, so give him a way to exercise his budding power and have him channel it towards helping you.

Let him see that when he is helpful, it has the actual effect of easing your burden and making you more pleasant to be with."

I feel gratitude for a good night's sleep and the invitation to reset for a new day.

And - please, God, help me - I feel gratitude towards my whirling dervish, for keeping me humble when all my parenting tricks seem to fail, for reminding me that children aren't controlled experiments that respond predictably to formulas, for challenging me to meet his soul with my own soul - to recognize that we are both imperfect, both growing, both in need of each other's grace.

And finally, I feel gratitude towards Bissell for manufacturing amazing carpet cleaners.

Tips for staying sane with a particularly mischievous child? And for homeschooling with very busy littles around? Sharing is caring. Give me what you've got. #homeschooling #homeschool #parentingtoddlers #homeschoolingwithtoddlers



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