Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Big Picture

Little kids can make some really big messes. Obviously, I knew that, having raised one kid already. But even his best efforts back in the day (and there were some doozies) seem to pale in comparison with the sheer scope and breadth of the chaos that the Princesses and Baby Brother create.

Princess Ariel is the most prolific of the bunch. She can cover more ground and produce more mess than any child I have ever met. Thinking that reducing her access to mess-inducing items might be the solution I quietly put away all the puzzle pieces, tiny barbie shoes and crafty materials like pom poms, pipe cleaners, sequins and glitter. That worked for all of 24 hours, until she discovered the joy of cutting up notebook paper into paper dolls. She happily tore through an entire package of notebook paper in a single afternoon, leaving a trail of crinkled dollies and little paper snippets throughout the entire house.

Princess Jasmine--who scoffs at dolls--uses a different tactic. She collects all the blankets and pillows in the house, then uses them to build giant forts in the living room. This wouldn't be so bad, except she likes to dump out all the toy boxes to use them to create more "rooms" in her fort. She also almost always "forgets" to bring the blankets back upstairs, or put the toys back in the toy box.

Baby Brother, too, has his own special techniques. His involve drippy juice boxes and trails of dry cereal, punctuated by fast and sneaky work with unattended magic markers.

I would like to say that I am calm and loving when confronting candy ground underfoot into my hardwood floors, or leaky juice boxes stashed under the recliner cushions. If I said that, though, I'd be lying. Suffice it to say much consternation and gnashing of teeth has occurred.

The problem is, gnashing of teeth wasn't getting us anywhere. When I calmed down and zoomed out to look at the big picture, what I came to realize (with some help from other foster parents) is that sometimes the kids had all they could do just to handle their inner emotional turmoil, let alone deal with any outer turmoil. After all, it is pretty darn had to care about whether or not your dirty underwear is in the hamper or not when you don't know where mommy and daddy are and you think it might be your fault they went away in the first place.

Through trial and error, teamwork, and some really good therapy, we're starting to get a handle on it all. As the stuff on the inside is getting worked out, the stuff on the outside is getting easier to manage, too. Princess Ariel likes using a sticker chart to track her progress in following rules and doing chores, while Princess Jasmine (who informed me sticker charts are only for little kids) prefers natural consequences - ie, items left on the floor become the property of Mom. Baby Brother is still murder with a magic marker, but hey, he's only two.

Sometimes it is still really easy for me to get hung-up on the minutiae, like wet towels on the bathroom floor--especially if I'm having a day where I'm feeling pulled in too many directions at once. But I'm getting better at reminding myself to zoom out and look at the big picture before jumping straight to the teeth gnashing. When I do, the wet towel is a barely noticeable detail in a portrait of three children who are happy, healthy and doing well in school.

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