Parenting is many things, and one of those is 'tough'. Tough choices, tough decisions, and even tough love, sometimes.
My boys, unsurprisingly, are everything to me. They are wonderful, and kind, and funny, and clever, and joyous. They are spirited, and rambunctious, and precocious. Lately, though, the spiritedness has given way to outbursts, tantrums, demands, a lack of gratitude, a sense of entitlement, an expectation of more, more and more, and a host of other challenging behaviours.
The Day I Took The Toys Away began much like most days lately. Too early, and with a wail. Tuesdays are particularly fraught. It's the first day of kindy for the week, it's the only day of the week I have to be at my desk by 9am, and the 45 minute commute between the two makes it practically impossible on even the very best of days.
The breakfast battle was lost (or won, depending on which side you play for), and tearing them away from the TV to get dressed was becoming impossible. (Wow, I am actually shaking my head at precisely how many bad parenting decisions are even in that sentence - clearly, we were in need of some help).
Eventually, after far too much shouting, two reluctant and recalcitrant four year olds finally returned to their bedroom, which is where all hell broke loose.
Not content with the first, second or even fifth outfit chosen, one twin did everything within his stubborn power to remain firmly UNdressed. The second was screaming blue murder and quickly descended into the mother of all tantrums because - get this - his blanket was not on his bed in his precisely required location.
Trying to calmly explain that I was "going to be late for work. Again!!" only seemed to fuel the fire.
Chaos ensued. Actually, it was worse. It felt like the apocalypse.
So I did what I'm sure all mothers do at some point somewhere along the journey. I lost it. I became as stubborn, angry and emotional as they were. I slammed doors, yelled, swore, and cried.
They fought everything as though their lives depended on it, and I fought back. In my head, I was trying to assert some control and authority. In reality, I was doing exactly the opposite. I finally wrestled them into the car only to have somehow misplaced the keys. I howled (just like a four year old, funnily enough).
I phoned my mum who could barely understand me through the tears. I yelled some more and then all went quiet. My boys were pale and exhausted. They were silent the rest of the way to kindy and I was crushed by guilt. Crushed. I've never felt anything like it. I couldn't stop crying, and wanted to just hold them tight and never let them go.
By the time I eventually arrived at work, more than an hour (and one missed meeting) late, I had resolved to make a positive change. For all of us. No more shitty mama.
I had to face some hard truths about myself, too. I'm not as patient as I should be. Calm isn't the first word that comes to mind when you meet me. I am quick to laugh, quick to chat, quick to hug, quick to shout (and shriek). I am NOT a morning person. There are practical things I should have been doing to make mornings more pleasant.
In some ways, children are like an ugly mirror, don't you think? Every less than ideal personality trait that you've learned to moderate is mirrored back at you - raw and uncensored - in their behaviour. There's no denying some of the fault lies right here.
T and I exchanged emails and both agreed that something radical had to happen. Something swift and short and sharp to rudely interrupt the tempo that had slowly crept up and completely sideswiped us. We had had enough. Enough tears, enough tantrums, enough torture. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
So that's how it began - the day I took the toys away.
I left work early, went home, and calmly packed away all of the toys, the ipads, and the remote controls.
I took away all their toys.
Yes, all of them.
They are packed away; out of sight and out of reach.
I sat them down and talked to them about acceptable behaviours in our family and in our house. What we expect from them, from each other, and for each other. I explained how their recent behaviour had not been kind, or respectful, or fair.
I told them we had decided to take their toys away for a while because we wanted to spend time with each other rather than with things. To us, it was clear that too many toys, too much tv (and ipad time) were the catalyst for meltdowns and bad behaviour.
They took it surprisingly well.
Two days later Hamish said to me "Mama, except for my Bid Wed Car and my snug and my Thomathes, I can't eben wemember my udder toys." Roc said, "I know mama, we can give our toys to the chrildren that don't have any toys."
If that's not a warning sign that they had too much stuff, I don't know what is.
Four weeks later, they have some of their toys back. The ones they love and play with often. The ones they learn from, stretch their imaginations with, enjoy. Wooden trains and track. Dress up costumes. Steering wheels. Lego. A cuddly teddy. A globe. The rest, I can only presume, have been forgotten. They haven't been asked for once.