Silence, Please!

keep-calm-and-silence-your-cell-phone-2

I went to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 with some friends yesterday. We enjoyed the movie, but I’m honestly not sure if there was more drama on the screen or in the seats. There were a dozen of us in the theater – maybe 20. We heard the usual warnings about silencing your cell phones and all but one actually did. With the exception of some occasional laughter and sharp intakes of air, it was silent.

Until the baby started crying. It started off relatively ignorable. OK, not really. But it was quiet enough that if you really focused on the screen, you could still hear the actors. The crying didn’t stop though so I thought for sure the person caring for this child would remove them from the theater.

Nah. The kid ratcheted it up a notch. Then two. Which is to be expected when a kid’s needs aren’t being met. I soon realized as the kid started talking loudly that the kid was not a baby but a young toddler. At a loud and violent PG-13 movie. Great.

The mom started whispering to the child. The child quieted for a bit. Then the child cried again. And then the spanking started. Which any idiot could have predicted was going to make the child cry harder. So no surprise to the rest of the movie-goers when the screams got louder than the whispering in the quiet, intense scene on the screen.

I heard the mom whisper various threats. You better quiet down. You need to behave or I’m going to spank you. Stop that. You need to stop right now. Other people were starting to mutter to each other. It was getting very hard to focus on the movie. I’m not confrontational, but several times I thought of calling out for her to take her child out. But like all the other well-behaved citizens, I just gritted my teeth.

At one point, we could hear muffled crying and my friend commented, “I think they are suffocating that poor baby.”

After the second round of spanking and wailing, though, a woman on my row had had enough. She stood up, turned around to face the back row, and called out, “Will you please take that baby out of here? No one in here wants to listen to her – or him – cry like that! We can’t hear the movie. You are being selfish. You need to take her out.”

The mom became immediately defensive and called back, “If you don’t want there to be noise in here, then why don’t you sit down? You’re making a bigger commotion!”

“Look! I’m sure other people in here feel the same way. They just aren’t saying anything. Please! Stop hurting that baby,” the first woman responded. “Stop spanking her!”

“Spanking?” The incredulous mom responded. “It’s not  spanking – it’s called discipline.”

Hmm… So when she threatened to spank the kid… she… misspoke?

It was getting ridiculous. Now I couldn’t hear the movie or focus on it. The two exchanged some more loud and angry barbs until the confronter sat back down and  apologized to us for causing a scene. While we all agreed with her assessment of the situation, I really just wanted her to shut up so I could hear Katniss.

The mom was beside herself. She began whispering desperately to the person next to her. Soon she was sobbing. I then heard a theater employee, who had apparently walked in, call out, “Please put away your phone.” I have no idea if she was talking to the sobbing mom or someone else, but the confronter took the opportunity to go explain the situation to the employee.

By then mom was outright crying herself. She and her seatmates, and the poor toddler who had been setup to fail by being brought to an inappropriate movie, began filing out. The mom’s cries lasted all the way out the door. Eventually the theater was quiet again and we finished the movie.

I thought about the (obviously) young mom afterwards. She hadn’t been willing to miss some of the movie to take the child out. She expected the child to behave at an age beyond her ability inside the theater. She had no consideration for the fact that the rest of us had an expectation of watching the movie without distraction. She was indignant that she was called out for her behavior. Ironically, she likely left feeling wronged.

I’m not sure what the best reaction is in a situation like that. Do you just sit quietly and politely ignore the rude and inconsiderate behavior (as most of us were doing)? Or do you call the person out (as the one brave woman did)? Should we have clapped to show our support for the woman? Or would that have just heaped more embarrassment on the mom? Do we have an obligation to point out inappropriate conduct to fellow citizens? Who gets to decide what’s inappropriate? Do we do more harm when we call people out or when we say nothing?

I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know if there was more drama on screen or off. I certainly know which was more enjoyable. At least Katniss was fighting over something worthwhile.

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Stuff-Messer’s Rehabilitation Program

Hal has a problem messing with other people’s stuff. His curiosity consistently gets the best of him. I was recently sitting in my bathroom and I could hear him moving around in my room. I called out to him.

“Hal! What are you doing?”

I got the standard reply: “Nothing!”

“Oh, yes, you most certainly are doing something. What are you doing?”

“I’m messing with your stuff.”

This cracked me up because he knew that the next phrase out of my mouth would be “stop messing with my stuff!” He hears it a lot. The admonition does no good, though. He still regularly, daily messes with other people’s stuff.

Daryl bears the brunt of the messing. He has to share a room with the serial messer, after all. This means “Hal, stop messing with your brother’s stuff” is the most common version of the refrain.

The single most often messed-with item is Daryl’s Nintendo DS, which he just got for Christmas last year. Hal’s desire to play with the DS is so strong that he began to hide it under his pillow. He’d get up in the night to try to play with it in his bed when no one could see him. He’d hide with it during the day.

We had tried everything we could think of to get him to stop. We tried timeout. We tried denying him special opportunities. We tried spanking. Nothing stopped him. It didn’t even cause him to hesitate or hold off for a day. We were catching him with the DS every single day!

On one particular day, my exasperated husband asked me “What are we going to do about Hal and Daryl’s DS?” I didn’t have an answer. The situation seemed unsolvable. “I honestly don’t know, honey.”

That night, I went into their room to tuck Hal in bed for the night. He was laying on his stomach and did that telltale shuffle and flop that kids do when they are trying to hide whatever they are doing. I told him to get up. He moved. Reluctantly. I lifted his pillow. I saw the DS. Then I saw red.

I wanted to rage. I wanted to shake some sense into him. I wanted to get through to him that this had to stop. I’m pretty sure I yelled as I grabbed the DS. I headed down the hallway to give it and the responsibility for finding a new consequence to my husband. When suddenly, inspiration struck. I was still angry but I had just thought of something we hadn’t tried yet. Something that was bound to work.

What is the best way to teach someone to respect someone else’s stuff? Perhaps take away their favorite stuff? I grabbed a trash bag and returned to his room. I began to grab his most favorite possessions and put them in the bag. His “sleep bee” (bumble bee pillow pet), his Pooh-bear blanket, his huge stuffed caterpillar, Dug (the talking dog), his lullaby lightning bug, his cowboy boots, his Green Bay Packers jersey, Mr. Fuzzy (a stuffed seal), his Battat airplane, and more. I filled the trash bag while he wailed and cried. And then I sat down on his bed.

“Hal, I’m not going to throw these things away.” His crying settled down. “I am taking them away and you will not have them for two weeks. You have got to stop touching Daryl’s stuff, particularly his DS, without permission. If you touch his DS during that two weeks, you will have to pick something out of this bag to give away. We will give it away and you won’t have it anymore. It will be gone. And then your two weeks will start over again. Each time you touch his DS, you will lose something out of the bag. But if you go two weeks without touching it, then you will get all of it back.”

That was a week ago. So far, everything that was put in the bag is still in the bag. We appear to have achieved success. He’s not moping around, pining for his missing items. He’s actually started playing with things he didn’t used to play with. But not Daryl’s DS. And while he’s not talking about the bag’s contents, I’m fairly sure he’s still thinking about them. And eagerly awaiting their return.

Hal and the Flute

I have hesitated on whether to share this story because it involves spanking, which is a rather hot-button issue in parenting circles. I’m not interested in joining that debate. I think that many of us are on the fence on whether or not spanking of any kind is ever an appropriate tool in our parenting arsenal. I personally tend to agree with the anti-spankers on the notion that there are usually better ways to administer discipline and consequences. That said, spanking was part of my childhood and that can be difficult to overcome. And sometimes I simply can’t find a way to make the severity of the situation understood by my strong-willed and stubborn children. So, please, if you are opposed to spanking, extend me a little grace, knowing that I struggle with the issue, and please try to see the smiling moment in this tale.

Jane recently acquired a flute and hopes to join the band next year. The day the flute arrived, I had a very serious conversation with Hal about it. I explained that the flute was not ours and was very delicate and expensive and he was not to ever, ever touch it. I used my best stern, I’m-not-kidding-around-this-is-serious mommy voice to make sure he understood.

The next day, I was away from the house for awhile and when I returned, I found the flute case open on the dining room table with the individual parts in disarray on top of it. I bellowed Hal’s name and he reluctantly came into the room.

“Did you mess with Jane’s flute?”

“Yes.” His voice was very small.

“Hal, this is very serious. We talked about this.” I took him firmly by the hand and led him back to his bedroom. On arrival, I squatted down in front of him and took both hands. I looked him in the eyes. “Do you understand that that is a very expensive piece of equipment? It is not a toy and it does not belong to us. You cannot play with it. You must understand that. We aren’t playing around. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. You are going to get a spanking for this because you had been told.”

As I finished speaking, his little face crumpled and his eyes welled with tears. I expected a protest about not wanting a spanking but that’s not what I got.

In a desperate,yet resigned voice, he cried, “But Daddy already gave me one!”

In that moment, my heart went out to the poor boy. He had let his curiosity get the better of him and had messed with something he knew he wasn’t supposed to. His father had found out and punished him. Then his mother found out and was about to punish him again. And in the same way. He was trying to bear the consequences as best he could but this was too much. I could see in his eyes that he understood the severity of the situation and was not likely to ever touch the flute again.

“Oh, honey!” I cried. “If Daddy already gave you one, I won’t give you another. I didn’t know.” I wrapped him in a hug and felt the relief in his body as he hugged me back. I then wondered why my husband had not put the flute away after he found it. My planned administration of discipline had been born from my belief that I was the first person to encounter the flute, given its found state. I was later to learn that he hadn’t known how to put it in the case so had left it for me to deal with.

I honestly don’t know if the spanking alone would have been enough to stop Hal’s handling of the flute. But the unintended tag-team of the spank and the almost-spank worked miracles.