My daughter entered the world according to schedule, almost twelve years ago. I spent the better part of July, and August until the ninth, in a cotton nightgown, loose and flowing over our bodies, both hers and mine. I had a scheduled Cesarean for personal and medical reasons, so she arrived in convenience store fashion at seven pounds, eleven ounces. But, the night before I went to the hospital with grandparents, father and brother in tow, I was in labor. Talk about good baby karma and accurate timing. You'd think it would all be that easy.
She was born without incident and they brought her to me and then whisked her away. Normal baby stuff. She was fine. I was fine. And I’d done this before. I wanted a little rest.
But the crying and inconsolable nature reared it’s newborn head. Bottom line is -- they brought her back to me because she did not stop crying. She was disturbing the other newborns. If I said she cried for the next ten months without stopping I would be exaggerating, but just ever so slightly.
With the passage of time she mellowed. She has grown into an even tempered, delightful young lady. But, there are times I can't help but remember her affinity for making a scene, and whining is inherent and inbred. I truly believe -- she just can’t help it.
But unlike fine wine, whining does not improve with age.
When my daughter was four her whining prowess reached new heights. I got tired of cringing at the sound of her voice, so I employed the method of reinforcing positive behavior and pulled out all the stickers I could get my hands on. The time-honored sticker chart was nothing more than a piece of black construction paper with the words, "I ASKED NICELY" written across the top. I taped it to the side of the fridge, at her four-year-old eye level, and proceeded to nip the behavior in the bud. Any time she asked NICELY to have or to do something, she was able to put a sticker on the paper. Even if she was reminded or prodded, she put the sticker anywhere she wanted. This was not a lesson in staying within the lines, it was an exercise in thinking before you speak. And it worked. The sparkly star sticker chart stayed up for weeks -- and the whining dissipated. I'll never know if it would have done so without the chart, but I doubt it. I would have gotten annoyed and aggravated -- and there would have been some yelling. This was a positive experience and lesson for both of us.
Now that my daughter is a preteen, we've reentered the whine cellar with gusto. Use stickers? Not so much. Reward positive behavior with something she values? I'd go broke!
So, since she is keenly aware of the inherent humor in every day life I've taken to being a copy-cat. I'm hoping she realizes that her tone of voice and badgering behavior is getting her nowhere fast, and that it sounds very silly coming from an eleven year old.
When she says, "I'm huuuuungry," with a sing-songy whiny voice, I reply in an equally melodic tone with, "What do you want?" She laughs. And so do I. She giggles and stops her way through, "I don't know," as I stomp right back with a, "Well then I can't help you." Sometimes it's as simple as a designated "uuuuuuuuuuuuh" and she stops in her tracks and changes her tone. It's working, and the whining is becoming less frequent. And we're doing a lot of laughing.
What I've realized is, as with the sticker chart from seven years ago, I'm speaking her language. And that language is changing all the time. Right now, humor reaches her to change this simple unwanted behavior. As those behaviors become more adolescent and complex, goofy humor, like the sticker charts, will become outdated and I'll have to learn a whole new language.
And I bet then I'll wish all she was doing was whining!
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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