My Little Bull In a China Shop, Taking After Her Daddy – By Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston

“Bull in a china shop” – that’s the nickname I gave my husband when it became apparent just how infrequently he realized his own strength!  Hubby is a linebacker-looking kind of guy…six-foot-four inches tall, broad shoulders…definitely not the type of guy anyone would choose to mess with in a dark alley one night if they had any brains.  And though he can have a gentle touch when it comes to holding our babies or giving back rubs, many times his strong grip gets away from him as he does something destructive while he’s trying to be helpful.  I learned early in our marriage that most of the time he wasn’t able to gauge how something that needed a bit of elbow grease could also need a gentle touch.  That’s how he came to be known as “Bull in a China Shop” around here.  There weren’t many times before fibro that I needed his assistance with something.  The occasional jar lid that needed to be “unstuck” or a piece of furniture that was too heavy for me to move…I was a pretty independent woman before fibro took a hold over my life, and there was a lot around here I was able to accomplish by myself.  I’d had a lot of practice before I moved in here with him.  Living on a teacher’s salary while trying to pay rent on an apartment without a roommate, a lot of my furniture purchases were from stores like Ikea  or Target and required assembly…a LOT of assembly!  My proudest accomplishment was assembling my own queen-sized bed, complete with “fake iron” headboard and foot board…all done without a single ounce of help, male or female.  I was about twenty-seven and couldn’t have been prouder of myself!  As for Hubby, it’s not often he shows his true colors…thank goodness because otherwise we would be broke from replacing items such as furniture, household decorations, and cooking utensils on a VERY regular basis!  But the mindless destruction happens often enough to help him keep his title throughout our marriage. 

And now our little Monkey is following in his footsteps!  Our youngest, Jessie, was nicknamed Monkey when she was an infant.  I can’t remember exactly how we came across her nickname…probably something silly her big sister and father cooked up together.  No matter how she got her nickname, she makes sure every day to show us that it’s the right choice!  Her big sister, Kerrianne, never got into the trouble Jessie finds herself in!  Maybe it’s because Kerrianne always had our complete attention as the only child at the time…maybe Kerrianne just has a more easy-going personality than her  baby sister does.  No matter what the difference, Monkey is a cute little angel and imp rolled into one!  (Her best evidence of that to date?  Just last week, she took her cup from her milk and during the five minutes I left to sit at my husband’s computer, while I was thinking she was sneaking drinks from the bathroom sink, she was in fact filling that same cup and DUMPING THE WATER ALL OVER MY ENTERTAINMENT CENTER!  Go ahead, laugh but I know what’s really going through your minds…thank goodness that’s not something MY CHILD thought up yet!)  And she has the same heavy hand her daddy has!

I feel badly about it, but we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve had to dictate certain toys of Kerrianne’s off limits…Barbie doll furniture, book covers and the pages between them, special barrettes and toy jewelry…if Monkey lays her hands on it, chances are its days are numbered!  I’m not sure if she realizes she’s at risk of destruction or if she’s doing it totally by accident without understanding what’s happening.  (I’m pretty sure he’s too smart for the second option.)  Sometimes I can figure out it’s because she wants to know how things are made and what makes them tick.  One toy she found in the doctor’s office last week met its fate when she picked at it enough to find out what it was made of that she plucked three chunks out of it.  (Turns out it was made of the same rubbery material as those balls you squeeze to relax or exercise your hand muscles.)  Our Christmas tree this year had at least a dozen ornaments make their way to the floor…some survived without a scratch, others needed to be fixed, and a select few found their way in the trash can.  I spent the entire holiday season trying to figure out who was responsible, Monkey or one of the cats.  Somehow she breaks more of everyone else’s things than she does her own toys.  My camera, my Christmas decorations, my tree ornaments, my end table door handles…I’m sure there’s more but we don’t have all night to create an entire list of the things I own that she’s found a way to leave her mark on! 

The whole situation has left us in quite a parenting quandary!  We want to encourage sharing, and she won’t learn how to take care of these things if she doesn’t live it firsthand.  But I feel like I’m punishing her older sister if I just let her loose to keep breaking all her favorite toys!  I’ve tried to set rules that she can’t touch certain toys for fear she’ll break them, but then her sister is left without a Barbie/Princess/LaLaLoopsy playmate.  So Kerrianne gives her own permission to break the rules so they can play together.  And that sends me into a different parenting struggle…showing my oldest that my rules aren’t to be broken, that they’re set for important reasons she needs to respect…like Mommy doesn’t have enough money to be replacing everything Monkey breaks!  Part of me has given up…we have two gates that separate our living room from both the kitchen and the hallway.  Before it was great because it made our living room a walled-in play area from which there was no escape.   The girls could play safely, and Mommy was able to leave the area more frequently to get some chores done around the house.  However now Kerrianne knows how to open the one gate and Monkey follows her through the house to find the same toys I said were off limits.  I can’t gate off the entire house.  And I can’t take away every toy I don’t want to see broken to bits.  I didn’t think at almost three and a half I’d have to worry so much about “baby-proofing” but I’m learning the hard way that I just need to take the time to keep my important things up high, the only place she hasn’t found a way to reach.

I think the biggest lesson that needs to be learned from all this is NOT how to hide away every toy in this house.  It’s not finding ways to convince my oldest that she needs to understand my rules and follow them.  I think the lesson I need to learn fastest as a mother is that I need to lighten up and remind myself of all I learned working with young children as a nanny and teacher…little kids like to learn what makes things tick.  And sometimes to do that, they end up fingering their way to the object’s very core…a core that’s not always easy to then put back in place where it belongs.  They need time to learn how to care for favorite things, and until that happens, I need to watch out for my own things and put them in places that are safely away from three-year-old fingers.  If I learn that important survival skill and how to breathe deeply while I count to ten every time I see evidence of a new Toyland casualty, then maybe I’ll make it to when the only games they care about are video games.  The children will eventually learn how to properly care for their toys…it may take a good amount of time, or it may happen before Monkey turns four next Fall.  But my lesson needs to be learned sooner…for the sake of my own sanity more importantly than the sake of my wallet.