Toddler Recidivism

Posted: July 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Husbandry, Miss Kate | 1 Comment »

When we were up in Pawt-land a few months ago, Kate and Paige and I went on a little road trip to see a friend and her kids in Eugene. After a weekend of family fun Mark had meetings to go to, and far be it from me to sit in a hotel with two children waitin’ for my man.

As someone who A) grew up in microscopic Rhode Island, and B) had parents who opted exclusively for air travel, I haven’t logged many miles in the car. But I figured what could be more come-what-may wacky and romanticizable than a road trip? Granted with a two-year-old and a three-month-old we weren’t exactly yucking it up at campy roadside attractions, shooting pool at honkey tonk bars, or flashing truck drivers the old fried eggs. Still, it was an adventure.

Our one-night visit was brief but totally worth the travel. When our hosts headed out early the next day for work and school, it seemed wrong to hit the road without seeing a bit more of Eugene. Since one of the things I love about not 9-to-5ing is the mini-indulgence of weekday breakfasts out, I got a tip on a good local spot and made my way across town with huevos rancheros on my mind.

Now everyone has their limits for what’s reasonable to do with two kids. I certainly don’t want to count breakfast out as one of those things. Mostly because I enjoy it so much, but also because if we can’t eat at a greasy spoon full of vegan college students and bearded men, what can we do? I might as well not leave the house. And I, for one, never understood why motherhood and the hermit lifestyle seem to go hand-in-hand for some women.

At the restaurant, when we’re about 80% through our good but not to-die-for brekkie, I realized I should nurse Paigey in the hopes that she’d sleep on the drive back to Portland. I’ve snarfed down many a meal crouched over a breastfeeding baby, at home and in public. But for some reason that day Kate sensed my mobility vulnerability, and saw an opening for some attention-getting of her own.

At first she just got down off her seat and started walking away from the table while looking at me tauntingly. My upbeat-Mama-voiced entreaties to “Come back to the table please, Sweetie” quickly turned to “Get over here, Kate” commands hissed between clenched teeth. At which point it seemed that Kate decided: Game on.

A couple times I managed to get up while propping up a latched-on Paigey with one arm to lug Kate back to the table. But then, like all sly toddlers, she decided to up the ante. It pains me to even recollect–never mind share–this. Since it was clearly so delightful to see me lose my patience, Kate went for the big guns, and while standing a few feet away from our table, got my attention somehow then puckered up and, well, she spat at me.

I was mortified. Open up the earth and swallow me now mortified. Mortified that this diner full of breakfast-eating collegiates, hippies, and misanthropes who I didn’t know and would never see again were witnessing my daughter’s ghastly behavior–as well as my inability to make it stop.

And two disclaimers I must share. Behavior like this is, blessedly, out-of-character for Kate. And the spitting wasn’t all out loogie-level gobs–more a light spraying of spittle. But still.

In my fury I don’t even remember what happened next. (Or at least that’s what my attorney has advised me to say.) I jarred Paigey off my boob, slapped some cash on the table, scooped a soon-screeching Kate under my arm fireman style, and lugged the whole happy McClusky family to the car, vowing to Kate under my breath that she’d never enter another restaurant as long as she lived. I thought I used to be bad at walking through lodges carrying skis, but holding a howling horizontal toddler takes that to a whole new level. To any diners whom I errantly whacked upside the head with my evil child, I extend my most sincere apologies.

So here we are months later with plenty of time to have figured out what to do if a spitting-type situation like that were to arise again. I wish I could say that that lovely behavior has ceased, never to rear its ugly head again. Instead, Kate has cataloged spitting as The Ultimate Way to Piss Us Off. And frankly, she couldn’t be more right.

Not that it’s happened a ton more, thankfully, but in the rare (knock wood) times she’s busted out this move, we’ve found that denying her things that are too far removed from the situation is an utterly ineffective punishment. “That’s it! No dessert for you!” we’ll say at 10AM–child light years before dinner. We might as well threaten that she won’t attend her prom.

The we’re-not-going-to-do-what-we’re-about-to-do approach is also a wash. If she doesn’t get to go to the pool or the park or the zoo, then we don’t get to go there either, and honestly we don’t want to punish ourselves in the process. Then we all just sit home covered in spit in exceptionally bad moods.

All this talk of punishment may make it sound like we’re using the ACME Abu Ghraib Child Rearing Kit, which is hardly the case. 99% of the time Kate is a pure joy–which most every other post in this blog will attest to. We try to explain why certain of her actions are inappropriate, we don’t spank, yell, or waterboard. We’re generally pretty mellow and groovy parents. It’s just that the spitting thing is so ugly and base, we’d really love a magic bullet to make it stop. And so far the groovy tactics have fallen short.

The fact is, recidivism in the toddler set is a bitch. Just when you think you’ve gotten through to them, the bad behavior rears its head like some unkillable alien that bursts out of your stomach when you least expect it.

After something or other the other night, Mark asked Kate again and again to stop what she was doing to no avail. Finally he told her if she kept doing what she was doing he was only going to read one bedtime book to her–instead of the usual two. When moments later at bedtime Mark stuck to his guns on the book reading, it was devastating to Kate. Between sobs she tried the work-around of “But Mama read me books, Dada?”

Of course, Softie Parent that I am this killed me. I wanted to sneak in her room and read her endless books. (This is why Mark and I could never train a dog together.) And even though I know Kate was in the wrong and Mark gave her every opportunity to stop whatever she’d been doing, I was suspect about denying her books–something we love that she loves. Denying her reading time seems like telling her she can’t eat brussel sprouts or take a nap. Like, “Okay then Missy, no math homework for you!”

But the book thing ended up to be Kate’s Achilles tendon. When she woke up the next morning the first thing she said was, “I didn’t get books because I spit, Mama. Dada said no books.”

Of course it broke my heart and made me want to slug Mark, but also made me grateful he’s willing to take on the Bap Cop role. It’s both noble and no fun. And God knows I cower away from doing it.

So now that Kate knows we mean business around the ‘no book’ thing, there’ve been a couple times when we–well, Mark–has mentioned it when Kate continued to do something after we asked her to stop–like clobbering Paige in the head with a wooden toy. The thing is, the consideration of not getting her Curious George fix actually makes her stop and listen. Hey, this setting boundaries for kids thing seems to have its merits! Who knew?

Mind you, Mark is not goose-stepping around the house trying to come up with beloved things he can take away from Miss Kate. And I’m not always sliding candy bars to her when he’s not looking. And, thankfully, she’s not getting tattoos (yet) or sneaking out her bedroom window at night–giving us many opportunities to have to come up with appropriate behavior-snuffing consequences.

Mark and I are just feeling our way along the path to mutually-acceptable parenting techniques, and hopi
ng that we’re doing a better job of it all than a pack of wolves might. Someday when Kate gets in a fight with her college boyfriend, perhaps she’ll find a better way to express her frustration than spitting in his eye.

1 Comment »

One Comment on “Toddler Recidivism”

  1. 1 Shelley said at 12:45 pm on July 27th, 2008:

    I’m so glad I found you online — since we elude eachother in person!

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