You know that moment when you know you shouldn’t be saying something, but you just can’t keep the words from coming out of your mouth? In fact, the knowledge that you need to stop talking right. this. second. seems to make the words spill out faster? “Ooh quick, before she shuts her mouth, let’s get this little nugget out!” Yeah, me too. All too well.
The most recent iteration of this phenomenon happened yesterday. I was making dinner. My daughter, age two, stated that she wanted sweet potatoes for dinner. Not on the menu. Summoning up my positive parenting mojo, I said to her in a bright but empathetic voice, “That’s a bummer. We don’t have any sweet potatoes. Tonight we are having chicken, carrots, and regular potatoes.” There, I thought. That should take care of that. She looked at me thoughtfully and said, “But I want sweet potatoes.”
We both continue in our stubborn recital of our desires versus the reality, until finally the moment comes. The words tumble out as if in slow motion: “If you complain one more time, you can go straight to bed without dinner.” The words echo in my head “straight to bed without dinner, without dinner, without dinner.” She replies without hesitation, “But I want sweet potatoes.”
It was 3:45pm.
Now I’m stuck. Do I really send her to her room for the next 3.5 hours? On the one hand, I laid down a consequence for her actions, she performed the action, and now I should follow through. On the other hand, I laid down an absolutely absurd punishment for a relatively minor infraction. Should she suffer because I made a bad call?
When my husband and I moved to Portland six years ago, we knew pretty much nobody. Our family is scattered from San Diego to Boston. Our closest friends were scattered around too. We moved to Portland because it was an adventure; because we had no ties anywhere else; because the beer was good and the coffee was better. We didn’t totally think through what it would be like to start a family in a place to which we were so unanchored.
But having a child is like having a dog. You go walking with a baby in an Ergo and you are sure to meet some other parents along the journey. I have been especially fortunate to have made some good friends with kids the same age within a few blocks of me. We share cheese sticks and milestones; bunny crackers and misfortune. And of course, wine.
After my daughter’s cries for sweet potatoes grew muffled through her bedroom door, I reached for my phone and texted these ladies. I fessed up. I made a mistake. Now what? Within minutes they responded with advice and, more importantly, with encouragement. “We have all been there.” “We are all in this together.” “You are doing a great job, mama.” “Keep on keeping on.”
The media is currently playing up the Mommy Wars. A quick scan of Facebook can leave you with the impression that our parenting choices are both unwavering and incredibly divisive. You put your child in cloth diapers? We shall build a barricade of Diaper Genies through which thou shalt not pass. You gave your child a time out? Let the wrath of positive parenting rain down on thee. But in reality – at least in my reality – this is not the world we live in. We parents blur the lines a bit. Sometimes even a cloth-diapered baby wears a disposable. A positively-parented child can occasionally be faced with some negativity. And it’s okay. We are allowed to veer off course. And when we do – and we inevitably do – we have a sideline of other parents to help us find our way again, and to cheer us on nonetheless. “We are all in this together.”
After hearing from my friends, I relented. People make mistakes – two year olds do, and so do 36 year olds. I explained to her that her behavior was inappropriate but my punishment was too severe. I was giving her another chance.
And for what it’s worth, she ate a huge dinner, with nary a word of complaint.