Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chocolate Juice - Some Thoughts on Parenting

This is Bacchus, the Greek God of wine and intoxication:

And this is my two-year-old son:

The other night I offered him and his big sister mocktails with dinner -- it's one of the easier ways in which, I, a stay-at-home mom, can pretend to have a rollicking social life.

Besides the old stand-bys of water and milk, those lucky children could choose chocolate milk or pomegranate juice. My daughter asked for chocolate milk and my son asked for, "Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo!"

I poured him some joo. Then he climbed up onto the table, skittled over to the Bunny Sauce (a.k.a. Nestle Quick) and, tilting the bottle of chocolate syrup into his glass, set about to inventing, oh ye splendid courts of Bacchus: Chocolate Juice!

"Nuh-nuh-no," I said, stopping him. "You can have chocolate milk OR juice. Also, you're not allowed on the table."

He crumpled on the floor in a heap of tears and heaving sobs.

"Mommy, you wreck all his good ideas," my 4-year old informed me.

I do try to see things from his point of view. I do try to respect his autonomy. But from where he's coming from, yes, I do wreck an awful lot of his good ideas.

Why, this very morning I stopped him from throwing an entire case of peaches down the stairs, one at a time, though the first couple were so delightful to watch bounce; I prevented him from eating a tube of toothpaste even though he'd risked life and limb climbing the toilet and balancing on the pedestal sink to acquire this minty snack from the high cabinet; I made him wash his hands before lunch even though he made it perfectly obvious he'd rather wash them never; I insisted not only that he wear a diaper but also, adding insult to injury,clothing! when he'd indicated clearly that his preference was to go sans; and then I flat out refused to let him put a metal bucket on his baby sister's head even though he was holding a pair of drumsticks in one hand and, obviously, little sister + tin pail = excellent drum.

It is frightfully easy to believe that toddlers were put on Earth to push you to the brink of sanity, to fill your boots with Lego and oatmeal when you are looking over said brink instead of wondering why they're so quiet all the sudden, and then to push you over.

But really, they're just small people who don't have a lot of say about how their day goes.

And they really are not capable of thinking things through because they live so thoroughly in the moment. Much like this:

It's all revelry all the time. And they don't quite get why you won't just chill out and be more fun.

It is easy to assume that life is carefree when you have no other responsibilities than to play until you crap your pants or topple over with exhaustion or both things at the same time. And why not if there is always someone to pick you up,clean you up, jammy you up, hug you up, and tuck you in bed to sleep for as long as you like every damn day of the week, never mind the bills, the housework, and the economy?

Could there be a downside?

Have you ever gotten your baby all trundled up in his stroller and wheeled him around outside and received the comment from passers-by, "Must be nice. Got room in there for me?"

It is, apparently, the thing to say to a mom pushing a stroller these days.

No matter how often I hear that comment, I always think, "Really? You wouldn't rather walk? Cause you're out for a walk. Be careful what you wish for. Because some adults are wheeled around all day but I'm pretty sure they'd rather walk."

Anybody who I've heard talk about being laid up so that need help with preparing meals, eating, dressing, undressing, getting things down from impossibly hard to reach places, opening things, making basically anything that isn't a teddy bear work, and, sigh, toileting has not enjoyed the experience at all.

Imagine how you would feel if everybody around you was much bigger, much stronger, much quicker, knew much more about absolutely everything, and to top it off, you didn't speak the language.

If you've ever been immersed in another culture and another language, you know the cumulative stress of not quite understanding how everything should be done, of not getting all the social cues, of not being able to read the signs. You know what it feels like when the things people say whiz completely over your head and you miss every instruction that's not a smile and every joke that's not a fart.

A toddler is so utterly dependent on his parents and caregivers. It really, really, really is stressful being a wee kid. No wonder they so frequently drink until they pass out.

Many people, my 4-year-old daughter included, just look at a toddler and automatically shout the word "NO!" at them. They might elaborate by adding, "You'll get hurt!" or, "You're going to fall!"
Toddlers don't respond any better to these interactions than you or I might if someone walked up to us and shouted, without provocation, "NO!"

The trick to getting along with these little people, I think, is to avoid just telling them "NO NO NO NO NO" all the time. This can be harder than it sounds when your two-year old is, say, growing increasingly belligerent about his desire to climb a smoking barbecue.

Instead of spewing NO at them, it's essential to give them information they can use and instructions they can follow. For example, "Climbing things is fun, and you're good at it. How about you climb up onto this tree stump instead of that hot barbecue?"

Or, "Good idea, let's play the drums. But instead of using baby sister as a drum stand, let's just set this upside down bucket on the floor like this. Sounds good, Dude!"

Or, "You may not throw peaches down the stairs, but you can throw this dirty laundry down there. Hey, you're good at that! What would I do without a good boy like you?"

Maybe this technique is perfectly obvious to everyone else out there, but I had to work at developing a non-adversarial relationship with my kids. I have to work at it almost every day, in fact. My buttons get pushed. My daughter has utterly perfected a sound over the past several years that makes the two frontal lobes of my brain cleave and espresso pour out of my ears in under 3 seconds. It's like a, "Kneee-yuh! Nneee-yuh! Nneee-yuh!" sound. Oh gawd, it's awful, just typing it made my skin crawl off my body and hide behind the curtains with the dog.

But generally speaking, I don't think fighting with babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers, or kids is at all a good idea. Even choosing our battles, as the conventional wisdom goes, is a bit iffy. Battle avoidance -- that's the ticket.
One of the best parenting books I've ever read -- and I've read an embarrassing amount of parenting books -- is "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation" by Becky A. Bailey.

It really helped me get rid of a few buttons and to think up a better plan for dealing with button pushing than just, say, throwing my hands up in the air and shouting, "You wreck all my good ideas!" or, crumpling on the floor in a heap of tears and heaving sobs. It helped me be a better parent and to enjoy parenting more.
I recommend it to anybody who wonders why, when you say, "Come get your shoes on, we're going to the park," a small person might shout, "No!" at you and then run and hide under their bed covers, insisting on being dragged out instead of just coming willingly. To the park!

I recommend it to anybody who has ever wondered why, when things start to unravel, your kids seem to up their efforts exponentially to drive you around the bend.

I recommend it to anybody who ever wonders if toddlers were put on Earth to push you to the brink of sanity and then finds their boots have been filled with Lego and oatmeal.

They just really don't know any better way to live, than revelling in each moment. And they deserve our love, empathy, kindness and understanding. It can't but help them grow into better people.


  1. I clearly need this book.

    Also? If I have to explain ONE MORE TIME that toothpaste is not food, I think I may give up tooth-brushing altogether. Because clearly, cavities are better than having this discussion 27 times a day.

  2. 1. I need that book.

    2. Because. Sigh. I'm having a rough day of it. Twenty minutes after he woke up, Joe was covered head to toe in dirt and had had dog kibble (his favorite!) for breakfast. This seriously does not bode well for today.

    3. Your baby boy is ADOR-A-BLE.

  3. @ Inder-ific:

    You have no idea how many times I have explained to my children that eating dog kibble demeans us all.

  4. awesome post! i love a book that comes highly recommended by someone with real experience - and humor.

    my pathetic secret lately is to pretend that i'm taking care of a little drunk guy. ya. that gets me though the insanity pushing moments. :)

  5. First, that picture of Bacchus is fabulous. I want it. This *is* what toddlerhood is all about and they should make posters or at least greeting cards for mothers out of it. Second, that very same park-going scenario happened today at my house. "I'm going to take you to the park today so we can have some fun Mommy-daughter time." (What a great idea! She's been inside all day and missing my company I'm going ot do something super nice for her). Her: "No! I don't want to go!" And then she wailed and cried for 15 minutes like I was the worst mother EVER. Ugh. I need that book. Must look up. Now!

  6. I thought toddlers were tricky... then my eldest child grew up to be nearly twelve and that's when the fun really started.


  7. Great exercise in perspective. But... would it have been so bad to let him make the chocolate juice? If only to see his expression? :)

  8. Where have you been? I just love your insights. My youngest is almost out of this phase but I sure could have used that book at times. She also makes a sound that makes my brain scream and my skin crawl and no matter how many times I try to calm myself my eyes cross, my head spins around and I lose it. Sigh. I will use some of your idea's, especially they one where you make a destructive activity into a chore :)

  9. I love your post. And that IS a great book!
    You know... you COULLLLLLD let him try some chocolate sauce in the juice.
    Then he got to ruin his own idea.
    Unless he actually liked it.
    Then, I guess you have a worse problem on your hands than a wasted glass of juice. ;)

  10. The reson I didn't let him try the chocolate juice is because he would either
    1) like it and demand more.

    2) not like it and hurl it across the room. when he doesn't like food, he throws it. I'm so glad we have a dog to help with the clean up. But our dog definately wouldn't like chocolate juice, so, I just decided to squish his good idea.

    I did let him try orange juice and milk the other day. The result was a clean-up involving several rags, a new outfit for him, and a new outfit for me.

  11. Hi, just discovered you through Code Name Mama and will be posting this link and the one on CNM on my Sunday Surf.
    We do allow our daughter to climb on the table, but only if supervised, she can taste the toothpaste (she only did that once so I don't see the problem) and if she wants to mix juice and chocolate, she can give it a try if she tastes it too...
    I completely agree that being wheeled around isn't that great an idea, I cringe at the idea that someday in the near future that may be the case for me and I would rather not have that happen.

    I love reading your alternative approaches to discipline and I mostly agree (indeed the redirection tactic is the best at hand at their age) but I would reconsider the 'good boy' idea, since that makes them want to do stuff FOR YOu instead of for themselves (there are great articles on why praise isn't the best parenting tool)

  12. "you wreck all my good ideas!" haha that is hilarious - and it's what I wish I could say to my 2 year old sometimes.
    just read your guest post on Dionna's blog, and it sounds like our boys are just alike, with the throwing and climbing and wanting to use baby sister as a drum. I'm going to check that book out, before I actually do go over the brink.
    are you reading "Playful Parenting" right now with the Code Name:Mama book group? it's giving me some good ideas too.

  13. Your son is so frickin' adorable I want to eat him up. Also, I love that he has a tail in the first picture.

    It took us 30 minutes yesterday to get from the door to our house to the car (big stopover in the parking lot). This is not much time in the grand scheme of things, but…well, it ended with both of us screaming. I need a perspective reminder now and again. Pretty much daily.

    I've been curious about that book. I think it's the title that turns me off. Will have to pick it up now — thanks!

  14. What a great post.

    First off, your son DOES look like a little cherub. ;) Even though he might not always act like one.

    Second, I do try to make sure I say yes more and no less. It's hard sometimes. My 15 month old is SO into everything. My older two were nothing like her (and I thought my now 4 year old is a wild child).


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