A Parenting Case Study

There seem to be two types of parents—those who can stop a defiant toddler in her tracks with a single “no” and the rest of us who have to lead tirelessly by example.  For instance, when in the car with Clara, I skip all the songs on my favorite Bright Eyes album that have curse words; we speak firmly but kindly to the dogs when they scratch at the door we don’t own; in accordance with gym policy, Aaron takes his outside shoes off at the gym and replaces them with sneakers before working out (Sherry says “no comment”); we get off the computer when Clara brings us a book.

And, we only lovingly spank the soft tissue on Dakota’s behind once when he jumps up to eat all of Clara’s green beans off her high chair. Still, you know what they say—lovingly spank your dog once and your two-year-old daughter will spank you for weeks. So it goes that Clara has a slight corporal punishment problem. She thinks every injustice can be remedied with a quick swat. She even spanks herself when she’s bad. Really.

Right now, to remedy Clara’s remedy, I’m working with three discipline strategies: 1) Be gentle and give Mommy a kiss to say you’re sorry, 2) No!, 3) Do you want to go to timeout?  The problem with “no” is that I feel like my invisible acting coach fairy godmother has just yelled “Now, show me your stern face!” and I scrunch my face nice and tight and wag a pretty little index finger for emphasis. Clara kind of scrunches her face back and then moves on. We also tried to fix the behavior by telling Clara to be gentle but instead invented a new game called “Slap and Pet” where she gets her slap in and then quickly pets my cheek to let me know that she gets it—first, we infract and then, we apologize. 

That leaves us with timeout. At first we considered the crib as the place for one to mull over one’s infractions but didn’t want to vilify the sleeping space. Now, timeout is just her room. Problem is, she likes her room, so today when I got a little palm to my leg mid-tantrum, I said, “Clara, you have to go to timeout when you hit Mommy.” So, what does she do? Up and stops her crying and walks with her head down into her dark bedroom. I didn’t even have a chance to turn the light on. She closes the door and stays quiet for at least thirty seconds.  I lightly push the door open to see what she’s up to. She’s standing penitently in the middle of the dark and finally greets me with this:

January 2012 001

I don’t know. Does this mean it worked? Why must parenting be so complicated?

To end our day of parenting ambivalence, Clara and I worked on a batch of brownies to give to the family that recently reminded us why Alaska is such a wonderful, unusual place. We were at the gym (betcha think we go to the gym a lot?) and somehow Aaron managed to start the car and then lock us out. We go inside to make some phone calls to cops or cabs or something like that and Becky, the gym manager, tells us that Joe, whose family owns Outlaw Auto Repair down the road, is in the shower and probably has a lockout kit on him.  I love it when people just happen to have a lock out kit! Joe gets his kit, wiggles his wire down to open our door, and rejects my twenty dollars. So, what do we do? We go all Marxist on him and decide to trade goods for goods. Facility with a clothes hanger will get you a pan of brownies every time.

So, Clara’s helping me set my good Marxist example and I deliberately hold off on the eggs because I know she, like the rest of us, loves to lick the mixer.

January 2012 004

There it is. Parenting at its finest, yet again:) I know, there’s still tons of batter on that whisk, but as you can see, she was happy to share some with her face.

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