“If you don’t start cooperating, I’m going to put the Ring Pops back.”
My 3-year-old threw her head back, hard. The clang of her hairclip against grocery cart metal made me wince. She wasn’t fazed. “You better not,” she shrieked, kicking her feet and sending a small rubber clog out skittering across the tile floor. Retrieving the little red shoe and shoving it back onto a flailing foot, I returned her glare.
“Then you better stop acting like such a snothead,” I said, dropping my voice so nearby shoppers wouldn’t hear.
I was embarrassed. Not that my child was throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store. That I could handle. She’s just a kid, after all, and we were shopping an hour away from home. I’d never see these people again. But snothead? I’d just hurled a playground taunt at my 3-year-old daughter. It was hardly my finest hour. It ranks right up there with the times her terrible 3 tantrums have pushed me to tell her she’s being a “snottypotty,” “stinkyhead” and simply, “butt.” As in, “why are you being such a butt?” None are exactly kind, and yet they were the safest things I could think to say at the moment they bubbled to the top of the brain and slipped out of my mouth.
How has becoming a mother sent me back to recess? Simple – restraint. Like most would-be parents, my husband and I strongly debated our planned means of setting down and enforcing rules. No wooden spoons, switches or hairbrushes, we decided. No smacking the face. No cursing. No screaming. No calling her “bad” or threatening anything truly inappropriate (killing, dismembering, or any of the seven deadly sins). We were firmly against the idea of withholding sustenance (of the healthy variety anyway) and dead set against withholding affection.
I don’t remember any discussions of name-calling. I can hardly imagine how that would have gone. “So, honey, I’d assume s**face c**master is off the table, but how do you feel about poopyhead?” It seemed a silly conversation to have. Only the worst kind of parent calls their child names, right?
Maybe not. Maybe name-calling, at least in the form of nonsense words, is just the way some very good moms deal with a child who is about to drive them over the edge. By letting slip something silly, we hold on to both sanity and civility. Because I haven’t broken any of our initial rules. True, I have let the F-bomb slip once or twice in her presence – usually from behind the wheel – but it has never been directed at my daughter. The closest I’ve come to smacking her in the face was the time I pushed her cheek to loosen the hold her teeth had on my wrist. And unlike several mothers I’ve overheard at the grocery store, I have never once told my child that I was going to “kill” her.
But when my dear daughter is being a monster (yes, that’s a name), the breathe in, count to 5 and breathe out method only goes so far. She is by all accounts, a normal pre–schooler. She is trying to find her place in the world and testing my limits. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, knowing that she’s normal means the compassion one develops for someone with a disability that causes them to act a certain way is gone.
I know she’s being a brat, and I know I have to deal with it. Sounds simple, but any parent will tell you discipline is hard. No wonder – beyond feeding, sheltering and simply loving, it’s one of our most important jobs as a parent.
It’s also the most thankless of them all. I have yet to meet a 2-year-old who says “thanks Dad” when told they’re not allowed to run into the road without looking both ways. And the 3-year-old who wraps Mom in a hug for putting a package of Ring Pops back on the shelf is a strange creature indeed. Their reactions are more akin to my daughter’s – the head and appendages thrown violently about, the voice reaching fever pitch. Reasoning with an indignant child is not unlike talking the dog down from the base of a tree when there’s a cat clinging to a limb. They have just one focus point, and there’s not much that will sway them.
Throw in all those rules – developed with good intentions and for good reason, of course – and what’s a mom to do? I try deep breaths. I try ignoring her. I try a calm tone of voice. And when all else fails, and I feel my grip on self control beginning to loosen, I dip into my childhood and whisper a sobriquet befitting a sobbing toddler. Instant diffusion. It’s the same release that came from spitting “a**hole” at the creep one seat over in high school Spanish or flipping the bird at the driver of the sedan who just stole the parking spot near the door in the pouring rain.
Even better, it’s lack of sophistication often brings my daughter’s shrieks down a decibel or two, as she fixes me with a withering glance and informs me there’s no such thing as a “Poopoohead, ‘cause poopoo is in your hiney, Mommy.” She rolls her eyes – a fitting answer to “snotface,” I must admit – and she’s back on top of the heap. She giggles and straightens up in the seat, the Ring Pops go back in the cart, and we move on through the store.
We’re just a mom and her little girl once again – even if one of us is a bit of a snotface.
So what do you guys think? Who’s the snotface?
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