“Do not, I repeat, do not make direct eye contact with her,” I half whisper-screamed at my husband before physically jostling him to shift his body so that his back was facing her. I knew his forlorn facial expression could give it all away. “You know, she can smell your weakness,” I imagined warning him. I wanted to gently (yet not so gently) slap his chest to give him that cold-water-in-face wake-up call that I felt he needed to buck up. “C’mon, we gotta stay strong here,” I said while pointing to the ground as if that exact spot would signify the before and after of the rest of our lives. “Remember what we said?” I pleaded with his memory.
A few weeks ago we found ourselves in a stand-off, a battle of the wills. I could see his strength slowly withering then, “I dunno, it’s getting cold babe, how long are we gonna actually let her sit there in the snow?” She had thrown herself feet first into the massive snowbank mid-tantrum and refused to move, all because her father climbed a different snowy hill than the one she wanted him to climb. “Honey,” I aggressively swiped the hair away from my face, my growing impatience evident with each word, “I don’t know.” I was actively fighting the small seed of doubt that started to sprout in my strategy. “But she is dressed for the weather and more importantly, she’s got snow pants on- if that’s not the reason they were invented then I have no clue why.” We told her we were leaving and as any parent knows, the follow-through is one of the most vital tenets in the parenting bible. We knew we had to keep up the charade; we had to keep moving and pretend we were leaving whether she wanted to come with or not.
You would think we were dealing with an acute hostage negotiation with all the calculated communication and extreme tactics we were deploying. Nope, just another teachable parenting moment in the middle of a large high school field playing ‘chicken’ with our cranky and stubborn almost-three-year-old toddler. We were next to laughing children and their jolly parents enjoying a day of snow activities and tobogganing. This would have been a hallmark scene of wholesome family togetherness if not for us, a grief-stricken two-year-old and her exasperated parents, ruining a picture-perfect afternoon outing.
I know the experts would strongly suggest disciplining children in the moment so they are able to comprehend the immediate consequences to their actions but oftentimes I feel this is unrealistic. The option of disciplining our child in public is less appealing because we are always dealing with time constraints, schedules, curious public observers at the ready to dial child services (or maybe that’s just my paranoia), or inclement weather. However, on this particular afternoon luck was on our side. It happened to be a sunny day, we were in the middle of an expansive field, and it was a pandemic weekend. In other words, we were in no rush and we had all the time in the world- all bets were off. This was a battle I was not going to lose and I’d be damned if my husband was going to lose it for us.
As far as I could tell, we had two choices. We could cave and my husband could “undo” the walk up the snow hill to appease her (r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s) or we could take a stance for our dignity and future sanity. Her stubbornness had been testing our waters lately and it was getting out of hand; I had freakin’ reached a boiling point. Of all the parenting books I had not read, I was pretty sure this was a prime example of holding strong. This moment would be the moment all other moments would be based on. We had to show our united front. She could not win. If
we I had to stay there forever and subsist on grass for sustenance and melted snow for water, then that’s what I was prepared to do. Later, when people ask how we were able to raise such a sweet and reasonable child I wanted to be able to rationalize it back to this very moment. I fantasized about this moment being the one that turned it all around for us.
With this hope in mind, we slowly inched further away while keeping a stealth eye on her (which was maybe six meters away). After what seemed like an eternity (realistically about ten minutes), she finally came to whatever senses a toddler of her age could possess, got up and started walking defeatedly toward us. It was a hairpin moment and the least remarkable, smashing win ever but a win nonetheless. I’ll take it, I thought.
It’s these small victories that represent that steppingstone closer to our eternal goal of trying not to raise a psychopath.
Current child-rearing score:
Mini-Monster Toddler: 3,261
We thought we had succeeded, we were that much closer to dismantling this kids’ idea of ruling our world, only for her to cry all the way home and throw two more tantrums before we crossed the threshold of our doorway.
In these trying times I can’t help but wonder if I had a hand in creating my own destiny. To put it bluntly, I was an extremely stubborn kid. I’m not sure where I got my drive to constantly “win” came from because no one in my family is as stubborn as I am. In fact, everyone in my family is very much of the attitude, “okay, whatever, I don’t care.”
Mom: Put on your black shoes, now.
4yo-me: No, I don’t want to wear those, I want to wear the blue shoes!
Mom: Okay, whatever, I don’t care which shoes you wear.
4yo-sister: I want to play princess!
6yo-me: No, we’re playing work first.
4yo-sister: But you said we could play princess then work…
6yo-me: No, I changed my mind. Work then princess!
4yo-sister: Okay, whatever, I don’t care enough.
That’s why when I started seeing little tell-tale signs of my kid’s stubborn streak forming in her natural disposition, I wasn’t all that surprised. I happen to be married to a fairly easygoing man whose luck in life was to meet the most stubborn woman there ever lived. Charlotte was bound to inherit one of our traits, and I guess my karma metre had hit its peak and God decided the best punishment for the most stubborn person in the world was to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Fine, God, you win.
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