“I play Angry Bird game!” She orders in her best little tyrant voice. “Now!” She adds with a special attitude of complete authority, which seems only marginally out of place on her small toddler self.
“No. Not right now, Baby.” I say calmly, though I already know the reaction it will produce.
AHHHHHHHH! Her tiny face is scrunched into a teeth-bared snarl of pure infantile rage. Disappointment isn’t an emotion she knows how to cope with. Yet.
“No.” I say as calmly as I can. I resist the urge to scream back at her, even though the impulse is there. I remind myself, internally, that I am an adult, that I am her role-model, that it will make my throat hurt, and that it would not help. Even if it would feel good.
“Now!” She balls up her little baby fists and tries to hit me.
I hold those tiny pummeling fists as gently as I can. “No.” I lower my voice and speak more firmly, “And, no hitting. Mommy does not like to be hit. Hands are for gentle.”
Her whole tiny body becomes possessed by a spasm of rage that causes her to throw herself in every direction. She almost falls off the chair she is standing on, but I catch her in my arms. She flings her head forward, aiming for the junction of my neck and shoulder.
I hold her out at arms length quickly, “No! No biting!” I say and my voice definitely is loosing is calm tone. “Biting hurts!”
She screams loud and long and adds still in a scream, “I play Angry Birds, NOW!!!!!!!!!”
I snicker. I don’t mean to. I know I shouldn’t, but I find myself laughing because there is no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to let her anywhere near the Angry Bird game again today.
She begins to scream and sob simultaneously.
I decide it’s time to do something I’ve been considering for a while. “Okay. Fiona, you may not play Angry Birds. You may not yell at Mommy. You may not hit Mommy. You may not bite Mommy.” I settle her in a chair on the far side of the room. “You need to take a time out. You’re going to sit in this chair for the next two minutes so that you can calm down.”
I walk into the kitchen and set the timer on the stove for two minutes. My hands shake just a little. I don’t like conflict. I go back to preparing dinner, reminding her, firmly, to sit in the chair just once during the two minutes. The timer dings and I go over to her.
“I love you, Fiona.” I say, and I hug her.
“I love you, too, Mama.” She sniffles.
“Are you listening?” I ask, and she touches her ear to show that she is. “No yelling. No hitting. No biting. You have to treat Mommy nicely.” I hug her again, “And Mommy is going to keep working really hard not to yell at Fiona, too.”
She smiles at me, all teary, and says, “Okay, Mama. I sorry, Mama. You forgive me?”
I smile at her. “Of course, I forgive you, Baby! I love you.”
She wraps her arms around my neck and hugs me tight and I hold that little toddler body close and feel myself tear up. It’s worth it. It’s so hard, but it’s worth it.
Parenting is tough. We often find ourselves wanting to be reduced to our most primitive selves. We find the impulses to hit, to yell, to ignore, and to humiliate. It’s not easy being the adult. It’s not easy finding calm and patience while you juggle and stress and don’t sleep and feel ill and worry and worry and worry that you’re not doing it right.
It would be easier to give in to the primitive. It would be easier, more natural, to yell and to spank. It would come naturally.
It would also be wrong. I’m trying to teach her to be more than just that demanding, primitive proto-human. I’m trying to teach her to be calm, polite, gentle, empathetic, and rational. I’m trying to teach her to be human. For that to work, I have to be all of those things, because what she learns isn’t what I say, it’s what I do.
She lifts her head off my shoulder and says, in the sweetest tone of voice, “I play Angry Bird Game, please?”
I feel my eyebrows rise, and she looks at my face and answers her own question, “Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow.”