I had breakfast with my family last weekend.

My brother is a professional musician/professional bachelor. He has a smoking room in his 1920s style apartment. One time I came over unexpectedly and he greeted me in a red robe with navy blue trim. He smokes cigars, drinks Scotch, and tells jokes that can turn your blood chunky. Sadly for him, all of these manly charms proved quite useless against my gorgeous smiley baby.

Uncle Vinnie is quite taken with Maren. She’s been feeding herself for over a year now, but still convinced him that she needed to be fed from his fork AND from his plate. So instead of the delightful looking scrambled eggs and toast we ordered for her, she received a healthy portion of Vinnie’s philly cheese steak omelette– which looked delicious.

While he was feeding her, Vinnie mentioned that he kind of hopes he has a little girl, so that he can just spoil the hell out of her. I went ahead and let him know how easy it is to spoil a baby– probably the easiest thing on earth.

Maren has just now got into a phase where we have to speak sternly to her from time to time. The first time I laid down the law, it was because she was throwing a fit at the dinner table. She had food and drink in front of her, had her utensils, and had all our attention– as far as I can tell, she was throwing a fit because she wanted to be done eating, but Mitch and I had just sat down. We don’t make her eat if she isn’t hungry, but one of our rules is she has to join us at the table. The philosophy behind this is habit-forming– we don’t want a seven year old who comes to the table when/if she feels like it, and leaves after two bites, and then is hungry later.

So Maren is throwing this monumental fit, and finally I turned to her and said sharply, “Maren. That is enough. We are trying to enjoy our dinner, you need to use an inside voice.”

She was so shocked that she stopped immediately. Her bottom lip protruded, and a single tear fell from her eye. So then– inexplicably– I started crying as well.

I had to look away from her and hide my face, I knew if I cried then I would lose all credibility. Luckily, Mitch stepped in and said, much more gently, “Maren, Mama is right. Please wait until we are all finished, and then you may be excused.” Maren and I composed ourselves, and the meal continued, in a much more somber tone.

Mitch had to actually yell at her one time, because she was gagging herself in the car. I think the first time she did it, it was an accident. She was chewing on her fingers and I think one just got stuck in there. So of course when we heard her choking, we both turned around lightning speed to make sure she was okay– and I think she liked that reaction. For the rest of the ride, she would randomly choke herself. Sometimes she was just making the noise, not even actually gagging herself. Finally, after ten times of us turning around panicked, Mitch had to tell her to stop.

She burst into tears, and my soft little mommy heart just got so heavy. But I knew that I couldn’t belittle Mitch by comforting her, I had to stand united with him. So, again, I had to face forward and hide my face, because otherwise I would have been crying, too.

When I was a kid, I used to think that my parents really enjoyed disciplining us. I would be so mad at them. I really felt like a lot of my requests were totally reasonable, and when they shot me down I assumed that the only reason they would do that is that they really loved telling us NO. As we got older, we learned to ask my mom for something first, because she was a lot more likely to cave, but she got smart and started telling us to go ask Dad, who would almost always tell us no.

Now that I’m a parent, I know that it’s so much easier to just let them do whatever they want. I want so badly to be Maren’s BFF. I hate telling her no. I hate giving her limits– bedtime is 8 o’clock. We don’t throw food, we don’t hit our Mama, and we especially don’t hit dogs. Animal hitting earns us an automatic time out.

And, just like I’ve been complaining about since she was born, the bedtime battles have not ended. We read her two stories, we say a prayer, and then its bedtime…. which means we get to listen to Maren cry for at least 15 minutes every night. You know how many nights I want to just go and get her and let her stay up until she just falls asleep on her own? OR break the ONLY law about child-rearing that I haven’t broken yet– bring her into our bed?

This parenting thing turned out to kind of complicated.

And wonderful. Maren and I have been at home together for two months now. In the morning, she’s so happy to see me that she puts her hands on either side of my face and puckers her lips for kisses. When she’s tired or sad, she comes to me, arms outstretched. When I hold her, she lays her head on my shoulder and pats my arm. If Mitch wakes her up, she runs to our door and calls, “Mama? Mama!”

Maren loves us so completely, even though we’ve yelled at her, even though we make her have a bedtime, and even though we make her sit with us at mealtimes even if she’s done eating.

A lot of the parenting decisions that we’ve made are based on this one theory: Maren is going to spend a lot more of her life being a grown up. Her childhood is only a few years, and that is so precious. Its our job to make sure that those years are magical, but also that they are formative. It would be oh-so much easier to tell her yes all the time, give her whatever she wants. Whenever I put her in time-out, the look she gives me is like daggers.

But when those few happy years are up– how will Maren deal with it the first time the world tells her no…. or the hundredth?

How happy would she really be? REALLY? Have you ever met a truly spoiled child? I think they might be the most unhappy children in the world– nothing is ever good enough. They want more and bigger and brighter. And NOW.

So, when my brother does have a little girl, I hope he is able to refrain from truly spoiling her. That’s a job reserved for aunties. 🙂

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