Cruel and Unusual Punishments
I am sure I’m not the only parent out there, who in a moment of weakness, has realized s/he has exhausted all disciplinary approaches and feels the only option left is to devise a brand new one. Working so hard and yet so fruitlessly in my efforts to get the kiddo(s) to behave, I feel defeated. And then I think,”Whoa! I have not tried that yet!” and I instantly feel free, and alive in the hope of possible success. In this moment of weakness, I have felt the joy of being creative so much that I have forgotten to subject the idea to the crazy test.
Case in point: two weeks ago we were having a really rough run with 3 1/2 year old Girlchild not eating well at all. And I’d fallen into the mistake of actively arguing with her about it. She will always eat carbs. Mac & cheese, pancakes, garlic bread, etc. And no matter how stuffed she proclaims her belly, it always makes room for almost anything sweet. But I am a near-vegetarian, and this eating behavior on her part is not enough to satisfy me as I am somewhat aware of all the awesome properties of vegetables. So at a recent weekday dinner we got into an argument. And then I noticed 15 month old Boychild was taking notes and decided he wouldn’t eat either. Manchild was upstairs changing out of his work clothes (and all you moms understand that while changing from nice clothes to scrubby comfortable clothes in our world takes 30 seconds and even then it’s not fast enough for the rest of our families, our men somehow make this time last what seems like 15 minutes or more) when the struggle was in full force. None of my expert-backed strategies was working, so I told Girlchild and Boychild that if they didn’t finish any dinner, I would eat one of the homemade ice cream sandwiches in front of them and not share. I have made this idle threat before, but on this day I felt loonier. After giving them some time to absorb the threat I had made, I took one delicious ice cream sandwich out of the freezer. Their eyes lit up in anticipation. I held it up. “Mmmmm,” I said and let them look at the organic chocolate ice cream tucked between two homemade chocolate cookies, with a marshmallow fluff buffer in between. I took a bite. They both started to cry. I laughed like a villain. “MMMMMM!” And this escalated, me thoroughly enjoying every last bite of that dessert in front of them and not sharing one morsel. I forced the fake villain laugh at first, but after awhile the scene was so comical I was actually laughing. However, Boychild was losing his mind (he just loves food in general and his hesitance at finishing his dinner was very unusual), with real tears streaming down his face. He was reaching for me over his booster seat tray, arms extended like a zombie. Girlchild had worked herself into such a frenzy with real tears and antics that you’d think something tragic had happened. She was literally climbing on me, pulling at me, crying, “Mama! MAMA!!! You’re eating all that ice cream and not sharing ANY!” Manchild apparently did not hear all this ruckus from upstairs in his closet (really?).
When the dessert was eaten, I did feel bad when I saw how upset I’d made the childthings. But then I told them they had a second chance to finish their dinner and if they succeeded I would split another ice cream sandwich between them. Girlchild stopped crying as well as she could, and devoured the rest of her dinner. Boychild, at 15 months, did not understand, so I spoon-fed him a couple of dinner bites and then let him eat part of the dessert. I have to say, they both appreciated the dessert more than I’d ever seen them do so before. And they didn’t seem traumatized at the time.
That’s the thing–when the crazy shizzle works, it reinforces you. It makes it seem less crazy. So the next time you think up something nutty, you may actually try it as a disciplinary strategy. I think the only time you realize how crazy it is is when you tell a friend in all seriousness what you did and tell them they should try it. Your friend, not being in the same desperate state of mind as you were when you dreamt up the craziness, will call you out on the crazy. They may even look at you as a person differently for awhile. But trust me, everyone has moments like this.
My mom tells a story when my little brother was badly misbehaving and she was out of strategies. We lived in a small town at the time, and a large 3 story Victorian house was down the street. It was painted in shades of green and red. I think as a child the huge imposing house (even bigger in scale from a child’s height) painted in playful colors seems to call to mind Hansel and Gretel. The playful colors may as well be candy. But why candy? Because the house has something to hide. So when all else failed that day, my mom put all of us in the car and told my brother she had no choice left but to drop him off at the witch’s house. We knew what house to which she referred. My brother was so distraught that she felt bad and she couldn’t even drive the car the few blocks to the destination. To this day she feels guilty about any trauma she caused him, but she ends with, “But it worked! He was good for the rest of the day!”