My child would rather throw up than give up

Children are smarter than we think they are.  A few evenings ago, Eliza refused to eat her dinner.  What’s so frustrating is that sometimes when she does this, she will actually taste the food and say she likes it.  But, her highness is just not interested because … well, the only conclusion I can make is that she either likes to annoy us or she wants to prove that she is in control.  Here’s how it went (and goes often):

Eliza: “I’m not hungry.  I don’t want my lunch.”  (She has her meal names mixed up.)

Me: “Well, that’s okay.  If you don’t want to eat it now, you can have it for breakfast tomorrow.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

Me: “Well, you can either eat it now or eat it later.  It’s your decision.”

Eliza: “Mmh, I ate it!  I ate a bite.  It’s good.  I like it, Mommy!”

Me: “Great.  Eat some more.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

And on and on it goes.  So, the next morning rolled around and I heated up about 7 bites worth of the chili for her.  (Translation: not a lot.  I mean, she could have eaten it in about one minute.)  Greg and I stayed the course, confirming her worst fears: she was not going to get a bagel or eggs until she ate her chili.  You would have thought we were asking her to eat wriggling scorpions and worms on Fear Factor.  After about three bites, she gagged.  About 15 minutes into breakfast, Eliza reluctantly gulped down bite number four, only to throw it up – mixed with her morning milk – all over her lap and into her bowl.  And of course, this upset her.  “Mommy, I spit up!” she cried.  At this point, as a parent, what are you supposed to do?  She’s two, not twelve.  We calmly consoled her and cleaned her up.  And then I dejectedly set the plate of bagel and eggs in front of her and she ate it up happily.

It’s hard to walk away from the situation feeling like I didn’t just get schooled by a two-year-old.  Is she really playing a mental game?  Did she think, “I know, if I throw this up, I’ll get out of eating it?”  I remember gagging as a child on purpose, trying to show my parents what a torturous and inhumane thing they were doing by making me eat my peas.  I definitely thought I might get out of eating them if I showed them how uncomfortable they were making me.  But I’m pretty sure I was at least four before I figured out I could do this.

It’s so hard to figure out what battles to fight with the strong-willed child, because I know I will fight many useless ones if I don’t give her some decision-making power.  I also want to have a fun-loving house where we laugh, don’t take life too seriously, and, where, well, eating your vegetables isn’t always important.  But Eliza also needs to learn to submit to authority, and she’s at an age where she is constantly testing.  Today it’s eating her chili, but when she’s six, it will be a fight about doing homework, and when she’s 8, it will be a daily fight about getting a cell phone until I give in, and then when she’s 13, we’ll get a call from the police that she wrecked our car.  I know where this road can lead if you don’t tread it carefully.  And what’s always so amazing to me is you see these parents on the news, wondering where they went wrong.  And I think, “You went wrong when your child was two and you allowed her to do what she wanted.”

So, for now, I’m going to assume she’s as smart as I think she is, and I will continue to parent her firmly when the issue at-hand matters, such as in the areas of nutrition and sleep and danger.  And then I’ll mix in moments of grace – because we all need that.

Boy, can it be tough to know what the right thing to do is.  Especially when I just really don’t want to clean up any more milk and chili throw up.

The saucy solution to a spicy attitude

the nectar of the discipline gods

We can add lying and back-talking to Eliza’s repertoire of not-so-great qualities.  When we were busy packing up our car in Florida, my dad came up to me, saying, “Why on earth would you give Eliza gum?”  And I replied, “What?  I didn’t.  I never have.”  And he said, “Well that’s interesting, because she’s chewing it and when I asked her where she got it, she said you gave it to her.”  Hmph.

The back-talking has also begun.  She uses phrases I say to her against me.  For example, if she is talking incessantly and asking the same question over and over again (see previous post about the phrase “because I said so”), sometimes I will say to her calmly, “Eliza, I’m not going to talk about this anymore right now,” or “I’m not going to talk to you right now.”  So she has turned this around like in the following scenario:

Me: “Eliza, we need to leave.  Can you please put on your coat, or do you want me to help you with it?”

Eliza: “No, we ah not weaving right now.  Mommy, I’m not going to TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW.  YOU’LL NEVER GET (incomprehensible mumbling)!!!”

I know she is just doing what normal, strong-willed two-year-olds do (right?  Please agree with me.)  I am not interested in spanking her except in very specific cases, and I also want her to be able to express herself.  However, when she is clearly talking back because I am asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do, and it’s something that is non-negotiable (like wearing a coat in freezing weather when you already have a cold), I need to have a disciplinary option.

Say “hello” to vinegar.  A friend told me her friend with seven children uses it.  A few days ago when Eliza was using her tongue against me, I went and got the vinegar and put a drop in her mouth.  She didn’t cry, she just stood there, stunned, twirling the flavor around in her mouth with a stone-faced glare.  I then talked to her about why I did it, what she did wrong, told her I loved her and gave her a hug and a kiss.

Already on two occasions, we’ve been in the car driving and she’s started smack-talking me.  I’ve told her, “If you continue to talk to me like this, I will put vinegar in your mouth when we get home.”  She has stopped both times.

I’ve also heard hot sauce can work, but I figured I’d try vinegar first because it is less likely to go bad if I carry a vial of it around in my purse.  (My friend’s friend also does this to keep her seven children in line when they’re in public.)

When it comes to matters of the tongue, I think you should fight fire with a fire extinguisher.  And the vinegar has, thus far, put out the flames.  I’ll keep you posted on how well it works, and if you try it, let me know how it goes!

My “boss” is moody and completely irrational

Being a parent is the most amazing job out there and I love it.  It is rewarding, challenging and awe-inspiring.  But there are also moments when it seems like you are working for bosses (your children) with about one-sixty-forth your intelligence who will not let you quit – and cannot fire you – for 18 years.  Last night through today is one of those times when I’m just shaking my head, throwing my hands in the air and trusting that sticking to my guns will pay off.

This story begins with us returning from vacation a week ago, when within hours I came down with my first stomach bug since I was a child.  Let’s just say thank goodness I still have Eliza’s training potties in the bathrooms, because I was using two toilets at once.  After Greg and I both got it, I spent a few days fearfully anticipating when the kids would succumb to the violent sickness.  So, as Eliza kept asking for bread throughout the past week, I eagerly complied with the requests, thinking she must have felt nauseated.

It turns out she either already had a mild version of it while on vacation or she’s not going to get it.  So here we are, a week later, and the result is I now have a child who only wants to eat bread and fruit.  This is a situation that I would like to correct quickly.  Thus, last night I made mac and cheese from scratch with carrots and peas.  It was delicious.  I was proud of it.  I served it to Eliza and Zach.  Neither wanted to touch it and both started crying.  (Lucky for Zach, he’s too young for tough love and I gave him something else.)

I told Eliza she had to at least taste it before she could get down from her seat at the table.  What ensued can only be described as madness.  She spent 25 minutes in complete despair, screaming and crying.  She asked to get down probably 42 times, each time receiving the explanation that she could do that after she took a bite.  Sometimes when she asked, I would ask, “Eliza, what do you have to do to get down?”  And she would answer, “Eat my pasta.”  Right.  Good girl.  You get it.  But getting it and doing it are two entirely different things.

I finally took one piece of pasta, one pea, and one carrot, placed them on her place mat, and said, “Eat that and you can get down.”  She took them, shoved them quickly in her mouth, chewed vigorously, opened her mouth to show me it was gone, and smiled.  I asked, “Did you like it?”  She replied enthusiastically, “I WIKE it!”  Yay!  It was the proverbial “Green Eggs and Ham” moment.  Then I asked, “Would you like to eat some more?”  She responded, “No, I wike to get down.”  What could I do?  She held up her end of the bargain.  So that was her dinner.  A pea-sized carrot, pea, and mini penne noodle.

She also didn’t eat but a few bites of her spinach and cheese omelet for breakfast yesterday, and I had saved that, too.  Wouldn’t you know she woke up at 12:30 a.m. asking for bread.  I told Greg she had eggs and pasta in the fridge, and then, in a moment of weakness, I said, “You know what?  Just give her bread.”  I didn’t want her to throw a fit, get worked up, and not be able to go back to sleep.  So I went to bed and he got suckered by a 26-month-old.

This morning I offered Eliza the eggs for breakfast.  She ate a few bites and refused the rest.  She wanted other food, she wanted to go outside, she wanted juice, and I promised her she could have all these things if she would eat the eggs.  I finally threw them out after 2 hours.  Next I moved onto the pasta.  It’s almost 2 p.m. and I’ve been offering her reheated pasta for four hours.  She will not budge.  But neither will I.  Until she eats some of it, she won’t get anything else.  This might cost me her nap because she’ll be too hungry to sleep.  But I must stick it out.

As her employee, she’s given me an inexorable and nearly impossible assignment that is asinine and costing her a lot.  But she’s testing my character.  What she doesn’t realize, because she’s two, is that I am smarter than her and I have more stamina.  I’ll show her who’s boss!

Nor can I go #2.

Toddlers know exactly when you are unavailable. It’s like they have innate radar that alerts them to do something naughty when you’re at your most vulnerable. How are they so smart?

This morning while pumping (clearly a case when I’m not able to jump at the drop of a hat), Eliza managed to find the small shells I had hidden from her in the bathroom drawer and do – I can only imagine what – with. I have found two of the five, and the other three? I honestly would not be surprised to find them come out the other end in her diaper tomorrow.

Which leads me to poop. Here’s another example of her craftiness, fresh from this morning. I sat Eliza down at the dining room table with her oatmeal, set Zach on his play mat in such a way that if he rolled 3 times in any direction he’d be relatively safe, and took the moment to head to the bathroom. Of course, tonight I’m supposed to make a French side dish for a fun girls dinner party, so I grabbed my “Art of French Cooking” masterpiece and sat for what I hoped would be 4 or 5 uninterrupted minutes to flip through the vegetable chapter. Not so. One of Eliza’s current annoying habits is calling my name over and over and over until I respond. I chose to ignore it (again, if she doesn’t get what she wants, which is a response, perhaps she’ll stop), but after about 25-30 “MAAAAAAA-MEEEEEEs” I finally got up and went to look. She had punished me. Her oatmeal was everywhere – on her clothes, the rug under her, her cloth-padded chair – and she was standing up in a pretty precariously dangerous position. She then proceeded to require me to feed her, probably because I started Zach on solid foods yesterday and she wants the attention.

The point is that I have to start giving her more credit than I do, and I must begin anticipating her antics. Both of these situations, at least to some extent, were avoidable. I have a child lock on the bathroom doorknob, but I had failed to close the door before sitting down to pump. Likewise, Eliza has this week decided to refuse sitting in her high chair anymore. It’s a timely choice because I now need it for Zach, but the only alternative we currently have is for her to sit in the Bumbo on a dining room chair. It’s not safe, for one, and she can’t be strapped. She’s also not tall enough to reach her food easily, which is part of why she threw the oatmeal everywhere. (Thank goodness we have the dog. In fact, I’m sure I will complain inexorably about Abbey, our mutt, so this is a good time to remember why I keep her around.) So I could have asked Greg, my husband, to sit with her and help her eat while I went to the bathroom, or I could have brought her to the bathroom with me before sitting her down to eat. Or I could somehow make the time to get to the store for a proper booster seat.

Part of being the parent of a toddler is accepting a lack of control. Things are going to get messy and that’s part of the fun. But another part is realizing she is learning how the world works, and because I already know the answers to that, I can prevent a lot of frustration. The best offense is a good defense, right? Eliza might have stealth radar, but I have the atom bomb.

I know why they’re called the “terrible twos.”

How is it possible that every request requires some combination of squealing, crying, whining, and jumping up and down? Eliza is 22-months-old and knows how to ask for things appropriately. (For example, she knows how to say, “Apple juice, please,” “shoes, please,” “crackers, please,” etc.) Yet despite all my teaching, she generally scream-whines “AP-PAL-JOOS, AP-PAL-JOOS!” or “SHOES ON! SHOES ON!!!” or “GODEFISH, GODEFISH, GODEFISH!!!” Where did she learn this? Please don’t say from me, because although I do raise my voice sometimes, I don’t jump up and down or scream requests and then continue to “fake cry” to try to get what I want. Not only that, but every time she behaves this way, I either 1) ignore it until she calms down, 2) correct the behavior by getting her to calm down and ask the way I’d like her to ask, or 3) ask her to grow up. (Okay, maybe the third approach won’t work.)

So, if I didn’t teach this to her, and it doesn’t work to get what she wants, why on earth does she continue to act this way? Is there an innate truth here about her age? Is she just in her “terrible twos” and there’s nothing I can do? I believe she is trying to learn boundaries and she is also constantly testing me to see how much independence she has. I personally think the behavior continues because she is incredibly strong-willed, so it will take some time to break the habit. But if I’ve missed something, can you point it out? If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. Because I can’t wait until she’s three to get through this. “HELP ME PLEASE!!!” (I’m stomping up and down.)