You know that moment when you are boiling pasta and the water is rising dangerously close to the top of the pot and if you don’t turn the heat down immediately it’s going to overflow? Or, when the cookies have been in the oven so long that one more minute in the oven will turn them into black, stuck on bricks? Those are the moments my daughter chooses to be the most naughty. Those are the moments when I have to chase her all over the house like a cowboy trying to rope a steer or a like kid at the county fair trying to capture a greased pig. Those are the moments when she is required, by family law, to go to time out. I hate time out. I hate it with a passion. I hate it mostly because I am jealous. Why can’t I ever go to time out? Preferably in a nice hot bubble bath with Jake Gyllenhal serving me cold beverages on a silver tray (and where everyone’s door knocking hand has become rendered useless)? I once had a dream that Jake Gyllenhaal was my daughter’s babysitter, but I digress.
I am a time out failure. I can’t keep my daughter in time out for more than 3 seconds for fear of the house burning down, the dog biting the UPS man, or the phone ringing due to some horrible, life threatening emergency. When I hear the dog cry, look over and see my daughter putting lipstick on the dog’s mouth, and then realize that she isn’t using lipstick, but a glue stick stolen from my desk, something has to be done. Catching her is difficult, but it is the release that is most problematic. I get down to her level, look her in the eye and say, “Don’t put glue on the dog. You’re in trouble. You’re going to time out.” This is, of course, after several warnings. I am, after all, right in the middle of chopping vegetables, cooking pasta, and defrosting sausage in the microwave. I march her over to the corner we have designated as “the time out zone.” As soon as I release her into the corner she laughs and runs away. I keep returning her to time out, she keeps laughing while running away, and the pasta is boiling over and running down the front of the stove and it sounds like the sausage is exploding in the microwave. She never tires of this game and why should she? We’re basically playing tag, you‘re it. Except I am always it and I just burned dinner and I just reverse disciplined my daughter. From now on she will think putting lip stick on a pig, oh excuse me, on a dog is a great way to initiate a fun time with her cranky, cooking mommy. Super Nanny lied to me. I’m about to send her some sobbing, cranky, hate-mail or something.
All the books say using a crib for time out is a no-no and only bad, terrible parents do that. Our pediatrician says he puts his daughter on the bottom stair for time-out and sometimes he has to sit with her to make sure she stays there. How sweet, but I think maybe his wife is making dinner, or his partner, or his mother, or maybe he just eats take-out every night, or they could be on a raw food diet eating carrots at the bottom of the stairs together. He obviously hasn’t been sitting on the stairs most of the day because he has been at work. By the time dinner time comes around he is getting a fresh start. I don’t have time to act as a human seatbelt while our dinner runs down the front of the stove and is lapped up eagerly, by hungry dogs. I called my mom and told her I was a time-out failure. She suggested we put my daughter in her pack-n-play the next time her behavior becomes unruly. Apparently, that’s what they did in the olden days when kids were bad. They got sent to their playpens with no toys, no TV, and no iPhones. Life was much harder back then.
I was feeling pretty desperate the other day so I dragged the pack-n-play out of the closet and set it up. That took me about ten minutes of heavy breathing, cursing under my breath, and threats to throw it off the roof. I finally got all of the sides to snap into place. I showed it to Miss Tiny-Small and I told her with as much seriousness as I could, “This is your new time out.” She responded by throwing Elmo into the pack-n-play and then screaming because she couldn’t get him out again. So, a few days passed with good behavior until last night when the poop really hit the fan. She asked for cheerios so I gave her a tiny bowl of them. She looked at the bowl and threw it on the floor yelling, “No!” I told her to pick them up. Then I told her pick them up, “Or you are going to time out.” Then she went to time out, down the hall, in the other room, in her pack-n-play. I could hear her angry screaming, but the pasta wasn’t overflowing, the grilled cheese wasn’t burning, and I answered the phone easily and on the first ring, just because I could. After a minute I went and got her. I told her in my most matter of fact voice, “It’s time to pick up the cheerios.” She held my hand, walked over to the cheerios and picked them up. The best part was later in the evening when she started trying to hit me with the coffee mug she had smuggled off of the coffee table (sometime between shoveling popcorn into her face and watching Piglet float away with a red balloon). I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Stop. Do you want to go to time out?” She froze mid whack and I could almost see the wheels turning in her little toddler brain. It was as if she was sequencing events backwards like a VCR tape on rewind. Suddenly I observed a slight glimmer of recognition in her eyes and she lowered the coffee mug, smiled, and turned and walked away. She played quietly with her St. Patrick’s Day mardi gras beads and old digital camera until dinner time. It was a magical, transformative moment for all involved.
Sometimes you can read all of the books, talk to all of the doctors, but it is good ‘ole grandma that has all the answers. If it weren’t for my mom and my mother-in-law filling me in on the secrets of motherhood I would be a babe lost in the woods. Of course they know what works. They spent hours figuring out what worked on Jim and me when we were kids and genetically speaking, the apple doesn’t usually fall too far from the tree. So, sometimes those stories about your own childhood shed some much needed light on the present situation. What made me behave as a child just might be the magic answer to get my daughter’s behavior in line. My mother-in-law always tells us that it is important to have other people like your child and want to be around your child and that starts with good discipline. Sure, we can tolerate the screaming, the whacking, and the dog with the lips glued shut, but why would anyone else want to put up with that? It’s time to get serious about discipline before it comes back to bite us in the butt. The babymoon is over. We don’t want to squash her enthusiasm or free will, but if she doesn’t start learning how to behave around other people she’s going to be a very lonely adult and what kind of life is that? Our daughter is a smart, funny, gorgeous, happy, devilishly, angelic little girl. We just want to tame her enough so she can take her place in the larger society and so we can actually eat a delicious dinner once in a while instead of something burned or exploded. So, I won’t tell you which traits she gets from me or her daddy. I’ll leave that part up to your imagination, but I will give you a tiny hint. I’m not the one usually wearing the halo.