As I drove her home from her acrobatics class last weekend I attempted clarification. “Sweetie, are you saying ‘cutie baby’ to be nice or mean?”
“Nice,” she said indignantly.
“Are you sure? Because calling someone a baby isn’t usually a very nice thing to say.”
On the playground, them’s fightin' words.
“No, it’s nice,” she said. “Like I’m your mommy and you’re my sweet baby.”
|Mais non! I would never call my mommy stupid!|
I half-buy her reasoning. Sometimes she does say it out of the blue in a I-can’t-fight-this-feeling-anymore burst of love. “Oh Mama, I love you. You’re such a cutie baby.”
Other times she says it like she’s barely holding back a “stupid.” “Mama, you’re such a….cutie baby.”
If it keeps me from having to think of new punishments and escalating the situation, I’ll take cutie baby anytime.
Saturday morning things turned ugly. She called us stupid. She yelled. She stamped her feet. She punched Josh’s leg. I have no recollection of the outrages that we perpetrated to inspire such behavior but I suspect it had to do with asking her to get dressed for her acro class. Outrageous! In the course of that terrible 10 minutes she lost her treats through Tuesday, including her more deluxe weekend treats. Weekday treats are things like fig newtons and peanut butter-filled pretzels. No biggie. Weekend treats include candy from her Halloween stash, a muffin from the bakery, and, on special weekends, ice cream.
I stopped myself from piling on the disappointment, my voice dripping with faux-concern. Oh honey, but those are the good treats you just lost. I feel sorry for you. A victory for parenting, a loss for passive-aggressive family dynamics.
After the treat withdrawal didn’t net any change in behavior, I went for the toys. She lost her newly beloved plastic horse, then the orange recorder she tootles around the house spreading headaches and delight, then her “tape privileges” for a week. Indeed scotch taping things is a privilege in this house, g-ddamnit! Then I had to go for the big guns—her Legos and the big box o’ plastic princesses.
After each sanction we offered her an out. “I know you’re upset. Do you want to go to your room and calm down?” We asked.
“No! Stupid Mommy!”
Finally, after I carted the princesses off to my office, the island of lost toys and tape dispensers, she took us up on our cool-down offer. She ran to her room, slammed the door shut, and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I HATE MY MOMMY AND DADDY!!!!”
“At least she didn’t say it to our faces,” Josh said.
“Yeah, that’s some improvement.”
Then we shared our third what-the-eff-got-into-her look of the day and hovered near her door.
We didn’t rush in to correct her or tell her how it hurts our feelings when she yells that she hates us. It’s okay for her to feel her feelings, to occasionally hate her mommy and daddy. We draw the line at calling us names—Stupid Mommy, Mean Mommy, Stink—unless that name is a growled “cutie baby.”
* Purvis is my daughter's nom de blog so that she may one day be able to google herself free of a list of embarrassing baby stories.