We were that family today. You know, the one with the kid throwing the major tantrum in the children’s museum when it was time to go. A face to the floor, fists pounding the carpet, whining like a fire truck tantrum. Yep….that family.
And for a minute, I did nothing.
I’ve been thinking lately about the decisions that we make as parents. I had an important decision to make when that tantrum happened, but they aren’t all that hard. I think most of the decisions we have to make in a day boil down to one of these types:
1. Duh Decisions. These are the cut and dry decisions where any novice would know what to do. Like earlier this week when I was doing laundry and letting Bubba crawl around in the bathroom. (It’s either that or try to fold one handed…don’t judge.) He figured out how to open the drawers and promptly comes up with the refill pack for Jay’s razors. What to do? Well…duh….drop the laundry and sprint, take it from him, check the drawer for any other life-threatening objects, and carry on. Easy.
2. It Doesn’t Matter (AKA Choose Your Battles) Decisions. These decisions are just a step harder than the Duh kind. There’s a little more ambivalence involved, but usually not great consequences either way. In our house a whole lot of these decisions seem to revolve around fashion choices lately. This week Grandma bought a ridiculously poufy pink tutu dress for Chica, and it has been next to impossible to pry it off of her. Chica wanted to know if she could wear it to the rehab center to visit her great grandmother. I was worried that we may get a few, “What was that mom thinking?” stares, but in the end I decided the meltdown we would have had over removing it would have been much worse. With Jay’s help, I chose not to fight that battle, and I think we chose wisely this time. Mema’s next door neighbor, a (somewhat creepy) old man, sure got a kick out of her!
3. I Know What to Do But I’m Going to Do the Wrong Thing Anyway Decisions (The Bad Kind). It seems like all day long I’m living this: “What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” What I want is to do is give plenty of time for Chica to become a self-sufficient four year old who can, for example, dress herself, tie her shoes, clean up after herself, and buckle herself in the car. But I don’t do that. Instead I snap, “Hurry up!” 127 times a day, even when there is nowhere to rush to. This rushed attitude isn’t much help for creating self-sufficiency. I know the right thing to do, but I just make the wrong decisions over and over.
4. I Know What to Do But I’m Going to Do the Wrong Thing Anyway Decisions (The Good Kind). You know, there are sometimes when the wrong thing turns out to be right. My favorite example? Frozen yogurt for dinner. It’s 5:00. I’m out with two cranky kids, and I pass that beautiful pink and green palace that is Sweet Frog. The right thing to do is to go home and fix a balanced meal for us, but yet another meal of veggie burgers and canned baked beans this week just isn’t doing it for me. So I surprise everyone, and we eat yogurt topped with gummy bears and gummy worms for dinner instead. Kids, both my own and my students, get a kick out of adults breaking the rules every once in a while. That’s the kind of stuff memories are made of.
5. Heck If I Know. So we’re back to the four year old laying prostrate in the basement of the museum. I’m holding Bubba who is now asleep in that perfect drunk-on-milk way, and there are families all around. My choices are 1) Yell at her. The fire truck noise she is making is pretty loud, so it’s unlikely she’ll hear me anyway. 2) Ignore it. Then all of the moms around will talk about me over dinner, and she’ll think that’s okay to do again next time. 3) Snatch her up and whisper very threatening things in her ear. Then I risk waking Bubba, and I’d have two screaming children on my hands. 4) Something else I haven’t thought of yet. Wait for it, and hope it comes.
So in that moment, I just sat there frozen because I honestly didn’t know what the right way to respond was. I’ve been having these moments more and more lately as Chica gets older. I’m sure I’m not the first one to discover this, but it hit me today that there is a direct relationship between a child’s age and the difficulty in parenting decisions involved. Like how to help her with mean girls, and what to do when I see her being the mean girl right back. (She’s four…sheesh….too soon!) Or just what to do when she can articulate, “Mom, I know how to keep myself safe,” but I think there’s more risk involved than what she really sees. These decisions paralyze me and confuse me and wish she came with a manual.
In the end, I just waited through a very long, uncomfortable moment. When she caught my eye, I stuck out my five fingers and began counting down. Thankfully she’s still scared of whatever she thinks might happen if I do make it to zero, and she reluctantly got up. I saved my lecture for the car. She apologized. I forgave her.
So I’ve sat here for too long now trying to think of some wise way to end today’s rambling thoughts. I’ve decided I’m too much in the middle of it to have anything truly wise to say. When I had to make today’s “Heck If I Know” decision, things turned out alright…about as good as I could have hoped. But I know there are times that I’m going to choose incorrectly in those frozen moments, and I just have to trust that our kids are created with a little bit of weeble in them. They’ll bounce back.