I know every single woman on Earth has sworn she would not grow up to be like her mother and probably most of us have eaten those words in one form or another. The lucky few of us who are no longer blind to how awesome our mothers actually were all along, don’t try to hide it.
A couple retorts that were pretty regular in my house were things like, “I’m the Mommy, that’s why,” (she even had a cross-stitched shrine to herself with this saying hanging in the laundry room), “Wait until your father gets home,” (what non-single mother on Earth didn’t use this one I ask you), and the ever-classic, “Who said life is supposed to be fair?”
Okay. So maybe I internally rolled my eyes at these when I was young. I’m sure my own children will one day be doing the same thing.
In all honesty, it wasn’t until I gave birth to Eliott and found myself in an entirely new social category (young mothers) that I really began my personal parenting censorship list. You know, my list of “things I will never say or do as a parent, if only to avoid acting and sounding like every other parent my age.” Naturally, too many books have already been published on this topic, and every single one comes with its own set of catch-phrases that get passed around parenting circles like Tommy Boy quotes did in college. No matter how hard I try to avoid them, I can’t seem to show up anywhere without hearing them, and then the dreaded day comes when I realize they are coming out of my own mouth, whether I know the source or not. (Is it any surprise to hear that it was a full three years after the movie was on DVD that I learned where Holy Schnikes came from?)
When my first child was one, the big thing everyone was worried about was the dreaded “No!” phase. In an effort to put off the inevitable, many parents turned themselves into linguistic Liberace’s to avoid using the N-word at all costs. Add to this the positive parenting spin and suddenly, the verbal jingling of “Not a to-oy,” and, “Not fo-od,” half-sung with a smile replaces, “Don’t touch that!” and “Don’t eat that!”
Rather than communicating with our children using the words we so often demand them to use, John and I developed this half-yell-half-growl guttural sound that comes from our mouths every time one of our children is about to do something stupid. This is a noise that I can best describe as the half- second verbal equivalent of a fire alarm, delivered with a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose, so our teeth resemble fangs. The length and volume of this sound mirror the severity of the crime about to be committed, and my children are so tuned-in to this error signal that it stops them mid-motion with an unseen electric jolt.
Unfortunately, about the day Eliott turned five, she became impervious to all forms of “What are you thinking?!” including the original.
We have been in a period of problematic direction following. That is to say, it isn’t happening.
After a particularly difficult (normal) morning, we showed up late to school on Tuesday so I had to walk Eliott all the way to her classroom. Her teacher took one look at us and said, “If you figure out what works at home, let me know, because this class obeys far better than my own children. I think it might be the element of peer-pressure.” (Translation: have more children?) She went on to say that one thing she says to her kids, whether it works or not is delayed obedience is disobedience.
Any other time in my life I would have walked away scoffing, thinking, “Isn’t that cute? Another little parenting catch-phrase.” Not that day.
The phrase resonated with me all day, and even led me to remembering another I heard some time ago: Obey. Right away, all the way, with a happy face. I actually couldn’t remember the whole thing and all I had to type in the Google search bar was obey right away and hundreds of what they call mommy blogger pages popped up. Apparently I’m the only one who isn’t using this magical phrase.
Tuesday afternoon, I was hanging on to my patience by a broken fingernail. I literally felt this pain in the pit of my stomach which I believe must be some hormonal and physical reminder of the source of my problem, gently urging me to believe the lie: you did this to yourself, you dummy.
So I said it, through clenched teeth. “Eliott. You. Need. To. OBEY. Right away. ALL the way. And with a smile. Do you understand what this means?”
We went through each part of the catch-phrase, to which Eliott responded with five year old dictionary definitions of each piece. Mid-way through her explanation of, “It means you don’t stop part way through but you finish the job to the end,” my stone face broke.
“Wait a minute. Have you heard this before? How do you know this? Who says this?” I demanded.
“Oh. My teachers at school. Ms. Courtney, Ms. Amy, all of them.”
I cannot report on the success rate of my new found parenting vocabulary, but I can say this, even if it doesn’t seem to be working on Eliott, it is bringing a certain sense of satisfaction and calm to me. I think most parents get sucked into the vortex of their children’s relentlessness, and that pull of negativity (from the body and mouth of a human one third our size) deludes us in to believing we must be the crazy ones. Speaking the language of other parents, no matter how cheesy it may sound, at least reminds me which team I’m on. So for now, I’ll risk the inevitable internal eye-roll.
Then I’ll laugh in triumph the day I hear Eliott doing the same thing to her own kids.