The Mama Mafia

>> Tuesday, May 8, 2007

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Mafia and the Supernanny, you gotta demand respect. It’s absolutely key to effective parenting.

Unfortunately, I’m neither a mobster, nor a supernanny, so acquiring the requisite respect is not always easy for me. My “icy stares” appear goofy, my “severe tone of voice” makes my throat hurt (so I use it sparingly), and my follow-through could use some work.

But like I said, respect is key. So when my 3 (nearly 4) year-old spit on me, I had to take action. Here’s how it went down.

Elizabeth has a lot of good ideas. Asking me to carry her on my shoulders after a long day of work was not one of them. She doesn’t take “no” very easily, and when I insisted I definitely would not be carrying her on my shoulders, she spit on my shirt. She thought it was cute. I didn’t.

No doubt about it. I’d been dissed, and this needed immediate correction. I briskly took her to the car, put her in her car seat, and said in a very calm voice, “I do not like that. You will not spit on my shirt. That was not nice.”

She giggled and looked at the frothy spittle on my shoulder. Once again, my attempt at a cool, icy demeanor had failed. But something told me that threatening a time-out wouldn’t work either. We wouldn’t be home for nearly an hour and I wanted to fix the problem now.

Then a light bulb clicked on.

“Fine,” I said coolly. “I’m going to wipe it off on your dress.”

This was a gamble. There was a 50/50 chance she wouldn’t care and would just laugh at me again. But to my delight, there was genuine concern in her eyes. I knelt down and pulled out my shirt to wipe it onto her dress. She struggled in her seat and started to cry, “No! Don’t get my dress dirty!”

Aha! She did realize the significance of spit! It was an act of defiance! I had proof by her reaction. She’d been playing all day and was covered in dirt and magic markers. Yet she was horrified at the idea of me wiping the spit onto her dress.

But the closer I got, the more she struggled. Tears welled in her eyes. Her expression turned into genuine terror. I started to falter.

God, what kind of mother am I, wiping spit on my little girl? Maybe I’m all wrong. Perhaps this is considered “cruel and unusual” punishment. Clearly she’ll be traumatized by this event and will write about it in her memoirs. I’m evil!

No! I shook myself out of it. Mobsters can’t afford self-doubt. I’m sure the Supernanny knows that small children smell self-doubt on a parent a mile away. I persisted despite her shrieks and, shielding myself from her kicks, wiped the dreaded spittle onto her dress.

Then I calmly closed the car door and sat in the front seat. She continued to cry. I continued to console myself. My husband and my other daughter waited.

When the wailing died down, I explained why I did what I did:

“I didn’t like it when you spit on me. You didn’t like it when I wiped it on you. But I did that to show you what it was like.”

“I didn’t like that, Mommy!”

“I know. But here’s the deal. I promise I won’t wipe spit on you again. But you will not spit on me ever again, either. Do you understand?”

She wiped her tears. “Yes.”

“I love you, sweety.”

Within minutes, she and her sister were singing songs, making up stories, and talking about going back to Disneyland. Most importantly, respect was restored--respect for Mommy and respect for self. (Plus, she hasn't attempted to spit on me since.)

Just call me “Icy Mama”.

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