Last year, I read a story in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that has haunted me. It seems the son of an elderly wheel chair bound woman went to her home on Mother’s Day, not to bring her flowers or even a card, but looking for cigarette money. When she refused to give it to him, he dumped her out of her wheel chair, turned the gas on in the house, lit a candle and left. She managed to claw her way out of her house before succumbing to the fumes. Luckily, someone notified the police and they arrived before the house was blown to smithereens.
I’ve thought about that Ft. Worth woman many times lately as I stumble blindly down the uncertain and precarious path of parenthood. And I wonder, “How did it come to THAT and how can I avoid it?” Although Sean hasn’t made any moves towards doing me in for cigarettes just yet, now that he’s in the throes of toddlerdom, pushing the boundaries (and my buttons) and testing the limits (and my patience) has become his full-time job. I’m sure that when cigarette-boy was two, he was cute and funny too. But somewhere along the way, something went horribly awry. Obviously.
Lately when I ask Sean not to touch something, he will look me straight in the eye and then quickly withdraw his hand, as though the object of his desire was on fire. When he senses that I am congratulating myself on my skillful parenting, he will slowly and ever so gingerly poke his defiant little finger into the luscious forbidden fruit of the moment – never once flinching or averting his eyes from mine. It is as though the collective forces of cantankerous spirits in the universe partner with gravity and bear down upon his hand. He cannot stop himself. He must demonstrate that he is not under my authority. I must demonstrate that he is. He waits for my reaction. I wait for my reaction. We are two sumo wrestlers, bent over in the ready to rumble position, eye to eye, forehead to forehead, waiting to see who will make the fist move. We circle the proverbial mat, we silently plan our countermoves. We do this dance six or twenty times of a morning, sometimes even before the clock strikes nine. And it wears me out. Sometimes to the point where I think that having rules and boundaries are entirely too much trouble. And then I think of cigarette-boy.
At that point, I usually draw a long breath and stall for time so all the child-rearing experts who now occupy the space in my head where my brain cells used to be can offer up their opinions. And they are a noisy bunch, those experts.
“Let it go! Just ignore it! Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“What?! Are you crazy? Next thing you know he’ll be wanting cigarette money.”
“Is it really THAT important?”
“You’ll confuse him if you keep moving the boundaries. No means no means no.”
“Acknowledge his feelings.” (huh?)
“You must establish your authority. Off to the naughty chair.”
“Naughty chair now or electric chair later.” (gulp!)
“Distract him with something else and avoid the conflict.”
“Distraction? That was willful disobedience! That calls for time-out!”
“Time out? Bah! Spank him – show him who’s the boss.”
“Spanking? Barbaric!! Take a way a favorite toy”
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
“He’s ONLY two!! And besides, he’s cute. Give him some ice cream too!” That would be my mother’s helpful voice.
And finally, from her wheelchair, the Ft. Worth woman’s shaky voice rising above the others: “Get down on your knees woman, while you still can, and pray!”
* * *
Dear God, help me… Oh, and one other thing. Please keep my boy away from cigarettes.