When I was around the age of 8, I was pouring some milk from the gallon into a bowl of cereal. We had a tall counter and I could barely reach over the top. Needless to say, the full gallon slipped from my hand and fell onto its side spilling milk all over the counter top. My mother was watching me from the other room. In a swift motion she stood up, dropped her book and ran into the kitchen tipping the gallon back onto its base. She did this quicker than Edward Cullen trying to get laid (I don’t need 3 books and 4 movies to tell me that wasn’t the original goal). Being the sensitive child I was, I immediately started crying when the milk started pouring everywhere but in my cereal bowl. My mother, grabbing a towel and trying to diffuse the tears as well as the mess, looked at me and said, “There’s no use in crying over spilled milk.” Well, like I said, I was a very sensitive kid. Her saying this very old phrase just made me cry harder. Now I’m not proud of those tears, but I can’t help that I’m an over-emotional person. We just have to play the cards we’re dealt. She handed me the paper towels and we cleaned it together. I didn’t mean to knock over the milk, she knew that.
My kids, like most kids their age, are very curious about everything. This curiosity causes them to pull books off shelves, rifle through drawers and put their hands into anything that isn’t bolted down or covered. Good for them. They’re learning. Having them into everything often causes our house to look like a tornado swept through it. This happens. I get it. Not too worried about it. This curiosity though sometimes causes things like the litter box to be dumped out and the guinea pig’s hay to be distributed wildly throughout the living room.
In fact, while I was typing this, I heard my daughter wander into the other room followed by a muffled crash and a cry. It seems she had went to investigate the litter box (freshly cleaned, thank god) and in doing so had dumped half the litter all over the floor. These are careless mistakes caused by curiosity. While we try to discourage this type of behavior by disciplining, it seems wrong to discourage exploration. Please don’t think my children rule our household. We discipline them for continued actions when we already say “no”. For example, my daughters fascination with the cat box. She got to use her get out of jail free card” the other day. Today, while I felt bad that she dumped the box, she was also told no and put into a time out. Everybody gets a freebee when it comes to destroying something through exploration.
Yestersday was one of the first times I’ve ever had to deal with a punishment that had more to it than just a “time out”. Jude was already having a rough evening. He was overtired and generally just “done” with the day. We’ve all been there. As adults though, we usually wait till we’re in our car (or other quiet confined spaces) to have a meltdown. Jude’s meltdown started in my lap and continued into dinner time. While he was managing to keep himself under control, I could tell it wouldnt take much to push him over the edge. I set him up at the table with a plate of shepards pie and a small glass of milk. Like most dinners, he picked at the food for a couple minutes. After asking him to eat, he smiled at me and asked “Couch and Daniel Tiger?”. Eating while watching his favorite show is an occasional privilege we usually reserve for lunch and even rarer, dinner. I told him no, he would have to eat at the table. Hearing me, his breakdown commenced (see below).
That behavior has no room at the dinner table and he knows that. After ignoring him for a couple minutes he calmed down again and drank a little bit of his milk, pushed food around on his plate and asked again. And again, my answer was no. Trying to explain something to a two year old is like trying to tell a squirrel to stay out of the road. Jude’s tears started flowing. Luckily, they weren’t as heavy as the last meltdown. I genuinely thought this would be the last time and then he would sit up ad eat. Sometimes we all just need to cry and get it out before we finish our dinner. While crying he had been holding his cup at an odd angle. A small stream of milk poured out of it onto the floor. I looked at him and said, “Be careful buddy, you’re spilling your milk.” He lifted the cup from below his waste and I was under the assumption that it was going to the table.
What happened next I can only explain as Jude being a cock. He looked directly into my eyes and tilted the cup over, spilling the milk all over the kitchen floor. My face must have lit up like a million mosquitos in a bug zapper. As the words “NO, We don’t do that!” dropped from my mouth, Jude’s face dropped with them. In slow motion, his face literally melted and he had a tantrum equivalent to dams bursting. Immediately, I unbuckled him from his seat. I carried him screaming (him, not me) into the living room and sat him in the corner.
“Take a few minutes buddy, we don’t spill milk on purpose here.”-Not something I’d ever think I’d be saying out loud. I was proud of myself in that moment. I kept my cool, I disciplined him. If I was my father back in the day, I most likely would have flipped the table over and then blamed that on Jude too. Listening to Jude lose his shit in the other room I was left looking at the milk poured all over the floor. Now, I’ve had parental instinct in the past. Usually it’s about my kids safety. This time though, it was about the milk. Holding the paper towels in my hand I knew Jude had to be the one to clean it up. I waited for his tantrum to subside, called him into the kitchen and explained to him that he needed to clean up the mess he made. You know what? He took the paper towels and started wiping the floor.
That was the only thought going through my mind as his little hands wiped up the milk that had spread to around 4 times his size. And yes, once he got the majority of it, I kneeled down and helped him clean the rest and then we tossed the paper towels in the trash together. He wasn’t mad about cleaning it up. I actually felt that he was sorry for what he did.
I have to say, the entire time this was going on: Margot, my one year old daughter, was just observing and eating. It reminded me of being the youngest and seeing my own brothers disciplined at dinner time. On the nights when it wasn’t an over the top production that scared everyone, I actually enjoyed the dinner entertainment and was always glad it wasn’t me in their shoes.
I’m glad I asked him to clean up his mess. I’m glad he did it. As parents, (at least talking for myself) I have no fucking clue what I’m doing half the time. I am literally acting on what I think is best. I’m hoping, that making him clean up his act of defiance will teach him that there are such things as consequences when we do something bad. We are all responsible for our own mess, even if we made the mess because we were pissed off at someone else.
Todays lesson, stay strong parents. We’re teaching our kids about life, if we give in and let them do what they want, they won’t learn to clean up their messes. And we all know that the messes get bigger and bigger the older we get.