Piece of Cake

Monday, April 9, 2012

Disciplining a toddler is like baking a cake. Not a box cake. Not a Duncan Heinz you can throw together at the last minute, no. But, a scrumptious, delicately concocted masterpiece made from real eggs you cracked yourself, real flour you speckled your apron with when you sifted it, and real butter and sugar that you can't help yourself from sampling when you add it in.

Disciplining a toddler is like homemade cake. You know it will work in your head. You've seen it in real life, done by others with perfect results. You've even gotten a taste of it and been inspired to try it yourself. You follow the rules exactly. A recipe so specific is bound to have perfect results, right? Sometimes. Sometimes you serve up a masterpiece. You couldn't be more proud. And other times...well, other times you are embarrassed of the finished product. Other times you are left wringing your hands wondering how something you made yourself could have such a disastrous outcome when you did exactly the same thing you did before when everything turned out fine.

Disciplining a toddler is a piece of cake. Sometimes it is just the boost you need to sweeten your day - to see your little human sit in that corner diligently, learn her lesson, come back to you apologetically and lovingly kiss you with remorse. And other times it is nothing but a heap of guilt on a plate of confusing emotions. So frustrating that too much in one sitting can make you sick to your stomach.

Time out. Ugh. In theory it works like a dream. Your child is naughty, you explain to them that's not okay, they sit in the corner until the timer dings, at which point the child lovingly returns to explain why they are sorry for what they did. Yeah, right...sometimes. But, just like that recipe for the perfect cake, it doesn't always go like you planned. Some variable has slipped in that you didn't/couldn't account for. While humidity, larger eggs, colder butter or unsifted flour can make all the difference between dessert or waste...a missed nap time, a tooth coming in, a misunderstanding or just plain naughty willfulness can spin a child's discipline out of control. Suddenly the Norman Rockwell painting of your life looks more like a Jackson Pollack, and your left wondering how to interpret the last five minutes of what just happened.

It's wearing. You want so badly for them to just freaking GET IT. I mean, how many times do I have to say Don't lay on your sister. Don't sit on your sister. Don't bite your sister. Don't hit your sister. Don't kick your sister. Don't touch your sister. JUST LEAVE YOUR SISTER ALONE! Oh my gosh, I seriously think I might have it tattooed on her somewhere. How do you reason with a two-year-old who so desperately wants her 8-month-old sister to be sturdy enough to wrestle with. And, really, it's all fun and games until the baby topples over and smacks something and then they are both upset.

Good grief. How do I explain to a two-year-old that I'm (like it or not) in charge and I've been deemed the one responsible to make sure the three of us make it alive through the rest of the day? You can't. (I try, believe me.) So, you discipline. Don't do this. Do that. Simple, concise, straight to the point. Seems easy enough, right? Until you do it again and again and again until you think you are certifiable (after all, isn't doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome the definition of insanity???)

I am, however, a big fan of "the timeout". Not even so much for the kid as for the parent! Whew, mama needs you to sit in the corner before I pull my own hair out and call daddy to come home for the afternoon, okay? I need just as much the one or two or three minute timer to allow me to step away and think clearly and grab a breath before I have to do it all over again. I need a second to contemplate my next move and be able to welcome her back with open arms of forgiveness. And, especially on the occasion that she is in the corner because she has yelled at me or even so much as thought about raising an arm or foot in my direction - so help me, I need to gain some perspective before wanting to just react in defense.

Did anyone ever tell me how physically demanding parenthood is??? That picking up a flailing 30 lb toddler who is trying with all her might to flee the scene of the crime requires muscles I never knew I had. And, then forcing her into a corner and allowing her to scream in my ears until she's "done her time" is both emotionally and mentally exhausting? Teaching a toddler those little lessons can be a downright workout! Am I raising the next Jillian Michaels here, or is it just me?

But, once in a while, we will see a glimmer of hope. Something will stick from who-knows-what-episode and their little head will recall the difference between getting their way and doing the right thing. Today, though she found herself in the corner a few times, Matilda actually practiced self-control right in front of me. She has only purposefully hit or kicked a handful of times in the past - it's not really in her usual arsenal of naughtiness - but, today she got instantly mad and held up her fist ready to hit me...and she stopped. I watched her change her mind. I watched her take a deep breath. I watched her make a good decision and keep herself out of that corner a little while longer.

Disciplining a toddler is a piece of cake. And when it is successful, there is nothing sweeter.

I know we have a lifetime of rules, guidelines, prayers, boundaries, and decisions ahead of us in parenthood. I know it is a long road to try and hope to shape our kids into productive and kind persons. I know it will take a lot more timeouts in the corner before she even understands not to put her baby sister in a headlock (sigh). But, I'm hopeful that the recipe...while ever-changing and always being perfected...only gets sweeter along the way.

And that sounds really delicious to me.

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