I’m going to tell you a story– a small one, not a big deal in the grand scheme of all that happens on a regular day in Parenting Land, but one that isn’t easy to tell–about an incident that happened with Quinlan. But this isn’t a story about my child. It’s actually one about my husband.Our Mighty is testing her powers, as it were. She’s getting a bit mouthier. More stubborn sometimes. When she talks back, she commits, and holds on to the rudeness and disrespect with a tenacity that should be unheard of in someone who has recently been caught coating her hair in body lotion after a shower. People will tell us that we need to spank, that we need to instill the fear of God in these little people. For seven years we’ve been trying to fear-instill without the corporal punishment part, and, well, it’s going as you expected. Maybe that’s why Quinlan recently told a mother helper in her kindergarten class that Mommy needs no-yelling practice. Just a hunch. It’s all I have left.
So, to this morning. Quinlan was eating her breakfast, after a rough night of each child coming into our room at different times, and Quinlan ending up in our bed because she was convinced that the shadows were attacking her. So, at breakfast, over a meal of toasted frozen waffles and peanut butter (FANCY), she pulled an attitude. I won’t go into specifics–there was a lot of back talk and glaring and possibly a stuck-out tongue, though I can’t be sure. We started arguing over a banana. And I told her she needed to finish the banana, or she’d have to take it to school with her (???). And she told me that if she took that banana to school with her, she’d most certainly not eat it, but throw it out. And I told her that no she wouldn’t throw it out, she’d eat it, and maybe something along the lines of “I’m the mother and you do as I say blah blah blah crap please don’t call my bluff,” just for added proof of my complete ineffectualness in that moment at 7:01 in the morning. It was a battle of wills, and I was determined to win, even though my opponent, who is most definitely in kindergarten, had brought in the stealth bombers and was taking out my city a I watched.
As a silent rule, David and I have never used food as a means of discipline. We like it too much to build rules around it, other than the “you have to try everything on your plate” one that seems to have set the tone for many a happy dinner time. And our kids love food: Saoirse eats sushi and calamari, Quinlan loves salad and steak, and Cian has been known to go through an entire plate of celery and edamame when no one’s paying attention. So, we like to keep the good meal vibes going. And neither David nor I ever grew up with food as a battleground, either (except for milk. Just finish that milk, already), so it’s something we easily agree upon. I broke that rule once with Saoirse when she was two, and it is one of my worst memories since I’ve had kids. And I broke it again this morning, using a banana as a means to tell my 5-year-old that she has to listen to me, dammit. I am your mother-bleeping MOTHER.
The whole time we’re dancing around each other at the kitchen table, both of us bleary-eyed and in our pjs, while I packed lunches and Quinlan glared at me in defiance as only a 5-year-old can do, David was busy behind me, emptying the dishwasher and getting the girls’ drink bottles ready for the day. He was very, very quiet, which, if you know David, isn’t something that happens all that often. I walked over to him to wash off a piece of fruit, and he muttered to me, “I don’t agree with what you’re doing.” I replied with something sweet and kind, I’m sure (no, I bit his head off. Imagine me, jaws cracked open, swiftly and quietly just…crunch. It wasn’t a very good morning). And I carried on with my banana-respect war with our kindergartner, who was finally starting to withdraw her troops. The battle ended, in a most anticlimactic fashion, and we carried on with the morning with our usual routine of nagging children to brush their teeth already and the did-you-make-your-beds-yet cycle.
But here’s the thing that stayed constant throughout that horrid ten minutes: David completely supported me by staying out of it. He would’ve stepped in if it’d gotten out of hand, of course–not that it would, because seriously, it’s not like I’m a banana monster–but he let me do my thing. It’s not always like that with us anymore–we tend to jump in when we disagree with whatever parenting the other is doing, which is the exact opposite of what, I know, we’re supposed to do (in our defense, we’ve only been parents for, like, seven years. I think it’s going to take us another thirty to get it right). But this time–at a crucial time–he let me be the (hapless, ineffectual) parent Quinlan needed to see. He, by backing off–as uncomfortable as it must have made him–kept me as the authority figure in that moment. If he’d spoken up, told me to step down, defended Quinlan, she would’ve taken my city. She’d have won, and I can’t tell you how very much longer this post would be if my five-year-old were allowed to thump her chest and crow about the house in victory. When they said parenting would be hard, I don’t think I ever guessed that it would be the tiny moments that could be the most difficult.
Quinlan went off to school with a smile on her face, waving at me through the window as David pulled the car out of the driveway. She did manage to tell me that under no circumstances would she eat the (two) grape tomatoes I put in her salad with lunch, but we’ll see what happens with that. I’ve no idea what I’m doing: each child is different from the next, and as I get older, the less sure I am of whether my parenting methods are right or not. But David. David and I probably have at least one tiny argument every day (at least that’s what the kids tell us we do)–I mean, neither of us is going anywhere, and we’re all madly in love and gaggity gaggity, but that doesn’t mean we don’t drive each other bonkers. But today? This morning? I can’t explain how good it feels to have had his quiet support during my banana-for-an-attitude incident. To know he’s beside me, that our kids know that for parenting purposes, they’re getting the same person with either of us, is something I know is pretty special. Even if David currently is lacking his head because I bit it off at the neck somewhere around 7:03, he’s doing a remarkable job at this co-parenting thing.
This is going to be one of those stories I cringe to remember. It’s not my best moment. Does my second-born daughter respect me more? I highly doubt it. Will she ever touch a tropical fruit again? Most likely not. Will I mess up again during a moment like this in the future? I guarantee. But at least I’ll know there’s someone standing behind me, quietly putting away the dishes, guiding me when he thinks it’s necessary. Maybe I’ll listen next time.
I hope I will.