Tattle Tale

July 28, 2012

Tonight’s bath time episode with the daughter was so rough that I’m throwing in the towel. That’s right, I’m becoming like the student every elementary teacher loves. To console myself, after having failed at Parental Efficacy 101, I’m telling on my daughter.

It all started with the potty. I could spend this entire post thinking about puns for that, so I best play it straight. Anyway, the potty has turned into the spot of epic confrontations as of late. It is the embodiment of what Julian Rotter referred to as “the locus of control”.

Once upon a time, Alice seemed potty-trained. When the urge struck her, she would run to the potty and dial the appropriate number. We were elated, perhaps a little self-congratulatory. Then suddenly, our sweet little toddler stopped picking up nature’s call—at least on line 1. She decided to start letting the machine get it. And by the machine, she meant her pants, her parents’ pants, the futon, the couch, and any other reallyhardtoclean thing. She was writing her own episode of Game of Thrones.

Tonight’s episode was the epitome of our frustration. I asked Alice to go on the potty. She refused. I waited…as did she. I placed her on said apparatus. She dismounted faster than a drunk Olympic gymnast. I gave her another opportunity to succeed. She sat on the step. We waited.

This continued for probably 5-10 minutes, but it seemed like 30. Along the way, I tried these various techniques:

1. Acting casual like it didn’t bother me.

2. Talking to her about the importance of listening, while providing examples of how I listen to her and how she gets a bit upset when I don’t listen.

3. Behaving like a statue in an attempt to confuse her.

4. Passive aggressive sighing.

I honestly don’t remember what got her to sit down because I think I tried everything multiple times. It might have been the prospect of having bubbles in the bath.  The most likely reason why I don’t remember is because immediately after the tinkling we had a showdown about washing her hands. This time, it was moving her hands away from the soap when I tried to pump some into her palms. This only took a couple of minutes, but entering the bathtub exercise the kid’s cumulative score card was not looking good.

Bath time is usually an enjoyable yet highly-efficient operation for the daughter and me. We’re usually done in 15 minutes flat. Along the way there’s cackling, splashing, impersonations, and show tunes. But tonight, no show tune was going to convince that Little Mermaid to get in. So we waited some more. She never cried. She suggested alternatives, she attempted jokes, she appeared unbreakable.

After awhile, she got in but didn’t sit down. I washed her face, which she didn’t like and got out. More waiting. Finally, she made some convoluted bargain with me about putting my washcloth in the water and willingly got in. Once in the tub, she was perfectly fine. The only real hiccup was when she lay down on her back to get her hair washed and complained of the water being cold at the end of the tub. Is it terrible that I took joy out of this?

“Well,” I said. “Do you know why that happened?” I then proceeded to tell her about what happens when a person, say a two-year-old, waits for an absurd amount of time to get in the water. I’m really hoping this natural consequence is enough. If not, I’m even willing to stack the deck so that the water “cools a little more quickly” next time. The physics lesson can wait.

After the bath we talked about how difficult the bath was and how we can do better next time. I also debriefed with Sara about future strategies.

One of the things I love about parenting is the challenge of troubleshooting problems. It involves a wonderful blend of creativity and logic that keeps the mind nimble. When my methods work, I love the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. And for the times when I prove completely ineffective, I can guarantee there will be other opportunities. Hopefully, I won’t need to tell you about those too.

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