When you have a child with food issues, eventually you will reach a time when you will LOSE it. It’s frustrating. The continuous asking for food, the watching other people, the overeating. Did I mention the continuous asking for, begging for, negotiating for food?
Some weeks ago, I had a huge parenting fail. I lost it. Completely.
We were at a restaurant and they gave her a two-pack of Oreos for dessert. She wrapped one of her cookies in a napkin and said she was going to save it but then when I put it away for her she started crying and wanted it back.
Not just tears. Bawling. Hiccup sobs. Extra loud. Purposefully loud. Embarrassingly loud.
‘Not what Black folk do’ loud.
And with all the previous food fidgeting, and staring, and asking, and reaching, and saving, and prepping, and crying and etcetera, etcetera… it just felt like too much.
So, I smashed her cookie. With meanness. And said something like, “you’re not going to get this cookie.”
I may have even snarled. It was over the top. Really.
And then there was a pause. And we both changed.
She started crying again and I was horrified. Why did I do that? It was so irrational, so extreme, so disrespectful. I couldn’t explain it if my life depended on it.
I called her over and sat her on my lap. I apologized profusely. She said in a little voice, “Mommy, you made me very sad when you smashed my cookie.”
OMG. Can you imagine the little baby voice? It pricked my soul.
“Nana, I’m so sorry that I hurt your feelings. That was very bad behavior. I should not have done that and I will never do that again.”
We continued our talk with her reiterating that I needed to be on my best behavior and that it wasn’t very nice.
Oh, to be chastised by a four-year-old. But parents, sometimes we need to apologize to our children, especially when we are out of pocket. We hugged and made our way to the car.
At the car, she said, “Mommy, I’m still sad that you smashed my cookie.”
And you know what. I completely understood. There have definitely been times when I’ve received an apology but I still was deep in my feelings. Especially when I felt like I should have received some restitution. And Nana was like, I got the apology but I STILL don’t have a cookie. So, yeah. I apologized again.
As we drove down the highway, Nana started to babble. I mean, not really babble, but sometimes when you have a talkative child, sometimes you just tune her out. I mean, I needed to sit with my own feelings too. But she was insistent that I answer her questions with her continual, “right, Mommy? right?” I had to start paying attention. Little did I know, that my four-year-old had turned into Johnny Cochran and put me on the witness stand in my own car.
This is how the interrogation went (I’m so serious, y’all. This is really what happened)
“If someone breaks up my snack, like my peanuts, they will get in trouble, right?”
“Nana, Mommy didn’t break your peanuts.”
“I know, but I’m just saying. SOMEONE….”
“Uhmmm…yeah, we would talk to them about it.”
“If someone comes in my room and tears up my paper, my paint paper, and balls it up, they will get in trouble, right?”
“Yes, Nana, no one should tear up your paper in your room. That’s not okay.”
“If someone comes in and breaks my toys, and they I tell them, ‘don’t break my toys,’ and they still break them, I’m going to tell my Mommy and my Daddy, right? ‘Cause that’s not okay. And then they are going to get in trouble, right?”
“Yes, if someone comes and breaks your toys, you should tell Mommy and Daddy.”
“If someone comes and breaks my head, then you’ll be sad. And you’ll say, ‘someone hurt Nana,’ right? And they’ll get in trouble.”
“Yes, Nana. Mommy and Daddy will be very sad if someone breaks your head. But that won’t happen because we will always protect you.”
And then there was silence.
Lord, have mercy! I was sweating and would have said anything to get off that witness stand.
Who knew that four-year-old had such presence of mind and logical ability to walk through a series of increasingly serious incidents to help the jury come to a logical conclusion. I had to play it out.
“Nana, do you think Mommy should get in trouble.”
“For smashing my cookie.”
“What type of trouble should Mommy get?”
“You should get hand pops and timeout.”
“Who should put Mommy in trouble?”
“Nana,” who happens to be my mother.
Now, this conversation would have NEVER taken place between my mother and I. Back in the 80’s, parents weren’t even trying to hear what you had to say about anything. You were wrong. Period.
If my mother had smashed my cookie, she would have been like, “you got some cookie money? Well then.” End of discussion.
Here’s the point: Children feel things deeply just like adults. They often don’t have the words to express their feelings but when they try, we should be open to listening. Because each of those flare-ups, unfair admonishments, and unjustified actions create tiny wounds. When we don’t tend to those little boo-boos, they scab over and calcify, creating barriers to the tender parts of our relationships. Then twenty years later, we look back and wonder why our children don’t call on a regular basis, why we find out all the important stuff second-hand and why they never come home.
What this exchange also told me is that WE, our entire family, needed to get a handle on this food issue. It was driving both Bear and me bonkers and I was acting out in seriously unproductive ways.
We needed to get counseling. Stat.