I’m a dad. Dads can do anything, right? We’re strong. Who does everyone ask to open that tough jar of jam? We’re smart. We can help with any kind of homework assignment. Even if we don’t know the answer we’re pretty good at playing it off and still coming up with something that sounds reasonably acceptable. We’re resourceful. Not only can we build a miniature model of the solar system out of odds and ends lying around the house, we can also McGuiver our way out of a hole and fix just about anything with or without duct tape. I submit as evidence my most recent craft made entirely out of office supplies. But nothing makes you feel more inept as a father and a man than trying to get a toddler to eat their dinner.
It all started with a plate of lasagna. Why is it always lasagna? I don’t think I can remember exactly how the evening went, my mind is still trying to black it out. I just know it wasn’t pretty. What started as simply a few, reasonable, thought out consequences quickly turned into vain threats and countless warnings. Everything had been stripped away by the end of the meal. No toys, no privileges, and both her temper and mine were flaring. Demanding obedience from a four year old often has the opposite effect, only solidifying in her mind the reasons for resistance.
What happened at the table now spun out of control for the entire rest of the evening. Misbehaving and more discipline ensued. Do you ever do stuff as a parent and as you’re doing it you think to yourself, “This is stupid and I’m going to have to eat my words on this” but you still continue to do it? That’s how I felt as I resorted to throwing away one of her prized possessions that I had taken from her at the table. After dinner she got it off the counter, and then when I told her to give it to me she threw it into the dining room and shouted “NO!”. I know, it sounds horrible when I type it. It was horrible.
I finally felt at my wit’s end and sent her upstairs to her room.
She marched up the stairs and i heard her close her door. Moments later, music was blaring like some rebellious tween girl would do. I went up to find her lying on the floor with her kid computer. As I stood there I had a moment of clarity and saw how this would be the exact same picture I would face in eight years if I continued to act the way I was. I also wisely closed the door and let her be alone, which let me regain my composure.
Pax is the peacemaker and always notices when Ella is in trouble. He climbed up the steps and wanted to go in her room to cheer her up. I heard them both through the ceiling, playing, as I sat on the couch holding my head in my hands wondering how things had gotten to this point. Finally, I got up the courage to go back up to her room.
I wish I could tell you we had a heart to heart conversation, that I apologized, that we hugged and cried and everything was better. We didn’t. Instead she surprised me and asked me to dance. This was the first time I ever really danced with my daughter, other than the silly jumping and wiggling I call dancing when we goof off in the kitchen to kids’ music. We held hands and stepped back and forth and side to side, as the song “Winter Wonderland” blared out of her Hello Kitty CD player. I showed her how to twirl and instantly she was hooked. We dance and twirled and laughed. Pax danced, too, and did the shuffle (moves he learned from Ella’s ballet class) and laughed along.
It wasn’t until the next night when I laid down next to Ella in her bed, after another night of arguing over the number of bites to take, and apologized. I have been working on teaching her that when she disobeys she needs to ask for forgiveness and explaining what that means. Now I found myself having to admit to her what I did that was wrong, and tell her I’m sorry and ask her to forgive me. She did, and tonight I sat next to her and helped her take five bites of her food. I’ve learned that things can go downhill fast.