“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I have heard that at some point children outgrow tantrums in favor of other less deafening limit-testing tactics like lying and running away. (Something to look forward to? Nah…) While the Terrible Twos and Even Worse Threes are a distant memory for us, we still deal with the occasional fit of pint-sized rebellion, which is made immeasurably worse by the fact that my 5-year-old has the will of a steel truck. Driving through a tornado. During the Apocalypse.
His latest display of Apocalypse-level tornado driving was over ChapStick. It all started when he wanted some as we were getting in the car after school. “Finish buckling your seat belt and you can have this,” I said, waving the Vanilla Bean-flavored lip balm that was already in my hand (because I am a ChapStick addict, which is fodder for a completely different blog post). Immediately he began protesting, loudly, and squirming out of his seat instead of following directions and buckling himself into it.
You know that whole “dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit” theory? Doesn’t work with 5-year-olds. At least not my 5-year-old, who after a few minutes had to be “helped” into his seatbelt, and then, more because I wanted a peaceful ride home than because he had technically done what he was told, I held out the lip balm for him to take anyway. But he wouldn’t take it because he was torqued at me for making him do something else first.
Who is teaching whom the lesson here? I thought before announcing, “Evan, in a few seconds I am going to put this ChapStick away and drive home, and then you will not be able to have any ChapStick unless you ask nicely using your manners. Are you sure you don’t want some?”
“But I wanted it fiiiiiirst,” he said, completely stuck on the fact that he couldn’t have exactly what he wanted exactly when he wanted it – admittedly a lesson many of us never truly accept.
So I did the only thing any self-respecting parent would do – I dropped the ChapStick into my purse, buckled my own seatbelt and made the 10-minute drive home with him screaming his fool head off.
The screaming continued for another 40 minutes after we got home. Forty minutes. In that time my older son emptied his backpack, peed and washed his hands, ate a snack, begged me to play a video game 26 times and tried to read one of his Calvin and Hobbes books, occasionally yelling over the din, “Mommy, can you put him back in his room? I can’t focus with all that racket!”
“That racket” was his little brother’s desperate mantra – “I NEEEEEEED CHAPSTIIIIIIICK!!!!!!” – screamed over and over and over at the top of his tiny-yet-impressive lungs while I reiterated in my So Calm You Can Tell I’m Not Really Calm voice that I would be more than happy to provide his lips with sweet relief if he would merely stop yelling and ask for it using his manners. By Minute 38 of this tantrum, there was no longer a line drawn in the sand between us, there was a carved wall of granite that had been drilled into the ground, an impenetrable barrier of impressive density.
I wonder where he gets such stubbornness? I mused silently while contemplating the devastating personal ramifications I’d suffer if I went through with the daydream playing in my head, which was me theatrically throwing away every tube of lip balm in the house right before his eyes.
Around Minute 42, he gave in to either exhaustion or futility, and his screams downshifted to an incessant whine. But he still wouldn’t ask me for the ChapStick (using his manners) and the whining, well the whining was nearly as bad as the screaming. Finally, around Minute 47, he managed a muttered, half-assed “Caihavechapsiplea” while sitting on the floor not looking at me.
It was the first time in an hour he’d formed anything as a question, and fooling myself into believing “pleh” was a manners victory, I dug it out of my pocket. “Sure, here,” I said, holding it out for him.
That’s when he refused to take it again. ON PRINCIPLE. That child sat right there on the kitchen floor and, without lifting a single pinky toward the beloved ChapStick he’d screamed for so desperately, said, “You made me wait too long.”
You made me wait too long!
A grin of incredulity spread across my face. I have to admit, I was kind of impressed. Dizzy with anger, but also impressed.
“Evan.” My words were measured and slow. “I’m going to count to ‘3,’ and when I get to ‘3’ I am putting away this ChapStick, and you will have to ask me again, using your manners, if you want any.”
“One.” Poker face.
“You! Made! Me! Wait! Too! Long!”
“No, no, spending this much time crying about ChapStick was your choice. Not mine. I wanted to give it to you. I tried to give it to you in the car. I am trying to give it to you right now!”
Silence as he absorbed, then rejected this truth. Our eyes locked. Instead of crumbling, the granite wall appeared to be growing.
“Three,” I said, the verbal detonation of a bomb that exploded all over the kitchen. The screaming, the whining, the demands for ChapStick began anew as I checked the clock to see if it was a respectable hour for wine consumption. Thankfully everything happened at warp speed during Round 2 of The Great ChapStick Standoff. Within a few minutes, he conceded and asked again, with much attitude but the right words.
Both of us exhausted, ChapStick was wordlessly exchanged. He took long, dramatically slow swipes around his lips, coating the lower part of his face before finally handing it back to me. And then my little steel truck sat right back down on the floor and tried to start yelling at me for making him waste an hour of his afternoon playtime.
“You made me waste so much time!” he yelled with way more indignation than a 5-year-old should possess. I raised an eyebrow and told him that in another 10 seconds his whole damn day would have been wasted because I was putting him to bed.
You’ve never seen a child become so immediately engrossed in the book his brother was reading.
Fast-forward one hour, one glass of wine and one quietly prepared dinner later, we were sitting at the table talking about what they’d done in school that day when Evan interrupted Kostyn’s story about PE.
“Excuse me, Mommy, can I have some ChapStick, please?”
And a million kisses, sunshine. Ain’t parenthood grand?