The other day, Rio and I were walking home at the end of a long, tiring afternoon of play play play. I was pushing her sister in a stroller, and she kept riding her scooter into the wheels. Eventually, I told her I’d take the scooter away if she drove into me again. About a block from home, she did, and I took her scooter.
I expected the ensuing tantrum, for sure, because I have been around this block with her a few times. What I did not expect was to have my child spit at me.
Over the past five years, Rio has yelled, bitten, scratched, thrown objects, hit me, hit her sister to spite me, peed in my general direction and issued death threats in her defiance of my unreasonable authoritarian regime. I don’t recall previous spitting incidents, but I’m sure they’ve happened.
The physical outbursts have become pretty rare though, and I’m off my game in dealing with vigorously ignoring them. I lost it. I yelled like I have not yelled in years. I called her dad to come carry her home from where she was staging a sit-in on the sidewalk, and threatened to send her to bed without any supper. I told her I just did not know how to be her Mommy if she was going to spit at me. I sent her straight to her room.
Ten minutes later we had a good cry and snuggle on the couch and talked about our feelings, and ten minutes after that she ate supper and so did I and that made everything better. But all night she kept bursting into tears at odd moments and apologizing. She’s never done that before.
At bedtime she said, “Mommy, I promise never to spit at you again.”
I said, “Well, if you do, I will get very angry at you and say mean things. That is the consequence of spitting.”
(I do not think that is stellar parenting, what I did there. I regard it as a parenting fuck-up because I was in some sense holding her responsible for my emotional reactions or well-being. If I had it to do over I would not have done anything I did in this story so far except the snuggling and feeding her parts, since that’s clearly all she needed to help her tired, hungry overwhelmed self be good. But I digress…)
Fast forward a few days. We are hanging out, talking to an adult. Rio is antsy and trying to get my attention. After awhile she comes up to me and presses her face against my belly. “Spit! Spit! Spit!” she says. She gives me a naughty look and waits. What will happen now?
I’m pretty sure that a few years ago I would have yelled at her again, because I really want to nip the spitting thing in the bud. My first impulse was to wearily remind her that we don’t spit and carry on my conversation, but by the time it made it to my mouth, what happened was that I echoed her naughty look and playfully said, “Mad! mad! mad!”
We went back and forth like this for a long while. “Spit! Spit!” “Mad! Mad!” until we both dissolved in giggles on the kitchen floor. And then everything really was better.