You know that family that sits behind you with the rowdy toddler kicking the back of your seat and the baby reaching over and pulling the hair of the guy next to you? Well, that was us. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are usually great travelers, but after twelve hours and two flights that guy’s hair piece was starting to look good to me too. Of course, I told the three year old to sit still. I begged him, in fact. I bribed him, shouted at him, lowered my voice, raised my voice. Nothing. He would stop for a minute and then start up again when he got bored. But then, from across my seat I hear my husband utter the worst phrase I could think of at that moment “If you don’t stop kicking that seat I’m going to take away your iPad!” NOOOO!!!
There we were, caught between the parental rock and a hard place. If he kicked the seat again, we had to take away his only other source of entertainment. We had to. We have always tried to be consistent about following through with any threat we make, however misguided. Give my three year old an inch and he takes four hundred and thirty three miles. No, backing down was not an option. But on the other hand, there were still two hours remaining in the flight. That’s a lot of Thomas stories to tell and solar system books to read.
There we sat, my husband and I frozen in fear like deer in headlights. My son glaring back, trying to decide whether or not to test our resolve. For a moment his eyes flashed mischievously. There was a hint of Dirty Harry about him. “Do you feel lucky, punk?” I squeezed my husband’s hand hard, communicating to him without words that he would be sleeping on the couch that night if this went the wrong way. His foot came within an inch of the seat. We didn’t move. We didn’t breathe. Then it slowly lowered back down. He broke eye contact first. We’d won. Quietly we sighed our relief in unison.
The whole incident got me to thinking that many of the threats we throw at our children are just as painful to us as they are to the misbehaving child. Let’s be honest. They are usually grand gestures and elaborate bluffs designed to frighten the child into doing what you ask. We never intend to actually follow through with them. But sometimes, or most of the time time, depending on the child, they feel the need to test your resolve. Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, they have to jump on the electric fence every once in a while, just to check that it still hurts.
I came up with a list of the five worst idle threats I’ve ever had to follow through with.
1. If you don’t stop whining, I’ll turn this car around right now- An oldie, but a goodie. We’ve all seen parents say this in movies, and maybe even heard our parents threaten us this way when we were kids. I, however, really did it. Unfortunately, we were on our way to a music class that I’d paid an extortionate amount of money for so a two year old could bang wooden sticks on a drum. Because we can’t do that at home. Clearly, my son didn’t appreciate the pair of shoes I’d given up to pay for said music class because his exact words were, “Good. I want to go home. I don’t like music.” Now he tells me. But I’d made the threat without thinking and I had to follow through. So we turned around and went home, where I had to entertain him for the rest of the afternoon. That was money well spent.
2. Stop pulling things off the grocery shelves or we’ll have to leave- This sounds like a heavy threat, but usually only results in a hungry family and a very tired mommy doing the grocery shopping after everyone is in bed. At least the drunk teenagers and night shift workers in the store at 10:00pm aren’t throwing bottles of teriyaki sauce and eating the bananas through the peels. When they do, I know it’s time to change Walmarts.
3. If you don’t take a nap, I’ll cancel your play date- I only made this mistake once. Now, this threat might work on very social children, but my son can be quite the cranky misanthrope (imagine Dr Gregory House in diapers). You mean I don’t have to nap and I get Mommy’s undivided attention while I melt down all afternoon? Easy choice. An hour into the lets-push-cars-in-a-cirlce game, after I’d failed to push the cars in a circle correctly for the third time, I caved and called in reinforcements.
4. If you don’t poop before we leave, you’ll have to go in the airplane/rest stop/public restroom- This was a new threat I tried recently. It seemed like a safe bet. He’ll have to go at some point, and he hates public rest rooms. Surely he’ll choose to go here in the comfort of his own home, right? Wrong. This threat ended with me sat as far back on the public toilet as I could (with my pants down, because he wouldn’t go if I didn’t go first) so most of my backside was pressed against the cold, probably filthy, porcelain of a public toilet, with the three year old sat between my legs, peeing through the space between my knees. Well, mostly. Some of it ran down my leg. Yep. That was a proud moment for me as a parent.
5. If you run away again I’ll have to carry you the rest of the way- My four-year-old weighs 55 pounds. Mommy was definitely the biggest loser in this scenario. It’s not like I wanted to walk the next day anyway.
So there you have the list of my worst idle threats gone horribly wrong. What are yours?