I wheeled Eddie’s stroller into the bakery and went to get a coffee.
“He looks tired,” said Mae, the woman behind the counter.
“I think I broke him,” I said.
“I yelled at him,” I said. “He was so happy this morning, and then he started whining, incessantly, when I was getting his breakfast ready. I was already preparing it. I couldn’t go any faster. And he just sits there and whines, and whines, and whines. I couldn’t take it any more so I yelled at him. ‘Stop it!’ And he did. Instantly. And then I felt really bad. “
“You snapped,” Mae said.
“It happens,” she said.
“I know, but I didn’t want to yell. Someone told me about this article about how French mothers don’t yell, and…”
“I read that article,” she said.
“Oh, I didn’t,” I said.
I’m lucky if I have time to read my mail. But it didn’t stop me from repeating the concept to anyone who would listen – which is mostly myself. Ever since I heard about the article, I’ve been trying to parent more quietly. I now speak to Eddie in smooth, even tones, almost with a French accent. “Eddie, your pancakes are coming.” “Eddie, don’t throw your sippy cup on the floor.” “Eddie, we don’t hit mommy in the face.”
For the most part, it hasn’t worked — particularly with our newest trend: taking food he doesn’t want and throwing it onto the floor. It started about a month ago with the sippy cup, which was routinely tossed off the edge of the hi-chair tray after every sip. I’d pick it up and hand it back to him, he’d take a sip and then toss it on to the floor again leaving me no choice but to pick it up and hand it back to him lest I allowed him to become dehydrated in order to prove a point.
Yesterday, I was surprised to see how much he liked turkey bacon. I’d taken two slices and cut them up into bite size pieces and served them to him with his pancakes. But I soon saw the bacon was all around the base of his hi-chair. He’d thrown it on to the floor piece by piece as I was washing the dishes.
This morning, I lost my cool before I’d even given him his food. He started whining when we were still upstairs getting dressed. And it continued as I brought him downstairs and was making him breakfast. I waited until I pulled the pancakes out of the oven before placing him in his hi-chair because I’ve already seen that the anticipation of the food, as he sits in the chair, is almost too much for him to bear. I buckled him in, put on his bib and then went back to the table to cut the pancake up into little pieces. I cut up some banana and pear and sprinkled them on top, and then drizzled some maple syrup over it. But with every slice I made, every step I took, I could hear his incessant whining in the background, and it was getting on my nerves. By the time I was done, I was about to hand him the plate of food, and I thought, “I don’t want to reward this behavior.” He’s been carrying on for 10 minutes, and my response to it is to feed him. The French wouldn’t do that, I thought. I held the plate behind me and said in a soft voice, “Eddie. This is unacceptable. You need to stop whining.” The whining continued, unabated.
“Eddie? You need to stop.” The whining got louder.
“Eddie!” I snapped.
He stopped crying instantly and looked up at me with wide eyes. I thought I saw the blood drain out of his face. This is a scarring moment, I thought. I’m creating something right now that he’s going to remember later in life, when he’s on a job interview or wanting to ask a girl out on a date, whenever he’s doing something that requires utmost confidence, he’s going to pull back just a bit, and he’s not going to know why, and it’s going to be because when he was young and innocent, I whacked him over the head with a frying pan – so to speak – and dented his little spirit just a bit. Still, he was indeed quiet for the moment, and I felt like I needed to seize the opportunity, to reward him for quiet rather than rewarding him for crying, so I took the plate of food out from behind my back and presented it to him.
“Atta boy,” I said. “See? You were going to get the food anyway. You didn’t have to cry for it.”
I placed the plate down on his tray, and he seized upon it and began to devour the pancakes and fruit, not looking up at me once like he usually does. It was all about the food. Now he’s going to have an eating disorder, I thought. I achieved my goal but at what cost?
The worst part about it was he’d been so jovial this morning, even more so than usual. I’d plucked him out of bed as I was going up to the attic to do my exercises. I have a little mat up there on which I do sit-ups. I usually sneak by Eddie’s crib and do them quickly before he begins to fuss and wants to come out, but this morning, he saw me as I walked by so I took him with me. He’s rarely in the attic so he was happy to be among the boxes of stuff, the wrapping paper and bows, the Christmas ornaments and fabrics, the brightly colored towels and fancy blue plastic margarita cups for the beach. The first thing he saw was a little Santa doll I bought him around Christmas. I had put it back in the attic about a month ago. He spotted it in a box immediately and took it out and held it close to his chest as he walked around the boxes looking for other treasures.
“He’s so happy in the morning,” Bruce said.
Eddie continued to eat his breakfast quietly. He was all business. There were a few bits of food on the floor this morning but not many, mostly because I think he liked the meal so much. He didn’t want to part with anything. But at the end of his meal, he took the syrup-covered plate, lifted it up in the air, and dropped it onto the floor.
“Eddie,” I said, in a quiet, monotone voice. “Please don’t throw things on the floor.”
He looked at me, lifted up his sippy cup and dropped it onto the floor.
“Eddie!” I snapped.
I never could speak French.