Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just a Tollbooth on the Toddler Terror Super Highway

It's time to retire the time out, or at least send it on a long sabbatical. Last night, I threatened the Grape with time out if he didn't immediately cease bailing the water from his tub onto the bathroom floor. He laughed in my face and said, "Okay." I hoisted him out of the tub and he gamely marched his wet, naked self to the stairs, where he plunked himself down with a devilish smirk.

Message received: Mamma, this is so worth it.

The Grape treats time out like a tollbooth on the toddler terror super highway. A necessary inconvenience, not worth much fuss. Simply put, it's worth paying the toll in order to be naughty.

He pulled a similar stunt the other night, while eating in one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. He screeched like a hawk on the hunt between bites of tartufo, which ranks in the highest caliber of Grape treats. R. and I told him, through clenched teeth, to knock it off. "Do you want to leave right now?" I asked. "No," the Grape said, contritely. He reinstalled his halo on his head and helped himself to another luxurious bite of the dessert. I exhaled, took a bite of my dinner, sipped my wine.

The Grape, sensing he'd won, shrieked again, loudly, triumphantly and just in time for vague (childless) acquaintances to sit down at the next table. I shot the Grape the Look of Death. He levered himself out of his seat with another scream for good measure. "I'm going to time out," he announced with a devilish grin, and tried to set off in the direction of the restaurant's stoop.

Obviously we had to leave in disgrace. I sucked down my wine in a swig reminiscent of certain college drinking games. R. foisted a wad of cash on the waiter and we hauled the Grape's protesting, kicking, writhing form home, without wrapping his dessert.

After the bedtime shuffle I sat and lamented the demise of the time out. Because its retirement heralds in a new form of punishment. One far more collective: the dreaded loss of privilege.

Taking away the Grape's cars, dessert, Finnish troll television, or whatever, necessarily punishes me as much as it does him. He doesn't go down without a fight. And he senses, on some level, that he can push the envelope further now that I've raised the stakes. Whereas time outs were doled out cheaply and predictably, I stop and consider if X violation justifies Y loss of something fun.

Put differently, he knew he'd get a warning or two before R. and I threw down our napkins and left the restaurant in shame. The little guy has our number that way.

As I sit and write this, he's happily parked in front of a twenty-four-minute-and-seventeen-second episode of Muumipeikko cartoons, the only screen time he gets. I justify the videos because they reinforce the Finnish language. I also need this time to write my blog, wash my hair or just regroup, safe in the knowledge that he won't leave the hypnotic glow of television to burn down the house, escape into the alley, attempt to bathe the dog, etc...

Making him forfeit his video is not unlike grounding a teenager. It's tough to conceive of something worse, from a parental standpoint, than sentencing an alternately surly and hyper-emotional fourteen-year-old to days or weeks at your side. I recall enough of my adolescence to realize that a tantrum-pitching toddler, while exasperating, doesn't come close.

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