Oh hey there, I’m just popping in with a very quick post to say that I may have drastically underestimated how adept Olive is at trolling me and/or I am killing it with this whole parenting thing.
Here’s the sitch: On Saturday a dear friend called me at noon to tell me that she had tickets to Disney on Ice and was planning on taking her niece. Unfortunately, said niece was throwing up everywhere and unable to go, and my friend didn’t want the tickets to go to waste so she wondered if Olive and I would like to go.
Full disclosure, I am not the biggest Disney fan and I won’t go into why because it’s long-winded and boring and honestly, kind of predictable.
Long story short, we went. And it was great! Olive’s face was so amazing to watch and she cheered and clapped enthusiastically after every routine and when the intermission came she gathered her stuff and began to leave and when I told her it was only halfway done, her head almost exploded with joy.
BUT. As we went to leave, we had to walk past eighteen hundred tables filled with plastic wands and plastic light-up laser swords (?) and plastic cups filled with snow cones and all manner of ridiculous merchandise. I am opposed to junk in general but especially when they are charging thirty-five dollars for a plastic light up princess wand that would be like $8, max, anywhere and anytime else.
The whining began. Olive asked for a wand, I said no. She stamped her foot and pouted and started acting ridiculous. It was as though a Disney villain had inhabited her body and twisted her joyous little face into a scowl. She just. Kept. Asking. Wouldn’t take my repeated no’s for an answer. And at one point she actually uttered the words “It’s not fair. I never get anything.”
And my jaw dropped to the floor and I launched into this speech which was basically “Are you kidding me?? You just attended an incredible performance where there were fireworks and singing and people swinging from the ceiling on silk fabric while wearing SKATES. For free!! PLUS I bought you a FOUR DOLLAR STALE SOFT PRETZEL and SIX DOLLAR SHITTY POPCORN. I say it again kid, ARE YOU KIDDING ME.”
In all seriousness, I was so frustrated and embarrassed and angry. It felt like I had failed as a parent in a fundamental way. After all these years of emphasising experiences rather than things, giving rather than getting, and not buying plastic junk that will clog up a landfill – even with all of this, she was still acting spoiled and ungrateful and rude.
We drove home in silence. Her pouting, me fuming. We got home and went inside and I began preparing dinner. And it’s when we sat down at the table that things began to get weird.
While cooking, I had devised a plan to address this ungrateful behaviour, and as we ate, I explained it to Olive.
“Olive, you’re never going to have everything you want, simply because there will always be more things to want. Wanting never ends. And if you keep wanting things, you’re never going to be satisfied and you’ll never be happy.
“If you can learn to be happy with what you have, however, you will always be happy no matter what happens.”
She stared at me blankly. Undeterred, I continued.
“This evening I am taking all of your toys away. You can earn them back by showing that you’re grateful for what you have. Every time you leave a store or an event without whining or asking for something, you can choose one toy to get back. Do you understand?”
I expected a major reaction. I expected her to be super upset and angry and resistant to the idea of having all of her toys taken away. That is not at all what happened. Instead, she nodded silently.
I was confused.
“You understand that I’m going to take all of your toys away?”
“You understand that you’re going to have to earn them back one at a time?”
“Um…OK. What do you think of this plan?”
And this kid, my five-year-old, replied with this statement. Verbatim: “I think this is a good idea. I like it. I like having to earn my toys.”
What the actual fuck? I figured she was bluffing and prepared myself for tears when I actually started collecting the toys to put away. But that didn’t happen either. Instead, as I collected her toy bin from her room and the two small baskets in our living room she helped me by gathering three toys I’d missed from under her bed. Later, when her Nana babysat her, she found a piece of costume jewellery and declared that it was a toy and went to the laundry room to put it with the rest of her confiscated toys.
What what what what?!
The next day my mom and sister took her to IKEA. She was brilliant and earned back a toy. But the fuckery wasn’t over yet.
Yesterday I took her to a small grocery store to hunt down some Macedonian feta (unbelievably delicious) and she whined for candy. I said no, she whined and asked again. As we left the store I told her that unfortunately, due to her behaviour she had lost the chance to earn back another one of her toys.
She nodded thoughtfully, and then said (I’m not even kidding she actually said this), “Do you think that when I misbehave you should take away a toy again?”
I felt like this was a trick somehow and I didn’t know how to answer so I stammered something like “Um, I-I don’t know. What do you think?” and she replied, “I think you should.”
So, um, that’s where we are. I don’t understand what’s happening and Olive is basically parenting herself and either this means I did something super right or it means that she’s way smarter than me or has a masochistic side or maybe all three of these options or maybe none because holy shit I think she finally broke my brain what is even happening right now!?
Anyhoo, um, hope you’re having a great week. If you need me, I’ll just be over here trying to untangle the psychological tongue-twister that is my child.
I’m wondering what she’s doing with her free time since she has no toys? Seems like it would be good for creativity!
She usually divided her time between toys and crafting/writing/drawing, so she’s just doing way more of that now!
LOL! Olive is a unicorn. You are parenting a unicorn Maddie!
Yep. She’s adulting! You’ve done a good job. Time to retire and get ready for her to give you advice. Won’t be long…
I don’t really know anything about child development, but my daughter is the same age and she is constantly coming up with penalties and rewards for her little brother. They’ll be playing in the other room and I’ll hear, “you have to clean up your toys or you can’t have any candy later!” Or “if you don’t eat your dinner you can’t go to Grandma’s” at which point I intervene because he’s definitely going to Grandma’s because mama needs a break. Definitely something about this age and a full understanding of how certain behaviours have consequences!
Olive is brilliant! You’d best step up your game, she will be a teenager before you know what the hell happened! This will be fun to watch!
Aww, she’s so cute! I was so blown away. You’ve done an amazing job raising her. Wow, to have a child willingly give up her toys without a bit of a whine, AMAZING!!! Can’t wait to see what she’s up to next, lol
Janet Lansbury has (imho) the best podcast episode about this topic! Madeleine, you’re a hero to me in some very important ways, in the keeping-it-real-in-your-writing way and the embrace-reduction-and-simplicity way, and Janet is another type of hero to me, in the helping-parents-understand-how-to-parent-without-shame way. In the I’ve-decided-I’m-going-back-to-school-for-a-PhD-in-psychology-to-study-the-harmful-effects-of-shame-on-socialization way. She’s that amazing to me. I think you will love this podcast. It goes through the scenario of a young girl (4yo, if I recall correctly) who is at the store with her mother and has a complete meltdown because she wants some cheap crappy bracelet thing. The way she reframes the way we can think about situations like this is brilliant. I just wanted to share. I wish everyone knew about Janet. I wholeheartedly recommend her podcast in general, but also her book “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame” is great (and honestly it’s all applicable beyond toddlerhood).