09 May Children in Charge, Part 1
On Saturday morning, two brothers, Davis and Jamie, woke up really early. Their parents, Regina and Tad Armstrong, were still asleep, so the boys went downstairs and put on the TV. Soon they were watching a scary cartoon called Mean Dog. It was a show their mother didn’t like them to watch.
“I’m so hungry,” Davis said after the first show.
Running upstairs, they jumped on their sleeping parents. “Mommy, Daddy, get up! We’re hungry!”
Tad rolled over and covered his eyes with a pillow. “Five more minutes, boys.”
Regina sat up. “What do you guys want?”
Davis barked, “Chocolate chip pancakes!”
“Me too,” echoed Jamie.
“Okay, we’ll be down in a minute.”
“Then we get to watch a cartoon since you’re so slow! Mean Dog is on. ”
“No TV until after breakfast. No Mean Dog, ever,” Regina said.
Going downstairs, they plopped back on the couch. Mean Dog was chasing a small cat into the corner of a yard.
“Here I am, boys. You can help me make the batter.” She was surprised to see the television was on. “I said no TV!”
Davis imitated his mother, “No TV!”
Regina took Jamie into the kitchen. Davis didn’t follow. She returned a few minutes later to find him riveted to the screen. She grabbed the remote and turned it off.
“Come on, Davis! Let’s not wreck another weekend. No TV. You may add the chips.”
“I want waffles, not pancakes!” Davis insisted.
“Okay, honey. Whatever you want.”
Jamie was eating chocolate chips as they walked into the sunny kitchen.
“Jamie, you shouldn’t be eating chocolate before breakfast,” Regina said. She pulled another stool next to Jamie for Davis.
“The egg beater!” Davis exclaimed. “Get me the egg beater!”
“We don’t need it, sweetie. A spoon will do.”
It was Jamie’s turn to stir the batter. While his mother took out the waffle iron, Davis found the mixer, inserted the beaters, and plugged it in. Soon it was beating the air.
Regina turned and grabbed the mixer away. “Davis, I said we don’t need that. It is dangerous to use it carelessly, especially when I’m not really paying attention.”
Tad entered the kitchen, showered and smiling. “Boys, leave some chocolate chips for the pancakes.”
“Okay, whatever. You’ve had enough chips, though.”
Davis threw some chips up in the air, catching a couple of them in his mouth while the others fell to the floor.
Jamie got to crack the first egg and stir it in. Regina saw him licking batter off his finger.
“Once the egg is in, you shouldn’t taste anymore. You can get very sick from eating uncooked eggs, Jamie.”
Tad made coffee and asked the children if they wanted to plant some ferns with him after breakfast.
“Can I have the big shovel?” Davis yelled.
“We’ll see,” his father replied. “I might need to use it, at least at the beginning.”
Davis climbed back on the stool. The batter looked good. The waffle iron was almost ready.
“It’s getting really hot,” Regina told the children. “Please don’t touch it or you might get burned.” She buttered the iron and it sizzled perfectly. She ladled on some batter and closed the top. All eyes were on the timer.
“This always takes too long. Can I take a peek?” Davis reached towards the waffle iron.
“Honey it is almost ready, let’s count to forty-five and then check.”
She got to twenty-two and stopped counting as she poured herself a cup of coffee. In that second, Davis opened the top.
“Listening to us would be such a help. It would be good for you too, really! The iron is too hot. Grown ups only!” As much as Regina tried to keep calm, she could feel fury racing through her. This was an entirely new feeling.
Just then Davis put his finger into the batter, waved it at his mother and licked it. Regina could not believe him. Possibly the most disrespectful child in the world and another one in training, were living under the same roof with her. She felt stunned, as though someone had just punched her in the stomach and heart.
She made the waffles and served them. Davis loaded his waffle with extra chips and a pool of syrup.
“Please, Davis, no more chips. They will make you go nuts.”
Tad put the chips and syrup in the cabinet.
“Hey, no fair, Dad. Give them back!”
“Davis, you’ve had plenty. This is breakfast,” Tad said with conviction.
“Well then plant the dumb ferns yourself.” Davis sat with his arms crossed, glowering and pouting.
“I love these waffles, Mommy,” Jamie said sweetly.
“You were a big help, Jamie. They are yummy!”
Davis put his feet on Jamie’s stool and pushed. It tipped and crashed to the floor. Jamie got up crying. Regina hugged him, while checking for damage.
Tad acted quickly, yanking Davis out of the room and into the den. “This is just too much! You sit here and think about what you just did.” Tad couldn’t believe how terribly Davis had behaved. How had he gotten so out of hand? He and Regina were to blame too; he knew that. As Tad knelt down to look into his son’s eyes, Davis flicked the remote and cartoons appeared on the TV.
Tad took the remote, clicked it and turned his son’s head so Davis had to look at him.
“Sit here until I come back. Do not dream of moving or turning on the TV. I am really stunned by your behavior.”
Going back into the kitchen, Tad said to Jamie, “Please go up to your room and look at books for a few minutes. Mommy and I need to talk. We’ll go outside soon. ”
Tad and Regina looked at each other in sheer amazement. “What are we doing wrong?” Regina sighed. “How did we get these awful kids?”
“I think we may have created them by being too nice,” Tad answered. “We’re always giving in and accommodating whatever they want. We need to be firm, and follow through when they don’t listen to us.”
“Rules… we need a few rules,” Regina added. “Guidelines that we stick with. My mother never would have given me chocolate chips for breakfast. What’s wrong with us?”
For the first time in months they felt a bit more equal to the huge job of parenting.
“We have to be parents,” Tad was thinking out loud. “Not pushovers. Or we will create monsters, absolute monsters. What a disservice that would be to our boys.”
“And to the world! We can still be nice.” Regina said, as if trying to reassure herself.
Tad went back into the den and found Davis looking almost contrite. Tad took his hands. “This can still be a good day, Davis. But you have to want to be better and you have to try. Mommy and I love you very much, but we are not going to put up with your rudeness and bad behavior any more. Ignoring us will not get you what you want. If you don’t listen, you can stay home with a babysitter instead of doing things with us. Understand?”
Davis wasn’t sure, but he nodded anyway. He had had enough trouble for the day.
They all began to plant the ferns. The big shovel was being used by Tad. Davis looked at it, but then took a trowel with a blue handle and dug where Tad showed him. In a little while all the ferns were in. They looked beautiful.
“Now we need to water them.” said Tad.
Davis ran and got the hose. He kept it on low, as Tad asked, and only watered the ferns.
“Very good, Davis,” said his mother. “You are really helping us now.”
Although the rest of the day went pretty well, Tad and Regina knew that the problem was not going to disappear overnight. They had inadvertently encouraged their children to ignore them and do whatever they wanted. They knew consistency would not always be the easiest thing to achieve, and that they would have to work hard at it. They wanted to do that work now. They owed it to their boys. They owed it to themselves, too.
Stay tuned for more of Children in Charge.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
We welcome your comments and questions.