“Mommy?” It was my two-year-old daughter’s voice. I heard her when I went up to bed.
She was sitting up in the bed, clutching a book. In the dark. Two or three hours after I had put her to bed. This was the same book she had asked me to read at bedtime, when I had refused on the grounds of it getting late and having already read her another book.
I was stunned by this child’s endurance. My husband was impressed with her tenacity. I told her it was way past time for her to be asleep, and she — incredibly — asked me again to read her the book.
I was not in the habit of negotiating with two-year-olds. We looked at each other, me with my offended parent sensibilities, she with her offended toddler ones, while I tried to decide on an appropriate course of action. I could absolutely not read her this story. Reading the book would indicate weakness, a small opening which she would surely exploit, over and over, until I was only nominally the parent and she would be in charge. I have seen these parents, the ones who impose no restrictions or rules on their kids. I have seen those kids, too, and I don’t like them. My daughter would not be one of them.
Just as I was bracing for the coming battle of wills, my husband said that this sounded like me, my mother,* and the eggs all over again.
I am six years old. I am alone at the table, facing down a cold, congealed fried egg. It had been hot when it was served to me. I don’t like eggs. Just the smell makes me gag. I have eaten the sausage, the grits, and the cinnamon roll. My grandmother said that the first time she fed eggs to me as a baby I spat them back at her, and she never tried it again. My mother insists that I eat the egg. She and my father have left the table. I bury some deep in the trash so that she won’t see what I did. A small amount over a couple of hours, not enough to be suspicious, but enough to get me excused from the table. This is repeated on Sundays over several months, until my mother gives up. I turn out fine.
I opened my mouth to disagree with my husband. My righteous parental ire wanted to insist that this was a completely different situation, but I knew it was not. Parents aren’t always right, and we have to work with the child we have, not our vision of what the child should do.
I sat down on the bed. “Ok, sweetie. Give Mommy the book.”
My daughter is turning out fine.
*My mother is a lovely person. She now claims no memory of these events.