March 5, 2013 by mamacravings
“I want cake,” his request was quiet and calm. 2 year-old Eli has only had cake on a few occasions, birthday parties mostly. He peered into the dessert counter. The trays of goodies sparkled. My husband and I looked at one another and nodded in agreement. We would get a slice to share.
Eli sat down at the table with enthusiasm, “O’tay. Where my cake?”
Glances were exchanged between the husband and I. I smiled a bit to largely, a bit too enthusiastically as I oohed and ahhed over his chicken, rice and broccoli. “As soon as you get done with your dinner, we shall have some cake.”
His 2 year-old lip began to tremble. I thought how frustrating it must be to look forward to a treat and realize you wouldn’t get it.
“Eli, you will get cake. Right now it is your chicken, rice and broccoli’s turn. Then it will be the cake’s turn. The cake will wait its turn.”
He shook his head so that his curls bounced back and forth.
I wondered if he understood that he would eventually get the cake. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he’s 2. Sometimes it’s hard to know how he thinks or how much he really understands.
“I. Want. Cake. You said I’s could.”
I explained. I reasoned. But all in circles and not to where he understood.
Crocodile tears began to fall.
I was stuck between feeling dreadful for him, feeling frustrated that he didn’t understand and feeling embarrassed. A grandmotherly lady at the next table gave a disapproving glare over her glasses. I felt my face flush. I became flustered.
We were in the middle of tears and frustrated negotiations. I pleaded for him to listen.
The husband and I looked at one another for a plan. Neither of us had one. He shrugged and half-laughed, “He’s 2.”
I held my 2 year-old’s hand as he cried. I tried to gather my thoughts, to draw upon all of those parenting books I had ever read, to pray.
Quickly, I picked up the cake and asked, “Eli, do you want the cake to go to time-out?”
Eli stopped fussing immediately. My husband raised an eyebrow. I shrugged. I mean, we had tried everything else. Why not?
I wiped Eli’s tears and explained once more, “It’s the chicken, rice and broccoli’s turn. They get to go first. If you don’t let them have a turn, then the cake goes to time out.”
“O’tay,” he whispered. The husband and I glanced at one another again. This was perhaps the most ridiculous parenting technique to try yet. And I’m sure that I had yet to read an article about cake in time out. I wondered if this was terrible parenting or brilliant parenting. I supposed I would find out. I was willing to try. Parenting can be quite the improvisational gig.
I comforted him as he calmed his tears, “I understand how disappointing it is when you don’t get what you want. I get disappointed too. But you are going to get cake. I promised you could have it. You will have it when it is cake’s turn. Deal?”
“‘Tan you cut up chickens?,” he asked. The only sign of his meltdown was a stray tear on his cheek. He was calm. He was willing to give his dinner a turn.
I sighed in relief. I still wasn’t sure if the time-out thingy was a great idea or not, but I was going with it. I was using the age-old and flawed thinking of “Eh. It worked.” A passing waitress complimented what a polite young man we had with us at dinner, “Look at those wonderful table manners!,” she exclaimed. She winked at me as she topped off my diet Dr. Pepper.
Eli finished his dinner…and then part of my husband’s…and then part of mine before he again asked for cake.
Dinner was a success. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t without us all learning a couple of lessons on turns, sharing and disappointments.
In the end, I was proud of my son. He was disappointed, but he was willing to be flexible. He was frustrated, but he was willing to move on so that he could reach his goal.