If there is one thing I am sure of as a parent, it's this: I am not as scary as my father.
Because if I was, my 7-year-old would never dream of saying this:
"I will NOT brush my teeth, and I AM going to watch Spider-Man. And as soon as I come downstairs, you WILL put it on for me!"
Despite never giving in to Ezra's demands and removing anything from his room that holds a charge, the child persists in throwing fistfulls of lip, in a way that would have earned me an eternal sentence in my father's equivalent of the Red Keep Dungeons.
Ezra blatantly refuses everyday requests such as teeth brushing, drum practicing and room cleaning. This past Saturday before a fancy lunch, he practically transformed into the Hulk when asked to change out of his standard uniform of soccer jersey and gym shorts into pants and a collared shirt.
But the last straw was Sunday, when my husband was out on a run and I needed to take Ezra with me to a Hebrew school meeting before picking up my older son. He did not want to go. After repeatedly shouting his displeasure, he emphasized his point by taking 12 minutes to put on socks and then came down the stairs in slow motion.
After grabbing him from stair five and bringing him to the bottom, I took his favorite baseball hat off his head as punishment for his middle-finger behavior. He fell to the floor and started spinning around, howling against my stern command to get his shoes on.
I looked down at my defiant son, feeling serious lurches of "no wire hangers" anger building in my core, and turned around, left the house and got into my very quiet car.
There is nothing that makes me feel more like a failure as a parent than a child who repeatedly refuses to do what I ask. None of my methods were working. Not the shouting, to be sure. Ezra is a boy who just wants to be in charge. This trait will serve him well in adulthood, but it plays badly in first grade and in my house. He has to learn the appropriate time and place to assert himself. So how the hell do I do that?
But before I could even think of a sanction strategy, there he was, standing quietly outside the door with his shoes on, looking sheepish.
Without an audience, he did what I asked. It occurred to me just how much I feed his tantrums with my angry responses. I wondered how things would change if I completely ignored every mouthy retort, turned my heels at every fit. It seems so simple, but I am not programmed to respond that way. My anger takes me over, just as Ezra's fits take him.
He still lost his baseball hat for the day. He got a lecture that I am sure he didn't hear and wasn't allowed to have water ice at the party for the last day of Hebrew school. He'll receive an X-Men comic if he makes it through several days in a row with no backtalk. But I am sure we haven't seen the last of Mouthy McGee. When he returns, I can't make any promises, but I will try my hardest not to feed that beast.