Monday, April 25, 2011

I pulled this car right over

Recently I relied on that age-old parenting trick for the first time ever: I pulled the car over. It's not something I had ever threatened or warned of, and I did so with no yelling or sudden mom-scariness (perhaps reflecting on my own childhood), but there was L stuck in a bout of impetuous behavior I'd been discouraging for days now, and there was a wide, empty shoulder, and no traffic behind us.

So I did it, and I turned off their CD, and I asked L why she had done the thing she had done. Warily she looked around the car, and at the traffic now passing us steadily on the left. I was amused at how cautiously she suddenly spoke, only to say: I don't know.

When my mom did this to us as kids, I never really understood the punishment. I never cared if we sat in the car longer; she was the one who was always desirous of getting home or to the grocery store or to the awful Carter's outlet where we bought discounted underwear and pulled off the IRR stickers.

Did you wonder why I hate plain white underpants? But that's really another story for another day.

Mostly I just rolled my eyes (subtly, of course) and waited until my mother contrived some reason why our half-uttered mutterances (is that a word? I do believe I just made it up and I do believe I like it) constituted adequate contrition. It wasn't hard to wait her out. But that's the advantage I now have over my own kids. I can wait anybody out (the lovely husband excepted, his Stubborn makes my Stubborn look like a timid little mouse), and there are three of them back there, all breathing in the same panic and hysteria. My brother and I just slumped on opposite windows and ignored each other. My kids don't have that luxury.

G began to cry because he hates when the car isnt moving and E frantically sang lullabies because she tenses when he's upset, and L, stuck in the middle, looked from one to the other and sensed their combining hysteria would quickly win in a battle of wits against her posed-casual obstinacy.

Okay, fine, she shrugged with great exaggeration. I won't do it again, Mama. 

"You won't do what again?" I asked, and made her specifically swear off her inappropriate action.

She did, and I pulled back into traffic. A full fifteen minutes later, one stop sign and one speed bump away from our street, when the incident was long forgotten in the wake of spilled-slurped applesauce (don't ask, but it's as bad as you imagine), a beer-cosy chunk gone missing via toddler teeth, and a massive CD-change negotiation, L spontaneously called to me.

Mama! Hey, Mama!

"Yes, love?"

Sorry, Mama.

The apology was so far removed from the act that I had to question her to see if they were related. She giggled, and assured me they were. Then she beckoned me to look in the rear-view mirror. She had her hand up in the "I love you" formation from American Sign Language.

That's a sign I taught the girls a year or so ago and we flash it like our own private gang sign. So I reached back and waggled my own ILY in her direction. Of late, L's older sister had been pressing her ILY fingertips against mine, as if our hands are kissing. L took it further, L style.

She looked at my ILY and raised her own aloft. As I turned into our driveway with my left hand, she hulk-smashed my right hand with her symbol of affection.

It hurts, sometimes, but I really love that kid. Pin It