Forgive me if I’ve already written this blog before, but it occurred to me last weekend as I was telling my 5-year-old for the fifth time that day to “take that out of your mouth” that I’ve been repeating that phrase over and over for almost 30 years. When it comes to parenting, there are lots of subtleties, but most often there are outright commands. It reminds me of what my favorite elementary school headmistress Ella Jane (EJ) Kunkle says to every incoming class of kindergarten parents: “Our job is to civilize your children.” Mrs. Kunkle brings her English bulldogs to work with her. She knows all about civilizing. I adore her.
Originally I tried to make this a list of 10 things I say all the time. But the truth is there are only really five that are essential and incredibly well-worn. They are:
- Take that out of your mouth. You don’t really want the list of things that have been in there, do you? It starts so young…the wads of dog hair and other pet items. Old food. Dangerous items. Toxic items. Poisonous things. Things loaded with bisphenols and pthalates and chemicals. This weekend it was a Polly Pocket Mermaid with Sparkles. God only knows what toxins are in that thing and where it’s been…
- Wash your hands. With soap. The stickiness. The filth. The germs. I comfort myself with the knowledge that studies have shown that a generous exposure to germs builds strong immune systems but still…good lord, those little hands can be a frightening sight.
- I’m counting to three. One…two…Now I’ve written about this one before, I know, and some people said it didn’t work for them. It works for me. I have NEVER gotten to three. The trick is in the combination of deadly menacing voice with Merlin’s mesmerizing eyes. Think Clint Eastwood combined with, well, Merlin. I’m sure there’s a Harry Potter character that is like Merlin but I know Merlin best. The other trick is to dole out the punishment before you get to three. Never SAY three. Just say, “That’s it; go sit on the naughty chair” or whatever your favorite punishment is.
- Five more bites. I don’t know why but five works for my family. Sometimes it’s the only food they get in their mouth the whole meal. In which case, five seems to be enough to keep them well nourished (although not necessarily tall). The goal is to get them started eating so that suddenly they forget why they didn’t want to eat and just keep on eating. But if that doesn’t work, five is enough.
- I love you. It never gets tired. We never hear it or say it enough. This past weekend I took the little one to a real ballet. She’s been leaping around the house and taking an after-school ballet class. It was a risk taking her to the American Ballet Theatre performance in New York City. This was no nutcracker. It was the real deal. Modern. Intellectual. Powerful. Halfway through the second dance, she turned to me to say something. I thought she was going to tell me she was hungry or had to go to the bathroom. But she whispered “I love you so much.” My heart melted.
That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we say all those other things over and over again. We want them to grow up safe, healthy, and civilized enough to know that the best thing of all is love. To love and be loved…and being loved the way we want to be loved is the best of all.