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"Maddie" Is Just Another Name For Nuthin' Left To Lose

Our discipline structure revolves around
the idea of choices and consequences; we’ve taught Maddie
that she has almost limitless choices in front of her, but each
choice has consequences she has to live with. Choose wisely, and
she finds great freedom, for obedience often brings greater joy and
freedom than rebellion (who has the looser curfew – the
sister who’s always home on time, or the sister who’s
always sneaking out?); choose poorly, and the consequence is often
the loss of something dear to her. We’re hoping this helps
her understand how her actions directly affect her happiness level,
to be blunt.

When Maddie is teetering towards
disobedience – say, when she has been told it’s time to
clean up, and she doesn’t stop playing – then we spell
out the choice she is making. “Maddie, it’s time to
clean up. If you don’t clean up and I have to pick up your
toys, every toy I pick up will be off-limits to you for all of
tomorrow.” We try to make the consequence fit the situation,
and make it clear that some of the things she values most –
watching a video, or playing soccer in the back yard after dinner
– are privileges, not rights.

There are, of course, a few privileges that are our standard
“go-to” threats. One of the things Maddie loses most
often is a book at bedtime: we read two books together before nap
and bedtime, and it’s one of her favorite times of the day.
Not only does she love reading, but she loves the snuggling and
transition time together. So the threat of losing one of those
books, or both, is often enough to get her moving.

But not always.

Some days, it’s as if my child has drunk Willful Disobedience
Juice for breakfast, and the whole day is a battle. Yesterday was
one of those days, and at the end of the day no one was left

In Maddie’s defence, I think she’s got her two-year
molars coming in. Add to that the fact that she had a fair amount
of chocolate on Sunday, which is something only doled out in very
infrequent amounts, and my girl was a little off her game. I
noticed she was a bit droopy, and she even asked if she could take
a nap that morning (though I think it was just to get closer to
“after dinner” time, since that was when she got to
have a bit more Easter candy), and tried to be extra patient, extra
doting. But Maddie was just in that groove of constantly rebelling,
constantly saying “no”, constantly refusing to heed me.

By the time two o’clock rolled around, Maddie had lost one
book for her morning nap, one book for her afternoon nap, and her
video for the day. She’d lost toys she’d been playing
with when she refused to share them with Cora, and she’d come
within a hair’s breadth of losing her after-dinner candy but
came to her senses just in time. I was counting down the seconds
until Brian would be home from work so I could turn her over to
him; she and I had both made each other miserable, and I
couldn’t stand to be around her much more even as I ached for
that poor unhappy girl who stood before me. We tried lots of cuddle
time, we took quiet time, she had breaks, we prayed, you name it
and we did it. I longed to call “Do over!” on the day,
but didn’t know how I’d explain that to a two-year-old.

And I was praying Brian would get home soon because Maddie was fast
approaching the point of having literally nothing left to lose. And
then where would I be?

The worst part is how the day ended – and all you
stay-at-homes out there know what I’m going to say: Brian
took over for the evening while I worked with Cora, cleaning up in
her room, and when I came downstairs to wrap everything up for
bedtime I whispered, “How’d it go?”

“Fine,” Brian said, with what I am sure was an imagined
hint of smugness. “We didn’t have any problems at

Isn’t that how it always goes? You spend the whole day with
Damien, sob to your spouse about how you have “Had it UP TO
HERE!”, and walk off knowing that your spouse will suffer for
a few hours the way you suffered all day, only to return and
discover your wild child has grown a halo while you’ve been
gone, making all your complaining and hand wringing seem just a tad
overblown. And all you can think to say to your spouse is a feeble,

“Well, you weren’t there today.”

Listen, I saw my daughter, stripped of her books and videos and
privileges, miserable in a well of her own digging, and believe me,
it was not pretty.

And one last thought –

When I see that poor girl, sitting in a stew of her own seasoning
and unable to get herself out of it, I long for nothing more than
to sweep in and make it better – make her happy again. You
see your child stuck, wondering how to work through his emotions
and come out the other side a happy, well-balanced kid, and want to
say, “Hey, have some chocolate! Then you’ll be happy
again and be able to get over that whole ‘Why can’t I
kick the ball right’ thing!” I watched Maddie drive
deeper and deeper into that pit: saying she didn’t want to go
to the park, even when I warned it’d be too late to go later
if she changed her mind, then hearing her half an hour later beg to
go to the park; or crying that she didn’t want to eat a
sandwich just because it was the first food I suggested, when I
knew she was starving and loves sandwiches. And I couldn’t
help her slow down or turn off that path, and was reminded of my
mother-in-law telling me something right after Maddie was born.

She said that when your baby is in the hospital, you build an
imaginary fence right around them, tight up around their little
body, and leave that fence there to protect them. Then you bring
the baby home, and your first job, your first charge, is to tear
that fence down and build it back up again, a TINY bit further away
from them. And that’s your job for the rest of your days
– to spend your life tearing down a fence and rebuilding it
further and further out, protecting them less and less.

And there my daughter stood, me on one side of the fence and her on
the other as she struggled to get a hand on her emotions and
actions and I had to – I know I did – do nothing but
watch and enforce the consequences of her choices – to keep
that fence strong even while I gave her space inside that fence to

Miserable though it made the both of us, it’s the best gift I
can give her right now.


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