Tuesday, May 5, 2009
bubblegum is more than bubblegum
For months now gum has been Frances's shining symbol of what it means to be a Big Girl. "When I get to be BIG I can have bubblegum." It's like a mantra. Anytime we see anyone chewing gum she stares, and from her sitters she demands repeated bubble blowing. I told her she wasn't old enough because, of course, I was worried she would swallow it.
Then last week she found some gum in the house and asked me for it. And asked me for it. And asked me for it. She wanted me to chew it, wanted me to give it to her, wanted to unwrap it and look at it. Finally I thought that perhaps she could indeed chew it without swallowing it, and if she did swallow it then I would simply know not to give her any more. So I told her she could have some.
You'd think I would have learned something from the Big Girl Bed Incident. (She's still in her crib, by the way.) She really needs emotional preparations for these changes in her life. I just wasn't thinking, didn't consider that gum has been THE symbol for her of what it means to be Big. And I don't think it was simply being allowed the gum that was so traumatizing, but also that I simply decided--just like that--to give her some.
There was an abundance of excitement. Oh, the joy. It was great to see that kind of joy.
"Mommy, I have bubblegum."
"Want to see my bubblegum?"
"I'm bigger so I have bubblegum."
"I can show you my bubblegum."
"Do you have bubblegum?"
"Big girls have bubblegum, and I'm a big girl."
"I like my bubblegum."
Not only did I not prepare her for it, tell her that soon she could have gum, have her look forward to it, explain that she's gotten much bigger and can now do things she couldn't before so maybe she's big enough for gum, but I also didn't explain any of the gum rules, which I of course hadn't yet figured out. So that night as we were getting ready for bed she wanted another piece. Just before teeth brushing. We told her no, it was too late for gum.
And there was a meltdown.
I'm pretty sure it lasted more than 45 minutes. At first we tried to explain. We tried to talk with her. We told her we'd be over here when she was done shrieking and we'd be happy to hold her then. She was naked, by the way--we were just getting pajamas on when it started--and twice I tried to get her dressed but man she's gotten big and strong. So I checked my email, checked facebook, read a blog or two. I began to think that we'd just have to put her in her bed naked and crying and let her scream until she passed out. Later I could come in and dress her sleeping. Mitch is great and he sat her on his lap and talked about being a big girl and waiting until tomorrow for more, and he tried to explain the rules for gum. He said that we only got 2 pieces per day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Mitch and I hadn't talked about this, the rules. The next day I stuck to the rules but things were tragic. Bubblegum, bubblegum, oh how she wanted more bubblegum. I was really torn and began to take a poll of my friends--who thought I should have a rule like this, or who thought I should give her 3 packs (or something) and let her chew as much as she wanted until it was gone. In the end I did the latter. I couldn't figure out what holding to the rule would accomplish--it's sugarless gum, and I can't see what it hurts if she wants to chew it all damn day long. By doling it out, did we think we were teaching her temperance? Patience? Delayed gratification? It felt controlling to me--like we were asking her to be someone she's not. That's a bit dramatic, I know--it has to do with the crossroads I'm in with my parenting philosophy in general. I mean, what is my role anyway? In what ways am I trying to guide her? And while I of course want to guide her, I also want to accept who she is--bubblegum obsession and all.
We're near the end of her last pack. I keep it out of reach so Clark won't get into it, which means Frances does have to ask for it even though I give it to her pretty much whenever. This morning when she threw out a piece she'd had in for 5 minutes and wanted another, I pointed out that she only had 2 pieces left. "Okay. I won't cry, Mommy," she said. We'll see. I think she won't, actually. I think she's (finally) prepared.