Pick your battles, they say. Only spend the time and energy on the conflicts that truly matter to you and let the rest go, they say.
Well, since having children I have learned that, like Luke Skywalker, sometimes you stumble across a couple of droids, the battles choose you, and you have no choice but to engage or be overrun. I cannot always pick and choose my battles. In my house, these “battles” take on various shapes and sizes: to shampoo or not to shampoo, which shoes can be worn and which cannot be tolerated for a single second, and which Disney character is the right one to make a bandage truly effective. And of course, there is Battlefield Food. If only I could understand why toast with butter is delicious one day and then clearly poison the next!
These daily battles are sometimes small and sometimes big, but they always contain more drama than I can fathom. I try my best to be diplomatic, for these issues may actually be important to my children, and I do not want to dismiss their concerns simply because I don’t share them. But, the conflict exhausts me and wears down my patience. I find myself becoming shorter tempered and having to dig a little deeper with each new absurd encounter. And I never would have thought that, with all that comes with being a parent, it would be yogurt that broke me. A cultured dairy snack brought me right up to the edge and then pushed me over into the waiting abyss of “Mommy’s-way-over-it-land.” Here is my story:
It was after school, time for snack. After arguing the reasons why leftover Halloween candy is not a healthy choice for a snack (at least not for small children; for mommies, it’s totally fine…), we settle on a slightly healthier yogurt option, the kind that comes in a plastic tube, making it simultaneously easier to eat and easier to squirt on the floor. And this is where the battle began. Shots fired:
Child A: “I want the one with the girl lemur on it!”
Child B: “Nooooooooo! I want the one with the girl lemur on it!”
I was astounded at the level of importance my children assigned to which stinking lemur was on the outside of their yogurt tubes. I was also mildly impressed with their zoological knowledge of small primates; I’m not sure I would have grasped “lemur” at age three.
Anyway, I digress…
So, fine. Everyone could have their stupid yogurt tube with whichever stupid animated prosimian they wanted. I opened the fridge: Only one tube left. For two children. To share. This was bad news, but not insurmountable.
I quickly started to assess my exit options… Do I say we are out of tubes? Say they can share the one tube, maybe in two bowls or maybe in one bowl and one tube, or…or…CRAP. None of that will work, not when my gremlins are hungry and tired after school and already fired up from the skirmish about not being allowed to eat candy all day long. How can I diffuse this situation before it goes nuclear? Any other yogurt options available? Yes! Huzzah! Some vanilla Greek yogurt hiding in the back behind the expired hummus! OK, how to sell this…
And I thought I had it:
“All right, ladies, exciting news! One of you can have the coveted yogurt tube…”
“Me! Me! I want it!” said the both of them.
“And the other one can have—wait for it—vanilla yogurt…”
“Nooooooooo!” they both started to whine.
“…with sprinkles!” I finish with a smile.
And this is where I think I black out a little. There was a whirlwind of chattering and whining, and when I came to again we had come to an agreement of sorts. To the best of my recollection, the treaty laid out the following:
Child A will agree to have the yogurt tube, if—and only if—it is squeezed out into a blue bowl. If no blue bowl is available, a purple bowl may be substituted, but only if accompanied by a blue spoon. Child B will concede to eat vanilla yogurt, in a green bowl, but being suddenly disgusted by the idea of colored sprinkles, demands a substitution of mini-chocolate chips on her yogurt instead or the deal is null and void.
I vaguely, with trepidation, agree to this arrangement and head to the kitchen to make it so. No blue bowl, no green bowl, no blue spoon. No chocolate chips. For fox sake. Panic begins to rise up from my toes, and I wonder if 2:45 P.M. is too early to shut myself in the bedroom with a bottle of wine.
But then I shake it off. It’s just yogurt; they are just testing their limits, and my limits, and feeding off each other’s tenacious ridiculousness. I put the vanilla yogurt in one bowl, grab the tube and a second bowl, and head to the table.
“OK, here is your vanilla yogurt in a bowl, and here is your yogurt tube. Do you want me to squeeze it into the bowl, or would you like to do it?” I ask this time because I try to learn from the mistakes of my past.
“I want sprinkles!” whines Child B.
“But you just said you didn’t like sprinkles today.”
“I do now!” Child B explains.
“That’s not the girl lemur!” whines Child A. “I don’t want the yogurt tube!”
I kind of go outside myself, watching, like a reality TV show of absurdly over-privileged celebrities. Which character does that make me, I wonder? There is whining. There are tears of misplaced injustice. There are accusations made. This is just yogurt, right? Did I miss something here!?! I feel myself about to lose it.
I take a deep breath and back out of the room.
Do not engage, do not yell, do not engage, do not yell…
I somehow make it into my office and close the door the best I can around the fallen coats and school bags. And then the dam breaks and I am sobbing. Hot, wet tears of exhaustion and exasperation pour out of my eyes. And I can’t stop them. Stupid yogurt! The near constant struggle to “keep my cool” in the face of fallacious reasoning and absurd, impossible-to-fulfill demands (like making fruit gummy snacks appear out of thin air) finally gets to me. It was the yogurt tube that broke the camel’s back, as it were. And, if parenting were like any other job, in that moment I would have been damn near to giving my notice. This kind of workplace environment is hard on a gal some days.
But at the end of my shift I count up my tips and feel justified in not walking out. In this “profession” I’m tipped out in sweet little girl hugs and kisses, a sense of hope that my kids might go out and make the world a better place, and hopefully, someday, with a totally cush retirement home.
My kids possess personality traits that will, I hope, serve them well in the future. They don’t back down easily, they know what they want, and they are willing to fight for it. I don’t want them to lose any of that. However, I would love it if they made an exception for me from time to time and show a more compliant, cooperative side for Mommy. I’m fairly confident that their logic and reasoning will improve over time, but for now I must find a way to deal with the frustrations of arguing with “crazy.”
After my tears finally stop, I go back to the table, clear away the uneaten yogurt, and sit on the couch with my children to watch cartoons and ask about their day. And, in the back of my mind, I start to prepare for the next battle of wills: Dinnertime.