A life-long principle revisited.
I just noticed I had about 50 "draft" posts, never published, going back a long time. I've been deleting most of them but here is one from ten years ago that I still kind of like. Maybe I didn't publish it because it sounded too self-congratulatory. Or maybe I didn't publish it because I was feeling guilty that I didn't let my kids whine. Can't remember.
I came home last evening from a squirrel run - this most recent squirrel, the 9th to be deported, now resides across from the Hillsborough Goodwill - to find Zed babysitting his two little half-brothers in the little shack near my driveway.
Avi, the elder, was demonstrating devastatingly subtle pingpong moves; David, the younger, was glad to see me and commenced happy excited babbling about whatever. It was a splendid scene.
I love when the halfbrothers come to visit: when they're cute, I enjoy them, and when they're obnoxious, I insist that they leave. They're demanding, articulate kids, used to getting what they want. My kids and I call them the young Dauphins.
They are both also champion whiners - or whingers, as they say in England.
David, who's three, is a particular master of the art. When I call Zed over at his dad's house our conversation is often accompanied by the music of David going on about something in the background. He has a perfectly calibrated routine, like Ravel's "Bolero" only arriving at the fortissimo section much sooner.
His tired parents, when they don't have the stamina to endure his going through the whole form, usually fold and accede to his wishes before he reaches the crushing, crashing finale.
David tried initiating the form with me last night. He wanted, oh I can't even remember, and he brought the nasal warning tones into his voice.
"At my house, there is no whining or nagging," I told him calmly.
We had a little discussion about it. "Do you know what nagging is?" "At my house, I'm bothering my parents about a new bike," he confided. I told him when my kids were his age, the rule was, "Anything you whine for, that thing is a thing you're never going to get." So, I suggested, "You have to use a normal tone of voice if you want to talk to me."
He thought about it for a while and then resumed where he had left off. When the volume of his keening refrain hit mezzo forte, I said, "You can go sit on the stoop outside until you're calmer and can use your regular voice again" and I cheerfully escorted him those five feet to the door and put him on the stoop.
Through the glass door I watched David sitting out there, dignified, with beautiful posture, facing the woods.
Avi was indignant. "You can't treat him that way, he's not used to it."
After a couple minutes I went to check on him. "Are you feeling better now?" He turned and made an exaggeratedly angry animal face at me, so I said, "OK, come back in when you're calm."
Soon he rejoined us. His face was theatrically sober for about thirty seconds and then he was back to happy chatting. I put him up on a chair at the ping-pong table so he could try hitting the ball a bit, and the rest of the visit was lovely, cut short only by the unexpectedly swift arrival of bedtime. "It's a good thing I brought a flashlight," David announced gravely, and off they went.
Zed came back later and said, "I've never seen David do that! It was a miracle!" I reminded him (I'm sure he's heard it way too many times) that when he was a little tyke "What you whine for, that thing you will never get" was the operative principle.
My dad was a tough man, an austere Pennsylvania Dutch farmer's son. He went off to war when he was 17, he was shot almost dead on a battlefield in Germany when he was barely 18. He was stoic and wanted us to be the same way; he thought life in the suburbs was too soft, he thought his kids were spoiled. He was embarrassed to be seen with us in front of his stern father when we visited the family farm.
When I was raising my own kids my dad was, in one sense, a negative example: defying his methods, I praised my children often, congratulated them on their victories, and constantly told them I loved them.
However, I do carry his knee-jerk revulsion against whining.
Lately Zed has declassified some early recollections and has revealed things he used to yearn for but not tell me about. It makes me sad: maybe I would have provided them! I guess I didn't make it clear enough that "asking" was perfectly acceptable. This post started as obnoxious self-congratulation - now I'm wondering if I should have been a more indulgent mom.