By: Joan Gross
Parenting can be a mind-numbing,brain-draining, Herculean challenge. But on the bright side, we’re wonderfully free to speak our minds. Of course I have never had to say anything like this to my “perfect” children, but I can imagine other parents saying things, like “You are not leaving the house dressed like that. What street corner were you planning on standing on?” Or, “You only thought you were going to Jim’s party tonight. That was before you brought home your “C” in gym, three “Ds” and 2 “Es” report card.” No tongue biting here.
Now suddenly those children are responsible adults with their own children and I’ve been fired. The proverbial pink slip was never exactly slid under my door, but I feel it, lodged somewhere in the back of my throat.
I watch as my grandson tests his power, throwing tantrums when he can’t get his way. He exercises his vocal cords so ably that I want to run for cover with my impaired hearing before I am deaf! And now my-grown-up-child is caving in to this amateur display of clout. What, I think, will happen when this child takes a stand on something that his parents can’t give in to? That’s when I bite my tongue. When things calm down, I reflect on my own mistakes—different than theirs – but mistakes never-the-less.
That’s what makes tongue biting so difficult—it is the knowledge of and rejection of my parenting and my mistakes.
Of course, it makes for very interesting and sometimes comical drama. I have one grandchild who has been coaxed to speak his mind and he has fallen madly in love with three little words “I don’t want.” I watch the frustration of his parents’ faces as they prepare food for him, the food that he demanded and then doesn’t want because it wasn’t prepared exactly to his specifications. He is three and a half.
He came to me recently and said sweetly. “Please, I want an apple.” I peeled the apple and then cut it. He was outraged. He wanted it whole. He seized the apple and ran to the garbage pail screaming, “I don’t want.” I executed a quick block, but resisted tackling him, and rescued the apple. He took another apple out of the refrigerator and handed it to me. I caved in to his request. I don’t want to fight with my children or my grandchildren and peeled the apple for him.
This child happens to be a delightfully happy child. He dons his Spiderman costume and leaps from tall couch to tall couch bouncing off the cushions and laughing raucously. You can’t help but laugh when you watch him. Until it comes to food, that is. He found and uses the power of his parents being worried that he won’t eat.
This little blip in my visits is annoying but doable. Until one day, after an eleven hour drive to visit him. I pulled into the driveway. He espied me. He gravely looked at me, pointed his forefinger in my direction and said loudly to the babysitter, “I don’t want.” Translation, grandmother, go home. Double ouch. I guess I will have to give in to the whims of this plus three tyrant, bite my tongue even more, enjoy his company, and go home knowing that his parents will have to deal with the tantrums and I can bask in the glory of my children getting back some of what they gave me.
Biting ones tongue does have some perks. Even if my tongue is sore.