Never Do That Again: A Pondering on Threenagers

Never is a big word, friends. I try not to use it. Its permanence and irretrievable negativity make me nervous. But the one time I do use it, I’m okay with: Never do that again.

 When I’m talking to my daughter, and she does something that scares me, hurts me or someone else, or is just plain offensive, I tell her to never do it again. And then I explain why.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, we were meeting some friends for lunch at our favorite bagel place. I had parked and gotten the kids out before our friends had, so we patiently waited for them to get out of their car, cross the aisle, and meet us. Well, I was patient. EK suddenly pulled way from me, and ran across the parking lot aisle to be with her friends. AND THERE WAS A CAR COMING. Thank God the mother in the Suburban was closely watching and didn’t hit my kid (maybe because she had had a kid who ran out in the road in the past) but I was frantic. I was angry (about as angry as I’ve ever been) and scared and angry some more. I was obviously glad she was fine, but that almost took a backseat to the fear she made me feel when she pulled her hand from mine and took off.

When I had crossed to her, I knelt down, took her face in mine, and made her look at me. I told her how she should never do that again, because it was dangerous, she could’ve gotten hurt, she scared me, she scared our friends, etc. She knew I was serious, I thought. She didn’t cry, but I could tell by her face she was listening and at least partially comprehending. My heart slowed down a little, and we went and had a nice lunch.

Coming out of the restaurant, we were hugging and high-fiving on the sidewalk with our friends, making plans for the next time we’d see them. We had almost gotten to our car when EK decided to make a second round of running around the parking lot. I ALMOST LOST IT. This time, there was no car, and anger was much more than fear. I finally got to her, pulled her over to the car, and made her stand right there while I put J in his car seat. Then, I made some sort of country threat (straight to my roots in a moment of primal fear) like “I’m gonna tear your butt up if you do that again!” in a way that totally lost its “oomph”. I thought about spanking her right then and there, but settled (wisely) for pinning her down in her car seat, closing the door, and taking a deep breath.

Where had I gone wrong to make her think she could do that? How had I not taught her better? I’m a broken record with the “We always hold hands in the parking lot.” (Note to the mom: Always is a concept much like never. If she doesn’t get one, she probably won’t get the other.) I’ve warned that streets and parking lots are dangerous places and told her repeatedly to be careful. I mean, I’ve literally held J like a football to prevent him from getting to the ground for takeoff. But there was obviously a fail somewhere along the way.

I guess she didn’t understand the concept of “never”. It’s a hard one, to be sure. But she didn’t understand. I was just her mom, telling her what to do, just like 25 other times already that day. Why should “Always hold my hand.” and “Never run from me like that.” be any different? Giant light bulb for me: my threenager doesn’t understand obscure concepts. Duh.

How do I make my threenager understand the difference between something serious and something that doesn’t matter as much? Between something dangerous and something I’d just rather her not do? Tacking “never” on to the front of the sentence obviously won’t do it. It doesn’t hold the weight for my daughter that it holds for me. Why? Because she’s three. I can’t remember that and repeat those words to myself enough. She’s three. She’s only three. It’s because she’s three.

Maybe she’s just three, and I’m just trying to be a good mama.

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