Tonight, I was pulling for my kid.

Against myself.

Trish and I were both running late this afternoon, so Trish had the babysitter meet her at a bus stop on campus around 6 p.m. They didn’t get home until after 7, and Ella was tired. She was taking it all in stride, though, and was munching the pizza I brought home. Then she wanted more chocolate milk.

No more, Trish said. Plain milk is fine, but no more chocolate.

In a move remarkably similar to a 2-year-old’s, Ella, who eclipsed the three-year mark weeks ago, gave her little blue cup a good backhand and sent it flying onto the floor.

We got quiet. I started with the “why did you do that?” I keep hoping that one day she’ll provide a rational answer. Trish got into the “you’re going to have to pick that up,” mode when, suddenly, without warning, her plate, with half a slice of pizza on it, received another winning backhand, right into my chest. (I should probably take off this t-shirt now.)

The cup and pieces of pineapple lay strewn across the floor, collateral damage in a parental skirmish.

Pick it up.


Pick it up.

I don’t want to.

You won’t get anything else to eat until you pick it up.

I’m not hungry.

It’s not an option.

Yes, it IS an option.

This is not debatable.

Yes it IS debatable.

Ella, you’re not going anywhere until you get down and pick up your mess.

I’m tired. I’m going to bed.

This was about 7:30. She went immediately into time out, where she stayed until she decided it would be more fun to peek out the windows. Back to time out. You can come out when you’re ready to pick up your mess.

I’m not going to.  I’m hungry.

Pick up your mess and we’ll give you something to eat.

I’m not hungry. I’m tired.

As soon as you pick up your mess you can go to bed.

I’m not sleepy.

Of course this went on for half an hour. Sometimes with more wailing than others.

Finally, Trish gave up. It was just me and Ella. Mano a childo. She sat on the floor and tried to scoot away from the mess. I held her ankle until she pulled out of her shoe. Then the other ankle, the other shoe. She sat there, looked me right in the eyes, through tears and sobs, and said, “I’ll pick it up later. In the afternoon. That’s later. That’s not now.”

You’ll pick it up now. I’m not going anywhere.

She crawled into my lap. We quietly watched a few minutes of ESPN. She was quiet. I thought she’d break. Pick it up. I whispered it.

No. She whispered back.

I moved across the room. She sat and looked at me. We’d exchange a few verbal volleys. She’d sit and stare. I’d think, “she just doesn’t get it. I’m not moving.” And her expression seemed to say, “He just doesn’t get it. I’m not going to pick up the mess.”

I’ve got to say that I’m very proud of this kid. And I’m proud of myself. I could have broker her, of course. I could have spanked her. Or, I could have picked up the mess for her. But she held her ground. Those pieces of pineapple could stay on the floor until the next ice age, which, we all know, ain’t gonna happen, ever.

You should have seen the resolve in her face. She cried. She sobbed. She screamed. But she didn’t give up. Didn’t give in. I thought, her teen years are going to be pure hell. But, nobody’s going to easily talk her into doing something she doesn’t want to do, and that can definitely be a good thing.

At 8:30 I called a cease fire. I told her I’d give her a quick bath, brush her teeth and put her to bed without anything else to eat and without reading any books. We’d resume, I told her, tomorrow morning.

No, in the afternoon.