The promise of a bus hunt
The time has come to call upon that age-old parenting tactic: bribery. Now that Oliver has the language skills to articulate what he does (and, more frequently, does not) want, I’m left scrambling — and begging — for him to listen at the beginning and end of our days. To not be late for work, I must coax my son out of bed, get him downstairs where his sister is captivated by “Sesame Street,” into his shoes and out to the driveway. This can take 20 minutes, at least.
Once we’re outside, I repeatedly ask him to come over so I can lift him into his car seat: a Herculean task if ever there was one. Ollie is the king of stall tactics, so he suddenly has an interest in everything from the garden hose to weeds to airplanes overhead in an attempt to . . . well, I don’t know. Distract me? Prolong the inevitable, for sure.
I’ve had to go into Mean Mommy mode a few times recently because the kid just does not listen. It’s like I’m talking to one of his stuffed elephants for as much reaction as I get. Actually, the elephant would probably be more responsive; it plays “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” Loudly.
This all makes me feel terrible, of course. Though he loves his babysitter and friends, I’m still hustling him out the door at sunrise with agitation radiating from my pores. My husband and I have been trying to get up earlier so we’re both less rushed in the morning, but that would mean the first alarm going off at 4:30. That’s with both of us working in Southern Maryland. Imagine if we had to get into Washington?
Few people in our area are strangers to the awful commute, and I grew up with two parents regularly making soul-crushing drives. I remember thinking that my mother — who now schleps to Northern Virginia from Waldorf — had to be a zombie person leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. I used to get up with her to say goodbye, then go back to bed for a little while longer. As the old family story goes, I once crept downstairs and looked at her with pitiful toddler eyes. “Mommy,” I asked, “where do you go in the night?” Heartbreak. Oliver once skipped to the car, loving the excitement of our daily travels, but has become more ornery in recent months. Now that he knows exactly what I want him to do (walk), he finds it hilarious to run away from me. I threaten to carry him if he won’t use his own legs, but Ollie would prove my threats idle every time if I didn’t muster the strength to follow through. And before coffee? Well. The only method to speed our feet-dragging every weekday seems to come in the form of flat-out briber y.
“Ollie,” I start, always in my singsong voice, “if you get in the car, we can have your muffins.”
The miniature chocolate chip pastries get him every time. This appetizer to his actual breakfast is one of my more effective offerings.
“Ollie!” I call. “‘Sesame Street’ is on! Don’t you want to watch Elmo? If you come watch Elmo, we’ll get some apple juice.”
Best used around 6:30 a.m., when I’ve set Hadley up with her new favorite show and cranked it just loud enough for Oliver to pay attention to it upstairs. Curiosity will get the better of him eventually.
“Oliver,” Spence will say, “if you finish your chicken, we can drive to the playground.”
Or, more recently, we can kick a ball around our own yard. Getting to an actual playground can be a touch ambitious.
Reasoning with Ollie through the concepts of cause and effect has been interesting. At some point, he became the calmer child; six-month-old Hadley is another column. He’s really starting to get that if he follows directions now, a benefit will come later. And that’s pretty cool to see.
Of course, he often decides getting into his own antics is more fun in the short term — so we dig around for whatever shards of patience Spence and I still possess and try to balance letting him have fun against driving everyone crazy.
I pull out all the stops each morning. Tractor videos, muffins, milk, talking to baby (he’s warming up): whatever I can offer to get him downstairs without me having to haul him there like a screaming, hysterical sack of potatoes. Life just goes so much smoother when he thinks it’s his idea, you know?
My bribes lately involve school buses: the search for them on our morning drive, especially. We’ve taken to counting the big yellow buses on our way to the babysitter’s, and enticing Ollie into his car seat with the promise of a bus hunt is something I feel only slightly bad about doing.
I mean, we see buses daily; it’s not like I’m lying to him. Except when I forgot it was Fair Day Friday and all the usual vehicles were “sleeping.”
On a normal morning, however, we pass at least a dozen.
“See? See?” Ollie shouts from the back seat. “Ooh, big school bus! Yellow bus! Mommy, see?”
It’s the little things for kids, you know? Little things like promising rides on his sitter’s foot-powered tractor and sharing her toy school bus — but only if Ollie goes inside. That? That gets him moving. Finally.