Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

November 04, 2001

The Punishment Room

Back when Adam and without child and living like spoons in our condo, we bought some software to design our dream house. This was how we learned we have all the architectural ability of rabbits.

Nonetheless, our pretend house had everything we could possibly have needed: a kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms and, naturally, a Punishment Room.

The Punishment Room was a windowless closet just wide enough for a chair, but not tall enough to stand up in. It was awfully fun practicing lines we’d use to teach our future children right from wrong: Take out the garbage, young lady, or it’s off to the Punishment Room with you!

Now that we have Lucy, I’m starting to realize why Adam and I found the idea of a punishment room so entertaining. We’re both very bad when it comes to maintaining law and order. It doesn’t work on him, and it works too well on me.

When I was about Lucy’s age, all you had to do to make me cry was say my name sternly and glare like the Great and Powerful Oz. My Dad, who glares quite well, once made me cry on purpose, just so he could make a fun home movie. Even today, I hate it when people are mad at me. Almost as much as I hate being filmed.

Adam, on the other hand, is immune to the disapproval of others. He doesn’t see it, hear it, smell it or run screaming from the room when he encounters it.

I’m not sure about this, but it’s possible he owes this quality to his mother, whose mission in life is to improve her children’s lots by channeling Joan Rivers and offering career, fashion and weight-loss advice. I suppose I can’t fault her method. It worked really well for her four children. But I will be sucking in my gut and getting contact lenses before I go to Ohio for Christmas this year.

For these two very different reasons, Adam and I stink at discipline. This puts you in a tough spot when you have a 15-month-old with a huge appetite for dog food.

Up until her passion for kibble blossomed, Adam and I had been teaching Lucy good from evil using the age-old technique called avoidance.

When Lucy wanted to touch the fireplace, we taught her the word “hot.” Now, whenever she seems a coffee cup, the oven or the fireplace, she uses her donkey voice to say, “HOT!” For whatever reason, reporting the facts is enough for her. Who knows, maybe she’ll grow up to be a meteorologist. “IT’S RAINING OUT. AND I AM LUCY BERLIANT. HEE HAW.”

It’s the same way with the staircase. Lucy initially wanted to go down headfirst. Instead of banning her from the stairs, Adam taught her “the safe way.” All we have to do is say, “Lucy, go the safe way,” and she turns around and slides down on her stomach, feet first.

As long as we give her an alternative, we’re in great shape. Some things have no alternative, though. One of these is the dog bowl. What are we supposed to do, say, “Try the water dish instead?” She does that on her own without any prompting from us.

At least 10 times a day, I have to whisk her out of the kitchen and over to an alternative toy. The distraction never lasts. At her first opportunity, she’s back for more brown pellets.

I’ve tried dirty looks. I’ve tried reasoning. I’ve tried yelling, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” I’ve also tried making dog-food-is-gross faces, as well as jumping up and down and waving my arms, in the hopes that she associates eating dog food with me doing embarrassing things.

Adam, meanwhile, has tried reverse psychology: Go ahead. Chow down! If you like it, that’s FINE BY US! The problem is, she does like it. A lot. We’re just hoping the dog food contains some vitamins along with those pig lips and chicken beaks.

One afternoon, I got so frustrated with Lucy that I gave up and got the camera. I photographed her with her face in the dog food bowl. I too pictures of her with brown pellets tumbling down her chin. And I snapped a couple shots of her rinsing off in the water dish.

Years from now, when I look at these pictures, I will look at them as proof of my early failures as a parent. My child eats dog food. I am a bad mother.

But I’m no dummy. When Lucy contemplates a life of teenage hooliganism, I will be ready for her. I’m not promising that I’ll have mastered the art of saying no. But I will have a weapon in my arsenal that will make her think twice about doing something naughty: a stack of pictures of her eating dog food, pictures that I’d love to show all her friends.

It’s no punishment room, but I think it’ll do.


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