I met my best friend Jean Walters when she came to work at Pierce College. Her kids were grown; she was returning to the job market. She gave me some of the best advice I ever got about life, kids, you name it.
When my firstborn was 3, Kate and I had a terrible fight. I won, but only because I was bigger. I remember my exhaustion in the aftermath.
“Jean, if it’s like this when she’s 3, what’s it gonna be when she’s 13?!”
“About the same,” she told me.
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“Your 12-year-old is 2, your 13-year-old is 3, the 14-year-old is 4, and so on. Most of the time they act like the big people they look like, then for no discernible reason here comes that 2-, 3-, 4-year-old. Don’t get caught up in ‘what are you doing?’ ‘How many times . . . ?’ ‘You know better.’
“Just deal with the behavior,” she said. “You’ll get the big person back sooner and with fewer hard feelings.” She observed, “Too many adults treat children in ways they would never treat their best friend.” (Or a stranger on the street, I might add.)
As a result, I took a more laid-back approach.
For example: Spring in the Puget Sound region is seldom cold. It’s just wet. John and David (ages 6 and 4, respectively) wanted to go outside. I did the usual parent thing: “No.” But do I leave it there? Oh, no, I have to give a reason, which opens the floor for argument.
“We’ll wear raincoats,” they countered.
“You’ll get your shoes wet.”
“We’ll take them off.”
I couldn’t argue with their logic. They won that one. Two happy boys twirled barefoot in wet grass wearing yellow slickers for nearly two hours singing the chorus to “Singing in the Rain.”
In middle school, John learned that, “Pound for pound, insects have more protein than beef.” Thereafter, he annoyed everyone with that information. A classmate finally said, “Prove it, John! Eat a bug.” So he did, and enjoyed every opportunity thereafter to gross someone out.
The kid-cousins were playing one day at a family gathering. By the way he was moving, I could tell John was stalking a grasshopper. I could stop this, I thought. Nah.
Sure enough: “Aunt Debbie!” screeched my niece and nephew. “John just ate a grasshopper!!”
“John,” I said. “You had lunch. Leave the bugs alone.”
Once they learned he wasn’t in trouble, they were curious.
“What’s it like?” Amy asked.
Striking Timon’s pose from “The Lion King,” John exclaimed, “Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside.”
“Isn’t it gross?” my nephew wondered.
“Only if the legs get caught in your teeth,” he replied. I thought it was funny. The other adults, not so much.
And then there was Sean. If the youngest had been first, he’d have been an “only.” Or dead. He gave whole new meaning to “recalcitrant.” Sean complied with anything he agreed to do. Getting him to agree was the problem.
When he was 3, bedtime went like this:
“It’s time for bed.”
“I don’t want to go to bed.”
“Are you going to stay in bed?”
“Okay,” I said, then pinned him in his bed: one elbow between his shoulders and the other across his rear end.
“GET OFF ME!!!” he bellowed.
“Are you going to stay in your bed?”
“Then I can’t get up.”
“YOU’RE CHOKING ME! I CAN’T BREATHE!” he shrieked.
“If you can scream and yell, you’re breathing just fine.”
“GET OFF ME!”
“Are you going to stay in bed?”
And so it went until he finally answered yes.
Because of my friend Jean’s advice, I didn’t kill him. I can’t wait to tell his daughter all about it.
Deborah Morton is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a corrections deputy at Pierce County Jail. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.