Is D trying to tell me something?
Having abandoned any attempts at learning how to parent my toddler through baby books, I've honed my own sort of parenting technique: Part Pavlovian rewards system, part random acts of desperation when the situation calls for them, parenting chez moi pretty much involves a lot of bribery and some Oscar-worthy performances on my part as I try to act out the stern disciplinarian.
Diana has realised that she has lots of bargaining chips at her disposal, which include cute smiles, tummy flashing and a quivering lower lip that threatens impending tears and tantrums. Unfortunately Daddy – wonderful as he is – has crumbled in the face of each and every one of D's tricks. Anything D asks for, she gets, times 100.
The other day, Daddy was despairing that Diana had taken, and subsequently lost, his work phone, and after both of us had spent 30 minutes on our hands and knees searching the house for it, I irritably asked why he'd even allowed her to play with it in the first place.
"Because she asked for it," he responded, as if that made for a reasonable explanation as to why you'd give an everyday essential to a toddler who wants to use it for throwing practice. The work phone was later found in Diana's toy buggy; Daddy's dignity, and ability to hold his ground against an 18-month-old, still appears to be missing.
So it is up to me to lay down the ground rules. Here's a taste of my regime. Toddler won't eat breakfast? No problem – that's where the bribery comes in. D likes to read books at meal times (since I have adopted an arbitrary read anytime, anywhere philosophy, I can't fault her for this).
So if she eats five spoonfuls of her Weetabix, which she initially refuses, she gets to hold her book. And then I'll read her the book, giving her a spoonful or two between pages, which magically accounts for all of breakfast ending up in baby's belly (as opposed to Bolshy's, which they'd probably both prefer).
D thinks she's triumphed by having gotten to "play" during her mealtime, but I think I'm the real winner. Conning my kid into thinking a book is the best treat of all (which, I guess, is how I always viewed books growing up), and getting her to eat without resorting to frosting her food with icing is clearly the sign of genius parenting at work. And much as I was against the idea of bribing her - ever, let alone before the age of two - I would rather buy her obedience with The Very Hungry Caterpillar than with chocolate cake or cash.
What I find trickier are my attempts at disciplining D after she's misbehaved. If she hits or throws food or does something she shouldn't, I now send her into a corner. She isn't that reluctant to go, but gradually backs into place, staring at me the whole time as if expecting me to go back on my stern commands (toddlers are especially good at sensing weakness).
Part of me wants to throw my arms around her and tell her I love her so much and don't want her to be scared or upset, while another part of me is urging to hold my ground – this will make her a stronger, better-socialised human being, which is the point. Yet another bit of me is just really proud that someone is actually obeying something I asked them to do (can I get a high-five here?). Mostly I just find the whole situation hilarious.
I ate a chocolate bar for breakfast, I prepared D's lunch while choreographing a dance routine to Man in the Mirror and I just bought D a toy sushi set so I could play with it. I am clearly an infant mentally – so who's fooling who here? Me, a disciplinarian?
But it works. D stands in her prescribed corner, keeping her beady eye on me so I know she's "obeying," while sleazily reaching her hands all around her in search of a toy to occupy her until she is welcomed back from social Siberia. Apparently, you're meant to keep your child in a corner for one minute per year of age, but after about 15 seconds of trying to look away from D, I crumble and welcome her back with open arms.
She is thrilled to make the two-foot leap back into my good graces; she behaves for a while, but inevitably the lesson is never completely learned. I think she's too young. But she does a good job of fooling me into believing whatever it is that I need to believe.
Which, lately, is that my parenting technique is working and my child is happy, well-socialised and not going to be scarred for life because she has a mother who spends her days play acting – as opposed to actually being – the functional parent.