Commentary on how kids today are spoiled and coddled became a more limited but truthful account of how I spoil and coddle my kid.
My daughter is not a morning person. Neither am I, for that matter. Both of us have an exceedingly hard time getting out of bed and pretending to be civil before the hour of, say, eight.
Of course I can always part the fog with a large latte or a few Excedrin. She, being six, has no such help. Which is why weekday mornings at our house are so often filled with the sounds of shrieking, crying and complaining.
I’m on the morning shift at our house, meaning it’s my job to work through this daily trauma and get my daughter and her two brothers out of bed, into clothes and ready for school. Thankfully, my two sons are relatively easygoing when it comes to getting up and getting going.
My daughter, on the other hand, greets each day as if were her mortal enemy.
Over the last year or so, I’ve taken a series of steps I hoped would bring some measure of peace back to our mornings. At the time, all these steps seemed reasonable, small changes in our routine that would help my daughter make the transition from hibernating bear cub to attentive, obedient first grader.
But at some point, this routine spun completely out of control.
It started with the soy milk. Believing her bad temper might be a result of low blood sugar, I began gently jostling her awake and immediately offering up a sippy cup of warm vanilla soy milk. She liked this very much, but only if she could drink it while laying beside me for a few minutes of what she calls “tummy time.”
I should explain: my daughter has a thing for tummies. Ever since she was little, she’s had a disconcerting but entirely innocent habit of rubbing the midsection of any halfway-willing adult. One recent Sunday morning at breakfast, I held up a magazine to show my wife a picture of an extremely pregnant woman who looked like she was two weeks late giving birth to a Volkswagen beetle.
From across the room came our daughter’s breathy response: “Ooooh—I would love to touch that tummy.”
Tummy time made everything alright for a while, but soon my flabby middle-aged gut wasn’t enough to get her out of bed. That’s when she began complaining about the freezing conditions outside her warm bedcovers. As I helped her put on her clothes she squawked like a rare tropical bird that had been unexpectedly blown into an arctic storm.
And so I did what I believed any halfway accommodating father would do: before going downstairs to warm up her soy milk, I picked out her clothes and stuck them in the dryer for a quick tumble. That way, after tummy time was over I could hop up, grab her toasty clothes and slip them on as if she was the guest of a deluxe Mediterranean spa.
This pleased her. The howls and squawks gave way to coos of contentment. This new smooth entry into the day left her so relaxed that she couldn’t be roused out of her bedroom and downstairs to the breakfast table.
And so, for expediency’s sake, I began lifting her out of bed and carrying her downstairs then gently depositing her on her chair before a plate of freshly scrambled eggs.
This routine went on for much of this school year, long past the point where I should’ve realized how ridiculous it had all become.
Then one morning a few weeks ago, while scrounging around in her closet for a fleece sweater that would hold the heat of the dryer, I had a moment of clarity. I wasn’t helping my daughter. I was assisting a princess. I suddenly had a vision of myself spoon-feeding her bits of pre-chewed sugary treats and carting her around in cashmere blankets, lest she ever get hungry or tired or in any way uncomfortable.
I wish I could say I immediately stopped all the coddling and instituted a policy of complete autonomy, but the truth is I took it slowly. First I stopped warming her clothes. Then I insisted she walk to breakfast herself. And then, at last, we stopped with the tummy time.
She’s complained a bit along the way, but she understands that the royal treatment couldn’t go on forever. She’ll be seven in August, old enough to deal with cold socks and early mornings and all of life’s most difficult challenges all on her own.