Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hijacked: or, Why I'm a Better Parent When My Hand is Up a Puppet's Butt

Let's face it.  I'm not a very patient person.

Which, as you might imagine, makes having a highly intelligent, verbal, opinionated two-year-old female around you all day a bit of a challenge.

Enter the Plague Rat.

My son got the Plague Rat hand puppet as a third birthday present from his aunt, long before N. was born.  It wasn't a terribly cuddly creature, so like most of his less-beloved stuffed animals, it lived in one of several baskets, making an occasional appearance in home puppet shows.  And to be perfectly honest, we were probably a little embarrassed about it.  What good parent wants her child to become friendly with a plague rat?  Maybe we buried it a bit deeper in the basket than, say, the fluffy elephant, or the furry monkey.

And so it lived in relative anonymity, until my daughter became a curious toddler.  On one of her ransacking missions around the house, she discovered the rat.  And of course, because it's an awkward item, it quickly became her constant companion.  That's just how she is.

She calls it Mousie, which is probably a name she got from me, much as I tend to avoid the diminutive toddler-speak version of the animal kingdom.  "Mouse" is a bit less demented-sounding than "rat" when you're trying to explain that no, your adorable two-year-old is not holding a squirrel, and "Mousie" makes it sound ... almost ... cute.

Little did I know, though, when that creature made its appearance on the scene, how grateful I would be.  Because, you see, Mousie has power.

For example.

My daughter isn't much of a fan of eating.  It's not that she doesn't like to eat, so much that it doesn't really interest her like it interests me, and she wants to do everything on her own terms.  She would snack on Cheerios all day and be perfectly content.  Though she'll eat fruit and vegetables, they're not as high a priority as, say, beans.  Or meals with several different courses.  Mealtimes can be a battle.

"N., eat some more carrots."

"I don't like carrots."  (Which, for those of you playing along at home, means "I don't want them.")

"One more bite."

"No."  (Pushes plate away.)

But.  If if I put Mousie on my hand, and squeak, "N., yummy carrots!  I love them.  Eat another carrot!" my daughter will obligingly pick up the carrot, make comments about its deliciousness, and crunch away with gusto.

Or yesterday, when N. yanked her gaudy pink and purple flowered one-piece bathing suit out of her closet before you could say lickety-split and demanded to wear it RIGHT NOW.  It was barely 40 degrees outside, and though we were mostly done being outside for the day, still: it's March.  Because she was so insistent, and finally asked so sweetly, I caved.  But I also asked her to throw a zip-up sweatshirt over her shoulders.  I had to pick up my son from a play date down the block, so without something else on her under her jacket, I'd have to get her undressed and dressed again.  Not convenient.  She wasn't buying the sweatshirt.

"But N," I coaxed, "aren't you cold?"

"No," she said, certain, continuing her scantily clad dollhouse play without missing a beat.

"How about if we put on this nice pink sweatshirt?"

"No," she repeated.  "I don't like it."

I reached for Mousie, wiggling my fingers into its hands, and waved them to intervene.  "Brrr, N.," he said, shivering.  "It's cold.  Don't you want to put on your pink sweatshirt?  Ooohhhh, yesyesyesyesyes.  Sweatshirt!"

"Okay," she said, amenably, walking over to the closet and holding out her arm so that I could help her.  And then promptly threw herself into a full-body Mousie-hug.  "AWwwwwww, I love you, Mousie," she thralled.

Or today, we wanted to get the kids outside for a walk.  N. wanted to zip her own jacket, was unable to do so, and threw a fit when we zipped it for her.  She was still wailing when I put her down on the sidewalk, and Mousie squeaked "see you later, N! have fun!" from her room.  She looked up, tear mid-spurt.  I asked her what we would bring back from the farmer's market for Mousie; she ceased crying immediately, looked up at me with complete composure, and answered: "applesauce."  Then she waved to our house, telling Mousie she'd be back soon.

I'm not sure how to analyze this. There is certainly something about Mousie that both diffuses the difficult situation for me, and motivates my daughter to do my bidding.  Is it Mousie's high-pitched voice, which appeals to my daughter more, and therefore, she'll do what it tells her to do?  Is it that I am better able to rein in my anger and frustration when I'm speaking Mousieze?  Is it that a neutral figure seems less threatening and more conspiratorial than a parental authority figure?

Mousie makes me a better parent.  It's true, it's hard to scream when you're squeaking pleas in falsetto.  It's hard to be impatient and frustrated when you're concentrating more on making your movements look authentic, when you're covering your puppet-eyes with your puppet-hands in a game of "GAH I can't possibly see what I think I'm seeing."  It's hard to feel rage when your hand is covered in a mass of fur and fluff, and your two year old is gazing sweetly at you, completely in love.

And it's hard to take yourself, and the little things, too seriously when your authority--and your arm--has been hijacked by a plague rat.
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  1. LOVE.

    I am laughing over the idea of her taking instruction from a plague rat.

  2. This is brill. I wonder if she really want to do what you're suggesting but doesn't want to lose face as its YOUR suggestion. I might try this with Mr Stinky . . .

    Loved everything about this post, thanks for the giggle

  3. I totally need a mousie puppet here - for the reasons you say. It's hard to scream when you are speaking in falsetto - props do diffuse any situation - right?

  4. I have a ceramic frog who I named Solenski. He talked in a vaguely Eastern European accent...don't ask me why. He would come over to the kids plates and say things like "Vy ren't you eating those most delicious cabbages? They are so tasty, no?" Then they would eat. My son does it right back to me, now. He says anything he doesn't want to do with his bunny head as spokesman. Bunny head used to be an adorable, fluffy lovey when he was 6 months old. Now it is a bodiless lovey-zombey.

  5. Love this on every level, and may have to steal! Anything wacky definitely helps diffuse the stress---I tell stories, or sing a song, make a joke...but a puppet---that is BRILLIANT.

  6. We use timers when we really have to get out the door at a certain time, or if the boys are having trouble taking turns. They're much more likely to listen to the timer than they are to us. It saves whining and we don't have to be the bad guys. If a plague rat would help, we'd use that, too.


    As a strong-willed mother to a strong-willed daughter, I am thinking I need to find us a plague rat. I wonder if it has a statute of limitations regarding age...

  8. I so enjoyed this post - including your breakdown of why Plague Rat might be so effective. We don't have a Plague Rat, but my 3 yr old does ask me to use my "Sir Topham Hatt" voice when I ask him to do certain things. I think all of your ideas about why it works are spot on, plus the fact your sister bought the kids a Plague Rat puppet (whatever that is) is just plain funny!

  9. Justine, never doubt the power of a rat. Sent here via Richard's post on FB, and I see that we are already connected on Google+--nice to meet you!


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