Let's face it. I'm not a very patient person.
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.
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.
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.
did I know, though, when that creature made its appearance on the
scene, how grateful I would be. Because, you see, Mousie has power.
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.)
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
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."
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.
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.