if you're terrifying and you know it

Chicken's been all up in Buster's grill lately, which is only fair because a 10-month-old little brother ranks barely below rabid octopus on the Grabby Scale (named for international child and octopus behaviourist-with-a-u Klapfelt von Dinglepink, known to his interns as Grabby Klap.)

But Buster is just a little dude who wants what he wants when he wants it, and Chicken is a slightly bigger little dude who wants what he wants when he wants it, but also knows the difference between hitting and not hitting, snatching and asking for a turn.

Oy. I feel like this is just the beginning of the Wars of the Duplos. (Other moms of brothers, do not confirm this suspicion, I beg of you. Ignorance is bliss.)

After doing a lot of warning and yelling over the last few weeks, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Yelling isn't working, if we define "working" as "affecting positive change." It is working if we define "working" as "making everyone yellier."

2. Warnings are kind of bullshit at this point.

I'm not the most consistent person in the world when it comes to "is it time for cookies," or "can I watch another Daniel Tiger," both of which I often respond to with "No. Wait... you know what? OK, this time, yes. Or wait. Actually, no. Sorry. No, for real."  But hitting, pushing, kicking, these have been solid red-line never-acceptable behaviors from day one. Warnings? Warnings are for new transgressions. A "warning" is a notification that something is not okay, and he already knows that pushing his brother onto a pile of Legos is not okay. So warnings, for this, are used up. He doesn't get warnings on hitting anymore.

The danger with too many warnings and not enough actions is that your toddler might start to misinterpret your message, or mix up various fairy tales with the important "gentle hands" theme you've been trying to hammer home.

That's what happened to me today.

We were in his room, having a "time-in," and this happened:

Me: Chicken, in this family we do not hit, we do not kick, we do not push. We use gentle hands and feet.

Chicken: I need to get out.

Me: You can get out in 2 minutes, once you're calm.

Chicken: I need to get out.

Me: What kind of hands do we use in this house?

Chicken: Claw hands.

Me: I'm sorry?

Chicken: Claw hands. Like a witch.

Me: (looking at my hands) Is that what my hands look like?

Chicken: Yeah. Like a witch. (Makes claw hands, screeches like a falcon. It does kind of look like me.)

Me: Okay, well, thank you for telling me that. I will make sure to use my gentle hands with you. Now, what kind of hands are you going to use with your brother?

Chicken: Claw... no! Clock hands!

Me: (sigh) Clock hands.


Me: Well... thank you for using your words. That will be good, to use your words with your brother. And in addition to your words, what kind of hands will you be using? Will you use gentle hands with your brother?

Chicken: Probly no.

Me: It's hard to use gentle hands sometimes, when your brother is touching your stuff, right?

Chicken: Yeah.

Me: But you have to be gentle with your brother to show him you love him and that he is safe with you. Hitting hands and pushing hands hurt and scare your brother.

Chicken: Yeah. Like uncle hands.

Me: I'm sorry?

Chicken: Like uncle hands. Scary uncle hands.

Me: (speaking very carefully) Do you have a scary uncle, baby?

Chicken: Yeah.

Me: Who is your scary uncle, sweetheart?

Chicken: Uncle Sam.

Me: Uncle Sam?

Chicken: (points hard at me) UNCLE SAM. WANTS. YOU.

Do not ask me where my two-year-old saw an Uncle Sam poster, or who explained to him that the poster was of someone named Uncle Sam, or who went on to tell him that Uncle Sam was saying "I WANT YOU." But it's there now, his go-to visual when someone says "hitting" "pushing" and "scary."

And you know what?

I get it.

Uncle Sam looks like he's been drinking Fireball and getting fired from his 24-Hour-Fitness-Memorial-Day-Sale-Sign-Twirling job.

He looks like Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino, except instead of befriending the immigrant family he slowly poisons them to death, icing arsenic-laced sugar cookies in the shape of the stars and stripes while whispering the pledge of allegiance.

He looks like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk's alcoholic stepfather who washed out of the Wichita Drum Major Marching Band Academy 20 years ago and now wanders the castle like a patriotic Miss Havisham, slurring Souza marches, taking pulls from a warm bottle of Boone's Farm, and counting down the hours until Jeopardy comes on.

In short, those are some scary uncle hands.

To return to the state of affairs at my house, I have a simple three-step plan for making sure Buster gets to keep his gargantuan pumpkin head intact:

1. Keep Buster away from Chicken with the cunning use of a Jumperoo.
2. Keep Chicken away from Buster with the crafty use of Cheddar Bunnies.
3. Strap them into car seats and drive, just DRIVE, until this phase is over.

And if all else fails, I'll just post an ad on Craigslist for someone to come to my house and hide in the closet dressed as Uncle Sam. Then, I will place the greatest most amazing toy in the world (or just, you know, any toy at all) exactly halfway between the two boys. When Chicken pushes his brother out of the way, I'll put him in his crib for a time-in and say, "I'll be right back." As soon as the door closes behind me, Uncle Sam can push open the closet door and stand in the half-light, singing a little song about gentle hands in a high whispery voice, set to the tune of a scary fucking 19th-century lullaby, while rocking back and forth and maintaining constant eye contact with Chicken over the hellish flickering glow of a candle.

What do you think, like, $30?


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