Stop reading if you’ve never uttered the words, “did too!” (“Did so!” is a valid equivalent.) If you can’t remember, you’re too mature to read any further.
If you’re still reading, you might know what I’m talking about when I confess that I engaged extensively in this guilty pleasure as a child. In fact, I secretly enjoyed baiting my brother and sister with prolonged exchanges of “Did not! Did too!”
I was persistent. At least in my memory, I was often victorious. As every child knows, whoever has the last word wins.
Now that I’m an adult, I know that having the last word is not a correct measure of victory. (Is so!) Being big enough to stop the bickering makes one the true victor. (Does not!) For years, I had done very well operating with this more mature understanding. It all began falling apart for me when I had kids.
I think it was something about the way one daughter exclaimed, “Yuck! I hate frittata!” that first led me to delve into my bag of immature childhood behaviors. I stuck out my tongue at her. (I’m proud to report I did not say “nah na nah na boo boo!”)
I blame my breakdown on momentary confusion. I may have had a flashback of my sister’s face in front of me. Before I knew it, I had to start biting my tongue to control this rediscovered impulse.
It wasn’t long before my husband caught me sticking out my tongue at one of our daughters. At the time, I thought we were engaged in a playful bit of silliness. (Lighthearted arguing. Everyone does it, right?) My husband raised his eyebrows at me, and I quickly stuck my tongue out at him.
Unleashing my tongue was a bit like removing my finger from the dike of immaturity. Other immature behaviors began pouring out, particularly in moments of parenting stress.
At some point in her preschool years, one daughter developed the annoying habit of screeching “get it!” She screeched it if she dropped a scrumptious blob of macaroni and cheese on the floor. (She assumed she could eat it if I would just run and pick it up.) She screeched it if she left a favorite toy in the basement.
The tone of the screech and the demand in the words made my blood boil. One day, I fired back with “You get it!” The verbal volleying began.
Introducing my children to this endless form of arguing was a bad parenting mistake. My daughters rapidly grasped the inherent pleasure of the game. They pounced upon the simple execution. Even worse, they displayed more stamina. In the wrong, immature sense of victory, they began to win.
I became the true, big-hearted victor, nobly stopping these verbal volleys on my side of the court. This mature kind of victory felt strangely like defeat.
At some point, I attempted to make our exchanges more palatable by adding a veneer of politeness:
DAUGHTER: “Get it!”
MOM (smiling): “Would you?”
DAUGHTER (catching on): “No, would you?”
This game of exaggerated politeness sometimes led the screecher to forget about the toy in the basement. A few times, she even relented and got it herself. Still, I knew by the raised eyebrows on my husband’s forehead that I wasn’t fooling him. Regardless of my good manners, I was stepping outside the bounds of maturity.
In the past couple of years, I have given myself some stern talkings-to about childish behavior. (Did not! Did so!) I have largely mastered my impulses to stick out my tongue and to challenge my daughters to endless arguments. (No way! Way!)
I still have a weakness for name-calling, even though I’ve figured out that teasingly calling a temperamental daughter “cranky pants” doesn’t uplift her mood. I also find myself confronting new immature behaviors on a regular basis.
This year, my first-grader brought home the expression “whatever” from school:
Mom: “We’re not going to watch TV until your homework is finished.”
DAUGHTER (rolling her eyes): “Whatever!”
I ignored this at first, until I found the phrase slipping back off my tongue at my children. I began to realize that all of us would benefit from some well-defined rules for respectful communication.
There’s something to be said for an innocent slide into immaturity now and then. More than once, I’ve had to chide my eyebrow-raising husband for hogging one of our daughter’s toys. If he is lured to the crayon or Play-Doh table, he can easily become the most absorbed child there.
The great thing about being parents is that we have this opportunity to regress, and hopefully, to mature again with our kids. If you disagree, don’t bother telling me. I’m covering my ears, so I can’t hear you! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!
Linda Downing Miller is so a writer living in Oak Park. And she has the last word this month.