A Very Public Five Count

Mark Parenting, Popular 30 Comments

I’m not one for judging other peoples parenting skills. Well, how can I when as toddlers my boys could turn any public space into a thrash metal moshpit of despair at the drop of a hat … or glove … or raisin.

I’ll always remember one such occasion in a supermarket when a lovely old lady walked over, looked down at Sonny spreadeagled beneath the magazines, then back up at me and said,

“They can be little shits can’t they!”

Words I never would have imagined coming out of her mouth, less still,

“You know, most angelic toddlers turn into teenage pricks. Trust me, it’s so much better that they get their tantrums out of their system early.”

She then crouched over Sonny,

“Right young man, are you going to put that comic back and help your dad with the shopping, or shall we leave you here for the bogeyman?”

Whoa, back up a minute old lady. Bogeyman? I was saving that terror for when he was older. Like he wasn’t already going to have nightmares of a strange old lady towering over him?

But it was what she said next that has stuck with me.

“You might think others are judging you. They’re not. You’re doing a great job and you’re a great dad, don’t ever think otherwise.”

And with that she gave me an uncomfortable hug and wandered off, leaving behind a well behaved if slightly traumatised Sonny and the distinctive smell of cheap port. Oh, did I not mention she may have been a little drunk?

Anyway, the reason I say this is that from that day on I’ve always offered a smile of recognition to any parent struggling with a toddler in meltdown. If it feels appropriate I might offer a word of support, but if not I’ll at least try and ensure it doesn’t look like I’m judging them. Parenting is hard, discipline harder still.

But there is one aspect of parenting I can’t turn a blind eye to. A form of discipline that fascinates me to such an extent that I’m likely to pull up a chair, sit back and watch it unfold. A guilty pleasure that’s superseded football as my spectator sport of choice.

And that’s a public five count.

Maybe it’s because my boys laugh in the face of a five count. They’ve stared zero in the eye with little or no consequence. They know all too well what comes after a five count, and it’s normally another slightly slower five count.

So when I see one played out in public I’m not judging in a judgemental kind of way, I’m judging in much the same way I do when watching The Voice. On performance and stage presence. On holding your nerve and a big finish. From the perspective of a failed five count protagonist in the hope that I just might learn something.

And this week I saw my favourite public five count yet. More gripping than a Scandanavian drama, more tense than a, well, Scandanavian drama.

It began with a loud, almost gladiatorial,

“FIVE!”

Now here spoke a woman with authority. Five fingers raised aloft with the confidence of someone who’d never gone beyond three. In her other hand, a packet of chocolate buttons. Ah, the classic carrot and stick technique. This should be good. I pulled up a chair.

Her son was high up on a climbing frame. He dismissed her five and climbed still higher.

“FOUR!”

The lady sitting next to me saw what was happening too and gave her husband a nudge, knocking a chicken nugget from his hand. No eating in the auditorium, apparently.

“THREE!” she boomed, with not even the slightest quiver in her voice. Surely she was regretting making this so public, he was still climbing!

“TWO!”

Whoa, that was quick. Isn’t the move from three to two where you slow it down a bit? Buy yourself some time? What the hell was she thinking, he was still on the up.

By now I was getting nervous; for both of them. The audience had grown still further, young and old alike, all with a vested interest in the outcome.

This was no longer a stand-off between mother and child, this had ramifications for parents and children the park over.

Undaunted, she took a bold step forward, and in her loudest and most self-assured voice yet, shouted,

“ONE!”

He wasn’t coming down! Granted he wasn’t going up either, but even with a sudden change of heart there was no way he was making it back on a one count.

She’d blown it. There could be no winners from this point on. As every parent knows, there’s no place for over confidence in a public show of discipline. So I sat back and awaited the inevitable extra time and fractions.

There were no fractions. Far from being finished, she upped her game still further. Picking up his teddy from the pram, she hung it over a bin. Smart move. I’d never seen a child move so fast, and I’ve seen my boys feet barely touch the ground when I’ve suggested their brother might be about to eat their sweets.

“ZERO!”

Eh, what? Zero? Is there a zero? If there is I don’t think I’ve ever heard it uttered in public before. By the look on the other kids faces, neither had they.

He was only yards away. He couldn’t run any faster. You could sense the crowd willing him on and I desperately wanted to jump from my seat and yell ‘run boy, run!’

But it was to no avail. With the teddy still perched perilously over the bin, she slowly tilted her head back and poured the entire bag of chocolate buttons into her mouth in one go.

“That’s what happens at zero”, I heard the lady next to me whisper to her shell shocked daughter.

And that’s how you do a five count properly, I thought. Carrot, stick and consequences. All this time I’d been missing the consequences bit. Always going with empty threats when it should have been empty packets of chocolate.

Like someone who’d just missed their last train home, the young lad let out a resigned sigh, slouched into his buggy and off they all went. Clearly this wasn’t the first time it’d happened. Clearly he knew what the consequences would be. Imagine that?

My only disappoint was that Sonny and Luca had missed it all, which was ironic given I’d shouted them numerous times to come and get their drinks. If only I’d used a five count. You know, one of those proper ones. With consequences. And authority.

 

* And just for the record, I don’t really watch The Voice. No, honestly I don’t. The last four six weeks are just an anomaly.

Comments 30

  1. Oh my goodness, she did that?! Wow, hats off to her. The countdown doesn’t work on my daughter either. I once witnessed this too when we were on holiday in France. This fashionable French woman did the countdown and when she reached trois, I’ve never seen a woman in heels run that fast towards her I’m guessing 4-5 year old son who burst into tears as soon as he saw his mum running towards him 😉

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  2. Ha! Just wait till you have two try doing it on a mobile phone, or to a stroppy teen who is taller than you. (For future reference, don’t try it in either of these scenarios. Doesn’t work. If you think they don’t take you seriously now…)

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      I miss those days. My two were quite obedient when they were toddlers, not quite sure what happened, although worryingly it does seem to coincide with me becoming the stay at home parent?!

  3. This is absolutely fantastic! It is so true, the slower count down after the first, when they have looked at you like a sullen, cocky teenager the first time. And you are so aware of everyone around you looking, waiting with bated breath for your reaction to it all.

    God I love parenting…!

    x

  4. Another little side note, I submitted your page to Stumbleupon after reading (yep, I loved it) and the suggestion for category came up as horror movies, not sure if that relates to the bogeyman or parenting! xx

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  5. That old lady sounds fab. Toddlers are quite rude and unreasonable little people but her description of teenagers is priceless. I don’t do the count to 5 drama either but I admire this lady for her approach, and she got the chocolate.

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  6. This is hilarious! I was actually gripped to find out what happened at one (or zero) … Downing the bag of chocolate is the best consequence! I haven’t used the countdown yet, but with our toddler nearing two I can see it happening soon.

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  7. Haha this is great i am guilty of not following through on concequenses sometimes, but with a big age gap between my first and second child we are only just getting to this stage with the little ones.

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      Will be fascinating to see how differently you approach it with your second child. My two are too close together in age for me to have had the time to learn from my mistakes, instead just repeating them again and again.

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  8. Excellent post!
    The old girl sounds a legend and hats off to the mother who knew how to work the countdown. There HAS to be consequence or your kids will own you FOREVER. I didn’t have the luxury of the countdown as a kid- Ma went from ‘Do as you are bloody well told’ to ‘BED!’ at which I rapidly shifted…
    Good to see this blog is getting recognition as it’s one of the funniest and best written out there. Good on you sir!

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      Thanks Tracy. I’ve toyed with the ‘straight to bed’ threat but it’s often been too close to bedtime for him not to see it as a way of getting out of having a bath.

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  9. The countdown never works with my my three year old boy, he laughs in my face. That old lady you encountered was a beacon of wisdom!

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      She was, although what I really took from the incident was when they finally move out I can get drunk at 10am and still be seen as a sweet old man!

  10. EXCELLENT post Mark – i was transported right there and could even taste those chocolate buttons. Maybe because i actually was eating chocolate. Thanks for reminder about authority voice. I’ve become so lax over the years, son is chivying me out of the door to school some mornings.

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