Yesterday, on the drive back from ballet class, my daughter started yelling, "Mommy - Taylor's taking his arms out of his seatbelt!" And sure enough, at a stop sign, I whipped my head back to see his chest and arms free from any restraint.
So I did what any good mom does who fiercely cares about the safety of her child. I used fear to threaten my child back into appropriate behavior. "Taylor! Get your arms back under your seatbelt! If a cop pulls me over now, and sees yours arms out, he's sending me to jail!"
Then it got quiet. Really quiet. I wasn't sure if my threat had worked, so I asked my daughter if his arms were back in - and she confirmed that indeed they were. So just as I was about to give myself a parenting pat on the back for figuring out how to ensure my son never goofs around with his seatbelt again, I hear whimpering noises. Sniffle, sniffle.
"Mommy," Taylor whispers, "I don't want you to go to jail. I would really, really, really miss you."
He really did say really 3 times. And then he started bawling - as if he wasn't going to see me for a very very long time. His sadness permeated the car. My heart skipped a beat, while my stomach churned.
I spent the rest of the drive reassuring him that Mommy's not going to jail. I had no idea that my just recently turned 3 year old would take my threat so seriously - and knew what going to jail meant. I asked him, "Do you even know what jail is?" And he nodded yes.
Did I chuckle when I told this story to my husband? Yes. Did I feel bad that he was bawling in the car as his toddler brain imagined what life would be like without mommy? Yes, very much so. Was I secretly happy that he'd really really really miss me. Yes. Do I think that my threat worked? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not. Parenting's complicated.