What About the Wheel that Doesn’t Squeak?

Stump, plotting world domination in his sleep.

Stump, who will turn two-and-a-half next week, has become a tyrant, and I am afraid of him.

If you sit on the left side of the couch, he will point at you and scream, “That’s my spot!”

If you sit on the right side of the couch, he will point at you and scream, “That’s my spot!”

If he wakes up in the middle of the night, and you crawl into his bed to comfort him, he will kick at your legs and tell you, “Go away!”

When you get out of bed and step towards the door, he will cry, “Mommy, no go!”

In the morning, when you’re making pancakes, he’ll get excited and want to help. He’ll grab a wooden spoon and stick his fingers in the batter. When you go to pour some on the pan, he’ll shriek, “No! No cook it! I like it cold!”

He will say the same thing about frozen tacos.

When you are trying to write an email, he’ll sit in your lap, cuddle sweetly, and ask to see pictures of sharks. When you bring up a picture of the ocean, he’ll point and insist, “Go there! Go there!” and then he will collapse against you in tears because you cannot transport him into your computer monitor.


All of this puts Smoke, my going-on-seven-year-old, in a somewhat precarious position. “Not you too!” I find myself saying to Smoke any time he gets dramatic or pouty. Because Stump’s demands are impossible to meet, I call on Smoke to be easy. For the most part, he complies.

When he whines that he’s hungry I say, “Get yourself a snack—you’re capable!” and then he does it. When he cries over a lost Lego piece, I say “I’m not helping you find it until you calm down.” He takes a breath and wills away the tears.

I’m not sure how guilty to feel about all of this. I value the skill of self-containment. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I wanted Smoke to have a sibling in the first place—I wanted him to have the companionship of siblinghood, but also to learn the challenges of deep sharing, of splitting the resources of time and attention.

But there is another part of me that wishes I could create a force field around my older son, or that he could get vacation from siblinghood, from sharing, from being told to control his behavior because he’s the one who knows how.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor right now there’s no force field and no vacation, but the jelly bean jar is coming in handy. Originally, I created it to help motivate Stump to learn use the toilet: a jelly bean each time he tried. Smoke (who of course has been diaper-free for years) would also get a jelly bean for using the bathroom—the idea was that Stump would see his brother earning treats and imitate him.

But so far it hasn’t worked out that way. So far, Smoke pees, and then asks me for his jelly bean while Stump is busy tearing up some other corner of the house. So basically I’ve created a system to reward my almost-seven-year-old for continuing to use the potty.

I’ve decided this totally works for me. Because in the end I think Smoke totally deserves a reward for being the one who can control his elimination needs, the one who can share the couch, who understands that frozen tacos need to be heated, and who accepts that you can’t always get what you want.


  1. We went through that with the boys. Gabe has always been focused on justice and fairness, so he tries to ensure that he and Gary have everything split up the middle, especially chores. Edward showed him two cups, one bigger than the other, and measured out the same amount of water into each of them and asked which was more full. Gabriel is the big cup, capable of more than his brother. He seemed to get it.

  2. So appreciate your stories of conscious parenting- not saying that to put down any other kind of parenting style or imply that anyone is unconscious – but I just meant to imply your deliberate tuning in and responding from the subtext. As an older sibling who encountered a similar dynamic with her younger sister, I am very much in favor of Smoke getting rewards for what it takes to be the big brother! 🙂

  3. Ah, I totally feel for Stump. I think I was a Stump in a household full of Smoke, Smoke, Smoke. It’s interesting though. Things arose that forced my parents to finally see me, somewhat unpleasant things (ulcers and migraines to name two.) Sort of beyond my control, but sort of not. When my easier twin started stuttering and the speech therapist recommended I take just her out for “dates” it broke my heart, but I totally got it. She needed to get attention just like her slowpoke brother. Almost impossible to juggle, but still, invaluable. May I recommend a quick date for jelly bean boy? Think of it as preventative medicine. Or a sweet break for you.
    Beautifully written, as always, and a good reminder to reinstitute our own preventative medicine.

    • I skipped out of work early to bring him to Chuck E. Cheese this afternoon. We played skee ball and hit a screen with plastic mallets. I’m thinking this could become a regular thing.

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