Panic! At the Parental Disco

Last night, Sam didn’t eat a nickel.

It began like this: I got home from doing some shopping with Kat (makeup and books, in ladylike fashion), and as I was taking something out of my pocket, a nickel fell out. Sam seized upon this like a toddler seizing upon a shiny object.


“A penny!” he exclaimed and insisted on this description, despite Kyle and my attempts to correct him. He’s a stubborn kid, that one.

Sam gleefully marched around the living room, showing off his “penny” to anyone and anything within earshot. During one pass, he brought the nickel up to his lips, and Kyle and I immediately pounced. “DO NOT eat the nickel!” we scolded him, and, scolded, he did not eat the nickel, at least on first blush.

(contrast with his usual response to us telling him not to do something, shown above)

We looked away, as we do. As a parent, you look away. It’s just a thing that happens. You turn to answer a phone call or change the channel on the TV or have a conversation. Tragedy can happen in those seconds you look away, and that’s what we thought we were getting yesterday.

“Where’s my penny?” Sam asked at bedtime. He’d developed an astonishing attachment to the coin in the exactly two hours he’d known of its existence. We searched for it high and low, but we didn’t turn up  a single nickel.

“Do you remember where you put it?” we asked Sam, and he nodded.

“I ate it,” he said.


Sam isn’t usually a kid that eats things–any things. I’ve never met a pickier eater, myself included. He shuns most toddler basics–including juice, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese–and picks idly at even the things he does like (including, oddly enough, broccoli and carrots. The kid won’t eat a hot dog, but he’ll go nuts over some broccoli). We’ve tried several methods of getting him to eat more, but no dice. This child eats like a very finicky bird.

On the plus side, this means we almost never have to worry about him investigating the world with his mouth. We’ve had exactly two incidents of this in his three years of life. Once, we came upstairs to find that he’d taken a bite out of his blinds (and promptly spat out what he bit off; I’m really not sure what he was thinking). The other time, while playing with Play Doh, he popped a pretend piece of pepperoni pizza in his piehole.

(prompting protests from precious perturbed pandas)

So we don’t have a lot of experience with him eating stuff, but we do have a lot of experience with frantically googling whatever is going on with him in a bid to figure out what we should do next. Our frantic googling last night taught us that as long as he hadn’t choked on the errant nickel, he had a 95% chance of passing it through his digestive tract without incident. Every link told us, however, that we should be on the lookout for severe stomach pain, constipation, and fever.

Imagine, then, our panic at 10:00 p.m. when Sam woke up complaining that his tummy hurt.


“Where does your tummy hurt?” I asked him.

“Right here,” he said, pointing to nowhere in particular and climbing onto my lap for a hug.

“How bad does it hurt?” Kyle asked him.

“A little bad. Can you read me a story?” he asked, climbing under the covers.

“Is it getting worse or getting better?” we asked him.

“I don’t know. Can you turn off the light?” he continued, his eyes falling closed.

Kyle had entered a parental state of anxiety, and I was right there with him. What if Sam had a bowel obstruction? What if he needed surgery? Mentally, I took a tally of the people I’d have to contact about taking off from work. I’d have to stay home with him, and I’d want to postpone this month’s FET cycle. Kyle and I would have to call our offices in the morning, and then we’d have to call the daycare and Sam’s primary pediatrician. He’d have to change a lot about his life. Maybe he’d have to have a colostomy bag; what an awful thing for a toddler!

As I went through all of this planning mentally–my preferred method for dealing with Bad Things–Kyle called the 24 hour nurse line and continued to consult google. We changed back into our jeans and T-shirts from our pajamas, prepared to drive to the nearest ER if they told us to. At length, the nurses called back and said, “If he’s fallen back asleep, he’s probably fine. Keep an eye on him, and call us again if anything changes.”

Probably fine. Alright. Still charged with anxious energy, we went to bed, but both of us kept an ear turned towards the monitor, certain that at any moment, Sam would wake up screaming in agony. Kyle scolded himself as we drifted off: “I should’ve taken it away from him when I had the chance,” he said.


But the night passed without incident (though not without jarring anxiety dreams). We all came downstairs this morning, Kyle and I groggy and still half-panicked, and Sam cheerful and talkative. I helped Sam to get dressed, tugging on his favorite black sneakers (his Darth Vader shoes). Kyle reached for his own shoes and started laughing.

“What is it?” I asked, trying to wrangle my wriggling toddler.

Without words and still laughing, Kyle held up a nickel that Sam had stored in the toe of his shoe for safekeeping the night before. Sam saw it and lit up. “My penny!” he exclaimed and jumped off my lap to retrieve his treasure.


We learned a lot of things last night. We learned to pay closer attention when Sam is playing with basically anything. We learned to focus on how he’s actually behaving and talking than how we’re afraid he’ll start behaving and talking. We learned that our local nursing team have the patience of saints when dealing with panicky parents.

And most importantly, we learned that our son is a little turd who will 100% say that he ate coins when he did not, in fact, eat any coins.

I Feel You

Sam turns three on May 13, about a month and a half from now. I have a lot of emotions about that and a lot of things to write about that, but mostly right now, I’m thinking about him being a threenager and how we’ve been responding to that.

A lot of his daycare report cards (he gets one a day) have been coming back lately talking about how he’s being very contrary throughout the day, more so than the other kids. This is typical for kids his age, I think; that’s why they call them threenagers. He’s learning to assert himself and his independence, and this often comes across as him absolutely refusing something that he’d otherwise love (see: the other day when he didn’t want a cookie).

(basically the opposite of this)

And when he doesn’t get his way in that regard, or in any regard, he Reacts. On good days, he Reacts with a heavy sigh and a “fiiiiine,” as if he’s thirteen and not three. This is absolutely adorable and I wish he’d do it more often, because the second reaction involves a lot of screaming and crying. Fortunately, that’s the extent of his tantrums, but it’s still frustrating, and that boy can hit eardrum-shattering pitches, let me tell you. 


Every parenting culture has its school of thought on how to handle tantrums. The most popular one I’ve found has been the suggestion that you just ignore the tantrum and let it play itself out. Sometimes, particularly if Sam is overtired or overhungry, that’s all we can do, especially if we can’t really solve the tired or hungry right in that moment. In those instances, which usually happen while we’re out in public because of course they do, we rush through stuff to get him home, distract him with a video, and then once he’s calm enough, either put him to bed or feed him.

Those are the rare ones, though. More commonly, he’s throwing a tantrum because he’s not getting his way, and it upsets him. He’s only almost three; he doesn’t really know how to express how upset he is over the little things without crying and screaming. Not only that, but something that we’d consider trivial (say, not getting to watch The Force Awakens because it’s almost bedtime), he considers monumental because he doesn’t really have a standard for that. Without the life experience to say, “hey, this is no big deal,” all he can do is assume it is a big deal and react accordingly. And to top that off, he’s still learning problem solving; that’s not something we’re born knowing how to do. If he has a problem, it takes him longer to figure out a solution than it would an adult, and then we get more screaming and crying.

And, well. He’s a little young to really grasp the solutions to a lot of his problems. If I tell him, “We can’t watch The Force Awakens now, but we can watch it tomorrow,” that won’t really make him feel better because he only has the barest understanding of what tomorrow is. For an adult, the thought of, “Well, I don’t really have time to do this thing I like tonight, so I’ll do it tomorrow,” is an easy solution. For a three-year-old? Not so much.

So I end up taking a two-pronged approach to dealing with tantrums. The first step I take is to acknowledge his feelings and give them some sort of definition. It’s not even anything complex, just a simple statement, “I know you’re sad because you want to watch The Force Awakens right now. It’s sad when you really want to do something but you can’t.” This accomplishes three things: it gives what he’s experiencing a name (“sad”), it lets him know that I hear that he’s sad, and it lets him know that it’s okay to feel sad if you don’t get what you want.

Because even adults get that way sometimes. I know I do.

(shown: me not getting an everlasting weekend, a.k.a., what I want)

Once I’ve done this, I work with him to find a solution. At this stage in his development, that’s mostly throwing out suggestions for things he can do that will serve as a distraction (“We can’t watch The Force Awakens, but let’s watch a Miss Ro video instead!”) OR letting him know that we can do things after finishing a necessary task (“We’ll play Play Doh when you get up from your nap!”). What I hope that’s doing–but I can’t really know because he’s not-quite-three–is teaching him how to make himself feel better. Distract yourself, plan to do the thing you want to do later, etc. That sort of stuff.

And well. I hope it’s working. I want him to know that it’s okay to feel anything he feels; so often, it seems like our culture tells little boys that it’s not okay for them to be sad or scared. I want him to know that it’s absolutely okay, and that it makes him a stronger person. And I want him to learn how to cope with disappointment in a healthy way rather than a destructive way.

(or like this, because that’s just hilarious)

Check back with me in fifteen years, and I’ll let you know how that all turned out.