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Vivvi got a mild case of pink eye. I brought the drops home and Vivvi happily let me do the first round of drops—she didn’t know what was coming. The next time, we had struggle and tears. By the third round, this was a two man job. I pinned Vivvi down on my lap and forced her eye open. Husband Wally held the drops, and we tried to coax her to open her eyes. We ran the gamut from gentle encouragement to “Just open your stupid eye so I can put in the STUPID DROP ALREADY!!!”  Her flailing, kicking, screaming, head-shaking, etc. indicated this was not the route to take.

Then I called in the big guns. “Wally Ben!” I said. “Come help us get these drops in Vivvi’s eyes!” He is 5. He is up to my waist. And he is a master in the language of Vivvi. If anyone could get her to do this, it was him.

When I was pregnant with Vivvi, I was sure to refer to her as “his baby.” I think I read somewhere that this keeps the first from feeling dethroned at the arrival of a little one who is, in fact, dethroning him. The trick worked. He has considered her his ever since—especially when she is in a time of need. Even when his affection is undeserved.

I noticed this phenomenon a few weeks back. She’s at the age where we have to punish bad behavior or she will start to run the roost. So when she does something wrong—says “no”, refuses to clean up her toys, talks back (oh man, oh man, she’s already talking back—yesterday I told her to hurry up and she locked eyes with me and screamed an angry “I’m coming!” at the top of her lungs)—when she does these things, we give her a time out. We take away a favorite toy. Or—gasp!—we take away dessert that night. She then unlocks the waterworks.

I have to admit—this crying trick worked on me for a bit. I wrote recently that the girl has me wrapped around her finger. I was falling for this, melting for this. But then I remembered how Wally bit me when he was 3 years old—we had let him think he was in charge for too long. We had let him (and ourselves!) believe that our threats meant nothing. It took months and hours and hours of timeouts to undo it. So with Vivvi, I’ve been thickening my skin ever since I remembered those bite marks.

This plan to properly punish didn’t work for a while because of one thing—the Wally factor. I’d do the taking away of the toy, and the tears would runneth forth. Then, from across the house, like a valiant knight on a quest, Wally would run to the rescue. He’d enter, dismount his horse, and offer a hug of condolence. It was just what she needed, apparently, since the tears would immediately stop when she hugged her hero back. It was a beautiful sight, repeated daily—the punishment, the subsequent tears, the hug from the knight, the “are you okay, are you okay?”, the pathetic princess’s “yes”—until I realized something.

In this scene, I am filling the only role not covered: the evil ice queen. To Vivvi, I am the bringer forth of the tears. She is being rewarded with a hug after her bad behavior. Something was not right here. So, to put an end to this strange cycle where her bad behavior resulted in a hug from her rescuer, I am embracing my new villain role. (If you can’t beat them, join them?) I now find myself cooling off, deepening my voice, and saying, “Wally. Stop hugging Vivvi. We are being mean to her now.” I then break into a crescendo-ing cackle. Wha-ha-ha. Wha-ha-ha-ha-ha. (I stop short of looking Vivvi deep in her eyes and saying, “Winter is coming.”)

Fast forward to this morning, the pink eye, the ice drops. Wally galloped in at full speed, and then crouched down next to his tortured princess. He tried to soothe her. He tried to promise gummies. But it was too late. She flailed. She screamed. She couldn’t even open her eyes to look at him, and the Vivvi-whisperer found himself speechless—it was too hard for him to see her this far gone in what we were putting her through with our poison drops. He left.

We finally fought the drops into her eyes. When we released our prisoner, I looked around for the knight, but he was no where. Then the goopy-eyed princess stopped crying (about 1 second after we were done—because, honestly, I’m sure the drops are probably like diving into a cool pool on a scorching day, like a breath of crisp winter air when you’ve been cooped inside too long—that’s actually what I meant by “winter is coming”). Once she was silent, I heard the knight’s sobs coming from the other room. I explained to Vivvi that she can’t do that to him. She can’t cry to be dramatic. Because her tears pierce straight through his armor, straight through his caring, brave little heart. She has to go tell him that it didn’t actually hurt. We found him crying, heaving, leaning on the dining room table. After a long hug and Vivvi’s assurance that it didn’t actually hurt, our little hero calmed down.

And I get it, I thought. I get all the characters in our little drama (or is it an action? a comedy? I still haven’t pinned it down). I get being the princess, loving the drama, loving to be rescued. I get being the misunderstood ice queen. And most of all, I get the unexpected hero, the knight in ripped jeans. As a parent, I get wanting to protect what’s yours—wanting it so bad that it can bring you to tears.

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