Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

There's this story about my childhood my dad has always loved to tell; a not so flattering story about my character I might add. See, apparently, I used to really enjoy biting my new baby sister.

I bit her any chance I could get. I was 2 and a half years old, and who knows what was going through my mind, but my dad was anxious to put a stop to it.

So, this one time, we were driving somewhere. In the back seat, my sister was strapped in secure right next to me, helpless to defend herself and no where to go. I bit her. She screamed, and I felt the wrath of our father. Some dad's threaten, "Don't make me pull this car over and come back there!" Well, my dad wasn't one for empty threats. He pulled the car over, walked over to my door, opened it, and bit me.

The memory is more of a foggy dream to me than anything, probably encouraged by the repetition of the story over the years. But one thing is fact: I never bit my baby sister again.

Today, I put the baby down on the floor to play next to Isaac. He smiled and made faces at her. All was well. I turned my back to look up a potential birthday gift for our soon to be 3 year old, online, and then it happened. I heard the blood curdling, tear inducing, heart breaking scream of an infant who had just been given a shot. I spun my chair around to a very concerned, very confused, very fearful for his bottom, 2 year old. He saw the anger in my face, knowing she would not scream like that for no good reason. I saw the mark on her cheek.

Isaac ran to me, "Mommy, she no like dat! She no like dat!"

I could hardly contain my anger. Isaac has been left alone in a room with Charlotte for a few minutes or more before. What on earth did he do?

"Isaac!" My accusatory tone was unmistakable. "What did you DO?!" I ran to her and immediately noticed the teeth marks in her cheek, prominent, already bruising. He was nervously silent, and I already had my answer.

"Did you bite her?!"


"Why would you bite her?!" Everything was a yell. I was so mad. How did such a sweet and happy boy inherit such a horrible trait...from me. It's possible I was even more angry at myself.

He didn't have an answer. I popped the back of his hand, "Go to your room!"

His heartbroken cry traveled all the way up the stairs while I cuddled my recovering, sniffling baby girl. Knowing my own history, I decided to take care matters before they continued. After a few moments of cooling down, I called Isaac back downstairs to apologize to his sister and explain to him how wrong that was. The problem with trying to talk and rationalize with him, is that his response to anything he doesn't quite understand is yes. Many conversations have gone like this:

"Isaac, is it nice to hit?"
"Yeths, it nice to-"

...and repeat. We've had that exchange so many times, I can't figure out if he's confused by the word, "not," doesn't understand the difference between "yes," and "no," or just enjoys pushing my buttons. He tends to hit when he's excited. Maybe he thinks they are playing. I don't know, but it's been a point of contention with us for a few months now.

So I sat him down, showed him Charlotte's boo boo, and told him how he hurt her. He had a look of concern on his face, but also confusion. I asked him to apologize.

"Sorwy, Charlotte," he said, after kissing her boo boo.

I asked, "You aren't going to bite her again, are you?"


"ISAAC, NO! It is not nice to bite!" I interrupted, frustrated. "That hurt her!"

He still seemed confused, "Sorwy, Mommy."

"Isaac, do you want me to bite you?"


I am so confused by his constant need to respond with this, but ok.

"Ok, I'm going to show you what it feels like to do what you did to Charlotte. I'm going to bite you on the cheek, ok."


I leaned over and gently bit until he yelled, "OW!" The tears began to flow. He looked betrayed. I didn't even leave a mark, but he understood that it hurt.

"That hurt, didn't it?"

Crying and wiping his tears he replied, "Yeths!"

"Now, are you ever going to bite Charlotte again?"

I braced myself for a repeat of my ongoing frustration when he cried, "Noooo."

I was heartbroken, but felt the mission had been accomplished. I hugged him and held him tight and told him how sorry I was that I had bit him. The rest of the day went on as usual.

I shared the events of the day with my husband upon his return home from work. I was aggravated, concerned, and confused by Isaac's response to the whole thing. We've talked about biting. He's heard me yell several times when Charlotte has clamped down while nursing. He would run to me and ask, "What wong, Mommy?" When I would explain to him what happened he would say, "She bite you like dis?" and clamp his teeth together, and I would say, "Yes," and explain how that hurts.

"So why would he think this was something she would like?" I asked while chatting with Jelani.

"Ohhhh, I know why he did that." Jelani went on to explain to me how they've played on the floor with Charlotte, together before, and he (Jelani) would 'nibble' her cheeks with his mouth.

My light bulb moment occurred as I remembered turning my back while he was playing in her face, making sounds, "booga booga boo," at her, just before the screaming. Guilt rushed over me like a waterfall. He is not even a smidgen of the horrible child I once was, just because he's mine. He thought he was playing, legitimately. His look of confusion at her response to his playful 'nibbling' was genuine. He thought that's exactly what Daddy was doing! His heartbroken confusion at my form of discipline was real and gut wrenching, and, as I cry while writing this, I have never felt worse.

Epic. Mommy. FAIL.

Jelani laughed, "Well, he'll never bite her again!" But I had to make things right. Or at least as right as I could.

We were going to the park for a walk, so before getting Isaac out of his car seat, I leaned over, "Isaac, when you bit Charlotte, were you trying to play with her? Like Mommy and Daddy do?"

"Yeths," he looked hesitant.

"Like this?" I asked, but as I leaned in to his cheek, he flinched and turned.


"I'm not going to bite you, Isaac," I said, with a broken heart. I munched his cheek with just my lips, and he smiled. "Is that what you were trying to do with Charlotte?" I asked.


I did it again on the back of his hand. "You can't use your teeth, ok? Just your lips."

"Ok, Mommy!" He was excited that we now seemed to understand each other.


"Yeths, Mommy?"

"I'm really sorry I bit you."

"It's ok, Mommy"

Before bed tonight, I asked Isaac if he wanted to nibble Charlotte's cheek with me. He still seemed hesitant, and honestly, as he approached her face, so did she, but we both nibbled her sweet little cheeks. Kisses and toddler slobber all over her teeth marked cheek brought a smile to her lips and her brother's, as he relished the chance at righting a wrong.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1: 19-20

Dear Jesus, 
Give me the wisdom to know when discipline is necessary, and when it is not. Help me to be much slower to anger, and never allow a necessary apology to go without saying.

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