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How to buy control

A toddler in search of a remote inadvertently teaches his mother a lesson in life.

By Yemisrach Kifle / February 9, 2011



My 4-year-old son is trying to fly his self-constructed paper airplane by repeatedly heaving it up into the air. I am half paying attention to his frustration as I try to get ready for work. Our mornings have been chaotic this past month. I never get up early enough to face the day at a leisurely pace. He never wants to go school.

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"Mama," he calls me with exasperation. "I need some control!"

My son's plane keeps crashing on the living-room floor as soon as he throws it up in the air.

"Really?" I ask, feigning interest as I fish out his school clothes from under a pile of blankets. I want to keep him in a good mood. Whine-free minutes are most precious in these rushed mornings.

"Yes, Mama. Can you buy me some control?" he asks.

I stop and look at him. He has dried oatmeal around his mouth, lint in his brown curly hair, and a frown on his forehead. I don't know what he is talking about.

"I need it to control things – like my airplane," he explains, seeing that he has finally won my attention.

I smile. He wants a remote control for his paper airplane. I don't correct his vocabulary. Frankly, I like the idea of being able to purchase control. I could actually use some right now to rein in my frustration over his daily refusal to go to school.

"How do you think I can buy you control?" I ask, as I pull a red-and-blue striped long-sleeve T-shirt over his head. I hope he won't notice I am preparing him for his yet-to-be-mentioned destination.

"With money," he responds in his recently acquired I-know-everything voice. "But first," he explains, "Babba has to buy money at his job. Then Babba gives you the money. Then, you buy control for me."

For a brief second I am taken aback. My son thinks his father is the only one who earns money in our household. I scramble to locate my soapbox, ready to deliver a gentle lecture but I hold off and ask more questions instead.

"So, what about Mama? Can Mama 'buy' money by herself?"

"No!" he exclaims, with a hint of exasperation back in his voice. "You go to school. Just like me."

I laugh. Silly me! Indeed, I, too, have recently started going to school. I am teaching part time. The fact is, when it comes down to the day to day, so little in life is about some overarching ideology. I am grateful mothering continues to teach me to take myself less seriously and I try not to struggle too much along the way. Perhaps someday in the future there would be a need for my son and me to discuss gender, partnerships, money, and the complicated role of mothers in society. For now, I am letting this potentially teachable moment pass and I am allowing his assumption to stand.

This morning, my son and I are both going to school, together – hand in hand. He is teaching me how to buy control. I am learning how not to lose it.

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