There is nothing more frustrating than trying to discipline our children while traveling in Europe. Every country has its own ideas and customs and acceptable ways of handling naughty little ones. You might think that our parenting methods shouldn’t vary, but you’ve also never dealt with a sassy 5-year-old in front of a benchful of old Italian grandmothers.
My daughter, June, is brilliant and delightful. As long as she stays busy, our house is a relatively happy place. When she gets bossy, I give her a stack of glueable objects and a bottle of Elmer’s. When she irritates her brothers, I let her peel a bag of potatoes. When she sasses me, she gets a needle and thread and I try not cackle when she pokes herself.
But on long road trips, there is very little we can do with her; activity books will only take us so far. Give us four or five hours in the car with her and we start looking for orphanages and vacant parking lots. On our last vacation, June started with a loose tooth, one of the middle bottom teeth. I hate loose teeth and am officially the world’s worst Tooth Fairy. Our kids usually make big bucks for missing teeth because by the time I remember to check their pillow it’s usually been waiting for a solid week accruing Tooth interest.
At the beginning of the vacation, June’s tooth was mostly ready to come out. By day 12 of our vacation, her tooth was hanging from her mouth in a disturbingly loose fashion. You know it’s bad when she can shake her head and her tooth wobbles. Harrison was making big plans that included dental floss and door knobs, ever the thoughtful older brother.
We stopped the car for a break in northern Italy and let the prisoners out to breath some fresh mountain air before restraining them for the additional six-hour trip home. There was a small shopping center with a grocery store and I decided it would be the best way to get everyone a french-fry-free lunch and snag a moment of peace to myself.
“June,” I said as we stood at the store entrance and argued, “Please, just stay out here by Dad so I can go in and get groceries, it will only take a moment—”
“No!” she said, “I don’t want to stay by Dad! I hate staying by Dad! I want to come with you!”
I looked over her shoulder and realized that we were standing 10 feet away from a bench stacked with old Italian grandmothers. They might not have understood English but they certainly all spoke Mother. My daughter had sassed me and they were all giving me the You Gonna Let Her Talk To You That Way? stare, waiting for my response.
“June! Do not speak to me that way! You can apologize right now for being rude or go sit over there on the Repentance Bench—” right next to the scary old ladies.
“No!” she yelled back, “I won’t! YOU go sit on the Repentance Bench!”
And that was it. She had pushed me too long and too far. For 12 days I had been in close quarters with her, carefully picking my very public battles while holding tight to my curtain of patience, but she had played her last hand.
I did exactly what my mother had so graciously done when I back-talked as a child: I lightly, barely, gently popped her in the mouth. And then the blood started to run down her face and all over her white shirt. Yes, I had knocked her tooth out.
Somehow I managed to salvage it and convince her that we should clap and celebrate her loss, thinking her joy might blot out the method. But she has spent the last week getting me back. She shows every single person we meet her missing tooth, then sweetly says, “See? When my mommy hit me in the face, it knocked my tooth out!”
Annie Valentine grew up in the Satsop Valley. Her husband is assigned to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org