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I'm a Mean Mom But a Good Mom

"If you aren't going to hold these toys, I'm putting them in the trash."

No attention was paid toward my words. I repeated, slowly, firmly and a lot louder: "If you aren't going to hold these toys, I'm putting them in the trash."

She heard me. She heard me every time. No attention toward my words again — for the fifth time in 5 minutes. (I know because she'd look at me dead in the eye and then deliberately turn away, purposefully neglecting to react.)

So, I went over and dropped said toys into the trash. Without blinking. Done.

Too mean?

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My almost 5-year-old girl stared at me in shock and then started wailing.

"I warned you five times. You didn't listen. You know I don't bluff."

More wailing. Now louder. Tears flying out of her face.

Strangers stood and stared with shock and awe. Right there in the middle of McDonald's. (It was raining outside and I wanted greasy fries OK? Don't judge.)

Even my famous friend seemed a bit surprised. (TV viewers in Los Angeles might recognize her.) "Did you guys see that?" she told her own kids in a warning tone. (For the record, this particular friend always seems to have it figured out in the dealing-with-kids department.)

We'd made a quick pit stop after a fun playdate. Everyone was getting along, playing, going bonkers with their new cheap Happy Meal toys, but my almost-5-year-old had amped her not-listening skills up extra high that day.

In the what-drives-me-crazy category of mom life, "not listening" tops the list. You want to really get at me? Don't listen to me. (Now you know.) Yes, I know she's under 5 years old. I know that kids that age can tend to act additionally immature when playing with kids younger than they are (we were surrounded by 3-year-olds). I know that most young kids rarely willingly listen to anyone at any time. I know I'm a tough mother.

Yeah, I felt mean when it was going down, but I also felt consistent, firm and effective after the dust had settled. It's parenting. It's not always nice.

But based on my daughter's other actions and habits, I also know she is smart, capable and mature enough to start learning how to pay attention and listen to authority. Because I'll be damned if I'm going to send a kid to kindergarten who doesn't know how to listen and respect authority. (Call me jaded: My mom and sister are veteran teachers and you'd be horrified to hear stories they've told me about how some deadbeat parents have created their own kids' behavior issues prior to beginning school, and how they then expect teachers to pick up the slack and make up for lost time. But that's another blog post.)

If I don't start teaching my daughter to pay attention now, teaching her later how to hop on the listening train might be a bigger struggle than necessary. Teach 'em young. Teach 'em early. Teach 'em often. Teach 'em now. Because it might not work as quickly as we'd imagined it to work in our heads if we opt to do it later.

But that's just me. (And I don't bluff.)

"I. WANT. MY. TOY. MOMMY!!!" She was screaming, crying, wailing, sniffling, begging all through the restaurant, through our goodbyes to our friends and out the restaurant and into the car. I loaded both my girls in.

The snot was dripping now. I gave her a tissue.

"I'm sorry about your toy, but I warned you five times. Next time you need to stop and remember to listen, OK?"

I buckled everyone up, shut the car door and started walking around my vehicle to get to the driver's side. I suddenly started feeling bad. Was I being too harsh? She's not even 5 yet. I looked up and noticed a sweet-looking twentysomething girl running out of the restaurant toward me with a big brown to-go bag.

"I got some more toys for your girls." The same toys I'd just trashed.

This was the moment of truth: Stick by my choice or cave.

I stuck by my choice. I smiled, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and explained that we didn't need new toys. I got in my car and we drove home. My girl wailed and complained the whole way home (a 45-minute drive).

A part of me still felt like crap. Stay strong. This is parenting.

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A few hours later, she stopped talking about the incident and was fine. We had a heart-to-heart about why things happened the way they did that day. She understood. We hugged. Who knows if I was right on or all wrong? Yeah, I felt mean when it was going down, but I also felt consistent, firm and effective after the dust had settled. I'd warned her, and I'd followed through with my actions. It's parenting. It's not always nice.

And if that's mean, then acting like a bitch sounds good to me.

(For the record: Yes, my daughter's listening skills snapped into shape after this incident. Whoever said McDonald's toys were a waste of money never put them in the trash.)

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