Aspen Princess: A homemade toy story |

Aspen Princess: A homemade toy story

Alison Berkley Margo
Aspen Princess

My almost 4-year-old son is the human equivalent of a border collie. You know, the breed that’s so smart they’re hard to train?

“It hurts us a lot more than it hurts them,” Mimi said as Levi wailed and screamed at the top of his lungs in the backseat.

He was not giving up. There was no distracting him, no calming him, and certainly no reasoning with him. His refrain was, “I want my toys back!” and he was going to try every tack he could think of.

My mother-in-law ruled her home with a wooden spoon. When I first met Ryan, he talked about that a lot, about his petite, Italian-blooded mother who ruled the roost. I paid careful attention because it was clear how much he adored and revered his mother. My own mother always said a man’s relationship with his mother will tell you everything you need to know about him. And she was right.

It was clear from the start that Ryan was raised well. His parents nailed the right balance of authority and love, of adoring and spoiling their children well but also teaching them important values about family, friendships, loyalty and hard work.

My parents mastered the spoiling part, but discipline was never their strong suit. A strong work ethic was something that applied to school, but only so you could get into a good college and then go on to have a successful career and make enough money to be able to pay someone else to do the hard work. I know that sounds gross, but it’s true.

I do recall my mother was somewhat strict when I was growing up about certain things. She didn’t let me have sugar cereal or Wonder Bread. I was only allowed to watch PBS (cartoons on Saturday morning only), had a bedtime that was set in stone, and was expected to be reasonably polite and well-groomed, especially for a special occasion.

Six and a half years later, my brother came into our lives and my parents just sort of threw in the towel on the whole discipline thing. My mom was 33 when she had Daniel, and that was considered old back then, so that was her excuse. Daniel crawled on the counters, ate Popsicles for breakfast, would run free at restaurants and return with gifts from random strangers. Once a piece of birthday cake, another time a bowl of vanilla ice cream. He was a beautiful little boy with a head of golden hair, a smattering of freckles across his button nose and huge blueish-green eyes.

With our age difference, he was at his cutest when I was at my worst, a pre-pubescent teenager with frizzy hair, crooked teeth and acne. I was like Ferris Bueller’s sister, sitting bitterly in the corner while my little brother got all the attention. Once at the end of a vacation at some resort, the staff did a little goodbye song and dance for Daniel. Still, I adored him, and he adored me because I was much older and had pretty friends, a car, and later a cool job as an editor at a snowboarding magazine in Southern California that rewarded him with many, many perks.

I actually got a little taste of parenting as a much older sibling, though I’m not sure anything would prepare me for Levi, especially considering my parent’s own laissez-faire attitude.

“Don’t you give in,” Mimi coached me as Levi continued to scream, kick his feet, struggle to escape from his car seat, and even hurtle objects at my head.

Just the other day when Levi tried his biggest ever threat of “You’re not my friend,” Mimi had replied with, “That’s right. I’m the boss.”

This woman knows her stuff, so I listen when she offers advice.

What had prompted this tantrum was his resolute refusal to leave the gym and get in the car. Normally, I can identify the cause of a meltdown. With a boy, it’s usually not that complicated: he’s tired or he’s hungry. He probably was just tired as we pushed nap time a little too far, but still. I had no control over this one.

The boy straight up refused to get in the car and ran away from us when we tried to come after him. We tried ignoring him. We tried explaining things calmly to him. We tried coaxing him. We tried enticing him. We tried to distract him.

Nothing worked. Finally, I had to drag him to the car, kicking and screaming. This was why I had begun working out in the first place, always thinking about the 36-pound child I had to manage who was especially strong for his age. No matter what the exercise, I almost always tried to exceed the 30-pound mark.

It wasn’t until he hit my face that I lost my cool. A line had been crossed. I collected the three new toys he’d acquired that afternoon and somehow managed to buckle the flailing child into this car seat. (Who gives their kid three new toys in one day? Another clue.)

Then I took his new toys and threw them into the back of my car.

He went ballistic. He tried every tactic he could think of. He wouldn’t let it go. For hours, he insisted we give him his toys back.

It wasn’t until his father came home that he finally calmed down. Ryan aced it. He remained calm but authoritative. He was patient and kind, but firm. He gave Levi his undivided attention and love but created those ever-important boundaries that a child craves and needs.

“Mom and Mimi, I need to tell you something,” Levi announced over dinner. “I didn’t get in the car (when you told me to) because you didn’t say please.”

That’s when it hit me. Ultimately, our children teach us everything we need to know about the world. The most important thing we can do is listen.

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