Karen & Kurt 
Edgewood in St. Denis

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Smart Woman

What comes after 3?

Posted by karenandkurt on January 19, 2015 at 2:30 PM

I’ll admit this right here: I made a big aunting mistake during the Thanksgiving break while driving back with my sister and her three kids.


I realized I had no idea what comes after “three.” I’m just glad my nephew didn’t know I was clueless at that moment. (I’m also glad – I think – that my sister was sleeping at that moment, too.)


We spent a wonderful long weekend for Thanksgiving with our brother, parents, aunt and cousins. The kids ran and played and built forts and did kids things – which included throwing stuffed animals from the balcony at Aunt Jan’s house. They climbed on grandparents, learned to eat new foods – sort of – and played in the snow. In their socks – not that anyone let them do that, it’s just that Max was out the door before an adult could grab him. I got to meet my cousin’s two kids for the first time and fell in love with them. I wish we lived close enough so I could be their aunt, too!


And early Saturday morning we sleepily piled Grace and the twins, Max and Caiden, back into Margaret’s minivan for the 12 hour trek back home. And we drove.


For the first several hours, the kids slept, Marg and I visited and Kurt either napped or read his book. By lunchtime, we were hungry and needed to stretch our legs, so Margaret pulled us into a travel plaza somewhere in Ohio.


Kurt and I stood in line for crummy fast food while Margaret took the kids into the gift shop for a treat. And that’s when they saw the brightly colored packs of gum. I really don’t know why she agreed to the gum but each of the kids promised they would chew the gum and keep it in their mouths and not make a mess.


Margaret climbed in the back of the minivan, wrapped up in blanket and did her best to go to sleep. Gracie immediately stuck her stocking feet up around my ears from her seat behind me. I could smell fruity bubble gum.


“Do you have gum in your socks?” I asked, grabbing of her toes.


There was giggle. “It’s a secret. I’m hiding my gum in my socks,” she told me.


In the way back of the minivan there was a shriek. Margaret turned around and told the twins to share the iPad. “You each get 30 minutes and then it’s your brother’s turn.”


This was followed by, “And keep your gum in your mouth. I don’t want to see it.”


And then, by some Thanksgiving miracle, my sister actually fell asleep.


So we drove. I heard arguing and turned around to see Max with the gum out of his mouth, holding one end and stringing it in a long rope.


“Max, I thought your mother told you to keep the gum in your mouth,” I said.


He quickly gobbled up the string and grinned at me.


Not two minutes later, Caiden calls, “Aunt Karen, Max is playing with his gum!”


I turn back and say, “Max, you have a choice: the gum stays in your mouth or it goes in the trash.”


And he grins.


Five minutes go by and I hear Grace say, “Max, that’s gross!”


I look back just in time to see Max pulling at his gum and sticking his tongue out at his sister. I took a napkin from the pile on the console between the passenger and driver seats. “Max. The gum has to go in the trash.”


“No, it doesn’t,” he replied.


I passed the napkin to Grace, who passed it back to Max. “Did it come out of your mouth?”




“Then you choose to throw it out.”


Grumpily, Max put the gum in the napkin, passed it to Grace and into the trash it went.


“Thank you, Max,” I said and then checked the time. “You have five more minutes with the iPad and then it’s your brother’s turn.”


“No, it’s not!” Max said.


I know, I took away his gum and I was about to take away the iPad. “Five minutes,” I repeated and turned back to the front. Margaret was curled up and sound asleep.


A few minutes later, Caiden yells, “Max, it’s my turn!”


“No, it’s not,” Max says calmly.


“Yes, it is!”


I checked the time, looked at Kurt and then turned around. “Max, Caiden is right. Give him the iPad now, please.”


“I don’t want to,” Max said. He continued playing on it intently, head down, not looking at me or his brother.


“Max, it’s been a half an hour,” I reminded him. “Time to let your brother have it.”


“No,” Max said again.


Caiden helpfully grabbed for the iPad. Max yanked it away. Caiden cried at Max. Max shouts “No!” I was worried they would wake Margaret up.


“Max, enough,” I said. “It’s your brother’s turn.”


And then he gives me that grin. ‘Try it’ the look seemed to dare.


So I did what my mother did when we were kids, the most terrifying thing she could do –


“One,” I said firmly.


And then – oh, crap – I was suddenly desperate and at the same time knew I couldn’t let it show. If I was counting, I had to back that up, and there I was, at the front of the car and the boys are all the way in the back and Gracie was watching wide-eyed and Margaret was sleeping –


“No,” Max stated just as firmly.


“Two,” I said, holding my voice stern, my face calm and holding the most terrifying thought at bay:


What comes after 3?


I know that you never make an ultimatum that you can’t live with, you never start a course of action you can’t complete and you never – ever – give a child a choice that you can’t follow through on.


And if I were talking with a caller at work, I would have said to her don’t start counting to three until you know what you will do once you get to 3.


When we were kids, 3 meant going to our room. It meant the end of the evening. It even meant going home, even if Mom had to leave a full grocery cart behind.


If Mom got to three, basically, you were toast.


And here I was, at 2, with no way to get back to the boys and remove the iPad from Max’s hands, no room to send any kid to and certainly no authority to back up anything I might even come up with.


I had no clue what was going to come after 3. I was now playing poker with a 5-year-old and praying to God that he didn’t call my bluff.


What comes after 3???


Max eyed me up. And decided I was serious. Or maybe he realized the minivan was starting to slow down and Kurt was changing lanes.


Max handed the iPad to Caiden, who scooted with it as far away from Max as he could. Max folded his arms and glared at me.


“Thank you, Max,” I said calmly and turned back to the front of the car. I never had to get to 3. I was so completely relieved.


We drove in silence for a little while. Eventually Margaret woke up, we changed drivers and headed through Pennsylvania and finally into Maryland. I called ahead to a Chinese restaurant for take-out.


While we waited for our order to be ready, Margaret took Caiden for a walk around the plaza and Kurt and I stood outside the minivan.


“I’m so glad Max gave Caiden the iPad,” I quietly confessed. “I have no idea what I was going to do if I got to 3. There’s nothing I could do.”


Kurt put his arm around me. “I knew what we were going to do,” he said. “I was going to pull the van over. I was already changing lanes.”


And then he said, “Don’t worry; we’re a team.”


Categories: Our Family, Deep Thoughts

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