Suppressing my inner Debra Winger

The 1983 film Terms of Endearment with Shirley MacClaine and Debra Winger has a semi-comedic scene that stands out among many remarkable scenes from that film.  Debra Winger, playing a young, frazzled, self-involved mother, is in a grocery store parking lot, trying to have a conversation with a young John Lithgow.  She tells her son, “Go wait over by the car, honey.”  And as he argues and drags his feet and generally tries to avoid complying with her request, her rage bubbles up as she again tells him, “Go wait over by the car, honey.  Over by the car, honey.  OVER BY THE CAR!  NOW!  NOW!  NOW!  NOW!” 

As the boy retreats to the car, John Lithgow says with the most deadpan affect, “Nice boys.  And you’re great with them, too.”

I tell you this because I have a two-year-old who will soon turn three but shows no signs of ever vacating the stage which makes two-year-olds famous.

I don’t know how this happened.  Following our high-maintanence son, she was an angel of a baby.  From the time she was born, her nightly slumber was interrupted only by succinct and efficient feedings.  She didn’t cry or fuss or even spit up.  She entertained herself.  Caring for her was so easy I almost felt as if I were cheating.

She’s going to be an easy child, I thought.

And she was for the longest time.  When it was time for bed, she waved “ni-ni” to her brother and her daddy and toddled up the stairs.  When I asked her to put her toys back in the basket, she complied.  I gave her food and she ate it.

This baby was poised to become the most well-behaved child ever.

The change was gradual, starting at about 20 months.  A little asserting of the will here, a small skirmish there.  My trying to manage the conflict without rendering her powerless.  A little screeching on her part, a little more management on my part.

I don’t know when the transition was final, but I am now left this Rumpelstiltlskin-esque creature who rules our home with an iron fist.  This little beauty, smart as a whip, is demanding as all get-out….demanding her cartoons, demanding candy, demanding juice.  Fighting every transition and directive.  Fighting when she must go into the tub, and fighting when she must come out.  Refusing bedtime.  Refusing her dinner.

It is during these times that I hear Debra Winger’s voice inside my head, screaming, “NOW!  NOW!  NOW!”  I can feel it rising up in me, and it would be so easy lose it just once and scream, scare the pants off her, and make her comply without a second thought, but I resist.  I breathe, I swallow, and I send Debra Winger away.

I adore this child, my little tyrant, but Lord help me, I am worn out.  I bite my lip, stay strong, and know this will pass.

The lovely Mia, contemplating her next tantrum.

The lovely Mia, contemplating her next tantrum.


About Joyce

40-year-old university advisor, 10-years married with two small children, trying to do it all and have it all and still manage the occasional social interaction through the wonderful world of blogging.
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23 Responses to Suppressing my inner Debra Winger

  1. Uggh! I hope that she one day soon goes back to compliant and you get some rest.

    • Joyce says:

      Oh, I hope so! I still and shocked that she went from that to this. But then she can often be so sweet. It’s like my boss said when I told him I was expecting a girl, “Having a girl is like having two children – one good one, and one bad one.”

  2. Hats off to you! I have occasionally yelled myself hoarse when it’s time to wrestle my son into pjs. I started timeouts to save my voice and because he was ignoring lower decibels. You are so patient

  3. Sis says:

    I have a 2 1/2 yr old also, she always says “me do it” about everything. it is hard being patient, I totally get where you’re coming from.

  4. This had me laughing… but yes, I can totally sympathize! Cesar makes demands and because he is the third child both my husband and I are so tired that we usually just give in. We don’t let him play with fire or anything but small things like getting dessert even though he didn’t finish his supper. It’s so hard explaining to a 2 year old that just because he sees his older siblings getting things that he isn’t old enough. Also, Terms of Endearment is one of my favorite movies. I just brought it up awhile back to someone about the scene where she pops the zits on her husband’s back….I thought that was soooo romantic!!!

    • Joyce says:

      I know what you mean about being tired and letting things slide. I’ve recognized that I’m guilty of that, but I’m 41 and chasing after a 2-year-old.

      I love that movie. It ‘s been a while – I need to watch it again. I think it was so poignant because she was such a flawed mother, rather than a sweet angelic movie mom.

  5. Karen says:

    Oh, Gosh. I was not aware I was channeling Debra Winger (I was unfamiliar with the scene from the movie, but caught the clip on YouTube), but I guess I am, every day. Hats off to you if you’ve been able to control your inner Debra Winger.

    • Joyce says:

      Oh, I get pretty aggravated in my own way. I get THISCLOSE to the edge.

      And if you have not seen that movie, I highly recommend it! It’s something of a classic.

  6. mummyshymz says:

    I can so relate to this. Now nothing is done without a power struggle of some sort. Talk about exhaustion…

  7. Oh she’s a deadset cutie! She’s got a sparkle in her eyes for sure. You know the way I see it is this (this is what I am telling myself anyway): the particularly vigorous outspoken ones are going to be strong independent little suckers when they are older. It morphs into good. It morphs into good. It morphs into good. Now repeat after me: It morphs into good …So what do you think? 😉

    • Joyce says:

      I agree! I have a distinct impression that she is going to do well in school or in any setting that she is in. She just has this “here I am, world!” attitude about her.

  8. I actually totally blew my top once with my little head-strong girl. I was only about two inches from her face when I screamed, “EAT YOUR FOOD!” Then I went to the bathroom and cried. The house was silent after that. I felt SO horrible, but it actually worked. She was probably so scared of me at that point that she was good for several months after that until the little beast creeped back out of her. She just sort of goes in phases now, it seems. Not my best moment. But I was so done!

    • Joyce says:

      I have a few of those moments in memory. They are painful to recall. I would guess that mealtime may be the height of my frustration. My son doesn’t like anything and I’ve gone from loving to cook to stewing over what I can fix that he might possibly eat. I sometimes wonder if my mother’s method of making me sit until I was forced to eat repulsive things (chicory lettuce – UGH!) was perhaps the better method, considering that I now love everything. Except that she was so damn mean about it. And I still don’t like chicory lettuce.

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