8:00 AM: Breakfast is Oreo Cakesters and SunnyD. In honor of National Kids Day, Aug. 2, I am giving Audrey, 5, and Natalie, almost 3, whatever they want — with a $50 spending cap. It feels like I always have a reason why their ideas won’t work. Let’s drop the rules for one day, I think, and just have fun.
8:05 AM: Audrey eats just one of her Cakesters, and I am certain that, armed with freewill, she will now ask for some strawberries. “I’m going to eat the rest,” she says, just as I’m about to clear the abandoned Cakester. “I just need to drink some juice in the middle.”
8:15 AM: “Cheetos, please!” Audrey yells from the living room. Breakfast was 10 minutes ago, I think. “Sure,” I say. Still, I hover around them as their bright orange fingers repeatedly come within millimeters of their pajamas and hair, the couch and cushions. I officially begin to worry.
10:00 AM: Audrey asks to go to Nicky Nicole in Crocker Park and wants to bring a friend. “Sure.” We spend $34 on lots of Japanese erasers, followed by $10 across the street at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. When I tell Audrey the $6 we have left is not enough for Chuck E. Cheese, she asks to invite two more friends to go to the pool with us. “Mary Lucy, too,” chirps 3-year-old Natalie. “Sure.”
1:00 PM: The girls have a ball. I let Audrey swim in the deep end with her friends today, which requires me to constantly scan the water for her particular ponytail. But it works out. This may not be so bad after all.
4:00 PM: Except ... during breaks, they eat and eat and eat: hot dogs, Cheetos, Pringles, cheese and crackers, Oreo Cakesters and then regular Oreos. I’m not sure they can handle freedom in this junk food-heightened state. Someone, at some point, is going to have a meltdown.
4:30 PM: It happens on the way home as we pass our neighbor’s circular driveway. It’s one of those times when your child’s complaint is so bizarre that you can’t understand it let alone deal with it. “They’re so lucky,” Audrey gripes. “They have two driveways — and a Wii.” I know that I am supposed to explain that everyone has different things and we should be grateful for what we have. I do not. Turns out that meltdown I was anticipating is my own. “Well, I guess you just have a bad life,” is what I tell my 5-year-old daughter.
5:30 PM: I didn’t check my e-mail today, clean the house or do laundry. The girls need baths, and I have to make dinner. The urge to restore order grows with each mess I see. We have a scheduled trip to the library after dinner followed by a stop to get ice cream, and we will do that, but this experiment is otherwise over. “No,” I say for the first time today, “Alex cannot come over to dinner.”
7:00 PM: The rest of the evening is a torrent of “no” responses to an onslaught of boundary-pushing: “No, you can’t play on the library computer while I check out our books. ... No, you can’t have a large ice cream. ... No, you can’t eat your ice-cream cone in the car. ... No, you can’t play outside any later.” This last “no” sends Audrey into a tailspin. The day ends with her standing by the front window, crying. I chalk up my experiment as a failure. As I do, I deliver every parent’s atomic bomb of discipline: “To bed! Right now.”
9:00 PM: I’m left cleaning up neon orange Cheetos dust that, at some point in this freewheeling day, became ground into the carpet. I have no idea if the girls learned anything from today, but I have. I’ve learned there is a reason I always tell them “no.” It is a mother’s only weapon against chaos. It may well be the glue that holds civilization together. And it should be wielded often and without guilt — embraced, even. Frequently. When I’m done cleaning, I go upstairs and kiss Audrey good night and tell her I love her. She asks if kids are still outside. It’s her one last grab at freedom. “No,” I tell her, and she finally goes to sleep.