The Playroom:The Parent Lap

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Last week I attended a seminar with my daughter called “First Reconciliation Workshop.” The basic gist of the evening was that God has rules just like our parents have rules, and if you break God’s rules He understands and He will forgive you and always love you, just as your parents do.

As part of hammering this message into the impressionable young brains of our children, we broke out into groups of three families, where we were tasked with coming up with real-life examples of forgiveness. The groups had three tasks; the first task our group was asked to complete was to list the rules of our household.

The second task was to list what happens when you break the rules. My daughter immediately starts chanting, “Spankings, spankings.” In an embarrassed under-my-breath hiss, I told her that we don’t hit in our household. At which point one of the fathers in the group tried to make me feel better by saying, “Well, sometimes if things get really bad you can get a spanking.” And I really wanted everyone to know that we don’t hit our kids, and why my daughter was chanting “spankings, spankings” I have no idea. Sigh.

So then after my public humiliation, we circled back to the household rules. Immediately I stated, “No Licking.” This was followed by others at the table and expanded:

No biting.

No hitting.

No licking.

In my role as a parent I’m still working on the basics. Maybe some day we will progress to cleaning up our rooms and respecting one another. Maybe even move on to the Golden Rule or the Beatitudes, if I get inspired. But, for now, we are focused on more basic rules of conduct. No biting, no hitting, no licking. What is it with the licking anyway?

Recently, my 5-year-old son’s soccer coach pulled me aside and sheepishly told me, that well, my son had problems listening and that he was socially disruptive. I asked the coach, “Has he licked anybody?” The coach quickly grasped the targeted skill set and responded, “Uh, no, no, he hasn’t licked anyone yet. So I guess that’s what we are focusing on?” I answered, “Yup, that’s about it. Kicking, passing, listening to the coach, definitely next year. Not licking our teammates — this year’s soccer goal.”

I scream

The licking is not a new thing for my son. When he was 2, I confessed to a friend that although I hated to admit, I actually enjoyed taking my 4-year-old daughter out for ice cream more than I enjoyed taking my 2-year-old son. I felt guilty for my favoritism, but there it was, out in the open. As I waited for her reprimand and suggested penance, she calmed my guilt by answering, “DUH!”

Then she felt bad for not being more empathetic and asked in her best let’s-talk-about-it voice, “What makes going out for ice cream with your daughter more fun than going out for ice cream with your son?” I told her, “Well, for starters, my daughter doesn’t lick, or should I more appropriately say lap, the outside of the display case.”

Since that ice cream display case lapping, my son has licked the bottom of the conveyor belt at the grocery store, the bottom of his shoes, the toilet, the handle of the shopping cart, the bottoms of restaurant tables, all of his family members and, most recently, the babysitter’s arm. At this point in her relationship with us, she looked at me and said, “Uh, that is so disgusting,” and went into the kitchen to spray her arm down with disinfectant.

The situation is constant enough that when we recently disembarked from our flight at the Seattle airport and I realized we were to board a tram with public transportation subway poles, the first thing I said to my kids was, “Okay, we are going to get on this train, and no licking! Everyone look me in the eye. Does everyone understand? No licking!” For the Japanese tourists I could only hope that they didn’t understand behavioral English.

I tried to do some online research to maybe feel better about the behavior. Hoping to find some pediatric advice that told me: “Don’t worry, boys lick, that’s what they do, they lick, don’t worry about it.” Unfortunately my web searches relative to licking primarily resulted in a long list of pornography. I finally found a single pediatric journal article on OCD for those children who compulsively licked the toilet seat. So at least we have that going for us, when he did lick the toilet, at least his behavior was not compulsive.

At this point my son doesn’t hit as much as he used to, and he doesn’t bite. And although I forgive the boy, and I will always love him, if this behavior doesn’t stop, that boy is gonna get a lickin’!

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children and three dogs. She can be reached at