Getting My Toddler To Take Their Freaking Medicine

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 
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Discriminating taste buds are a gene that I was almost certain I would be passing on to my children. When my husband and I went on our first date, I wanted to go to a particular diner because I already knew their chicken fingers were of an acceptable quality. I didn’t try salad until I was in my early 20s. I tried my first strawberry in 2009.

Later on, I began trying to give new foods a chance. I’ve even recently been giving second chances to things I previously confirmed as gross. Today, I am an adult female who eats from all five food groups, and even enjoy it sometimes. The Brussels sprouts I have grown to love would make my former self puke on the spot.

But some things, no matter how wise or mature you become, will never go down easy. Grape-flavored liquid medicine is one of these things. I still cannot reason with myself enough to get that shit down my own 30-year-old gullet. So I don’t fault my son for acting like I am offering him poison for his cough.

When he was a baby, medicine was easy. You could lay him back a little, his mouth would open, and you just pop a syringe in there. Shoot the ineffective nonsense that is the made-of-honey crap they give to babies right down his throat, and boom! Medicine administered.

As he got a little older and gained bodily autonomy and control of his limbs, I had to re-strategize. By that, I mean bribe him. Being a parent who bribes her kid for anything wasn’t what I envisioned for myself when I was carrying this little twerp around in my uterus. But growing and adapting is natural and healthy. And trying to get your child to sleep soundly by killing off whatever is fucking shit up with a well-regimented antibiotic is also natural and healthy. I used promises of candy, screen time, toys, and candy while having screen time and playing with toys.

However, I soon learned that kids are always sick. I could not empty our savings on medicine, candy, and for-the-love-of-god-please toys. So, back to the drawing board.

I tried being firm and authoritative. “You have to take this medicine. You’re not getting up until you take this medicine.” That’s how the story begins for that time I sat at a table for almost two hours and had nothing to show for it.

I tried being gentle and supportive. “Sweetie, this medicine is important and will help you feel better. Come sit on Mommy’s lap, and I’ll help you.” He smelled my weakness, scoffed, and closed his lips tight.

I tried lies and coercion. “This stuff is like liquid lollipops, kid! So good! Made of sugar!” He fell for none of it. Kids should not be as smart or smarter than their parents before we’re even getting hot flashes. That shit ain’t fair.

This felt like a complete impasse. My son was never going to take medicine. I would never sleep again because he would never not wake up 57 times a night with a cough or a fever or some other ailment now rendered untreatable. I would be the mother of a child whose nose was a constant fountain of snot, with no end in sight.

Then I got creative.

I sat my son down at the table with a cookie, some juice, and his little cup of medicine. I gave it to him straight.

“This medicine is yucky, I know. It is not going to taste good. But this juice tastes good, and this cookie tastes awesome, and we are going to do this.”

I was giving myself flashbacks to high school — when booze was as cheap and unpalatable as possible. If you’re going to drink underage, alcohol companies at least try to make it unpleasant. They make the burniest, nastiest stuff also the most affordable. So at parties, I always had a bottle of orange soda in my bag to chug when shit got too real or my esophagus needed a moment to regenerate some burned-off cells.

My hands started hitting the table, taking a slow-building rhythm. He looked confused, but I gave him an encouraging nod that communicated let’s do this shit and he joined in. Our drumming got faster, and we started yelling and banging harder, smiling, and laughing. I was getting him pumped up for that nasty medicine, and I needed him ready to kick its ass.

“Okay, bud. Three things: You’re gonna toss back that medicine. You’re gonna chug your juice. You’re gonna shove a cookie in your mouth. Then it’s over.”

There was no fight and no apprehension or fear. Just a crazy kid ready to follow his mom’s instructions because she was being a goddamn weirdo. I am fully aware that I pretty much taught my kid how to do a shot at the age of 3. But you know what? I’m okay with that. He killed it. He threw back his medicine, chased it with his juice, and stuffed the cookie in his facehole. And that’s all she wrote.

I can only hope that on his 21st birthday, as my son goes to take his first drink (yup, totally his first drink ever in his whole life, I’m sure), he waves down the bartender.

“Juice and cookie, please.”

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