Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cure for sass is on the tip of my tongue

When my son was little, I was trying to figure out a creative way to get him to speak respectfully instead of talking back. I was discussing this with my friend Kathie in Indiana at the time and she asked, “Have you tried bossy sauce?”

“What is bossy sauce?”

“It’s just a bottle of hot sauce I keep in my refrigerator and when my daughter gets sassy, I’ll ask her if she needs bossy sauce. When I put a drop on my finger and she tastes it, she winces and recoils from the taste, and then I can use it as a teaching moment when I say, ‘That’s how your words sound when you talk like that.’”

I thought it was a brilliant idea, and like most of my best ideas, I stole it.

I purchased a bottle of Smokin’ Hot Tony’s BBQ Sauce and placed it right inside the refrigerator door, right at Nathaniel’s four-year-old eye level. Whenever he started talking back, I’d ask him if he wanted bossy sauce. His eyes would get big, he’d snap his mouth shut and shake his head no, real solemn-like.

The mere mention of bossy sauce put the fear of God in him so effectively that I thought I had found the magic behavior management tool.

Then along came his sister.

Let me just say here that it never ceases to amaze me how two parents can produce children FROM THE SAME GENES who turn out so remarkably different. Those “switched at birth” scenarios really got me thinking one time, until I looked at my children’s physical characteristics and realized there’s no denying that they’re related. No, the sad reality is that she inherited this strong will … from her father.

When Lily started into her terrible twos (which are really terrible threes if we’re being honest here) I resurrected the bossy sauce trick, using the same crusty bottle. After all, why buy new sauce when I never needed the first bottle, am I right? I mastered this the first time, so it should be a piece of cake this time around.

One day, Lily started talking back and I asked her, “Do you need some bossy sauce?”

Lily cocked her head to the side, thought for a minute, and asked, “What is it?”

I pulled out the bottle and showed it to her. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Let me try it.”

This was unprecedented. I froze. I expected her to be just like her brother and simply snap to, but she was going to challenge me on this. The question was: Am I going to really open a bottle that is six years old and offer it to my daughter?

I did. She did. And she said, “Not bad.”

And I was on to Plan B. Problem was, I didn’t have a Plan B. But we muddled through and I came up with a behavior plan suited to Lily’s temperament.

A few years later, I was having a horrible, no good, very bad day of my own. I had overslept, wasn’t feeling well and was impatient with everyone. At one point, I realized how nasty I was being and said, “Lily, honey. I want to apologize for being so impatient with you today. I’m sorry if something I said sounded unkind.”

She walked over to me, touched my arm gently, and said, “Mommy, do you need some bossy sauce?”

Thank goodness I had thrown it away by then.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer who lives in Winchester, Ore. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

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