The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

September 6, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Kids’ cups the source of spills

JOPLIN, Mo. — We sat down to dinner amid the normal chaos. Dueling sisters with escalating voices; a baby brother squealing for his next pureed bite; a mom and dad trying to maintain some inner peace.

Just another Tuesday night with kids.

Our 6-year-old was questioning the tooth fairy’s duties while her little sister pretended to be a tooth fairy. She twinkled her fingers magically, spreading gifts to the four corners of the dinner table, then reached for her drink.

And just as it has happened each night for what seems like an eternity of sit-down dinners, it happened again: The plastic cup slipped from her grip.

Water and ice cubes spilled across the table, splashing against plates and dripping down chairs. A rising tide of messiness. My daughter’s eyes went wide, and she froze mid-reach.

In the beginning, when we first began to explore a world without sippy cups, a spilled drink was cause for frustration. We would have explained the need for care in our most stern voices. We would have passed a towel to the offending cup dropper, pursing our lips in irritation while expecting a lesson to be learned.

But the actual lesson learned was for us parents: Preschoolers spill cups of water with astounding frequency.

They can hear all the right words about keeping both hands and both eyes on the cup at all times, but they will still spill. You can make them clean up their own messes, but they will still spill. You can tell yourself that a spilled drink at every meal is statistically insupportable, but they will still spill.

With time, and thousands of spilled drinks, we finally came to the conclusion that there is only one cure for the cup-tipping illness that infects most 3- and 4-year-olds: Experience. They simply must grow up to be able to handle cups responsibly.

This realization was bitter. I might have stamped my feet in a mental temper tantrum over its repercussions. The idea that we would just have to accept spilled drinks as constant dinner companions for the next several months or years didn’t sit well.

So, as with most things in life, if there’s something I don’t like, I try to change it. You can call this trait stubborn or domineering, but I like to call it “problem resolution.” I was determined to leave nightly spilled drinks behind us, and I refused to believe that sippy cups were our only option.

We watched the cups and spills with hopes of discovering a pattern, and therefore, a solution. After paying attention, the culprit seemed obvious: Lightweight plastics tipped at the slightest provocation.

Cute kids’ cups are adorable and fun, but they were the most often spilled. Small, delicate juice glasses even got knocked over less often than bright plastic cups. Our regular, adult-sized glass tumblers were almost never tipped, even in a preschooler’s wary grasp. Ceramic mugs were the least likely to be spilled -- never once has our table been sullied by the contents of a mug.

Whether it’s because the heavier glasses and mugs require a little one to use two hands or because their weight can withstand a gentle bump without toppling, the outcome has been the same: Our drink-spilling problem has been successfully solved.

The nightly dinner crisis has been averted. Thanks to a little bit of tenacious problem-solving by some wet-lapped parents, mealtime is back within normal ranges of wildness. Now with upright drinks for all.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.

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