I've not forgotten about my parenting book, I'm up to over 30,ooo words on the project after taking a break to participate in NaNoWriMo and the holidays. More excerpts.
My daughters are getting smart, maybe too smart. If the world is the classroom for life and I am their teacher, then I've chosen an odd curriculum. Like a futuristic robot that learns things and then conquers her masters, they are heading in an unsuspected direction.
Their adaptability, when it comes to learning things is entirely self serving. Through my slightly above parenting skills, I have taught them to explore and use loopholes, do the minimum required, and will us to the extreme limits of threats that involves removes candy from their lives. Mostly this all happens in the kitchen.
One of the first clean-up skills I taught was to dirty plates to the dishwasher and load them in. I didn't care if the plates ended up upside down, so long as they made it there. This worked fine for awhile - my daughters marching over to the dishwasher like little soldiers after each meal. Then one night something odd happened, my youngest daughter didn't finish her meal.
This itself did not bother us. My wife and I have never been “Clean your plate” parents, instead being the “If you don’t eat it now, you’ll eat it later” ones. It turns out, that we were not exactly that type either - or at least I was not. If my daughter left food on her plate one of two things would happen. Either I would sit at the table and pick at it and then I would take it over to the dishwasher. Or, she would take it over to the counter and after packing away leftovers, I would put it in the dishwasher. In both situations I was the one loading the dishwasher. The loan chore I had assigned to my daughter was now being done by me. My wife of course, was the one to point this out and I took comfort in my loss by eating the leftover comfort food.
If our youngest daughter finds the loopholes then our oldest daughter does the minimum amount of work necessary - at least for chores. She’s at the point in life where she takes her time with artwork and gymnastics but chores are another matter. When I ask her to pick up her room, she knows to scoop any clothing off the floor and dump it in her laundry hamper, but that’s a beginners trick for this expert. If I ask her to hang something up she will place the minimum number of thread on the hook, so that a stiff breeze will knock it over. I’ve walked past snow pants that fall to the floor because I look at them. Like the dishes then, I put them away.
They each have their own strengths, but their negotiating brinkmanship may top them all. In the car the other day I told one daughter that if she didn’t stop whining about when to leave, hitting her sister, and changing my hair from brown to gray, I was going to take away five pieces of her Halloween candy. “That's not many.” she retorted, which turned on the electrical kettle of my heart, and my blood began simmering.
“Fine, then it will be ten.” I countered, holding on the to the n sound to show her the power I wielded. I was like the Warden in Shawshank Redemption, I controlled her three-year-old world.
“I don’t care.” she said, holding her r. Of course I’m driving during this conversation, and thinking this is probably how accidents involving cell phones really happen. It’s not that the driver was actually on the phone, they were probably just being out negotiated by one of their kids. No one wants to admit this, so when the police officer comes to take the report about why your car took out two mailboxes and a pair of garden gnomes they say, “Sorry officer, I was texting.”
By the time we safely made it home my threats had escalated to having her sleep outside in our shed and giving all her toys to her sister.
She didn’t care because she knew I went over the line in my threats, not ready to back them up. She also knew that her sister would share those toys anyway. My daughters are nice kids, even when manipulating me and learning all these things.
When I played video games as a kid, I was never very good at them. I only ever beat one game because I never had the skill to devote to getting better and advancing further. Even though I always lost, I had fun playing it. That’s kind of what it’s like with my daughters. Even though they drive me crazy with some of the things they do, I love that they do them - but I would love them more if they loaded the dishwasher.
Just interacting with my kids bring excitement into my life. It's like watching Nascar or figure skating, you know something's going to happen, but not what.
Sometimes my kids will surprise me with an answer they give. The other day I asked my daughter if she wanted to go to the zoo. She replied that she might like to, but she also might be busy. I was surprised that a three-year-old would have these sorts of commitments, she doesn’t even have a Google Calendar to sync with. So I asked what she might be busying doing? She said that she might be busy playing. Ah, well we can be flex that to another day. We went to the zoo.
Kids will do this all the time - or at least my kids will. They pick up these little nuances, expressions, and conversation cabooses that travel between my wife and I, and bring them back in completely different pieces. It’s like having ants at a picnic, only after the ants have taken all the crumbs from the blanket, they bring back a completed cake.
Somehow they haven’t picked up the word ‘shit’ from me, but it can’t be long. Saying shit in my family has a stronger genetic link than male pattern baldness - and every dad, uncle, and cousin with a y-chromosome, has male pattern baldness. Saying shit is like breathing, the vocal cords have been conditioned to flex so that if air is passing, they're ready to sound it out. SHHHIIITT. It can be in anger, surprise, or frustration. I say it when I step on toes, burn the toast, or drop a tool. Somehow all these uses have passed through their mental filters - other things not so much.
My kids have quickly picked up that brushing teeth in our house is an optional activity, even when asked. My wife and I are like Laissez Faire Dictators instead of Napoleonic rulers when it comes to our daughters mouths. We march them to the bathroom to brush their teeth and they mostly just sing and dance in the bathroom while a toothbrush vibrates on a single incisor.
They also put together who to ask for what. If they want some less than healthy food they seek out my wife. If they want to go out and play in the snow then they ask me. They work the back channels of favors and begging like little politicians - which they might be. I remember hearing that most of our congressional representatives were once lawyers, well that’s a skill my daughters have learned too.
They will negotiate for anything.
“Do I have to wear a hat?”
“Can I just wear it in the car?”
“No, you have to wear it outside.”
“If I wear it outside can I leave it off later.”
“No, you have to wear it the entire time.”
Other conversations include those when they remember the exact wording:
“You said we could have cake tonight.”
“Yes, you said we could have cake if we were good and cleaned up our rooms.”
“You weren’t good, you hit your sister.”
“Well, I was a little good.”
“Then I should get a little cake.”
And so it goes. These are little people who can’t remember where we are going when we get in the car with book bags in the morning but who can remember any mention of a sweat treat.
This all is what I love about them. They're figuring out different parts of the world, one thing at a time. They're having their cake, and eating it too, literally sometimes.