Thursday, October 18, 2012


The other night, the little guy was driving me absolutely out of my mind. I had asked him repeatedly to get undressed for his bath as I filled up the tub, and he refused. This is not exactly a shocking turn of events, but what makes it even remotely comment-worthy was that he was not deeply engrossed in playing with his Cars toys, nor was he miffed because he had just decided five minutes earlier he wanted to watch a two-hour movie and his parents were disallowing it due to the proximity to bedtime. That malarkey happens all the time. But on the night in question, instead of getting undressed he climbed into the chair in his room (which has line of sight into his bathroom, where I was waiting for him), flipped himself upside down in it onto his shoulders, started kicking and punching the air wildly, and yet calmly explained to me that the only way he would stop is if I came into his room and picked him up.

So that did not go over terribly well with me. There’s this fine line between indulging my son’s whimsy and feeling like a puppet dancing on his strings, and I was not in the mood for to jiggety-jig. So we battled back and forth, I got louder and angrier as he entrenched his bizarre and unreasonable position more and more, and finally I determined that he had exhausted all of his chances. So I went into his room, not to pick him up but to strip him and march him to the bathtub, wash him as fast as possible, get him out and dry and into pajamas and then into bed with no story (he lost that pretty early on in the struggle). As I’ve said before, these are not my proudest parenting moments, and I’d always like to think I can supply as much patience as any given situation demands, but it’s the times when the little guy’s actions seemingly make no sense whatsoever that I find my patience burns off the fastest.

And then, of course, in hindsight I look back and try to figure out if there was in fact any method to the little guy’s madness, any context that might have illuminated things any better. Like, just for instance, if maybe lately my wife and I have been expending vast amounts of time and energy riding the little guy about rules he’s not allowed to break, behaviors that he’s not allowed to engage in, expectations he’s supposed to live up to, conditions and consequences of chains of events, and various other do’s and don’t’s which doubtless seem as utterly arcane and arbitrary to a four-year-old as, also just for instance, contending that the only way to stop someone from upside-down chair flailing is to pick them up on command.

Yeah. Like that.

Let me back up for a bit and relate a few impressions from my step-sister’s wedding earlier this month. Both of our kids were really exceptionally good at the ceremony and the reception what little of the latter we were able to stay for, at least) and they were oohed and aahed over greatly by both our family and complete strangers who happened to be staying at the same hotel. At one point I was taking the little girl back to the room to get changed, and let her toddle through the lobby toward the elevators under her own power. A family got off the elevator and headed towards us: mother, father, and three kids between approximately ten and seventeen. The pair of us passed the five of them and the father nodded and smiled at me and said (as people are wont to do) “They grow up fast!” That much was echoed to me in various forms by my relatives a fair amount over the weekend, and I completely accept the truth of it.

On the other hand, my cousin and his two-and-a-half year old boy were also at the wedding, and luckily his son and mine still get on together well. Which did not preclude me from slipping into a constant stream of instructions for my little guy at one point as they were running around: watch out, say excuse me, not on that you might fall, not near that you could break it, slow down, &c. &c. &c. My cousin turned to me semi-deflatedly and said “It never ends, does it?” I guess he was hoping that his son would turn three and magically become more docile and manageable, and my four-year-old was thoroughly putting the lie to that.

So there it is, then: the childhoods of our children go by in the blink of an eye, except that they go by one patience-draining, sanity-sapping day at a time as well. Four years really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, or even in my own so-far lifespan, and yet it feels (irrationally) like way too long for the little guy to still not understand that the parent-child power sharing arrangement is entirely one-sided and devoid of sharing. But here we are and he still doesn’t understand that (or at the very least is extremely unhappy about it) and it’s much more my job to get that across to him than his job to intuit it somehow.

There’s the double-whammy, too, of his little sister coming more and more into her own autonomy and thus needing more supervisory attentions diverted in her direction, plus the impending birth of our third child. I think both my wife and I feel, maybe not that the little guy should by all rights be acting more mature and helping us redistribute our parental workload, but that man that sure would be nice. And we’re only human, so sometimes that unrealistic wistfulness bleeds into interactions with the little guy and elevate certain tensions, which is a drag.

But don’t feel too bad for the little guy. We recently let him in on the fact that we are going to be getting a newer, bigger car soon. My wife primarily wanted to soften the blow of losing daddy’s car in the trade-in, since it’s a fair assumption that the little guy might be really attached to our existing rides. But he’s apparently fine with ditching my old ride and super-excited about the new wheels. My wife gave him a brochure from the dealership and he’s been absolutely fixated on poring over the glossy photos and specs and whatnot. So things are pretty sweet for the moment, all intergenerational headbutting notwithstanding.

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