Growing up, when I asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas, they always made a (sad) joke out of it. They knew my brothers and I didn’t have any money, so they didn’t bother asking for anything real, like a new car, or a box of Cuban cigars, or a new furniture set.
Instead, they used Santa the way someone might use a genie: by asking my brothers and me for things that were abstract, theoretical, and totally unattainable. Just to make a point. They’d make requests like, “for you and your brothers to get along” or “a little peace and quiet” or “for you to behave.” Just totally insane shit that would never happen in a million years.
Now that I’m a dad, nobody ever asks me what I want. But if they did? I’d reply exactly the same way as my mom and dad. Because I was wrong; they weren’t joking.
The intangible, imaginary stuff really is what parents want for Christmas.
Sometimes we parents have to lie to our kids.
To put it another way, if it makes you feel better: sometimes we have to use “parenting euphemisms.”
My four-year-old’s commitment to being irrational is so absolute, it’s like living with Andy Kaufman. While he’s in character as Tony Clifton. I honestly can’t tell where the act ends and the real person begins. Or if there even is an act. Or a real person.
Children are little terminators. To paraphrase Kyle Reese, “They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” The only difference between my son and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie is that my son’s speech is more intelligible. And that Arnold loses. My son never loses.
Which is why I might start acting like a child at work.
A few days ago, we procured a reward chart for our son.
The hope is that by incentivizing his behavior we can train Detective Munch into a decent, reasonable person instead of the feral four-year-old he currently is. Our typical repertoire of threats is neither working nor healthy (nor really stopping because I’m terrible at this new “reward” method!)
So far, it’s been going okay. If he brushes his teeth (without a fight), or goes to bed (without a fight), or eats his dinner (without a fight), or gets dressed for school (without a fight), he can earn rewards like dessert, and TV, and not getting yelled at by a dad who is at the end of his rope.
It got me thinking about what a chart for parents would look like. So I made one.
I’m fairly well-educated. I went to college. I have almost two decades of experience in the professional world, and while I’m used to dealing with arrogant superiors and lazy peers and rude clients, nothing prepared me for dealing with a child.
Kids operate from an unrelatable place, often with no logical motivation or rationale for their behavior. They’re like something out of a horror movie; indefatigable, rarely-sated, and conscience-free. Kind of like your boss…or your clients…or your annoying coworker Karen!
I don’t care if you’re great at your job, and neither do your kids. Nothing you bring from work will help you at home. You can’t manage your children; they’re too unpredictable for that. But you can learn how to be a better manager from them.
When we moved back to Brooklyn, our already-complicated apartment search was complicated further by Detective Munch’s upcoming entry into preschool. In New York – if you believe the hype – even the preschool your kid attends can influence his future.
We ultimately had to choose between two schools: one that had some potential drawbacks but was in a much more convenient location, and one that had a better reputation, but would be a hassle to get to. Life was so much easier when there were fewer people to worry about. Now I have to consider the toddler?
We chose the better, less convenient school. Because parenting.
Later today, I’ll be attending my first parent-teacher conference.
As a kid, parent-teacher conference day was nerve-wracking. (“Oh shit! What is the teacher going to say about me? Am I going to get in trouble?”) Now that I’m the parent, it will be interesting to experience it from the other side. Or it will be when it matters. Right now, I don’t think it does.
Detective Munch is four. He’s in preschool. Unless he’s biting other children or spending all class in the corner doing science experiments, I don’t think there will be any major developments.
But there is one thing I’m dying to learn.
I hate judgment, especially when it comes to parenting.
It’s presumptuous and self-righteous and, worst of all, it only serves to obscure – if not outright obliterate – the empathy that should be both the prevalent emotion and the primary response to seeing another parent struggling. We all live in the same huge glass house, surrounded by miniature walking wrecking balls, and we’re all barefoot and bloodied, like John McClane.
Being given a hard time when your kid isn’t behaving is the last thing a parent needs.
It’s hard enough being responsible for the safety and development of a brand new, slowly-developing, borderline-feral human being without someone explaining to you everything you’re doing wrong.
It’s never right to judge. So why do I want you to judge me?
Mom and Buried sent me a link to a parenting article, as moms do. After promising her I’d read it and then lying that I’d read it! (as dads do!), I quickly went back and actually read it. It was kind of difficult to focus, though, what with all the eye-rolling.
Parenting articles can be frustrating to read, despite the fact that they often contain some truly useful suggestions. All parenting advice is great in theory and in a vacuum; that’s why non-parents love dishing it out.
Of course, in real-life situations, with real-life sociopathic children and real-life at-the-end-of-their-rope parents, it’s not long before your best laid plans explode in your face.
Which is exactly what makes this kind of parenting advice so easy to mock.