15/52: Machiavelli and Me

April 13, 2014

Comedian Louis CK has a bit about the behavior of 4-year-olds. The premise is that pre-school behavior would not translate well into adulthood. For example, when 4-year-old Susie refuses to put her shoes on because she doesn’t want to leave a party, the parents put up with it. However, if 30-year-old Susie refused to put her shoes on, nobody would invite her back. While there is certainly truth to this, I think many parental behaviors don’t translate well either.

Take my behavior this week. A couple of weeks ago, Alice complained of having a stomachache at dinner time. Being a sympathetic parent in tune to my daughter’s needs, I told her she could lie down for a bit. However, I noticed that after being dismissed she didn’t exhibit the typical signs of the gastric catastrophe she described. Her visits back to the living room coupled with smiling and laughter made me feel like I had been had.

My opinion was only strengthened when she used the “My tummy hurts” line a few more times. Based on the circumstances surrounding each usage, she seemed to be using this as an excuse not to finish her food.

When this week rolled around, I was ready to put the kibosh on Stomach Con 2014. So when Alice complained of tummy trouble, I was prepared. I mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to have a treat if she didn’t finish. This technique had worked once before, but on this occasion, she wasn’t biting. She went to lie down. For a moment, I thought I had made a mistake, that her digestive distress was legit. But there she was a few moments later, seeming the opposite of afflicted and asking to get up and run around. At that point, I decided to end my daughter’s habit by any means necessary.

Now let me be clear on something. Even though I’m sharing with you now, I am not proud of what I did.

I figured there were two basic ways to restore order to the mealtime universe. The first would be to have her stay in bed for a long time so that she would know there would be consequences to leaving the dinner table early. I tried this for awhile, but realized she had too much entertainment in her room to make that a reasonable option. It’s basically like a bunker that’s fully-stocked with fun.

So I went to Plan B. Now in order to understand Plan B, you must first understand Alice’s love of popsicles. When she hears the word, her voice goes up a few octaves. She routinely chooses them over ice cream or any other treat. When she got stung by a bee, it was a popsicle that almost instantly made her forget about the pain. It was like giving her frozen Vicodin on a stick.

Knowing this, I went to the freezer and pulled out a lemonade popsicle. It was slightly freezer-burned and stuck to the wrapper. I peeled off the plastic and walked down the hallway. Before entering the room, I strategically popped the popsicle into my mouth. When Alice saw me, she was a little surprised, but played it pretty cool. She didn’t beg for one or try to barter. She just casually asked why I was eating one without her. So I told her how I had finished my dinner and that her tummy ache had kept her from getting a treat. Then I put it on really thick.

“Maybe if your tummy isn’t bothering you tomorrow we can eat one together,” I said as nonchalantly as possible.

Can you imagine how this behavior would translate into the non-parent world? Your boss shows up in the doorway, envelopes dangling in his hand, and says, “I wanted to give you your paycheck today, but you didn’t get those invoices sent out. Maybe if you do, we can open up these envelopes tomorrow.” What would you think of that guy?

Or what about intentionally dismantling someone’s iPhone and telling them that it just wore out because that’s what iPhones do when they get to a certain age? That’s essentially what I did to wean Alice off of her binky.

Let’s own up to it. As parents, we can be a despicable bunch. We tell kids lies about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. We make kids eat all their vegetables and limit their sugar intake, only to binge on bowls of ice cream and bags of Funyuns at midnight.

I have a theory on why teenagers hate their parents. I think their minds start to subconsciously piece things together. The lies about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. The cookies that “disappeared” and dad’s increasing waistline. Mom’s questionable timekeeping of “One more minute” to a completed coffee. The mysterious cans of Mountain Dew that showed up in the outdoor recycling during pop prohibition. It’s like they are Chazz Palminteri putting the pieces together that WE ARE KEYSER SOZE, only they figure it out in time and get to remind us of that fact for the next 7 years while eating all our food.

Of course, teenagers aren’t smart enough to express their realization that the Machiavellian techniques that they have been subjected to have created a cognitive dissonance between hero and anti-hero which ultimately unsettles them into establishing a new identity separate from their parents. So they just call everything lame and roll their eyes a lot.

Gets me teary just thinking about it.

After I went all Niccolo at Night, Alice has not had trouble with her tummy. She has finished her food. Order has been restored. However, I know that there will be a day when she will see my manipulation and raise me some of her own. The kind that I have inadvertently taught her. Maybe by then, Vicodin will be available on a stick.






6 Responses to “15/52: Machiavelli and Me”

  1. Debbie Says:

    It can be a guessing game. I had one who could nearly always be cured of their ailments with the administration of a chewable vitamin c. One morning this one was complaining of tummy troubles. No fever, so off to school…..the phone was ringing when I got home after dropping them off. Seems my sick one had made it onto the carpet of the school hallway before the cookies got tossed.

  2. teachiro Says:

    Your second story is an important cautionary tale about not jumping to conclusions and assuming a kid is lying. I think my experience as an elementary teacher has hardened my heart a bit. I’ve seen many distressed bladders and stomachaches cured by recess, sorely needed ice packs discarded after one minute of use, forgotten assignments magically found when any kind of consequence has been stated. I’ve learned that even the nicest students will often make up excuses to get out of things. However, I feel terrible when I make the wrong call, and I know that for the 98% one gets right, it’s the 2% of legitimate injustice that lives on in personal narratives.

    I’ll say this about parenting, it has been helpful in allowing me to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies.

  3. Debbie Says:

    It’s especially tough if you get to the school to collect your child and the mess is just being cleaned— you feel obligated to finish the task.

  4. awningonanouthouse Says:

    M believes his pair of Toms are actually Thomas the Train (his idea, not mine) and I haven’t corrected him yet because he will actually wear the darn shoes if he believes they are linked to a mythical train. I may have told him that his beloved Uncle Fwed quit Facebook because I could not stand looking through Fwed’s Facebook photos one more time.
    You and S. continue to be parenting inspiration.

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