Monday, May 9, 2016

Reverse Engineering

Before you think I’m a total freaking jerk because of this post, please remember that our very wily kids have both been debating (arguing) about everything from the moment they could talk. I swear Little A’s toddler tantrums came from not being able to talk well enough to argue. They practice on each other, on their very bright friends, and on us. It’s how they learn.

S. has developed her skills so fully that she reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite books, Belles on Their Toes. Anne, the oldest of twelve children, addresses her siblings.

“You all know,” she said in her best oratorical style, “that I don’t enjoy making speeches.”

This was something we didn’t know at all because there were few things Anne enjoyed more. Before she went to college, she had been the mainstay of the high school debating team, and drove her arguments home with such enthusiasm that her coach used tell her that she was supposed merely to stump her opponents, not tree them.

Our kids love to stump, tree, or otherwise shrubbery us whenever possible. So it’s only good parenting for me to, as good martial arts instructors do, occasionally dazzle them with my wicked moves and remind them that *I* am the master. (Darth Vader voice.)
From some of my darkest parenting moments often come some of my purest moments of genius.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I take no credit. Whether it’s angels, my subconscious, “those who have gone before,” or the healing energy of the universe, it usually feels like someone opens the top of my skull, drops the idea in, then walks away. I’m profoundly grateful, every single time.

We all got a little snarly before spring break. The kids felt tired and overworked, I was wrapping up a major project, and Big A. had been working hard and a lot, traveling frequently. Getting ready for school seldom feels fun under those circumstances and, on that particular day, I’d had it.

I felt like I kept walking a circle around the house, picking up, putting away, turning off, shutting, wiping, straightening, moving, and otherwise compensating for things the kids were or were not doing.

Before I totally lost my ever-loving mind (because I could see the headlight from that train barreling down the tunnel!), I remembered some classics: counting to ten, entrapment, and the Socratic method.

Counting to ten allowed me to get everyone calmly out of the house and calmly—you guessed it—trapped in the car. For the five-minute drive to the bus stop, they were strapped down in hearing distance of my voice with no excuse not to answer. Gotcha, suckers!

The Socratic method, which is, if you think about it, an educational form of entrapment, allowed me to set them up oh-so-beautifully for a huge fall. I opened slowly.

“So, guys, would you throw plastic bags and soda cans out the window right now?”

“No? Well, what about at the beach—would you put grocery bags in the water?”

“No? Hmmm, well, why not?”

“That’s great. You respect the wildlife that live there. Me, too. And you want the world to be nice in the future, for the animals and people to live in? That’s a fantastic goal.”

I continued this way for a bit, then wound up and delivered the biggest grand slam ever.

“So, do you respect me and Dad? Yeah? We respect you, too. Do you want our home to be nice to live in, now and in the future?”

I checked the rear view mirror. Judging by the slightly hunted look around their eyes, they knew they were stumped. I proceeded to fully tree and shrubbery them with specific changes I’d like to see. Game, set, match—me.

But you’ll never guess the part that really got to me. During this whole process, half of my brain was locked up in a brain room, snickering into its brain elbow. Why? Because I was using my kids’ horror at the thought of disrespecting nature to motivate them to treat their home decently!

For crying out loud, when I was born, the only reason anyone recycled anything was to get a nickel! This whole experience adds to the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” lifestyle. They forgot, “Reverse engineer motivational slogans about not littering to convince your kids to keep their actual homes clean.”

Farewell, from the home of “Give a hoot; laundry in the chute.”

If you need further reasons to believe that I’m not a jerk for enjoying that moment, please see this awesome comic that sums up our lives right now. Except that our kids do appreciate the irony. They just don’t stop the arguing!

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