(G)Nat had a loose tooth, ready to plucked and handed off to the Dentition-recycling fairies. She didn’t want to pull it out, though. This I heard in the background while working on soundtrack for a buzz.mn video not yet filmed. (It should be up tomorrow afternoon, if I can pull this off.) So I’m arranging and playing and moving blocks of tracks around, and then I look behind me and she has her tooth tied to a string tied to the doorknob.
What is this, the 19th century? Deadwood Painless Dentistry? I got out my camera, of course, and was waved off. Darn child and her stupid zone of privacy. In the end the string was removed, and the tooth maintains its tenuous tenancy in her gum. She asked me tonight if I put the money under her pillow; I said hah, I’m the guy who has to disable the burglar alarm so the fairy doesn’t set it off. Technically, not a lie.
The “technical” part is important, because I caught her in a fib tonight, and had to Exact Punishment. Parenthood: you find yourself erecting these complex equations on the spot, and you have to stick to them, too. Backstory:
We’d stopped off at a Caribou earlier for some post-school hot chocolate, and the clerk had given us free expired granola bars. They had expired the day before, and could not be sold, but they could be given away. Take two! While we are the video store, I nibbled on one. Coffee flavored granola. Was that necessary? I’ve long believed that only coffee should be coffee-flavored; without the heat and the aroma and the act of drinking it’s like listening to the soundtrack of Gene Kelly’s footwork in the “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence without actually seeing him dance. So I threw the bar away. That left another one, though, and when we got home I put it on the counter.
But candy in plain sight leads to begging, begging leads to whining, whining leads to suffering, as Yoda said. No, you cannot have it, because A) it’s a candy bar, more or less, and B) dinner is nigh. BUT YOU HAD ONE. No, I had a bite. Then I disposed of the rest. BUT WHY CAN’T I HAVE A BITE. Because dinner is coming in ten minutes, and for some strange arbitrary reason that makes me feel like a good parent, you cannot have a tiny portion of chocolate the size of a caterpillar eyeball before dinner, lest a precedent be set.
Because once the precedent is set, it only expands. They remember everything. They will forget 17 minus 6 if they learned it that day, but remember when you gave them buttered popcorn on a Thursday night in 2005.
More whining and begging followed. So. Wisdom of Solomon, then. I cut off a portion equal to what I had consumed – a nibble, as I had said – and gave her the option: eat this, and forfeit dessert and popcorn later. (For those scoring at home, dessert is a 10-calorie cup of Jell-O, and popcorn is a small ration of the 100-calorie styro-pop that doesn’t come presoaked in palm oil for your convenience. I know it sounds like Devil’s Island rations, but if you can come up with a good reason why we should eat sugar and industrial butter all night, do tell.) She chose the NOW option. As expected, she discovered it was coffee-tainted, and walked to the kitchen to throw it away. “I decided I didn’t want any,” she said in muffled voice.
“Did you eat any?” I asked. At that moment, with that question – tossed out with no forethought on my part – we both assumed contrary positions out of sheer instinct. I suspected she had eaten some, and was trying to change the terms of the deal; she was trying to renegotiate as well, but through subterfuge.
“No,” she said around a mouthful of horrible coffee-flavored granola.
“Really? Let’s see. Open wide.”
Frantic chewing and swallowing, followed by the unfurling of a chocolate-tinted tongue.
“Well, you did eat some. I don’t care about that so much, but you lied. So no dessert, and no popcorn.”
And the world fell down. She felt horrible, for lying and also the loss of Jell-O - I might have the order and importance of the two reversed – and I felt horrible for having made this simple thing into a Test of Wills. But lying is the bright line across which none shall pass. We’d had a similar problem a few nights before: she wanted some popcorn, and I said sure, if you eat these five grapes first. Fruit first. She attempted to dispose of two grapes by subterfuge, wrapping them in a napkin and putting them in the trash, and denied that was the objective. “You broke the deal,” I said. “No popcorn.” And the law, thus laid down, was upheld.
As any parent knows, every day is a series of negotiations and compromises, bargains and rewards. You have to maintain authority, but authority without the sense of justice breeds resentment; they have to know your reasons, they have to internalize your logic. You cannot be arbitrary. Likewise, you cannot be weak. Usually when we enter negotiations, and she makes a counteroffer – four grapes, not five – I shrug up the states to six grapes, and thus are five grapes consumed. But once you’ve established a reputation for an iron will, you can bend the rules in situations when no bending was requested, just to let them know you’re reasonable. If the rule is, say, a dish of ice cream on Friday night for a perfect spelling test, then every so often you scoop up dish for a less-than-perfect test, because she got a hard word right. You don’t want fear; you don’t want slavish robotic response; you want to hand down an idea that’s immutable in its purest form, and mutable when mercy intercedes.
And hope you’re not teaching them how to work the system.
Well. A few minutes later, Mommy came home. Since I trust her parenting instincts completely and she trusts me, we always back up the other without even asking for specifics. But that doesn’t mean one cannot lend a sympathetic ear. After they’d been consulting for a few minutes, I wandered over to see where we were in the great Coffee-Flavored Granola Prevarication Nightmare of 07. (G)Nat knew she had been wrong to lie, but didn’t think it was grievous enough to merit the loss of popcorn in addition to Jell-O dessert. Loath as I am to negotiate consequences, I listened to her brief, took it under advisement, and said she could have half a bag.
“But joint control of Jerusalem is out of the question,” I said.
She was okay with that. And I’m serious: it’s not on the table.
Punchline: while no one was looking, Jasper Dog ate the granola.
Sorry for the lack of Diner; I was busy. Tune in to Buzz.mn today; live-blogging from Eden Prarie, with a video - the nature of which I cannot describe - to follow in the late afternoon. I'll be posting the IM address for live-blog questions, too. Thanks for your patronage & patience this week; hope I've earned your visits.