My two youngest kids, both of them boys, are six and four years old. Naturally, I spend a lot of time telling them what to do because if you didn’t tell kids this age what to do, Child Protective Services would take them away from you. “Take a bath”, “Eat something other than candy”, and “Don’t put knitting needles into your eye sockets” are things that you would think would go without saying, but with kids this age they’re not. I’ve got a twelve year old daughter and she’s not much better, to tell you the truth, the only difference being that she wouldn’t put knitting needles in her eye sockets unless her friends did it first.
So I spend a lot of time giving orders that even a moderately trained Beagle wouldn’t need to be told. These orders do no good whatsoever. If I were to give these orders to a toaster, I’d get pretty much the same results.
Me: Drink some water.
Me: Hey! Drink this water. Now.
Me: It is 117 degrees outside, you’re sweating like a triathlete in a fur coat, and you haven’t had anything to drink in a while. Drink this water or you will die.
In fact, if you don’t have kids but you would like to practice in case you do want to have them in the future, all you have to do is repeatedly tell an inanimate object to do something. If you haven’t set it on fire, hurled it onto a freeway, or stuffed it into a trash compactor after thirty minutes, congratulations! You’re parent material!
It is amazing how much concentration a child will summon in order to ignore a parent. Your child can have ADHD and an addiction to Pixie Stix and uncut Bolivian cocaine and still be able to summon the mental focus of a particle physicist the second you ask them to do something. Here are the things my children will become engrossed in the second I ask them to do a simple task:
- Video games
- The dog
- The cat
- The color green
- Invisible beings
- Everything else
So you wind up squatting next to them, saying things directly into their ears in case they’ve suddenly become hard of hearing (although you know that’s not true because they can obviously hear the word “cookie” from across the house and behind closed doors). “Clean your room!” you’ll say in your best responsible parent voice, the one you use in public to show people that you’re a firm but loving parent, and are certainly no more likely to pick your child up by the ears and scream directly into his face than the next person.
You can repeat this until the end of time without success, so you have to escalate. But if you don’t watch it, you’ll find yourself holding a gun to the cat’s head, screaming at the top of your lungs “CLEAN YOUR FUCKING ROOM!” To get results, you have to escalate in a supportive and loving manner, which is another way of saying that you have to accomplish the impossible. The only kind of escalation that gets results involves waterboarding, something progressive parents frown upon.
Finally, you raise your voice and let them have it. “I am losing my temper now! I have asked you three hundred times to CLEAN! YOUR! ROOM!” I like to stand on my tiptoes and spread my arms out when I say this. Hey, if it makes you look big and scary to bears, maybe it’ll work for kids. Worth a shot.
If your kids are anything like mine, you may finally get them to acknowledge that you exist at this point. My kids have taken to using the OK, OK Gambit, which goes like this:
Me: I HAVE SAID THIS 7,000 TIMES: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, IF YOU DO NOT CLEAN YOUR ROOM, I WILL KILL EVERYONE IN A FIFTY MILE RADIUS, INCLUDING THE ICE CREAM MAN!
Child: (in a tone insinuating that I am the most unreasonable and impatient parent of all time) Ok, ok! … Sheesh!
This is infuriating beyond belief. I could be instructing my kids to stop, drop, and roll, and they’d only begrudgingly do it after 45 minutes of pleading and threats. And then they’d do it with attitude. “Ok, I’ll put the fire in my hair out! Keep your pants on!”
A couple of weeks ago, my six year old slammed his hand in the door to my Jeep, and I mean he slammed it because he is incapable of closing a door with less than lethal force. Because he slammed the door, it actually closed and latched, with his little hand trapped between the door and the frame. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but that would have been a perfect time to reverse the roles and show my son how frustrating it is to be ignored:
Son: OWWWW! OWWWW! AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!
Son: DADDY, MY HAND! MY HAND AAAUUUGGGHHHHH!!!
Me: Hey, I never noticed this slot below the A/C vent before. What’s that for, putting business cards in or something?
Son: DADDY! DADDY! DADDY! OWWWWWWW!!!
Me: Huh. I wonder if they point that out in the owner’s manual? Would they call it Slot A, or something more descriptive like “Sub-Vent Storage Slot”?
The only problem is that I couldn’t really teach him a lesson that way unless I specifically told him what I was doing, and then it just looks like taunting. Could you imagine seeing a father and son in that scenario and then hearing the father say, “So, you ignore me when I need you to clean your room because you’re playing Mario Brothers. Well, maybe I care more about Mario Brothers than I care about your mangled hand, Mr. Ignore-His-Father-All-The-Time!” You’d tackle that asshole and have him keel-hauled, and rightfully so.
(For the record, I have a ragtop Jeep, and the door frame where he slammed his hand is made of fabric and a thin, bendable metal rod. Other than scaring himself senseless, he was fine. And I ran around the car faster than the fucking Flash to free him because even though he may be an infuriating little snot sometimes, he’s my mangled-hand infuriating little snot, and I love him to pieces. Not literally. Unless I get a Jeep with sturdier doors, and then he may wind up in more pieces than when he was delivered.)
One of the most challenging things about parenting is that you continually find yourself in a position where you need to tell your child what to do in order for him to grow up into a fine, upstanding citizen who leads a healthy and fruitful life. And your child will give you the age-appropriate version of the finger for your trouble. Parenthood is not strangling or abandoning the little bastard when he does.