A few weeks ago, I was at a birthday party with Leo when I ran into a woman who I would have guessed was pregnant. Naturally, I said ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it, and waited for some social cue to tip me off one way or another. As fate would have it, she indeed mentioned that she was soon to have another child in the house. This was the brief exchange that followed:
ME: Oh, you’re pregnant? How wonderful! When are you due?
She was 40 WEEKS pregnant…and I still WOULD NOT say ANYTHING out loud, JUST IN CASE.
The lesson here is one that most males learn very completely at some point in their lives: there are some thoughts, or comments, or assumptions, that you had best NEVER give voice to. Not because EVERY woman would get offended, but rather because some MIGHT, and so it’s best to tread lightly. I’m thinking about such comments as:
- Any reference at ALL to a woman’s size, in any way.
- Any comparison between her and any animal, NO MATTER HOW FLATTERING YOU INTEND FOR IT TO BE!
- Any assumptions about age, unless it’s a WILD under-estimate.
I had thought that this was a complete list…but Leo taught me otherwise last night.
Yesterday evening, we all went out on a pleasant family walk, when Leo once again moved me around the board in his mental fantasy chess game. However, with my wife joining us, he had an entire new piece to maneuver around. This was the exchange that followed:
LEO: Daddy…pretend that I MADE Mommy with my magic, to be your QUEEN.
ME: Okay…wait…I need a QUEEN?
JILL: Oh yes.
ME: Shut it. (To Leo). WHY do I need a queen, Leo?
LEO (Like I’m an idiot): BECAUSE…you need your kingdom to be MORE EVIL.
ME: More EVIL, you said?
LEO: YES! And Mommy’s ALREADY evil!
ME (To Jill): Is that so?
JILL (To me): Shut it.
Based on how the rest of the evening went, the takeaway from this is clear: in addition to the list above that every man knows by heart, we must add one more item to the list of comments you must never say to women:
- Do NOT intimate that they are demons brought to Earth hell-bent on chaos and destruction.
Live and learn.
Over this past summer, I have made no mystery of my love for the evening walks I have taken with Leo, where he shouts directives at me that describe the scenarios we are about to enact.
I had THOUGHT that this was merely an exercise in an exuberant imagination. With this exchange from this past weekend, I learned that it might have been a long con all along.
LEO: Daddy…pretend that I can read your mind!
ME: Oh wow! Okay…Griffin Hawk…what am I thinking about now?
LEO: You’re thinking about all the creatures we need to fight.
ME: Oh. That makes sense.
LEO: Yeah…but WAIT…NOW, you’re thinking about something ELSE!
ME: I am, am I?
LEO: Yes! We can have some when we get HOME Daddy…so HOLD YOUR HORSES.
Dessert is something of a hot-button issue in our house these days, so its appearance in “my” mind was just INCREDIBLY well-timed. I considered using this as a teachable moment to once again discuss the importance of eating a good, healthy dinner as a precursor to growing big and strong, and that dessert is an occasional luxury that should not be confused with something that can be wheedled or demanded.
Instead though…we went home and had a cookie. Because at the end of the day, I had to respect his game.
With their boundless imaginations and open hearts, it’s tempting to look at children and believe they can see things more clearly than we can, before life hardens their hearts in the harsh light of bills and responsibilities.
However, if this is actually true in our house, and Leo truly can peer into our souls…then I am in BIG trouble.
The other morning, The Egg Game gifted us with a baby griffin bearing gifts. This was the exchange that followed:
LEO: Daddy…I have a golden feather for you.
ME: Wow, it’s beautiful!
LEO: I ALSO have presents for you and Mommy. Something you REALLY want.
ME: Oh yeah? What?
LEO: I have a library book for you…
ME (A bit confused): Great!
LEO: And for Mommy…I have a new kid!!
ME: Say what??
Let’s be clear here: I love my kids, but I am also unequivocally DONE at two. My wife purportedly agrees, which made this “gift” all the more disconcerting.
You know what they say: Sometimes…out of the mouths of babes…comes sentences that chill you to the very core.
Many years ago, when I was a teacher in the Midwest, I worked with a family who had three kids, and the youngest one was named “Babygirl.” At the time, she was, indeed, a baby girl…but I remember thinking that while that made it fine now, it was going to be a huge bitch of a name once she…you know…grew.
Once I had children, I remember this family a bit more sadly, since learned that “Babygirl” is the name they “give” to ALL newborn girls before the parents give her a new one. So this mom didn’t so much NAME her, as she did FAIL to do so.
However, now that I live with a preschooler, I am forced to concede that it is possible that whoever named that girl was simply calling things like they saw it.
This morning, Leo woke up early with a stuffy nose, and NEEDED to have some company to deal with the trauma. Now whenever I end up in his room before wakeup time, we inevitably have a tug-of-war of wills, as I try to get back to bed while he says whatever he can to get me to stay. This was what he came up with today, after several rounds of chatter:
ME: Here…let me get you a fresh tissue.
(I give him a new one, take his old one, and place it on his nightstand)
LEO: Daddy…I have a trash can, you know.
ME: I know, buddy. But it’s on the other side of the room, so I’ll throw it away later.
LEO: Daddy…I NAMED my Trash Can!
ME (Wanting him to be quiet, but…) You did?
ME: Well…what did you name it?
LEO (Proudly): Trashcanny!
ME: I’m going back to bed.
Luckily, he allowed me to walk along Hally back to Roomy for a while. What a mensch.
Everyone enters into parenthood aware of the fact that we will one day find ourselves in a battle of wills with our children. However, NO ONE prepares you for just how utterly STUPID some of these fights turn out to be.
This past Sunday evening, we were winding down after another jam-packed day of play-dates and visits from our beloved neighbors. Everything was fine, until dinnertime rolled around, when (to my eyes at least) Leo became startled to realize he had behaved all weekend, and needed to do something QUICK to keep us on our toes. When we sat down to our dinner of leftover enchiladas, this was the exchange that followed:
LEO: I want mine WARMED UP!
ME: What do you say?
LEO: (folds his arms belligerently)
ME: Leo…WHAT DO YOU SAY?
ME: Leo…you either need to ask us nicely…RIGHT NOW…or you’re going to get a strike.
LEO (Caving against his will): I’m thinking…
LEO: I…I FORGOT!
ME: Nice try…
This actually went on all the way up to a strike two. However, once the threat of an entire day without television or hanging out with the neighbors loomed over him…his memory was thankfully jogged.
I can only hope that this near-miss will stick with him forever, labeled in his mental storybook as “The Day I Almost Got Punished for the Stupidest Reason Ever”
As a writer, I often find myself awed by the power of words. Not only can a few of them provide meaning to any given situation…but a few MORE of them can completely alter that meaning at a moment’s notice.
As adults, we tend to use this power wisely, since most of us prefer to be understood when we speak. However, I am learning that preschoolers are a different matter entirely…
The other day, I took Leo to a playdate at a good friend’s house. Over lunch, they were allowed to watch a movie while eating their pizza (pretty much a one-two punch of four-year-old perfection). The movie (Leo’s choice) was (BIG surprise) “How to Train Your Dragon.” During the climactic scene where the heroes are fighting the evil giant dragon, the boys found themselves shouting at the screen in their exuberance. This was the brief exchange that followed:
LEO’S FRIEND: That dragon is HUGE!
LEO: Yeah! He’s as big as a PICKLE!
ME: …Leo…did you just say he was as big as a PICKLE?
LEO (Like I’m the idiot): Yes, Daddy. A GINORMOUS one.
ME: Point…made…I guess.
I hate to say it…but when put exactly this way, his statement did make sense. In fact, it was a clear as pea soup. You know, provided it was broth-based, and strained, and mixed 10 to 1 with water…
As a parent, there are several occasions each day when you find yourself issuing an appeal to your kids to do something or other. In those instances, it’s tempting to use basic logic and plain facts, since in most cases, A+B really does equal C.
However, the problem with this tactic is that when our kids fight back, they often use facts they make up, gleaned from an entire world they created in their heads. When THAT happens, your only choice of victory is to drop all pretense if logic, and try to out-crazy the craziness.
As I have recounted several times, Leo is a very big fan of pretending to be animals, and these days he prefers to play Dr. Moreau, creating hybrids for himself that would be horrifying if they weren’t impossible. When we walk the dog together, he prefers a “Griffin Hawk” who’s the pet of the king (me), and during the still-common morning Egg Game, he has been leaning toward a “Dragon Cheetah” who us super fast, with poisonous fur.
The other morning, after hatching a fresh Dragon Cheetah before starting the day, he kept wearing that persona through breakfast, and when my wife and I decided to go on a family dog walk, I assumed it would continue. This was the exchange that followed:
ME: Well, Dragon Cheetah…let’s get dressed so we can go for our walk.
LEO: I don’t think so, Daddy. The Dragon Cheetah just hatched, and he’s VERY tired.
ME: Well…the best thing for newly hatched creatures to do is move around.
LEO (Belligerently): NO, Daddy! The Dragon Cheetah is TOO TIRED!
ME: Well then…I’m ACTUALLY the king…and I NEED my Griffin Hawk!
And with that, he got dressed and joined us without another word.
I’m tempted to use this newfound power of mine at work. My boss might be able to yell at me, but just let her TRY yelling at a Cyclops Crocodile…
As I’ve been recounting recently…Leo has been trying his preschool butt off these days to master the fine art of joke telling. After many kicks that went just wide to the left of coherence, I’m (VERY) proud to say that he’s beginning to master that skill, and telling jokes that actually make sense.
Still though, I think he might be missing the principle of the thing…
The other night, I came home from work to the following exchange:
LEO: DADDY…WHY did the COW cross the road?
LEO: Because he wanted to go to the MOO-vies!!
ME: Good one, Buddy!
LEO: DADDY…WHY did the COW cross the road?
LEO: Because he wanted to go to the MOO-sic…wait…
ME: How about this one: Why did the cow cross the road?
ME: Because he wanted to go to the MOO-seum!
LEO (Laughing): Moo-seum? That’s so funny, Daddy!
ME: Thanks, I guess.
LEO: Daddy…forget you told me that one, okay?
LEO: DADDY…WHY did the COW cross the road?
ME: I MIGHT have a guess…
And so it continued, for the next 5-10 minutes. After a while, a constantly repeated joke can get stuck in your subconscious brain forever, but luckily this didn’t happen here, and that time merely gets filed away as an amoosing incident.
One phenomenon of life that I find myself falling victim to all the time is how familiarity warps your idea of a person away from the average. In other words, the closer you are to someone, the harder it is to see them as just like everyone else, even though in many ways, we all are.
For instance, if any dog in the entire world walks up to me and jumps up on my leg, I think “oh…what a cute dog!” However, if MY dog were to do this EXACT same thing, my thoughts would change to “What the F*** is WRONG with you?? You know BETTER than this!!”
In Leo’s case…at almost five years old, he has become very verbose and surprisingly articulate. While he still makes me laugh every day, it’s usually no longer due to inadvertently obscene mime, or sexual innuendos based on speech impediments, but rather on how his mind works, and interprets the world around him.
And yet…he is still just FOUR years old, and thus as prone to old-fashioned “kid” mistakes as the next one. It just throws me for an extra large loop when it happens.
Last night, I returned home late from work to a family who had eaten dinner at a friend’s house. This was the exchange that followed:
ME: Leo…did you eat your dinner tonight?
LEO: Well…I hate SOME of my hot dog.
ME: Okay. Anything else?
LEO: Yes! I ate some MONSTER cheese!
ME: Uh…what does…
LEO: No, wait…Monster-ELLA cheese!
I didn’t bother to correct him. I figure, one day he’ll either learn the real pronunciation, or discover that this type of cheese often comes from buffaloes. Either way…the confusion should be cleared right up.
Yesterday, I recounted an exchange with my son that encapsulated the boundless and (and megalomaniacal) power of a pre-schooler’s imagination.
Last night, on our walk, the game started anew:
LEO: Daddy…I’m your Dragon Griffin. It’s my job to protect you.
ME: Well good. I know I’m safe with a dragon griffin around.
LEO: You are. BECAUSE…I can turn into ANY dinosaur.
ME (Getting into the spirit): Wow! So you can turn into…a Spinosaur?
LEO (Interrupting me): YES! Daddy…I can turn into ANY dinosaur.
ME: Well that’s great! I’m the safest man in the world.
LEO: Yeah…and I can ALSO turn into a PUPPY.
ME: Wait…if you’re supposed to protect me…then WHY would I want you to turn into a PUPPY?
LEO: BECAUSE…THIS puppy has three heads…and VERY sharp teeth.
ME: …that’ll do it.
Friends…in a way…ALL preschoolers are like three-headed puppies with sharp teeth: they’re cute from some angles…but piss them off at your OWN PERIL.