You see, our beloved Iris can still get a little unstrung about weird things. Or she can get fickle about certain things for no apparent reason. As I’ve said before, kids aren’t always rational. It’s up to Cherise and me as the parents to deftly manage our way out of these situations in a way that creates the right outcome with the minimal amount of fussing and fighting. Don’t get me wrong–we’re not afraid to lay down the law and provide discipline when necessary. But one thing you learn after being on the job for 3+ years is that you can’t afford to fight too many battles over the smallest things lest you lose the war. It’ll wear you down and she’ll eventually get immune to it. I remember my own parents. Mom and I used to have countless arguments. Eventually, it got to the point where (a) I could recognize her empty threats and (b) after a while, it never really improved my behavior. I was grounded several times but never served one sentence. In fact, one time, I actually giggled when she "grounded" me. It’s a little like the criminal that is caught multiple times and gets a suspended sentence every time. If you don’t follow-through, it’ll practically encourage the behavior. Dad was different. Dad didn’t get mad often, but when he did, you knew it was a big deal. Not because he was loud (he wasn’t). Not because he threatened (he didn’t). It was just so rare that when it happened, you knew that you crossed the line. That’s my parenting dream–letting the kid know "this time, I mean business" without having to say it.
But how does a parent put out the small fires without turning them into really big fires? Well, sometimes you have to think like a three-year old. I am better at this than Cherise and I don’t know if I should be proud or concerned. Anyway, it’s literally thinking of something really quickly that changes the conversation. So, when Iris demands that Mommy give her a bath and is ready to potentially throw a tantrum because I am on bath duty for that night, I’ve gotta defuse the situation. So I interrupt Iris just as she starts to get upset and ask "Hey Iris, have you ever seen a duck do a jig?" Yes, your reaction is probably similar to hers. "Huh?" I follow up with "If you let me give you a bath, I’ll show you how a duck does a jig." Suddenly, she not only forgets her previous demand, but she wouldn’t let me get out of bath duty if I tried. Of course, now I’ve got a problem. How exactly does one make a duck do a jig? Well, Iris gets in the tub and I pull out the rubber ducky. And I start bouncing the duck around. Three hops to the left. Three hops to the right. Is that a jig? I don’t know, but neither does she. Now she is on Cloud 9. "Mommy, Mommy," she yells to the other room, "I saw the duck do a jig!" Crisis averted. Happy Mommy. Happy Daddy. Very happy Iris. Of course, dancing bath toys can get old, so I continually have to come up with something new. Last week, I invented the flip bath where I take my daughter and help her do a slow-motion somersault into the bath tub. Each time I come up with these suggestions, I keep expecting her to say "yeah, whatever Dad, not interested. Now back to my original point…" But she never has. And the more cryptic the offer, the more excited she gets. So when she is just playing with her food and not really finishing up despite our constant pleas, I’ll ask "have you seen Robyn as a Thanksgiving Day Float?" Again, "huh?" "Well, if you finish your food, I’ll show you what I mean." Man, you’ve never seen a three-year old shovel pasta down that fast. And once she was done, she says "OK, can I see the float?" "Nope, wash you hands first!" Iris sprints to the bathroom and washes up. At this point, a part of me is thinking "she’s gonna be so disappointed" (while the other part is thinking "man, I should’ve gotten her to do the laundry!"). So Iris gets back and we’re ready. I take Robyn, put her torso on my palm and lift her up. Her arms and legs swimming around, she looks a lot like Underdog from the Macy’s Parade (or Stewie from "Family Guy"). Iris LOVES this. Nothing real special, but for her, it was worth the work she had to do to see it.
I’m not a fool. A day will come when she’ll have gained a level of cynicism where this stuff just won’t work. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that parenting is all about constantly adapting to the kid’s evolving personality. I don’t know what’s next, but I hope it’s this much fun.
BTW, if you haven’t voted yet, vote for me in the Nike "Believe in the Run" contest. http://tinyurl.com/runsandyrun/