I think my kid is going to grow up and be a lawyer. In fact, I know she is. I don’t know of any other five year-olds who put as much effort and thought into their begging to get their way.
Most kids just pitch one: eyes bulge, veins throb, tongues glisten with spittle, as the back of the little darling’s throat bleeds from the banshee wail pouring out of its mouth. Not my kid. She sidles up next to you, all sweet and cuddly, and she weaves her hand into yours with a smile. She kisses you on the cheek and then puts her head on your shoulder, and then – just for the certitude – she let’s out a little sigh of contentedness that would make even Ms. Hannigan’s heart melt. That’s when she hits you.
“Can I have some ice cream?”
“Daddy, can I watch just a little bit of my movie?”
“Can I stay up just a little later and play?”
“Daddy, what’s the limit on your credit card?”
Bam. She’s baited you with the sweet stuff, then she sets the hook good and deep. Now, sometimes, you are powerless to resist (or, if you’re my parents, all the time you are powerless to resist). Those moments happen, when she’s timed it just right and your mood is just right or your mind is somewhere else and you decide that, in the grand scheme of things, one more scoop of vanilla won’t end the earth. Those moments are harmless (or you tell yourself that) and don’t really reveal her true gift.
No, that only comes out when you tell her no. Ella looks at you, as if you spoke in a foreign language, and then re-phrases the question.
“I can have some ice cream?”
The dialog then runs like this:
“I said ‘no, you can’t have any ice cream.’”
“Why not daddy?” (Standard rebuttal. All kids do this.)
“Because you’ll ruin your appetite. Wait until after dinner.”
“But I’m hungry now.” (Solid logic for a five year old.)
“Then you need to go ahead and eat your dinner.”
“But then there won’t be room for ice cream.” (Smart kid, huh? She knows if she eats, she’ll get full and won’t really want the ice cream.)
“You’re right. But you need to eat healthy food first, and junk food second.”
“What’s for dinner again?” (Stall tactic. Usually a diversion while she thinks of another angle. Normally I would say don’t answer it, but if you don’t she’ll keep repeating until you do. Either way, she gets some time to think.)
“Those aren’t very healthy. Those are junk food.” (She establishes equivalency between my healthy food and her junk food. A semantic argument is now initiated.)
“Tacos aren’t like a salad, but they’re not like ice cream. You can’t eat ice cream for dinner.”
“Why not?” (Stalling again, but she’s got you on the ropes now.)
“Because, you need something filling to help you grow healthy.”
“Ice cream makes me full.” (See how she adroitly uses your own terminology to her advantage?)
“Yes, but being full and eating filling food isn’t the same.”
“It isn’t?” (Said with a half-legit, half-mocking raised eyebrow. Now you have to split hairs to nail down your meaning and she still gets more time to think.)
“Not, it’s not.”
“What’s the difference?” (What? You don’t think she’s gonna let you get off that easy, do you?)
“Ice cream has a lot of sugar in it, and too much sugar, though it makes your belly feel full, isn’t good for you. It’s not a good kind of full. You want a healthy full that gives you energy and keeps you well, so you don’t have to go to the hospital.” *
*This is a blatantly dirty trick on my part. She’s asthmatic, and has been to the hospital at least once a year for the past three years due to asthma related complications. Ella despises the hospital on the same level a Republican hates poor people or a Democrat hates good planning, so this is a very thinly veiled threat that if she doesn’t comply with my wishes, she’ll end up with an IV. Like I said, dirty.
“I don’t want to go to the hospital.”
“Good. Then eat your tacos.”
“How many bites do I need to eat to qualify for ice cream?” (Qualifying is something that my father-in-law, Jim White came up with a long time ago: the grandkids have to eat a certain amount of the food on their plate in order to ‘qualify’ for some dessert, which is served proportionally to the amount of food the kid has eaten.)
“Well, the more bites you take, the more ice cream you’ll get.”
“Oh.” (She’s stumped now. I didn’t give her a hard figure, just a vague promise that if she eats a lot, she’ll get a lot more ice cream. Back to the ‘if I eat my dinner, I’ll be too full for ice cream’ dilemma, only with a twist: how much is enough to get the maximum amount of ice cream and yet still leave room in the stomach for said ice cream? It’s the five year-old’s version of Ockham’s Razor.)
“Mmmmm.” (I’m just happy to have a moment’s peace at this point.)
“How about five?” (She knows this is usually the number I pull from my hat. She’s flattering me now.)
“Five BIG bites. Not your usual pitiful little bites.”
“Five BIG bites or five big bites?” (Semantics again.)
“Five BIG bites. You know the drill.”
“Urrrrggghshhhhtfl.” (Gagging.) “Your bites are too big daddy. How about five big bites instead?” (She’s made an attempt to meet the burden of proof, and is now arguing it’s too onerous.)
“Fine. Five big bites. But I’m counting.”
“Okay!” (Gobbles down five relatively decent sized bites.) “I’m ready for my ice cream now.”
“All right. But you only get as much as you ate.”
“Thank you, daddy.” (“Nice doin’ bidness with you, sucker.”)
And so it goes. I’m hoping to channel this into the debate club, or mock trial team at her elementary school. I swear, if I ever have to stand before the bench and require representation, I’m calling my daughter to my defense. I think she would wear out the Nine Supremes.
By the way – did I mention this is only Day TWO of Rachel’s trip?