My dad is old school. Growing up, the division of labor in our household was gendered. Mom sewed, did the dishes and laundry, cooked and cleaned. Dad worked at a paper mill and maintained the structural integrity of the house (though sometimes his shortcuts–often involving duct tape–did more to compromise it). He raised my sister and I with an iron fist, or rather a foot-long wooden stick. He kept it in a central location, on a ledge next to the refrigerator that served no other purpose but to hold that infernal twig of terror. When angry, he’d bark clichés.
“If you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules!”
“I don’t care if you like it or not!”
Or my personal favorite: “Why? Because I said so!”
It’s not just parenting; Dad doesn’t rely on logic for many things. On the Forth of July, he shot his sawed-off shotgun straight up into the air. I assumed the bullet lodged into the moon, since it never came down and killed us. When he couldn’t sleep, he’d tossed back a sleeping pill. When that didn’t work, Dad swallowed a couple more. At one point, he couldn’t remember if he’d swallowed any, or if it was all just a dream, so he took some more. Luckily, Dad didn’t die. Let’s just say he “slept it off.”
In all honesty, my parents did a great job raising me. I’m still conditioned to say “No thank you,” “Yes, please,” and “I have to go potty” (which is, admittedly, a little embarrassing). But I vowed to raise my own daughter without relying on unexamined platitudes such as, “Because I said so.” If I say “No,” I should have a good reason, right?
It was smooth sailing for the first few years.
“Don’t lick the shopping cart. It’s dirty and it’ll make you sick and then you’ll have to go to the doctor and get shots."
“Can I buy a toy?”
"No. That Barbie looks like a whore.”
“Can we go to Chuck E. Cheese?”
“No. They’re closed.” Okay, that was a lie, but if you offer a logical answer, you can get away with a lie every now and again.
But then things got complicated when Ava learned to use logic to her advantage.
“Can I watch a show when I get home?” she asked in the car as we drove home from a restaurant.
“No, absolutely not. It’s late. You need to take a quick bath and get into bed because you don’t want to be tired for school tomorrow.”
She pondered this perfectly sound explanation.
"Okay. How about this–” And so began the bargaining. “I watch TV while you get the bath started. Because it takes a while to fill. Deal?”
Seemed reasonable enough.
“And then, after the bath, I’ll watch another show while you brush my hair. How does that sound?”
Her plan didn’t really compromise mine. I would have to fill the bath and I would have to brush her hair, so who cares what she does while I do those things? A lesser parent, that’s who. Someone who thinks that they have the final say no matter what; someone who thinks that “No, absolutely not,” is an absolute. As if.
Of course, I’m still the parent, so I feel the need to make my own addendum simply to feel like I haven’t given up all control. “Okay, but only if you don’t fuss when I tell you it’s time for bed.”
"Yes, Mommy,” she said sweetly.
My favorite part about the whole charade is when Ava seals the deal by saying, “So let me get this straight,” and then restates the agreement as if it were so complicated that my feeble brain couldn’t compute it the first time.
I’m willing to negotiate, even with a 5-year-old. Because negotiating skills are important–just ask the guys who are called in to hostage situations. I don’t see it as giving in to her wants or forsaking my control. I see this as an exercise in critical thinking. It will pay for my retirement after she passes the Bar. All my poor dad gets from this starving writer is an eloquently written card on the holidays. Why? Probably because he said so.