My two-year-old son, a gifted manipulator, can read every angle and exploit any sign of weakness. He can confuse, misdirect, and exaggerate with the best of them, usually in order to get an extra piece of candy. Itís difficult not to be at least a little proud of him because you know these skills are going to come in handy in later life. Especially when he starts dating.
One of his favorite tricks is to try to undermine my authority by making wild claims about the unfair rules I impose.
"Mommy," he says in his sweet, sad, Dickensian orphan voice. "Mommy, daddy say that I canít drink water. Yesterday."
"Why did you tell him he canít drink water?" my wife will ask.
"I did? When?"
"He says Ďyesterday.í"
The "yesterday" part is key because it makes it sound official and unassailable at the same time. Because it happened sometime yesterday -- which is too long ago for me to recall with any real clarity -- itís difficult for either my wife or me to question. He will also often provide information about the location of our dialogue.
"Mommy," he will say. "Daddy say no wear pants."
"He did? When?"
"Um, yesterday. Upstairs."
See? It sounds completely plausible. Upstairs is precisely the kind of place we would have such a conversation.
I want you to understand that this isnít the classic dad-said-I-could technique weíre all familiar with (mostly because we used it on our parents) and prepared for. This is something much more devious. What heís trying to do is destroy credibility. He figures that if he can make my rules seem as absurd as possible, Iíll be removed from the chain of command. Which is probably true.
Heís also claimed that Iíve told him not to:
- Play with the ball right there
- Close the bathroom door
- Wash his hands
- Flush the toilet
Once he accused me of discriminating against him because he was wearing a blue shirt. I swear to God. Well, he didnít actually use any form of the word "discriminate" but that was the gist of it.
My wife thinks this is mostly very funny but Iím starting to feel like the mad dictator of a tiny island nation. You know, the kind that proclaims national holidays for dead pets and makes the color puce illegal (which is not, entirely, a bad idea). Pretty soon, Iíll be ignored completely, and my only official remaining task will be to bark at the neighborsí cats when they sniff around our back yard. I do this already, but itís mostly a hobby.
And, you know, maybe thatís the best thing for me to do. Free myself from all parental authority. Let my wife be the sole disciplinarian. Iíll sit by a window at the back of the house and wear a shawl and bark. Itís not such a bad life.
Somehow, I think my son would see through this and modify his strategy.
"Daddy," my son says, in his sweet-sad way, "mommy say no sitting on the floor."
"She did? When?"