The Magic Elixir for Perfect Parenting

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Jun 112013

Strange things happen when you look through someone else’s eyes

A couple nights ago we took the kids out to dinner at their favorite fish taco joint. During dinner, the two older kids performed an acrobatic display in, on, and around their chairs while the baby alternated between spewing pureed squash on his shirt and babbling, loudly, what I’m pretty certain was a profanity-laden tirade in Polish.

In a wildly unsuccessful attempt to get them to behave, the wife and I admonished, threatened, ignored, quietly suggested, and tried Jedi mind tricks. Nothing. At one point, I tried bribing the older two kids with cookies, even though I knew full well that the restaurant didn’t serve cookies. When that didn’t work, I threatened to remove the nonexistent cookies from our after-dinner options, but the kids didn’t fall for it. They just continued their hijinks, pausing occasionally to spray cheese quesadilla and black beans around the table in a sardonic nod to our pleading for them to sit down and eat.

When Cirque du Dinner finally wrapped up, we got up, brushed the beans, salsa, and creamed squash from our clothes and started herding our kids toward the door, praying that we didn’t encounter anyone we knew. During the exit parade, my eldest son, Lil’ O, meandered over to another table and stood staring at the couple in a way that would have been incredibly creepy if he wasn’t a cute three-year-old.

As I shuffled him away, the woman at the table said—get this—“Your children are so good!”

“I’m sorry if he bothered you,” I said. “He’s just a curious little boy.”

“No, really, they are very well-behaved.”

“Okay, listen, lady, I’m sorry if my kid interrupted your dinner, but there’s no reason to be a smartass about it.”

She laughed. “I’m being serious,” she insisted. “They’ve been quiet and good, and they seem like really well-behaved kids.”

When she repeated the term “well-behaved,” I glanced at my wife just in time to see her jaw drop ever so slightly as she stared at the woman incredulously, like she’d just stepped off an alien space ship wearing athletic socks with sandals.

“Um, thanks, I guess,” I replied.

And then she kept going. “You’ve three little ones, and you two make it look so easy.”

I could see my wife’s jaw drop a touch more out of the corner of my eye.

“What’s your secret?” asked the woman, who’d clearly been mixing prescription allergy medicine with grain alcohol for several hours.

At this point, my wife’s mouth with totally agape, and she was speechless. So I spoke up.

“Well, it’s not like there’s some magic potion,” I said I as subtly dropped my napkin over my three empty Corona bottles. “We’re just taking it one day at a time, and trying to keep it together.”

“Well, they’re darlings,” said the woman.

“Thank you. I suppose they are,” I said. And then I walked off magnanimously, dragging two preschoolers by their elbows and nudging my still-stunned wife toward the door.

The lesson in all of this? As crazy as our kids make us, as unruly as they seem, maybe they’re not as bad as we think they are. As parents, we say we always want to see the best in our children, but sometimes we’re guilty of seeing the worst. At the fish taco joint, what seemed like a wildly disobedient display to my wife and me was just kids being kids to a stranger.

So maybe our kids aren’t that bad. Maybe they’re not semi-domesticated jungle animals bent on driving us into state-mandated psychiatric care. Maybe they’re just, well, kids being kids.

Or maybe the woman sitting next to us at dinner was a certifiable moron who was fall-down drunk on happy-hour margaritas.

Either way, I left the restaurant with a smile, and when we got home, everyone got a cookie.

Sep 182012

On Mondays and Tuesdays, my wife leaves for work at the crack of dawn, and I have the sole responsibility of getting the kids up and dressed, not to mention making myself somewhat presentable, before the nanny arrives. Usually, I try to get out of bed a few minutes before the kids wake up so I can grab a quick shower and throw on some clothes prior to the unbridled chaos that is my two toddlers’ morning routine.

This morning I was a little slow, and my kids were up and hollering for attention from their rooms before I had a chance to shower or dress. So I got them ready and then brought them into my room so I could bathe quickly in the attached bathroom while they played peacefully on the floor.

“Played peacefully on the floor.” Okay, even I cracked up at that line. Those two haven’t played “peacefully” for more than two minutes since they learned that their parents weren’t really going to sell them to the next passing gypsy caravan if they misbehaved. But as parents, we all tend to delude ourselves when it’s convenient. And then things usually get very inconvenient.

Case in point, this morning. I was just getting out of the shower, still dripping wet, when I saw the bathroom door swing closed, obviously pushed from the outside by a pair of tiny hands.

And then, click.

I should back up and tell you that the door handle on our master bathroom is reversed. When we did some renovations a couple years ago, we moved a wall in the bathroom but re-used the same door. However, because we changed the orientation of the wall, the door had to be put back on in reverse from its original setup, meaning its hinges and handle are now on the opposite side from their original position. No big deal, except that the current arrangement allows you to lock someone in the bathroom as opposed to locking people out of it. Fixing the handle has been on my list, along with about 4,000 other home-improvement tasks that I systematically procrastinate so that I can do, well, just about anything else. This practice came back to haunt me in a big way this morning.

I dried off and wrapped the towel around my waist. Then I walked over to the door and grasped the handle. Sure enough, locked.

I knocked, which seemed ridiculous, but I thought it best to start with the polite, soft-handed approach.

“Hey, kids. Can you let daddy out please?”

I heard only muffled giggling, followed by some scampering across the bedroom.

“Knock, knock. Hey, guys. I have a fun game! It starts with pushing the button in the middle of the door knob!”

More giggling. No pushing of the lock button.

“Hey! Who wants a special surprise? Open up the door, and daddy’s got one for you!”

It dawned on me that this last statement sounded more than a little creepy coming from a guy wearing nothing but a towel. Whatever. I needed out of that bathroom before the little monsters found their way into my office and started e-mailing my clients.

“Guys? Can you hear daddy?”

More giggling and scampering, followed by a small crash and then something that sounded like metal hitting metal. This couldn’t be good.


Then I heard some breathing close to the door.

“Hello? Who’s that? Hey, kiddo, can you push the pretty button on that really cool silver knob?”

The breathing got a little louder, and then I heard the distinct sound of nails scratching at the door, followed by what sounded like a tongue licking the carpet at the base of the door.

Damnit, it was the dog. That wasn’t going to be any help at all.

At this point, I couldn’t hear the kids anymore, and they weren’t responding to my repeated appeals. The dog seemed to have settled in on the other side of the door, loyally guarding me inside my lavatory prison cell, or perhaps protecting the lock from being disabled as revenge for switching her to that new health food. Hard to tell. Either way, there were no creatures with opposable thumbs on hand to open the door.

So I just stood there in my towel feeling awfully stupid.

And that’s the way our nanny found me about 20 minutes later. She seemed utterly confused and more than a little horrified. I apologized. I explained. She just shook her head. I begged her not to tell my wife. She just looked at me with a wry expression.

On a completely unrelated note, the nanny now makes about $3 more an hour.

An Apology Letter to Our Dinner Companions

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Jul 182012

Dear Friends and Witnesses to the Apocalypse,

It takes a big man to say he’s sorry, and if I’ve learned anything from being a parent, it’s how to become a very, very big man.

My sincerest apologies for the nuclear meltdown by my son at dinner last night. When multiple servers came by the table to offer us our check and some to-go boxes before they’d actually served our food, well, I knew dinner out with the kids wasn’t going well.

Though only two years old and prone to the occasional temper tantrum, our boy is normally the kid that makes us look like genius parents. This is the kid who could entertain himself quietly for hours with a couple books and a handful of toy trucks. This is the kid who routinely reprimands his baby sister for making a mess at dinner. And this is the kid who, last night, was apparently possessed by the devil.

Speaking of Lucifer, it really wasn’t appropriate for me to say that my son was “a demon spawn thrust forth from the loins of Satan himself.” I mean, I really don’t have any concrete evidence that my wife had an extramarital affair with the Prince of Darkness, yielding our oldest child. Besides, while I’ve never done a paternity test, there’s at least enough of a passing resemblance to say that he’s probably my boy. So we’ll chalk that comment up to exaggeration.

Also, I really had no intention of selling my son to the chef for use in the night’s lamb special, despite what I may have said. Everyone knows that the white meat of a two-year-old boy would be better suited as a pork substitute, so that was just a silly comment by me.

Despite all the insanity, I like to think that maybe you gleaned a few awesome parenting techniques from my handling of the situation. My rapid progression from comforting my son, to sternly reproaching him, to threatening him with permanent forfeiture of all his toys, to completely losing my shit, is a patented, yet tried-and-true methodology. Also, when my son did eventually calm down and offer me an apology for his behavior, and I refused to accept it and instead turned into a pouty two-year-old myself, I call that technique “turnabout is fair play.” Feel free to borrow any of these methods for use with your own kids.

Anyway, sorry again. I hope you were able to salvage a decent evening. And yes, we would be happy to take you up on your offer to meet again for dinner in 15 years. I’ll put it on my calendar.

Until 2027, most sincerely yours,

Dad on Arrival