Sometimes, my kids can snooker me something fierce. Although, I like to think I’m always “on,” when they do catch me operating on autopilot, they pounce. I admit it.
Today, for a few brief, victorious moments, Billy made me his puppet.
It started like any other Sunday afternoon, preparing for end-of-the-weekend errands with a little five-year-old in tow. I was spending way too much of a chunk of time inside the house trying to corral my lollygagging, happy-go-lucky, oblivious boy, and eventually I, admittedly, got a little irritated.
“Come on Billy! This has to stop! Let’s go! Nooooow!” I may also have used the two-beat clap for effect.
I most definitely startled him back to reality.
My sweet and rambunctious little boy flashed his sad eyes my way and mumbled, “Were you always like this?”
I admit, he made me stop in my tracks. My heart clenched. “What? What do you mean, honey?”
“Well, did you always yell? Before us? … Because you make me scared and sad.”
There are no words for these moments.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there was any truth to his words. Was my boy showing wisdom far beyond his years? Or was he yanking my chain?
My knee-jerk response was to feel the former, and I launched into full-out explanation mode, desperately fighting to clear my name, and campaigning to regain his affections. Like a classic sucker, guilt briefly consumed me.
But, thankfully, logic finally prevailed. I had hollered for Billy to speed it up because I was, frankly, tired of repeatedly trying to herd him out of the house.
I’m a yeller, but not a screamer – and about as scary, and cuddly, as the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. I parent with affection mixed with firmness, and cuddle my kids every chance I get. Sometimes, I fear, I’m too soft. Regardless, they know they are loved and cared for. At some point, the kid’s got to learn how good he really has it, I think to myself.
Or, did he already know? ..Wait a minute, what just happened? And, that’s when it hit me: My sweet little love bug was playing me. I’d been snookered!
He had me exactly where he wanted me. I was his toy. Maybe it was the flash of whimsy in his eyes that finally made me realize that my little baby was smarter than he appeared.
My yelling did not make him sad. It made him annoyed, hassled, and, generally, miffed.
Miffed enough to try to turn the tables…
And, so, for a few split seconds today, I was stricken with guilt about over-zealous haranguing, the kind that simply comes with the territory of being a parent. Small potatoes in the land of greater evils.
The irrefutable truth is that kids have a knack for inducing guilt. They know how to get under our skin and take control before they know how to read and write. Claiming minor victories like seeing a parent quiver at their whim provides more amusement and satisfaction than even their most cherished toy.
The opportunities for folly are endless. It must be in their genes. They are creative – and clever.
Meltdowns from Billy upon being dropped off at daycare instantly stop the second I leave his sight. Sometimes I’ve gotten caught in his trap and have spent the morning commute in a state of anxiety and despair. But, I’m getting wiser to his ways. Eddie’s tantrums over struggles with homework mystify his teacher, who watches him confidently problem solve the same curriculum in the classroom. To his dismay, I’ve recently caught on to his whiny ways. And, stomach pains of an immeasurable magnitude instantly vanish upon the presentation of a fun alternative to whatever had originally induced the phantom illness. (This one, I’ve learned to master after countless stunts by both).
Yet, they still persist to run their scams.
What my kids don’t count on is that, despite a healthy dose of Irish guilt, always ready to be deployed from the coves of my conscience, their mom is one tough nut, and as sharp as a tack.
Once in a while, they may win a game, like Billy did today. But, I’ll always win the match.
They may be good, but I’m better.