I like to think of myself as a decently logical person. All other barometers of assessment aside, I was a lawyer in my former life and relatively skilled at the art of logical persuasion. I knew that these genes might get passed down, but I never believed that they might be amplified and turned against me…by a 3 year old.
Enter my daughter.
At three, she was beginning to learn the art of persuasion and manipulation. From pitch modulation and word choice to audience and timing, we were all barely keeping up until one fateful, stormy night (no hyperbole here, there was an actual weather advisory in our area that night).
We had been having a very typical battle of wills over the number of books to read before bedtime. Before you judge too harshly, please understand that we read LOTS of books throughout the day. The issue with bedtime is to get the kids into bed in a timely manner without letting them manipulate that situation (too much). You know what I mean, one more minute to play leads to one more song leads to one more hug, and the next thing you know, your kid is still awake in the wee hours, and you’re barely functioning (although, for whatever reason, my kids have drawn the line at asking for one more bath…that hasn’t happened…yet).
The next issue with bedtime is that I am not an evening person, and my ability to have an adult conversation with my husband hinges on me getting out of my kids’ rooms awake and remotely alert when he’s in town and not working late. Since those stars rarely align, I am the primary bedtime book reader. That, and I believe in sustainable boundaries. Thus, the rule is that they can ask ANYONE else to read more (we warn unsuspecting family/friends of this eventuality before we accept their offers of help with bedtime). Mommy, on the other hand, “isn’t as fun” and “only reads one” (yes, it rhymes, and I did just make it up).
Enter, the process of elimination.
Up to this point, she had been trying to access the next level of mommy book reading by many different methods (almost scientifically checking them off):
(1) Tantrum — negative results — check
(2) Whining — negative results — check
(3) Complimenting (but you read the best) — ambivalent results — check
(4) Bribing (but it’s your favorite book) — ambivalent results — check
(5) Heart twisting (I just want to hear your voice a little longer) — inconclusive — check
Enter the fateful, stormy night.
I go into her room to read ONE book, and this is verbatim how our exchange unfolds:
Jenna: may we read two books, please?
Me: How many books does Mommy read?
Me: Okay then.
Jenna: What book do you choose?
Me: The puffin book
Jenna: Okay, I’ll read that one to you, and you can read me magic school bus
Me: … … Uhhh …………….
Do you see what she did?! “Mommy” only reads one book. Fine. But if Jenna reads one to Mommy, it doesn’t count against Mommy’s “read one, no fun” rule. And logically, she has a fair point!
I’m not too proud to admit that I felt a little cornered. What was I supposed to say?! “No, honey, I don’t really choose that one anymore.” Another very important rule in our house is that “Mommy doesn’t lie.” Again, what was I supposed to say?! “I do love that book, just not right now.” Maybe. Or, I could have dug in my heels and said, “There will only be one book tonight regardless of who reads it.”
In the moment, there are always several ways to react to children. I’m a firm believer in consistent boundaries. I’m also a proponent for flexibility and respecting others’ ability to add to the discussion, even my children’s ability to inform my parenting.
In this moment, I’ll admit that I considered towing the line, digging in my heels, and being unrelentingly consistent. But, even the most consistent of us Type-A personalities knows when to throw in the towel. In a world where I want my kids to express their opinions and experiment with their persuasive skills, this situation deserved some props.
Enter the second book
(and as promised, my daughter did read it to me while I had my eyes closed, marveling at the sheer magnitude of my undertaking in raising her in my home for another 15 years).
And this, my friends, was the first time that my daughter out-maneuvered me and firmly captured me in her three-year old logic web. Unfortunately, I am a logical enough person to realize that it will not be the last time.