As every parent knows, if you want something done properly, you must be very specific about your expectations. Kids will do absolutely anything to get out of doing what you want, even if it means doing something completely wrong just to win the battle. For instance, when I send my 7-year old to take a shower, it’s important that I clarify to him that I expect him to do more than just stand under the running water. I expect him to use a washrag and soap to wash his body; and shampoo on his hair, sudsing it up with his fingertips until he can create fancy hairstyles. Along the same lines, if I want my teenager to do a load of dishes, I’ve learned to say something like, “Dishes…not pots and pans. Dishes, forks, knives bowls,etc.” Alternately, sometimes I’ll say, “I expect every dish to fit in that dishwasher or you’ll be washing the rest of them by hand.” If I don’t make my expectations crystal clear, then it’s likely that she’ll look for the largest and most ill-fitting pots and pans to wash first, such that only those 3 or 4 pots and pans are cleaned, and the sink remains full of dishes. Technically speaking, she’s done what I’ve asked; she’s loaded the dishwasher to capacity based upon the size of those large pots, but she’s relieved herself of a lot of work by only having to wash those three or four items as nothing else now fits.
The bottom line is this: if a child doesn’t want to do something, then he’ll invariably do it wrong in hopes, I guess, that his parents will become so frustrated that they’ll just quit asking him to do things and pick up the slack themselves. In this regard, my 7-year old son mastered this art in early infancy.
If Braden doesn’t want to do something, he invariably finds creative – and often dramatic – ways to get out of it. I remember him quite clearly as a toddler, sitting in the midst of a ginormous mess of Duplo blocks he’d scattered all over the floor. “Braden,” I’d said. “Look at this mess you’ve made, Buddy! You need to pick up those blocks and put them in the bucket.”
Without moving his body even a fraction of a single inch, Braden stretched his arm out toward a block, wiggled his fingers about a half an inch from the closest block, grunted slightly and said, “I can’t weach! I can’t weach! It too far ‘way!”
Seriously? The child was only about eighteen months old!
Shortly after his 3rd birthday, we moved Braden out of the crib and into a toddler bed. Big mistake! Now that he lacked the prison bars of the crib, he could leave his bed at will and often did. One night after I put him to bed, he came out of his room to wander around the house for about the eleventy-billionth time. By this time my patience was at an end. With barely suppressed fury, I said in an ominous voice, “Braden! What are you doing out of bed again?! You get your butt in that bed right this instant before I come completely unglued!”
Braden looked at me with complete seriousness and said, “I sorry, Mommy,” and began to walk back toward his bedroom. After taking about three steps, however, he suddenly fell down in a surprisingly dramatic fashion. This was clearly another stalling tactic.
“Braden,” I said in my best attempt to remain calm, “get in that bed!”
“I can’t! I falled down!” Braden said. “Can you carry me?”
“Braden, I’m losing my patience. No, I can’t carry you. I’ve put you in bed a gazillion times already! Now…Get.In.That.Bed.Right.Now!” I said.
“I sorry, Mommy. I go now,” he said and got up off the floor to continue on his way. Now the child was limping dramatically, dragging one leg behind another. “I can’t walk! Mommy! I can’t walk! My leg is broked! Can you carry me now?”
I should’ve realized then that life with Braden would never be boring…or lack humor.
Braden is now 7 and the drama has only become bigger and more dramatic. Last week Braden had tennis lessons at the athletic club we attend. We were running very late and he had jumped in the car with his shoes in his hands, rather than on his feet. As we approached the athletic club, I reminded him that he needed to get his shoes on and get them tied because we had no time to spare.
We arrived at the athletic club and jumped out of the car to make a mad sprint into the building. Braden wasn’t quite moving fast enough and, as I encouraged him to go faster, I looked down to see his shoe laces hanging over the side of each shoe. They were clearly not tied; or, if they were, they weren’t tied properly.
“Braden,” I said, “I told you to tie your shoes! We’re already late and you haven’t even tied your shoes yet?!”
“I did tie them!” he exclaimed.
Well, I’d seen the laces. There’s no way those shoes were tied properly! I was seething inside but chose to bite my tongue rather than start an argument with a 7-year old.
As we rushed toward the front door, Braden suddenly fell down. I look over to see him lying face-down in puddle of melted snow and mud, crying as though he was bleeding to death.
“Hang on, Buddy! Are you okay?” I asked.
“No! I’m not okay! ” he cried.
I reached down to help him get up, but he wasn’t giving me any help from his end and so I had difficulty getting him into an upright position. “Buddy, you gotta help me out here. You’re too big and I can’t pick you up. Now help me to help you up.”
“I can’t!” he cried.
“Are you that hurt?” I asked. Thinking he might’ve seriously injured himself, I rolled him over to look at his arms and legs to make sure he was truly in one piece. Though his coat and pants were smeared with the muck of that melted snow and mud, he appeared to be mostly uninjured. Again I tried to get him up, but he simply wasn’t giving me the help I needed.
“Ya gotta help me, Buddy. I can’t get you up without your help,” I said.
“I told you!” he said. “I can’t!”
“Why not? Just pull your legs up, put your feet up under you, and push while I pull you up.”
“But I can’t!” he cried. “My feet are stuck!”
Surely he couldn’t be that injured! He’d only fallen off the edge of the sidewalk! I looked down to check his legs and feet again in an attempt to discover the extent of his injuries, when everything became crystal clear. He couldn’t move his feet to help himself get up because his shoe laces were tied together.
With a grin and a look of complete innocence, Braden responded “You told me to tie my shoes. You didn’t tell me how to tie my shoes, so I tied them together.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again because I think it’s completely true: This is why some animals eat their young!