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When lawyers and philosophers make babies

July 11, 2009

I suppose it should come as no surprise that Tim and I–an attorney and a PhD candidate in philosophy, respectively–have bequeathed a wicked sense of argumentation and linguistic gymnastics upon our 3-year-old son, M.  And while we admire his ability to shred our words into oblivion, we’ve very quickly realized that M’s verbal acuity isn’t all fun and games–especially when we’re trying to discipline him.

If there is ever a loophole to be found in our attempts to discipline him, M will find it.  He will find it, he will exploit it, and he will force Tim and I to perform our own set of verbal back-flips just to keep up with him.  It’s exhausting, and it’s hilarious, which can bring its own set of troubles to our parenting/disciplinary efforts.

For example…

Just the other day, M swatted me with a plastic crocodile after I scolded him for what seemed like his seventieth time committing his annoyance-du-jour.

After removing the crocodile from M’s violent little paws, I sat M on my lap and launched into my usual talk about hitting, hurting, and being gentle.

I think I used the term ‘hit’ or ‘hitting’ three times before M interrupted me to proclaim the following:

“I wasn’t hitting you, Mom, I was just pointing at you!  Pointing is not hitting!”

(Uhh huh.  It’s like the time I called a kid an ‘idiot’ on the playground when I was in the second grade, and the teacher called us into the class room once the little squealer told on me.  My excuse?  “I was just talking to myself and saying ‘idiot’ over and over again.  I didn’t mean to call Michael an idiot!”  By the way, sorry Michael.)

Anyway, in response to M’s “pointing vs. hitting” objection, I was able mutter something about how “pointing” can also hurt people and that M shouldn’t point so hard.

(Hey, if he can conflate terms, so can I!)

A few days later, M reached up and pinched my cheeks in an effort to “distract” me from hauling him back to his room to change his diaper.  (Okay, who am I kidding?  The kid was pissed because he didn’t want me to change his diaper, and he pinched me to let me know just how pissed he was.)

After I put on my meanest-mommy-voice and launched–a-gain–into my talk about pinching and hurting and being gentle, M looked up at me with all of the sincerity and earnestness in the world and declared, “Mom, I wasn’t pinching you.  I was just stretching your cheeks.”

Again with the word-mincing!

Here’s the thing: M knew that he was pinching me, just like he knew he was hitting me with the crocodile.  (‘Pointing’ and ‘stretching’ my ass!)  And what’s amazing and terrifying to me is that he had the evil brilliance to attempt to change the terms used to describe his actions in order to change the context of those actions.  It was as if coating the actions in neutral terms would effectively neutralize the actions themselves.

It didn’t work–M still received an all-expenses paid trip to time-out for my “face-stretching”–but he did earn some additional respect and admiration from me in a moment when I should have been reaching maximum parental frustration.  So well-played, M.  Well-played.

Finally, today, in the middle of a restaurant, M decided it was a marvelous idea to continually shriek his brother’s name over and over and over again.  The first few times, it was kind of funny, and A enjoyed it.  But then A lost interest, time went on, and the shrieking was getting very old very fast.

Was it a punishable offense?  No.

Was it bothering the other patrons?  Probably.

Was it annoying the crap out of me?  HELL YES!

So when I informed M that he needed to tone down his shrieking, he responded with the following set of “reasons” why my request was utterly unreasonable:

“Number 1,” he declared,  holding up one finger to illustrate his point, “it’s not really something I want to do.

Number 2,” now thrusting two defiant fingers into the air, “A likes it when I say his name.

Number 3,” you get it, more fingers, “I am not going to stop.

Number 4, it’s not nice for you to tell me to stop.

Number 5, it’s not something I want to do.*

Number 6, I can’t really do it.

And number 7, I’m not going to stop saying his name.”

*Was the repetition between #1 and #5 meant to underscore his point, or was he simply so caught up in the moment that he forgot that he had already offered up this “reason”?  I dunno, but it was awesome nonetheless.

There’s this “rule” in Parenting 101 that once your kid sees you laughing when you’re trying to discipline them, the jig is up.  Discipline done, kid 1, parent 0, game over.

And in this particular instance, M won the “game” hands down.

By “Number 3,” Tim and I were laughing so hard that we could barely hear M articulate his defense.

But you know what?

Number 1, his little rant distracted him so much that he forgot all about the shrieking, and

Number 2, I wasn’t about to remind him of his behavior now that it had disappeared, so

Number 3, Mom still won in the end!

At least for now…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2009 11:36 pm

    I’d say: teach him formal logic. Once he’s got that down you just need to lay out the Ps and Qs formally and then you can lay the smack down. 😉

  2. renbeth permalink
    July 12, 2009 12:46 am

    He actually counted with his fingers!?! That kid is amazing! I miss him like crazy!

  3. BirthingBeautifulIdeas permalink*
    July 12, 2009 9:02 am

    Mark, I’m guessing the problem won’t so much be with the validity of his arguments (once he gets those Ps and Qs down) but with the soundness. And arguing about truth is going to be fun with this kid, let me tell you. 🙂

    And Renbeth, he actually counted with his fingers. Even if his “reasons weren’t all that convincing, his delivery was spectacular.

  4. Jenny permalink
    July 13, 2009 12:46 pm

    He sounds like a riot! I would probably have laughed too!! I think it’s unfair that they can be PITA’s and be cute at the same time!

  5. Kellie permalink
    July 14, 2009 7:42 am

    Sometimes I wish a camera followed you guys around all the time so we could capture these things on video. I laughed so hard I cried when I read the story, but I imagine a live performance would have been that much more entertaining.

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