Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels

Posted on January 13, 2010. Filed under: books, children, Parenting | Tags: , , , , |

An excerpt from my book, Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels (published by Urban Edge Publishing)

Chapter 5

CAUTION:

No Means Yes and Yes Means No

Green Means Stop and Red Means Go

When Heather was just old enough to ride a bike, she eventually grew bored with riding up and down the driveway.  We live in rural subdivision which doesn’t have sidewalks, so when Heather asked if she could ride her bike in the road, like her big sister, we said yes.  But, we gave her conditions.

We live in the middle of the block, so we told Heather that she could go to the end of the block and no further. My husband pointed out the stop sign. “When you get to the stop sign, that means you have to stop, turn around and come home.”

We’d stand in the driveway and watch her as she executed her instructions without a flaw.  This safety net soon was given a name.  She could ride her bike as long as she remembered to “stop and go home.”

What do you know?  It worked. We told a child to do something and she listened—not just the first time, but every time!  Before she’d head out of the driveway, we’d ask, “How far can you go?” and she’d respond, “Stop and go home.”

We were sure she understood the rules, but we didn’t know just how literally she took our words until we packed up the family and took a road trip. The front door became a revolving door as we retraced our steps in and out, carrying luggage, pillows, snacks, blankies, dolls, games, and anything else we could find to appease four children stuck in the back seat for eight hours. Then, one last trip in the house to make sure we hadn’t forgotten a child or added one since we packed, and we pulled out of the driveway.

We weren’t two miles from home when we came to a stop sign.  The whining hadn’t yet begun, and the girls were quiet, anxiously anticipating the little vacation we were taking. My husband stopped at the intersection, and Heather must have taken the opportunity to look out the window and take in her surroundings.  The next words out of her mouth broke the silence.

“Oh, no!”

“What’s the matter, Heather?”

“We’re not there yet, and now we have to stop and go home!” she wailed.

What?  It only took a second before we both knew what she meant.  Heather saw the stop sign, and we’d done such a good job manipulating her mind to think that the stop sign at the end of our block meant that she had to go home, that she now thought all stop signs mean you have to “stop and go home!”

Yes, we had manipulated her young, impressionable mind, but it was for her own safety.  Kids, however, have an uncanny knack for manipulating words and sentences for no reason other than to drive their parents past the stop sign and into the brink of insanity.

It’s called the “No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game.”  Now, any child who plays this game is not a naïve, innocent dimpled darling, but rather a scheming and cunning little shyster intent on getting their way, thinking they can outsmart their parents by reversing the meaning of two simple, but very important, words. If there was a Heisman Trophy for little manipulators, I know four girls who deserve serious consideration for the title.

The No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game is often played in the car, while the mother is driving and being driven crazy. 

“Mom, can we go to McDonald’s!”

“Mom, I want to go to the park.”

“Mom, can we have ice cream?”

“Mom, can I have a puppy?” “Mom, can I have a bird?” “Mom, can I have a kitty?” and “Mom, can I have a white rat?”

No, No, No, and NO!  Managing to answer all their questions in under two seconds, all that was left was the whining and the begging.

Until one of the little darlings got the bright idea that it was time to play the No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game.  The game is remarkably easy to play and even the youngest catches on fairly quickly. 

“Mom, can I get my ears pierced?”

Not one to mince words, I got to the answer right away, “No.”

“I can!”

“No, I said you can’t.”

“No means yes and yes means no.”

Oh, no—not this game.  The game that tests every parent’s patience as they try to figure out how to out manipulate the pros.  This is the one game that mom and dad cannot win.  We’re doomed from the start, set up by our own little offspring.

Well, the only thing they didn’t figure out was that no could mean yes all they wanted, but it wasn’t going to change my mind—it was only going to make me lose my mind. Children can play this game for hours on end without tiring, and it seems that the more frustrated and irritated mom or dad get, the more intensely they strive to push them over the brink.

But, they don’t know one little thing.  Parents have a trump card.  For every no means yes and yes means no, we have an ace in the hole which is guaranteed to get on their nerves as much as, if not more so, than their little game.

It’s called “We’ll see.”  Far better than yes or no, we’ll see can postpone an answer until your little one gets married, and then it can become somebody else’s problem. 

Moms and dads have to say no often, but there’s nothing worse than the preplanned whining and begging which strategically begins with no and doesn’t stop until that no becomes a yes.  Avoiding this situation is your best bet, and we’ll see is a parent’s secret weapon.

The wonderful part is that, for a long time, they actually believe “we’ll see” is a “maybe.”  Well, it’s not.  If I meant maybe, I would have said it.  Instead, I say “we’ll see,” which basically means that I don’t want to tell you no right now and I’m in no mood to listen to any pleading or crying. 

We’ll see works for quite a while before they catch on.  They’re smart like that.  Suddenly, one day you pull out the “we’ll see” response and you’ll hear them grumble, “Great, that means no.”  Then, you try to save face because you like “we’ll see” and you want it to work for a long time to come, so you reply that it doesn’t mean no—yet. 

I tried that and our girls chose that moment to reveal their photogenic memory.  They recalled each and every time I said “we’ll see” from the time they wanted the shiny red shoes, not the black ones, to the time they asked for a Playstation III.  They pointed out that they didn’t get a hamster or a pony and that we didn’t take them out to eat when they asked on February 2, 1997. 

They had my number and had figured me out.  But, that didn’t stop me, and I continue to fall back on “we’ll see” at every opportune moment.  While it certainly doesn’t work like it used to, I now am the one who gets a certain amount of pleasure watching them cringe the same way they made me cringe when they twisted the words that came out of my mouth. As they say for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

No might mean yes, but we’ll see always means no, and paybacks—they’re always priceless.

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