Saturday, October 2, 2010

State your case and walk away. State case... walk away.

"I'd like you to unload the dishwasher."

"Please put away your clothes."

"The cat needs to be fed."

The preceding three statements are examples of routine requests we parents present to our offspring on a daily basis. They seem so very mundane. How long could the fulfillment of each task take? Maybe five minutes?

The problem is this: What often begins as a monotone, verbalized afterthought to a parent, can escalate into a blood-curdling screamfest of Ali-Frazier proportions, or a well calculated play of bait and switch. You just never know. For instance:

"Lauryn (my ten-year-old, daughter), please feed Leo."

"Okay, I'll do it during the next commercial, after I found out if Bear Grylls is going to eat the dead zebra's other eye."

"That's fine." Done deal. Time to move on.

Or, it can go like this:

"Lauryn, please feed Leo."

"Why?"

(My thoughts are in italic) Seriously? Do I really need to spell out why the feline, by virtue of its membership in the family of carbon-based living organisms, needs nourishment to function?)
"Because he hasn't eaten since this morning, and he's starting to nibble at my Achilles tendon region like a salt lick."

"Why can't Zoe feed the cat. She never has to."

"Zoe's at volleyball practice."

"I don't care."

"Please feed Leo."

"Why?"

And so it goes, until threats are made, feelings are hurt, and she never finds out if the zebra's other eye is consumed by the man against the wild.

Here's an illustration of the forked road with my teenager:

"Zoe, please stop texting until you've finished your homework."

"Okay, sorry." Case closed, and we've only claimed five seconds of each other's lives.

Conversely, things could play out as follows:

"Zoe, please stop texting until you've finished your homework."

"Why?"

"Because you need to get your work done before you can have any free time."

"I never have free time, Dad. I'll bet you had tons of free time as a kid."

(This is where I fall into her trap, and engage her accusation) "Well, I suppose I did, but I didn't spend it texting and facebooking. I called people on our single rotary-dial phone."

"Dad, texting is extremely efficient and helps me with my typing skills. I'm just being efficient with my free time, unlike you, who had to drop what you were doing and dial that weird old phone. I could probably plan a rendezvous with three friends in the time it took you to call one person and get a busy signal. "

At that point, I'd forgotten that I was merely asking her to do her homework, and was now defending my inefficient use of leisure time in 1978. Another successful deflection by my daughter. Touché.

I think she's ready to run for public office.

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