John told me this morning that he thinks Kindergarten should last 107 days, instead of 175 days. And then he wondered what would be halfway between 107 and 175, and perhaps Kindergarten should last that number of days. Reminding me for the millionth time that I have to be very careful when getting into specifics with this guy.
It started with little things, when he was a little younger. Things like this: “Look, John! Look at that excavator!” which would devolve into this: “AAAAAAAAH! Mommy! I didn’t get to see it! I didn’t get to see it! Go back!!!” I quickly learned to be extremely careful about pointing anything out from a moving vehicle, or otherwise giving instructions that would be hard for him to follow up on.
I also need to be careful about setting expectations. I never say “I will get purple grapes at the store today.” I say, “I will look for purple grapes the next time I’m at the grocery store.” Because woe to the person who promises purple grapes and doesn’t deliver. I don’t think John is being ungenerous, but he takes things very literally.
In any kind of negotiation, giving details is like the kiss of death. Giving John a simple answer is like making an opening argument. It’s the first rung on a ladder of rhetoric that the kid will climb all day. And once he has the basis for my side of the argument, he’s surprisingly good at dismantling it, at least in his mind. And even when I have a better case, he’s got more stamina than I do. “We’ll see” and “because I said so” still sound parental cop outs to me, but I have to fall back on what works.
On the other hand, sometimes John’s adherence to the rules works in my favor. There was one Sunday morning this winter when Matt and I were not feeling well, it was 38 degrees and raining, John was sick and had been up all night, and I wanted to let him watch a movie in the morning. We hardly ever watch movies, but it just felt like the only thing any of us had energy for at 7:00 a.m. Before I let him watch it, I made sure to tell him that we were watching it for three specific reasons: he was sick, I was sick, and it was 38 degrees and raining. I knew he would remember the reasons and look for the planets to align that way again. And he has looked. But because all three parameters haven’t been filled, he has had no expectation that we’ll watch a movie in the morning again.
So for better or worse, I’ve learned to choose my words very, very carefully. Otherwise I’m going to end up backtracking for a review of every construction site, feeding him jelly beans for breakfast, and watching movies morning to night. And although some days that feels like the easier option, I’ll try to be tough.