I recently got a clue that a little husbandly communication would have gone a long way in my Lovely Bride’s and my dealings with our little litigator, as Eddie continues to test out when he can and can’t negotiate. We’re learning that we need to be specific in the extreme. And even then, our 9-year-old will look for a loophole. Especially when he disagrees with the fiat du jour. Or when he forgets, which happens a lot.
The latest tussle came after I had horse-traded for a couple hours to myself. My swim trunks predate the Obama presidency, and my sunglasses just broke again, so it was time for Daddy to go shopping. I sweetened the offer by offering to schlep the dog to the kennel before we leave for the beach.
After a surgical strike, I’m feeling pretty good. I swing by the house to fetch the dog and am met by my dripping wet, fully clothed 6-year-old daughter trailing wet footprints from the back door to the front. Eddie has just shot up the back of the house – and half the kitchen – with the garden hose set on turbo. And the moment my wife comes downstairs from packing, our daughter starts to cry.
We both wonder: what the hell?!
I’m alone with our children all the time, so I know what they’re capable of. They can wreck a place in an instant. A sandbox sojourn can turn into sand on the scalp the minute you turn your back. Having been away from the little darlings for not quite two hours – aaaah, perspective – I can actually see the humor in the mess.
If only I had told my Lovely Bride about the new rule with the hose. I skirt the kitchen puddle and bellow out a soaked back door to Eddie:
“Children are not allowed to touch the garden hose!”
“They’re not?” he asks.
“No! I told you this the other day!”
“But Da-aaaad, you said we could put water in the sandbox to make drip castles.”
“That’s right, but let me clarify: Children are not allowed to touch the garden hose under any circumstances. Whatsoever.”
That ought to cover it, right?
“Now get up here on the back porch and sit until I decide what to do with you.”
Then I turn to Carla, still dripping wet by the front door. It seems that she had told her brother he could squirt her. Turns out she didn’t like getting squirted in the head.
I can see how squirting turbo into the sand might be fun. Squirting your sister in the eyes might not. But who’s to say?
Lovely Bride gives Carla a dog towel and tells her to start wiping up. But Carla falls to pieces because of the Catch-22: in wiping up the footprints, she’ll get the floor even wetter. Ugh, details. I peel her down to undies and tell her for the thirty-seventh time: get on hands and knees and start wiping.
As for the hose: a neighbor kid unrolled it at least three times the other day, and then he and Eddie took turns blasting it into the sandbox. Who doesn’t love a roiling river of sand flowing down our sidewalk, but I thought that I was pretty clear that day about kiddos not using the hose. Forcing the kids to use the rainwater barrel would slow things down and give them a limited supply. But either Eddie disagreed on the hose business or he just plain forgot. Because he disagreed.
I realized I was in trouble on two points.
- The Rainwater Barrel Edict had not yet been tested on the Mud Pit, which is our tiny, parentally sanctioned patch of muddy summer goodness. I firmly believe that kids need mud. But I’m also a control freak, so they only can have mud in the designated zone. Until now, however, nobody had used the Mud Pit yet this year.
- I had failed to mention the new Hose Rule to my Lovely Bride.
Now onto the punishment phase. I keep reading that punishments should be relevant and timely. My wife was so hacked off with the kiddos, I thought she was going to rip their heads off.
“Early bedtime for you, Eddie!” Lovely said. “7:30!”
“But Carla told me to squirt her!” he whined.
Ugh. Sometimes I just want to knock their two little heads together. I chivalrously offered to drag Eddie and Carla along on the 30-mile drive to the kennel, hoping it would buy me time to think of a suitable punishment.
Then it hit me:
“Eddie, you have to wipe down the back door, too,” I told him. “And when we get back from the kennel, you have to wash all the downstairs windows. For free.”
We live in a rowhouse, so we have two windows in the front and two in the back, plus one in the kitchen. Not the worst punishment ever, but at least it fits the crime. Window washing is one of Eddie’s optional paid jobs, so I figured we’d hit him where it hurts: the wallet.
Timely and relevant.
No more calls please, we have a WINNER!