Below, I have typed out a typical after-dinner conversation during what I am going to designate the I Didn’t Inhale Stage of early childhood development. I pause here for a nod to Bill Clinton, who attempted to set voters’ minds at ease during his first run for the presidency by explaining that while he had smoked marijuana, he hadn’t actually inhaled.
Did your kids go through this stage too? Though mine never went on to argue the situational definition of the word is (Sorry, Bill. Couldn’t resist!), I admit to being quite impressed at their dexterity. I thought you had to have an advanced degree to perpetrate these types of mental gymnastics.
One of my daughters was particularly adept. I have no doubts about her character development but let’s just say that if she ever decides to go into business, you’d all better hold on to your wallets.
Daughter: May I have some dessert?
Me: Sure. (giving her the dessert)
Daughter: (contented silence follows, after which daughter looks up with messy face) May I have more dessert?
Me: No. I think you’ve had enough for now.
Daughter: But I didn’t like it.
Me: Oh. I’m sorry you didn’t like it.
Daughter: (decisive) No, I didn’t like it. So I want some more.
Me: No, honey.
Daughter: (becoming agitated) But I didn’t like it! I didn’t like it!
Many other variants on this conversation took place. Imagine my dragging a tantrumming child out of Chuck-E-Cheese after an adrenaline-filled morning of gambling. Uh–playing, playing! I meant to say playing. For crying out loud! What is wrong with you people?
Me: Time go home for lunch and a rest.
Daughter: But I didn’t have fun! I didn’t have fun!
I have mixed feelings as I recall those days. I see our children’s tears of disillusionment and hear their protests. Their distress was very real and surprisingly pure. My daughters cried out to me to right what they perceived as injustice as surely as they would have sought me if a bully had yanked the lollipops from their mouths or the Pokémon cards from their sweaty little hands.
How could the dessert be gone if they were not sated? How could play time be over if they had not grown tired of playing? I was supposed to be their savior. But my NO could easily have cast me as persecutor. I was such a meanie.
It’s funny to think about now. But probably only because this was a battle they never had a chance of winning. Thank goodness. Envision the sort of adults they might have become had their coups succeeded! I can imagine any number of “rules” they might have extrapolated from their experience. Here are a few which come immediately to mind:
- Your job is to make me happy.
- It’s not over until I say it’s over.
- I get to have my cake and eat it too.
- Life is supposed to be fair—and I get to define fair.
- I am a victim.
- You owe me.
- It’s all about me.
- I shouldn’t feel pain.
- Rules are for other people.
- You are responsible for my feelings.
I hadn’t thought about this brief period for years. I might have forgotten this stage altogether if not for the surprising Summer of 2011.
Niko: I know we agreed that Hanna and I would only stay for four weeks…but not having the use of your computer made it impossible for us to do the activities and see the sights we had wanted to. I am certain that if we just stay a few more weeks, we can accomplish the things we want to do and still make this vacation a success.
We’ve decided to extend our visit by a few weeks.
Is that ok?
Me: I understand your frustration but that won’t work for us. Whether or not you extend is your choice but you will still have to leave our house on the agreed-upon date. I’m sorry, the answer is no.
Niko: But I didn’t have fun.
This post is part of The Story of Hanna, a true tale of love, friendship, betrayal, loss, and aging. Hanna was my best friend for over 30 years. Until the Terrible Summer of 2011 when things went terribly awry. For the prior installment click here. For the next installment, click here.