Some days, the greatest parenting challenge is keeping a straight face.
Baby #3 is creative, curious, observant, unrestrained, and…quite frankly…exhausting to parent. He isn’t the type of kid that needs to be chased after (although that could describe his early years) but he definitely needs supervision. He will take apart your watch if you leave it laying on the table. When you ask him why, he will tell you it’s because he could hear it ticking and see the hands moving, so he had to know how it works.
He’ll attempt to climb any tree, do a flip, or scale a temporary structure just to find out if he can. His typical question isn’t “Why” but rather “Why not?” While I love that he is adventurous and free-spirited, some days I don’t have the energy or stamina to stay a step ahead of him. On those days, I want to give him directions and have him follow them the first time. At those times, I resent his little mind processing what we’re doing to conclusion in an instant, and him considering my words from different angles that I hadn’t been prepared for .
I’d like him to follow the summer schedule the way his two older siblings do. Why can’t he log onto the same math website every day and complete an assignment in sequential order? Why can’t he get dressed before breakfast, and not insist that being bare down to boxer shorts is always acceptable unless we are leaving the house? Why is deciding what shoes to wear such a production? Why does he need the challenge and excitement of new opportunities to stay motivated, yet is content to play with a pencil in each hand while creating an alternate universe for hours that only he can see in his mind? Why can’t he complete things linearly, instead of in a crazed maze through a whirlwind of energy and excitement?
Like I said, exhausting.
The other day, he was uninspired by his lunch. His siblings sat at the table with him, finished their food, and cleaned up their dishes. Instead of eating, he was repeating a beat-boxing pattern over and over, cracking himself up. The afternoon was stretching before us, and I began to feel the frustration of a parent that is sick of nagging and that didn’t desire to waste any more time.
“Not another peep, beep, or bop out of you,” I told him, “until your lunch is eaten.”
Naturally, he waited until my back was turned.
I swung around. “I mean it. One more sound and you’ll get a mouthful of soap.”
I walked into the kitchen and heard him behind me. “Beep! Bop!”
In that instant, I saw the elementary school’s cafeteria in my mind. I saw the frustration that his teacher will likely feel at some point with his personality. Most importantly, I weighed the consequences of not following through with my threat.
I returned to the table with a few drops of dish soap on a spoon.
“Open up,” I told him.
He clamped both hands over his mouth. “I’d like to open my mouth,” he mumbled through clenched fingers and lips, “but I don’t think that’s going to taste very good.”
“I’m going to add more soap to the spoon for every second you make me wait,” I replied.
He giggled nervously, but moved his hands away from his mouth after he saw my face.
He took it like a champ, even when I rubbed the spoon on his tongue for emphasis.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “This actually tastes good!”
Then his sense of smell was overrun by his taste buds.
It was like watching Bugs Bunny or Roger Rabbit. In the time I put the spoon down on the table, his soapy tongue was licking streaks across his forearm. I gave him his water bottle.
“Take this to the bathroom and rinse your mouth out,” I told him.
As he rose out of his seat, he took a swig of water, and bubbles began to cascade down his chin and onto his shirt. He resembled one of those battery-operated bubble blowers that drool solution from the base while spewing a steady stream.
As he ran to the bathroom, I berated myself for forgetting, yet again, to have my phone at the ready to record whatever this kid does. If he’s going to be unconventional, I might as well relive the entertainment value of it. When he returned to the table, I gave him a large glass of milk and told him to finish his lunch. He nodded in agreement, smiled as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and then wrapped a napkin around his finger. He brushed each of his teeth and scrubbed his tongue until he gagged. I then promptly locked myself in my room and dissolved into laughter.
After he finished lunch, I asked him if he understood why i put soap in his mouth.
“Yes,” he replied, “because you told me to do something and I did the opposite.”
“That’s right,” I said. “And you are a first grader now. When the person in charge of you gives you directions, what are you going to do?’
A large smile spread across his face. “I’m going to do what they tell me,” he dutifully responded.
He’s not fooling anyone. I saw the glimmer in his eye.
Teachers aren’t paid nearly enough, so I’ll stock the classroom soap.