Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Negotiator

"I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." - Wimpy from Popeye

Add game show host to the growing list of skills required to be a somewhat successful, sane, and smooth-sailing parent. Successful, sane, and smooth-sailing are, of course, all relative. There is almost nothing that is not negotiated anymore. We have reached the Monty Hall phase of parenthood. We're a non-stop episode of "Let's Make a Deal," without the goofy costumes. Actually, sometimes there are goofy costumes. And we have not even hit Penelope's 2nd birthday yet.

You also need the foresight to realize when you want something that you've just started, to stop. How many times are you willing to do "Ring Around the Rosie?" Because Penelope will do it for eternity if she could. What is your threshold for dizziness, rugburn, and borderline nausea? Once you've deciphered that number, decrease it by one or two. Then make your pitch: "OK, sweetie, we'll do it three more times, then we're going to go (INSERT ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY HERE)." Because just abruptly ending the good times will never go over well. Fists, tears, and feet will fly.

Everything is a barter, an offer, a give-and-take. And you have to be on your toes, because this child is a shrewd negotiator. She will not under any circumstances accept any initial offer you make. Take, say, the simple proposition of going upstairs to take a bath. I'm not talking about the bath itself. Just the act of going upstairs. You need to give her at least a 5, if not a 10 minute heads up. Or she's not going without a fight.

"Penelope, in 5 minutes we're going to go upstairs and take a bath." Here, one of three things can happen: Sometimes she may surprise you and give you an "OK." But I've recently realized she is appeasing you. Shutting you up. 2. She'll agree to the time limit, but ask if she can bring something or someone. "And Lammie too?" And you respond, "Of course Lammie can come upstairs too." 3. If she starts to put up a fight during the "5 minute warning," this is a not-so-subtle hint that you're in trouble.

When the time comes to finally go upstairs, you still need to entice her with something if you want her to come willingly. I say 'willingly' because you don't want a child who is kicking and screaming. Bath time is the dessert to the never ending all-you-can eat buffet that is parenthood. You don't want a temper tantrum to spoil your appetite.

Sometimes all you need to do is sell her on something that is already part of the routine. You can offer what's behind door number one: reading some books. Door number two: we can play in the bubbles. But she just might want to see what's in the big box on the floor: Jumping on mommy and daddy's bed.

Any deal can't be brokered without determining which assets will be brought along. Of course, Lammie must go. And usually "hanky," Lammie's blanket. Then there's a sippy cup, but which color? And Luna. She has to be involved any time we go upstairs. "And Lunie too?" Then you find yourself bargaining with the dog as well, promising her a treat if she comes upstairs.

And just to prove you can't predict what she'll want in return for her peaceful compliance, she'll ask for something ridiculous to be brought upstrais. Like her doll stroller, her shopping cart, her bean bag chair. No matter how outrageous the request, the manner in which you respond will determine the level of sanctity and sanity with which you will enjoy the remainder of your evening. Summarily dismissing it will lead to a meltdown. Showing you're considering it will plant in her head that it is one day possible. Joking around, and navigating another mini-negotiation, will go a long way.

A long way. Every time. It's a long way to go, just to take 14 steps upstairs.


  1. as always a great read.
    i just noticed the "blue/other blue" color nomenclature - priceless.
    i relied on timers (on my cell phone, microwave) to help negotiate - kids don't have a sense of how long 5 minutes actually is - but the beeping signals the end - worked for us.

  2. As I read your blog I think why isn't Justin Mannato a newspaper columnist? I think that would be a perfect job for you. Have you ever thought about that?... Seriously I think you would make an excellent newspaper columnist. You should look into it. I cannot believe Penelope isn't even 2 yet. I loved reading about the negotiation of trying to get her to go upstairs for bath time. That's hilarious.


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