Lately my son’s leadership pendulum has swung over towards despotic. He makes my 7th Grade chalk throwing History teacher look like Gandhi. “This way!” is his newest overused battle cry. The command is imparted to his troops and underlings (that would be me and my wife, in case you hadn’t already guessed) repeatedly over the course of the day. His favorite scenario is while he rides the stroller’s boogie border pointing here and there and yelling “This way Daddy! This way Mommy!” I am sure that to the stranger on the street like the old couple that cooed at him the other day, he must look so adorable with his hat and mittens. Older, portlier and with a white beard he could shout “This way Donner! This way Blitzer!” and get away with it. I, on the other hand, see a Ben-Hur-like figure whipping his steeds (again me and my wife) into a frenzy of hooves and sweat.
He alternates “This way!” with “Don’t want it!” and “Don’t do that!” Which is fine because I know that I, ultimately, am the one who is in control, at least in my mind (way way in the back somewhere). As parents we feed our kids, we clothe them, we bathe them, we hug them, we comfort them and so on and so forth. We teach them and reassure them and coddle them while pushing them to be social and assertive. We guide them as best we can. They respond by manipulating you by turning up the charm when they need something or alternating smiles with tantrums to make you feel that control in the end is all relative and what is important is making it out of the store or middle of the crosswalk alive and unscathed.
I spoke recently with a friend who has a teenage son and he tells me how unsubtle his boy’s efforts have become in looking for ways to hide things from him. Checking on his father’s movements via cell phone every half hour to make sure an impromptu party is not busted by dad unexpectedly showing up. Seems to me that kids lose their edge as they grow up. My son would never telegraph an upcoming tantrum to ensure that we stop near the candy at checkout just when we are paying at the end of a long line. And yet as parents we will do anything for our kids despite it all.
Reminds me of the Bill Cosby routine on his mother in which, exasperated, she says: “And this is the thanks I get for saving your life!”