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March 15, 2019

Someone famously said that everything in life is a negotiation.  I don’t know who said it but it was probably some annoying business expert.  But I do know that negotiating is just a nicer word for debating or arguing.  And whatever name you assign to this practice, I have always sucked at it.

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(You may as well call me Little Stephen)

My wife and I have been married for many years.  I’m somewhat a simpleton and I tend to find simple explanations for complex things. My brain could translate Stephen Hawking’s, A Brief History in Time into a pamphlet.  So what if it would no longer have any actual science based physics?  It would be a better bathroom read and I add a comic strip where Captain Kirk explains that Black Holes are actually called “singularities” another version of a wormhole that will bring you to an alternate universe.

This is how I have managed to whittle down the complexity of a successful relationship. The key is establishing early on, when it comes to arguments, who’s going to win.   Within the first week of dating it was clear that my wife was superior to me in terms of intelligence, debating, and effort. Moving forward she was going to be the argument winner and I was going to be the argument loser.  Knowing you’re going to lose an argument gets you back to watching the football game sooner or getting the full night’s sleep you desperately crave.

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(This the expression of joy when you’re willing to admit that your side of the family gives crappier Christmas gifts.)

I remember my friend, Ed falling asleep during an important meeting years ago. Why did he doze off? He was up till 3 in the morning the night before arguing that his 6th grade gym class experiences were more emotionally damaging than hers. Puberty sucks for everyone but I think you have to give it to the girls on this one.

You know what happens to couples who both want to win arguments?

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(Surely, this guy could have given in on the “Did Marisa Tomei Deserve An Oscar For My Cousin Vinny” argument.)

By no means is my wife someone who nags or routinely argues with me.  I depend on her to win these negotiations to prevent us from minor and major catastrophes. Don’t forget.  I’m a simpleton.

I recently gave my 3 year old a bag of marshmallows at 7pm.  Why? Because he asked.  Did we have to go the ER when he tried to jump off the stair railing and landed on his face…sure. Did I take the blame when my wife cited the manic state of the marshmallow sugar high that preceded this? Of course I did.  Because I LOVE my family.

For someone who is genetically an “argument loser” being a dad is a problem in a big area.  Because I have to negotiate with these two.

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(This is how soundly you’d sleep if you knew you were going to get anything you wanted from your father.)

Mommy gives these two tons of treats.  Some are unexpected surprises and some of them they get because she motivates them to earn them.  But they also know she’s not a sucker.  She’ll dig in her heels when they’re acting like Mariah Carey realizing that her assistant brought her a caramel macchiato without the whip cream topping. Arthur, our taciturn toddle, has recently caught up to his brother in realizing that Mommy’s NOT going to lose the argument.

I believe figuring out that just high pitched maniacal screaming will NOT get you what you want is a great sign of the receptive communication progress he’s made over the past few months.

Another great sign of his receptive communication progress is knowing that being a loud d&ck head will, more often than not, get him what he wants when he’s dealing with ME.

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(If I ever go to prison I’m going to look for an inmate with this expression and ask for his protection.)

Because Arthur doesn’t yet speak in full sentences he doesn’t demand things, he takes them.  Or if he doesn’t want to do what you’re asking, he’ll run into his room, slam the door and brace himself against it to prevent you from getting in.  I call it his Hodor Technique.

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(I honor the actor who played Hodor by using a more stylish image.)

If Arthur doesn’t want to wear his shoes, he kicks them off as easy as if they’re three sizes to big.  My record for putting shoes on his feet that he’s kicked off in one sitting is 13. After the tenth time my fingers start to swell.  And if he’s doing something he shouldn’t be doing and I tell him, “no,” he’s started to look at me and laugh as if I’ve just said something hilarious.  Is there anything more disrespectful?  He’s laughing at the idea that I’m an authority figure.  Sure, I find it funny, but he has no idea of my decades of incompetence.  Yet in an instant, at less than 48 months old, he thinks he has me figured out.  I blame snapchat, or would if he could use it.   But, I have learned to use certain foods to lure him away from doing things I don’t want him to do or things I do want him to do.  The power of a paleo hot dog bite can motivate him to stop hanging off the dining room chandelier.

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(If Arthur is holding hostages in a bank, he’ll release two for every Applegate frank you throw his way.  At least that’s my guess.)

Arthur is winning the negotiations now because I can’t use conversational reason with him as much as his brother.  But as he improves on almost a weekly basis, I can already see how he’ll be able to manipulate me to an even greater extent. If he was on the Shark Tank Panel, he’s be O’leary walking away from the negotiations.  It might be organic hot dogs now, but by the time he’s sixteen I’ll have to dangle my car keys and the pink slip to get him to perform yard work.  But I’m sure he’ll give me a lift to work.

Charles has no problem telling me what he needs if I’m going to get what I want.

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He’s an opportunist who knows that the best time to get what he wants is when I don’t have a lot of time or if I have something that I need to do right at that moment.  My wife teaches a dog training class on Saturdays.  That leaves me about four hours to undo everything she’s taught them that week.  Charles, the opportunist, likes to strikes when I’m trying to do something with Arthur.

Charles: Can I have a popsicle?

Me: No. It’s 8:30 in the morning.  I’ll make you some cream of wheat in a minute.

Charles: I don’t want cream of wheat!!  I want a popsicle!!!!

(Arthur starts crying at Charles’ abrupt screaming.  I don’t blame him.  He barks as menacingly as a Marine Drill Sargent.)

Charles: I want a popsicle!!!!

Me: What color?

Charles: Red.

(I get Charles a red popsicle.)

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Someone without kids, OR a better parent looks at this and sees a box of 20 popsicles.  What I see is time.  It takes Charles about five minutes to polish off one of these.  That’s five minutes that I have to wrangle Arthur, cook something in the kitchen, go to the bathroom, pick up their clothes, etc.  Those 20 popsicles represent 100 minutes of time, strategically placed throughout the day to get stuff done and Charles knows when to act. They might not be identical but they share the same gene for manipulation. So, when I say that there are Saturday’s where he’s had seven of them by the time Mommy comes home, I feel your collective judgement and I don’t think I care.  Those popsicles are my bargaining chips.

Charles also knows he can negotiate in the mornings when I take him to preschool.  I drop off and my wife picks up. He knows I need to get to work and the longer it takes to get him to school, I become an easy mark. It always gets out of hand.

Charles: I don’t want to go to school today.

Me: Sure you do, you love school.

Charles: No, I don’t.  I want to stay home.

Me: If you get in the car right now, Mommy will have a treat for you when she picks you up.

Charles: I want the Flash Lego.

(20 additional exchanges)

Me: OK, so I think we have a deal.  You get in the car now and Mommy will pick you up with a Flash Lego, take you for a blueberry Slushy, you’ll both go to the new Goosebumps movie and then you’ll finish the day at Disneyland and get a six piece McNugget Happy Meal on your way home.

(Charles gets in the car and I don’t pass on the deal I’ve made with my wife)

Let’s just say that my wife has a lot on her hands when she picks this kid up from school.

I’m not saying I don’t always win a negotiation.  After all, I outweigh these kids by about 150 pounds so I have the ability to pick them up and place them in a time out.  But even with that advantage I don’t think I have a winning record.  I’m kind of like a professional football team that is good enough to win every now and then but never makes the playoffs.

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(I’m the Detroit Lions of parenting)

My only hope is that these kids really like me.  This past Saturday they saw Mommy’s car coming in the driveway.  Arthur got down from the dangerous piece of gym equipment and Charles put on a pair of pants, after a three hour battle trying to convince him to wear them had been lost.  As he pulled his sweats on, I looked at him and asked, “Now, you’re putting on your pants”? He simply replied, “Daddy, I don’t want you to get in trouble.”  I know that wasn’t 100% the reason they started to behave.  But if it was some combination of being excited that Mommy was home, with a dash of “I don’t want to get caught doing something she doesn’t like’ and even a sprinkling of “let’s make sure Daddy doesn’t look incredibly overwhelmed,” I’ll settle for the sprinkles.

Least Favorite Child Results

Monday, March 4 – Cats may have nine lives, but I have one with many more.  Charles’ unbounded love for our ragoll cat, Kiki, has easily used up a few dozen lives. He’ll pick her up by a leg, an ear, her collar which instantly becomes a noose.  When it comes to Kiki, Charles is playing the Lenny part in Of Mice and Men. Someday I’ll let Kiki post a blog just because I think she could use an outlet.  On Monday night I told Charles, “Please, don’t kill that cat” about a dozen times.  Least Favorite – Charles

Tuesday, March 5 – Arthur moves like the scary girl in the Ring movies…deceptively fast.  And when he grabs something he shouldn’t, he’s got eyes in the back of his head and makes a run for it.  You begin to doubt you have any remaining athletic ability when you can’t corral a human whose stride is so much shorter than your own.  Least Favorite – Arthur

Wednesday, March 6 – When it comes to bed time, Arthur makes his own hours.  He’ll walk into his room in the afternoon for a nap that lasts until right around our bedtime.  Then he’s game for some entertainment.  He’ll gladly go back to his bedroom, but he’s not going there to sleep.  I hear giggles that last until 5am. I’ve even gone in the room on occasion because it sounds like he’s got guests. But those giggles turn to angry cries responding to the injustice of being woken up at 7am for school. Least Favorite – Arthur

Thursday, March 7 – Charles has a lunch box that he uses to carry all his favorite Lego men.  When it started dripping on Thursday I opened it and found out he’s started throwing some other stuff in there.  Items like a 7-Up, that exploded over a dozen Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. Legos, soda and Thin Mint cookies.  I’m guessing this is his earthquake kit. My evening was spent washing Thin Mint gunk and sticky soda off of about 50 Lego men and his lunch box.  No quality TV for me.  Least Favorite – Charles

Friday, March 8 – Arthur has an ability to get wet without getting near water, getting food stains on his clothes without eating anything, and getting his hair in knots moments after brushing it so it looks like he had it professionally blown out at a Beverly Hills salon.  I put him in the car every morning in pristine condition.  Seven minutes later I arrive at school, open the door to get him out and he looks like he just took part in a spartan mud run.  Least Favorite – Arthur

Least Favorite Child Totals To Date

Arthur – 5 days

Charles – 5 days

Close competitions are always so thrilling!

Hey Neil, what’s going on?

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