Friday, March 14, 2008

Future Politicians in the Family

My daughter doesn’t accept correction easily. She’s five and a quick study of her two older sisters. As such, she is quite convinced that she has everything figured out. For example, the other day I came upon her as her drink spilled all over the table, chair, her outfit and the floor. Grabbing paper towels to clean it up, I said the obvious. “You should be more careful. You dropped your cup.”

She folded her arms and gave me a cold corrective stare.
“I did Not.” She pouted at me.

“Yes. You did.” I couldn’t believe she would argue the point.
“I saw it.”

“NO I DIDN’T.” She shouted back.

Irritated, I stopped cleaning the mess. “Alright then, what happened?”

“I didn’t drop the cup. It fell.”

I suddenly understood that in her world, nothing she did was actually wrong as long as she could omit herself from the picture.

The technique remains the same even as children age. When my oldest was preparing for a special evening out at the local high school, he came down the stairs in jeans and a t-shirt. I explained that this tour of the school was about first impressions both ways and that he needed to dress up a bit. He went back upstairs.

My mom was visiting. She saw him come down, button down shirt and a tie and sensed he still needed a bit of sprucing.

“Did you brush your teeth?” she asked.
“Yes.” He said without looking or smiling.

“I don’t mean during your lifetime.”
He looked down.

“Did you brush your teeth today?”

He still wasn’t making direct eye contact.

Mom is a veteran of these things.
“This afternoon?”

Up the stairs he went.

Perhaps it is a consequence of living so close to the beltway where language only holds as much meaning as the speaker and the listener invests. Having such skilled negotiators for children requires that the parents be thinking two or three steps ahead with each and every utterance.

“Did you hit your sister?”

“No.” My son responds.

The sister is screaming, howling, proclaiming to all the world of her outrage at his having injured her and then denied it.

“Why is she crying?”

Rather than directly lie, a severely punishable offense, he shrugs his shoulders.

Knowing I can guess the actual series of events, I chose my next words carefully.

“Did you in any way, inadvertently or intentionally, touch your sister in some fashion that might have caused her to be unhappy with you?”

“What does inadvertently mean?”
“By accident.”

“What was the question?”
“Did you hurt your sister whether or not you meant to?”

He looks down at his feet, buying time to figure a way out of Mom’s verbal trap.
Resorting to a time tested trick of politicians, he tries blaming the accuser,
“She started it.”

Mental yoga aside, they’ll be ready for a career in Washington by the time they leave home.

for more non partisan fun, try!

20 days until Erma Bobmeck Conference...guess I better start working on being funny.

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