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Whenever a 5-year-old voice
tells me we have a problem, I either gear myself up for a long-winded
explanation of something innocuous and light … OR … I prepare myself to go in, for
complete and total reconnaissance.
“Oh,” I mutter. “What is it?”
“Well, Henry is stuck in the
I try and
imagine all of the sinks in the house, canceling out the kitchen one because I
am standing right here beside it and there is no 3-year-old hooligan anywhere
near it. I’m thinking bathroom. I’m thinking water. I’m thinking epic Old
Testament-style floods. And to be blunt about it all, I’m thinking there could
even be toddler poop involved because these days toddler poop shows up,
uninvited, in a staggering variety of scenarios.
It’s a recon mission, for sure.
That much I know.
I look at Violet and move past
her immediately. I’m going in.
Upstairs, my son is in the
bathroom sink, the hot water tap wide open, but luckily with the cold one
pumping as well. He is crying, of course, not so much because he is injured or
even scared or whatever, but more because when small kids end up peeling back
the layers of proper behavior in order to experiment with insanity and horrific
action, they often peel back all of the
layers, until they end up freaking themselves out, along with the rest of the world.
Later on, after I have "rescued" my boy and sopped up the mess, I end up sipping a glass of Chianti and thinking
about my daughter, about how she came down, just like her mom and I have asked
her to do, to tell me that something uncool was going down.
I’m proud of her. I am. And yet,
I start to think about the long haul she has in front of her, the years and
years of life she will be living, even long after I am gone, and I get to
wondering, at what point do kids cross the line from telling adults stuff that
they ought to know into tattletale country.
How much should I pay attention to and follow through, and how much should I just, well, ignore?
See, in this case, Violet was awesome and I know that. She probably prevented a massive deluge coming down through our ceiling (Henry, her brother, did not seem intent on trying to drag himself out of the sink or turning off the spigot). And for that, I am proud that she followed through on the lessons she’d been taught.
There are a lot of times, however, when either she or her brother comes running at me from some other room, tears flowing, words garbled, just to tell me that the other kid stole a Goldfish cracker out of their hand or something trivial like that.
And I wonder, at times, whether I
even need to hear all of that jazz, you know? As parents, we don’t want our
young children policing themselves all the time since, let’s face it, a lot
of their cop work just comes down in the form of outright brutality. They don’t
have all the tools, or even all the desire, to settle things amicably or with
reason, a lot of the time. And so we want them to bring us in as soon as
possible to help calm the easily frayed nerves and tempers.
But how often is too often? How
much should I pay attention to and follow through, and how much should I just, well, ignore? I don’t want to be
involved in every playroom squabble, to be honest. I just don’t. Plus, I don’t remember everything about my
childhood since it happened like 200 years ago, but I do recall, in vivid detail,
how tattletales swiftly become exiled and scorned in any group of neighborhood
kids or school friends.
That can lead to a bad
reputation. You don’t want to be known as a rat, at least not in mafia circles,
or youth cliques.
So, I’ve backed off a bit, as
hard as it is. Instead of running to the rescue,
saying the same old things over and over and over again, instead of flipping on
the broken record of dadness that becomes easy to abuse and powerless if
wielded too often, every single time there is a little chaos or trouble, these
days I just try my best to take a deep drag of ether and kneel down to the kid
beside me, the one looking for answers.
“You know what, my friend?” I
whisper, after I try and calm them down a little.
I lean into a tiny ear then, the
moment charged now, hanging out there above us in the kitchen sky.
And I make up something so random
and ridiculous, something so off the cuff and pointless and senseless, that it
dazzles weeping eyes into staring up at me, bewildered that I could be so … so … so
And then, I offer them a Hershey
Kiss or maybe even a popsicle.