Of course, in my experience, Katharine is chock full of humorous remarks and insight (if you don’t follow her on Twitter…YOU ARE MISSING OUT!). So, Katharine, thank you. We all needed a laugh today (whether we have a toddler in the house or not).
The house had a glass door, so Mr. Smith paused. With a glass door, he could view his reflection before the meeting. The young man was pleased with himself. He was a Negotiator for the Toddler Rights’ Commission, and he was visiting a home to discuss his client, a two-year-old, named Mikey.
Smiling, he smoothed his brown hair, adjusted the jacket around his tall, thin frame, and rang the doorbell.
The Mother met him at the door. She was a short, stocky woman, who looked far younger than her forty years. Her face was freckled and her dark blonde hair was pulled back from her face. She smiled and her blue eyes were cheerful.
“Come in, Mr. Smith, ” she said quietly. “Could we talk in the kitchen? Mikey just fell asleep on the couch.”
Mr. Smith glanced at his client, a copper-haired boy, curled inside a faded flannel blanket on a lumpy blue sofa. The child clutched a toy fireman’s hat and his thumb was in his mouth.
“Oh, what a life he leads,” Mr. Smith thought to himself. Up until six months ago, his life and the life of a two-year-old weren’t all that different. But last May, his college career had ended and this job had been his only offer. Smith had been reluctant to take it, simply because it required curbing his late night antics and succumbing to the nine-to-five routine. Now five months into it, the position, as well as the suit, fit him well. As a rookie, he had never lost a Toddler Rights Case. An impressive feat for anyone in The Commission.
Mr. Smith sat down at the kitchen table.
“Um, do you have a pen?” he asked. Pens were too much trouble to keep up with.
She sat opposite him and offered him two, one black and one blue.
He took both.
“Let’s begin with bathtime,” he opened. No chit-chat today. This was his last stop for the afternoon.
She picked up her copy of the contract from the table and quickly found the right place.
“First, your son would like at least thirty minutes of play time before you begin the actual washing.”
“That can be arranged,” she agreed, writing on her contract, “as long as there is an discretionary clause, which allows for a shorter time if needed.”
This was a rare request. She was well-informed of her rights.
“Fine,” he agreed, a bit discouraged by this rocky start. “But no scrubbing of the ears.”
“I must scrub his ears. What if I use a softer washcloth?”
He disapproved of her haggling, but relented. “As long as it’s blue,” he said.
“Agreed,” she replied. Not exactly a victory for his side.
He continued, “My client wishes for you to sing every lyric from ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ on demand.”
She fidgeted and bit her lip, “Not ‘on demand’, that’s intolerable cruelty. I’ll do it, under protest, three times a day at the most.”
“Agreed.” Mr. Smith drummed his fingers on the table, happy that he had won that point. “Um, do you have any spring water?”
“We have filtered. Will that do?”
She rose, took a glass from the cupboard, and walked to the refrigerator for a pitcher.
As she poured, she stopped and looked at Mr. Smith.
“I want my son to stop drinking from the toilet,” she said, as she sat the glass on the table.
Mr. Smith grimaced. The cool water no longer seemed so refreshing. He twirled the pen in his fingers, but did not touch the glass.
He swallowed. “He’s probably just thirsty. He’ll stop if he has more juice to drink; say, six cups a day?”
“Six!” She laughed. “He can’t count that high, Mr. Smith.”
The young man sighed, overcame his aversion, picked up the glass and took a long drink. “Well, could it be that he’s just curious?” He took another sip, stalling for time, to think about his next move. “Don’t you think he sees, you know, the rest of the family in the bathroom all day and . . . . Poor thing, he’s still in diapers . .” He drank again, slowly, conscious of their eye contact.
She remained unshaken. “I thought you might bring up potty training,” she said as she handed him a notarized document. “ So, I’m requesting an extension for two reasons. First, I am nursing his baby sister and that takes up a great deal of my time. Secondly, I am homeschooling his three older siblings, which take up even more.”
Mr. Smith had never seen a document of this type before. He was stunned.
She continued. “Contrary to the mug I got for Christmas, Mr. Smith, I am not Super-Mom. If he is still in diapers when he is three, it will not kill him. He will stay out of the toilet and that is that!”
Mr. Smith winced. His favorite tactics of guilt had failed him. He gently rattled the ice, cueing her for a refill.
But she appeared not to notice. Was she was rude or just oblivious?
“Never mind,” he thought to himself. Stay focused. No more yielding.
He cleared his throat and raised his voice. “My client claims that you do not come when he calls you at night. He demands your prompt attention every time he yells, ‘Mommy!’”
He studied her eyes, expecting a tear of shame. Instead, she rolled her eyes in amusement.
Exasperated, he elaborated. “According to his deposition, two nights ago he stood in his crib and yelled for you for 23 minutes and you did not come.”
She spoke firmly. “Did your client reveal to you that I had been in there three times already? I fixed his blanket, kissed him twice, gave him two hugs, prayed with him and brought him a drink of water? He needed nothing except sleep!”
“The point is not that he needed anything.” His next accusation was a classic, and he practically hurled it at her, “The point is that you didn’t come. What were you doing that was more important?” This was a deft move, combining selfishness with small accusations of guilt.
She leaned back in her chair and chuckled, “I will not apologize for doing something so basic as taking a shower!”
He was dumbfounded. No guilt? No tears? She was bulldog in a pink polo and pony tail.
“Now for my next item,” she said, turning a page of the contract. “I want to discuss his other bad habit: eating things off the sidewalk.”
He scratched his head, staggered at her command of the conversation. But, he confidently rattled off his textbook answer, “My client insists these items are: A) very attractive; B) surprisingly tasty, and C) unlikely to kill him.” He sipped his water, sure in his reasoning.
“And I insist that if his lips touch worms, they will never touch mine.”
“I can cite many cases that calls that ‘conditional love’,” he said smugly. “You don’t want to love him ‘conditionally’ do you?”
She never flinched, but with a smile, gently retorted, “Okay I will kiss him, under the ‘condition’ that he washes his mouth with Listerine first.”
Because he would rather eat worms himself than explain mouth wash to a toddler, he had no choice than to concede.
He was relieved that the next item was about food. In his experience, children always got their way with food.
“My client wants only bread and butter for meals, three times a day. And absolutely no vegetables.”
“Listen,” she said, sitting up straight. “Except for the occasional snack, he is going to eat what we eat, when we eat it, in his high chair, at the table. He will not spit it up, throw it on the floor or smear it in his hair. I will periodically give him bread and butter, but no more than two times a day. And he certainly will eat his vegetables, with a please, a thank you and a happy heart.”
She had obliterated every single item on Mr. Smith’s list. He was aghast.
She was not finished. “Now, let’s move on. I also want my son to restrict the use of the word ‘mine’ to two times per day.”
Mr. Smith loosened his tie, wiped the perspiration off his brow, and spoke up, “According to his testimony, everything is his.” This was a fact. The boy had spoken the word ‘mine’ fifty-two times in the exploratory conference.
“He doesn’t have receipts to prove it. I do. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, you know.” She handed him another file, thick with paperwork.
Suddenly, the front door creaked opened and crashed shut.
“Help! Mommy!” The cry came from the living room. “Amy’s dress is caught in the bike chain!”
With a quick, “Excuse me,” The Mother jumped from her chair, ran to the living room and out the front door.
Mr. Smith was relieved at the interruption. He took a deep breath and examined his empty water glass. He was parched.
Moving quickly, he opened the refrigerator door and reached for the pitcher. A half-eaten chocolate layer cake was inside. Mr. Smith pinched a chunk from the top and stuffed it into his mouth.
He heard The Mother reassuring the child while the front door opened, “If everything’s all right now, I’ll go back to my meeting.” He shut the refrigerator door quickly and licked his fingers clean.
She re-entered the kitchen.
“Sorry about that,” she said, sliding into her place at the table.
She then handed Mr. Smith another file of documents. “I want you to have this.”
He thumbed through the folder, his fingers still sticky from frosting.
“As you will see, Mr. Smith, the top form is my mission statement. It reads that my husband and I have one and only goal: to rear this child in such a way that he is socially, spiritually, emotionally and cognitively healthy. Every request that I’ve made today is based on that goal. Additionally, I have an affidavit stating that Mikey is not the center of the universe that he claims to be. And lastly, a joint statement issued by his father and me, confirming that we love him so much, that we can’t let him have his own way all the time. Please add this to the file.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Mr. Smith croaked as he grasped the folder. There was nothing more to say and no more points to negotiate. He numbly gathered his papers, (and the two pens), put them all in his briefcase, and stood up to leave.
Mr. Smith and the Toddler Rights Commission had been soundly defeated by this formidable woman. The bad news was that this kid would be heartbroken. The good news was that he’d get over it with a lollipop.
Mr. Smith piped up one last time, “You realize he won’t be very happy with our outcome today.”
She smiled. “I’m not all that interested in his happiness today. I’m interested in his happiness for a lifetime.”
A groggy voice came from the living room. The Mother went to her son and scooped him up from the couch. He clung to her neck and she whispered in his ear. Mr. Smith was genuinely moved by their affection for each other.
Mr. Smith walked hurriedly toward the door, preoccupied by his failure. He limply shook The Mother’s hand, mumbled good-bye, and exited the house.
It pained him to walk away defeated. Usually, by this time in the afternoon he was ready to track down his buddies and make plans for the evening. But he didn’t feel like celebrating and he blamed The Mother.
She had refused everything except a blue washcloth and some dumb train songs. She had presented him with dozens of papers he would have to file, explain or investigate. Her stubbornness had stained the unbroken success record he had at the Commission.
No, he wasn’t going out tonight.
He’d much rather go home and sulk.