Am I smarter than a second-grader?
Apparently I am not smarter than my second-grader. This not being smarter than a second-grader thing is fairly amazing to me as I went to college. And graduate school. Okay, I studied theater and dance, not astrophysics. But still. You’d think that anyone with a masters degree in anything more intellectually rigorous than, say, papier mache would be able to skillfully refuse a request that they’ve shot down with big, fat Over my dead body’s so many times, it’s practically a rote response.
“Mommy, can I have –”
Of course, it is the kid’s job to ask. And ask. And ask. And ask. I’m pretty sure that’s in The Great Big Book of How To Really Annoy Your Parents … For Fun & Profit. I can’t remember which page, but I know I’ve read it in there somewhere. And it’s the parent’s job to dig in and hang tough and be firm and say No … No … No … No … No. And I know I read that in the Great Big Book Of How To Keep Your Kid Alive Till They Turn 18 After Which They’re On They’re Own, Though They Will Still Want Your Money.
Since my son is seven, and thus still covered under the Try Not To Kill Them clause of the parent-child agreement, when he asked me for the millionth time if he could have a soda, my response should have been the instantaneous and automatic NO! that it’s been the last 999,999 times he’s asked if he could have a soda.
All right. All right. So asking for a can of soda is not like asking to borrow the car. Or to have a cocktail. Or to have a cocktail and then borrow the car. Soda is considered by many to be perfectly acceptable beverage for young children. And if that’s you, then have at it. No judgment. (Well, maybe a little. But certainly not to your face.)
But I have my reasons … good reasons … sound reasons for why I’m not particularly interested in having my seven-year-old guzzling soda by the Big Gulp. Not least of which is that I’ve done a fair bit of health writing about the link between soda-drinking and childhood obesity. Given that my kid already spends more than his fair share of time laying slothfully on the couch watching TV and/or playing video games on his … I mean, my iPad, I’d rather not throw more gasoline on that particular fire, thanks very much.
So to recap: Soda = No go in our house. Kid = Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask. Me = No, no, no, no, NO!.
But my kid is quite well-versed in the If-At-First-You-Don’t-Succeed school of argumentation. And he has pinpoint timing for picking his battles. On the day in question, my husband Stewart and Jessica and I were doing last minute setup for our Science of Parenthood launch party. My house was filling up with guests, and as they arrived, all of the kids jumped in the pool — in their clothes no less — turning the blog party into an impromptu pool party … which immediately necessitated my trying to locate all of the spare bathing suits and pool towels that had been packed away after last summer.
Meanwhile, my husband and Jessica were trying to troubleshoot the iPad slideshow we planned to show during the party. And friends were bombarding me with questions like So how’d this all start? Tell me the whole story. Now! and Where’s the booze?
I merely mention this to underscore that there was a lot going on in the particular moment when my seven-year-old hit me with: “Mommy … you know how you always want me to try new foods?”
I nodded, distractedly, unsure where exactly we were going with this.
“– and you know how you always want me to have a New Food Of The Day?”
Again, I nodded, hoping this was leading perhaps to my putting together a plate of food that the kid might actually eat.
“Well, I’ve never had Sprite before. I’d like to try it. I’d like this Sprite to be my New Food Of The Day.” And he held up a can. “So, Mommy, can I have it?” Then he flashed me his winningest, gap-toothiest smile. “Can I?”
Is that a logical argument or what? I mean, I had to give the kid props for originality and the ability to completely spin my own tables back on me. I swear, come back in a few years. This is the guy you’re gonna wanna hire as your defense attorney. Or hostage negotiator.
But I also had my reasons to say No. Sound reasons, remember? But in that crazy, chaotic moment, I choked. I had a Rick Perry brain fart. I couldn’t come up with a single reason why the kid couldn’t have a soda … I mean besides Because I said so. And I only like to trot that one out when I am truly, truly desperate. Why couldn’t he have soda? My brain scrambled for coherence and … and … and … I had nothing. I looked to my husband. Stewart shrugged helplessly, having already parried our son’s request with the totally lame “Go ask your mother.”
So now we’ve got two college graduates outmaneuvered by a seven-year-old. (Please don’t tell anyone we went to Oberlin; they will probably revoke our alumni status.)
Can a moment be both exhilarating and utterly humiliating at the same time? On the one hand, I was wary of giving my kid an ounce .. and having him down an entire 12-pack. On the other, I was so totally impressed with the kid’s verbal machinations, part of me wanted to give him the soda as just desserts for sheer ballsiness. So that’s exactly what I did.
“Just one!” I said, wondering just how far down the slippery (sugary) slope this capitulation would lead us. “It’s a special occasion. This is for today only,” I warned.
The kid barely heard me, so excited was he to dash off and pop open his can of bubbly sweetness.
“Savor it!!!!” I called after him.
“Oh, he got me!” I laughed to my mom friend Brenda later. “He got me GOOD!”
“On the bright side,” Brenda said, fully appreciating the humor of my predicament, “when kids turn your logic against you, they are using their critical thinking skills.”
True, that. So true. Sure, I’d been verbally outmaneuvered by a second-grader. But I was kinda cheering for him as he did.
A version of this essay first appeared on Lifescript’s Healthbistro blog.