Parenthood Is An Act Of Hostage Negotiation With A Broken Robot

This is literally some shit that just happened:

As is my routine, I left the shed to go inside to make The 4-Year-Old Presently Known As B-Dub breakfast. He came downstairs, excited to begin his day. He informed me that he was SHOCKWAVE, and I was Shockwave’s best friend, SHOCKDAVE (he quickly changed his mind and determined that he was instead Soundwave, because duh).

Everyone was happy. He had awakened as usual, demonstrating the energy of a meth-addled rock drummer, and mornings are usually pretty good because he hasn’t built up all the barnacles one might accumulate during one’s daily existence.

He said he wanted to find these pipes he’d been playing with — they’re not PVC pipes, they’re narrower than that, but he uses them as lightsabers and musical instruments and whatever. (As with many things, the best toys are rarely ones you buy, but rather: random-ass trash. Note I didn’t say random ass-trash, because ew. Hyphen placement matters, kids.)

Great! Fine. But 

He could not find them and immediately began to get upset.

Most times, things like this don’t bother him, but now, it did. You could see the storm about to break on his shores. The wet eyes. The hands balling into fists at his side. His eyes shooting lasers. Okay, maybe not that last bit. But almost.

I commit to helping him look. I immediately find them — ten seconds later, I discover them on the couch under a blanket. I think, HA HA, DADDY IS A HERO. Daddy staved off the stampeding army of a coming tantrum. Daddy is basically like, the Hercules of the parent set right now. Now let’s all go into the kitchen and eat some fucking pancakes because the day is saved.

Daddy was jolly well fucking wrong is what he was.

B-Dub loses his gourd. If he could’ve flipped a table, he would’ve flipped a table. His reason for the escalation of the meltdown is this, and I quote: THOSE AREN’T THEM. As in, the things I found are not the things he was looking for, except I know they are. They are! I’m sure of it! He’s wrong! Is he just fucking with me? Have I lost my mind? And then he adds, for melodramatic flourish: I HAVE NEVER SEEN THOSE THINGS BEFORE IN MY LIFE. (Another lie!) He demands I cover them back up with the blanket — I guess the sight of them alone might make him rage-barf — and then proceeds to stomp around the room like he’s trying to kill a swarm of ants or something.

My wife comes downstairs and she tries to ameliorate the situation and that just — yeah, no. That’s just a burr stuck between his buttcheeks.

My wife is excellent because she’s basically a hostage negotiator. She knows how to speak calmly yet still manipulate him into an end game while making him think he is getting exactly what he wants — she reiterates the situation and the problem and coaches him into an emotional solution. I have this power sometimes, other times I just stare at him like he’s a malfunctioning vacuum. (When hostage negotiation fails, the best bet is to leave him alone and let the preschooler tornado burn himself out — eventually he can’t sustain his own inane rage and it sputters.)

Either way, she got him calm. He came in, said sorry, gave hugs, ate pancakes, yay, whatever.

Here, you think: kids are just… they’re just fucked, man. They can’t keep it together for fundamental, mundane stuff. They’re like Windows computers from the 1990s — they just aren’t built right. They malfunction. They fritz out. UNEXPECTED BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH even when you’re trying to do something basic like update your calendar or write an email. Kids are like broken robots. THIS ROBOT DOES NOT UNDERSTAND ASIMOV’S LAWS. It just whirrs around the house eating your plants and peeing on the heating vents. All while yelling at you.

Thing is, the door swings the other way, too.

Sometimes they’re alarmingly broken little creatures.

Other times, they can be incredibly well-put-together. They can demonstrate levels of awareness and maturity that most adults are never able to muster. Case in point:

Last week, B-Dub wanted to buy a new Minecraft texture pack. To which I said no because (and here my father’s voice gurgles up out of me like a ghost yelling through a sewer grate) WE’RE NOT MADE OF MONEY. Which ticked him off, and the coming tantrum from a situation like that is a little more predictable. I said no to a thing he wanted — it’s like denying a komodo dragon food. It will hiss and spit and bite because it wants the food. Its reptilian urges will not be denied.

Except, they were denied, and he got mad.

Fine.

Minutes later, he comes into the kitchen, calm as a summer breeze. He says that he’s okay now. He had taken a deep breath (which is a calming technique we taught him) and said that he was letting the texture pack go because it was “too much” in his head and he was going to “lose the idea” because he didn’t really need the pack. He explained to me and my wife that he really wanted it, but knew he didn’t really need it — he conceded he just wanted something. And he added, “I’m okay, now,” then walked the fuck away like a Zen master who had just given up the need for material goods, the world exploding behind him in a fiery plume.

And I was like, dang, kid. I certainly cannot manage that kind of confidence and security. When I want something, it’s like the desire for it lives in my salivary glands — and it’s worse if someone tells me I can’t have it. I don’t care if it’s a cookie or a chainsaw. When I want it, I want it, and damnit why can’t I have it? I WILL SLAPFIGHT YOU OVER A CUPCAKE IF YOU DENY ME. So, here’s this four-year-old illustrating a kind of calm, collected bad-assness that was really quite amazing.

See, sometimes they’re broken robots.

But sometimes they are Bodhisattvas sent here to shepherd us toward better habits.

I don’t have any great takeaway here, really.

Kids are weird, is what I’m saying. And we have the tendency, I think, to respond to children like either they should already be adults or instead respond to them like they’ll never be capable of becoming adults. I know I’m guilty of both — sometimes I want to do the thing my Dad did which was get firm and angry and be like, THE REAL WORLD WON’T ACCEPT THESE SHENANIGANS SO WHY SHOULD I, even though the reality is, he’s not ready for that kind of logic. He’s this kinetic bundle of emotions, and all his synapses haven’t learned to fire together yet. His logic centers are sometimes dominated by his emotional ones — and sometimes his emotional ones are like the wires of the Millennium Falcon, pulled out of the ceiling and draped in a tangle over Chewbacca’s shoulders. But at the same time, you don’t want to treat him like he’s just some wackadoo dum-dum who can’t handle the things that life throws at him, because all too often he shows full well how stalwart he is in the face of problems that would sucker-punch most adults.

I think the best thing we can do is trust them and to have empathy for them. They’re going to get it wrong a whole lot, and we have to accept that. But they’re going to get it right, too — and while we don’t have to expect that, I think we have to allow room for it to happen. We have to help them learn to be people. That’s still so weird to me. They’re not really fully-formed human beings, not yet. We have to teach the broken robot to become a real boy — and, eventually a real grown-up. A grown-up hopefully better than the ones we ourselves became.

NOW WHO WANTS TO SLAPFIGHT ME OVER THIS CUPCAKE.

Ha ha just kidding I already ate it.