The proliferation of parenting tomes belies the truth that all parenting really comes down to one simple fact: the second you master how to handle one thing, something else will come right up and take its place.
You figure out how to put your kid to bed…and now it’s time for them to lose the bottle, so the whole routine is completely useless. You finally work out your schedule around the kid’s naps…suddenly, Junior doesn’t need naps anymore. It’s not really Murphy’s Law. After all, nothing is going wrong, per se. The only thing that’s “wrong” is your sense that you were, for however brief a moment, in control. Because you’re not. And you never were, and you never will be. And therein lies the thrill, and pain, of parenthood.
As I await the arrival of Kid Three, who is just as intransigent in utero as her two older brothers were once upon a time, child development in my home continues apace, as I learned from my 6-year-old, R.
Remembering that I needed to pay a bill online, I sat down at my computer. R materialized as though from nowhere (a tough thing to do, since the kid has the gentle footsteps of a herd of wildebeest in heat) virtually immediately: “Mommy, come look at something.”
“Give me a second,” I told him, trying to get to the right bill payment page.
“Okay,” he responded. He took a step closer to me. I could feel his hot breath in my face.
I turned to him. “Look,” I said. “When I say, ‘give me a second,’ that means, ‘go do something else and I will be with you as soon as I can.’”
R gave me an angelic, sweet smile. “Of course, Mommy! That’s no problem at all.”
Wow – no whining, no complaints – nice! “That’s really sweet of you,” I complimented him (in that whole “give positive reinforcement of good behavior” schtick we all know and love).
And then, it happened. R gave me a look that could have been lifted directly from Justine Bateman’s facial repertoire back when she was teenage sister Mallory on Family Ties, and said, “Mommy, I was being sarcastic.”
Let’s reiterate: the child is 6. He’s really super smart, admittedly, but he’s really only 6. The idea that the 6 year old would not only know how to properly use the word “sarcastic” (explained to him, in fairness, when he asked me to translate the title of the Peanuts classic, “Why Are Musicians So Sarcastic?” into Six Year Old(e) English), but would know how to employ its sharp edges, with all its eviscerating potential, is disturbing.
Sarcasm is a far cry from the slapstick humor so amusing to the young. It’s light years away from chickens crossing the road. An ability to use sarcasm reveals an appreciation of the underbelly of irony. It shows an ability to flip a situation on its head. And let’s not forget that it’s a little bit jaded and mean.
So when a 6-year-old does a convincing imitation of being a sweet 6 year old, but does so deliberately as a pointed gesture to his mom? Well, consider it a gunshot across the bow of the mighty vessel of Growing Up – an indicator, as the shrunken head says on the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, that “it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”