Tuesday, April 1, 2014

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If It Wasn't You, Then It Must've Been Mr. Nobody


Photo by Lucinda Higley


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It was just after 8PM on a school night, and Norah (my four-year-old) and I were reading Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. We were in Norah’s room, sitting on the bed. She was in elephant print PJ’s, and I was in black gym shorts and a t-shirt. We were about half way through the story when I heard Mel cry, angrily, from the kitchen.

“Who drew on my new computer??!!"

It wasn’t a computer, actually, it was a tablet that Mel has been using as a school computer. And the criminal didn’t actually draw on the tablet; he or she only drew on the case. However, both the tablet and the case were new, only a few days old, and Mel was, indeed, angry.

I think both Mel and I suspected Norah immediately. She’s in this anarchist phase. She draws on everything that she isn’t supposed to: the refrigerator, the walls, the table, her toy kitchen, the chair, her jeans, her brother… really anything but paper.

Norah and I could both hear Mel, angrily stomping down the hallway, and in those few moments before she reached us, Norah appeared to go through a mix of emotions. When Mel first screamed from the kitchen, Norah showed fear: her eyes got real big, and her small right hand gripped my pant leg. As we heard Mel approach, Norah showed panic: She hugged me for a moment. Just before Mel reached the room, she became calm: her arms relaxed and eyes soft. And by the time Mel was in the doorway, hands on her hips, face angry and red, Norah had a stoic, sassy confidence on her face, her head turned slightly to the side.

Mel gave Norah a straight-faced Mom look, and said, “Did you draw on my computer?”

Norah looked her mother in the eyes, gave her the sweetest little smile, and said, “No. It must have been Tristan.”

It was the classic blame the sibling move.

Mel wasn’t buying it, but for the sake of equal justice, she walked down the hall and asked Tristan (our six-year-old son).

“No,” he said. “I watched Norah do it.”

Mel came back and asked again. And once again, Norah denied any involvement.

“Well,” Mel said, “If Daddy, you, Tristan, and me didn’t do it, than who did?”

“It must have been Mr. Nobody,” Norah said.

Mr. Nobody was Norah’s imaginary friend. He often has his own seat at the table, and he often needs a push on the swing when we visit the park, but I don’t think he’d ever been blamed for something until then. Norah and Mel went back and forth for a while, Mel kept interrogating her, and Norah kept insisting that it was Mr. Nobody. Eventually, Mel told Norah that both she and Tristan had lost all their screen time until someone confessed. Tristan moaned and fought the idea from his bedroom, and Norah, well, she seemed content. Her face seemed to say, this is better than getting caught.

And once it was just Norah and myself, I asked her again, “Did you draw on Mom’s computer?” And she continued to insist that it was Mr. Nobody.

I really wanted to get her to confess. I suppose I wanted to be the hero, or something. Or maybe I just wanted to use this as a learning moment. Norah has turned into a little liar in the past year or so, and I’m not sure what to do about it. She lies to get out of doing basic obligations: “I can’t put on my shoes because I forgot how.” She lies about what she ate for dinner so she can get dessert. She lies about all sorts of things, and many of them are pointless lies, the kind of lies people tell for attention, or lies that are blatantly obvious: “No, you didn’t eat all your carrots, Norah. I’m looking at them right now.”

I have yet to ever get a confession from her.

I had the same problem when I was young, and so I understand the thrill she gets from lying, but at the same time, I know that lying can lead to mistrust and embarrassment. As a father, I don’t really know what to do about it. So as I sat across from her, I tried a new strategy.

“Ok, if it was Mr. Nobody, what do you think we should do to him?”

Norah thought about it for a moment. Then she said, “We should catch him in a box. Then we should tie him up really tight.” She made circles with her hands like she was tying really tight knots.

“How long should we keep him tied up?” I asked.

“Four hundred years!” she said.

“What else should we do to him?”

She went on, telling me that we would only feed him dirt, carrots, and poop, and that we would take away all of his stuffed animals and never take him to the park again. And as she spoke, I nodded.

I was a little shocked by the extent of her punishment. I think the worst punishment we’d ever done to Norah was to take away some of the toys she refused to put away, so I don’t know where she came up with all this stuff.

Once she was done, I said, “Well, what if we find out it wasn’t Mr. Nobody? What if we find out it was someone else? Will we do all that to the real criminal?”

“Yes,” Norah said, her little face furrowed with justice.

“What if we find out it was you,” I asked. “Should I do all those horrible things to you if we find out that you were the one who wrote on Mom’s computer?”

Norah got really quiet for a moment, and her eyes moved side to side.

Before she had a chance to speak, I said, “You know what. I really like your idea. Once we figure out who it was, I am going to do all of it. Tie them up, feed them dirt and poop, and take away all their stuffed animals…” I listed all of her punishments. “That is unless they confess. You see, telling the truth, even if you did something wrong, caries a softer sentence. If the criminal tells the truth, then they will only lose their screen time for a few days.”

Norah nodded, and although I was using larger words than she was used to, she seemed to completely understand what I was saying.

Norah and I finished the story and I tucked her into bed. And the next morning I got a text from Mel that read, “Norah told me that she drew on my computer. What do you think her punishment should be?”

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley


sue adams said...

My son once cleaned our laptops with Febreeze. He was about 2 and 1/2 at the time. One was our personal laptop and the other was issued to my husband for work.

We caught him soaking the computers and of course the work computer got more cleaning than the other one. There was Febreeze coming from every nook and cranny. We got it dried up and the computers worked fine, as long as you didn't need to see anything in the bottom left corner of my husband's.

I couldn't help but laugh the whole time because my son was so proud. He thought he was helping.

My husband wasn't quite as amused as I was.