Tristan and I were in the kitchen. It was evening, and Tristan was in his Spiderman pajamas. It was just the two of us and we were having a late dinner. I handed him some chicken nuggets, and then I asked, “You want some tater tots?”
Tristan looked up at me, eyes blue and excited, and said, “Would you like some tater tots?”
I was confused, at first. I will admit. It had been a good 20 years since I’d played the copycat game. I was rusty. And I suppose the most infuriating thing about playing the copycat game is that no one says, “Hey, want to play copycat?” Because if they did, the person would probably just reply by saying, “Hey, want to play copycat?” Then there would be confusion and eventual frustration. But ultimately that is the point of playing copycat…right? To get someone really aggravated by repeating everything they say.
It’s really a game for assholes.
“No,” I said, “I don’t want any tater tots. I was asking you if you wanted some tater tots.”
Tristan smiled, like he had me.
He’d obviously learned this from one of our neighbor kids, who I'd like to say are mostly assholes. I know this because they regularly eat my food without asking, pee on my toilet seat, peek in my windows, and tell me I have a messy house. For some reason this kind of crap is acceptable from children. I’m supposed to write it off as them learning how to be adults. However, if an adult did all of those things at my house, I’d probably kick their ass. But because they are children, I have to be understanding. Long story short, I love my children, but I dislike their friends.
No,” Tristan said with a fat grin, “I don’t want any tater tots. I was asking you if you wanted some tater tots.”
It was then that I realized what he was up too. I didn’t speak for a moment. I chose my words carefully. I though about my education, my graduate degrees. I thought about the fact that I worked at a university, and taught college classes. Then I thought about my age and life wisdom. I thought about the fact that Tristan was seven-years-old.
I got this, I thought. I can win this game. And while I’m at it, I’ll teach him a valuable lesson about respecting his father. I’m going to bring this kid down.
Because the fact is, I invented the copycat game. I was a regional champion back in the day. I knew all about what it meant to make someone so irritated by repeating what they said that they turned red-faced and angry and ended up driving their car off a cliff.
Ok…wait. I take that back. No one ever committed suicide based on my ability to annoy them. However, I do feel confident that I got some people to contemplate suicide. Particularly schoolteachers. And my siblings. I was a really irritating kid, and one of my favorite weapons was the copycat game. Although I was rusty, I felt confident that I could still show my seven-year-old son who was the master.
The sad thing is, though, when I think about me, an educated adult, stooping down to a child’s level, so that I could wipe the floor with him, I feel like a major league baseball player entering a little league tournament to help me feel more confident.
But I digress.
“My name is Tristan Flip Edwards and I smell like hot. Steaming. Farts,” I said. I looked down at Tristan with a large smile that seemed to say, Put that in your rainbow and see if it shines. You don’t come into my neighborhood without game.
Tristan fell right into my trap, and repeated my phrase. And I responded with, “Oh! So you admit that you smell like hot steaming farts!”
Tristan thought about it for a moment. He looked down at the floor; his right heel bounced up and down a few times. Clearly I’d shown him a very valuable life lesson: don’t mess with the bull, because you’ll get the horns.
Then he looked up at me, gave me a shit-eating grin, and said, “Oh! So you admit that you smell like hot steaming farts!”
Then he laughed, long and hard, right in my face.
Damn! I thought. Now I was the one who smelled like a fart.
I will admit. I got frustrated. I honestly thought that would work. I looked down at my son, who was staring up at me, trying hard to keep his game face, but couldn’t help not giggling, and realized that I might be in over my head. I tried a few more tricks. A few more ways to turn things around on him, but none of them got him to stop repeating everything I said. Rather, they resulted in me admitting that I ate poo, or smelled like garbage, or wore bacon as underwear. I tried to remind myself that this game was ridiculous and asinine, and it didn’t matter, but the fact was, Tristan was seven-years-old and he was getting me to admit to all kinds of things I didn’t want to, he was driving me nuts, and dinner was getting cold.
There is something really depressing about losing to a seven-year-old, even if it is a stupid game. I know that there are fathers out there that would see something like this as a source of pride, like when your child finishes college when you never earned a college degree. But that wasn’t the case. I was too prideful. I felt like a failure. I was an educated adult, and I should be able to outsmart my son. But I couldn’t.
I told him to stop, and he repeated it. I told him about the cold dinner and that it was after bedtime, he repeated that too.
I realized that going at this situation in the traditional fashion was not going work. So I broke the rules.
Tristan’s favorite meal was dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets from the frozen section and tater tots. Exactly what we were having for dinner.
His blue spaceship plate was sitting on the counter, stocked with his favorite food.
“You can eat my dinner,” I said.
Tristan, without thinking about it, repeated what I said.
So I reached out, and started eating it.
“Oh… man. These are some good chicken nuggets,” I said.
Tristan reached up. He told me to stop. He reminded me that those were his chicken nuggets.
“You going to stop repeating everything I say?” I said.
Tristan thought about it for a bit. He reached up and tried to steal the plate, but I held it out of his reach. Finally he agreed.
I didn’t eat all of his dinner. Just one nugget, but it was enough to get him to stop.
So often with parenting, I have to stoop down to the level of a child. I have to try to get my son to admit that he smells like a fart to get him to stop doing something childish, or reach out and steal some of his dinner. It is in moments like these that I realize that I obviously haven’t matured much past that of a little boy. Regardless of my age and education, I sometimes feel like a child raising a child.
I replaced the nugget I ate off Tristan’s plate with one of mine. And as I did, he looked up at me with misty eyes. He was about to cry. I gave him his food, put my arm around him, and said, “Tristan. You totally won that game of copycat. You beat me so bad that the only way I could get you back was to steal your dinner. You are the copycat master.”
Tristan smiled at me. Then he let out a long, sinister laugh, and together, we watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while eating dinner.
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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, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley