Us Against Them Part I
I told Tristan to put his folder away and start cleaning, and suddenly his face went red with frustration. He reminded me that Norah was going to clean. We started to argue.
“I just want to finish my homework, dad!” He said it like I was being a bad father. Like I’d taken away his basic human rights. He went on, repeating it over and over again, and asking me why I was being so mean.
Suddenly Norah said, “Stop being mean to Tristan! He needs’a do his homework.” Then she called me a “fart face.”
“Yeah,” Tristan said. “Only a fart face wouldn’t let me do my homework.”
In so many ways my children remind me of Tea Party U.S. senators, jamming up the system for the sake of argument. They often refuse to cross party lines so that things can move forward. Most of all, they are prone to filibusters.
“Tristan,” I said. “I am going to have to ask you to stop talking for a bit, okay. Both mom and I have shot down your argument. You really need to understand that there are times to play, and there are times to do work. And if you don’t do things when they are supposed to get done, then problems can happen. You lose out on privileges, like going to recess. And let me say another thing, calling someone in charge a ‘fart-face’ is not going to help your future life goals. I hope you are listening to this, too, Norah.”
As I spoke, Tristan kept interrupting me with his filibuster, with his refrain, “I just want to do my homework.” I will admit here that it did pull at me a great deal. I, too, wanted him to do his homework. I wanted him to also clean the living room, but I also wanted him learn how to manage his time. So often with parenting, my lessons fall between a rock and hard place, and in this moment, I realized that arguing with a seven-year-old is the first step towards failure.
It was then that Mel stepped in and started to speak to Tristan in terms he could understand.
“Tristan,” she said, “I get it. You don’t want to clean the living room. You don’t want to miss out on recess. You want to do things when you want to do them, but that’s not the way the world works.” She went on, telling him how tomorrow she is going to do her homework rather than make dinner. “That’s when I’d rather do my homework. You can go ahead and make your own dinner.”
I’m not sure if it was the threat of having Tristan make his own dinner, which was probably really scary for him. He just recently learned how to use the microwave, which has made him feel both independent, and like a gourmet chef, but at the same time, he is afraid to use it un-supervised, and often struggles to pour a bowl of cereal without spilling it all over the table. Or he might have been upset about the possible break in the consistency of his life. Tristan really likes consistency. He likes things to be recognizable. One time I picked him up from school rather than his mother, and he looked at me like I’d just robbed him of a wonderful comfort. He stepped in to the car suspiciously, and then said, with a hint of frustration, “What are you doing here?”
After hearing Mel’s supposed plan, Tristan said, “I can’t make my own dinner.” He said it in the same tone he used when he felt wronged. Like when we asked him to do something that seemed completely crazy, like eat something other than dinosaur shaped meat, or mac-n-cheese.
“Well… I suppose you are going to have to figure it out,” Mel said. “Because I’d rather do my homework at that time.”
Suddenly Tristan had a light bulb moment. His lips drew down a bit, and his brow furrowed. He seemed to realize that what Mel was saying made a lot of sense. I could tell that he didn’t like his realization, but he clearly understood it, and accepted it. His mouth opened for a moment, I suspected he was going to say something, probably another argument, but before he could speak, I said, “Yup, I like the way mom thinks. Tomorrow I am going to stay home from work and write. I will go into work around 2 or 3. That sounds nice to me. I will probably get fired, but that’s okay. We just won’t have any money.”
Tristan had recently started to understand the importance of money, so he put his hands at his sides and said, “No, Dad. Don’t.”
“Do you see why it’s important to do things when they need to be done?” Mel said.
Tristan nodded, and then, with heavy steps, he began to pick up the living room. Norah, his partner, followed his lead. And Mel and I smiled at each other. We had worked as a team, our allegiance had held. It isn’t always this smooth. We don’t always win the battle. But this victory was fought and won, and as Tristan and Norah cleaned the living room, I think we both felt a strong sense of satisfaction.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. 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 work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.