The following was originally published in “The Good Life Men’s Magazine”
Walking into the house on an early Saturday afternoon from a routinely wonderful trip to Fleet Farm, I was greeted by the cheerful sounds of a humming KitchenAid stand mixer and a giddy three-year-old sous chef. The sun had finally broken through that weekend — the weekend after the snowpocalypse that wasn’t — and everyone was happy to feel the first real signs of spring.
We had spent the majority of the day cleaning the house, and now Macklin and Mama were busy making use of the mostly spotless countertops to make homemade pasta for dinner… because there’s no better time to prepare an elaborate meal than when the kitchen is fresh and decluttered.
As I was about to dump the fresh bag of dog food into Lucy’s bin, I spotted potential disaster out the corner of my eye.
“No, no, no, no, no! STOP!” I shouted at Mack, as I saw his perfect little fingers get dangerously close to the grinding, metal jaws of the pasta maker. “You can’t put your fingers in there, buddy, or you’ll lose them. You’re not in trouble,” I assured him, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
I had said the same line countless times before. You’re not in trouble, but… I don’t want you to get hurt; I don’t want the toilet to flood; I don’t want you to burn yourself; I don’t want you to die an early death! Fill in the blank with whatever your imagination can think of, chances are I’ve said it.
I returned to replenishing the dog food, but I lingered on the prior scene. While I reassured myself that I was just being a good parent in providing an explanation to my strongly spoken, finger-saving intervention, it struck me that all I was doing was saying no… albeit with context. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had developed yet another new skill thanks to the challenges of parenting.
I can say no, teach a quick lesson and avoid tears with the deftness of a tightrope walker navigating the one and only straight-line path to self preservation. Any misstep is an irreversible mistake. For me, one poorly chosen word, a decibel louder or an octave higher and all is lost. If I stray too far to the gentle side, the learning moment may get marginalized. If I’m too forceful, no amount of logic or reason can break through a flood tears.
I’ve gotten so good at this, the word no often doesn’t even enter the conversation. I may use some classic redirection when Mack starts to test boundaries a bit too much. “What if we took the baseball game outside where there’s more room to hit the ball… isn’t that a good idea?” I’ll ask before he winds up to pitch a fastball destined for a hanging picture frame.
If it’s something he knows he probably shouldn’t doing — or, more likely, has been busted doing before — it might only take a look. A look and a slow “don’t even think about it” shake of my head. He always knows the answer in this scenario, but he loves the reaction and his sneaky grin assures me his sense of humor is developing quite well.
Sometimes, I’ll say no hours or even days ahead of time. How? Well here’s another secret: all parents can predict the future. For example, if I buy myself half a pecan pie with no intention of sharing it, I avoid having to say no to Macklin by hiding it in the downstairs fridge, which he knows is only stocked with “grown up drinks.” Problem not just solved, but averted.
I’ve come up with a hundred different ways of saying no to Macklin. Usually on the spot, too. It’s a real feat of creativity. Nobody likes being told they can’t do something, especially when it’s pure, innocent curiosity that’s driving the undesirably action.
Why am I being told I can’t touch the fire? Fire is awesome!
Yes, fire is super duper awesome. But now that I’m done shout-saving your life, allow me to explain just how not awesome third-degree burns feel.