My six-year-old may not be able to tell you that 3 x 9 is 27, but her ability to grasp complex social interaction is pretty astonishing. Let’s say this: she can read me like an open book.
She recently had a day off school, and I decided that was reason enough for us to go shopping. My pretext whenever I go shopping these days is that I’m doing it for the kids. It’s a good excuse until I find myself ignoring the kiddie section and spending twice as long in the women’s clothes.
When I told the Chatterbox of the plan, she looked at me sceptically: ‘What would Daddy say about going shopping? I don’t think he’d like it.’
I’m taken aback by her powers of reasoning. She’s clearly grasped some essential truth about our marriage and also subtly hit upon the eternal power struggle between men and women.
At this point I am facing a quintessential parenting dilemma. Do I tell her that it’s true that Daddy might not like our afternoon activity, but that I’ll later fess up to it like a responsible adult and be accountable for my actions? Or do I make her complicit in my actions and basically ask her to lie?
I choose the latter. With a sly smile I say: ‘Well, we don’t have to tell him.’
With this tiny little sentence I know I have violated some sacred law in the Parenting Handbook. While this book doesn’t really exist, I think every parent carries a copy around in their head somewhere and refers to it sporadically.
Of course I’m betrayed a few hours later when the English Husband gets home. The actions of Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a single kiss, don’t look so bad when compared to the manipulations of a six-year-old.
‘Daddy, guess what we did today?’ the Chatterbox teases gleefully. She doesn’t even wait for him to guess before adding: ‘We went shopping!’
I’m pretty sure she knows she’s landed me in trouble, but she seems inordinately happy with herself. If this is what she can do now, imagine the teenage years… I fear no bribery will be enough.
One day, I realize, the Chatterbox will exploit the insightful knowledge of her mother and use it against me. That day hasn’t yet come, but I sense it’s fast approaching.
She already calls me grumpy when I ask her to clean up her room and mocks me when I get stern. I feel childish that I let these things get to me, but, dammit, they do. Which is why I resort to self-medication (i.e. a glass of wine) in the evenings after a long day.
More worryingly, she has learned things about me that I didn’t think she could possibly know. The other day she was walking through the park with the English Husband and spotted a sign in the park that said alcohol was not allowed. (Her reading, unlike her math, has come on in leaps and bounds.)
She turned to the English Husband and said innocently, ‘Mommy wouldn’t like that.’ (She was, of course, referring to the ‘no alcohol’ rule.)
Perhaps I should take that as a cue that I need to drink less wine.