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how to win friends and influence children

When I go home to my parent’s house for Christmas, I stay in my old bedroom.  All my old stuff is in there, I like the bed, and it’s just … my room.  Unfortunately, there is also some sort of video game attached to the otherwise non-working television in there, which makes it the room my two little nephews like to stay in when they sleep over.  “Like to stay in” is a bit of an understatement, however. “Think they own it” is a bit more accurate.

I am the room’s rightful owner.  I was here first. There is no question about this.  However, the little boys still labor under the misconception that it is theirs, so their first order of business, whenever I am home and they come over, is to evict me out of my room. They mill around me, like hungry patrons in a restaurant waiting for my table, making me as uncomfortable as they possibly can, so that I’ll hurry up and pay the check so they can sit down and eat.

They barge in while I’m still getting dressed. I instinctively cover my chest.

“This is MY ROOM,” says Colton, the eldest of the two.

“No, it’s MY room,” I say. This part comes out a little muffled; I’m pulling my top over my head.

“It’s OURS,” says Trent, who is younger but bigger. “I’m serious.”

I’d like to tell them both to go take a hike, but I might need these two boys when I’m old and decrepit and I don’t want them throwing me into an old people’s home. I should probably be nice, so early on into the visit.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud,” I say.  “Just let me put some clothes on first.”

They just stand there, staring at me impatiently, as I put on my shoes.  When I’m finished, they both usher me out.

“It’s about time you skedaddled,” says Trent.

Skedaddled? I chase him down the stairs, and I don’t feel bad when he slips a little on the carpet.

That was Christmas.  A couple of days later, my mom and I take the boys to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  They decide they want to stay over that night, and they can, I tell them, with the following stipulation: they can’t have my room.

My mom relays this information to them over the phone, and suddenly, they’re now not sure if they want to stay over.  See?  All they care about is marking their territory on my room, evicting me from it, and putting me in my place.

I’m up in arms about this for a while, adamantly clinging to my room rights, but then I experience a rare surge of maturity. “Who cares,” I think. “Do I REALLY care where I sleep?”

I don’t even sleep most of the time. It doesn’t matter if I sleep in a bed or on a couch, it’s all the same long insomniatic night. Why must I make an issue out of everything? Why must I be such a child? When am I ever going to grow up? Why can’t I just be nice?  They’re little children.

I tell this to my dad, that I honestly don’t care where I sleep.

“Well, what we can’t have,” says my dad, “Is for them to decide NOT to come, and to then tell them they can have your room.  It would look like you were giving into their demands, and that would be a bad lesson.”

I agree.

“If you’re going to do it,” he says, “Call them up and tell them now, before they decide not to come.”

I pick up the phone, and then suddenly stop feeling so generous.  Who do they think they are?  If all they want is to sleep in that room to make a point, and if that is their prime motivation, and they don’t care at all about spending quality time with their loving, doting aunt, forget it. They can just stay at home

What we decide is this: that we’ll let them decide on their own whether they want to come or not, and if they decide to come, on their own volition, I will be the bigger man, and will graciously give up my room.

After the movie, we take them to Primanti’s for a snack. They aren’t hungry and don’t want anything to eat, but they do want something to drink.

“I’ll have a Coors Light,” says the younger one.

Funny, I think. I like this kid. But, since he’s only six, and not a very resourceful six apparently, he has not yet managed to procure himself a fake ID, so the waitress brings him rootbeer in a little brown bottle that could easily pass for a beer bottle, even when it’s being held by a six-year old.  I enjoy this sight immensely.

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I am not the biggest fan of children.  I’m not very good with them, and I never know what to say to them. I expect them to be responsible for starting up the conversation, asking me how my life is going, etc. Thus, when handed this golden opportunity … this one instance of common ground … beer, which – although I don’t drink beer and don’t like beer – is a part of the Adult World and something I can talk about with comfort … I greedily latch onto it. Finally, a topic of conversation for me and the kiddies!

Then comes the moment of reckoning: are they going home with their mom, or are they coming with us?  Turns out the boys are a lot more mature than I’d given them credit for, certainly a lot more mature than I am.  Even though they still think they aren’t going to be able to sleep in my room, they decide to spend the night with us anyway.  We load them and their stuffed animals into the back, strap them into their car seats, and begin to drive the 40 minutes across town, towards home.

Now, you might think that being strapped into a BABY seat at the lofty ages of six and seven might have a humbling effect on a person, that it might put them in their places a little, make them realize how little say they have in the matters of the world at this point in their lives.  I mean, they’re sitting in seats made for babies, which they’ll have to sit in, by law, until they’re 8 years old and 80 pounds. You’d think that would be enough humiliation for anyone. But no.  Their little selves of esteem seem to be doing just fine, by the sounds of it, as you will soon see.

My mom (who we call “Munin”) suddenly realizes she doesn’t have any child-friendly breakfast cereal at home for the morning.  She says to them, “So, what kind of cereal do you two want to eat for breakfast tomorrow? We’ll stop at Giant Eagle and get it.”

“Lucky Charms!” shout the two mature children enthusiastically from the confines of their baby seats in the back, waving their stuffed animals around with glee. “Lucky Charms!”

“But,” continues the eldest one. “Can you drop us off at the house, and then go back out to get it?”

This really pisses me off, poised as I am to detect an ulterior motive.  Drop them off at the house, so they can lay claim to my room before I even have a chance to be the bigger man and give it to them? This is bullpoop.  Not on my watch!

“NO,” I say, unable to keep the terseness out of my tone. “We will NOT drop you off at the house and go get the cereal.  If you wish to enjoy the magical deliciousness of Frosted Lucky Charms for your morning repast, you will come with us the whole way.”

This announcement is greeted with an equally terse silence.  The boys are used to being treated like little kings by my mother, or at least being spoken to nicely by her.  Which makes me feel like a bad person, so I try to soften it a little. I’ve obviously angered them as much as they’ve angered me.  It must be hard being strapped into that little baby seat at the ripe old age of seven.  So as a reconciliatory measure, I say, “We can sing a hundred bottles of beer in the wall, while she’s in there,” thinking that 1) they’d like shouting a repetitive song over and over at the top of their lungs (what child doesn’t?) and 2) the word “beer” would be something that would resonate with them, since the younger one seemed so interested in it earlier.

But NO. All of a sudden, the seat in which I am sitting gets pummeled from behind by two angry kicking feet.  It’s the older one, who wasn’t even involved in the beer conversation earlier.  He screams, in a not-very-nice kind of way, “YOU’RE CRAZY!” and then proceeds to kick the back of my seat as hard as he can: kick kick kick.  “YOU’RE CRAZY!” KICK KICK KICK, he repeats.  Wait, I’m crazy?  Who is the one having a temper tantrum while strapped into a baby seat in the back?  NOT ME.

“Look, kid,” I say.  “Look at me and look at you.  I’m bigger than you, stronger than you, smarter than you, and I have a well-paying job. You think you calling me crazy really means anything to me?”

“What’s your job?” he yells, kick kick kick.  “Saying BEER?”

For some reason, this really hurts me.  I must be about to get my period or something.  I’m being judged by a highly critical seven-year old.  What the heck!  I don’t even like beer, let alone drink it or go around saying it all the time. I was just trying to be nice, and here I am being accused of being preoccupied with beer by a seven-year old.

“Be nice,” says my mother under her breath, but since I can’t be nice, I turn around once more and say, “STOP. KICKING. THE. SEAT.” which he does, mainly because my mother also tells him to stop, and then I don’t say a word to anyone for the rest of the way home. I cry a little bit in the dark, and pull out my cell phone and check my non-existent messages, and pretend I have something important to do. I log onto Facebook via my phone and announce to the world that in case it wasn’t perfectly understood, I HATE CHILDREN which causes a furor of judgemental anger from one “friend” whose comment I promptly delete, and then block so that she’ll never be able to comment again.

I don’t say another word, as my mother goes into the Giant Eagle.  The boys have graciously allowed her exactly one minute to exit the car, enter the store, select the cereal, check out, and make it back to the car. The older one begins counting, and at 30 seconds, he says to his brother, “She’s doing really well,” as if he could even know that.  (I’m oddly touched by this kind statement, and could almost get over my grudge, but he hasn’t said it to me – I’m being pointedly ignored – so I retain my grudge for a little longer.)

At sixty seconds, he begins to slow down his count. Sixty-Onnnnnnnnne.  Sixty-twoooooooooooo, and at around three minutes, I decide to offer an olive branch of peace. “I know,” I say. “Let’s play ‘My Munin, Your Munin,’” which is a variation on a game we play in the family called “My Car, Your Car,” a game you play when you’re waiting for a person to arrive in a car. You get the first car that goes by, and you say, “My Car,” and then the other person gets the car after that, and you say “Your Car,” then it goes back and forth, until finally the person you’re waiting for arrives, and whoever gets THAT car wins the game.

“NO!” shouts the older one.

No one has ever not wanted to play a game of My Car, Your Car in the history of forever, until now.  We retreat back into our icy caves of silence.

Finally my mom comes out, having failed at her one minute time cap.  It has taken her 5 minutes and 35 seconds, and some of those seconds were longer than normal.

“Were you PURPOSELY going slow?” asks the older one, in an accusatory tone.  There’s gratitude for you, I think, but I’m off stewing away in Silent Grudgeville somewhere, and this time, I keep my comments to myself.  My mother, a much nicer and better person than I am, and much more loved by the children for obvious reasons, laughs and says the most perfect thing.

“Yes, Colton, I walked on my hands the whole way down the aisle, and then when I got to the ice cream section, I slid on my bum.”

“Ahhhh,” I think, when I hear that. “That is how it’s supposed to be done.  Why can’t I just do it like that?”

The boys laugh and end up loving her even more.  Me?  I mentally begin packing my bags for the Old People’s Home.

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