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Outsmarting Your Boys (Don’t Even Try It)

Outsmarting Your Boys (Don’t Even Try It)
In the course of listening to my two boys as they played together, I was struck by how readily my youngest son took instructions from his brother.

“Let’s put the train tracks together now,” said Mark, the kindergartner, to Bradley, his three-year-old sibling.

“OK!” replied Bradley excitedly.

Now, these are the same two dwarves who, fifteen minutes earlier, had reacted to my suggestion that they set up the train tracks as though I had sentenced them to twenty years of eating eggplant.

In a blinding flash of comprehension, it occurred to me that if I could learn to tap into that spirit of brotherly cooperation, I could significantly ease the task of parenting. Why, I could be just like Tom Sawyer, who made his peers eager to whitewash the fence while he relaxed in the shade and chuckled. I could get my boys to work for me instead of against me and they would think it was fun to boot!

Elated with my hypothesis, I decided to test it immediately. Bradley had earlier in the day been diagnosed with an ear infection and I had not yet attempted to give him his medicine (for much the same reason that I hesitate to force-feed an enraged polar bear).

Getting liquefied antibiotic down the throat of a pre-schooler, even if it is cleverly colored and scented like a cheap strawberry milk shake, takes endurance that no marathon runner ever dreamed possible. It is, at the absolute minimum, a hard-fought, twenty-minute battle.

“Mark,” I whispered, motioning him to come closer, “Bradley has a yucky ear infection and the doctor said he needs to take some medicine to get better. Would you help me explain to him that he needs to do what the doctor says?”

Mark grinned widely and nodded, clearly thrilled with his crucial task.

I glanced at the kitchen clock so that I could accurately record, for the scientific record, the time saved by utilizing my experimental method.

“Bradley,” I announced, “Mark has something important to tell you and you must listen closely.”

Mark wiped the smile off his face, turned to Bradley, and announced with the grave tone of a concerned surgeon, “Bradley, if you don’t take your medicine you are going to die in two hours.”

Bradley gasped.

I gasped.

Mark turned to me with a triumphant smile.

“That’s not what I said!” I blurted out.

“Is I’m going to heaven?” Bradley asked.

“No, no, no!” I spluttered.

“We are too going to heaven because Jesus loves us,” Mark shot back, glaring at me.

“But not right now!” I bellowed as Bradley’s eyes filled with tears.

“I only want to go if I get to be in a airplane,” insisted Bradley.

“You can’t go to heaven in a airplane because it takes too long,” Mark corrected with theological precision.

“Well, then I’m not going to go,” Bradley replied defiantly.

“You have to because the doctor said,” Mark continued helpfully.

“The doctor did not say that!” I retorted.

“Well,” Bradley said, ignoring my every word, “let’s just lock the doctor up in jail.”

“You have to pay lots of money to the policeman to lock up the naughty doctors,” Mark explained patiently.

“Let’s get our banks!” replied Bradley.

“LISTEN TO ME!” I roared as they scampered down the hall to raid their life savings. “The doctor is not naughty and you are not going to put him in jail and Bradley is not going to die and he just needs to take his medicine!”

I was drowned out by the sounds of loose change cascading to the floor.

I took a moment to calm myself by quickly removing several handfuls of excess hair, then I stomped down the hall to Bradley’s room.

“Now listen,” I began but was immediately interrupted by Mark.

“How much does a Baskin Robbins ice-cream cone cost?” he inquired, clutching a handful of his college fund.

“Yeah, how much quarters?” chimed in Bradley.

“Uh, well, uh, about four quarters,” I stammered, thrown off track by the speed with which they had shifted gears.

“Yea! We get to have a Baskin Robbins ice-cream cone,” they shrieked in delighted unison.

“I didn’t say that!” I retorted.

But I knew I was in trouble. In the bizarre logic of children, merely acquiescing to discuss Baskin Robbins is the same as signing in blood that you are going to straightaway indulge in a minimum of two of the thirty-one flavors.

“Look,” I said apologetically but firmly. “We can’t have ice cream. The doctor said that Bradley can’t have anything made out of milk until his ear infection is gone or it will just get worse. Ice cream is made out of milk.”

Bradley burst into tears.

But I was pleasantly astonished to watch Mark reach over and give him a comforting hug. I didn’t know he was capable of that kind of sympathy in the face of such a monumental disappointment. And I was proud that our parenting labors were producing such mature and selfless behavior in our offspring.

“It’s OK, Bradley,” said Mark soothingly. “Me and Dad will just go by ourselves and you can wait here with Mom.”

“No one is having ice cream!” I snapped.

Then it was stereophonic tears.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said as the torrent rose above my knees, “we can still do something fun, even though we can’t have ice cream.”

“What?” asked Bradley warily.

“Um, popcorn! How about popcorn?” I replied, shooting a warning glance at Mark lest he fill Bradley’s head with competing alternatives.

“You have to have a movie or else popcorn isn’t fun,” Mark managed to point out, which was no small feat considering that I had my hand clamped firmly over his mouth.

Three hours later, after a trip to the video store, two batches of popcorn, and the action-packed adventures of Davy Crockett, Bradley finally swallowed his medicine.

A net loss of two hours and forty minutes. So much for the theory of harnessing brotherly cooperation to improve parental efficiency.


When facing the task of getting your son to swallow his medicine, you should first set the medicine out on the kitchen counter, then, in a firm voice, call your son into the room and hand him over to the lion trainer you have hired for the occasion.


You’re doomed.

Excerpted from:
Boyhood Daze
Copyright © 1999, Dave Meurer
ISBN: 1556612095
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

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