1. Keeping your mouth shut on the sidelines of youth sporting events.
2. Not showing your surprise when they figure something out on their own.
3. Sharing your phone.
4. Not vomiting when they vomit.
5. Giving up and tying their shoes for them for the rest of their lives.
6. Timing when to help a child who’s stuck on a word.
10. Not laughing
It's hard not to laugh at children. It's not that you're laughing at them because they did something funny. Although, it should be shot with a bright warning glare that laughing too often at appropriate times could lead to the child doing the same damn thing that was funny the first time, but 12 more times that are not. Of course that's the ultimate goal: to laugh at appropriate times. But the inappropriate times are going to outnumber appropriate times.
Herein lies the challenge: maintaining your composure enough, or at least communicating around your lack thereof, so that your offspring don't mill off into the darkness of adolescence thinking your enjoy their pain.
But it's hard. My kids have done some incredibly ill-advised physical feats that have ended quite poorly. I don't always laugh, but when your daughter gets caught, say, in a lamp post, it'd be a waste not to pause and relish the time together. That's actually a true story. It's really hard to explain how it happened, but it did and, dammit, you owe it to yourself to get a giggle. It's part of the payment of parenthood. You're working your butt off to feed them; you've earned the right to mock them. After extricating my girl from the three adjacent poles that held up the light, I made sure she was OK. I also explained to all the children present that while there is comedic value, it's wise to find other, less awkward ways to get a laugh.
I could save myself a lot of trouble and just not laugh, but I wouldn't be writing at all if parenting didn't pose these emotional obstacles.
But the biggest trap is laughing at things that they shouldn't do or say. Sometimes the kids have had some pretty good one liners that garner a good guffaw, but aren't things you'd want them saying at Thanksgiving. Or anywhere, really. Like when Quin opined that once people are married they get to kiss each other's privates. Luckily, my laughter was overridden by the disbelief that there's somebody who's married and still getting their privates kissed.
But tonight was really quite special. Eliot pulled off a heist like we'd never seen before.
We were sitting at the dinner table and Sarah, who notices things that I don't, pointed out that something was wrong with Otto's hair. It seemed like he'd try to cut it. A very clear triangle of his bangs were missing. I took action and asked Otto how and when he'd done that. He looked very confused, but he's good that way. He's got the whole plausible deniability down pat.
We stared him down and interrogated him about what happened. When had he cut his own hair? And why? What my investigations overlooked was his little sister face down to her plate eating like a savage animal. This is unlike her and would have been noticed had I not been going full FBI on my son.
Another side note: Here's a thing that's going to disappoint you about your kids. You don't want them to lie, but it's also bad when they lie and they suck at it. Sarah came home the other day and asked the boys what they'd had for lunch, and they said peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After a brief investigation she found that the peanut butter had never even been opened, and under the top layer of trash was a can of Pringles they'd shared. Now while it's notable that their diet will stunt them, what really saddened us was how terrible they are at deception. And we told them. Scolded them, really. If you're going to lie, make it worthwhile.
Knowing that Otto has the capacity to at least try and avoid the truth, led us to believe that he was doing it again. And this, of course, compounded in my paternal brain, a brain that has already been turned over to my ancestors and forged into a man that sounds like every father that has ever been a father,
I grilled him. I bequeathed unto the room sage declarations about trust. If you don't have trust, I bellowed, you don't have anything. I invoked Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and paraded words around the table like "honor" and "trustworthy" while making eye contact with each child as to make sure they understood. Otto sank in his chair, drained by bewilderment. And I thought, "this guy is pretty good." He's actually going to pull this off. We're going to leave the table tonight no knowing the truth.
It was among my orating about earnestness and family strength, where Eliot realized that her brother was taking heat for something he didn't do. She stood up on her chair and announced that she had done it. She had cut Otto's hair. At first Sarah was pretty sure she'd caved just to get me to shut up, but she continued. She'd woken up early in the morning, snuck into her brother's room, and snipped off some of his bangs.
I asked her again. Really? She really did. She launched into the story again. Otto looking on, still confused but relieved. Eliot, kind of misplacing why we might be upset, took time in her tale to assure us that the scissors weren't very sharp and that she was very careful when using them.
At this point, we were laughing so hard that I was unabashedly giggle crying. Sarah suppressed her outburst with her hand over her mouth in what could almost be confused with stunned indignation. Good call, wife. Your resolve had Eliot spilling more details. Either that or our daughter loves the laughter feedback and we're screwed for life as she embarks on dangerous pranks with even sharper scissors.
We asked Eliot again for any other details, for if we were going to expunge this from Otto's record, we needed to know the truth. Eliot told us everything: she'd sneaked into his room in the morning, cut his hair, and then threw it away. Otto stared at her, petting the front part of his head like a tongue probing a missing tooth--his face painting a Norman Rockwell of youthful disbelief. And I failed the challenge and continued to laugh at the crime. I know I'll pay for it. I don't have any hair to cut, but who knows what could happen in my sleep.