Yesterday I asked the kids for a status report on how I was doing packing their snacks for school.
“I LOVE the Veggie Straws!” Lucy exclaimed, like she’d been waiting all her life for this question. (Veggie Straws™ are an elongated crispy snack treat, as you can see in the photo above in Lucy’s very own pink snack box.) “But I don’t like the green ones. Can you take out the green ones?”
And that’s where things got complicated.
First, some context:
I get up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for the day. That includes packing the kids’ stuff, prepping dinner, feeding Beasley, things like that. At 5:30 a.m. the Very Last Thing in the World I want to do (besides coaxing Beasley to do her doggie business because come on, man) is to go through the bag of Veggie Straws trying to separate the green ones from the non-green ones. First, because I don’t want to. Second, because this particular bag of Veggie Straws is from Costco which means it’s the size of a deflated blimp and to separate out the green ones it would be easier to physically climb into the bag, scanning around with a flashlight like the Hardy Boys searching the old Honeycomb Caves with their friend Biff Hooper.
“I’m not taking out the green ones, Lucy.”
(I don’t know that there’s a question Lucy asks more than “Why not?”)
“Because I’m not doing that.”
(I don’t know that there’s a response I give more than “Because I’m not doing that.”)
In fairness, it was not a terrible question.
So here’s my thought process on Whether To Pull Out the Green Ones Or Not:
It’s actually pretty easy. You come across a green one, you throw it back in the bag.
There is a big part of me that is worried that separating out the green Veggie Straws for her will lead Lucy to a life of entitlement and a belief that everything in this world will be handed to her.
And if you already think I’m overthinking this then strap in, friend, because that’s just the start of my downward spiral of anxiety.
If I take out the green ones, where does it lead? What if she never learns to do anything by herself? Is that the precedent I want to set for my seven year old daughter?
I do this at my job at NYU Stern, by the way – I put Precedent on a pedestal. I say no to MBA students often because I fear it will set a bad precedent. I fear that if we do this for this person, we have to do it for everyone. The problem with that unbending Precedent logic is this: Every once in a while it gets in the way of me Simply Doing The Right Thing for that individual in that moment.
Over the past years, I’ve gotten much better at handling this in my job. At home, however, I remain paralyzed.
So here is my question:
Let’s say I take the green ones out for Lucy. What actually happens? Am I raising a young woman with an outsized sense of entitlement? Am I crippling her ability to do things for herself, thus impeding her future social development? Or does it make no difference at all? And how can I know?
Then, an epiphany: I remembered what Lizzie does.
Here is my wife’s strategy – something she started in our home. (You will see that the fact that she is a lawyer is completely coincidental in the development of this particular strategy.)
When the kids ask for something out of the ordinary, some kind of special treat that I might ordinarily refuse, in they way most parents would, Lizzie does something different. Lizzie rarely gives a simple No.
Instead, she tells them to Make a Case For It.
If they ask if mom can make cookies on a random night, they have to come up with a good, rational argument, like maybe how a batch of homemade cookies may lift the family spirits or maybe that we can bring half the batch to our friends who helped take care of our puppy last Saturday.
If they want to watch a movie on a school night, they are forced to shift their strategy from mere begging for a special treat to developing a coherent line of reasoning as to why it might be beneficial for them to relax after a long day of school and sports.
It’s sort of a brilliant strategy for these moments when you would otherwise just say no.
Making a Case teaches them to stand up for themselves. It teaches them that they are not entitled to this thing because what we have or what we can do but rather because there is a good and objective reason why we as a family should do something a certain way. It teaches them to see beyond their own perspective and to get in the heads of their parents.
So I borrowed the Lizzie Strategy. I told Lucy she should Make a Case for me pulling out the green Veggie Straws.
Lucy loved this for the same reason zoo-keepers feed polar bears with fish that is frozen in blocks of ice rather than just giving them the fish: Polar bears and Lucy both love a good challenge.
Lucy always starts the same way. Her palms come up in a universal Stop-everything-you’re-doing-because-here-we-go gesture. She gives her hair a little toss and her eyes pop wide open.
“Okay. First, I don’t really like the green ones,” she said. “So it will make you happy to know that you’re not giving your daughter something she doesn’t like.”
“Meh,” I shrugged.
“That’s only the first reason,” she pointed out, index finger raised. “The second one is more important.”
“What’s the second reason?”
“Listen, dad. If I don’t like them, I’m not going to eat them. No offense.”
“You just throw away food?”
“Only because the rest of the snack is SO good and SO delicious that I don’t need to eat it all!” she said hurriedly. “And there are only a few of the green ones. And I would give them away but NOBODY wants the green ones. They want the orange ones and I always want the orange ones. Sometimes I share the orange ones.”
“Get to the point,” I said.
“If I’m going to just throw them away at school, why even give them to me? Maybe somebody else in our house LOVES the green ones! Maybe mom loves the green ones! And now we’ll have a whole big bag full of just green ones for mom! And don’t you want to make mom happy?”
Seriously, that’s what she told me. Which shows she can use reason. And it shows she knows my weak spots.
So I’m going to take out the green ones and ask Jesus to help her with her whole social development thing because there’s only so much I can control, people. And besides, her argument was pretty good.
Which brings me to…
The Top Five Things I Have Said No To Despite a Decent Argument.
1.) Driving the Car.
Finn asked if he could drive the car. “What if Lucy got hurt and I had to take her to the hospital?” he asked me. I told him I would do the driving in that case. “But what if you weren’t there?” he asked. “Where am I going to be?” “I don’t know – going out for pizza with friends?” he suggested. (Just FYI, I don’t leave my kids home so I can go out for pizza with friends. Sheesh.)
2.) Go to the Great Wolf Lodge.
The Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor hotel/water park. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve gone and it’s a pretty great place. But Lizzie and I needed a break from Great Wolf Lodge. So last winter we made excuses not to go. Finn tried to make the case that going to Great Wolf Lodge was cheaper than actually building our own camp with a water park, and Lucy added that we would also have to find a friendly talking wolf named Wiley the Wolf out in the wild and how likely was that? So it was a pretty good argument. But we didn’t go.
3.) Build a Robot.
I get a lot of thoughtful arguments from Finn as to why we need to buy a bunch of parts to build a robot – he wants to be an engineer, etc. But I’m not building a robot because I don’t know how to build a robot. Finn says that we should watch a YouTube video because that’s how we learned to fold a paper football.
4.) Build a Zipline from their Bedrooms to the Tree House We Don’t Have.
I’ve been putting off the whole Building a Tree House for years. First, because I’m not building a tree house. Second, because the tree house they want is bigger than our house. Third, because I’m not building a tree house.
5.) Getting a Penguin.
The kids found out it is possible in theory to own a penguin if it was bred in captivity. Their argument for getting one is that they already know how to take care of chickens because we did it for our neighbors so they could easily care for a penguin. I pointed out that chickens were different from penguins and they said “Like how?” and I didn’t actually know. (Are they that much different? Anyway, we’re not getting a penguin.)
I’m still not sure I’m doing any of this right. Which is pretty much the case for everything I do. But what are you gonna do, right?