« My mid-term exam | Main | Happy Valentine's Day! »

The middle child


Published May 2, 2011


The picture above is not entirely fair to Sander: We were playing with the camera and I asked him to pose with his grumpy face. 

But it’s not the only picture I have of him like that, and not all of them were posed. And it is what he looked like most of today.

First, let me say this: I believe that it is my job to defend my children to the death. It is my job to place them first, and to make sure no one, ever, anywhere, talks smack about them.

Because for God’s sake, if it’s not my job to protect them from bullies and morons and predators and teachers who don’t think they’re perfect, than what I am here for?

I also believe that a parent’s job is to make the well-being of their kids priority number one. 

Having a nice house can’t come first, a good career can’t come first, and whatever goals you have as a human being can’t come first. 

Notice that I didn’t say that the child’s whims and wishes and hopes should be your top priority. Just their well-being.

Because if a parent doesn’t place their child’s needs (not wants, remember,) as their first priority, then who the hell will? 

Who’s looking out for your child? 

There is no one else on the planet who will put this tiny creature’s needs as a top priority.

That said:

I’m not sure Sander’s going to make it to his seventh birthday.

As I have said, I have no problems praising Sander. 

He’s brilliant. Funny. Can be incredibly sweet and kind and has such an empathic, nurturing side that it makes me think I’ve done something right.

And yet every wonderful, amazing thing about him is turned into a weapon against me if the stars aren’t lined up just right.

He is sensitive.


This means he will get laid in college. 

Bully for him.

In practice, right now, this means that he can’t function unless he’s fed, he’s at the right temperature and he’s had enough sleep. 

And God forbid someone’s said the wrong thing to him that day. He’s worse than a drag queen after a bad breakup: “No, I will NOT listen to you. You were mean and I don’t want to be around you and I won’t listen to you today!”

He’s brilliant. Terrific.

He’ll actually pass his classes when he’s not getting laid. 

In practice, right now, this means that he is capable of understanding much more than he’s capable of dealing with. 

And that he can pinpoint, with astounding accuracy, anyone’s weak spots.

And that he can remember everything you’ve ever said to him.

“But you said maybe, and I know that maybe is just another way of you saying no because you don’t want to fight with me over saying no, but I need you to either say no so I can know why not or say yes so I can stop asking you. So which is it? Can we go get a treat today? And if you say yes you have to promise so you can’t change your mind and if you say no then I have to know why so I can make you change your mind. And don’t forget you can’t say maybe.”

He likes adventure, and the outdoors, and constant movement and new things and new places.

Fabulous. He’ll be an explorer. He’ll travel the world.

In practice, right now, this means that after a week where we go to my aunt’s ranch, to Houston for three days, swim until we’re all exhausted, go on hikes, go to the zoo and come home with ten loads of laundry and a week’s worth of chores in order to recover, the next day he wakes up with, “So, what are we doing today? And don’t tell me we’re staying home, because that’s boring. It’s a beautiful day! Let’s go do something!”

He takes everything to heart. 

Everything is a big deal. Everything is important.

This is a wonderful thing. He’s serious and deep.

In practice, right now, it means that if I’ve told him we have to watch his baby sister all the time, that means we have to watch his baby sister all the time. 

Every freaking minute, or the Sander police come after you.

I can’t go to the bathroom and leave her outside the door, or the Sander police come up and yell, “Hey! There’s no one watching the baby!! She might swallow something!! Get out here now, you know a six-year-old can’t watch a baby!! Where are you?!”

I must wear my seat belt at all times. I must never have alcohol in front of my son, because he knows it’s bad for me. My room must be clean, or I can’t tell him to clean his. My clothing must be spotless and appropriate for the season, or I can’t tell him to change his shirt. I must not fucking curse in front of him, or I will hear about forever, and his father will hear about it, and so will my family.

The rules are the rules, you know.

And he will not bend.

Ever. He will not show weakness. He will not give in. And he has such pride and such vanity that he will not be mocked or teased.

And this, in practice, right now, is what’s going to kill us both.

A six-year-old child can not always be right. He must bend to the ways of the family around him. The world can not always bend to his whims.

And yet, usually, his strength of personality is so great that it usually does.

He wants to see a platypus, and so plans are in the works for a trip to Australia. He has a business watching people’s pets while they’re on vacation, complete with business cards. He has a couple hundred dollars saved up for this.

He wants to be a veterinarian. So he’s convinced everyone around him to read to him, night and day, about animals. The librarians know him by name and have new books set aside for him each week. He is sure of himself and friendly, and confident the world is on his side and out to help him.  

And so when anyone crosses him, he can’t imagine why they would be so foolish.

He likes to dress up; he’s still six years old. He likes capes and cloaks and magic wands, and his newest cool thing is to wear clothes that are the wrong size. He puts on Sawyer’s pants that fall down and wears a belt with them, or he squeezes into a pair of Scout’s sweat pants and waddles around the house laughing.

Today, he was tired. The stars were not aligned. He wanted to be entertained and catered to, and I was not in a catering mood. He wanted to be read to, and played with, or wanted me to come up with some interesting diversion for his royal highness.

I had errands to run. I was done with entertaining him. I wanted out of the house.

I told Sander I’d take him to lunch, to the library and to the store, and then we had to pick Sawyer up from school. Oh, and hurry up, because we’ve only got a couple of hours until we have to pick up Sawyer. Go get dressed, please.

So he came out to the living room waddling in a pair of Scout’s pants. She’s eleven months old. These were jeans that wouldn’t fit past his thighs. Cute, but annoying. 

Nope. Go get dressed for real. We’ve got to go.

He wouldn’t have it. He insisted that he was going to wear those pants, and that he was fine, and that they fit.

And here is where the diverging parenting strategies begin.

If I were cheerful, happy, and on top of my game, I could have done a number of things. Had a race to see who got to his room first to change his pants. Had Scout wear his pants so he could see how silly he looked. Grab an extra pair of pants so when we got to the car and he complained, he could change. Ignore the whole thing, let him deal with the fallout and let him not go to the library because he couldn’t waddle in.

But I was not cheerful, happy and on top of my game. I was tired of amusing him and catering to whims.

I told him I was going to the car, and he could come after he’d changed his pants. It was cold and rainy out, we had errands to do, and he had to be dressed to go.

Sander knows a challenge when he sees one.

“I’m not changing, and I can wear these pants if I want, and you can’t stop me, “ says he.


Now, instead of a day of errands, we have a face-off.

We have a full-blown pain-in-the-ass situation, where if I back down, the terrorists win. 

If I back down, I won’t be able to stop him. 

He will take this a personal weakness and will use it every day to his advantage.

However, if I don’t back down and I have to spend an hour making sure that he obeys me,  then I’m an idiot for setting myself up in a situation where a small child has now forced me to pay attention to him and to waste an hour of my day dealing with this.

I knew better. He’s done this before. He wanted my full attention, and now he’s got it.

At this point, the car is running, the baby is strapped in, it’s raining, and he’s outside, dressed in flip-flops, a dirty T-shirt and baby pants. Way to go, killer. 

“Go back in and change your pants,” says I, as the baby starts to cry because she’s pissed that she’s in the car and it’s not moving.


And he climbs into the car and buckles in.


Now it’s a physical escalation. If I have promised that he can’t get in the car unless he changes his pants, I have to back down or take him out of the car. And I’m not backing down.

And I know that you can’t do physical escalation. In ten years, this kid will be six feet tall and sixteen years old. If I don’t figure this out now, there’s no way I’m going to be able to manhandle him into doing what I want then.

But I can now. So I pick him up, get him out of the car, kicking and screaming, and put him in his room, telling him to please change his pants. And yes, by this time, he and the baby are both screaming and yelling.

At some point, he does, in fact, change his pants. We did make it out of the house. And a mile down the road, he asked me to pull over so he could get in my lap and stop crying.

But he wouldn’t apologize. And when I tried to discuss what happened and how we could do better next time, he put chopsticks in his ears and said, “I refuse to talk about bad things.”

And we had to skip the library, because we ran out of time, and he threw a fit because I “broke a promise to go to the library, and now you need to get me a treat to make up for it.” 

So tonight, Mark put him to bed so I wouldn’t murder him.

And tomorrow, he will wake up sweet and happy and will want to know what adventures we’re going to have and how I will entertain him.

And tomorrow is Mark’s birthday, and because Sander is sweet and thoughtful, he will make a present and draw a picture and will want to make a cake and have a surprise for Mark.

But I will spend the entire day trying to avoid traps that leave me with no way to back down.

I’ve got to figure out how to work with this kid before he gets much older. 

Because if he’s this hard now, his teenage years are going to finish me off, right before all of those difficult traits turn him into an amazing man, and that would be a shame to miss.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>