My wife and I just enjoyed the most pleasant evening at home we can remember. A quiet night with no raised voices, no power struggles, no furtive dips into the cooking sherry. Just good old-fashioned family harmony. For the last six months or so, our once-peaceful home has suffered through the brutal reign of the worst tyrant either of us has ever lived with: our five-year old son Henry.
Like all little boys (right?), Henry has gone through several phases in his development. The much-feared Terrible Twos turned out to be a breeze, but were followed by the Terrible Threes, which were so much more terrible than the Terrible Twos I don’t understand why “Terrible Twos” is even a thing.
What made the Threes so Terrible? Honestly, I think I have blocked a lot of it out, much like my wife has blacked out the pain of his childbirth and veterans block out the horrors of combat, so it’s all a bit of a fog. Suffice to say there comes a point, according to the many parenting books that I have read the first half-chapter of, where the child decides it’s tired of not being in control of any part of his world and begins to assert himself in the form of resisting any and every idea that does not come from him. This takes several forms:
a) unprompted high-pitched screaming
b) “the boneless chicken,” in which the child goes totally limp
c) “the cornered raccoon,” in which the child becomes a blur of kicking and flailing
d) NO! NO! NO!
e) all of the above.
Henry pursued option e) with gusto, and Age Three was a tense year of raised voices, suppressed rage, and asking around for mood stabilizers. But then seemingly right around his fourth birthday he mellowed out completely, and decided to be a super-cool, creative, cooperative little man who was a joy to be with. My wife and I breathed a sigh of relief: The Terrible Threes were awful!, we said to each other. Thank god we’re out of the woods! In retrospect I realize that what sounded at the time like the upstairs neighbor jumping rope on the hardwood floors was actually the muffled voice of the sadistic Puppet Master, LAUGHING IN OUR FACES.
Because after about seven or eight months with Angel Henry, the boy who started saying “I Love You, Mommy and Daddy” totally unprompted and submitting to having his shoes put on without kicking me in the balls and eating his dinner rather than turning it into modern art and/or testing its aerodynamic properties, he completely reverted into full despot mode. He added punching us — and I mean taking a moment to weigh the options, then getting a running start with arm cocked and then punching us — and telling us “I hate you” with alarming matter-of-factness to his already crowded repertoire of antisocial tendencies. Every day’s a gift!
Which brings us back to the last couple days, which have been heaven on Earth. Is it because the new batch of parenting books I told my wife I read are working? Is it because he’s had some kind of awakening and will once again go back to being Angel Henry, the boy who acknowledges me when I come home from work and can brush his teeth without spitting toothpaste all over the mirror and then cackling as I fill with impotent rage and wonder when corporal punishment will come back into fashion?
No. It’s because he’s sick. He woke up in the middle of the night to tell us he didn’t feel well, and then he threw up on the floor. I should have known right then we were about to enter a golden age, because not only did he not puke on us or the bed we were sleeping in, he didn’t even puke on himself, making for a blissfully easy cleanup. (For my wife, I should add. I barely woke up through any of this.)
The next morning, he slept until an unheard-of 8:30 a.m. (Reveille is normally 0600), tried to puke again and shit his pants in the process, and then spent the next ten hours asleep on the sofa, while I went to work and his mom dusted and vacuumed the entire house, cleaned the bathroom, reorganized his bedroom, sketched, contracted, and oversaw a total renovation of our house, refinanced our mortgage, sent out eleven resumes, folded our laundry, pledged to NPR, read every article on the Huffington Post, painted the bathroom, cooked dinner, baked and frosted a dozen cookies, hand-cleaned the oven, had a long phone conversation with her mother, and got the back yard ready for spring. (She can’t usually get a lot done when he’s around is what I’m saying.)
He woke up about the time I got home from work, and when I got there he was still on the couch, listening to his mom read him a book. He waited for pauses and then asked thoughtful questions (as opposed to interrupting every three seconds to ask questions he’d just had answered two seconds ago). He lay there quietly as we cooked and ate dinner and talked about boring things like refinancing and renovation (this has never, ever happened). He had lost his appetite, so there was no need for our nightly 90-minute argument about whether broken fish sticks taste the same as unbroken fish sticks. He hardly asked for anything, and when he did it was with a soft, “Mommy, can I please have a…” instead of his customary barked “I want _____!” followed by a punch to the groin if we say no. He was sweet, docile, eager to please and easy to get along with — he made Angel Henry look like Idi Amin.
In short, the 24 hours since he started puking all over the place has been a high point in our relationship with him, and I’m chilled by the thought that it is only a matter of time before he starts to feel better and resumes his reign of terror.
Why are we trying so hard as parents to keep our kids from getting sick? I see people Purelling each other and their kids and insisting that preschoolers stay out of school after an illness until cleared by a doctor in abject terror of the idea that little Carson might catch a sniffle — as though that would be something other than a welcome respite from their relentless, exhausting zest for life, which is annoying even on the rare occasions that it manifests in positive, non-destructive/emotionally benign ways.
Instead of children’s ibuprofen or whatever it is we give the kids to make them better, I want something that will keep him sick for another day. I’m not saying I want to make his symptoms worse, or risk any long-term damage, but isn’t there a way to keep status quo for an extra day or two? Even better, I’d love to be able to buy a 24-hour norovirus in a little Optimus Prime applicator or something and give it to him right before our biannual 13-hour drive to see his grandparents. (This would also be nice for long flights, but I realize there are some ethical implications there.) I can live with the puking and the soiled underpants if it means I don’t have to watch his head split down the middle, revealing a demonic skull with fire for eyeballs, every time we tell him he can’t have a third bowl of Cocoa Krispies.
Although, I can see how it might backfire: his body could adapt to the increased exposure to viruses by becoming even stronger than it already is, making his malevolence even more pronounced and resilient than it is now. I don’t even want to think about what a worse version of what he is now would be, so maybe I shouldn’t mess with success. But I sure wouldn’t mind it if he pukes and shits his pants again when I get home tonight.
A ha ha, we all had a good laugh wishing my kid ill, didn’t we? Well the joke was on me, because a few hours after I wrote up to this point, I came down with the same virus. Had to leave my bar shift early and then puked out the window of the taxicab on my way home (never thought I’d do that again) and spent the next three days on the couch or in my bed. My wife got it too, although she seemed to get off a little easier than I did (by which I mean she recovered faster).
But with both of his parents totally incapacitated and indifferent to whether he ate cereal for every meal or how many consecutive hours of “The Electric Company” he watched (I believe he got into the low triple digits), our total family harmony extended for several more days.
So I am going to write my own parenting book: “The Flu Cure.” When things are tough between you and your kids, just break open the little vial (included free with the book!), inhale deeply, and enjoy up to seven glorious conflict-free days, as the kids lose their will to live and then you lose your will to parent. Only $29.95!
Does anybody know how to get in touch with Dr. Phil?