The thing about children that non-parents don't grasp (because it's a thing you can't understand until you experience it) is the sheer relentlessness of parenthood. It's like taking on a stressful, demanding 24 hour a day job on top of everything else in your life. Or, like voluntarily adopting an Olympic-style Degree of Difficulty multiplier for everything you do, however basic . Like, it makes tying your shoes harder because sometimes there's a kid who's decided it's great fun to stand on your feet, or to take advantage of the momentary parental distraction to work some mischief which will need dealing with, or who's decided to stuff the toes with handfuls of rasins. Or, on one memorable occasion, to just poop in them.
And while there's no such thing as an 'easy' kid Fuss' bedrock personality makes him more challenging that most (a personality I must admit is my own writ small). There isn't a simple daily task extant that he can't transform into World War III. I can count the number of times I've gotten him dressed without some sort of fight on two hands- and that's over four years. Ditto for getting him out of the house, excepting times when we're doing something he loves, like going to pick up his cousin Fiend or visit the Children's Museum. He never just gets into the car & sits in his seat- he must investigate the yard, then he refuses to go in the 'right' door, he has to go in through the driver's door & climb into the back, etc.
He transforms every single step along the path of your day into hard work.
The cumulative effect is something akin to what I imagine summiting Everest is like (another thing I'm sure you can't understand without doing)- the journey begun as a human being like any other ends as a shambling, lurching ice-crusted ghoul, language eroded to a bare skeleton of monosyllabic grunts and abrupt, clumsy gestures.
That's just a regular ol' day like pretty much any other.
Then sometimes the dice of fate come up snakeyes and you're tumbled into a day like yesterday where he was at his most impenetrably, intentionally contrary and I started out already fed up and at my least accommodating.
As a parent you periodically do stuff that you know isn't 'right', in the sense that it's not constructive- it isn't doing your kid any good, it isn't doing you any good...it isn't really accomplishing anything. It's happened because you're out of ideas, or energy, or both. But once you start in a certain direction with a child like Fuss you are locked in, because however poor a choice you've made it is still better than backtracking in the face of his intransigence and having him decide "oh hey look, acting like an arbitrarily, pointlessly contrary monster works! Good to know!"
Yesterday, for whatever reason, I was out of patience before the wife even left for work.
I had a rough plan- go out, do a few errands, look for some books, then head to a beach for the bulk of the day. Fuss also had a plan- ignore everything I said and fight me like a cat facing a brimming tub of water.
And he did it with a particular expression he gets, superficially a mask of fury (or misery, depending on which stage we're at) but backed with a measuring intelligence observing and cataloging every reaction to his various provocations.
I'm usually up for crashing through this hurdle- fortunately or not, in me he has a father who is his match in stubbornness and while it won't always be the case, for now at least I have an insurmountable physical advantage. While I much prefer not having to sit on him and engage in a steel cage death match to get him dressed and out the door...it's an option.
Yesterday, I just didn't feel up to it. It makes him feel terrible, it makes me feel terrible, and while it "works" in the sense that I can lever him out of the house and into the world, it destroys the atmosphere of the rest of the day.
Having abandoned the frontal assault, there wasn't much to be done. Other kids I'm sure are open to various gambits and stratagems, Fuss....is not. Once he's clawed a line in the sand main force is the only remedy.
So I disengaged.
"You let me know when you're ready to get dressed and go out, okay?" and I went into the bedroom and picked up a book.
Getting him dressed by this method took about four hours, replete with false starts, standoffs, detours & confrontations. He'd decide to get dressed, I'd get one article of clothing in place, then he'd start trying to play his game, and I'd walk away and go back to reading. Aside from finishing a couple of books I'd been chewing over the situation had nothing to recommend it.
I finally extracted him from the house around 4pm. It being too late to look for books we ate a late lunch out and ended up at the beach much, much later than planned. Once there he reverted to his lively, smart, enjoyable alternate self (of course)
and we had a fine time (of course).
We took a long walk of his favorite sort, me trailing at a fair remove to create the illusion of freedom while he pursued his fancies. I snapped pictures & contemplated the sea, which as the sun settled through the layered mist put me in mind of William Turner's
later works. Having had my fill of conflict for the day I tried letting darkness ring the curtain on our outing. In keeping with the spirit of the day he noted the twinkling lights of Cayucos several miles up the coast and said "Dada, let's walk there", forcing me to issue a decree.
He instantly collapsed wailing to the sand, declaring that his "legs were too tired" to carry him any farther. I gathered him up and, piling him onto my shoulders like a sack of laundry, started back.
At about the halfway point he broke his silence.
"Dada, I'm sorry for being such a turd all day."
"That's okay Fuss, I still love you."
"I love you too, dada."