The Smurfs were still on Saturday morning cartoons in France, but at six thirty in the morning and they were called the Schtroumphs. A fire breathing Dragon has just laid waste to a large swath of Smurf Village and Papa Smurf was rounding up a small band of brave Smurfs to launch a counter assault.
After the Christmas tree had come down I’d begun launching a counter offensive of my own. The whining during the holidays had gotten out of control.
School had started up again and so far my wife and I had succeeded in getting the kids to eat broccoli again. Sophie was picking up all of her toys and though Lukas hadn’t stopped whining for everything he wanted, he was showing improvement in not crying for the things he couldn’t decide if he wanted or not. Bed time and
tooth teeth brushing were smoother. When Sophie ate her green beans without a fight, Lukas understood it was also time for him to finally wave the drapeau blanc too. Bowing his head in defeat the little guy took his dinner plate to the sink all by himself without me even asking. Score one for the good guys! I spiked my imaginary football into the end zone and immediately decided to run up the score.
It was the day after the green bean battle had been won, four in the afternoon when Sophie came off the bus smiling. She handed me her backpack then skipped in front Lukas’s stroller while reviewing the highlights of her day at The British School of Paris.
“Mr. Blake shook his bum today while we were singing in class. It was so funny.”
“Is music your favorite?” I asked, but she was lost in the moment. She wasn’t hearing me at all.
“He also picked up kids and tossed them into the air. He is so much fun,” Sophie laughed. “You’re fun too Papa, just not as much fun as Mr. Blake.”
Stunned, I pulled the cursed dagger from my heart and inspected the blade. American men don’t shake their bums. We call them butts and a real man rarely shakes it in public. What was this new form of British school blasphemy? I loved playing with the kids and I’d always been number one on the fun charts. My status as a cool dad was supposed to be unsinkable. Even during my firmest times of discipline I still turned in some great playtime performances with the kids.
What about that awesome pillow and blanket clubhouse we’d just made? I could fearlessly ramble off quotes from Bob the Builder and from Barbie’s Thumbelina. I wasn’t supposed to ever drop in the charts.
That afternoon the kids ate all of their dinner and earned dessert. Sophie returned her dinner plate to the kitchen and once again Lukas followed behind. Watching the little guy reach up over his head and slide his plate into the sink, I wondered whether I had been too hard on them. What was the goal here anyway? Was it total obedience? Did I want kids that stood at military attention at my side at the bus stop? There were a few who did. These impeccably behaved kids ate with a napkin on their lap and spoke when spoken to. These children were never caught crawling under brasserie tables or dipping pasta into their jus de pommes. They always seemed to listen well to their parents, but I wondered whether these kids were having much fun.
Were extremely well behaved kids usually happy kids too? Often times it didn’t seem so.
When I spoke to kids like this they usually looked up to their parents or nannies to answer for them. Lukas and Sophie didn’t always listen well, but I was proud of their ability to speak for themselves. I decided that impeccable behavior probably wasn’t the best goal to have.
On the other hand I’d witnessed other kids with parents who had no control. These kids talked back, didn’t eat their food, and they pushed and shoved on the playground. The parents had a look of surrender in their eyes, conversations with them typically centered on how terrible their day had been. Their kids had no respect for them and no one seemed happy. Certainly there needed to be some amount of discipline and to achieve this it seemed a sacrifice of cool status was required. It didn’t seem fair, but it looked like that was the way it was.
A post Christmas week filled with time outs, limited television viewing, and lots of half empty threats--eat your dinner or you’ll get nothing else until tomorrow!--had brought Sophie and Lukas back to where their behavior had been before the vacation spoiling. And they still had a few more things to work on. Maybe I could get them to eat tomato sauce with chunks in it. It sure would be nice to have them wait patiently while I was on the phone. If they could leave me alone for a few minutes I could go on the computer or rowing machine more often. The possibilities flowed outward like spilled chocolate milk across the table. Yard work, writing, and time to read; I daydreamed about a stay at home life where I had it all. The only problem was that there was just one thing that I needed to have even more than everything else.
Reasonably good behavior, slight occurrences of whining, and a few embarrassing incidents of defiance were things I could live with. But under no circumstances could I ever again let Mr. Blake be more fun than I was.
Hefty Smurf was volunteering to fight the fearsome dragon all by himself, but I suddenly realized that I was the only one watching. Lukas was busy with his Lego train and Sophie was drawing. I found the remote and clicked off the Schtroumphs. Then I knelt onto the floor, crawled over to the kids on hands and knees, and got down to business.
published 17 March 2012