Last week I took my kids to Tahoe and most of the time I would grade my parenting skills on an A-/B+ range, but one moment in particular stands out as a giant F to me… and it went something like this…
The kids and I had been playing in snow for hours. I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Snow had fallen inside my boots, melted and then frozen to my socks. My face was windburned and I was starving, but I had a goal — get my children tired enough so they fall asleep for the car ride home.
It’s every parents dream on a road trip — a blissfully silent car and the radio all to oneself. Tahoe is about five hours away from our house and it can be a long boring trip if you get caught in ski traffic. We had two more books on CD to listen to and they were both Humphrey, the classroom hamster. I was dreading listening to them, so I just kept us all sledding, hoping that walking up a hill four thousand times would exhaust everyone.
The problem was that the kids were hungry and the only thing I brought was three apples. “Hey, it’s more than the Donner party had, right?” I handed Buck and Em each an apple, but August was about 20 feet away making a face-down snow angel. He was definitely the wettest and coldest of everyone. I told August to come get his apple, but he didn’t feel like wading through the waist deep snow, so he said, “Throw it to me!”
So I did. I lobbed the apple into the air and it landed about three feet in front of him, sinking immediately into the snow. Buck and Em thought it was hilarious, but August didn’t find it amusing at all. “My apple!” And he burst into tears.
I started searching for the apple, throwing snow around, kicking it between my legs like a dog, but nothing. The apple had vanished. August started sobbing harder, tears streaming down his frost-bitten face.
This is when the bad parenting kicked in.
Bribery. “Okay, five dollars to anyone who can find the apple.”
Buck and Emerson ran over to look for the apple, but since money was involved they started getting mad at each other. “You’re stepping on my foot! This is my spot! You look over there!”
After five minutes of more searching, the apple was still no where to be found. August was inconsolable at this point.
Me: “Okay, let’s go to the store right now. I’ll get you another apple. A big, giant juicy apple.”
August: “I don’t want another apple! I want THIS apple.”
Me: “Well, it looks like this apple is going to be a special treat for an animal tonight. Think about how excited a fox is going to be when it finds your apple!”
(Buck and Emerson are now freezing and desperate to leave. I need August to walk on his own to the car, which is a half mile away, because I have too much gear to carry him. What I need is incentive.)
Me: “Okay, instead of an apple, how about some candy?”
Emerson: “What? He gets candy? That’s not fair!”
Me: “Honey, he lost his apple and he’s upset. Have a little sympathy.”
Emerson: “August can have my apple and I’ll take the candy.”
(Emerson hands August a half-eaten, disgusting apple. He knocks it out of her hand and it disappears in the snow.)
Emerson: “August, you just lost my apple! Now I definitely get candy.”
Me: “Okay, fine, you BOTH can get candy.”
Buck: “What? No fair! They both get candy?” (Buck throws his half-eaten apple.) “There. Now I don’t have an apple. Can I get candy?”
Me: “No. Because you just wasted food.”
Me: “Fine. Everybody gets candy. Can we go to the car now?”
August: “So they get apples AND candy? I didn’t even get an apple! That’s not fair!”
Me: “Okay, you can have the biggest piece of candy.”
Buck/Emerson: “What? No fair!”
Me: “Okay, that’s it! NOBODY GETS CANDY!”
Then, every so slowly, as the light faded from the sky, we all angrily sob/walked to the car.
But my bad parenting didn’t end there. I invoked the “don’t ever believe a word I say” rule and ended up buying EVERYBODY candy. So much candy that the car was filled with the heady scent of chocolate, razzleberry and tooth decay.
Which meant, of course, that I had three very wide awake and sugared up children for the entire five hour car ride home.
And we had plenty of time to listen to both Humphrey books.