Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My 4-year-old is a better strategic planner than you

My bike commute is a great way to get in shape, a faster way to get to work than WMATA, and a form of moving meditation that generally clears my mind by the time I arrive at my destination.

In that clear space, I see thoughts more clearly, connect them and work through problems--mostly in my subconscious, as my conscious mind is dealing with survival issues. Last night for example, I was trying to solve this problem:

How do I fit this into 140 characters... Drivers: When your way is clear, it is not acceptable to stop abruptly in the middle of your lane to LOL, look up an address in your GPS or dig for that particularly complex booger that you've been chasing all day. Pull the %^& over--after checking your blind spot. And when your way is blocked, say, by a bicyclist, it is not acceptable to proceed.

While the portion of my lizard brain dedicated to crafting tweets worked that out, a conversation I'd had at lunch with a colleague came back to me. We were swapping war stories about our kids--her daughter is eight, so it's good to know that we've got at least four more years of this coming--and I was explaining 3B's bedtime routines when it dawned on me that he's a better strategic planner than most people I've ever worked with.

And if you're a former colleague reading this...of course I don't mean you. No. Of course not.

3B's strategic goal is to stay up as late as possible. He begins implementation of his plan well before bedtime. Some of his tactics don't have a 100% success rate, but he either abandons them or keeps retooling them until they have a higher success rate or at least lower downside risk.

One example of these is asking to watch a movie either just before dinner or just after, either of which would push his bedtime later. This has a 50-50 chance, but he works to increase his odds by ginning up as much chaos as he can prior to asking, during what Mama and I already refer to as the witching hour, increasing the likelihood that we'll give in out of exasperation.

He knows his goal--stay up later--and starts combining tactics--chaos, movie--to achieve it.

However, 3B has a surefire tactical combination that goes into action at dinner time. It starts with his not eating all of his dinner while drinking plenty of milk. We could feed him chocolate candy covered in chocolate sauce and a mountain of whipped cream as tall as he is and he still would leave half on the plate. His goal is not to sate his hunger. He ends every meal the same way, "I'm done, but save it."

Then it's time for bath, toy pickup, bed and stories. Bath time encompasses a myriad of tactics, but many are easily thwarted. Then we get to story time. We read three stories every night, brushing his teeth after the second story, just before the last one--if we can, that is.

Because that's exactly when 3B closes the trap he set at dinner time by saying, "I'm hungry. I want a snack." He knows full well that we won't let him go to bed hungry, and that we know he's hungry because he made such a show of not eating most of his dinner and asking us to save the rest. Further, because he says this after we brush his teeth, he knows that we'll have to do that again as well.

So, we do all that, get him settled, talk to him about his day, talk to him about Tinkerbell, then leave the room, exhausted.

Thirty seconds later, his bedroom door opens and we hear, "I need to go to the bathroom, just so you know." Every night, the exact same line. And we can't say no because we know the kid drank a tanker truck full of milk while he wasn't eating his dinner, because he made a big show out of being out and asking for more.

Add together the amount of time this pushes back his bedtime and we'd have to start putting him down immediately after lunch to get him into bed at a decent hour, all because he's got a better strategy than we do. Fortunately for us, age and treachery always overcome youth and skill.

How will we beat our curious little insomniac monkey? By out-strategizing him. And I know just the person to develop a great strategic plan for me.
"Say, 3B, I have a little problem that I'm wondering if you can figure out for me...I can never get Eeyore to bed on time..."

Papa Bradstein is going to have 3B develop a strategic plan to build a jet-powered bike.

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  1. We have totally put our kids to bed hungry. They know that dinnertime is when we eat, if they don't, that's fine, but there is no dinner later. It prevents some of this stalling at bedtime.

  2. Yeah, and we have too. At this point we just have to be consistent, but he's made the hassle tax so high, we avoid paying it.

  3. "Hassle tax." LOVE it! I was always a night owl, so I sympathize with all of you! We have the opposite problem in our house.
    I'd cut the milk ration in half or not let him have it until he has eaten a certain percentage of what is on his plate. We use similar tactics in our house for other things.

  4. Everything is negotiable. 3B has figured that out. Now he is busy teaching Jewel. By example. I will send you a night owl babysitter next month to help with the negotiations. She was a pro back in the day.