GateHouse – These days, and for about the past month or so, my son has wanted as little to do with me as he can get away with and still live indoors and enjoy semi-regular meals.
It is, on most days, as though I’m invisible, not even the room, not even in the house, some sort of immaterial, vaporous presence who is never seen nor heard but who is responsible for opening the Play-Doh and washing the pee out of things. I am regarded as he regards all things that are not his trains or something that can immediately get him ice cream. I am, on most days, some tall punk who’s basically between him and an ice-cold bottle of apple juice.
I ask him questions, he pretends like I’m not talking. I ask him how his day was, he says, “What? What did you say?” over and over again, until I finally give up and return to losing his college fund via online poker. He’ll ask me a question – well, less a question and more a well-formed demand, such as “Can we ride my Spider-Man bike, please?” even though it’s 9:30 p.m. and he’s been in bed for an hour – and when he does not receive the answer he is looking for, which is, “Of course we can! The sun’s been down for an hour and it’s pouring rain! Should I come with you, or did you want to ride down the middle of the road by yourself tonight?” he directly, and I cannot stress here how consistently this happens, immediately seeks out Mom and asks her the EXACT SAME QUESTION, as though she and I couldn’t possibly have talked about this already.
Anyway, I’m told this is “a phase,” in much the same way I am told most horrible things are “a phase,” such as that month he never stopped crying and his current passion for kicking me in the leg and then running away cackling. Why is it that when something is extremely terrible and has very little chance of not being still terrible in the immediate future, parents try to justify it by proclaiming it merely “a phase,” as though one day the clouds will part and angel gypsy choirs will sing and your son will stop pooping in places he shouldn’t go pooping, such as his pants, or the museum?
Case in point: The other day he barrels into the bedroom in the morning, full of joy, eyes all aglow, sees me, sees that Mommy’s not in the room, and promptly bursts into tears bawling the kind of primal bawl that you might expect if I told him that the “Cars” DVD had just been stolen by pirates in the employ of Darth Vader (OK, bad example, as he currently finds Darth Vader completely awesome, as do I, but I think you see my point here).
Now mind you, I am in the room. I am offering warm, consoling thoughts. I am telling him that Mommy’s just gone for a run and will be back well before we head downstairs to absorb his morning Pop-Tart. I am trying to give him thoughtful hugs, which isn’t really working because he’s squirming and pushing me like I’m trying to take him to get his four-year shots again. And I am trying to remind him that I am his daddy, and as such a not-insignificant reason for his even being in the room in the first place. This, as you might surmise, gets me nothing but more crying and a couple of serious kicks to the leg.
Granted, for a while we weren’t sure if this was something that could be humor column fodder, that maybe there was actually a legitimate hearing problem going on here. But being parents of a somewhat scientific nature, we sat down, got out our Thinking Papers and came up with a fairly ingenious experiment. For the first step, we asked Jake a question, and were promptly ignored. For the second step, we asked him the same question, except this time we were each holding a tantalizing box of Cocoa Pebbles. Would you believe the little guy paid attention that second time around? I know. CRAZY. Now mind you, four years ago I wouldn’t have counted the successful outsmartment of a 4-year-old as a development I would want to publicize in print, but today I’m considering it one of the three or four most vaunted intellectual achievements of my lifetime. I know, I’m getting a little worked up about that. Don’t worry. It’s probably just a phase.