Monday, May 09, 2005

Contract with America My Kid

The Mermaid Girl's hair is a long curly tangly mane; she's been resolutely growing it for the past year and a half, ever since just after her 3rd birthday when she cut the whole right side of it off while watching TV and Renaissance Woman had to take her out quick for an emergency haircut and she looked like Annie Lenox for months and people stopped cooing over her adorable toddler ringlets and started mistaking her for a boy.

Come to think of it, that's about when she began insisting on wearing dresses all the time.

Anyway, she hasn't looked like Annie Lenox for at least a year now, and her hair is so long and so easily tangled that if we don't brush and detangle and braid it every bloomin' night, it becomes a gigantic blond matted mess which requires much resolute painful scream-inducing brushing to repair.

So we brush it and spray it with detangler and braid it every night. When she complains, we suggest that we'd never have to do this if we just got her hair cut short, and she clams right up.

Usually I do all that, while RW reads the Girl her bedtime story. This should be a lovely family moment, all of us together, but usually we're so tired and behind-schedule that we don't exactly savor the sweetness of it the way we should. I spray, brush, spray, brush, braid, braid, tie it off with a ponytail holder, and that's that.

As to where we all sit for this evening ritual-- well, we used to all just sit on the carpet in her room, but while MG and I were in New York, the Renaissance Woman took on the Hurculean task of pulling up all the carpet in MG's room, laying down laminate flooring, painting the walls and ceiling (because after the baseboards were up you could see the old paint and it looked terrible), weeding and rearranging all the toys and junk, and putting it all back together. She did it mainly because of the whole dust-mite-allergy thing, but the effect goes so much further. It looks like a whole different room, the room of a Big Kid.

She also dug out from the basement the little school desk we bought for MG almost a year ago at a consignment store, painted it gleaming white, and arranged it by the window with all the pens and pencils sorted neatly in cups, and a pad of paper on the desk, and even a little vase with a flower for MG to see the night we got back. Our girl was so happy to have her very own desk; when I suggested that next year she could do her schoolwork at it, she cried in delight "Yes! My homework! Like this!" And sat down at the desk and proceeded to pretend to do homework: "Write write write, write write write, okay! I'm all done with my homework now!" And she pushed out her chair, stood up, pushed her chair back under her desk, and brushed her hands briskly together like anyone who's just taken care of a job.

So, what with the floor being all hard and laminated-wood now, and not so comfortable to sit on, and the nice shiny new desk chair being right there, it was only a matter of time before she insisted on sitting at the desk chair to get her hair brushed. (She has a low little director's chair, too, but it is not of course so new and big-kid-like.)

The problem is that if she does that, and I'm sitting on the floor, I can't actually reach her hair. So I have to go get a stool from the kitchen, and sit on it behind her, and brush and braid her hair while RW crouches on the stepstool next to her and reads her the story. It was all starting to feel just too diva-like for my taste, and I knew once it became a routine I'd be dragging in that kitchen stool every night to brush her hair, and then dragging it back out again, and...I just couldn't. I said no.

(N.B. You may wonder why we don't all just sit on MG's bed and avoid the whole issue. The answer is that we can't: despite being such a sophisticated near-grownup with her own desk and all, she still has her toddler bed, and not only is it too small for us to sit on but it has a big railing along the side so that no grownup can sit on the edge without serious butt discomfort. We are working on gettting a big-girl loft bed, but it's back-ordered at Ikea.)

So, where was I-- right, I said no to the hair-brushing-at-the-desk-chair idea. Cause I'm so mean and lazy. And MG commenced to plead. I mean plead. She got down on her knees and clutched my hand between hers and said "Please, please, please, Mommy, please brush my hair at the desk chair. Just this once! I promise I'll never, never ask you again! Please, Mommy!"

Okay, so you can see that not only is our girl a drama queen, she's a brilliant manipulator. I mean, I was in a no-win position: either come the heavy and refuse my pleading child, sparking a bedtime tantrum over what is basically kind of a silly issue, or cave and feel like a fool (a fool on a stool, at that).

Then, just as her pleas were about to morph into whines, I was struck by inspiration. "You promise?" I said. "You promise that if I let you sit at the desk chair for hair-brushing tonight, you'll never ask to do it again?"

"I promise," she swore.


"What are you writing?" She asked.

"This is a contract," I explained. "I'm writing down your promise, and you're going to sign it. Now, what will happen if you do ask to sit in the big chair again to get your hair brushed?"

"I won't," she said, warming up to full earnest-pleading pitch again, "I promise."

"Yes, yes, I know you promise, but what if you forget? What should happen?"

"I...don't get to watch any TV."

"No way. You don't get to watch TV most school nights anyway. How about, no story that night?"

"Okay," she conceded.


"There." I read the contract aloud to her, and drew a line at the bottom of the page. "Now sign it. That means you agree to it."

She signed her first name, in fancy pseudo-script connected letters befitting the seriousness of the document. I taped it to the bookcase next to her desk. She sat in the chair. I pulled in the kitchen stool and brushed and braided while RW read.

That was last night. Tonight, she sat in the low little director's chair with no fuss at all. This contract thing is great! I wonder if it would work for other issues, like the endlessly-prolonged bedtime song-and-cuddle.

On the other hand, it was almost too easy. I have the uncomfortable feeling that I've just set myself up somehow, and that more experienced parents are reading this with a knowing smirk: "Ah, the old contract trick!" you old hands are thinking. "I remember that one. What a chump. Wait till she sees how that kid can twist it around."

But, you know, it's working so far.

At least I didn't have to sit on that damned stool again tonight.


Blogger LilySea said...

Sounds good to me, but what do I know? I naively believe in the Bill of Rights, too.

But I am definitely gonna use this trick in the future. Thanks.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now not only will she definitely go to college, but she'll go to Law School too!

3:10 AM  
Anonymous Robyn said...

hmmmm...contracts! sounds like a perfect tool to me. for all of you. now...i'm wondering HOW i can use it to get my big boy to actually SLEEP in his bed.

6:42 AM  
Blogger liz said...


8:10 AM  
Blogger heather said...

OMG that was hysterical! i love it. love love love it.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

Ha! That's SO great. A fool on a stool indeed. I can just see the whole thing.

I also as usual just love the love that shows in these kid posts.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

Oh my God-- this girl of yours is a trip. I love her.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

Man oh man. She's cracking me up with the homework. Here's the funny thing: The Boy wants to play school every night for his special play time, during which I'm the teacher and have to give him work to do. But if I try to get him to do his ACTUAL homework, oh no. It has to be MADE UP homework.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Shawn said...

I'd like to make a contract too so as she'd stop playing with those UK bar stools we just bought.

11:18 PM  

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