"This is not a joke!"
"Yes it is."
"No, I'm not fooling around."
"Because this is serious."
"No, it's not."
The boy is 4 years old -- 4 1/2, he's quick to correct. Yet we still struggle mightily with how to discipline him. He literally thinks everything is a joke. And I am using the word "literally" as it is supposed to be used.
We aren't rookie parents. He's our fourth. Of course, we're not the best at all aspects of parenting (ahem... bedtime). But we aren't new to our struggles. Figuring out how to get him to take us seriously -- to take anything seriously -- is a great challenge.
"You lost dessert when you took your pants down at the table."
I actually said that to him after dinner one day recently. In the middle of our meal, sometime after the prayer and before his sisters scattered to the wind, the boy mooned the table. As the girls all laughed, including his mother in a seriously-suppressed sort of way, I told him that it wasn't funny to moon the table.
"Then why is everybody laughing?"
A fair question. One I didn't have an immediate answer to. But it got me thinking, again, about the great trouble we face with him. How do we get this little guy to realize that life isn't all one big joke? And just as importantly: why, exactly, do I have to teach him that?
Our boy turns 5 this summer, something he's been looking forward to since he turned 4. He's a great kid, he tells you he loves you, says thank you and sorry at appropriate times, and offers hugs without request. He's smart, calling out the answers to his older sister's math problems as she tries to figure them on paper. He's fast, too. Super fast, as he likes to say. (He's actually normal speed, but thinks he's like a rocket -- don't tell him otherwise).
But when it comes to discipline, he's kind of like Peter Pan probably was at 4. He just doesn't get it. When I go to put him in time out, it invariably becomes a game of chase, with him laughing and squealing and letting out a guttural "AHHHHHH" like PeeWee Herman being chased by a friendly bear.
This all matters because in a few short months, this boy of ours will go to kindergarten. Full day, no less.
It's time for him to grow up. Yet... I don't want him to.
It makes me wonder where all the time has gone. And why the heck it's gone so fast. And how it all seems like such a blur. I remember the first time we put a kid on the bus to go to Kindergarten. My wife bawled. I didn't. I stood stoically and watched. Then I went to work. When the next two got on that bus when it was their turn, my wife cried again. I didn't.
When he gets on the bus, I think I am going to cry, too. I know it. Not because he's the baby, or the boy (I don't think like that), but because he's the last.
For the past 12 years, we've had little ones who needed us each day, to take care of and feed and clothe and wipe. For a good part of that, we've worked, sending them to the sitter, or to preschool, or to some camp for half a day.
We always hoped that we'd get to the point where one of us could stay home and just be the parent. It never happened. And soon, they won't need us to. As my wife muttered after she filled out the kindergarten paperwork for the boy, it's gone.
People told us to cherish it, like we tell other parents to. But did we? Did we? Heck, I can barely remember all of it.
I know there's a lot more parenting left to do, and a lot more time with our little people before they go off to college. But if it's anything like the last 12 years, it's going to fly by and become a blur.
And that's why it's so hard to teach this boy that his antics aren't funny. Because they are. And I want them always to be.
Read more by Cort Ruddy at RuddyBits.com