Saturday, July 23, 2011

Play it Cool. Cold Even.

For quite some time, I have employed the technique of subtle encouragement with my sons. I resist the urge to show them something they have yet to be exposed to in an attempt to pique their interest. Instead, I participate in related activities, talk about the subject at hand with someone else in their presence and leave clues lying around the house where they are sure to notice them.

For instance, if there is a game I want them to start playing so that they will play it with me, I silently sit down in the same room with them and start playing it. If it’s a video game in another room, I make a point of telling them where dad is going to be if they need him. My activities remain a mystery, no display made of them. Eventually, they want to come see what I’m doing. When I give them the “What, this old thing” routine they instantly want to know more and my hooks are in them.

The reason I have to play this game is because they have already begun to refuse to do things or admit they like them just to spite me. Case in point, they have begun talking smack about Captain America over the past year. This cuts me to the core and they know it. They enjoy it, in fact.

The problem lies in that I let them know it gets to me. I make it clear that Cap is my favorite superhero and that I want them to like him too. Once they know I care, they know precisely what to deny me. But acting as if I don’t care about Captain America isn’t an option. They would call my bluff. Awareness of my love for Ol’ Stripes is like knowing that the sky is blue or that two plus two is four. It is a scientific fact.

Thus, I had a challenge to face in getting my boys to attend a viewing of Captain America: The First Avenger on opening day. How could I get them to go see it without them purposely whining about it and then nudging me throughout the movie to ask if it was over yet or tell me they had to go really bad even though I knew damn well their bladder could withstand at least another twenty minutes worth of pressure?

When I have dragged them to see movies that they should enjoy but I know they want to get under my skin by complaining about in the past, I’ve tried to reason with them. I told them they would enjoy it once it started. This was not a tactically sound move. They went into the theater with something to prove. Thus, they claimed to have hated Thor but loved Hop. These were not the kids I raised.

So I treated it like business. We were going to see the movie. They could get a box of candy each as payment for putting up with it. I accepted that they would certainly not enjoy the movie, but told them they had to see it anyway. Once they thought I didn’t care if they enjoyed Captain America, once they had been paid off for their troubles with candy, things went smoothly. Only one of them needed to use the bathroom. However, he did it during the slow parts and he intentionally asked my wife to take him. I looked over at several points, unbeknownst to them, to see their little faces fixed on the screen, eyes wide open behind the 3D glasses that they didn’t take off like they would normally threaten to and mouths agape.

I could tell they became interested of their own free will and enjoyed the film. There in lay the final challenge. I could not acknowledge victory or they would resist even harder the next time such a situation arose. So, I never bothered to even try and fulfill our post-movie tradition by asking everyone what their favorite parts of the movie were. I acted as if I knew they had hated it and would not want to discuss it with me. I talked about it with my wife, left them out of the discussion and life went on.

Then, a few hours after returning home, my oldest son approached me. “There was actually one part of Captain America that I liked, dad,” he said to me and proceeded to describe it. It was met with a rather cool reaction. I nodded and humph-ed and went about my business. Since then they have each mentioned several other parts of the movie they liked.

And that, as they say, is how it is done. Check and mate, boys. Check. And. Mate.

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