Compelling an almost-six-year-old to go through the motions at bedtime is an exercise in patience, to say the least. Near the end of Arlo’s Kindergarten year, he was still taking an inordinate amount of time to undress and redress before brushing his teeth in advance of reading, and we’d tried all manner of methods to expedite the process, each stratagem meeting with mixed success. One technique that favored cooperation was playing the counting game, wherein I’d say, “By the time I get to ‘three’, I expect you to have all of your clothes off and in the hamper,” calibrating the intervals between spoken numbers to align with his progress. This worked pretty well for a few nights, and then Arlo characteristically put his own spin on it, saying, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready for you to start counting, and then you can count to ‘one.'” I knew where he was going with this, so I straightened the bedsheets and sorted laundry while he took off his clothes and walked toward the hamper, at which point he said, “Ok, I’m ready for you to count,” and I’d say “ONE!” then act gobsmacked to discover that he’d already attained a state of clotheslessness. We’d repeat this for the next steps until he was ready to head up to his bathroom where the toothbrush was patiently awaiting his arrival.
This game phased in and out over the course of a few months, recently resurfacing during a particularly exhausting week. I was trying not to appear as close to wit’s end as I felt one night when Arlo said, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready for you to you count to ‘one'”, so I feigned obliviousness and fake-waited for him to ready himself for the count to begin undressing while he faux-secretly completed the task.
“Ok, you can start counting!” he said, so I said, “One!” and looked over to see him pulling off his final sock. “What?!?!” I said. “You’re already finished! I don’t believe it. How did you do that?”
“I know!” he replied, laughing. “It’s magic! You’re magic! I’M MAGIC!” For some reason this made me think of the Arthur O’Shaughnessy poem, “Ode”, famously quoted in the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, and these lines sprang to mind:
“For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
A breath of our inspiration
Is the life of each generation;
A wondrous thing of our dreaming
Unearthly, impossible seeming–“
I agree with Arlo: finding harmonious ways to elicit cooperation from challenging kids is a kind of real magic indeed. I said to him, “You’re right. It is magic. It’s magic I never could have learned without you to teach me how to make it.” Skipping out of the room on the way to his toothbrush, he clapped his hands and said, “You’re welcome.”
i loved reading this happy bedtime story!
One: I always wondered what Wonka was quoting! Two: He’s magic. Three: YOU’RE magic!