Feature creep

In my life before parenting, I wore many different hats.  I was, at different times, a dance instructor, a software engineer, a horseback riding teacher and a waitress.  I’ve often noticed how each of these professions prepared me for parenting, but, of all of them, I thought software engineering was perhaps less applicable to my current life than the others.  Until I had an epiphany today:  building a train with my 3 year old is EXACTLY like working with any of several difficult managers I encountered in my engineering days.

It goes like this:
Manager/3 year old:  “Let’s take on this project!  I’m very excited!  But I’m relying on you to do most of the actual work.”
Me:  “Great!  I’m excited too!  I really enjoy this kind of work and I’ve thought of a clean, sophisticated, elegant way to do it.”

Manager/3 year old:  (some time later) “What’s that part for?”
Me:  “That’s how we’re going to make the whole thing connect up at the end.”
Manager/3 year old:  “No.  It doesn’t go like that.  Turn it around the other way.”
Me:  “But … ”
Manager/3 year old:  “No!  Other way!”
Me:  (trying to avoid a tantrum while rethinking the entire plan) “Ok, ok!”

Manager/3 year old:  (now much later, almost at the end) “I have an idea!  I want it to do THIS!”
Me:  (taking patient, diplomatic tone) “Yes, we could do that.  But we can’t do that AND this original idea at the same time.”
Manager/3 year old:  “But you SAID it could do that!  You promised!!'”
Me: “Yes, I did.  But it can’t do both of those things at the same time.  I don’t have enough to do both.”
Manager/3 year old:  “No, see?  You can just make it work like THIS.”
Me:  “Well, I COULD, but not using only the pieces I have AND meeting all of your other requirements at the same time.”
Manager/3 year old:  “Waaaah!”

20140325-142927.jpgThe project is finally complete when I make something work that meets the criteria (but which doesn’t bear any resemblance to an elegant solution) all while telling them they’re getting what they ask for as I quietly hedge and stick in as many not-desired but essential features without drawing attention to what I’m doing.  (Distracting them with bells, whistles and flashing lights can be very useful at this stage.)

At the end, success is counted by not having them destroy the entire project before it’s even operational out of frustration at your inability to bend the laws of physics.    And then I get this:

Manager/3 year old: “Look what I built!”

And I thought parenting and engineering had nothing in common.

Christmas in June

Yesterday, Liam and I were building a train track, and, as usually happens, we ended up just one piece short of what we really wanted to build.  After a bit of trying to make it work with the pieces we had available, and then, failing that, trying to convince Liam that perhaps a redesign was required, I remembered that we had some extra train track pieces stored in the closet.  They’re in the closet because they’re for the Christmas train, not the “regular” train.

Every January and February, I slowly start to squirrel away the Christmas decorations and toys.  I do it stealthily, and gradually, to attempt to avoid an all-out uprising in favor of keeping our Christmas decorations up until summer.  Understandably, the boys love their Christmas stuff, and they generally object to having it put away.  With a few exceptions (both Liam and Benjamin have several Christmas-themed stuffed animals that stay out all year because they are so dearly loved) the decorations and toys get put away eventually.  (I stand firm in the face of adversity because I really belive they’re more special to all of us if they only come out for a little while each year.)  The manger scene, the Christmas train, the Santa books — all of it eventually gets boxed up and put in the closet.

But yesterday, to solve our engineering problem with the train, I decided to retrieve a single piece of curved track from the closet to complete our creation.  Ta-da!  Success!

Kind of.  Because, of course, Liam quickly figured out that where there was one piece of the Christmas train, there would be more.  And he began to ask, very sweetly and “Please please please!” if I would get the Christmas train out for him.  And, as kindly as I could, I explained that the Christmas train was put away for the season.  But he persisted in asking for it.

And, after a few minutes, I went ahead and got it out.  Not because I was frustrated or overwhelmed with his asking (which was actually uncharacteristically respectful) but because, why say no?  Sure, it’s not Christmas.  Yes, it’s June.  The Christmas train has been put away for about 5 months now, so it seems plenty special to get it out and enjoy it again.

And so, we had Christmas train construction and play time last night.  We got out the rest of the track, the Christmas train, the gingerbread cookie decorations (note — not real cookies), the Christmas wreaths for the train set and, of course, the little plastic Christmas trees that go with the set.  Because, why not?  Christmas is great and it’s really nice to just say yes once in a while for no real reason.  Liam is so happy.

(The only unintended consequence is that Liam now has us counting down how many days until Santa comes . . . oops!)  Merry Christmas to all (in June)!