Little Lawyers Everywhere
0 comment Wednesday, June 25, 2014 |
Ever wonder what makes a good lawyer? Behold, it is your little one, the super lawyer in the car seat. Kids come armed with the skills of a trained litigator, trial lawyers already, growing in the womb.
Instinctively expert at forum shopping, manipulation, and debate, they could bloody F. Lee Bailey in the backyard wading pool long before they're eight. Masterful negotiators, stern and forceful promulgators (DO NOT ETER THIS ROOM UNLESS YOU KNOCK FIST), they come equipped with elephant memories and perfectly callibrated bull sh-t meters.
As adults we loom large, the inevitable and unwitting targets of these formidable foes. Even the most stalwart of parents will disintegrate in a face-off with these verbal warriors. "Alright, G-damn it. Go have a sugar coma. Eat the effing cookie." But be forewarned: this Perry Mason moment is kiddie catnip to a child. He will be thrust into an endless, frantic spiral, compelled to pursue countless more victories with the tenacity of a crack addict.
So when your little one arrives, it's time to get down and lawyered up. Here, a brief tutorial of what to expect.
* Forum shopping: Which parent (or third party) is most likely to give the kid what he wants? Mr. M is a champion forum shopper. As in, "Hmm. Hmm. I would like a Sprite. Who best to prey upon, at this moment? Is it Mom? The waiter? (as I exit for the bathroom) Yes, the waiter. I'll ask him for a Sprite right now." (See also shuttle diplomacy, as in "Dad, Mom said I can't have any chocolate milk, but I know you'll say yes since I haven't had any sugar all day.")
* Cross-examination: kids just know how many times and in how many ways they must ask the question to get the desired answer. Mr. M: "But you just said you wanted me to be happy on my first day of school. Are you now saying I CANNOT have this new lunch box? Have you lost your mind? Have you already forgotten what you said?" (See also, framing the issue)
* Framing the issue: You can get the answer you want to any question, so long as you ask the right question. Mr. M: "Mom, do you want me to be the happiest kid there is?" (Me, like Charlie Brown's teacher: wonk wonk wonk) "Okay. You're the one who said it. I get to wear my Spiderman suit every day for the first week of school. It's all settled then." (Me: wonk wonk WONK!) They also try their luck at framing the answer. Me: "Why are these dirty clothes on the floor next to the hamper?!" Mr. M: "I aimed wrong."
Then there is the ubiquitous, "Okaaaay . . . I'll take that as a yes," when you are on the phone, doing the Heimlich on your neighbor, or are otherwise engaged. And when all else fails for the child litigator, you will often hear, "That's your final answer! And today is opposite day!"
* Manipulation: "Thanks, Mom. You're the BEST! I love you, mom. Oh, mom, I love you so so much."
Caveat: over time, this technique becomes progressively more layered (though still readily apparent). Nausea is a sure sign that you are being victimized. It will feel like Eddie Haskell has just beamed himself into your living room and now occupies your child. "Mom, I just want you to enjoy that nice hot bath. Don't worry about a thing. After I clean my room I am going to eat all of my green beans. I really like vegetables. Thanks for making them for me. I love you. After my green beans can I have some ice cream, before I brush my teeth?"
A favorite example, from my friend Cate: Daughter: "Mom, can I-" Cate: "No. Now finish up." Daughter: "Uh, Mom! I wasn't going to ask you if I could stop eating my broccoli. I was ONLY going to ask you if I could have some soy sauce on it!! Gah!"
* Negotiation: "how many more bites do I have to eat? What if I don't? If I only eat six more bites of spinach can I still have a fig newton? What if I drink a V8 instead of eating my spinach? What if I don't eat any spinach but I drink TWO V8s tomorrow?"
* A pioneering-like self-confidence and delusional sense of invincibility: Though there are numerous examples, a few come instantly to mind. "I already knew that, mom. I know how to do that! I CAN DO IT MYSELF. You don't have to show me. Lifting a car is easy. I can run faster than that."
* Relentless, unyielding debate: As in:
Mr. M: But why do we have to go home now, mom? We can stay in this beach house for as long we want.
Me: Uh, no, we can't. There are new people coming next week and the owner will throw us out.
M: Well, we can just refuse to leave when the new people come.
Me: Yeah, we could try that, but then the owner will call the police and we'll be charged with criminal trespass.
M: So what?
Me: The police will show up at the door and take us both to jail. That's what.
M: Okay. If the police show up we can just lock the door and if they try to break it down, I'll just put my Incredibles shoulder up to the door and stop them.
Me: Uh, Mr. M, those guys have tear gas. And then it's all over, my little four-leaf clover.
M: Well then . . . well then, I'd just kill 'em.
Me: But if you killed the police, you'd be convicted of capital murder. And when you were sent away to prison for life I'd be sad. Plus you'd miss our trip to the beach next year. And anyway, how would we live without food and stuff?
M: But we wouldn't run out of food because I'd just rob a grocery store. And if the grocery store man tried to catch me, I'd run super-fast and jump over all the buildings and throw a car on him. And . . . and they couldn't convict me for life imprisonment, mom, because I'd just escape. And then I'd make myself so small they could never find me . . .
There's no winning against these little lawyers, you see.
In fact the only thing a kid comes without is subtlety. It is slowly acquired, and even then, comes only after years of practice. Back when they were little, guileless and confessional, you knew where you stood. Mr. M would stagger over to me, breathless in his diapers, look me right in the eye, and say, "Hi. I wasn't trying to unlock the front door and go outside. And I didn't break the eggs on the kitchen floor."
He's a bit more sophisticated these days, but only just a little. Reminds me of our dinner at another couple's house a few weeks ago. After the children had finished eating and were upstairs playing, it was time for the grown-ups to have dinner. After four sips of wine and three bites of soup, Mr. M appeared at my side in cherubic form. "Hi, mom -- just wanted to let you know you don't need to come check on us. So . . . . are you going to come check on us?" A few minutes later, he was back at the table again. "Hi. We are all fine upstairs. We're watching a movie and behaving, so don't come check on us."
Nodding, I let this neon, glaring give-away go seemingly over my head. I let enough time pass to set him up neat, then bolted up the stairs silently in my stockinged feet. This vignette needs no ending for parents, of course. We have to take them by surprise; they leave us no choice.

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