Your fourth birthday fell on a Saturday. We celebrated on that day with your grandparents and then, the following Saturday, with your friends. You and the gang painted flower pots, costumed up for an impromptu street parade, and devoured a (pralines-and-cream) ice cream cake. It was a dandy time.
My 33rd birthday came the following Wednesday. It wasn't such a dandy time.
We were planning to go out for a fancy family dinner that night at my favorite restaurant (the delightful and delectable Mazza — which also happen to be your favorite restaurant) but you had a bit of a melt down while trying to decide which bow you would wear in your hair.
And so you went to "time out." And while you were sitting there in the corner, whimpering like a wounded Yorkshire Terrier, your mother and I changed out of our swanky clothes and resigned ourselves to an uneventful, un-birthdarific evening.
I'm not telling you this to make you feel guilty. That's not my style and, besides, my birthday has never been all that important to me.
I tell you this because I want you to understand what happened after we canceled dinner:
You screamed. You flailed. You sobbed. You gasped. You begged. And you cried, off and on, for the rest of the night.
And even though you're a well-behaved kid, (the best kid I know, in fact,) we knew this was going to happen, because there ain't nothing you like more than puttin' on the Ritz.
Truth is, it would have been a lot easier to just let you get over the small hissyfit you were having about that damned bow, then clean you up and march ever-forward to Mazza. That certainly would have been easier for your mother and I, but would have been wrong for you — because it would have deviated from our standard parenting procedure.
That is to say: When you commit the crime, you serve the time — every time.
Every. Damn. Time.
So sure, this was supposed to be a special night — but any other time, your little melt down would have resulted in the cancellation of whatever fun thing we had planned for that day. And while folks can (and probably do) criticize our parenting on a variety of levels, I don't think anyone would ever accuse us of being inconsistent with you when it comes to discipline.
And I really believe that is the reason why nights like the one we experienced on my birthday are so rare with you. You understand our expectations. You understand what happens when those expectations are not met. You make decisions accordingly.
That's not to say that you don't occasionally make the wrong decision (as evidenced by Wednesday night's tantrum, you most certainly do make the wrong decision sometimes.) But you never have to guess — and so you have very little incentive to test our limits.
Someday you'll probably have your own kids. And I'm certainly not the type of guy who will be standing over your shoulder to tell you how to raise'm right. Everybody parents differently, after all, and it's not my place to criticize — so I'll just offer this observation: The most convenient decisions for parents are not often the best decisions for their children.
And come to think of it, that's not just a good rule for parenting. It's a good rule for life: The most convenient decisions are not always the best decisions for anyone.
That doesn't mean you always have to do things the hard way. It just means you should always at least consider the hard way, along with its costs and its benefits.
Earlier this evening, we made another run at going out for a fancy birthday dinner. Afterward, we went next door for some gelato.
And you were an absolute angel.
It was the best birthday present ever.