the state of things

 

A Question of Logic

by Elvis Shackleton - 08:13 on 09 January 2009

The following first appeared in Douglas Lindsay's Kids, And Why You Shouldn't Eat More Than One For Breakfast on 8th November 2006:

Another morning, another breakfast squabble. Jack Johnson has grown tired and old, the wheels have come off the smooth routine. The kids bickered pointlessly, somehow The Parent Currently Known As Mum (TPCKAM) and I stayed calm and negotiated our way through the morass, and we are now contemplating the children eating breakfast in shifts to put an end to the internecine warfare. However, breakfast in shifts demands more time and even more organisation.

This morning's squabble: One of Two, allegedly, took a drink from Two of Two's cup and then passed it back to him. Two of Two didn't appear to have actually witnessed this incident, but was making the assumption based on the facts known to him at the time. Therefore, he wouldn't drink the milk. It wasn't quite Not The Nine O'Clock News' John McEnroe at breakfast, but it was getting there. TPCKAM was called into the argument.

The facts of the case as presented by the Plaintive:

1. The milk was in an orange cup. He doesn't usually get the orange cup. He gets the blue or yellow, so it wasn’t even his own drink he was being asked to consume.
2. There was a spot of milk on the rim, suggesting that someone had already taken a drink from the cup.
3. One of Two was looking at him in a funny way.

A cut and dried case, more or less. You can see his point. Eschewing the possibility of bringing in high-priced legal aid, he decided to represent himself in the case, delivering his argument in a high-pitched bleating whine. The delivery grated with the judges it must be said and, as one of the judges, I have to confess that it coloured my judgement of the issue.

After a brief telepathic discussion, the judges, who were also the jury - in this case not Twelve Angry Men, just One Angry Man & An Angry Woman - decided against the plaintive and he was ordered to drink his milk.

He accepted this readily and downed the entire cup in one quick, delighted gulp.

I'm kidding, of course he didn't. He decided to appeal the verdict, and in doing so chose to disregard the fact that one of the reasons he had lost the first crucial decision was because of his choice to substitute reasoned argument with abject wailing and hysteria. So he whined even more, the high pitched constant moan interrupted by a blubbing lip, so that he sounded like a prepubescent motor boat. The appeal process was long on brevity, and once more the panel of judges found against the Plaintive.

He pushed the milk away from him across the table, thus risking the chance of spillage and disaster. I was preparing snack boxes in the background, TPCKAM was sitting at the heart of the tornado. She was getting mad. She moved the drink back towards him and repeated her instructions in the Parent About To Explode voice - the one which you hope is going to carry some weight, because you remember your parents talking to you like that and it put the fear of God in you - which only served to heighten the wail, as this grave tone which was so useful for our parents has completely lost all effectiveness. It’s as if the cellular infectious lifeform that is Children has adapted to the antibiotic.

At this point, as I sensed the impending volcanic eruption from TPCKAM, I decided to intervene. By introducing logic... I know, I know, what was I thinking?

A couple of months ago, after the first day of school, I was taking the kids along to the local shopping mall to serve up a conciliatory ice cream, a kind of sugar-filled, bittersweet farewell to the summer holiday. Just outside the entrance I met a friend and stood for a brief chat. The kids meandered around bored for a few seconds and then started playing in the dirt to keep themselves amused. I looked round to see Two of Two with a cigarette butt in his mouth. I leapt upon him like an unfettered eagle pouncing on the baby lamb of stupidity, swiped the butt from his lips, and left my friend standing in the dirt as I whisked the kids off, words of censure pouring from my mouth like the crashing of water over the Reichenbach Falls. (Returning to the shopping mall the following week, I found my friend still standing there waiting to finish the conversation.)

This little incident presented the basis of my logic, which I decided to bring into play on the third hearing of the case of Two of Two v The State of Despair. 'Why is it,' I said, 'that you can't drink from the same cup as your sister - if she did even drink from it at all, which m'learned friend has yet to prove to the satisfaction of the court - when you were fully prepared to stick a cigarette butt in your gob, a cigarette butt which had been in the mouth of God knows who, and which had been lying on the ground and stepped on by people with shit and who knows what else on their shoes?'

A perfectly reasonable point. Logical. Sadly, however, Two of Two is a six year-old wee boy and he laughs in the face of logic. Or, to be more precise, whines in the face of logic.

'But this has got One of Two's germs on it!' he wailed. I suppose he had his own logic. It didn't matter what unknown viruses or bugs had been attached to that cigarette, they couldn't possibly have been as bad as those associating themselves with his sister.

Two of Two lost the re-appeal. The case was closed. TPCKAM pressed ahead, ordering him once more to drink his milk. Two of Two held firm, the bottom lip creeping out another centimetre, the protesting wail growing louder. Impasse. Under such circumstances it's hard to find a way out. One doesn't want to cave in to the kind of absurd logical tangental thinking that kids thrive upon, however it seems completely insane to start the day off having a raging fight with your kid over something as trivial as a cup of milk.

I intervened again, this time not being so stupid as to introduce logic into the equation. I turfed Two of Two out of the kitchen, dispatching him to get dressed and clean his teeth. So, of course, the result of that was that he won, but at least it hadn't been TPCKAM - the parent at the centre of the storm - who had made the final capitulation, and neither did I pack him off with a pat on the head and a quiet word of sympathy. He retreated upstairs to blub some more, because at least the tone of the parental capitulation had been so harsh that he hadn't realised he'd won.

We all have to pick our fights, but sometimes you end up in the middle of one which you know you're not going to win, wish you hadn't started, which defies all logic and which is very difficult to get out of.

Hmm...that's reminding me of something, but I can't exactly think what it is.


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