The art of negotiation

At about eighteen months, my son started to display his will. It all began one night when he wasn’t feeling well and I was trying to get him into the bath, an activity he usually ran to participate in. On this night, however, he simply refused, kicking up such a fuss that a stranger walking by might easily assume that he was being tarred and feathered.

My mother, visiting at the time, decided to soap him up outside of the tub. When I tried to dunk him in, I was met by an absolute refusal. At this point, desperate enough to resort to bribery, I said “I’ll give you a cookie if you get into the tub for one second”. And that was enough to start a chain of interactions that changed my viewpoint forever.

“Cookie? No candy.” This, from the child who had only ever eaten candy once before, made me realize that I was dealing with a great negotiator. “Ok, candy.” “No, two candy.” Flabbergasted, I agreed, “OK, two candies”, thinking that for effort alone I should reward him with what he demanded. In response, I was told “Blue candy and green candy.” “OK”. And with that, negotiations were complete and for the first, but not last, I was bested by my son.

Years later I still reflect on this incident, thinking about how much my son has taught me about the art of getting to yes. And about how he much he has taught me about the irrelevance of absolutes in this world.

When I was younger, I saw the world in terms of black and white. Although I knew that shades of grey existed, I had a hard time recognizing them. Things were either wrong or right and there was generally only one way of doing things. As I grew older, I slowly and painfully through much trial and error learned the art of perspective and the ability to step into another’s shoes.

Now, as a parent, I try to remember that things aren’t always as they appear and that there is validity in another vantage point, even if it comes from someone who is a fraction of my size. And so, our daily interactions are routinely marked by a series of negotiations around how things will unfold and the events that will take place. Throughout it all, I try to remember to give in when it doesn’t make a difference, even if it’s not the way that I would choose, and to stand strong on the important issues that actually matter in the long run.

Looking forward, I hope that if I can teach my son to be flexible while helping him to hone his innate negotiating skills, he’ll be ahead of the game, able to adjust and adapt to change while staying true to his own goals and harness the power around him to bring to life an environment in which everyone feels fulfilled and empowered.

Being present

Often, when I’m hanging out at the park with my son we’re with other parents and their children. Inevitably, as the kids play, we comment on their natures and, invariably, based on the characteristics displayed in that particular moment, someone starts to make predictions about what each one will be when they grow up.

Watching my son play in the sandbox at the park, I marvel at the fact that he can spend hours moving sand from pail to pail, enthralled with the possibilities that each grain presents, as if each movement were truly a depiction of the sands of time. And it strikes me that this is not the only activity in which he is capable of completely immersing himself, wholly absorbed as if nothing else exists in the world. For him, unlike us grownups, there is no past and future, only the here and now.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a poster that I had on my wall as a child that stated “Happiness is as a butterfly, which if pursued is just beyond your grasp but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Although I must have read this particular poem countless times each night for numerous years, and could recite it off the top of my head, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to absorb its message.

Now, on quiet spring evenings when I sit on my back patio sipping wine while watching my plants enjoy each stage of their growth, I marvel at how in their stillness they’re actually morphing into the shape they’re destined to be. And I think about how, for myself, it’s now the moment that’s precious instead of the end destination. Be it moments of pure happiness, utter dejection, wild abandon and elation, or mere indifference, I’ve finally come to the realization that it’s only by experiencing the process of life in all its incarnations that I’ll be able to grow and evolve. And with this realization has come the freedom from trying to capture the future by trying to take care of every eventually through preemptively forcing things into nice little boxes that can be neatly categorized. By being in the moment, I now find myself more open to doors in the present that I would not have noticed at an earlier time, bypassing them as a result of assumptions that they are irrelevant to future that I’m supposed to have.

This change has been in large part as a result of being a parent, and I know that I’m forever indebted to my son for teaching me this valuable lesson. I also know that as a parent, one of the ways that I can repay my son is by helping him to hold on to this gift of being in the moment so that as he grows into adulthood, not only does he evolve into who he is destined to be but he enjoys all of the individual moments that make up the journey, treasuring the magic of each unreplicable experience while exploring the possibility that each brings.