Holiday advice from the Original Trickster Parent

Little boy cleaning apartment, washing floorLet’s call it Trickster Parenting. It’s original, because I googled it and it came up blank. Thus, it’s a concept that we’ve just invented, right here in the pages of Parenting Times.

No need to thank me; for you, parenting reader, anything.

Trickster Parenting is when one applies a brilliantly simple tactic to get the offspring to do something they’d rather not do, like cleaning their room or stopping them from blowing milk out their nose. I’ve done the latter on occasion myself, usually in response to a dare or blackmail from one of my older brothers. I believe it’s why our cats like my face so much. But I digress.

But Joe, I hear you ask, does Trickster Parenting involve doing something that disorients, stupefies, shocks, distracts and otherwise knocks my child off their intended misbehaving trajectory? Isn’t that dishonest? Aren’t I teaching my child, in turn, trickery?

Let me allay your concerns with this highly complex, field and peer-tested qualification: Yes, of course you are. But like a needle in the arm, it’s over before they understand what happened to them.

Now stay with me as I divulge some of the Banks family secrets. Trickster Parenting is done without harping or carping, or empty cajoling or bribery. No threats of the tooth fairy or Santa not showing up.

I’m not sure, for example, how long my parents made us turn our plates over for pie. But it’s a memory that keeps on recycling itself any time I ponder plates. Which actually isn’t all that often, but I’m in need of a transition here.

You see, in a house of five boys and two adults, in 1960s Southern Ontario, washing dishes was not a matter of loading and unloading a machine. The task meant keeping the crockery and cutlery used to a bare minimum, lest it be you chosen to wash, dry or stack your way beyond the Ed Sullivan Show.

At the same time, getting five mewling sons to eat their supper was no easy feat. And spilling any food on the table upon plate inversion invited dad’s wrath, which we preferred not to face. And so, it went like this: (a) eat food (b) turn plate over (c) receive pie (d) eat pie.

Dessert was a luxury of the highest order and anything sweet such as cake or pie was as prized as a June bug is to a duck. But we only got it by turning a clean plate over.  It was reserved for one Sunday a month and those most cherished of events – holidays.

I mentioned Santa. Well, in a house as strapped as ours, the jolly old elf had a budget, which mom conveyed to us. Twenty dollars each was our budget, and the Simpsons-Sears Christmas catalogue was our shopping mall.

We were handed a pencil and told to select our wishes and mark the pages. After a week, the catalogue was so dog-eared and smudged with peanut butter, it was nearly unreadable. But our math skills or lack thereof were put to the supreme test as we added and subtracted a Hot Wheels here, a Coleco air football game there. We were told we didn’t have to worry about taxes. Apparently Santa had a zero-based tax rating from Revenue Canada.

That also didn’t include stockings, which we were told to hang or place at the foot of our beds. No fireplace mantle in our house. Santa, after all, needed to know who was who. He didn’t want to confuse the parties in question. The older boys wouldn’t want to get a squirt gun and the little ones, a Timex watch two sizes too big.

It wasn’t until we were out of the house many years later, that mom divulged the thinking surrounding the stockings in bed. It was an excellent way to keep us in bed longer so that she and dad could sleep in beyond 5 a.m., when the excitement of Christmas morning was too much to bear.

Their sole error was to allow Santa to insert chocolate in all stockings, which led to pre-light sugar highs, and then mid-morning crashes that led to mid-day snoozes.

Which was probably their plan all along.

Photo: © Vitalinka