Friday, June 15, 2012

Game theory parenting

Max Archer has decided that he really really likes basically anything fed to him on a skewer. Something about eating off of a pointy sharp stick makes everything taste better. He generally eats on the move... I know, I know... By the time dinner comes around on a weekday, I just want to get enough food into him that I do not have to feel guilty saying no when he begs me for just "one yittle sanwidge" before going to bed...

so, if you are judging my decision to let my kid eat off of a Barbie size spear while wandering the house, well, feel free to go get a yittle sanwidge ready for bedtime.

So, when he wandered into the room and left a small chunk of terriaki chicken on my plate, I assumed that as it had fallen off the doll weapon, he was no longer interested. So, i popped it into my mouth...

About 5 minutes later, he reentered the room, trotted over, and immediately cried, "where my yittle chicken, mama?"  Are you kidding me?

Now, for those of you who know anything about game theory, or negotiations theory, and do not have children, the choice seems fairly obvious: explain the mistake, and offer an entire new chicken spear in reparations.

Because any negotiator knows, a reasonable opponent will not cut off his nose to spite his face, and offering to provide more than was orginally requested should satisfy even the most exacting of constituents.

There is this thing called a BATNA, Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. It assumes that if your opponent is turning something down, his alternative is better than your offer, and if he accepts, his BATNA was worse.

I really loved negotiatons and game theory. I loved the sense of order it gave to what had appeared to be unpredicatable and inexplicable decisions. I also loved that it made me feel some sense of control in situaitons that felt really malleable....

I thought, man, if I apply this stuff to my parenting, I will be unbeatable.

However, I had forgotten one important thing: I am not negotiating with a reasonable person.

I am negotiating with a tiny, bipolar, self absorbed hijacker with a zealot's committment to his cause.

There is a reason that we do not negotiate with terrorists.

willing to not only cut off his nose, but mine as well, Max has been known to flip out when, after asking for a monkey plate, he is given the monkey plate and then decides he does not want it after all.

It takes all my energy sometimes to stay half steps ahead of him. quarter steps.... inches...

And the sheer unpredicatability is... mindblowing.

It is like being a hostage negotiator... and you are also the hostage.

Seriously, John Nash, famous game theorist, would have given up entirely on the idea of rational behavior had he spent more time with toddlers.

Not so long ago, Max hit me, and I put him in time out until he decided to say he was sorry... He was furious... He cried and yelled, telling me "I no yike time out, I come sit with you" and each time I would say, as soon as you can say your sorry, you can come out." But, he refused to say the magic words... And I stood my ground... for 64 minutes...

I was sweating, and the headache that started at the beginning of the ordeal had spread to my entire body...

BUT, finally, after 64 long minutes, he finally said, "Mama, Mama, I sowwy... I say sowwy mama"...


I felt vindicated in my parenting decisions, thinking to myself, well, this was the big one, and from here on in he will truly believe that mama means what she says... Again, trying desperately to find some predicatbility in the chaotic world of parenting toddlers.

I hugged him, got him a drink of water, and we settled into a calming episode of "Fireman Sam". After ten minutes or so, max turned to me...

"Mama", he said.

"yes,lovey" I responded.

"mama, I not sowwy."

"mama, I not sowwy, I say sowwy, i not sowwy"

I am wordless...

And once again, Max wins the war....

Smart and crazy is a brutal combination.

"mama, mama, mama, I talking to you, where my yittle chicken??"

"I do not know Max, I think Daddy took it."

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