Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making Everybody Happy

Raising four children of varying ages, genders, and tastes is a constant lesson in negotiating. On New Year's Day, only the youngest two children were home. I announced that my husband and I would be taking the boys to New York to see the infamous Rockefeller Center tree (that I refuse to visit in December, due to unwieldy crowds) and eat brunch. Ordinarily, any outing that ends in food is acceptable. Not this time. 10 year old son vehemently opposed the outing, claiming that he has to walk too much in the city and he hates crowds. The conversation sounded like this:
Him: I don't want to go. It's too crowded.
Me: Today won't be crowded. Everyone is still sleeping because they stayed out late last night, so it will be the perfect time to see the big tree.
Him: (more loudly) No. I am staying home.
Me: You are too young to stay home alone.
Him: (very loudly) I won't go. You can't make me. I'm not going. You know I hate the city. Why would you want me to do something that I hate?

You get the idea. It went like that for a while, with me exasperatingly attempting solutions in a more frantic and loud voice and my husband occasionally barking commands, thinking that would help.

Five minutes more of this caused me to ask young son to leave the room before we all said something we would regret. He did. 13 year old son suggested that even though he would rather go to the city, he'd stay home with his brother so that my husband and I could still see the tree. As thoughtful as that was, it would not make everyone happy. 13 year old wanted to go! I wanted everyone's needs to be met.

Of course, I could always sacrifice my desire and just offer to stay home. For many years when the children were younger, I canceled plans and left gatherings early to satisfy their needs. That was my responsibility as a parent. Now that they are all old enough to understand my point of view, we should be able to negotiate a preference that suits everyone's tastes. I was willing to try.

I went upstairs to little son's room. Knocking, I asked if he would be willing to help find a solution that would make everyone happy. He agreed to join us in the kitchen.

This conversation went like this:
Me: I want to go to the city with all of you. Is there something other than seeing the tree we can all agree on?
Him: I don't know.
Me: Would you like to see a show?
Him: No.
Me: How about ice skating?
Him: No.
Me: Tell me what are some things you might like to do.
Him: I don't know what there is.
Me: Chinatown?
Him: I'd go to Chinatown.
13 year old: I'd go to Chinatown.
Husband: I don't care. I'll go anywhere.

At last! Consensus! And thus was born our very first Annual Vegetarian Dim Sum New Year's Brunch tradition. We ate delicious food. The boys perused the gift shops stacked floor to ceiling with resin Buddhas, red pagodas, swords and slippers. Ironically, Chinatown's streets were teeming with people, which did not seem to bother little guy one bit. As a bonus, we drove uptown past Rockefeller Center and glanced at the tree from the road before heading home. Everyone was happy.

But my work was not over. Last week, the six of us, including our daughter home from college, took what could have been our last family vacation ever. Seven days of balancing the desires and needs of three teens and one younger child, who count among us two vegans, two pescetarians, one lacto-ovo vegetarian and an omnivore, two women and four men; swimmers and non; athletes and actors made my head spin. Next time, Vexed by Vacation.