One of the benefits of having grandkids is being able to read them bedtime stories during visits.
But as bizarre as some of those children’s stories are, they pale in comparison to the actual conversations you have with the grandchild. That’s especially true when it comes to a 3-year-old who’s developed an acute and somewhat unsettling sense of negotiation.
Which is what our grandson Jacob has.
This is a skill he has honed for most of his young life. My first exposure was one night when I got my first chance to read the evening’s official bedtime story. He picked one from a collection of stories in a book that featured Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat.
Curious George is a monkey, but he’s also something young kids relate to in that he (1) likes to climb on things, (2) gets into trouble and (3) always comes out smelling like a rose, or as close to a rose as a pet monkey can reasonably be expected to smell. In one story — and I hope I get the plot right here, since I’m sure there are Curious George fans who know every exploit by heart — he got into a big dump truck without permission (not a big hindrance to George in general), cranked it up, dumped tons of dirt into a city lake and ended up being commended for his vandalism on account of some previously islandless ducks now had a brand-new home on what no doubt came to be known as Curious Island.
When you think about it, what’s not to like about that sort of thing if you’re a kid?
The trouble was, when we got to the point where the ducks were just about to take possession of Curious Isle of George, which I suspect would be the proper name for the monkey-made island, Jacob would suddenly protest that I had read the wrong story. He would then take the book and turn it to the story he really wanted to hear.
At least, he wanted to hear it until the next to the last page of that story, which meant he had to take the book and find the right one.
As a trained journalist, I sensed a pattern was starting to develop as I began to read the fifth story. Or maybe the sixth.
My last exposure to Jacob’s skill was on Blue Saturday, which is the day after Black Friday and also the day Cheryl and I were driving up Interstate 75 to Sugar Hill to see Jacob and our 11-month-old granddaughter, Adeline.
It’s called Blue Saturday, by the way, because of the language I was using as a coping mechanism for traffic that was uncooperative to the point that “stalled” was too swift of a term to describe it. Stalled traffic would have flown past us, smirking as it went by. This necessitated the use of side roads and maddeningly frustrating conversations with the woman’s voice from my cellphone map thing that kept telling me to take a u-turn and go back to the Interstate.
The drive back on Even Bluer Sunday was even worse, and I learned again that the woman in my cellphone map thing cannot take constructive criticism.
I’m convinced Curious George had a hand in all of the traffic congestion, probably blocking off lanes with fill dirt so stupid ducks could cross the road. I suggested that theory to my female cellphone map thingie, but she was stuck on advising me to make a u-turn and get back onto the Interstate, where campsites were spontaneously springing up in spots where frustrated motorists simply decided to stay and start a new life.
But on Blue Saturday night, after we finally reached the home of our son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Catherine, the evening ended with me getting to read Jacob two small books he picked out. One was about dinosaurs. The other was “Mater Saves Christmas,” which gave me the opportunity that granddads love — the chance to make cartoon voices that in no way sound like the characters on the movie that inspired the book, in this case “Cars.”
I was, admittedly, suspicious when we got through both without a hitch. There was a play coming, and, much like the University of Georgia football team’s defense this year, I had no idea whether I would be able to recognize it coming, much less fend it off.
When I closed the second book and started to tuck him into bed, Jacob pointed to Justin’s tablet on top of his bureau. “I want,” Jacob said matter-of-factly, “to watch two shows.”
“You’re not sleepy?” I asked.
“No,” he confirmed. “Can I watch two shows?”
“You’re dad’s gonna have to make that call,” I said. “They told me to read you two stories and tuck you in.” Feeling the sudden urge to be grandfatherly, I added, “Now if your Daddy tells you no and you have to go on to sleep, you need to be good and do it. You know Hammer (his Elf on the Shelf) will be here any day now and he’s going to tell Santa how you’re acting.”
“I don’t want him to come here,” Jacob said.
“I don’t want Hammer to come here.”
“But,” I asked, “if Hammer doesn’t come, then he won’t be able to tell Santa how you’re behaving and Santa won’t know whether to bring you any toys for Christmas.”
“I have,” he noted in an eerily calm voice for a kid who was about to say what he was about to say, “lots of toys.”
I had not seen that one coming. This was a little boy who really wanted to watch video on that tablet.
“Well,” I added, “if you want me to, when I get back home I can call Santa and tell him not to bother coming because you already have enough toys.”
“Do you know his number?” Jacob asked.
“I’ll call directory assistance,” I shot back.
“Eight three,” Jacob said.
“What’s eight three?”
“Santa’s number. Eight three.”
Which was the moment of truth. This is where a wizened granddad always comes up with an indisputable response, one that suddenly enables the child to see the folly of his ways. After a few seconds that felt like minutes, the answer struck me like a dumptruck dumping dirt into a city pond.
“Jacob,” I said tenderly, “I’m gonna go get your Daddy now. Good night, little man.”
I told the adults downstairs what all had transpired. “I’ll go up and talk to him,” Justin said.
A few minutes later, he returned and announced: “He wanted to watch three shows. I told him he could watch two.”
Which was what the 3-year-old boy wanted to start with.
Now that’s a negotiator!
Email Jim Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.