Most Saturday mornings at our house are the same. We all tend to sleep in, and by 9:00 I am frantically trying to get both boys, and myself, dressed and fed before we have to be at Lucas's gym class by 9:30. Despite the fact that the class is not even two miles from our house, I don't think I've ever gotten us there on time.
The main hold-up isn't getting the boys dressed — Lucas picks his clothes out the night before and Justin doesn't care if he's clothed at all — and it's also not getting them fed: Lucas barely eats, and I bring along Justin's breakfast in order to keep him occupied during the 60 minute class. The hold-up is convincing Lucas to go.
You see, Lucas is what I call a "slow warmer" Every week the anxiety of having to leave his comfort zone takes hold and he forgets how much fun he had the week before. He forgets how proud he felt when he swung like a monkey from the parallel bars and lived to tell his baby brother all about it, always adding, "Maybe when you're a big boy, Justin, you can also swing like a monkey. Maybe."
But how can you sway a 3-year-old, especially one with selective memory? Lucas can remember exactly where he left each one of his gazillion superhero action figures, but he can't recall the fun and exhilaration he has each week in gym class. And so it is, every Saturday, the battle begins.
Reason is generally the first stage of negotiations: "But Lucas, after you get warmed up you always love gym class. Don't you remember how much you love doing somersaults? Tuck and roll, right little buddy?"
Nine out of 10 times reason gets me nowhere.
Stage 2 involves positive association: "Where do you think Spider-Man learned how to do all his tricks?"
"Gym class?" Lucas hesitantly asks, his voice quivering.
"Yes, gym class! You, too, can do all of Spider-Man's tricks if you just go to gym class." I try my best to be convincing and occasionally I'm successful.
Stage 3 usually consists of some form of begging and pleading: "Lucas, please, please go to gym class. Mommy and Daddy already paid for you to have lots of fun. Really, it is lots of fun. Just give it a try. Please!"
This attempt is often met with an indignant stare.
Ignorance is stage 4: "What's that? You don't want to go to gym class? But I thought you loved gym class. You loved it last week." While this one-sided exchange is going on, I'm usually taking off Lucas's shoes and socks and pushing him into the gym room before he can mount a real protest. Depending on his mood, this technique can be surprisingly successful.
If Lucas begins to mount a protest before I can close the gym room door, stage 4 comes with a bonus move — distraction: "Look Lucas, isn't that your friend over there doing somersaults?" When Lucas turns around to look, I close the door.
Bribery, also known as offering incentives, is the final stage of negotiations: "If you go to gym class and don't cry, Mommy has a special surprise waiting for you at home."
I know, I know, it's a lot to ask — go to gym class and don't cry! And what is the bribe, you ask? Well, thanks to the proliferation of dollar stores, I keep a stash of cheap tchotchkies in an undisclosed location deep in the bowels of my junk closet.
Even though I know it's only a matter of minutes before Lucas is enjoying himself (some weeks it admittedly takes longer than others), it's still hard to watch him when he first gets into the classroom. It's hard not only because as a parent you want your child to be happy and well-adjusted all of the time, but also because I know how Lucas feels — I was "that" kid, too — painfully shy and reluctant to join any activities. But I also know how great I felt when I did overcome those feelings.
Surprise, surprise, but the majority of the times negotiations end at stage 5. Whether Lucas knows to hold out for the incentive or whether he just needs the extra time to mentally prepare for gym class is irrelevant, because I know when gym class is over he will come running out yelling, "Mommy, Mommy, did you see me hang like a monkey? And did you see me tuck and roll? I love gym class!"