Negotiations are a part of life.
We negotiate often without even really thinking of it such terms. All our interpersonal dealings involve some form of winning and losing…someone gets what they want and someone surrenders something.
A job interview, for instance, is most certainly a negotiation. You’re selling yourself, they are selling themselves but they already work there so they are in somewhat of a position of power. You need them to like you more than they need you to like them…typically speaking. You can certainly turn it around and look at is as they’re the ones who are looking for help. Right? You get my drift though.
Asking your employer for a raise, talking about potential vacation spots with the spouse, even walking through the grocery store looking at what’s on sale or being featured this week…all of it can be boiled down to an old west duel between two dusty cowboys each unwilling to yield even a step.
Now in another life many years ago, I worked in retail management and sales. I’ve been married for nearly 15 years. Lots of negotiating….to say nothing of the years I spent as a young boy trying to smooth-talk my way into a later curfew or an extra few bucks for a day out with my friends at the mall.
However, just yesterday I found myself in the most heated and anxious battle of wits I’ve ever encountered. And I must admit…the other man won.
Allow me to set the stage:
It was about 4:45 pm…a day like any other. Left the office, drove home, traffic was not horrific, the weather rather pleasant. I entered my home to find my mother putting the finishing touches on what would be a splendid meal, (arroz con pollo y platanitos) while my father sat with my precious son watching television and playing with Lincoln Logs.
I heard the joyous cries from down the hall: Dadddddyyyyy!!!!!! A warm embrace, peck on the cheek and our afternoon began with a diaper change, assembling some train tracks, and discussing the finer aspects of his day spent enjoying all the finest appointments of toddlerdom.
A bit of time passed and, as has been the norm since his arrival, our recently adopted eufy robovac Alfred (HIGHLY recommended by the way) was summoned. My son, Young Master Oliver, adores his friend Alfred and they spend hours together…Alfred vacuuming and Oliver dancing and jumping around him while “feeding” him bits of popcorn or anything else he comes upon.
After a short while, Oliver wanted to take Alfred into the Cathedral. (The Cathedral is the large studio room ideally used for recording music but in the almost years since my son’s sacred birth has become more of a parking lot for wagons, strollers, and a candy-apple red Jaguar).
Now I didn’t want Alfred in the Cathedral…or Oliver for that matter. There are instrument and speaker cables, computers, valuable guitars, and there are bottles of wine (that we just found out last night he can reach! So I guess that should be “were” bottles of wine).
So like any parent I say “No, don’t go in there. You and Alfred stay over here.”
And so it began. Our negotiations.
Yes! Daddy…I want to take Alfred to the Cathedral!
No son. Stay over here. There’s plenty for you and Alfred to do.
Oooh Daddy, I want to take Alfred.
No son. Come on. Let’s go outside and do stuff. It’s pretty. Leave Alfred be for now.
Oliver don’t….stop. Wait. Don’t take Oliver in there. No.
Oliver I mean it. Stop that.
Heeeheehee YES! Daddy, I’m taking Alfred to the room!
Ok that’s enough. I mean it. Stop right there!
Now I have him. He’s cornered. Yes he took Alfred into the Cathedral but he hasn’t turned him on. We aren’t past the point of no return. This isn’t a hardcore punishment situation here. Rather, it’s an “opportunity” to correct behavior, assert my role as father and provide precious, gentle yet firm, guidance.
He wants to play with Alfred in The Cathedral.
I want him to leave Alfred alone and do something else….or at the very least, bring Alfred back to the living room and kitchen area.
Son. Don’t turn Alfred on. Don’t press that button. I mean it. Pick him up and let’s go.
Yes? Yes what?
I want to press the button.
Now mind you, he says this not in an aggressive manner. Rather, a sweet pleading tone…it’s a ploy. Don’t buy into it.
I’m too smart for it though. I’m on to him and this little act. I’ve seen it plenty of times over the years. I lived through the sales floor at Guitar Center. I can get through this no problem.
Son. No. We aren’t pressing the button. We are going to go get socks and shoes and go outside! (happy enthusiast voice!)
I’ll preeeesssss the buuuutttttoon.
(Seriously? Am I in a cartoon?)
My son’s index finger is literally hovering about two centimeters above Alfred’s seemingly eager, and perhaps even mockingly, blue lit button. Oliver’s eyes are locked onto my own. A grin has now come across his demented little face.
I know this play. It’s the “I’m cute” play. Girls used this on me for years! You know how many apartment moves I’ve done? How many errands I’ve run? How many discounts I gave at GC because of the “I’m cute” game?
Plenty….and I’ve learned my lesson.
I’m 42 year old man, married, homeowner, tax payer, voter, business owner, and aspiring-something-or-other. No way the “I’m cute” thing is going to work on me at this stage in life.
Son. Seriously. Get away from Alfred. We’re not pushing the button. We’re not letting him vacuum in here. We’re going to the living room. Pick him….gently….and bring him back to the living room. We’ll go do something else for now. Maybe later we’ll bring Alfred in here but now.
My voice is beginning to take a bit more bass, my posture a little more rigid. I have about 3 feet on him so it’s easy to lean over him….for now at least. Inside of a year he’ll be nine feet tall so I’ll need a different strategy. But for now I have this.
Physical posture is important in these things so I try to assert myself without being menacing.
I’ll ppppuuuush the button….
Oliver. Do. Not. Push. That. Button.
Now we’re at the stalemate.
Silence takes over.
We’re those two gunfighters in the New Mexico sun.
Eyes locked. His finger hovers over the button. Alfred’s blue light letting me know whose side he’s on.
I stare deeply into my son’s eyes.
I got this.
My face tenses up. His grin seems to grow by another nine inches, Alfred’s blue power light signaling whatever everyone but me seems to already know.
Silence continues. I stiffen up a bit more hoping it’s the little bit to put me over the top.
His hand drops another millimeter or so closer to the button.
I feel it coming up from inside me. A tickle perhaps…emanating from my Dr. Marten’s that quickly leaps up to my spine but I fight it back.
I tighten up again. I’m not losing this.
I recall all the lessons I learned in that boiler room of a sales floor where one wrong move meant losing profit margins and gross sales figures…everything that made the world go round both as a store and as an commission employee.
I’m staring a hole through him but then the tickle returned and it rose into my chest and I knew what Oliver and Alfred had known the whole time: that for all my posturing, for all my sad little attempts at being stronger than a toddler, I had lost.
I just didn’t know until that moment.
I lost before I even followed them into the Cathedral.
I lost before I even brought Alfred into our home.
Hell, I lost almost three years ago.
My stern face gave way to giggly defeat and Oliver pushed the button in glorious victory.
A wise man once said (probably not one with a toddler I’m guessing) that you should never enter into a negotiation without knowing how it’s going to end. You have to know you’re going to walk away with what you want or you’re going to walk away period, having given up nothing.
Yeah. That doesn’t work with Young Master Oliver.
Until Next Time,
Be Well and Kind,