Monday, April 17, 2006

Letting kids win

A week has passed since my run-in with my wife's 8 year old cousin at her aunt's house. Don't get me wrong. He's a great kid with an outgoing personality and a quick witted, fast jabbing motor-mouth that can make your head spin. But you see, like a lot of young kids nowadays he likes to talk smack. If your unfamiliar with this term, it's the present day synonym for "talking trash" or "running your mouth." Back in the day, trash talking was taken purely in a serious context. Now, you can talk "smack" in a sarcastic sense (assuming the recipient knows your joking) and just have fun with it without worrying about someone cracking you upside the head (most of the time).

My wife's little cousin's smack talk is a continuous stream of "your old, you can't beat me" garbage that if left unchecked can get to you like nails on a chalkboard. It doesn't matter whether its playing catch, playing putt-putt in the basement, darts or a quick game of Candy Land, he runs his mouth like he's a professional boxer at a press conference. Granted, he's not dropping any "F-Bombs" or any other "colorful" language surrounded by clever colloquialisms. But it gets to be pretty unnerving knowing that an 8 year old is getting under your skin.

I can get by his 2nd grade smack talk. Really, its not that hard. After all, he's just a 2nd grader. The question isn't the smack in and of itself, its when-push-comes-to-shove, do I let him win at the respective game or do I play full throttle and utterly destroy him potentially causing irreputable harm to his self confidence?

...Damn right the latter was my answer!

So the first game he wanted to play was putt-putt in the basement. After 45 minutes of begging, I finally acquiesced. His aunt had one of those gismos that kicks the ball back to you if you hit it into the opening in the front. So we lined up with three balls a piece and we hit. I meticulously lined up my shot trying to navigate around a few chairs treating this as if it was sudden death at Augusta. I had just eaten a big dinner so my flexibility when bending over to putt was analogous to trying to bend a telephone poll but I managed.

I hit all three shots and he made only one. I was pumped. I however had just a split second to savor my victory when the smack talking second grader otherwise known as my wife's cousin began another round of smack.

"You didn't hit right!"

"What are you talking about?" I replied.

"You were closer. You automatically lose."

Normally I wouldn't care if I won or lost. After all, we were just passing some time after dinner. But this occasion was different. I was sick of taking a backseat to this 3 foot 10 inch diarrhea-mouthed kid.

"Let's play again", I said.


Against my better judgment, I let him win. Now, he accused me of "letting him win". What do I have to do to shut this kid up?

"Let play air hockey!" he exclaimed.

"Let me finish my putt." I countered.

"Nope, its air hockey time!" he stated.

Like a loyal follower, I conceded my viewpoint and headed to the air hockey table. We played 3 games and I won 2 of them so it was my turn to talk smack.

"You owe me one hundred dollars", I ordered.

"What! I do not", he fired back.

"Yep, go get your dad to open his wallet and fork over one hundred dollars."

"No way. Let's play darts...let me get a drink first."

This kid is a runaway freight train. So I waited for him to get a drink....I waited....I waited...and I waited somemore and nothing. I went upstairs and found him sitting in front of the TV watching a ballgame. The freight train had come to a halt.

Somehow I felt like I won the battle. Sure, the kid cousin more or less forgot about our fierce putt-putt/air hockey battle in the basement but I hadn't. The bottom line was that I was the victor in both the physical and mental battle. No second grader will succeed in getting into my head ultimately controlling my every move...or would he?

The putt-putt game was played on carpeting in a basement that wasn't heated with a 20 year old television in the corner and I actually felt as if I won the Masters. I walked out of my wife's aunt's house actually believing that I won money playing air hockey! What was wrong with me?

The truth is that kids, regardless how well-spoken they are or how much smack they can run have an innate ability to manipulate you psychologically. You don't realize it at the time but in retrospect, most kids have you hook-line-and-sinker the entire time. As adults, we just aren't aware of it until its too late. How else do you explain that fifty dollar playset I just brought for my 9 month old who never uttered a word requesting it?