Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Advocate

At the risk of sounding insane, I'm going to relay one of my most effective parenting techniques - Mr. Yipiyuk, the negotiator. 

The Yipiyuk is a minor comic monster in a Shel Silverstein poem of the same name from the Where the Sidewalk Ends Collection. It was a favorite of my daughter's in her threes and delighted her no matter how many times we read it. 

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Yipiyuk left the book and became a part of our family. I think he first appeared one night when when my daughter would not go to sleep and was begging for another story: 

"Once upon a time there was a little girl who would not go to sleep," I began, "... and Yipiyuks came and nibbled her toes."

I punctuated this little story by making alligator snapping motions with my thumb and fingers, pretending to be the Yipiyuk, and also pretended to nibble her toes with the pretend Yipiyuk. She laughed and laughed and eventually slept. 

The Yipiyuk became a staple character in our house. I trotted him out at necessary moments to introduce some comic relief or achieve some otherwise impossible task. Recently he's graduated to a new level of importance. 

"Will you answer me please? Will you answer me please? Will you answer me please?" are the words I repeat unhurriedly these days when my daughter won't respond, "It's your Daddy talking... please answer!"

As you can guess, my daughter has begun to ignore me. I thought I had a few years before this treatment began, but my blessedly smart little girl is ahead of the game. 

This was the case the other night when I wanted to know how her day at school was. No matter how much I asked or pleaded, there was no response. Nothing. She went on playing with her toys. There's just the faintest hint of a smile on the corner of her lips to tell me she's hearing me and playing a game. 

And so there I am, standing there looking at my little girl - my sweet little girl - whose ignoring me. IGNORING ME! Like an adult would ignore me; talk to the hand ignore me. 

And I'm thinking, "So this is where it happens. This is where my kid realizes I'm never going to use my nukes. The game is up. She's going to be a rouge state from now on."

And somewhere between the impulse to get angry and the impulse to just ignore, I admitted to myself that I hadn't the least idea what I needed to do. And then it happened. Some benign power in the universe, an angel, a good spirit, a fluky atom that struck my brain at random put my hand on one of the hidden levers of power. 

Enter Mr. Yipiyuk, my negotiator.

"Ahem, EXCUSE ME!" I said, bringing my voice down two octaves and adding a growly gravely intonation. The effect was that I probably sounded like Cookie Monster with a sore throat. 

I alligator snapped my thumb and joined fingers and invoked the visual elements of Mr. Yipiyuk at the same moment. 


I had my daughter's full attention. 


Not since I put my son to sleep by singing have I felt so much like I had hit the ball out of the park. I don't think I could have had any greater effect than if I had brought one of her favorite Disney characters down into the living room at that very moment. Not WALL-E or Lightning McQueen or Pooh Bear or Nemo could have done the job quite as well. 

Half laughing, half rapt in attention, my daughter listened to every question I had for her and answered politely. 

I don't think I would have felt any better than if Clarence Darrow had spoken on my behalf. I had an advocate. A silly imaginary one, but an advocate - that stupid little hand was getting my point across. Alleluia! A miracle! 

Mr. Yipiyuk was hired. He's been in my employ everyday since. 

I don't know how long the effect will last. My advocate negotiator may lose his effectiveness as my daughter grows used to it. She may stop finding it funny all together and just go back to ignoring me. But for the present, I'm back in business. 



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