Christmas dinner was late. Actually, that’s wrong. Everything involving food had gone according to schedule. The problem was our 4-year-old’s internal clock and whatever those maniacs in Greenwich claimed were always at odds.

“Can I have a cookie?” she asked, although the delightful combination of chili, ham and freshly-baked bread filled the kitchen

Can? I wasn’t going to work on the “may I/can I” conundrum when we’re still having problems pronouncing our “Rs.”

“No, honey,” I said. “Wait until you’ve had some food.”

She looked at me with the serious face of an attorney.

“Cookies are food.”

She was right. I realized, as I did with her older brother and sister, I was completely outclassed in the parent-child relationship.

There are uncountable things parents do for their children that they absolutely, unequivocally don’t want to do. Like buy braces, take them to swimming lessons when we have no plans to take them to the pool anyway, and get up to check for monsters in the closet at 3 a.m. because we already damn well know they’re in there.

Then there are games.

“Hey, Daddy. Play this game with me,” she said, rather than ask. Nothing unusual there; that’s how 4-year-olds work.

“Oh, babes, why don’t you ask your brother?”

The game involved pictured tiles the contestants (no, combatants. I tell it like it is) turn over, then take the ones that match. I don’t like this game mainly because I have the short-term memory of a pigeon. If your 4-year-old is having self-esteem issues at matching games, bring them to my house. They’ll feel better about themselves in no time.

She leaned her head into me. “But, I love you.”

Wow. That went right for the gut. No, no. Be strong, Jason, like Clint Eastwood in everything.

“I love you, too,” I said.

She hugged me tightly. “You’re my hero.”


Where does a 4-year-old develop this kind of sophisticated manipulative psychological arsenal? From library books, of course. I’m sure in the depths of the children’s section of the local public library there’s a dark corner that contains dusty tomes like, “Clifford the Big Red Dog Learns to Grift,” “Curious George Hacks the Pentagon Mainframe,” and “Max and Ruby Avoid Grand Jury Testimony Then Fly to Honduras Using Falsified Passports (How to Forge Legal Documents Pull-Out Inside!).”*

Parents are always at a disadvantage with their children. Always.

I played the game. I sat on the floor with her, placed all the tiles face down and let her turn two over first. Then Grandma announced it was time to eat and my daughter forgot the game as fast as I forgot my freshman year of college.

That’s how it goes.

*This is, of course, a joke. I have, and always will, love the public library, although I have been known to play jokes. Once when I was a newspaper editor, a woman came in clutching a dog-eared book about the JFK assassination and demanded I help her call the White House. Apparently, she’d discovered a code that revealed a secret she wouldn’t share with me. I told her with my grave face the public library handled those sorts of things and she left. Strangely enough, my library card was canceled shortly after. The conspiracy deepens.

Jason Offutt’s newest novel, “Bad Day for a Road Trip,” is available at