Our preschooler turns off the bathroom light when anyone is in there. Not right when they enter, of course. She waits outside the door until the unsuspecting party is nice and settled in first.
She then giggles and scampers off, or at least pretends to. As soon as the light snaps back on, the bathroom door slides open an inch, then two, and a little hand sneaks up the wall to flip the light off again. It’s like a scene from a horror movie for people who are afraid of children. Frankly, that should include all of us.
“Would you stop doing that?” I asked from the sink, the on/off strobe light effect taking me back to a high school dance, circa 1982. No one needs to go there, ever.
“Nu-oh,” she said in more syllables than necessary before her bare feet pitter-pattered down the hall.
Why are children delighted by things that annoy parents most? The Boy has mastered the spooky touch that appears on our shoulder whenever we least expect it. The Girl listens to something vaguely music-like at volumes that can be heard in Istanbul. And the Preschooler, well, she’s apparently dangerous.
“Hey, punk,” I said later, channeling my inner Clint Eastwood. Dealing with preschoolers is much more difficult than dealing with horse thieves and bandits. “Why do you keep shutting off the bathroom light?”
She batted her eyes.
“I’m just a little kid,” she said. “I don’t know any better.”
Whoa. I wasn’t ready for that.
A normal parent would respond with the Normal Parent Fugidaboudit Equation: misdeed + appropriate response – amount of cuteness displayed = a pat on the head.
That’s not how I roll. I view any interaction with my children, or regular human beings – there is a distinction – as prelude to a publishing deal.
Me (aloud): Why did you turn off the light?
Preschooler: I didn't know any better. I'm just a little kid.
Normal Parent: Aww. Well, don't do it again.
Me (in my head): The title of my next book: "How to Raise a BS Artist for Fun and Profit." It'll sell millions.
This way of thinking also raises some ethical questions, such as, should I make money from my child’s creative gold mine? Do I have to credit said child? And, is it right to overhear strangers divulge their deepest secrets in a coffee shop and make them the protagonist’s problems in my next book?
The answers are:
• Children are money-sucking vampires, so yes.
• It’s called “artistic license,” so no.
• Of course. It’s scientifically proven there are only two types of people who sit in coffee shops: writers and people who want to be overheard by writers.
And, if any of this comes back to haunt me, I can always use my daughter’s excuse: I’m just a little kid. I don’t know any better.
It works for her.
Jason Offutt’s newest book, “Chasing American Monsters: 251 Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts,” is available at jasonoffutt.com. His next books, "How to Raise a BS Artist for Fun and Profit” and “Overheard in the Coffee Shop,” are not yet written.