It was my wife who first professionalised things. It took place in the common scuffle that kicks off around bedtime, wherein our son insists on one more final book and, inevitably, reneges on the promise the second we finish, issuing fresh demands for one more. This stalemate has been a burden on our lives since he discovered that his will is usually stronger than ours.
The things my son stands firm on change by the day. He likes mashed potato, then he doesn’t like mashed potato. He doesn’t like me and then he likes me a little tiny bit more, but still not as much as his mother. But it was the genius of my wife to formalise and interrupt these impulses by instituting the art of the handshake.
My son loves anything that allows him to act like a little adult. This is often amusing, in the sort of child-wearing-his-dad’s-shoes way I have to resist putting into this column every week, because I’m aware of just how tedious it would become, no matter how charming it is to us. Sometimes his adult cosplay borders on the offensive, as when he bemoans the state of a mess he himself has caused in our sitting room by aping my wife’s voice with a loud, cod-Irish exclamation of ‘Oh m’God look at dis mess.’ This is, incidentally, the only bad Irish accent we’ve ever allowed of an English person, but luckily we hear it several times a day.
So, at bedtime we now make him agree to ‘one last book’ not with a cuddle or a plaintive plea, but a handshake. ‘Is this a deal?’ we ask, extending a hand. He pauses for a while, intuiting the honour bound up in such a ritualistic exercise, before proffering his own and saying ‘Issa deal’. We’d been looking for answers on how to get him to be a more amenable toddler in books and websites about child rearing. We should have been reading the self-help tomes of Donald Trump.
Deals have now spread to other areas. Will he get into his buggy for five minutes on the promise that he will be in a playground by the end of it? Issa deal. Will he stop putting his hand into the toilet to splash it about on the proviso that we will take him outside to jump in puddles? Issa deal. He makes a deal before every meal, every single TV show he watches and bath time, too. His entire life is now governed by the deals that bind our little corporate boss baby in a slew of hypothetical red tape. One wonders what would happen were he to demand a paper trail. We might have to buy a printer.
Not that my son’s ability to negotiate is anything to write in your company’s quarterly report. This is, after all, a person we convinced to eat mashed potatoes by telling him it was ice-cream. Despite the fact this would surely have made it the most disgusting ice-cream ever committed to modern cuisine, he steadfastly ate every single bite since ice-cream, any ice-cream, was better than mashed potato. We’re not always honest brokers, in the end, but we’re all he’s got, so he’d better learn how to deal with it.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats