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Vow Wows

I started out as a model parent. And I'd still be a model parent if my wife had had a hysterical pregnancy instead of a kid.

Before my son was born, the rules by which he'd live his life were all charted out. I'd witnessed the mistakes of other parents and was not about to repeat them. For example, I was determined not to buy him any newspapers until he was at least of reading age.

Years ago, while strolling in the company of a friend and his two-year-old daughter, the girl stopped at a newsrack and commanded Daddy to buy her a copy of the evening edition. My friend said no, you can't read. The girl said I don't care, I want a newspaper and I want it now. My friend said no. The girl did her uncannily accurate impression of Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed. My friend bought her a newspaper.

Obviously, this child had learned early on how to play Daddy like a Mister Music piano. And I decided then and there that no kid was ever gonna get the upper hand on my keys.

Among veteran moms and dads, that last sentence is one of millions sniggeringly referred to as Famous Last Words.

There aren't many ultimate truths in this world, but here's one of them: Nothing--repeat, nothing--is easier than looking at someone else's monstrous offspring and noting where their parents are going horribly wrong. But once you're dealing face-to-cherubic-face with your own precious heirs, it's damned near impossible to put what you've learned into practice.

For the benefit of model-parents-in-waiting, I offer the following collection of some of the more infamous Famous Last Words . . . and the clauses you'll be adding to them in no time flat.

"I will not let my child watch that cheap, violent, poorly animated, mind-warping kiddie-crap they show on Saturday-morning TV . . . unless I'm busy, want to sleep in, or just don't feel like dealing with the screams."

"I will never spank my child in public, especially while in line at the supermarket . . . except when threats of physical violence fail to attract his attention, and/or when the boy is really and truly asking for it."

"I will never allow my child to play with war toys . . . but since he already pretends that his Magic Bubble Wand is a semiautomatic machine gun, I suppose three or four fully accessoried G.I. Joe Action Playsets won't hurt."

"At dinnertime, he will eat all his vegetables . . . or he may simply spread them all over his plate to create the optical illusion that he's eaten them, and that will be fine by me--especially if it's been a long, ugly day."

"He will get no dessert until he's cleaned his plate . . . or the dog has cleaned his plate. Or I have cleaned his plate. Or somebody has cleaned his plate. Or he loses his plate."

"I will give my child candy only as a rare and special reward . . . like when he stops crying, begging and grovelling for it long enough for me to open the wrapper."

"No rude noises in public . . . unless the public finds his rude noises amusing. On those occasions, rude noises will be encouraged."

"I absolutely, positively will not tolerate whining . . . and as soon as I can think of an effective way to keep him from doing it, it WILL stop."

"I will not attempt to buy my child's affection with gifts . . . unless the gifts are relatively inexpensive, and I'm in the mood for a little extra affection."

"I will always remember what it was like to be a kid . . . except when I'm consumed with what it's like being an adult."

"I will never let my child eat sugar-coated-frosted-puffed-soaked- inundated breakfast cereals . . . unless it's a brand that I like to eat, or there's a really nifty prize in the box that I'd like to play with." "When I say it's time to go to sleep, it's time to go to sleep . . . unless he firmly believes otherwise, in which case he'll be allowed to make six pointless trips to the bathroom, drink fourteen glasses of water, dutifully report and describe 37 different noises heard outside his window, and go to sleep when he's damn well good and ready."

"I will not spoil my child . . . at least until he has emerged from the birth canal, at which time spoiling him will become my hobby and reason to live."

"I will never put my child to bed without giving him a hug and a kiss." So far, that's the only preset rule I haven't broken. I like to think that one out of a million isn't a bad average. If you're a nonparent, feel free to keep your opinion to yourself.

There are countless other Famous Last Words, including "I will never attempt to manipulate my kid with threats I have no intention of carrying out"; "I will never blackmail my own child"; and "I will never order my child to be cute upon command" . . . a trio of hard, fast and unbreakable rules I recently shattered simultaneously.

One afternoon I heard my three-year- old son crooning "Yellow Submarine," which he'd never sung before. That night, when his mother came home, I asked him to repeat his performance. "Daddy," he sighed, "I'm too tired to sing."

"Oh," said I. "In that case, the next time we're in a store and you see a toy you'd like to have, maybe I'll be too tired to buy it for you." I hadn't even completed the last word of my threat when the boy broke into a lively chorus of "We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine . . . "

I'm so ashamed. But according to my wife, I'm still a model parent. "And you know what a model is," she likes to explain. "It's a small, cheap imitation of the real thing."

Oooooh. I feel better now.

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Michael Burkett