Mom Hacking is a part of everyday life for a parent. Kids expect us to know how to do everything, period. And when we don’t, it can be painfully confusing to them.
There was a point after I had my first child when I realized two things: What I thought I knew about parenting was mostly going to be based on instinct, and through observing other parents. Then I learned the most important lesson of all: kids are the worthiest of adversaries. They’re smart, wily and born with the innate knowledge to outwit, exasperate and frustrate you. Something I didn’t know until I had crafty kids of my own.
Babies and toddlers are more of a physical challenge. They seem difficult at first, but in hindsight, are relatively easy to please. You feed them, burp them, bathe them, let them sleep, then repeat all over again. Sleep deprivation is largely conceptual until Baby No. 1 comes along. It’s almost as if nature is toughening you up for what’s to come.
The transition to toddlerhood naturally equips children with a playbook that instructs them to arch their backs as you’re putting them into a car seat, or when to best utilize dead weight to avoid an undesired activity — like leaving the playground. However, most toddler meltdowns can often be cured by a distraction, change of scene or a drive around the neighborhood for an emergency nap. The mind games begin here, and ramp up, year by year. It’s the job of the parent —and I speak as a Mom here — to start out one step ahead of these little critters, and to keep that pace as steady as you possibly can. Because once they start, you’ve got to bring your best game.
Which brings me to the fine art of Mom Hacking, and my finest one to date.
A few years back, my five-year-old boy fell in love with the LEGO Ninjago cartoon series on Cartoon Network. Little boy ninjas, with fantastical martial arts powers, fighting evil! What’s not to love? At the end of the second season, which aired right before Christmastime, the plot’s central character, green ninja Lloyd, fought to save the world by beating the evil Overlord — and became the foretold Golden Ninja in the process.
Kids being kids, my son immediately wanted a Golden Ninja toy from Santa. But guess what? Due to what must have been a really poorly timed production snafu, the Golden Ninja would not be available until after Christmas. To make matters worse, the kids saw the toy prototypes on some YouTube Toy Fair video that was meant for marketers. They knew that the toy existed out there. Boy, was I screwed! My son, of course, believed that Santa would have no problem producing the number-one want on his list. But I knew that there were no Golden Ninjas to buy. Thus, this parental nightmare unfolded quickly.
Mom: “What do you want for Christmas?”
Son: “All I want is the Golden Ninja.”
Mom: “It’s really nice, honey, but I don’t think there are toys of it. How about…”
Son: “Mommy, listen! All the other ninjas are toys. And Santa can make ANYTHING! Just ask.”
Mom: “Maybe Santa won’t get the pattern ready in time for Christmas.”
Son: “No, Mommy. That’s not how it works. It’s magic!”
Sigh. And at that point, I just couldn’t let the world’s biggest collective lie die for my boy at five years old.
So the challenge spurred me into action, calling into play imagination, creativity and fierce willpower.
First I wrote LEGO, asking if the Golden Ninjas were any available anywhere. I got a nice letter back, sans explanation or apology, but with an offer to write an official letter from LEGO explaining that Santa was still working on the toy.
Nice idea, but my son wasn’t reading yet, so it would do me no good.
However, it was then that I suddenly knew what I had to do. Get a green ninja and paint it gold.
And that’s what I did. In the cover of night, I wearily but doggedly worked on transforming the character. On Christmas morning, the Golden Ninja was ready and waiting under the tree. I did worry: “Would he truly buy it? Did I create a passable fake?” But I got my answer the minute he opened the package. “See? I told you!” said my son, holding the ninja close to my face with a happy, satisfied grin.
Mom hack WIN!
As I watched him, I felt happy. Happy that he was happy. We can’t make everything work out for our kids they way they’d like, and we shouldn’t. That’s not the real world. But I wasn’t quite ready to let the harshness of reality set in quite yet. He truly loved that toy, and I will never forget his face at that moment.
Epilogue: Last fall, my son and I were cleaning out the playroom, and we came across the Golden Ninja. A lot of the gold paint had worn off, and as my son held it in his small hand he said to me: “You know, Mommy, Santa didn’t do a good job with this one. The paint’s come off. That’s shoddy workmanship from the elves!”
I almost choked out loud over that one.