The Art of Negotiation and Solving International Conflict

Ace Negotiator

Ace Negotiator

The hardest part of parenting, particularly parenting three and five year olds, is the constant negotiation.

It starts at 6am and doesn’t finish until at least 8pm.

“Mummy, can I go downstairs?”
“Is your sun up?”
“Well, there’s one star left.”
“Then you need to go and read quietly.”
“But it’s sunny outside.”
“Go back to bed, it’s six am.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Then you should have eaten your tea.”

And so it goes on right through to

“Can I have three stories tonight?”
“No, you can have two like normal.”
“But these are short stories.”
“It’s past bedtime already.”
“But I’m not tired.”

I swear if you sent mothers in to sort out the crisis in Ukraine it would go something like this:

“Russia, Ukraine, if you can’t play nicely, go to your rooms. I’m putting Crimea on a shelf until you stop squabbling.”

Failing that, I could send my son to handle negotiations. I’ve not seen him beaten in an argument yet: he can come up with a way round any problem.

“Mummy, when are we going to go on a bus?”
“One day. We went a few weeks ago.”
“Why can’t we go today?”
“We’re going swimming today.”
“We could catch the bus to the swimming pool.”
“We could, but we might not get back in time to get your sister from school.”
“But we could leave swimming early.”
“We could, but the bus is expensive.”
“You have money.”

And on… If he were in the negotiations I’m sure Putin would end up saying,

“Fine, you have Crimea, just STOP TALKING.”

In the meantime, I have the trump card, the parenting phrase we all swear we’ll never use, until our child turns three.

“Because I said so!”

Pin the Tail on the Zebra and 2013 365 Challenge #25

I'm rather proud of my Pin the Tail on the Zebra

I’m rather proud of my Pin the Tail on the Zebra

Today my husband and I have been getting ready for the party. He has been decluttering (his area of expertise) while I spent three hours painting a zebra for Pin the Tail on the Zebra. We’ve still got palm trees to assemble and craft to prepare and the party date is looming. Today was the last child-free day between now and Sunday: I foresee busy nights ahead.

The kids and I shredded crêpe paper into hanging vines yesterday and chose a Monkey cake, zebras not being available. My daughter is having her Zebra/Jungle party despite my early misgivings.

Husband and I worry that we spoil the children by giving them exactly what they want. From the little things like choosing their breakfast and dinner, through the middle-sized choices of where to go everyday (zoo, farm, coffee shop tending to be the options) right to the big decisions of what colour scooter to get for Christmas.

Crepe paper vines and my Dad's old zebra blanket (I knew we kept it for a reason)

Crepe paper vines and my Dad’s old zebra blanket (I knew we kept it for a reason)

We’re easy-going people, my husband and I, and like a quiet life. So it doesn’t matter to us if the kids are in charge. It might matter to them though. My daughter starts school in September and I’m worried she will struggle with being told what to do, where to go and how to dress five days out of seven.

Don’t get me wrong, we are parents. They go to bed (more or less) when they’re told, they wear (more or less) what we want them to and two or three days a week they go to nursery. That’s a given. On the plus side they are really good at choosing and negotiating. In terms of choice both children can pick a meal off a menu, select clothes from a full drawer or decide which cake they want without long deliberations or fuss.

I can’t. I’m useless at making decisions.

And their negotiating skills are legendary. The answer to “would you like a cookie?” is always, “two?” My youngest could count to two before he was 18 months old, particularly if it was two rice cakes or two breadsticks.

I have to keep reminding myself all these things add character and, in today’s world, a bit of stubbornness and knowing your own mind is a good thing. I’m just not looking forward to the day when the choices are between tattoos, piercings or which tiny skirt to wear (that goes for both of them: my son chose to wear blue nail-varnish and pink heels to nursery today. I did veto the dress.) In the meantime I’m just glad to have an excuse to paint.


Claire shuffled deeper into the corner of the brown leather sofa and tried to get comfortable. The book on her lap remained closed. Her iPad was in the tiny room she had hired for the night. There was no signal in the hostel so she had the perfect excuse not to update her blog or Facebook account.

Silence blanketed the deserted building. Claire had arrived just as the lady who ran the B&B with her husband left to take some hikers up to the Pennine Way.

“Who hikes in this weather?” Claire had asked and had received a withering glance in reply from one of the passengers.

“Excuse me!” Claire had responded, too quiet to be audible.

It turned out that plenty of people wanted to stomp around in the snow. Everyone staying at Byrness Hostel to be exact. The host lady had explained that they would be back for dinner so she wouldn’t be lonely for long.

Lonely? Ha. This is bliss. Claire looked around the empty room and stifled a sigh. Okay, more boring than blissful. She felt guilty even thinking the word boring. Her mother’s words to her and her siblings when they were growing up echoed in her head:

“Only stupid people get bored,” she would say. “You have the capacity to entertain yourselves, to read a book, play the piano, invent a song, game or story. Your genetic code is embedded with the facilities to not be bored. Use them.”

Claire looked down at the romance she’d bought at the second hand book store. It was so happy it made her miserable. Her brain seemed to be empty of ideas and there was no piano.

 I guess I’m an embarrassment to my blood. Either that or I was adopted. Maybe that’s why mum hates me.

Claire looked round the room for inspiration and spied the Visitors Book.

Maybe I should read it, try and understand what draws people to this nomadic life.

The comments were mostly vague, complimenting the accommodation, the hosts, the food, the views and the hikes. She flicked the pages looking for something that might stand out. She had almost given up finding anything interesting when a lead weight dropped into her stomach as she saw handwriting she knew. Familiar sloping characters with curly fs looped gs. Writing she had last seen on a Christmas card inscribing the words Dear Claire, with all my love.

She looked at the date on the entry and tried to work out whether it was before they got together. Without really needing to, Claire checked the diary in her phone.

That was only a week or two before we met.

She swallowed, thinking she ought to get a glass of water. The central heating must be drying my throat out. Her heart beat loudly as she read Michael’s review. It was several lines long, written in small, cramped words. How thorough. So very Michael. She read through his views on the Pennine Way, the charming hosts and the wholesome food. His words were balanced and fair and Claire could hear them in Michael’s rich voice. The final line grabbed her guts and gave a twist. Debbie and I very much enjoyed our stay. The room was extremely comfortable and the company delightful.

A growling noise echoed loudly in the silent room, making Claire jump. She realised with a start that she was making the noise, deep in her throat. Debbie. His darling ex.

I wonder why he left her. Sweet, delightful Debbie.

Michael was recently separated from Debbie when Claire first met him. They had parted amicably, so Michael said, agreeing that they didn’t suit. I wonder if he went back to Debbie, when… She couldn’t finish the thought. Unwelcome images of the last time she saw Michael swamped her over-wrought emotions and dragged tears from her eyes.

Claire slapped the book shut and shoved it back on the shelf before clumping to the kettle to make tea. I wonder what room they slept in. She looked around the doors, her skin prickling. Did she love hiking and all things outdoors? Did she always make it to dinner engagements and remember to call when she promised? Did she want kids?

The thoughts clattered loudly in Claire’s quiet brain until she thought she might lose her sanity to the sound.

How do people bear all this damn silence?