I met with some friends after work last night, but it wasn’t long into the evening (maybe two minutes after I had arrived) that my phone rang. Jaclyn was nearing the end of her rope, faced with a child that was hungry but wouldn’t eat, wanted a shower but wouldn’t bathe, and was very obviously tired but wouldn’t take any of the steps needed to actually get to bed. It was 7:00.
As Jaclyn relayed her frustration to me, clearly frazzled, I could hear Miles wailing in the background. I asked her to let me talk to him, but to emphasize that HE WASN’T IN TROUBLE (I needed him to get on the phone with me after all, and fearing he was going to be reprimanded probably wasn’t going to do the trick). What followed was a tense, 15 minute conversation.
With a quiet, sympathetic tone, I said, “Calm down, buddy,” “You’re not in trouble,” “Take a deep breath, okay?” and, because it’s important to confirm the status of the hostages, “Is Mommy okay?”
Miles vacillated between sobbing and wailing to breathing raggedly and speaking feebly and back again, but I gradually talked him down to a point that I was almost able to pass him back over to Jaclyn*. It did require me to make certain promises, chief among them being that, when I got home, I’d sleep next to him in his bed the entire night.
While Miles was still a bit disagreeable for the next few minutes, I had at least been able to reduce the tension enough for Jaclyn to complete the nightly routine. There are a lot of important traits for a parent to possess. Empathy. Compassion. Mental acuity. Virtually all of these qualities intersect, perhaps obviously, with the regular demands of being a hostage negotiator.
* It all seemed to fall apart again as Jaclyn took the phone back, but thankfully his relapse didn’t last too long.