Parenting

Parenting: Picking your battles

Susan decides that, when it comes to potential arguments with her sons, she's going to start picking her battles.

Isaac decorates his legs.

This is how Isaac spent a gleeful hour early on Saturday morning.
 
In case you’re wondering, he used one of those ballpoint pens with four different colours of ink — the kind I loved in the third grade. I turned around from pouring myself that first, blessed, cup of tea to see him busily doodling away on his left instep. And my first impulse was to tell him to stop. In fact, the words, “Oh honey, please don’t draw on yourself” probably did escape my lips.
 
But then I told myself to let it go. I’ve been thinking a bit (OK, a lot) about which battles to choose around here: what is actually unacceptable and what is just merely inconvenient? Which of my kids’ choices are downright inappropriate and which are simply choices I would not make myself?
 
In my better parenting moments, this amount of forethought has led to some pretty decent compromises, many of which I’ve talked about in this column: you have to put your clothes away, but you don’t have to fold them. The length of your hair is your own business, but you do have to keep it tidy and out of your face. You can wear the same two shirts in a near-constant rotation, but they have to be (at least somewhat) clean. And so on.
 
“But I like to colour on my legs,” Isaac protested, selecting the red nib.
 
And so I took a sip of tea and channelled parenting educator Barbara Coloroso: Is it illegal? Immoral? Unhealthy? No, no, no.
 
“They’re your legs,” I said. “If you want to colour on them, that’s your choice.”
 
I don’t think he quite believed me at first, but he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by. Every few minutes, he’d look up from the Jackson Pollock–inspired work of art he was etching into his shinbones to ask me, “Am I allowed to do this?” Scritch scritch scritch.
 
“Yep,” I’d answer. “You’re allowed.”
 
“Do you like it?” Scritch. Big toe.
 
Um. “I don’t love it, but it’s OK.”
 
I drank my tea, he drew away happily. And, by the time he had exhausted all the available space on his legs, I was more than OK. I was amused at him, happy to have avoided a power struggle over something ridiculous, equally happy that he found a way to occupy himself for a weekend hour. He wore black fleece sweatpants that day, pushed up to his mid-thighs so as to show off his inked legs. And every time I caught a glimpse of them, I smiled.