In Greek and Etruscan mythology, a hippocamp is a mythical beast, half-fish, half-horse. If you're forty or older (like me), you would know that a hippocamp was Aquaman's prefered mode of transport on the Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends. Sometimes, I think Elise and I feel like we are cowboy mermen and merwomen driving a herd of wild hippocampi across the sea floor.
Yes, this somewhat bizaare metaphor is meant to describe work that is more difficult, more futile than herding cats. Sometimes, perhaps many times, that's what parenting is, but sometimes we make our job inadvertently more difficult than it has to be. Why? Because when you love your kids you do special things for them, without realizing what the long term consequences of such an action will be. At the time, you may not know what you are commiting to or what you signed up for.
Worse is when you do it to the other parent. It's one thing to commit to yourself taking increasingly-detailed and elaborate breakfast orders (often given in hushed whispers so as not to wake their peacefully slumbering sister) as you are putting your sons to bed, it is quite another for me to now expect Elise to have to do the same when she puts the boys to bed. She'll wonder where this ritual came from. When she is exhausted and just wants to lie down herself or enjoy fifteen minutes of peace and quiet before succumbing to the toll the day's accumulated responsibilities have put on her, the last thing she'll want to hear--regardless of whether it is said in a polite whisper or not--is Sam and Peter's breakfast order.
"Can I have a...GIANT....HUGE...bowl of cereal when I wake up?"
"Yes. See you in the morning."
(Of course, he could have asked for the keys to a brand new Lamborghini at that point and I would have acquiesced. Anything to get them to go to sleep.)
Elise and I are both guilty in this regard.
A few month's ago, I completely freaked out on Peter one morning because he asked for two different kinds of yogurts mixed up in the same bowl. I was tired. I was groggy. I don't even know if Clementine was yet sleeping through the night. Moreover, I could not for the life of me figure out where he could have possibly come up with such a ludicrous request. Two yougurts! MIXED UP IN THE SAME BOWL!! It just seemed like a monumental waste of money to have to open two yogurts, knowing full well he doesn't finish off one yogurt, much less two.
It never crossed my mind, at the time, that this was something Elise had done for Peter the day before to make him happy. Probably for no other reason than that she loved him. In retrospect and in the grand scheme of things, of course what was the big deal, you may ask? I have no defense, except to say that dealing with Peter many times seems like a death by a thousand cuts.
Of course, I am no less guilty than Elise. Enter: "The Juice with 'Things' in It."
When we were on vacation in Washington, a longtime friend of Elise's visited with his family. They, too, had small children, and as the day got longer and the effects of not napping grew more accurate on everyone, I set to entertaining and distracting as best I could. In doing so, I unintentionally created one of Peter's greatest vices, the Juice with "Things" in It.
I poured Peter and his tiny, new friend juice. But rather than at that point simply serving it to them (and thereby saving both Elise and I future toil), I started to pretend to add spices, oils and syrups to the juice, basically anything and everything that was in the spice cabinet that made an impressive shaking sound (think peppercorns or rock salt).
To this day, Peter will ask for juice with "things" in it which requires preparation akin to making holy water or a witch's potion. A pinch of this, a dash of that. A splash of water to top it all off.
Obviously, we do not mind doing these things for our children, because we love them and because they (usually) say 'thank you' and mean it. But mostly because there will come a day when Peter won't want "things" in his juice. He may not even want juice at all. He'll just grab a soda out of the fridge and make a break for the front door, and I'll be left standing in the kitchen. Just me, holding the pepper grinder.