It all started with a simple question. At first, I assumed it was probably associated with some homework assignment or personal-preference board game.
"Okay, Mom," said my daughter, "Here goes ... If a big bear came to our house and was going to eat one person, who do you think he should eat? ... Oh, and you can't say yourself."
Of course during the pause between "eat" and "oh" I had already decided I would say myself. Even if deep down, I had felt differently, hypothetically speaking, this was clearly the only proper answer to offer.
With this option taken away, I tried to resort to diversion tactics, politician-like responses to avoid answering the question. "Well, I would shoo the bear away, or give the bear some food from our refrigerator as an alternative to consuming one of us."
"No, no," my daughter replied, wanting no part in my resourceful solutions, "You have to say someone. He's going to eat one of us, and if you don't name a name he'll eat us all."
"Okay," I said in a tentative voice, "Well, given that, I guess I'd have to say your father. But, it's not like I want to say your father, it's just that I couldn't possibly name you or Nathan. It just wouldn't be right to let a bear eat one of my children. Unthinkable, really. But, I would do everything in my power to prevent the bear from eating Dad, even if I did have to name his name, and ... "
As I attempted to continue with my back-pedal and wiggle-out, my daughter interrupted,
"Don't feel bad about it, Mom. Dad picked you right away when I asked him, and, well, actually, so did Nathan."
"WHAT?!" I cried. "You mean to say that if the bear made his decision based on majority vote, I'd get eaten? Oh my gosh, this is horrible. It's like getting voted off 'Survivor,' by my own family. And I'm the mother! How can you all even think about the mother of the family being eaten?"
"Well, you said I should be eaten, honey," my husband replied, not even bothering to look up from the email he was reading on his computer screen. "I mean I'm not going to name one of the kids. You understand."
"But, you didn't even hesitate. You didn't even try to not name me. And what about you, Nathan? I thought for sure you'd say Kenzie," I went on, not even caring that I was tearing down the sibling bond I had been working so hard to foster. "Half the time you say you don't even like her when I'm trying to get you to be nice to her, and now you're going to encourage the bear to spare her life?"
"Well, I realized that I need someone to play with," he said, "and ... well, sorry, Mom, but you kinda stress out sometimes."
"What do you mean I stress out? I don't stress out that much," I said in a louder and louder voice. "Give me an example of when I stress out?"
"Well, like when you think we're going to miss the school bus, and you start saying," he shifted to a high-pitched, nagging voice, "Hurry up, you're going to miss the bus. Get your coat and your boots and don't forget your backpacks!"
"But you did almost miss the bus the other day," I defended. "You had to sprint out to catch the bus as it was coming down the road!"
I paused for a brief moment, regrouping my thoughts. "So let me get this straight. Because I get you on the bus each morning, I should be eaten by a bear? Is it right that I should get chewed up because I get a little anxious or overwhelmed by life from time to time? Because on occasion I feel the pressure of the myriad of life's demands, I'm now deserving of being an animal's dinner?"
I could sense my family trying to squirm away, hoping I would finish my monologue. Little did they know, I was just getting warmed up.
"Well, if I'm so stressed out, then I probably wouldn't taste that good to the bear. Wouldn't that make me taste all tough, not nearly as sweet and moist as the rest of you. So I think I'd like to change my answer. I think I'll just encourage the bear that with hibernation coming up, maybe one person won't be filling enough. I'll point out to him how tasty the three of you might be all together, like a 'Pupu platter' of sorts. Maybe I'll just start pulling out salad dressings and other dipping sauces from the refrigerator to ensure that the bear has a satisfying meal-- it will be just like the fiesta of flavored wings we had for the Super Bowl."
"Mooommmm," my kids started saying in turn, hoping that I'd stop.
"Maybe I'll just try to talk the bear into not going with the majority vote, even if he only wants one of us to eat. I'll inform him of all the things I do for the family ... reminding people to take showers, instructing them on how to safely use q-tips to clean out their ears, letting the bear know who fished out the dropped mitten from the toilet the other day and hand washed it so it wouldn't shrink!"
Before letting anyone intercede or derail me, I proceeded with my next stream of commentary,
"Well, I guess I won't be able to tuck you into bed tonight, or to make your breakfast tomorrow morning, because I've been eaten by a bear. Because apparently, I'm considered disposable around here."
I went on and on with the comments, at some point, not continually, but rather by sprinkling them in unexpected moments across the next days. I used all the immaturity I could muster, along with the worst of my understanding of psychology (e.g., negative punishment, positive punishment, negative and positive rewards, sulking, bribery, just plain guilt). I made it clear that I had no intention to rise above the family's decision.
And finally I broke them. It was within a week of the initial question that my son and daughter snapped.
"Okay, okay, we won't have the bear eat you. We promise. We'll make the bear eat Dad. We'll offer our own lives to the bear if needed. We promise. You win."
"Oh thank you!" I said. "You children are so sweet. Let me give you both a big hug."
And as I did, strangely and sadly, I felt enormously satisfied.