Childhood is a time to learn skills we’ll need for the rest of our lives. Sharing, turn-taking and responsibility come to mind first, but did you realize that giving a child a designated bedtime provides that child with the opportunity to develop negotiating skills? Bargaining to be able to stay up past that bedtime is a rite of passage. As a child, I learned and exploited variables that affected my negotiations. It was important to know my audience. Cajoling a babysitter or grandparent to let me stay up late was always easier than my parents. My negotiating tactics were more effective during vacations than on school nights. The most difficult bedtime negotiations were trying to convince my parents to let me stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. I had a persuasive argument – it wasn’t a school night and everyone else in the world was doing it.
When I was in elementary school, New Year’s Eve looked like so much fun. There were party hats, noise makers, confetti and hors d’oeuvres, all at a time of day I rarely got to experience. It was magical! When winter break from school began so too did my negotiations to stay up until midnight. I was on my best behavior, offered to do all sorts of chores for no additional money in my allowance and was nice to my younger brother. After an exhausting week of stellar behavior, the negotiations began in earnest. To my great surprise, my parents agreed to let my brother and I stay up until midnight as long as we promised to be in bed by 12:30 a.m. It was a deal. We were so excited! My mom got us party hats, really loud noise makers and even bought a box of frozen, “fancy” hors d’oeuvres: pigs in blankets.
In the 1970s, before every appliance in the house had a digital clock, we had a grandfather clock in the living room. It was a huge clock that chimed the hours of the day. No matter where you were in the house you could hear it. When December 31st arrived we listened to the grandfather clock tick away the hours until midnight. Our excitement grew. Our mouths watered at the idea of eating tiny hot dogs wrapped in buttery dough at a time when we would have been asleep. When the clock finally struck twelve, we all shouted “Happy New Year,” waved our noisemakers around and stuffed our faces with greasy snacks. At 12:30, we went to our rooms without argument and fell asleep like all good children do.
Many years later, when I was a newlywed, I told Oregano the story of my New Year’s Eve negotiation triumph and I made us pigs in blankets. The next day I called my parents to wish them a happy new year and they asked what Oregano and I had done to celebrate. I told them that we had a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with the traditional pigs in blankets.
“Traditional pigs in blankets?” my dad asked.
“Yes. Don’t you remember? In elementary school you let us stay up past our bedtime on New Year’s Eve. We always had pigs in blankets around midnight. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.”
“We have something to tell you,” he said tentatively. “You definitely had pigs in blankets, but you didn’t really stay up until midnight.”
“What do you mean? I distinctly remember the big clock chiming 12 times. I remember sitting on the floor in front of it waiting for the two hands to reach the twelve.” I was confused.
“The clock did strike 12. We knew you could tell time so we couldn’t lie to you about what time was on the clock. While you were busy playing during the day, we turned the clock back two hours. It was really 10 o’clock,” he said while laughing.
“So all those years I thought I was ringing in the new year I was really celebrating the final 2 hours of the old year?” I was stunned at this news. My confidence in my negotiating skills had been shattered.
“Yes,” he said without a shred of remorse.
“You only did this the first time you let us stay up, right?” I asked, but was afraid of the response.
“No, it worked so well we did this until you were almost a teenager.” He sounded quite pleased with himself.
“Years?! You perpetrated this fraud on your own child for years?! And, you’re just telling me now!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was bad enough to think I had been fooled once, but to learn that I had been bamboozled until 1983 was astounding. “Don’t you feel even a little bit guilty for tricking me for all those years?”
There was a long pause.
“Nope, I don’t feel guilty at all. In fact, I think it was quite clever. You thought you were staying up late so we didn’t have to listen to any bargaining or whining and we got to have a peaceful New Year’s Eve. It was a win-win situation.”
I could just imagine the impish grin he had on his face while finally revealing this family secret. Now that I am older, I have reached the age when staying up until midnight to ring in the new year is not a novelty. In fact, some years we’ve even fallen asleep before midnight, but it was always with a tummy full of pigs in blankets.
**Whether you stay up until midnight or just believe you have stayed up until midnight to ring in 2013, I hope the upcoming year is filled with health, happiness and laughter. **