Grown man seeks help of preschooler to outwit toddler

Big Man is a model two-year-old when it comes to going to sleep at night. Once I get him to his room and lay him down in his bed he goes right out and sleeps until morning.

The disagreeable part is getting him to his room when it means leaving behind his family, who could potentially still have fun without him, in the living room.

It’s my job to put him to bed, and the moment he realizes I mean to do it, he runs straight at Mommy. As much as she wants him to get his rest, Mommy relishes this moment. Big Man is often too busy hiding TV remotes and telephones to be much of a snuggler. But as soon as Daddy says it’s time for bed, he dives for Mommy’s lap like she’s the last chopper out of Saigon.

The words, “Time for bed,” signal Big Man that he should do something endearing, making desirable his continued presence in the land of the conscious. Everyone understands the game.

The other day, Big Man and Buster were playing LEGOs. We have a big, basket/bag hybrid container full of sundry LEGO pieces from the many sets we’ve built and smashed as a family. In years to come, when the boys inquire about their college funds, I will point to that basket; it’s all tied up in precious LEGOs.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn't look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn’t look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

There are like a billion LEGO pieces in that basket. When a substantial portion of them gets dumped out it becomes a daunting clean-up project. Having the entire basket dumped out makes me want to put a For Sale sign on the house and let the next people deal with it.

On this particular day, Big Man and Buster had a fraction of the contents on the floor at clean-up time. Buster, being the biggest brother at hand, was in charge. He began to do his duty. Big Man, however, donned the “I’m too young to be expected to pick up after myself” attitude.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it's time for bed.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it’s time for bed.

For the record, Big Man is not too young. He is often astute at picking up. Buster knows this about his little brother, and was rightfully irked by the idea of picking up by himself.

Buster appealed to me to intercede, but it can be challenging to compel a two-year-old to pick up LEGOs when he has no mind for it. I tried many forms of soft coercion, all to no effect.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it's time for bed.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it’s time for bed.

That’s when my genius four-year-old dealt me an ace. Buster whispered to me: “Tell Baby he has to go to bed if he doesn’t help.” (Big Man is still Baby to him.)

I turned to Big Man. “You don’t want to pick up LEGOs?”

He shook his head.

“Well then, I guess it’s time for bed.”

Big Man dropped whatever useful device he was trying to pry the batteries out of and darted to the LEGOs. In five minutes the floor was clear.

Everyone understands the game, and some have figured out how to play it.

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