birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Change What You Want

“Oh, he makes me so mad! He keeps taking my cat, and he won’t give her back!”
My five-year old daughter was venting her frustration with her classmate as we drove home from school. I knew it was one of those boy-girl things, where the boy can only tease the hell out of his crush because he doesn’t really know yet what it is to like a girl.
But, she too didn’t yet know about liking and crushes. She only knew that he bugged her all the time. And, she wanted it to stop!
Of course, her reactions only encouraged him to prank her more. But, then, she didn’t know.
Her sister, who was eight, also didn’t know about liking and crushes. So, she had an altogether different take on my kindergartner’s predicament.
“Well,” she said breezily, as we pulled into Burger King for a Chicken Tenders&Fries snack, “I always say—When you’re not getting what you want, change what you want.”
Imagine that! It was the proverbial “out of the mouths of babes”. And, it was my “babe” who had grown so philosophical and wise. I was in awe. And, I was curious.
As I listened, her sister scoffed, “But he’s so mean! He shouldn’t be so mean!”
“But that’s what boys are best at.”
“What am I supposed to do? Let him have my cat—she’s my favorite! You KNOW that!”
“Well, maybe if you don’t want her so bad, he won’t care anymore. What about that?”
How did she get so smart? I know she’d had to sit through my psychology classes occasionally but she wasn’t ever listening. I'm sure of that. Besides, I don’t think I ever took her to anything on behaviorism. She didn’t know anything about behavioral extinction.
“But, I’ll always love my cat!” The exclamation cut through my wondering.
“No! You don’t stop loving it, Silly. You just stop wanting it back from him when he grabs it. You have to look like you don’t want her, so that he won’t want her. Then he’ll drop her – wherever he is. He won’t care anymore. See?”
“NO! I don’t see. I love my cat. He does too. So if I don’t chase him to get her back, he’ll keep her forever. And, HE JUST CAN’T! I won’t let him keep her.”
“Well, you just try it my way. You’ll see.”
It took a month or more, but somehow she did decide to try it. She managed her own emotions enough to let his real motive erode. She stopped chasing him, and his cat fetish disappeared.
“I always say—when you’re not getting what you want, change what you want.”
I always say it now too.

Advice from my Father

The Man in The Woods