Since I've been home full-time after having Ben, Max has developed a certain habit. As soon as he returns from school he asks, "Is Daddy coming home now?" And then, he asks dozens and dozens more times as the night wears on, and I am not exaggerating. I'm not taking it personally—I love how much he worships Dave. I just need him to quit asking when he is coming home.
It doesn't matter what answer I give, whether it's "Daddy will be home later" or "Daddy will be home at 7:00" or "Daddy has to work late tonight." Still, he wants to know: "Is Daddy coming home now?" And he knows full well what the words "now" and "later" mean, and he understands how to tell time.
My friend Peggy put a name to the behavior: perseveration, defined as a tendency to repeat words and phrases and not be able to shift gears. Max's fixations come and go. Most recently, he was stuck on "I want to be a fireman when I grow up." He's no longer saying that; he just wants to know if Dave is coming home now.
I've tried different tactics. For starters, I've showed him on several clocks what time Dave was due home. And still: "Is Daddy coming home now?"
I've tried to reason with him:
Me: "Max, you just asked me that! What did I say?
Me: "Right! Daddy is coming home later."
Max: "Is Daddy coming home now?"
I've tried to ignore him ("Max, I am not answering that question again!") but still, I am forced to listen to "Is Daddy coming home now?"
Lately, Max is into the Magic 8 Ball. So one night, I tried to get him to refer to it for answers.
[Me, shaking Magic 8 ball]: "Is Daddy coming home now?"
[Magic 8 ball]: "Don't count on it."
Max: [Starts tearing up.]
Me: "Max! You know it doesn't give you real answers, it's just for fun! Daddy's coming home soon! OK, let's ask it again. Is Daddy coming home now?"
[Magic 8 ball]: "Very doubtful."
Me: [Gives up]
Weepy Max: "Is Daddy coming home now?"
Then I recorded an answer in a video, because I figured that he could just watch it repeatedly to get satisfaction. I said, in perhaps the most boring video of all time, "Daddy is coming home at 7:00." Max watched it a few times. Then he asked, wait for it, "Is Daddy coming home now?
It was Max who came up with a solution that sometimes helps.
"Is Daddy coming home now?" he'll muse out loud.
And then, he answers himself.
Image source: Reflections of The Scream/Roy Lichtenstein