School started here a couple of weeks ago, and before a single exam could be proctored, before one band of silliness could be coveted, before the cafeteria jello had a chance to congeal…my daughter had drama!
I know what you’re thinking. “A middle school girl has a crisis in her life? Surely, you jest, Mary!” No, joke, ya’ll. Prepubescent drama is no myth.
As I tucked her in Wednesday night, my daughter became quiet, offering only a weak, “goodnight,” as I bent down to kiss her while simultaneously switching off her bedside lamp. I should have known the night was not about to end. I could barely make out her face in the pale glow of the only remaining light in the room–a night light in the shape of pink and green flowers. “Mom, J took my milk carton away today at lunch and wouldn’t give it back.” I switched the lamp back on.
I sat down on the bed, visions of my own slumber becoming a mere fantasy. “Tell me what happened,” I said. She sat up, pushed her hair back, and prepared to launch into a middle school monologue, complete with voices, gestures, and facial expressions.
“Well, on Monday J took my lunch box when I wasn’t looking, and wouldn’t give it back when I told her to! And on Tuesday, they all passed around my milk carton and when I got mad, they said I needed to learn to take a joke! Today, J took my milk again, and I got mad and told her it wasn’t funny–give it back!” I could see where this was going. “Honey, how did it end?” I asked. “They all said I needed to get a sense of humor, but mom, it wasn’t funny!”
Oh, the joys of school! A veritable bonanza of readin’, writin’, and arithmetic…and the subtle and not so subtle antics of “mean girls.” That’s not to imply that my daughter’s friends are all mean, but little girls can certainly be mean when left to their own devices, say, during lunch. It’s August, I’m exhausted already, and I needed to deal with this issue immediately or this was going to be a long year.
I have a deep seated antipathy for “mean girls,” and strive to NOT let my daughter become one, so of course, I didn’t encourage her to retaliate with similar behavior.
“Next time they do that, just shrug and say, ‘Oh well, you’ll give it back eventually…keep it for all I care.’ I’m willing to bet they won’t do it again. They enjoy that it upsets you and their fun is exalted because of it. If you act as if you don’t care, they’ll lose interest. This way, I don’t have to involve any parents, you don’t have to involve the teachers, and you can fight your own battle, or at least bar it from becoming one.” Before I could expound on the need to respect another person’s personal property, I noticed my daughter’s face coming closer to mine. She stopped inches from my face, looked at me seriously, and said slowly, “Mom, there’s an ant on your face.”
Minutes had passed as I expounded grand words of wisdom to my daughter. I was envisioning where to prominently display my Mother of the Year Award and she’s entranced by what appears to be tiny vermin making its way across my chin!
I wasn’t sure she heard any of my life changing advice, but she did seem to feel better as I repeated the tuck in, good night kiss, lamp extinguishing ritual for the second time that night. How many of our words of wisdom do our kids hear anyway? And how much of our children’s behavior is actually a direct reflection of our own? I can still hear my own father’s deep, resonating voice say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” when in my youth, I tried to rationalize my behavior by dredging up instances of his own identical behavior. I learned a lot from my parents, but I don’t remember having a Father Knows Best discussion with my dad or pining about a guy over milk and cookies with my mom. I learned mostly from watching them; their interactions and reactions to us and others taught me more than any poignant words of wisdom they may or may not have shared. Kate’s watching and learning, too–and she’s been watching her dad and me for years. I find it increasingly difficult to make excuses for my outbursts and chronic kvetching when another driver cuts me off or for my impatience with standing in a non-moving grocery line. How many times has my daughter heard some variation of, “I always get stuck behind the coupon queen who’s trying to write a temporary check from France and who has apparently left her I.D. in the car! Outstanding!” When I see my daughter display impatience or grumble at someone else’s slowness or ineptitude, I cringe. Her behavior mimics mine; it’s not indicative of sage advice that I can barely follow myself.
I picked Kate up Thursday afternoon and after she tossed her back pack and lunch box into the back seat with nearly enough strength to knock unconscious our pit bull I had in tow, I asked her how her how her day had gone. “Oh, fine,” she said. “Really? Did anyone try to take anything that didn’t belong to her?” “Yes, J took my yogurt, but I did what you said! I just stayed calm and told J she’d give it back eventually…or keep it, I don’t really care. And she just handed it over and nobody said anything to me,” she chirped. “And…did the rest of the day go as well?” I inquired. “Oh, yeah…it was great.”
So, for a brief moment I did feel like the Mother of the Year! I smiled to myself, heard the birds singing, and relished in my wisdom. Suddenly, a car pulls out in front of us, and my daughter didn’t miss a beat. Utilizing the most caustic tone she could muster, she shrieked, “What’s wrong with you?! What, is our cloaking device on? Are you in that much of a hurry…and now you’re gonna go, what, 30 miles an hour?! Learn to drive, moron!!” She throws her hand up and ends her tirade with an exasperated, “Sheesh, what’s wrong with people?!?!”
OK, I still have some stuff to work on…a Mother of the Year Award would just be another knick-knack that required dusting around here anyway.