I'm not sure what's more convincing about "Don't touch that stove": the memory of a singed finger, or the fact that we chain every grim vocal, voodoo head, and flashing red light we have to the warning? It's probably both, but I'm certain that "Stop poking your sister," "Good gosh, stop saying the same thing over and over...and over again," and "What on earth have you been doing up there, get DRESSED already!" lack the relevant anchor points for any of the serious parental signage.
I'm sure if we trudged to that well of "I really mean it this time!" too often, we'd return with empty buckets after just a few trips; however, I'd argue that even those "screamer" parents don't go to that same exact well when they really mean what they say. They've got an extra gear, a secret well. Shouldn't we all, then, just go Mayer all the time?
Say what you need to say (maybe not 93 times). Say what you MEAN to say.
Does your 3 year-old really need to stop drumming, your ten year-old need to get off the phone RIGHT NOW, your 15 year-old need to "get over it" on your schedule, your 17 year-old need to be home at the regular curfew time even on that one special night? Sure, I sign my own parental edicts with the the pens of "Because I said so," "Because I'm the Daddy," "That's just the way it is," or "Suck it up," but do we always need that indelible ink, or could we, from time to time, fudge it in pencil? (No, I don't say suck it up to my kids, but I wish I could sometimes).
This is my lovely Claire.
"She came from Planet Claire
I knew she came from there
She drove a Plymouth Satellite
Faster than the speed of light
Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head" (I love that line.)
Of course, sometimes she'll tell you her favorite song is Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," but that's a song for an entirely different blog post. See me in 10 years.
Back to Planet Claire - how does a 5 year-old pull the B-52's from her mental Rolodex? It probably doesn't matter, since (for those of us who know her) we know Claire exhales pink fumes every day of her life. This girl is at least part tank (http://crumbsinthecarpet.blogspot.com/2010/03/4-year-old-part-iii-tank.html), and it's her tank-i-ness that I wanted to discuss.
Today, Beth and I blasted off to Planet Claire and lost Intergalactic War 21, the Tussle with the Tights. Beth and I felt that the THREE pairs of tights we chose for her gave her plenty of choices, but we took a wrong turn on the Interstate. Only after the heart-rending-ly loud thunderstorm had rained tears for much longer than usual did I realize our error.
Claire hates stitch lines on her toes. A LOT. She even reminded me, after she calmed down.
We probably all know one kid who despises tags like sandpaper on her eyeball, avoids shoes despite planned walks in hot lava, won't wear underwear, or shivers when rubbing his fingers through flour (OK, that last one might be me - shame, too, because I like baking with the girls). If I had given Claire a literal rainbow of tights, with every color matching a point on the 4096 color wheel, she'd have sunk every one of them in the deepest ocean trench if each sported that darn stitch line.
After sitting her in the penalty box for the 5-minute major and threatening to clothe her in gunny sacks (no, not really), we allowed her to put on her triple weight winter tights with her sleeveless pretty spring dress. Problem solved, and we were only 12 minutes late.
Just in time, Beth and I recognized the tribal totems; I don't suppose I can blame Claire for a failure to communicate. We say "don't touch the stove," they yell "we hate those tights." Beth and I square-peg-round-holed her with our usual consistency and holding to our word, and this time, I believe we were wrong. Although I'm sure I could have stuffed her into her clothes, I'm also sure that the lesson of might makes right would have been wrong, too.
A wise friend of mine says that, as parents, we often have our very worst to give to our kids, even though they deserve our very best. We're tired, we're not perfect, we screw up. The answer, in part, might be to say what we mean to say, and hear what they mean to say, what they need us to hear. And if the omniscience thing ain't working, have a heartfelt "I'm sorry" tucked in with a warm hug, and teach our kids that our erasers have pencils too - and vice versa.
1 day ago