Yesterday, I got into a row with my older daughter, the 11- almost 12-year old. It left me feeling torn between teaching a child to take responsibility and helping her be happy and successful. I realized that I might not be doing a good job of taking care of her heart.
She had a school band concert last night, for which she must wear the requisite performance clothing. That is, black and white. My daughter does not like to wear anything remotely “dressy”, and so, over the years we’ve worked out a quirky combination of “performance clothes” that she can live with — black culottes, white flowy blouse that’s too big, white camisole (stretchy), and then black knee-high socks and black shoes.
Since this is the second band concert of the year, I didn’t worry about the wardrobe, because we’d worked all that out for the first concert. And since she never wears any of those clothes at any other time, I didn’t even have it in my mind that there would be a problem.
Yesterday, I was tired. I took a 20-minute nap sitting up in a chair after the kids came home from school. I did this, knowing that when I woke up I’d have to whip up a quick dinner for my saxophone player, make myself presentable, and then dash off with younger daughter to swimming lessons. During this nap and before, she was busy playing on her ipod.
About 20 minutes before departure time, Olivia remembers she has to dress for the concert.
Total panic ensues. Her first instinct is to ask me where her clothes are.
But I am fixing dinner now, and I have seen the state of affairs in her closet, which means, the burden should be on her to find them. Which I suggest as calmly as possible. This sets off the atti-tude. She marches upstairs and returns 2 minutes later declaring they are “not there. I don’t know where any of it is”. I ask what she is looking for. She replies “I don’t even know what I wore last time!” And so we go a round on trying to remember what that was. I suggest she look again, that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the blouse in the closet. She returns. No, not there. “you must have put it in your closet”. Ahh, the ole “it’s not my problem” tone.
At this point, I’m getting a little peeved that she is not really trying.
This is not new. I suspect it is classic 11-year old stuff. I hope it is. It is definitely classic for my eldest. I have this mantra I repeat to her whenever she gets into the “I can’t find it” panic. Which is surprisingly often. The mantra is,
“You have to believe, first”
because then you have a reason to keep looking. It has rung true every single time. Other examples: looking in the refrigerator for the ____; looking in the hockey bag for the missing ____; looking in the laundry basket for the favorite pair of pants I know I just washed; etc. If you believe what you are looking for, then you will keep looking and find it.
So, I peddled out “you know what I’m going to say…”you have to believe it is there”. But we’re tight on time. So, I snippily add, “I will go look for it, but if I find it, there will be a consequence…I will take something away!”
The ipod, and she knows it.
I march upstairs and find without much effort, buried in her pants drawer, the black culottes. Next up was the blouse. It took a bit more work, but it was hanging in her closet. There were only FOUR other items hanging in the closet, but the blouse was hung on a hangar with another shirt she never wears. I’m 2-2! Feeling rather victorious!
Next, she says, through a red blotchy face, “What about socks? I don’t know where any socks are!”
Oh, my. That one did me in. The back story here, is that she never puts her socks away. I find them all over the house. Next to the couch, under the bathroom cabinet, below the breakfast bar, in the basement, scattered about the floor. The pairs are often separated. I have a large sock ‘orphanage’ where I keep socks missing their mates until they come through the laundry. 90% of the socks in there belong to my oldest.
At this point, I completely lose it. I tell her, “I had things-to-do-before-leaving-myself-that-I-am-not-getting-done-because-you-have-waited-until-the-last-minute-and-if-you-gave-a-rat’s-ass-about-your-socks-you-would-do-a-better-job-putting-them-in-the-laundry-basket-every-day-I-just-washed-a-black-pair-of-yours-had-you-put-your-clean-clothes-away-properly-you-could-find-them-right-now” I did say “rat’s ass”, darn-it-all.
I pull out a pair of mine for her.
And for the final say, I add “and what about your hair? Now we don’t have time to fix your braids!”
She goes downstairs, sheepishly, and comes back to tell me that she turned off the burner on the quesadillas for me, and that they’re not too-too-burned.
I mutter a “thank you”.
And then I left to take my younger daughter to swimming lessons.
I was ticked.
I was ticked that she waited until the last minute.
But I was also ticked at myself for forgetting to anticipate this likely scenario.
I do hate that she leaves her socks all over the house. It drives me crazy that her clothes are all over her bedroom, clean and dirty alike. I try not to micromanage that stuff, but when push comes to shove, it really gets under my skin.
The look on her face, after the crisis had been averted, was one of shame and disappointment. I believe she felt like she had disappointed her mother. Again.
I know that look. I wore it often growing up. I fought the feeling of disappointing my mother throughout my teens and young-adulthood. I could never-ever do enough to please my mother. I heard my mother’s disapproving voice in my head long after living on my own in my 20’s.
I so don’t want to do that to my daughter.
She is my eldest. I have high standards. I want her to try hard. To do her best. To be herself. To be happy. To be polite. To be comfortable to be herself. To make mistakes and be able to learn from them. To be free to laugh. To be able to laugh at herself. I want this for both daughters, to be clear, but I think it’s hardest on the oldest.
Scenes like this one last night tell me I might be doing something wrong. Where is that line between teaching a child to take responsibility and giving them that responsibility? She seemed too young to not help out. Truth is, I wished I had just gotten everything ready for her because she would really have appreciated it. Should I have set out her clothes? Would I have done that if her room wasn’t such a mess? I do not like going in her room because it makes me unhappy. I wish she were neater. Or do I wish I required her to be neater?
More than anything, I want her to feel loved. Not pushed.
But I want her to take responsibility.
Must they be mutually exclusive?