“This is the worst day of my LIIIIIIIIIIFEEEEEEEE!” my daughter whined and cried after losing her Littlest Pet Shop kitty at a bridal store. She sobbed and sobbed in the backseat of the car (O.K. mini-van), lamenting about all the things that were terrible in her life. She was hungry, tired, fighting a head cold, and sick of sitting in a “baby” car seat (she is in a high-back booster seat because she is tiny and it’s safer). And there’s more: her shoes were uncomfortable, it was raining outside, and worst of all the sun had gone down while we were in the store. She is terrified of the dark. TERRIFIED!
“Wow,” I sympathized with her as I helped her in the car, immediately took her shoes off and strapped her into her (baby) car seat,” if you say today is the WORST day, you must be feeling horrible. How can I help?”
Sobbing she asked, “Can I keep the light on in the car?” Of course she could.
Still sobbing she asked, “Can we get something to eat?” Of course we could.
Less sobbing, but still crying,” Can you buy me a new Littlest Pet Shop toy?” Of course I could. But I would NOT.
I calmly informed her why not saying, “Because I told you not to bring a toy today and you did. I offered to hold your toy and you declined my offer. The toy was your responsibility. If you would like to buy a new one, you could use the money in your piggy bank to buy a new one on another day.”
Her cries turned back into sobs, and soon she was off and running her mouth about all the things ruining her day. I was sad too. Seeing her so upset and uncomfortable upset me because I love her so desperately and I want to help! At that point, I could feed her, keep the lights on and take her shoes off in the car. Other than that, my girl had to deal with a miserable cold, her (baby) car seat, the cold, dark and rainy weather, and a lost toy. How she handled those things was up to her, but I can see where a 7 year old would consider her day to be pretty bad after all this. She had just spent two hours trying on numerous flower girl dresses and her good behavior/patience had run out. She wanted to play with her toy and it was lost. I may be an old coot, but I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be a child, how it felt to be frustrated and have so many things out of my control. It ain’t easy being seven. My heart ached for her.
Truly it did, but I had to ignore her ramblings and complaints about the toy. She had been warned. Sure, I could help her feel better by replacing her toy, but then I’d be spoiling her and not teaching her responsibility. I would not be replacing her toy. She would have to suffer, but it’s not her style to suffer in silence. Misery loves company and she was feeling alone. She started in with the nagging.
“Please can we get a new LPS toy?” she asked while shoveling apple dippers in her mouth (I took care of the hungry part – winning). “I’ll pay you back.” “Let’s stop on the way home.” “Come on, please?” “I NEED THAT KITTY!” “I have $9 in my bank” “IT WAS MY FAVORITE EVER AND I CAN’T PLAY WITHOUT IT!” “Don’t you care about me?” “This is seriously important.” At this point, the rain is pouring down and my badly in need of replacement windshield wipers are making a squeaking sound that is distracting and irritating. It wasn’t just my daughter struggling during those few hours of trying on dresses. Imagine dressing and undressing an octopus 10 times in a row, but having to find and catch the octupus between fittings. A slippery little octopus with sensory integration disorder and hyperactivity. I was exhausted. I was tired, hungry and almost out of patience. Her incessant nagging and begging for a new toy had me on the verge of a meltdown.
Deep breath. I mustered up the ounce of patience I had left and I spoke calmly, “No. I know you feel sad about your toy, but you have to deal with it. I won’t buy you a new one. We are not stopping on the way home. Do not ask me again. The answer will still be no. No matter how much you ask, cry and carry on about it, the answer is no.”
That's when she whispered under her breath, talking to the toy she hadn't lost,
"MEAN........my mom is so mean."
And that’s when my sympathy UNEXPECTEDLY eloped with patience!
Lately she’s been telling me that I’m mean when she doesn’t get her way SO I figured it was as good of a time as any to talk a bit more about being mean. I pulled over the car (O.K. FINE the mini-van), put it in park and turned off the aggravating windshield wipers. After a few deep breaths, I turned around to address my sniffling, snotty and at that point, very confused daughter. Using a hybrid of the firm but friendly, outdoor/indoor voice, I began my rant.
“A mean person is selfish and cruel. They hurt others on purpose. There are mean MOMS who actually DO hurt their children on purpose. They don’t feed them or hug them or read them stories before bedtime. They scream at their children and call them things like “stupid” and “ugly” and “fat”. They hit them hard, sometimes with their hands or sometimes with objects like belts, shoes or even tools. I’ve heard of mean moms that will break toys when kids don’t put them away. I am not mean. I’ve never acted mean to you, Cate. It hurts my feelings when you call me mean. Please stop it, unless you would like me to start acting mean because I can do that.”
She’s was still sniffing and eating apples, she looked confused. The tear stains on her cheeks made my heart sting with pain. I’m not sure how much she understood. Had I said too much? Did I scare her? Did that last part sound threatening, like I was going to start acting mean? My daughter is so literal. Her understanding of language is still a work in progress. Kids in the autism spectrum have trouble understanding pragmatic and semantic language (understanding appropriate social use AND understanding the actual meaning of what is being said).
The silence between us at that point was deafening. I wanted to crawl into the backseat and draw her into my arms for a hug. I NEEDED A HUG and I needed her to feel how much I love her. I had just made my daughter aware of some pretty unpleasant things about the world.She beat me to it. My weeply little nagger unbuckled and crawled up to me in the front seat.
“Can I turn on the radio,” she asked me after already turning it on, “I need to hear a favorite song right now, Okay?” She wraped her arms around my neck and used her sticky fingers to fiddle with my necklace. I pulled her in tight for a squeeze and I felt the tension escape both of our bodies.
She pulled back from the embrace and said to me, “Well, since you don’t hit me, or call me names and yell at me, I guess you aren’t mean, but won’t let me get a new LPS toy so what are you then?”
I lifted her back into her (baby) car set, strapped her in tight, covered her up with a blanket and gave her back the apples she had been eating. What am I then? How do I answer that question? What word describes me in a way that can help her replace the negative MEAN with something positive? And then I found the perfect answer, the word that truly encompasses everything I am now as a human being.
I gave her a big, juicy kiss on the forehead (which she instantly wiped off while simultaneously saying “ewwwwww”), stole one of her apples from her bag and said, “I’m a mom. That’s what I am.”
P.S. Whoever invented all these collectable animal things with 10 bazillion parts that get discontinued is a sadist with no soul who hates parents and children equally. The end.
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