Dear Fighting Girl,
You are so small and glowing and full of spunk and you know your own mind so well that my before-school promptings to empty the dishwasher and eat breakfast are intrusive and offensive. You can do it yourself. You can do it in the order you want to do it in. And sometimes I let you try this. Inevitably, though, I find you out-the-window gazing or fort-building with your littlest sister, your pajama bottoms still on and your teeth half brushed. Or: sitting on your bed, writing in your journal. This does not bode well for getting out the door on time. Doing It Yourself is not working for me or for school administrators. So every morning it’s the same: your obliviousness to time, my intrusions and your subsequent anger. You yell or stare at me in frosty silence, refusing to acknowledge or grant my requests.
It’s desperate enough—my desire that you learn how to cohabit with the inconvenience of Parents and People Who Care and that you learn how to make your way in the world without being forty-five minutes late everywhere you need to be—that I invoke Consequences for the disrespect and the arguing that comes in response to my requests. Screen-time privileges get revoked in thirty-minute increments until you are mute, distrusting the voice that got you into trouble in the first place. Other times, blame pours out of your mouth like a faucet. It was my fault that you lost screen time. It was my fault for starting the conversation with you that led to your displeasure, which led to your yelling and sass. You’re Never Talking to Me Again. You’re Not Going to Listen.
Sometimes I lose focus and I argue back—a losing, pointless conversation that makes me feel as old as you. I should know better than to argue, even with my calm, quiet Grown-Up Voice.
There are mornings you march off into the garage, grabbing your scooter and refusing to look me in the face or say goodbye. I swipe at you in an attempted hug; I say something like I Love You Even Though it Might Feel Like I Don’t and I Hope You Have a Good Day. You shake me off, won’t give me a backward glance as you scooter down the driveway. And I feel sad and heartbroken that you are starting your day this way, that I am starting my day this way.
I watch and wait for the weather you will bring in after school. It’s usually breezy and warm after picking acorns or leaves on the way home. You sing hellos and you regale me with stories of bee chases on the play ground, of dogs that were visiting the class. Cautiously, I bring up the morning: Do you want to say anything about what happened this morning? I’m genuinely curious.
And then, so quickly contrite, you soften your voice in the way you do with your littlest sister when you're getting along and say, “I’m sorry.”
“For yelling.” You let me rub your head and your back and shoulders and draw you close and I say I Forgive You like it’s no big deal.
“Can I earn screen time back?” you always ask with such hope.
“I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not. You have to get through something difficult with a good attitude in order to have screen-time again.” I say this every time, thinking about Homework, After-Dinner Chores, and the Morning Routine the next day.
After this process gets repeated for several days in a row, after the starvation for Minecraft has gone on unbearably long, you wake up a different girl, all ready to cooperate, all ready to Do First Things First and all ready to Yes, Mom your way through breakfast and flossing and vitamins. And it’s like the sweetest relief because, from all appearances, I don’t seem to have wrecked you or destroyed our connection, despite your comments from the day before.
Some day, we will get to the other side of this canyon we are crossing; we will have taken our last shaky step on an unsteady bridge. That other side is where, I think, I will sigh in relief that we made it. We won't have lost our footing too terribly much. And I'll be calmer--because there won't be any more fear of us falling.