Off Tempo

It was a hectic day, to say the least, with Jolie’s 5th grade skating party from 4-6 and Paisley’s 1st grade reading night from 6-7. Since school let out at 3:10, we had precious little time to grab a snack and dinner before the evening’s events Mother-pulling-her-hairstarted.

The roller skating party went off without a hitch. Paisley and Rhett stumbled their way around the rink, while Jolie took off, grooving on all four wheels to the latest Taylor Swift songs. All was well until it was time to go.

I pulled the kids off the rink in time for us to eat our Subway sandwiches in the car before going to Paisley’s reading night. Just as Jolie was slipping on her shoes, the unmistakable opening notes of Pharrell’s “Happy” came on. Jolie’s face fell and tears brimmed. Struck by this sudden outburst of emotion, I asked her what was going on. Her chin quivered as she tried to keep it together and explained, “Mom, I have been asking the DJ all afternoon to play Happy or What Did the Fox Say? and he chooses now, NOW, to play it when I can’t even skate to it? It’s not fair!” I tried to cheer her up by doing our Happy Gru dance that we do when it comes on in the car, but she could only muster a weak smile. As we gathered up our stuff and the song ended, I shuttled the kids off to the car, only to hear Ring ding ding, a ding a ding ding…yep, the fox was singing. Jolie could only heave a sigh and cry about how unfair it was that the songs she had been pining for were played when she could no longer skate to them.

I’ve been there, though, so I understood where she was coming from. I remember waiting by my boombox, blank Memorex cued, ready to press record for when the Atlanta radio station played my favorite pop tune of the moment. Without fail, my mom would call me to run to soccer practice or, even worse, to do the dishes and just as I would leave my post, I would hear the opening strains of my long-anticipated song. Ugh. The injustice. There is something about hearing a song that you are pining for at just the right time. But when that song comes on and you are outside of that zone, there seems to be no greater insult in the world—especially when you are a preteen. I wish Jolie’s issues were the end of the evening’s drama, but it only got worse once we got to reading night.

I’m not sure what was wrong with Paisley, but she was a pill from the get go. She had her bossy pants on and was ordering me around as if I were her personal servant, chiding me when I didn’t anticipate which station she wanted to do next, deriding me if I happened to guess correctly and, in her eyes, preempted her own decision making. It was a frustrating balancing act of emotions. The final straw was when we were reading a booklet that the teachers had marked as challenging but had specifically given to the kids to stumble through as they used their strategies and stretched their reading skills. She would look to me for help when a word was giving her trouble but when I would offer to help her sound it out, she would sharply criticize me for interfering. This happened over and over again as I employed all of my parenting tactics that I knew to try to ease the situation. At one point she covered my mouth and told me, “I don’t want to hear you say another word.” I was mortified. I honestly have not felt that small since I was married. I said, “Paisley Jane, your teachers are right there. Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” to which she replied, “They can’t hear me.” At that point I quickly finished her up, called to Jolie and Rhett, who were sitting in the hall doing their homework, and bid farewell to her reading teacher.

We made it to the car before I broke down in tears. I couldn’t help it. Her nasty attitude has been going on for far too long and I am at my wit’s end. Immediately Jolie and Rhett hugged me before I could put the car in drive. Paisley, as she does when she is in trouble, said she was sorry and started crying, begging for a hug. Every time she had done this before (and it has been a lot!), I go around to the back seat to calm her down and reassure her that I do love her even if I don’t love her actions at the moment. Last night was the first time I have ever denied her request. I told her that I only accept hugs from people who respect me and love me, neither of which she was showing she felt for me. She then begged me not to tell her father, something that set me off again. Why, I ask, does he command more respect than me? Why does she fear retribution from him more than me? This is the case with all of my children when they do something bad and there is little that infuriates me more.

I revoked her snuggling privileges for the evening (the kids each get 20 minutes a night for snuggling, reading, general gabbing) because I honestly could not do anything other than lie there like a cold fish. My apathy was scaring me and I was terrified that I was making the wrong decisions in punishing my child, but I had had enough.

Rhett must have heard Paisley’s pleas for grace because he asked me if he could snuggle with her instead. As many siblings who are so close in age do, they often have a rocky relationship; I was floored by his sudden compassion. “What you choose to do after I hug and kiss her goodnight and tuck her in is your business,” I replied. I couldn’t be that mean of a mom, I figured, if I wasn’t denying her complete access to affection that evening. Then he said, “I don’t really need snuggles anymore, Mom, so you don’t have to worry about snuggling with me.” I felt a pang of dread in my heart, as this was the third night in a row he had opted out of snuggles. There is no way that he could be growing up this fast. And was I ready to give him over to the simple kiss goodnight and tuck in? I cherish our time together as he talks to me about his dreams, we read the latest I Survived book, and we wile away the twenty minutes as he winds down his day. I nodded okay, and choked back more tears.

When we got home, I supervised homework and checked Paisley’s popcorn words. Her final sentence that she wrote was “I love you, Mom.” Mommy guilt sealed. I put her to bed with a hug and kiss and tucked her in, said goodnight to Rhett, and cracked their door shut. As Jolie was still working on her homework, I took the opportunity myself to download to Adam, who was waiting in my bedroom with yet another hug ready. I explained everything that had happened as he listened patiently, wringing my hands over what to do about Paisley and lamenting the fact that Rhett is growing out of our special nighttime routine. Suddenly, I heard a knock on the door. Rhett stood in the hall and sheepishly asked, “Mom, I changed my mind. Could I have snuggle time tonight?”

Preteen angst, six-year old obstinance, and a maturing 8 year old little boy were more than I could handle for one night. God granted me a reprieve on one of them, and I spent the next twenty minutes listening to Rhett’s Christmas wishes and desires for all the games he wants to download from the Play Store. After I put Rhett and Jolie to bed, I retired to my own king-size pile of comforters in my room, but Paisley’s issues still vexed me. I drifted off questioning my parenting abilities and rehashing the events of the evening over and over…neither of which were very productive and only served to lower my self-esteem further.

This morning things seem to have been forgotten. We made it to school and the bus on time, always a plus, and Paisley only cried once. It’s the little victories. I still don’t know how to respond to her when she acts so hurtful. I vaguely remember Jolie and Rhett tantruming until they turned 7 then a switch was suddenly flipped and they just grew out of it. I can only hope that she is following the same path and that she’ll mature out of her attitude and nasty words.

I’m certain I’ll need to sit down and discuss her punishment with her, though she seems to have forgotten it and had a great day behavior-wise at school (yet another issue with which we have been struggling). I have to wonder, when it’s all said and done, is this just another side to parenting that I have yet to experience? Is my family entering a new phase as the kids continue to grow? Can I handle yet another emotional avalanche that is sure to come?

I know one thing I will not waver on is the demand for respect. As for the rest, I suppose I’ll just cherish the days when we manage to catch the perfect song at the perfect time and when we miss the beat, I need to remember to just be thankful for the fact that we have music at all.

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