Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who Are You And What Have You Done With My Kid?

I admit it; I get a little smug about this parenting thing sometimes. Everyone always tells me how dreamy Jarrah is to be around, how accommodating, how communicative, how preternaturally mature. And I'm happy to agree. Not that I credit myself. I mean, at least not exclusively.

So those rare occasions when she joins the Children of the Corn, I am, to put it mildly, surprised. Taken aback, if you will. But more than that, I'm flummoxed. I've got no arsenal up my sleeve. (Yeah, so it's a mixed metaphor--wanna make something of it?) I'm not one of those types who reads parenting books (uh-oh, now I've confessed) or even feels that guilty about it. When things go horribly awry, all I can do is stare. Or pretend I've never seen her before.

Last night we had a "girls night out" with my friend Grace, and her daughter Julianna, 11. We've done this a lot. Julianna is not only smart and fun, she's heartbreakingly sweet with her 5-year-old friend. We always have a nice time.

Perhaps "always" is too strong a word. Because last night, there we are chatting cozily in a red vinyl booth at Ruby's Diner, waiting for our burgers, when Jarrah starts making what I call "Murder Face" and then disappears from view. She crouched beneath the table, glowering like she was getting paid for it. Ooo-kay. I asked if she was upset--no response. I asked if she felt sick--no response. Grace asked if she was starving--no response. At that point, I felt my responsibilities had been met. I continued my conversation and vaguely hoped she'd get over herself.

She didn't. The food came, and she wouldn't touch it. Wouldn't even look at it. Now she started crying. Quietly at first, but growing to full-blown, hiccuping sobs that didn't even sound fake. I was grateful it was so loud in there and that she was still under the table. I had Julianna feel her head. No fever. And frankly, she seemed too animated to be sick--she gets scary-listless when something horrible takes her down. Meanwhile, we were all hungry, so we ate our food and chit-chatted, trying to ignore the wailing that rose from beneath us. Grace said that sometimes kids cry because they're too hungry to eat. I raised an eyebrow. That just did not sound like my kid.

Did I consider leaving, or at least carrying Jarrah to the bathroom for a private audience? No, Readers, I did not. I must confess that my strongest impulse was to succumb to supreme, stink-eye annoyance. Why does she have to pull focus like this and ruin my evening? It was enough for me to know she wasn't sick or starving (against her will, anyway) to push me to a place of total intolerance. I told her I was going to call Daddy and have him come pick her up, since she clearly was too tired to enjoy our evening out. No response. I called him.

Just before he arrived, her tune changed. She sobbed that she didn't want to go home "and miss all the fun." This made me laugh, since we'd clearly all been having a blast. Suddenly, she snuggled in my lap, and proceeded to polish off her bowl of mac and cheese, a pound of fries, and everyone's garnish. I told her she was leaving anyway, because she'd made a choice, and choices have consequences (where did I get that kind of Mom-Speak? It's like I was programmed.) She cried a lot more after that, but she went.

I stayed out for a long time, shopping with the girls. When I got home, David told me that he and Jarrah had talked in the car. Apparently, Jarrah thought I was paying too much attention to Julianna, and didn't know how to tell me. Um, really? I reviewed our conversation and remembered aloud that Julianna had been telling me about her cello recital, and like any normal person engaged in social intercourse, I'd responded with little comments like "Cool!" and "Good for you!" I guess this was too much approbation not directed toward Our Lady of Unique Compliments. Who knew?

This morning, she coyly asked if I'd had fun. I told her I had, and asked her to join me for a brief conference. She doesn't like those, and had trouble meeting my eye. I explained that sometimes I'd be saying nice things to other people, even other children, because that's what nice people and good friends do. But she's still my favorite, and does everything the best. (Just kidding. I didn't say that last part.)

But it was a humbling experience for me, Readers, because I realized there will be times--possibly even in 10 years--that I will be utterly, jaw-droppingly ignorant about some tidal wave of emotion even as it rolls over my head. And that I may just do exactly what I did this time--sit there and stare. Which seems sort of pathetically ineffectual, but I guess is better than screaming my head off. Or is it? Readers, what do you think?

7 comments:

Jennifer said...

Hmmm...I have no experience from which to speak. I have no idea how I would handle that. ha! Guess I'll learn someday. Even though I am sure it was annoying at the time, I can't help but think it was also kind of sweet that she was jealous. Does that make me a freak? ha!

Sam said...

No, dear, you are never a freak. :) And I should have said that I, too, found it sweet. But it's remarkable how even the sweet, funny, adorable things do not seem so in the moments that are also profoundly annoying to me personally. ;)

Stephanie said...

I think you rock--you weren't ineffectual, you were unaffected, and that is impressive my friend. Unaffected, carried out a consequence, held no grudges, and discussed it later matter of factly. You're a natural.

Sam said...

Wow, Steph, that's nice of you. :) Natural. Wow. I don't think I've ever been natural anything.

The Wades said...

So impressed that you called David and had her leave! I think that was huge. She will remember that for a long time to come. Mom follows through.

Perhaps you should write your own parenting book. :)

Aunt LoLo said...

I? Never follow through on things like that. Probably because I prefer the company of a (well behaved) child to the lack of one. I like the easy escape. haha

Still - she will remember that lesson for a LONG time. And it's so hard to remember to get down on their level and figure out what's rocking their boat. Especially if their boat RARELY rocks! We have...a lot of experience with rocking boats over here. LOL

Paul and Heather said...

I swear having a mostly well behanved kid makes when they aren't good...so much worse. Its like you don't know what to do about it because you don't have practice. You did AWESOME! Sending her home despite her improved mood was a great mood that hopefully will keep that sort of thing from happening again.

Hsin was in rare form yesterday and spent about as much time in "time out" as out of it. It totally throws me because we can have 2 weeks pass with NO time outs.