It's cold today in the Midwest. In reality, it's not any colder than it's been all winter long. In fact, it's warmer than it has been many days this winter. For some reason, however, I've been really cold all day long. It could be related to the fact that no one can seem to get my thyroid gland working the way it's supposed to. Not my nutritionist/naturopath, not my medical doctor, no one. My nutritionist/naturopath is still working on it with me. However, my afternoon body temperature was still only 95.5. This was taken at the time of day that body temperature is supposed to peak, mind you. Besides being cold, it's no wonder my metabolism is slower than a dried up slug. By late evening I felt so thoroughly chilled that I couldn't wait to get the kids tucked into bed so that I could climb into my own bed in full sweats and pile on every blanket we own.
With the kids tucked into their beds, I went about my business of putting on a second pair of socks. That's when I remembered that we have some of those hand warmer things in the cupboard somewhere. You know, those things you shake up and stick in your mittens or your pockets in the winter time to help keep warm. Back in the day, we used to use them in the wet, dark, cold fall weather to stay warm during early morning band practice. I decided right then and there that I was going to put one of those in each of my socks before crawling into bed under every blanket I own. As I headed out to the laundry room to dig in the cabinet where I last saw them, I heard a rustle in the kitchen. I knew immediately what I was hearing. "Zoe Grace!" I said sternly. She came out from the shadows looking soooooo busted, dropping one of her Garfield comic books as she rushed down the hall towards her bedroom calling, "I know! I know! I'm not allowed to read Garfield anymore for a loooong time!" She had snuck out of her dark bedroom where she was told the lights needed to stay out, into the kitchen where there was still a light on over the sink. She was crouched in the corner with her beloved Garfield comic books, reading. This was a first. I've caught her with her bedroom light on well past the time she's allowed to stay up. I've caught her crouched in her closet reading with the door closed and light on, I've caught her with her brother's neon light saber sword in her bed in the dark, using it as a flashlight to illuminate her beloved comic book pages. I have never, until tonight, caught her crouched in the dim light of the kitchen with her comic books.
She loves to read. I certainly don't want to discourage that! She began reading on her own at age three. Seriously. I'm not just a bragging parent exaggerating the abilities of my child. She was reading on her own at age three. She discovered my Garfield comic book collection (circa early 1980's) in the storage room downstairs several months ago, and it has consumed her like a savage addiction. At 6 years of age, she reads with enough skill to decipher the words and enough sophistication to appreciate the humor of Garfield comic strips. And she is completely addicted. It's like kiddie crack.
My girl child is stubborn and determined and willing to go to almost any length to achieve a goal she has decided on. Those aren't bad qualities to have. In fact, in all my years of working with severely emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered kids and teens, I've learned to be strengths based in my approach--to see the good in every person and help them channel it through the qualities, skills, and characteristics they already possess. If the at-risk kids I work with have the qualities that I just described my daughter having, I get excited because I know such qualities can serve them well. Sure, these are qualities that often get them in major trouble when they misuse them. But they are also qualities that have ensured their survival through horrendous histories of abuse throughout their childhood. They are qualities that will bring them through to success and see them make something valuable of their lives if they can be directed and taught how to channel such qualities constructively.
Unfortunately, in addition to these other qualities that I have framed in a strengths-based context, Dear Daughter is sneaky. To be completely fair, in a strengths-based context, I would frame it as something more akin to "creative" or "sly." But right now I'm still exasperated and a bit fed up with her. So I'm calling it plain old sneaky. There's been a lot of sneakiness going on in her little world lately, and it's been affecting all of us in this house.
I don't want to break her spirit. I don't want to take the determination and goal-directed-ness out of her. I just want her to be good! For the love of all that is good and holy, my girl-child is a major handful to manage!
I ordered my girl-child to come right back and stand before me. She looked almost scared enough to pee her pants. And then I just stared at her in silence while I tried to compose my thoughts. Somewhere in here, I just knew there was a teachable moment. I just needed to compose myself well enough to figure out what it was.
While my daughter has had the good fortune of being born into a high functioning, well adjusted family, and she has no history of abuse threatening to destroy her success in life, she can still be plain old naughty when she decides to use her stubbornness and perseverance in the wrong ways. I stood looking at her as all these thoughts raced through my mind. Daughter was looking really uneasy by this time.
"What exactly were you doing?" I calmly demanded.
"I was reading Garfield." She said boldly, but not without guilt written across her face.
"So you sneak out here to the kitchen to read your Garfield books after we go to bed?" I asked. Without waiting for a response I added, "And this isn't the first time, is it?"
She shook her head.
"So you've been doing this for awhile?"
"Well, not if you go downstairs...because then you can hear me up here. But if you go to your room I do." She divulged honestly and matter-of-factly. "I can tell by whether the light is on down there or not." She added sincerely. I felt inwardly annoyed at the habit my husband has developed of leaving the light above the kitchen sink on all night long. I spoke to him recently about turning this light off to save electricity and using the tiny little nightlight instead. Most of the time now it is getting turned off, but it still stays on until whoever is last to bed turns it off. That means I leave it on for Dear Husband, who frequently falls asleep for a good while in Dear Son's bed with him after reading bedtime stories, thus making him the last one to bed (our bed, anyway). And he has a bad habit of just leaving that particular light on all night.
Dear Daughter had this ploy all figured out. And she has even apparently pulled it off a time or two before. I recalled at this moment that I already heard Dear Husband scold her once tonight after I tucked her in for sneaking down the hallway. Apparently that was her first sneak through the house to see if I was going to go downstairs or to bed after tucking her in.
I stared at her, this time trying to keep a straight face because I was beginning to find it all a bit humorous--the lengths this child will go to achieve what she has her mind set to. "What do you think we should do about this?" I asked.
She didn't even hesitate. "I figured no Garfield for like a week." She said with a fair amount of confidence. "And probably no desert for awhile...?" She seemed to throw that in to demonstrate to me that she understood the gravity of what she had done. Daughter loves her desert more than she even loves Garfield. She continued to stand in front of me, waiting...uneasily biting her lip. I don't pick her up much anymore because she is 6 1/2 years old now. And heavy. But now I scooped her up and hugged her tight before I set her up on the granite kitchen island for a face-to-face chat in the dimness of that blasted light over the sink. I took a deep breath....
"There's a saying that goes like this, 'Who you really are is who you are when no one else is looking.'" I paused to let this sink in. "Do you know what this means?"
"Yeah," she said. "It means that you'd better not do things you're not supposed to do."
"Well..." I said, "that's only partly right. The part that I really want you to get is that whatever you are doing when you think no one is looking...that is the person you REALLY are." I paused again to let it sink in before adding, "Even if you don't think Mommy or Daddy knows what you are doing, God sees everything, and He wants you to choose the right thing no matter who is or isn't looking."
Daughter responded after a moment, "So you are going to watch everything I'm doing now?"
"No." I said. "Not at all."
"But you're going to take away all my Garfield comics, right?"
"No." I said.
"I'm going to let you think about the kind of person you want to be whether I see everything or not. And I want you to remember that God sees everything." I said. "And I'm very sad because I can't trust you right now. ...and by the way, are you SURE you brushed your teeth...because you told me earlier that you did, but your breath doesn't smell very fresh right now and you've lied to me about brushing your teeth before also."
Daughter completely busted up laughing despite herself. "You shouldn't have taught me how to keep the mirror clean, because then you would have at least known if I was brushing my teeth or not!" She thought this was hysterically funny and continued to laugh until she cried.
For months I have worked with her not to splatter the mirror with her toothpaste spits. She would have the mirror absolutely covered halfway to the top with toothpaste spit spots the first time she brushed after I cleaned the thing. She must be the messiest toothpaste spitter on the planet. She has only recently begun to manage not to splatter the mirror when she brushes her teeth. She has also begun to lie to me when I ask her if she has brushed her teeth. "Yes!" She will say. "I can still taste the toothpaste!" One day after this exchange with her, I took Dear Son in the bathroom to help him brush his teeth and discovered Daughter's toothbrush was dry. See what I mean about "sneaky"?
"You see!" I said to her. "Your lies about brushing your teeth has also made it so that I cannot trust you. I'm very sad that I cannot trust my own daughter. I want a daughter that I know I can trust, and it's going to take awhile for you to build that trust back up again."
She looked very serious and sad at that point.
"So what do you think I want you to do right now?" I asked.
"Go get all my Garfield comic books to give you?" she asked.
"No. I want you to take your Garfield comic book back to your room with you, and I want you to put it away, and get into bed, and leave the light out, and close your eyes, and think about what we talked about...and go to sleep."
Then I lifted her off the counter and handed her comic book to her. She walked slowly and deliberately back to her room, where she stayed.
As I sit under piles of blankets on my bed with warming pouches between my two pairs of socks, I am doing some of my own pondering. For example, I don't know if this will sink in for her yet. I don't know if this is a lesson learned yet. But I do know that she only seems to look onto certain types of discipline as a game that she continues to play at in order to "win" at continuing to do whatever it is that she has her mind set to doing. Even the Love and Logic approach (which I have successfully used with LOTS of kids and parents over the years) doesn't always work with her. I don't want her to stop doing wrong things because she fears being punished or even just because she doesn't like the natural consequences of her choices. While sometimes that's enough, other times it isn't. At at those times I want her to choose to do the right thing because she has solid character and integrity. The stakes on this lesson will get much higher as she gets older. I know I won't be able to follow her around to make sure she doesn't speed when she drives, or take drugs when they are being passed around, or cheat on her schoolwork. I also know that even with solid character, she's going to make mistakes. Probably even stupid ones sometimes. Maybe even as stupid as some of the mistakes I made. But I want to minimize the odds and frequency of her poor choices by instilling integrity inside her and helping her to channel those exasperating-but-powerful qualities she possesses. If she can be bound and determined to make poor choices, she certainly has the capacity to be bound and determined to make the right choices.
I'm wondering how parents could possibly have the energy to see their kids through the teen years. I'm thoroughly exhausted already!