We were just trying to get out the door. How hard could it be?
Yesterday morning, Answer: ‘Very, Very Hard.’
My girls were playing with our housemate-boys. “Time to go!” I announced in my cheerful-but-listen-to-me-now voice. I got one child into her boots. I addressed the other, “Now you, honey. No, we don’t need any crayons. They have them at school.” While coaxing her foot into a boot, I heard a scream. “Crayons!!! Those are mine!!!” Suddenly, there was a grab, a scream. My daughter ran after the youngest boy. More screams. She caught up with him, stuck out her claws, and scratched straight down his stomach. Hard. She took the crayons back.
And oh, she was so mad. We tried to talk it out, but this was not a good moment for diplomacy. Instead I carried her to the car, and she ranted all the way to preschool. “I’ll scratch him again, I will!” “You just try and stop me!” And the ultimate kid-threat…
“He’s not my friend anymore!”
About an hour later, I sat in a local bagel shop, nursing a cup of coffee. The streets outside were metered parking, and I saw the dreaded Pittsburgh Parking Authority vehicle pull up. I sighed in relief. I had found a few quarters in the car; I was covered. This was not the case for everyone in the bagel shop. The man behind the counter ran out, spoke to the attendant and returned, fuming.
“Dammit, it’s a new lady. Usually I can just buy them off with a cup of coffee.”
And oh, he was mad. Another customer joined him as he ranted. “Who does she think she is?”(um, a parking authority attendant?) “She just wants to prove that she’s a tough b*tch.” “Hasn’t she ever heard of karma?” “Yeah, what goes around comes around.” “Yeah, later today she’ll wreck her car and think ‘why did that happen to poor little me?'” They laughed.
Really? They wanted her to wreck her car?
I started to gather my things, and muttered within earshot of my fellow customer, “She was just doing her job.” He looked up, surprised. He quickly recovered “Yeah, that’s what she’ll say, right?” he grinned, assuming that I was joining the party. “She was just doing her job,” I repeated quietly, trying to gather a little bit of courage as I moved to the door. I looked up at the angry employee. “It sucks though,” I tried to say, “It sucks to get a parking ticket.”
And I walked out the door, shaking.
In the time between the kids’ fight and my bagel shop encounter, I sat in a small room with my daughter, trying to help her deal with her anger. It wasn’t easy. I felt like I was inside a maze, trying new routes, and hitting dead ends. “Tell me the story of what happened,” I tried. “He took the crayon! He grabbed it! I’ll scratch him again!” she replied. “So, you’re pretty angry, huh?” I attempted some reflective listening. “He’s… not… my… friend… anymore!” she seethed. I tried again. “What can we do to make it better when we get home?” She looked at me as if I hadn’t heard a word she’d said. “I’m going to scratch him again! That will make it better for me!”
What could I do? I kept trying. I sat with her. Eventually she calmed down. “Honey, that was really hard this morning, huh?” I tried one last time. “Yeah, Mama, I was so mad.”
And that was it. She finally let it go. I dropped her off at preschool and headed to the bagel shop.
So, here’s the thing.
It is developmentally appropriate for a five year old to strike out in anger. My daughter is the center of her own universe, and it’s nearly impossible for her to put herself in someone else’s shoes. We say things like, “Maybe he was really scared that you were going to take his crayons to school,” and it’s like Latin to her. But she’s learning, and we can’t stop trying.
And the reason why we can’t stop? Because it is not developmentally appropriate for a forty year old man (or woman) to wish a car wreck on a parking meter attendant. Why is it that we adults sometimes still act as if we are the center of the universe?
But here is what I really want to know…
How do you help a child get from here to there, and be able to say, “Argh, I hate getting parking tickets. Probably sucks to be a parking attendant too. I’ve got to get a roll of quarters.”