It was like quicksand. The more I tried to pull her out, the more I was pulled under.
There was no tragedy, just the end of another very long day in late January. Kindergarten. She hated kindergarten, pancakes, and having a sister. Housemates made the house too loud, and why couldn’t she have a pet (the cats and chickens don’t count because they’re boring). School was too hard, and why couldn’t she be homeschooled like _________, and she didn’t have any friends at all. She hated church and ballet lessons and all of our games and books.
Am I leaving anything out? She didn’t.
As I sat there, trying to listen, trying to pull out some positive speck of something from her (What about recess? Recess is boring.), I wished I could erase the words hate and boring from her brain. When did my six-year old turn into a sullen preteen? Is this the beginning of a very long decade? And as I sat there, I sank, right along with her. Everything was horrible. I hated that moment and myself in it. And I almost said (key word: almost), “Do you know how much we pay for you to go to that school you hate?”
There is this song that I find myself in sometimes. It’s a U2 song from the All that you Can’t Leave Behind album. Track two. The chorus:
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it
I understand what it means to be stuck in a moment. It doesn’t take much–how about a slight headache set to the soundtrack of screaming children? How about a deadline and a computer program that is Not Behaving as it Should? How about a change of plans that I didn’t plan, or 4-7 p.m. on just about any given day?
Stuck in a moment. Look. See, there I am. Scowling, glaring, sulking, sinking. And I can’t get out of it.
One of the worst moments as a parent is when you realize you’ve passed along some undesirable trait to your children. You have this thing that you don’t like about yourself, and then one day they do it. Right in from of you. Nature and nurture, working together to corrupt the next generation. This is what I realized as I sat there listening to my daughter’s hate and boring litany. Oh no. That’s just like me.
Well, that was just like me. You see, I’m working on it. And I’m being worked on. Lists of little things that I’m thankful for sit beside my bed, are tucked into the bookshelf downstairs, and grow as virtual post-its on my computer desktop. Little thankfulness lists chipping away at me:
Cat, curled up on the towels; Warm tea received in warm hands; Sun! We are tilting back toward it now; Four squeaky voices full of life; Getting to check my e-mail; Christmas present slippers; Yellow rubber duck (why is it on my desk?); Insulated walls; Husband obsessed with insulation; Winter doesn’t last forever; Pain reliever for my headache; Clean water from the tap; Pink mittens and polka dot pajamas
But my daughter doesn’t write, and it’s a little much to ask a six-year old to keep a list. Isn’t it? Besides, why would she do it? I suspect, sometimes, that she enjoys getting a little pity, complaining a bit, wallowing in her discontent when things didn’t go the way she wanted them to…
(Or is that me?)
But wait. Suddenly, inspiration. Small, cubical, gelatinous inspiration, filled to the brim with corn syrup. Disgusting.
“Honey,” I announced as on the way to the bus, “today we’re going to play a game. It’s called the marshmallow challenge.”
The rules (I was making them up as I went along): pay attention and try to remember good things that happen to you today. They have to be specific (Mama, what’s specific?). You have to remember them. Then when you get home, we’ll sit down for snack, and for each good thing you can remember, you get one mini-marshmallow, up to ten. No more than ten. I’ll do it too. We’ll see if we can each remember ten. Got it?
At 3:30, she came home with this:
(Clockwise from upper left, her words, my writing: Made a paper airplane, A Spanish reader came, My teacher read a book about penguins, Played at kitchen, I tried to fly, Played at pipes, Colored my paper airplane, and Played freeze dance)
Eight marshmallows isn’t bad for the first day. I got six. Maybe tomorrow I should try to fly.