The One Hundred-and-Twenty-First Chart

March 14, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

I’ve seen flashes of the teenage years, and while I won’t say I’m completely afraid I can say I feel a few shadows of fear clouding the sunshine-y days of childhood.

Last Monday as I cleaned the kitchen and the dining room after dinner, I spotted a book Seven had brought home from school.  She’d mentioned earlier in the day that she had to take the book back, and even though we’d talked about her needing to put it away before bed she’d obviously forgotten.  I picked it up and slipped it into her backpack, telling myself I would mention it to her in the car in the morning.

Of course, when you tell yourself you need to remember something, the chances of forgetting it increase.  And that’s exactly what happened.  The book completely slipped my memory until after I brought the kids home and I began taking out Seven’s homework binder.  It’s a routine we follow every day after school: she hangs up her backpack and lunchbox, and then I go into her backpack, pull out her homework binder and any other papers, read through the binder and any assignments for that day, and then leave the binder on the dining table so she can do her homework later.

That day when I pulled out her binder, I saw the book and instantly remembered what I’d forgotten.  I called for Seven as I continued to look through her binder.  She stood by the coat closet hanging up her coat and scarf.

“What, Mama?”

“I’m sorry, but I forgot to tell you this morning that I put your book in backpack for you.”

“That’s why I couldn’t go to the library today!” she screeched—and I do mean screeched.  “Now I have to wait until Thursday to go to the library!  I don’t like waiting for so many days to go to the library!  It’s not fair—”

“Hold on,” I said, rounding the corner.  “I helped you by putting your book away, and not only did you not say thank you but you’re screaming at me about it?”

She stared at me, her defiance from a few moments ago starting to ebb.  I could see reason returning, and she suddenly got the idea that something big had just happened.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to the library today,” I said, “and I know I should have told you about the book, but you have no right to talk to me that way!”

The defiance had completely disappeared by that point.  Seven’s father came home early from the hospital that day, and he got an earful (from me) about what had happened.  It may have surprised him just a little bit; Seven normally behaves in a more mild-mannered way.  In fact, I would have guessed that Five would give me lip before her big sister.

We lectured and punished and explained to her (in a much calmer tone later) that her behavior was unacceptable and should not be repeated.  She nodded and looked dutifully contrite and promised not to do it again.  I’m sure she truly meant it.

Kids, though, as we know, have short attention spans.  And in many ways they have short memory spans.  That’s why they love to hear the same stories over and over.  It’s also why we have to spend considerable time teaching them things, because they really don’t remember it the first six- or seven-odd thousand times.

The next night Seven and Five’s dad had to stay late at the hospital to take care of some patients, so I had to take on bedtime duty alone.  I got the kids settled in bed with their books, and as I went downstairs to finish cleaning up the kitchen Seven called after me to ask whether she could use some of the reading minutes she’d earned.  I told her she could and made a note of the time.

Several minutes later the girls’ father came home, and he breezed through the kitchen with an obligatory kiss so he could jog up the stairs to say good night to the kids.  I heard the murmurs of conversation, and then I heard my husband ask for me.

“Don’t you think it’s time for them to go to bed?” he asked.

I looked at the time.  Close enough.  “Yeah, sure.”

“No!” Seven yelled.  “You said I could have my nine minutes!  That’s not fair, I was supposed to be reading, and—”

It took me a few moments to pull the dish gloves off my hands and drop them on the edge of the sink, but by then my husband had already begun playing bad cop.  Once again Seven got a lecture and a punishment, and this time she looked shamefaced.  Even she could see she’d crossed a line.

We haven’t heard any screeching or yelling since then.  I hope it’s a while before we hear it again.  Some of my recent interactions with tweens suggest that might be the age to start watching for it, and while I’m not so naïve to think I’ll never hear the kids raise their voices I’d like to think I can convince them by then that it really isn’t a productive communication option.

Maybe.

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