The One Hundred-and-Thirty-Third Chart

By Ekta R. Garg

July 11, 2014

My younger daughter (who just turned six years old) has a funny way of expressing her displeasure with something. An angry look appears on her face, she crosses her arms, and stomps to a corner. Then she turns around and faces everyone to let them know how mad she is. And when she crosses her arms she wraps them all the way around herself. It looks like she wants to hold in her anger.

Despite her age her expression has become legendary in the family. When she does it, we all have a hard time holding in our laughter. I mean, she’s so little and it’s such a big gesture. If I happen to laugh, it only makes things worse.

When Six was younger she did it more often, but as she’s gotten older she’s learned to express her anger in more constructive ways. That’s not to say she doesn’t still cross her arms. It just happens in stages now.

As her anger level heightens, the arms start to float up almost on their own. Mild irritation may not even bring up the arms at all. The middle ground between irritation and full-blown fury brings her arms crossed loosely, like most people cross their arms. That full-blown fury? Let’s march to the corner and begin a standoff.

Earlier this week I saw her arms start to come toward her chest in a mild display of frustration, which came when I told her that she had to take a shower, have lunch, and practice her guitar before she could watch TV or read. Her eyebrows started to crease, and she huffed. I saw her arms come around her, but she didn’t give herself that tight hug. It was more of a casual cross this time.

“I wish I had freedom to do whatever I want,” she said as I rubbed lotion across her limbs and chest after her shower. “Kids don’t have any freedom. Only grownups do.”

I wish. Anyone who has spent 30 years paying a mortgage will probably beg to differ.

But I knew I couldn’t explain the difference between fixed and adjustable rates right then.

“What would you do if you had a whole day of freedom?”

“But kids don’t have freedom,” she said.

“Well, let’s pretend you did,” I said, suddenly feeling a little like Socrates. “What would you do?”

I got the hint of a smile. “I would do whatever I want.”

“Like what?”

The usual suspects in this kind of situation came out: she’d eat whatever she wanted, she’d watch TV for gross amounts of time, she’d spend all day reading Magic Treehouse books. Basically she wanted to do everything I’d told her she couldn’t at that moment.

“Okay,” I said, settling myself on the floor as Six got dressed, “let’s pretend for a minute that you have freedom to do whatever you want for the day.”

The smile got a little bigger. “Okay.”

I teased out each scenario, and quickly enough she caught on to the point: too much of any one thing can lead to serious consequences. Soon enough she started nodding her head and answering my questions before I finished them. Before we knew it, she had changed her attitude and expression. She became grateful for the fact that I encouraged her to fulfill different tasks during her day. Eight joined us after her own shower and jumped into the conversation, clearly a few steps ahead of her sister but willing to let Six fill in the details.

As we talked and I saw the shift in Six’s face and body language, I felt surprised that it had been so easy to convince her. Was it possible that I could use this same tactic in the future? I stayed calm and simply bounced the queries and ideas back to both kids, and they both stayed just as calm and shared their own thoughts.

Maybe Socrates had something.

Parenting confounds me so often. At the times I think the kids will throw tantrums, they simply acquiesce. When I enter conversations that I feel like should be a blink-and-done deal, I find myself trapped in a meltdown. Has anyone found the manual yet?

I know one thing for sure, though: we prevented another standoff. And for this week, that’s good enough for me.

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