See how Mediocre Mom columnist Rachel Vidoni learned an important lesson about over-reacting this week.
The other evening my older daughter offered to give my youngest daughter a shower. Well, maybe she didn’t offer. Maybe I strongly suggested she offer. Whatever inspired her to help me, she did wash her sister up while I made dinner. There was some three-year-old crying, but I figured there was soap in the eyes, water in the ears, you know, the usual shower-time horror.
20 minutes later, everyone is at the dinner table, all shiny and shampoo-y, when I walked by my youngest daughter and noticed something on her head. I am nothing if not obsessed with my children’s hair and what may or may not be in it. This white patch caught my eye, a chunk of hair sticking straight up with sticky white residue. I looked at my middle daughter.
“Did you see this when you washed her hair?” I asked, thinking maybe she’ll tell me it’s playdoh or some other dirt from their wrestling on the floor earlier. Perhaps thinking she didn’t see it at all.
She nods in affirmation, but doesn’t speak.
“Do you know what it is?” I asked specifically.
“It’s gum,” she whispered, starting to get a little teary.
“Gum? How did she get gum in her hair in the shower?”
“Well,” she choked out, “We were playing this game in the shower where we spit water on each other and when I spit water on her my gum flew out of my mouth and landed in her hair.” It’s a good thing she’s not a fire-breathing dragon.
As I’m looking at this sticky mess, I noticed the hair attached to it was in a freakishly straight line…like scissors may have been used here at the scene of the crime.
“Did you try to cut it out?” I asked incredulously.
And she loses it. My oldest daughter is crying, my son is laughing, and my youngest is sitting there with her head in my vice grip. Dinner is getting cold.
“You spit gum in your sister’s hair and cut it out?” I repeated. “Why didn’t you tell me? There are ways to get gum out of hair without cutting it!”
“I didn’t want to get in trouble,” she sobbed.
“And you think you won’t get in trouble now?” I asked. It was rhetorical.
Suffice it to say, the rest of the gum came out of my youngest daughter’s hair just fine, and although there’s a chunk that’s a little shorter than the rest, you really can’t tell the difference. Which is a good thing for everyone involved.
At the age of nine, I have to hand it to my middle daughter for figuring out the fine art of skirting the details. She’s learned early on the easier-to-get-forgiveness-than-permission rule of life, which means while it will drive me and her father nuts that she does things like sneak candy in the morning before school (hypothetically of course), she’ll probably have a happier childhood and be more well adjusted than my other two. If you ask me for candy in the morning I’m going to say no. If you sneak candy in the morning there is a good chance I won’t find out. Then it’s an ignorance-win situation. If I do find out, she says she’s really sorry and she’s off to school. What am I going to do, make her cough it up? Not that this has happened, of course.
The thing that made me saddest about the gum in the hair situation was the fact that my daughter was afraid to tell me about it. In the broad spectrum of things that could have happened in the shower like someone slipping and cracking their head open on the tub wall, deciding they would practice shaving their legs and arm pits with my razor, or amassing third degree burns from scalding water, gum in the hair is a relatively innocuous event. I’d like to think I would have handled it with some grace and a small chuckle, “You got gum in your sister’s hair when you spit water at her? Why that’s such a creative game! You girls are so funny! And I love the way you preemptively tried to fix the situation by cutting out that wad of sticky hair! Good for you, you problem solving fourth grader!”
That’s what I like to think I would have said. How’s that for fantasy?
But my daughter knows me better. I suppose there have been occasions when I over-reacted to something, maybe the time I swore when they spilled chocolate covered popcorn down into the sides of the couch, or when they dumped an entire glass of orange juice on the floor because they were playing around at the breakfast table after I asked them to calm down. Again, it’s all speculation.
In my defense, I come from a long line of over-reactors. Growing up, the joke was that I lived in a house where everything was a BFD. (Big freaking deal, only not that polite.) I’m programmed to over reacting to situations which I cannot control. I’m not saying it’s effective or even emotionally prudent, but unfortunately it’s my default setting. When my children are not honest with me, I must evoke harsh punishment because I do not want them becoming the next Bernie Madoff (or Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens, Tony Parker, Elliot Spitzer, need I go on?). When my children do not give 100% effort in school, I worry they’ll be chain-smoking high school dropouts who live on my couch and play video games 24 hours a day while ordering Chinese take out gaining unnecessary amounts of weight. Yes, I tend to think of things in dramatic BFD ways, but I’m trying to be a proactive parent. You know, nip the problem in the bud before it blooms into a huge weed. And I’d like to point out here, I never said I was perfect.
Which apparently my daughter knows because she’d rather cut a chunk out of her sister’s hair and try to hide it, than tell me what happened.
We finished our cold dinner, and I managed to scrape the rest of shower-gum out of my daughter’s hair without having to invoke peanut butter. Really, wasn’t this all my fault anyway? Who really should have been giving my three-year-old a shower?
I had a heart-to-heart with my nine-year old (without yelling), and told her that being honest about something and facing the consequences is always better than trying to cover up a problem or mistake and hope no one will notice. I apologized for my over reacting, and also for the fact that she didn’t feel safe enough with me to tell me the truth from the beginning. And while my daughter learned a lesson that evening about honesty (or not to play spit-the-water game with gum in your mouth) clearly, the biggest lesson learned was mine.
I should shower my three-year old myself.