The Princess, The Witch, and The Door


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For years I’ve been trying to instill in my children the practice of knocking on a door before entering a room.  Two out of three have mastered the skill.  But Principessa, the oldest, struggles with this basic concept despite (or because of) my repetitive instruction and begging.

After a recent infraction, when daughter barged in on me in my bedroom (alone, thank goodness) I snapped.  In response to a reprimand, Principessa defiantly replied, “It’s no big deal, Mom.”

Really?  We’ll see about ‘no big deal.’

The next day, when Principessa was out of the house, I enlisted her brother’s help.  He had just woken at the crack of noontime and wasn’t feeling especially generous until I filled him in on my plan – to remove his sister’s bedroom door.  Suddenly devoid of morning stupor, Beagle popped out of his seat and ran to get the tool box.

When Principessa returned home and entered her doorless room, she, how should I say it?….Freaked Out.  In retrospect, I believe her reaction was a full-blown panic attack.  No privacy, too loud, too bright! Her concerns were numerous.

Principessa demanded that I return her door immediately.  She had ‘gotten the point.’  Silly girl.  Why would I put the door back so soon when I had gone to so much trouble to remove it?  Sorry, Love, lesson is not over.

For two days the family endured Principessa’s ranting.  Gradually, she began knocking on bedroom doors.  Unconvinced of her sincerity, I held out for the rest of the week just to be sure.

I knew it was time to rescind the consequence when Principessa entered the kitchen for a glass of milk.  In a show of the utmost respect, Principessa walked up to the refrigerator and knocked on its door.  “It’s not answering, Mom.  What should I do?”

At last!  We had moved past anger to acceptance and finally to humor.  Lesson complete.

I did the parent victory dance that day.  You know, the one where you celebrate the fact that you’ve managed to teach a lesson without losing your cool or getting sucked into the endless cycle of parent-child power struggle.  You’ve managed to use your grown-up skills without resorting to arguing with irrational young ‘uns.

One week later, Principessa failed (for the millionth time) to turn off her bedroom lights before leaving for the day.  I calmly explained that her next lesson would involve turning off power to her room.  Still smarting from her previous consequence, Principessa snapped to attention with apologies and promises and pleas to spare her the agony.  She knows I mean business.  But I fear that some lessons are best learned the hard way.  And I suspect I’ll be in the basement searching for the right fuse to pull before the end of the week.

Poor Principessa, she’ll probably want to take her door off so she can let in more light from the hallway.

The Pep Talk

Beagle had a bad day.  An ‘I hate my life’ kind of day.  The grievances were numerous.  Each one packed only a small punch, but strung together they gained impact.

It started with attention-seeking for a minor injury which morphed into an excuse to skip football practice. Next, a complaint of boredom and some push-back against serving time on a grounding consequence.

At first I reacted with defiant conviction, employing the ‘tough it out’ message.  But when tears welled up and a thirteen year old voice started shaking, I backed off.  Clearly, Beagle’s complaints were a cover for a bigger issue.

With a little prodding the truth revealed itself – a personality conflict with a coach that became too big to contain in one young boy.  Now this, I could handle.  Dealing with difficult people is a challenge I relish. And I am all too willing to impart my expansive wisdom in the life skills department.  Teachable moments can be so gratifying!

After several minutes of listening to my monologue, Beagle patiently advised, “I don’t need a lecture, Mom.”

“I’m not lecturing!  I’m inspiring!” I clarified, and sent him off to practice with a ‘go get ’em, Tiger’ and a love punch.

When Beagle returned from practice, I held my breath, unsure of what to expect.  I tiptoed around trying to gauge his mood and waiting for him to speak first.  With satisfaction he said, “I felt some redemption at practice. Caught a forty yard pass. Twice. And looked like a hero.”

The corners of my mouth turned up.  Surely the catalyst for success was my inspirational talk.  Not wanting to steal Beagle’s thunder (but feeling pretty smug) I praised him for plowing through a challenging situation with character.

But I couldn’t hold back.  Assessing his lightheartedness, I deemed it safe to ask, “So, do you think the positive outcome of the night had anything to do with my pep talk?”

Beagle froze, fork in mid-air, and gazed at me askance.  I could almost hear his brain weighing possible responses.  He decided on this, “Mom, if it makes you feel good, then yes, it had everything to do with your pep talk.”  And he quietly returned to his dinner.

He’s too good to me, my Beagle.  And wise for a young man, having already learned to tell women what they want to hear.  At least I’ve imparted that valuable piece of wisdom!

Family Vacation, Enough Said

I haven’t spent a week with my whole family in twenty years, which is not a mistake. To the like-minded reader, this needs no explanation.  To those who have a Brady Bunch family, congratulations.  I envy you and hope you will try to understand.

Someone once asked me if I was adopted.  I am that different, in every way, from my family.  Which makes me, by default, the black sheep simply because I am the one who is different.  We are apples and oranges my family and I.  Never the two shall mix in harmony. I knew this when I agreed to spend my one full week of summer vacation with Mom, Dad, Sis, and the five children between us.  (Husbands wisely opted out.)

The excel spreadsheet I received via email one month before the intended trip opened with a warning:

‘I know you can’t think this far ahead, but here’s a list of what we’re bringing.  Take some Tylenol and try to fill in your part.’

My response:  ‘It would take a lot more than Tylenol to deal with this level of preparation.  Get back to you in a few weeks.’

I mean, really.  I didn’t even know what I was having for dinner that night.

Anticipating the level of drama my family creates, I wisely planned my arrival a day later than the other players in this theatrical performance.  As it turned out, it took less than six hours for a ‘situation’ to arise.  Details were not forthcoming via text and I was afraid to ask.  Instead, I patted myself on the back for my strategic planning and hoped the situation would be resolved before I joined the inevitable circus scene.

On the drive to Destination Disaster I began to panic.  Like a bride with wedding jitters, I contemplated all manner of excuses that would spare me from this vacation.  When none proved to be believable I resigned myself to hopeful dependence that our collective maturity level would smooth the waters.

But alas, the chaos that surrounds this clan is immense.  As I am the one writing this perspective, I shall remain blameless.  (We’ll disregard the small hissy fit I had when I arrived at the house on schedule to find it empty.  Myself and three children were locked out, desperately in need of a bathroom.)

I’d like to say the week went smoothly despite the enormous personality gaps outlined above. Nothing would be more satisfying than for me to wrap up my story in a neat little package with a bow on top, like an episode of Leave It To Beaver.  But if that were the case, I wouldn’t have any juicy stories to relate. Like the night that a Jerry Springer episode unfolded causing enough commotion to motivate one handicapped grandmother to climb 16 steps and another family of four to flee from the house to avoid involvement. (I still can’t believe the neighbors didn’t call the police.)

And what fun would it have been if two grown sisters didn’t disagree about meal preparation, sleeping arrangements, and Mom’s favorite child status?  Just kidding about that last part, but truly, sibling rivalry has no age limit I discovered.

Ram Das said, “If you think you’re enlightened, spend time with your family.”  Family has a way of bringing out those aspects of us that we’ve learned to keep nicely tucked away in broader social situations – impatience, intolerance, harsh judgment….Our closest relations are the sandpaper that rubs up against our vulnerability in just the right (or wrong) way, causing us to react from a well-worn place.

By the end of our vacation, that vulnerable place inside of me started to resemble an actual wound.  I feared for my sanity and the sanctity of our family relationships.  A cry for help to husband stated a simple but desperate truth, ‘I NEED YOU!’

Luckily, husband was just an hour away and full of generosity from his own solitary week without us. Upon his arrival, I nearly wept for joy. It could have been the alcoholic beverages or the bakery items he brought that made my knees weak. But more likely, it was the relief I felt to see him.

Husband has a way of tilting a room in his direction. I watched in awe as he took charge with his sense of humor and no-nonsense attitude, setting us all back on center, effectively calling us away from ingrained patterns of discord.  My knight in shining armor.

Unintentionally, husband made an even greater save the next day when he necessitated a quick and early departure by breaking Beagle’s finger while tossing him a football. Vacation over. Phew.

It’s been a few weeks since the vacation.  I’m still recovering.  In fact, I’ve delayed writing about it because I’m searching for closure.  Or more accurately, I’m hoping to absolve myself from guilt over not embracing the family gig.   The best I’ve come up with is a little pat on the back for holding my irritated tongue on several occasions.

I like to remind myself that there are as many people in the world struggling to get over having known me as I am trying to get over having known them.  This thought keeps me humble.  In the future, though, I’d like to ‘get over’ my people from a greater distance, on separate vacations.  I love my birth family.  Just not when we’re living under the same roof.


City Girl In The Country

On this episode of City Girl In the Country, the Dunham Family built their mother a garden for Mother’s Day.  When I, Mother, arrived home and saw this (without the descriptive sign),

I thought perhaps husband had bought a tiger.  He lovingly described his intention, “You’ve always wanted a garden.  I thought it would be a great present.”  And it was.  The most thoughtful and ambitious one yet.  And yes, I’ve long held images of me preparing a wholesome organic dinner with fresh ingredients from a garden planted, cared for, and harvested by yours truly.  But dreams and reality are very different beasts.  What  do I, a vested city girl, know about gardening?

Stifling my panic and premature thoughts of failure, I smiled at husband through clenched teeth.  Poor thing, he looked so enthusiastic and optimistic.

He may have conveniently forgotten my history of city-girl-itis.  There was the time nature boy husband was away on business and I found the ugliest little animal swimming in our pool.  With its matted grey hair, absent eyes, and what appeared to be a ‘sucker’ for a nose, it resembled a mutated mouse.

Convinced that this unfortunate creature had been exposed to hazardous chemicals hidden in my yard, I  scooped it into a bucket and marched it to the bus stop for show and tell. A country neighbor – without the courtesy to stifle his amusement – set me straight, informing me that this mutation was, in fact, a common mole.  Scraping for self-respect, I argued that it didn’t look like any cute picture of a mole I’d seen in my childhood books.  And we most certainly did not see these in the city.  Hmph.

Then there’s the time husband took me to Maine for the first time.  We sat on a deck lined with red flowers.  A hummingbird (an exotic bird by city-girl standards) appeared from nowhere and stopped to suck nectar from the flowers.  I exclaimed, “Oh, look how cute!  She thinks the flowers are a hummingbird feeder!”

Several seconds of stunned silence followed when husband realized that his Summa Cum Laude wife was serious.  Gently and slowly, as if I might be having a stroke, husband asked, “Honey, which do you think came first?  Hummingbird feeders or  flowers?”  Recognizing my grave error, I chuckled nervously and left to make a sandwich.  You can take the girl out of the city, but….

It’s been several years since I’ve moved out of the city.  I now understand the difference between septic and sewer and why we have no well water when the electricity goes out.  (Which it does on a ridiculously predictable basis in the woods.) Yes, I’ve adjusted to the country  life.  But the city is in me.  Gardening is not.

I don’t think husband should have been shocked when he had to instruct me to cut the broccoli – which had grown without my help, by the way.  (I love a self-sufficient plant.)  When I argued that I couldn’t find a pair of scissors, husband retrieved the kitchen shears and said, “Use these.”  Too quickly I protested, “But those are for food.”  Husband shouted, “AND WHAT DO YOU THINK BROCCOLI IS?!”  Oops.

Husband carried on for a long while about city brains and packaged food and grocery stores and cold eggs.  Geez, it’s not like I’ve ever claimed to be Farmer Brown or anything.  Cut me some slack.

Out I went in search of broccoli.  And I returned, proudly, with this:

My very first crop.  (Pause for admiration.)

I held that broccoli high, like a trophy.  I couldn’t have been more proud if it had sprouted from my own ears.  I’ve incubated, birthed, and raised three children, but this…the growing of a vegetable…this is a miracle.

After admiring the broccoli as a centerpiece in the kitchen all day, I did eventually cook it.  Eight year old daughter deemed it ‘Not as good as store-bought.  But you’ll get there, Mom.’

Yes, darling, I think I will.  There’s hope for me yet.  Though I doubt the producers of this life of mine will be cancelling the longest-running sit-com in history any time soon.

A Female Prerogative

If I had a dime for every time someone has described my little girl as ‘sweet,’ I’d be able to pay for her college tuition.  She owns sweetness.  But there are moments when sweet turns salty.

Return with me to a scene in my kitchen seven months ago….Eight year old daughter is throwing a tantrum worthy of a Terrible Two.  She slings accusations of treason, threats of mutiny, and plenty of parent bashing.  My crime: signing her up to play fall Lacrosse.  By the magnitude of her reaction, you’d think I’d told her she was committed to prison or to an orphange.

In my most delicate and patient Mama voice, I reminded Miss Sweetness that I signed her up for this session months before – when she was enjoying lacrosse.  “But I DON’T love it now and I WON’T do it and you CAN’T make me and….” screamed the angel with her halo on fire.  The tension escalated when I told her definitively that she would be honoring her committment to the team – i.e. I’m not throwing away hundreds of dollars in fees.  BUT, no worries, Peach, I wouldn’t think of signing you up again after this season.  You’ve made your wishes clear.

Periodically, the tantrums replayed themselves.  Each time, husband facetiously pointed out, “We’re gonna miss this.”  When emails reminded me to sign up for the upcoming lacrosse season, I confidently hit delete, delete, delete.

Enter Peach on the opening day of Spring lacrosse.  “Mom?  I was talking to my friends today and decided I want to play lacrosse.”


More silence.

I was livid.  And speechless – which turns out to be a very lucky (and uncommon) thing.  Lucky because I’m certain I would have regretted a word or two.  Visualize me, if you will, a cartoon character – face beet red, steam shooting out of its ears.  A multi-dimensional “Oh?!#$%” escapes my lips.  “Yes,” she replied guiltlessly.  “And I’ll need a new mouthguard and shorts.”  Off she skipped, blissfully ignorant of the fury rising within me.  Admidst the brew of poisonous thoughts in my head, a glimmer of admiration popped up.  Imagine, after what she put me through, she has the nerve to declare that she simply ‘has changed her mind.’

How frequently I’ve commiserated with girlfriends who refuse to change their mind or admit a wrong choice for fear of inconveniencing or angering another.  Why, and when, do we lose the courage to speak our truth without fretting over what others will think?  Might it be best, then, to honor this courage in a young girl instead of stamping out the fire with a vengeful reaction?

I coach myself against the desire to make my little tigress suffer in kind for previous infringements on my sanity.  Still, I reach deep in my pockets for a reason to deny  her new whim.  I even consider how she will compensate me for the late fee I’ll incur.  (I can hear Yoda assessing me, ‘The need for justice is strong in this one.’ )

Failing to justify the need to reap revenge for revenge’s sake, I return to the fact that my daughter is just 8.  I can’t hold that against her.   In fact, I can learn from her.  I just hope I can muster her level of courage when I need it.  If I’ve made a committment to you, be forewarned, I may change my mind simply for the practice.

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