Note: This column appears in the 11/19 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/20 issue of the Peoria Times
Our foster daughter has recently begun employing the strategy of reminding us that she loves us when she’s in trouble.
For example, last week, after being reprimanded for the third and final time for sitting way too close to the television, she sullenly walked over to me, hugged my leg and said, “I love you, Michael.” (Fyi: She calls me Michael. I tried in vain for months to get her to call me Mike, but she prefers Michael. She’s very formal.)
This is a very shrewd tactic, especially for a three-year old girl who, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, consistently replies: “a Care Bear.” It’s so obvious and transparent in its efforts, yet still so disarming. For one thing, it’s funny. I also feel obliged -– no matter what other disciplinary schpiel I delve into –- to remind her that yes, I love her too. Both of these factors take the edge off of any anger or frustration that I am presently feeling towards her.
We also do not know where she learned this from. Between preschool, daycare, and her weekend visits with her biological family there are certainly enough opportunities for her to absorb new things, even if “absorbing new things” isn’t necessarily her forte. And I think that’s what makes this so endearing – most days she cannot tell me what she had for lunch. That she possesses a survival-instinct-type tactic for getting out of trouble makes me smile.
Her strategy however, was put to the test a few days ago. While I was playing with her and her brother outside in the backyard, she inexplicably jumped on the dog. Like, full on jumped on him, as hard as she could. I could barely contain my anger as I immediately sent her to the stairs for a timeout. She cried uncontrollably (another tactic) as I informed her that she lost her television privileges for the evening and her nighttime story.
I was left incredulous at what she had just done. As sweet and good-natured as she is, she can also make us wonder what is going through that head of hers sometimes. When the dust eventually settled, I explained to her why she was wrong, why a true Care Bear would never do anything like that, and made her – yes – apologize to the dog.
A few minutes later, she walked up to me, tears still in her eyes, hugged my leg and said, “I love you, Michael.” But this time was a little different, and I started to wonder.
When she came to us she had barely ever experienced discipline before. It is still the case now that when she’s not with us, she runs the show, and although it seems great to her to at the time, it physically and mentally drains her. As she stood there clutched to my leg, I wondered if she was genuinely thanking me for providing her the discipline and structure that she inherently craves.
Nah. She was probably just trying to get back on my good side. Either way, I'm pretty sure she mans it. And that makes me smile.