When she was six months old, our daughter rolled her eyes at my wife. No, I mean it—my wife, while feeding her, tried to convince her an airplane was coming in for landing, and our daughter, unconvinced, straight rolled her eyes. Pffft. Airplane? Really? Cliché much?
It was an apropos action for a girl who was born with the defiant attitude of a 16-year-old. From that point forward, it was clear we were not dealing with your average child.
Now at the ripe old age of 4, and able to verbalize pretty much anything, there is nothing you can tell her. In fact, according to her: “I know about everything—God, Jesus, lollipops … people … blood.” Not too much knowledge out there that doesn’t fall under that five-item umbrella, so it’s hard to argue with her.
No, literally, it is hard to argue with her. Impossible. Counter-intuitive. Damaging to all involved. It’s become, for us, the most slippery of parental slopes—trying to nurture that independence and intellect while remaining responsible parents. Simply put, it’s the worst.
As I’ve written before, her need for absolute control runs contrary to the control we, as parents, are obliged to exhibit. Never in my wildest dreams could I have conjured up a girl whose stubbornness, resilience and independence transcended that of my wife, and now that girl lives in our house and calls my wife “Mom.” She calls her other things, too.
Yes, while they are quite comical in their infantile nature, our oldest has recently resorted to calling us names when we have the audacity to exert our parental authority by telling her things like, “Untie your sister from the table” and “Stop flashing strangers your underwear.” Not yet armed with a more refined array of insults—although seemingly right on the cusp of saying something truly offensive that she learned at school, and OH BOY do I look forward to that day—she often responds by calling us “Meanie” or “Ninny-head.”
Now, let me interject, lest we come across like the type of parents who would ever condone such behavior. I cannot tell you how many conversations my wife and I have had that begin Can you imagine? Can you imagine if we called our parents a name? Can you imagine if we acted like that in public? Can you imagine if we [every behavior our daughters express]? It’s our ultimate struggle, trying to raise these kids the right way while being sensitive to their special needs. (Although the Can you imagine? preface is faux-rhetorical, the answer, of course, is that we would have gotten our ASS WHOOPED.)
Suffice it to say, our daughter has been disciplined for this name-calling. Disciplined in a way that, had I ever been yelled at as such by own parents, I would still be sitting in my bedroom today, too humiliated to come downstairs. But besides lacking any humility or remorse whatsoever, our daughter also revels in the negative reaction, so we often choose to simply ignore her.
Which was the method I chose on the way home from school last week. Our oldest had just said something rude to her sister and so, while driving and saying nothing, I reached behind me with one hand to grab the doll she was holding as punishment. Our daughter did not appreciate this, and struggled to come up with the appropriate burn.
“You’re a meanie, Daddy! You’re mean! You’re a … a … a knot-head! You have a knotty head! No, your head is … terrible! YOU HAVE A TERRIBLE HEAD!” (breaks down)
Sometimes the truth hurts, and in a quieter moment later that evening, I turned to my wife and said, “Babe, be honest—do I have a terrible head?”
She gently put her arm on mine and said softly, “Who told you?”
Note: This column appears in the 5/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/2 issue of the Peoria Times.