My kid had a rough play-date recently. Both kids are strong and independent and like to be in charge of deciding how to play. My kid was also having a tough day, one I blame myself for.
That morning, she was taking a while to get ready. This is not unusual. She is a last minute, down to the wire, kind of person. Even one who would just miss going to wherever she’s supposed to be because she’d rather do what’s she doing in that moment. So catching the bus in the morning is mildly stressful most days. This morning, she couldn’t find her gloves. I asked her to check in her backpack and she did a very brief and quick look. I knew they must be in there, so I asked her to look again. She started to cry. I got mad, and yelled, and turned into the parent monster who I hate to be.
With the impending arrival of the bus, through tears she quickly put on her gloves and I stomped onto the porch, hoping for more than 10 seconds to cool down before she had to leave. We had about 8 seconds. She looked at me teary eyed, and I told her I loved her and hugged her as she ran to get on the bus.
“Shit,” I thought, “that just ruined her morning.”
All day, I felt the pang of guilt and sadness of not being able to apologize. Not to apologize for getting frustrated. We don’t do that in this house. But to apologize for acting like a jerk as a result of that frustration. I had planned to talk to her as soon as she got home.
But, her friend was coming over. And they immediately jumped into play. So I let it be.
Then the play didn’t go so well. Her friend was pretty unhappy, calling my kid bossy. I hate that word. It’s laced with sexism. And, also my kid does like to tell people what to do. This day, she was controlling all of the play with her friend, leaving little room for sharing or compromise. I pulled her aside a couple of times with some reminders about sharing and kindness. I even helped coach them through some disagreements. But, I could see she was having an off day. I pulled her into the kitchen and said these words, “I am sorry that I was such a jerk this morning. You did not deserve that. Don’t you ever let anyone talk to you that way, not even me.”
A little stunned, she nodded and then left the room to play again. She did a little better for a bit. Then it got hard again.
After her friend went home, that friend’s mom texted me to say that her kid said there were disagreements. I told her yes, and that my kid was not having the best day and that they both did a good job at trying to work it out though. I told her I had talked with my kid already about kindness and sharing. It was all fine, they are still good friends. They are both incredibly strong, smart, young kids and together they are a force. But in opposition, it’s a clashing of power.
When I spoke with my kid, I told her she was a tiger.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m a human, not a tiger!”
I told her that tigers were strong, brave, powerful, fierce, and they were the head of the jungle. That they liked to be in charge. I said that tigers don’t always have to act like tigers in charge though. That they could choose to sit back and let someone else be in charge for a bit while they napped or took a break. I also said that when two tigers are together, they have to share the job of being a tiger or they will just fight. And, that the best part is that two tigers are so much stronger than one tiger.
The look on her face was priceless. She was quite confused, but she also was able to repeat back the message of sharing the role of being in charge and taking turns.
To lighten her up, I told her that the baby was like a koala.
“What are you?” she asked.
It took me a second, but then I said, “A frog.”
“Yes because he has skinny legs and big feet.”
She laughed. And I told her I was being silly. But that I did believe she was as strong as a tiger and that it would serve her one day. And that it also makes it really hard to act like you’re not a tiger sometimes when you heart knows you are one.
This has always been my fear with her. She is so strong, willful, brave. She is told to be quieter, to sit down, to calm down, all the time. By myself included. I am literally asking her to conform to society, what’s scripted of her as a young girl, to survive in this world right now.
It all sucks, and I question it all, all the time. But, I just hope that she never forgets that she’s a tiger.
That night, after her Dad helped her get ready for bed, he came to me and said, “A frog, eh? Because I have skinny legs and big feet?”
“But she did tell me she’s a tiger,” he said.