Lately my five year old daughter has not been very nice. She’s been demanding and bossy and outright mean. Mean to the cat she usually adores. Mean to the mommy she usually adores. Her sentences begin with shouted phrases like “I TOLD YOU etc” and “DIDN”T I JUST SAY etc…”
Yelling back at her made it worse and a time-out without her really understanding ‘why’ made no sense to me. So I sat down next to her today while she was in mid-yell and took her hands (her clenched fists, actually) and started to talk.
“What’s going on?! Why are you acting like this? What are you so angry about?”
All the answers were a version of “I don’t know” but the fists began to unclench and the eyes actually closed for a little while as she sat in my lap. I had no idea what I was doing. Whether my method was right or wrong. But it felt right for me and her at that moment.
A few hours later she brought me her new Candyland game. We hadn’t played it yet because, honestly, I’ve just been too tired. And a little afraid of being yelled at like she’s been doing lately. She stood in front of me with the still shrink-wrapped box and just looked at me.
“Do you want to play?” I ask.
“I have to teach you the rules. Will you be a good listener?
“Yes, I will Mommy.”
So we clear off the kitchen table and begin. And it went extremely well. We gave our gingerbread men game pieces voices and made very dramatic faces as we drew the face down cards from the pile. We laughed until a few happy tears squeaked out of our eyes. And then she said this:
“It’s okay to cry when you’re laughing!”
And there you go. She did it again. She summed it all up in one simple sentence.
It’s okay to cry when you’re laughing. It’s okay to be angry and sad when everything is really okay. It’s okay. It’s okay for me to have no idea what I’m doing while doing it just fine. It’s okay for me to not like her for a few minutes. This child I screamed to God for. It’s okay for me to wonder if Noah would’ve have been much different. Or easier. Or harder. Or the same. It’s okay.
She won the first round of Candyland. It’s a quick game as you know. I high-fived her and said, “Let’s play again!” She was doing so well. As we approached the end of the second round, she was about to win again. She was few colored squares away. And then she moved her piece backwards.
“Miriam, you’re going backwards! You just won again. Go forward to that green square”
“No Mommy. I want you to win this time. Go ahead. You go.”
And I won the second game, not so fair and square. She high-fived me. We played some more, changing the rules a little with every round.
But today I think I’ve already won every round I’ll ever play.