Teaching My Daughter the “A” Word

By Kris Krug at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/491716195/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kris Krug, via Wikimedia Commons

Vivi came to the dinner table tonight dressed like Iggy Pop, except her shoes have built in disco lights and her skinny jeans were bright pink.  Topless as Iggy in his heyday.  Okeydoke, don’t forget to put your napkin in your lap, dear.  (And if you are too young to know who Iggy Pop is, he’s that grizzled punk in the pic.  Abs of Steel…and heroin.)

She asks at least 100 questions a day and sometimes they go like this:

“Mama?  Is ‘dammit’ a bad word?”

“Yes, sweetie, that’s a grown up word.”

“So only grownups are allowed to say dammit?  Kids are NOT allowed to say dammit, right?  If I said dammit I would get in trouble.  Dammit is not a word…”

“Yes, and stop trying to find ways to say it.”

Then 30 minutes later, she grows frustrated with a toy and brings it to me.  She plops it in my lap and says, “Mama?  Will you say dammit for me?”

She’s what we call a handful.  My Pop would have called her a sport model (and they would have gotten along famously).  Every time my dad looks at her, he starts to squalling because she reminds him so much of me at this age.  For this very reason, I have apologized to both of my parents in the last month, because if I was just like this at the age of five….DAMMIT.

{As I was typing that, she stalked out to the den for the third time since lights out and complained that she can’t sleep.}

It’s been a combative evening because she sassed Daddy and lost her bedtime story.  Even though that consequence was made very clear at several junctures, she was devastated when the punishment was pronounced.  While G was in there trying to calm her, she started hollering and moaning and whining.  That’s when I swooped in with some careful parenting words (courtesy of 12 years of therapy).  I said, “Sweetie, I understand that you are upset and that makes you want to cry.  But you cannot scream because it wakes up Carlos.  It’s quiet time now.  I love you and good night.”  I choose my words carefully with her because I never want to tell her how to FEEL, only how to ACT.  I can’t stand hearing things like “don’t be mad,” or “don’t get upset” or the like.  Go on and feel however you feel, but sometimes you gotta curb how you act.

There are two important “A” words that our children learn:  “appropriate” and “authentic.”  Appropriate is all about how to act, all that stuff we teach them that boils down to “behave yourself.”  I was so obsessed with appropriate when I was a kid that I checked out etiquette books from the library.  I may have only been in the fifth grade, but I knew how to identify a fish fork and address the Pope in written correspondence (Your Eminence).  In second grade, Mrs. Angley made us write sentences if she heard us say “ain’t.”  By the end of the year, I got worried that I hadn’t had to write sentences, so I intentionally said ain’t in order to fit in.  Appropriate is about living up to what other people expect of you–whether it’s the Pope or the second grade.  Appropriate has its place and proves very useful as you navigate the wider world.  It’s good to know how to act…as long as it doesn’t become an act.

That leads to “authentic.”  I wish I had read more library books on authentic but I wouldn’t have been sure where to begin.  Authenticity is rooted in knowing your feelings, valuing them just as much as the feelings of others, and expressing them…appropriately.  Unfortunately, I got so wrapped up in being appropriate that it never dawned on me that I had a right to be authentic, too.  When I first started going to therapy, my therapist asked what I wanted to accomplish.  I hemmed and hawed and namby-pambyed, but then I said, “You know what?  I want to learn how to say ‘F*ck You’ if that’s what I’m thinking!”  She assured me that was a specialty of hers. Let’s just say we’ve made great progress in that area.

I had a telling authentic experience a few weeks ago when I took Vivi and Carlos and Huck to the dog park.  A rambunctious little dog jumped up on Vivi.  She squealed and turned her back.  I told the dog, “No!”  He jumped on her again so I got between the dog and her and said “No!” with more force.  When the dog jumped again, I grabbed its collar, pulled it down and shouted “NO!” in its face (just like an alpha dog would do–sharp and immediate correction).  Its owner came flying over–I assumed to apologize and retrieve her dog–then started yelling at me for touching her dog!  Oh, it was ON.  Somebody hold my baby and somebody hold my earrings.  Toe to toe, necks a-poppin’, hands flapping and HOLLERING.  We were yelling so loudly that everyone in the dog park stopped to listen.  Even some of the dogs.  Even G’s ex-wife who was there with her dog and husband.  Ahem.

I won.  By god, I WON.  I may be the same woman who tells Vivi to watch her tone and speak quietly in a restaurant and raise her hand in class…but DAMMIT.  Don’t get up in my face with your crazy little dog or I will take my fish fork and I will cut you.

It’s a delicate balance–to teach our children to speak kindly and respectfully…but to be kind and respectful to themselves, too.  It’s important to be appropriate, but it’s essential to be authentic.  If I teach Vivi anything, I hope she learns to be authentic first and appropriate second.

Oh, and about the lady at the dog park?  The next week, Vivi and I took Huck (and he didn’t eat a single duck).  As we were walking back to the car, Huck lumbered over to another leashed dog and sniffed hello.  I let him and the other owner let her dog…and we looked up and realized it was HER!  I gave her a big ole smile and kept walking.  Nice as pie.

11 thoughts on “Teaching My Daughter the “A” Word

  1. apurpledreamer

    Picturing Vivi as Iggy Pop made me laugh! She sounds like a feisty one! I love, love, love the lessons on appropriate and authentic. What a gift to have your kids learn even the languaging of the concepts. I can appreciate the way you choose your words, too – hate being told how to feel, even as an adult! Loved your blog and look forward to reading more! (just popping in from NaBloPoMo!)

  2. xm1204

    I love this post! I am definitely going to try to incorporate Authentic 1st, Appropriate 2nd into my own life.

  3. Lisa

    When my niece was younger (not quite 3, I think) she noticed my “swear phrase” of choice. With that, she thoughtfully advised her elder sister that “when you get mad, just say DANG IT.”
    That niece will be 14 this year. DANG IT is long gone.

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