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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ammunition

I had an interesting visit today with a mother whose children range in age from six to late teens. We were talking about something interesting that I have observed as a non-parent, and have had confirmed by many parents. Every child and every family are different, of course, but I've noticed that a lot of kids seem to lose their minds when they hit the age of thirteen. This seems to happen regardless of their stage of puberty, and completely without rhyme or reason.

When I began to babysit Debbie and Mark, the kids down the street, on a full-time basis, I was sixteen, Debbie was ten, and Mark was six. We usually got along pretty well, but there was occasionally some sort of drama. Mark, for example, had an uncanny ability to do something that would put him in his room for twenty minutes of timeout shortly before his mom would get home from work. He'd cry incredibly loudly, and gradually run out of gas. But as soon as he heard Ann's car pull up in the driveway, he found his second wind. She would come in the house laughing at his loud crying. She knew it was fake by the sound, even though he managed to produce real tears.

Debbie, on the other hand, spread her drama throughout various parts of the day. One of my favorite moments with her was when she tried to pull the "you'll be sorry" treatment on me. She was angry at the injustice of being banished to her room (which contained a lot of her toys and books) for the eternity of twenty minutes. In a move that paid homage to the great Sarah Bernhardt, she thrust her arm out the bedroom door. In her hand was her bottle of Lily of the Valley cologne. "If you don't let me out, I'm going to drink this whole bottle!" She must have been surprised when I didn't panic and tell her that timeout was over. Instead, I simply said, "Okay, I hope it tastes good!" Needless to say, she never tried that again.

When Debbie got close to thirteen years old, I suddenly discovered that I could barely stand her. She had gone from sweet and loving girl to completely obnoxious virtually overnight. Suddenly she was the smartest and most important person in the world, and she wasn't afraid to let everyone know it. I remember asking Gram once if I was that bad when I was Debbie's age, because if I had been, I was really sorry. Gram reassured me that I wasn't too awful at that age, but she understood my frustrations with Debbie. I think that everything Liz was up to may have distracted her so that I could fly pretty much undetected by the radar. But then again, I didn't want to make waves and be returned for a refund, either!

So the lady I was speaking with today said that her daughter was a sweet and wonderful child until she hit thirteen and the switch got flipped. She learned what it was like as a parent to love your child but not necessarily like them. She told me that she and her husband had let her know that certain behaviors would not be allowed, and they elaborated on what these behaviors or actions were. Naturally, the child immediately started to do everything that mom and dad said they didn't want to happen. This is what happens with kids when you tell them exactly what you don't want them to do. Instead of having to think of stupid stuff to do all on their own, you have given them all kinds of trouble to get into. And they know in advance that it is something that will really irritate their parents. Yes, you have handed them the ammunition. 

Gram learned this at a really early age, and she would probably have advised parents not to tell their kids what not to do, since it plants the ideas in their crazy little heads. She remembered what happened when she went to Catholic school as a little girl. The teachers/nuns sometimes had different ideas than the kids did about what constituted swearing. They were all in agreement on the biggies, of course, but the nuns decided that there were some words that the children were using that were virtually the same as swearing. They told the children that there were words that they might be using that were unacceptable, and gave them the list:

Gee,
Golly,
Gosh,
Darn,
Devil,
Damn, and
Hell.

Well, this was giving the kids the ammunition they had been hoping for. Gram said that every day on recess, the kids would run around the playground, shouting their new chant at the tops of their lungs. "Gee-Golly-Gosh-Darn-Devil-Damn-Hell! Gee-Golly-Gosh-Darn-Devil-Damn-Hell!" When she had kids, Gram remembered that when she was told exactly what was "bad," she and the other kids did it as soon and as often as they could. So she made her kids work hard to get in trouble, rather than handing them the ammunition!