Saturday, September 19, 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead (And Amuse) Them

For Labor Day weekend, Hubs, Son and I went to Yellowstone. With his parents. And his sister. And his sister's two children. In a motorhome. We became very close in many ways. Granted, it's an extremely nice motorhome, but at the end of the day, no one got up at night without running the risk of stepping on my sister-in-law's face because she drew the short straw and was sleeping on the floor. And yes, technically the fact that we didn't draw straws at all and just told her we did it using a proxy and her proxy lost should probably have caused us to lose a bit of sleep. However, I think the lost sleep can be directly attributed to my neice.

K is three years old. We must be very clear on this point, because if you get it wrong, she'll correct you swiftly and loudly. K is probably one of the most emotionally healthy people I know. Seriously. When something upsets or hurts her- and she's three so this happens frequently- she screams. Loudly. And often at great length. With the loud, long, screaming screams. And then she cries. Also loudly. To the point that I was actually quite impressed that she had that kind of lung power and, as we waited for the storm to cease, I contemplated her chances at one day becoming an opera singer. I think she could do it. (She does an amazing rendition of "Old Macdonald Had A Farm". I especially like it when on that farm he has a Giraffe.) Also, she requires that everyone avert their eyes and avoid looking at her while she's upset.

And here's the beautiful thing about this approach: when she's finished? It's over. Done, dealt with, complete. There are no grudges, no hurt feelings, no alliances and gossip with other family members, no Machiavellian plots to avenge the wrong. For that matter, after a couple of particularly lengthy displays of displeasure, she couldn't even recall for sure why she was upset in the first place. She explained to me, "Sometimes you just need to cry."

I think this is BRILLIANT. And don't think I didn't contemplate doing exactly the same thing the other day when I got exceedingly bad news from the dentist. I still might. You never know. Seriously, why do we teach children not to cry? Or expect them to just stop being upset? She's three. That's what she does. And it works. I don't know about you, but I can't just turn off pain or hurt, and I'm considerably more than 3 years old. Instead I turn off the appearance of pain and hurt. Which accomplishes very little really. The pressure just accumulates until one day it blows up over something very trivial and we're left wondering just when exactly I completely lost my mind. I wonder if people become anxious around a tantrum precisely because THEY were taught that crying is bad. I mean, sure there are times when the tantrum thrower should move or be moved to a discreet location before letting lose. (By this, Son, I mean when Barbara Bush is giving a speech 15 feet away and you start screaming, we're not going to hang around and let you add to her sound bites.)

Anyway. In addition to the wisdom of the art of the tantrum, K kept us amused. Vastly so. For example, one day we were in the car and she was playing with a little plastic box, which she decided for the moment was a camera. "Say cheese, Aunt Stace," she directed before snapping a picture. (At some point she dubbed me "Aunt Stace." I'm not sure if this is because she overheard Hubs calling me "Stace", since he's among the very few allowed to call me "Stace", or if she simply decided the extra syllable was just unreasonably excessive.) After taking my "picture" she gazed at the box with concern. "Oh no, you have your eyes closed."

"I do? Let me see? Hmm. Yes, you're right. Want me to throw that one away?"

"Yes, throw it in the garbage." (Apparently her "camera" produces Polaroid photos rather than digital images.) So I carefully took the imaginary picture from the "camera", crumpled it up and threw it in the garbage. She rolled her eyes in disgust. "No, Aunt Stace, you have to rip it up."

"Oh. Right. Of course. Sorry." I sifted through the garbage sack and fished out the imaginary photo, carefully tore it into pieces, and put the remnants back in the trash. "Ok, now what?"

"Now I'll take your picture again." She lifted up her little box and instructed, "Say 'Norma!'"


"Say 'Norma.'" To her credit she refrained from adding, "Like, duh, woman."


"Yes, say 'Norma.'"

This apparently did the trick since she was satisfied with the next picture. We never did figure out where 'Norma' came from. (Although every subject of every picture taken after that, including the moose and a nice Japanese tourist lady who asked my father-in-law to take a picture of her, was required to say "Norma.") My sister-in-law theorized that perhaps K has a friend named Norma. It doesn't really matter though. K is perfectly fine with random thoughts and seemed a little surprised that we were all so very clueless.

She's also very encouraging. As we drove through the park, she handed me her Little Mermaid game. You know, one of those games with water in them, and you push the buttons and try to get the rings to go over the pegs? Turns out, I'm not very good at this. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, I don't know if I can do this." She patted my arm consolingly and advised, "Be strong, Aunt Stace."

Bedtime was interesting. And hilarious. As we were trying to get settled in, K was in her little bed shouting strings of random thought. And then out of nowhere, into the silence she demanded, "Are you KIDDING me? Are you REALLY KIDDING ME?"

Hubs and I started giggling as silently as possible. Which became difficult when she announced, "You're gonna be kidnapped...and go to the hospital...and the library. And the County Jail..." At that point, our laughter got her attention. "Stop laughing!" And then she yelled, "YOU BETTER BE QUIET OR YOU'LL WAKE GRANDPA UP!" She had a point. We were laughing so hard I don't know that anyone in the campground slept much that night.

During one drive, K became very annoyed with anyone who had the audacity to speak to me. "I'm talking to Aunt Stace. You don't talk to her. I'm talking to her." Grandma later observed, "I think Aunt Stace is your new favorite friend." K looked at her grandmother with an expression of wonderment mixed with grave concern that Grandma seemed unaware of a very important fact. Little K raised her hands to her sides, palms up as if embracing a large group and explained, "But Grandma, there's lots of friends in this world."

Indeed there are. And how lucky are we that this very wise little girl is one of them?

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