Act 1: Sunday morning, sunny second floor loft in a family home. Outside the window, the spring leaves are opening on the trees; we hear birds.
I’m drinking my coffee and reading (not looking at Facebook or playing on my phone, mind you!) when Zoe gets up and comes into the loft . I’ve just done a little project for her — getting a bead necklace started by attaching the clasp and tightly squeezing the crimping bead with a needle-nose pliers. The necklace is an end-of-year gift for a teacher she loves. Zoe laid out the pattern a few weeks ago, but it’s taken me awhile to do my part so that she can string it. While she strings the beads, I continued to read, and we chat a little. It’s a peaceful, pleasant start to a Sunday morning. Once she’s done putting on the beads, she hands the necklace back to me to attach the other part of the clasp. It’s a little tricky because I cut the wire too short, but eventually I’m able to do it.
The next step is to print out a letter she wrote for her teacher on the computer. That’s when things take an abrupt turn for the worse.
Know this about Zoe: When she gets an idea in her head, there is no stopping her from carrying it out. She is all about a project and, when she wants to — and when it’s on her own terms — she is amazingly resourceful and determined. Usually, this determination is directed towards making something that she has envisioned. She has created some pretty cool things: a tiny book the size of a postage stamp with multiple pages and illustrations, hand-sewn fairy clothing, a three page typed set of rules for a game that she and her brother invented. She’s quick, too (sometimes too quick) and won’t stand for a delay.
The letter was written awhile back and is just waiting to be printed. She’s typed it in a fancy font and added a clip art photo of a rose. It’s a lovely sweet letter. But when I read it, I notice a fairly major mistake in one of the sentences; she’s left out a few words so that sentence doesn’t really make sense. I mention (low-key, light-hearted tone) that she might need to make a few corrections. Instantly, she bristles. I show her the miswritten sentence. She reads it and immediately crumples up the paper saying, “Never mind, I’m not going to write her a letter. I don’t want to do it anymore”, and storms off to her room. As I try to speak to her through the door, she shrieks over me, drowning me out.
Act 2: A quiet gravel road in a semi-rural neighborhood, ponds, culverts, a sharp curve in the road where trees form a canopy, a pasture, a random dog standing at the edge of the pond shaking himself.
I am crushed. Epic parent failure; maddening, turn-on-dime, overreacting child. I feel helpless — and hopeless, too. Tears fill my eyes, though I’m not sure if they’re tears of anger or hurt. Why does she act like this? I feel wrongly accused and misunderstood. Realizing that sticking around will only make me more crazy, I quickly get dressed to take a walk. The morning is surprisingly warm and humid. I trudge along, stewing. I plan how I will talk to her about proofreading and editing — how I will explain that even the best writers (especially the best writers) re-read their work and make changes. Maybe I can even find an article about J.K. Rowlings’ or Suzanne Collins’ editor. Yes, that’s what I’ll do! But I’ll have to wait. I’ll have to practice patience and nonchalance. I’ll bring it up later when we’re well removed from the incident.
I worry that she is so quick to perceive a minor correction as criticism. I wonder how she will make her way if she can’t learn to be more flexible. Briefly, I remember “Nobody likes to be criticized.” But this is different! I sputter to myself, my brain racing to make sense of it all and reach a conclusion that will bring me peace of mind. Another little voice somewhere in my head says, “Maybe because you rag on her about her hair all the time, and you’re such a perfectionist about homework, she feels like you’re always critiquing her.” Hmmphh… uncomfortable confused silence inside my head…
Act 3: Family home, midday.
Zoe stays in her room for a long time. Her dad checks in on her. She insists she is not hungry, even though it’s near lunch time, and she hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. Dad goes on a bike ride; brother goes outside to play. I go about my business, calm — and no longer teary — but resolved not to fuss over her, try to tempt her out, enter a new battle insisting that she eat. She can get her own food when she’s ready. After awhile, she does come out. I hear her eating chips and I yell down to her that she needs to eat something healthy. She says she wants a fruit smoothy. I actually yell to her rather meanly,”Good luck with that. We don’t have any fruit.” A few minutes later, I hear the blender, and I think to myself, “What is she making? It’s going to be awful.” I anticipate more pouting and unhappiness.
But then two surprising things happen. First, Zoe comes upstairs and offers me a smoothie. “This is for you.” Amazingly, it’s delicious. Apparently, there were still some frozen bananas from last week’s smoothie making bonanza — and Greek yogurt (which Zoe always said she didn’t like), apple juice, and three shriveled strawberries. Resourcefulness carries the day. And, she gave me some, too. A peace offering? Much praise of the yummy smoothy ensues. Spirits lift.
Then, a few minutes later (in a return peace offering), I give her a little box to use for the teacher necklace. She’s happy with the box. I dare say to her, “Now you just need to print your letter again — or do you still have the old one?”
“I still have it, she replies, in a soft, but distinct voice, putting juice away in the refrigerator. “But I’m going to make a few corrections before I give it to her.” Just like that. Is it her? Is it me? Am I helping or hurting? Am I teaching her, or is she figuring it out by herself? My heart doubles.