Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cicada Parenting

I'm pretty sure I saw this somewhere else online, years ago. It has more of the ring of memory about it than of original thought, but anyway: Cicadas have the right idea. They bury their young in a hole until they turn 17.  

Erica is thirteen. For the most part, she is a pleasant, fun child to be around. She's a huge foodie, she loves anime and weird Korean robot singers called vocaloids. She likes Doctor Who, and has been known to sneak up behind me and trill "Are you my mummy?" in a faux British accent, making me shriek and flee the room. Doctor Who fans know why. (OMG. Those gas masks! Eeeugh!) 


She is a firm believer in the idea that once she's gotten an inch, she really does deserve a mile. And if I don't agree with her, it's because I'm stupid and unfair, not because she's wrong. Take Halloween this year as an example. Erica wanted to go trick or treating with a few of her girlfriends. That's fine, I said, but you have to do it in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood isn't great, but it beats the one these particular girls live in. I wouldn't walk around that block after dark, let alone turn a bunch of thirteen-year-olds loose there. I told her that the girls could come by after five, because I didn't want to deal with a bunch of kids at dinner time, not knowing who likes what and who's allergic to this or that. I would be happy to take everyone home, they just needed a ride to our place. After a few days, it was apparent that none of the other parents were interested in driving kids to my house, so I amended the plan to allowing the girls to walk home with Erica, and be here all afternoon. I told Erica to inform the girls and their parents that we would leave our house to take people home at 8:30, since it was a school night. Erica was furious. "That means we have to be home by 8:15! That's not fair! We only have one more day of school after Halloween, it doesn't matter if we're tired! I want to stay out til nine!" 

We went back and forth on this for a couple of rounds, with me pointing out that it's not just about it being a school night, although that's the biggest part of it. It's also about the fact that everyone will be amped up, both on sugar and the high of hanging out with friends, and costumes, and being out alone after dark, and will need some quiet time at home to come down. It's about the fact that I am tired, and I will  be the one cooking and providing entertainment for people until it's time for trick or treating. It's about the fact that I get up early on school days, too, and if I drive everyone home at 8:30 it will be 9:30 before we're home, and I like to go to bed around 10 on weeknights. I pointed out that my entire afternoon, evening, and night are being given over to her, and she should be grateful this is happening at all. She said, "I don't see why that matters. I never get to do anything, it won't kill you to be tired on a Friday, either!" 

Seriously? That pissed me right off. By now, we were parked in front of her school. (Oh yeah, this conversation occurred during school dropoff, because nothing beats arguing in the morning.) I put the truck in park, took off my seatbelt and turned to face her. I could see by her face that she knew she'd stepped in it. In a deadly calm voice I said, "Well, that's it, then. I'm done with this whole thing. Your friends can find somewhere else to trick or treat, and you can plan on staying in on Halloween. Go to school." She stormed out of the car, and I went home and suffered guilt for several hours. 

You see, she doesn't do a lot of socializing. She has these three good friends, and one of them has very strict Tiger-mom parents. Tiger Kid never gets permission to come out, so the fact that her parents had unbent enough to allow her to walk home with another kid, go trick or treating, and come home after 8 on a school night was a big deal. The other two kids are siblings, and spend every other weekend with their non-custodial parent, like Erica does,  and usually their weekend away doesn't match up with Erica's so it's tough to schedule fun stuff with them. We finally had a night where it all works out, and I quash it because a teenager got a little attitude-y. Plus, I know she's acting up because she's nervous and excited about this night, plus PLUS she is very rarely a difficult teen--I really should be a little more patient. And at the bottom of it all was this: I am tired, and I didn't really want to do this. In some ways, I'd almost been hoping she'd step out of line so I had an excuse to cancel. I felt a bit small.

So I backed off my righteous anger and allowed the event to go on. It wasn't fun, because there were four thirteen-year-olds in my house at once, but it went well. I made a dinner which all the girls ate eagerly (in fact, they didn't leave any leftovers) they giggled and watched movies and adjusted their costumes until it was time to leave, and they returned home precisely on time. They were all polite and thanked me for driving them, and they laughed whenever I told lame parent jokes. 

The whole thing left me a bit nervous, though. I'm not very patient when it comes to being argued with, and teens LOVE to argue. This was just a tiny little skirmish. How will I manage full-on battles with Erica? Right now, at 10:23 on a Saturday, I can feel my  blood beginning to simmer, because I asked Erica to get out of bed 45 minutes ago, because I want the dishes done and the floor swept early today, in case the power goes off (it's stormy here)and we have to spend the day huddled around the only fireplace in the house with a stack of board games. I know she's out of bed; however, her bedroom door is still closed, and the dishes are still on the counter. If I call her out here right now, she's going to drag herself out, and when I tell her again to do the dishes, she's going to spend ten  minutes pouring cereal and making tea, and then twenty minutes to eat, and ARGH!!! My head will explode, and so will my voice. And this is just a dispute about doing chores in a timely manner and getting up before noon on the weekends. What am I gonna do when it's about a baggie of weed found in a pocket, or sneaking out to see a boy? 

I'm doomed.

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