My seven-year-old is copping an attitude. This is a new thing. She stomps her foot. Crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. At least, she tries to roll her eyes. The movement is a little clunky at this point but she’s practicing an awful lot so I’m sure she will perfect it soon. Really soon.
Eliza has always been pretty even tempered. She’s like Seth that way. Lucille and I, well, that’s a different story. But this mom-you’re-a-total-idiot business I’m getting from Eliza is new and a little jarring.
The other day we had to have, what we call in the South, a come-to-Jesus about how she talks to adults.
I told her she argues with everything I say. That she interrupts in a cranky way. That she has to wear her coat if she’s going outside in February. In Montana. These don’t seem, to me, unreasonable demands.
The cold doesn’t bother her, she says. I told her she still has to wear a coat because it’s my job to make sure she stays safe and warm. She interrupts with a foot stop, an eye-covered pout.
Pout, I told her. And if you are going outside, put on a coat.
Then she started hollering. Then I did. And around we went.
Growing up, we had a few rules that were holy. One of them was we did not talk back to adults. If we did my stepmother made sure we thought long and hard before we did it again. We are Southern and we yes ma’amed and no sirred our way around grown ups. It was a habit formed by practice and culture, one I slip right back into when I’m there. Like slow, warm summer nights, it’s a part of where I come from. While we haven’t carried forward the ma’am and sirs of my youth, it still triggers in me a deep-seated place of proper when my Montana-born child tosses a little attitude my way.
For Eliza, I think it’s about asserting her opinion, her independence. And as her mother, I want her to speak truth to power, rage against the machine, use that beautiful brain of hers to stand up to injustice but it’s a tricky dance when I’m the injustice she’s raging against.
In the end, for me, and I now see for my stepmother, it’s about respect. She didn’t want to her children to be disrespectful and neither do I. She nipped and tucked at our manners along the way and, in the end, my brother, sister and I are pretty damned respectful adults. I’m nipping and tucking in my way, I suppose, sometimes drawing too a bold a line in the sand.
I want Eliza to learn that there is far more power in a well-articulated, respectful argument than in a foot stomp and an eye roll. And as her mother, I need to learn when presented with a well-articulated, respectful argument to find a way to back down. And it’s in this space between us is where our works begins.