Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The outlook was grim for accomplishing what I needed to before the day ended. This wasn’t a hypothetical “What I really should try to do before the work day ends” kind of notion; it was a “the Registry of Motor Vehicles says it’s the law” kind of notion. Specifically, I had 84 minutes to get my car to a service station before I was officially overdue on my May inspection sticker.

And yes, perhaps it was my fault for not getting it done earlier in the day. Or even earlier in the month. (Does May really have 31 days? And only one of them a federal holiday? And yet I really couldn’t find a single one of those 31 days – minus five Sundays and Memorial Day – for getting my car inspected?) Well, for whatever reason, it was late afternoon on May 31st. And I hadn’t gone earlier in the day because I’m just too miserly about my work hours, especially with only four weeks left to go before the kids are home full-time for summer vacation. I have a manuscript to edit and another one to finish drafting. I have my two regularly weekly newspaper deadlines to file. I have….a whole bunch of other things.

So I thought I could do it after the kids got home from school. After all, why sacrifice my carefully guarded work time when I could instead sacrifice, well, the kids’ carefully guarded afterschool free time?

Because that’s ultimately what it came down to: Holly and me butting heads over whose time mattered more. She was cross when I announced that after she had a snack and washed up, she had to come to the inspection station with me. Just as cross as I might have been if someone had insisted that I go along with them on a tedious errand during my work time. She despises afterschool errands.

Over the weekend, I had an eye-opening moment when Holly insisted that despite my demurrals, she was absolutely certain she could drink a blueberry smoothie in the playroom without spilling it on the couch. You can probably guess what happened to that promise. She spilled no less than half of it, and Rick gave me the usual “What on earth were you thinking?” lecture as we both tried to scrub blueberry stains out of the beige couch.

“You’re right,” I had to admit. “What was I thinking? It’s just so hard to hold my ground sometimes. I just get so weary.” But obviously, I lost my perspective when it came to the blueberry smoothie. Of course I should have absolutely refused to let her drink it in the playroom. And I should absolutely insist that she come with me for the car inspection. But I was finding it very hard to get myself to drag her out of the house, which seemed to be the only way this was going to happen.

Standing our ground as parents can be difficult. At least it is for me. Sometimes Holly wears me down.

But as I contemplated my choices in terms of overruling her resistance to a trip to get the car inspected, I recalled something that has helped me out before: the acknowledgment that in between iron rule and caving in lies another option: letting the child save face. If I stopped fretting for a moment over the fact that we weren’t going to get there in time and let past history come to mind, I could remember something useful. I didn’t need to force her to come with me; I needed to give her enough room to change her mind without feeling like she’d been forced into anything.

So I let Holly stomp up to her room and slam the door. And I waited. I finished some deskwork and prepped a few dinner items. After ten minutes, I went up to her room. She was sitting on her bed working on a coloring project. “Mommy,” she said in a pleasant tone, “if I go with you, will you buy me some stickers?”

I smiled to myself at the reversal in her obstinate demeanor. “I’m not going to pay you for doing an errand with me, Holly, but I would say you could probably have a snack at the service station while we wait.”

“And listen to your iPod?” she asked.

That was an easy one involving neither money nor empty calories. “Absolutely.”

Out we headed. She was happy and I was happy. No one had caved in; we both felt that we’d reached an agreement. We arrived at the service station at 4:38. “It’s a little last-minute, I know…” I said apologetically as we drove into the inspection bay.

“Nah, you won’t even be our last customer today,” the technician assured me.

Holly and I headed into the waiting room. She chose a bottle of lemonade and settled peaceably into a plastic seat to listen to her favorite Taylor Swift album. And I mulled over what I’d learned, hoping to put it to better use next time. Blueberry smoothies on the couch? Absolutely not (although, amazingly enough, it looks as good as new following a lot of scrubbing and a white-vinegar treatment). A compromise when it comes to doing errands after school? It’s always possible.

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