Sarah R. Callender

Rules

In General, Parenting on August 2, 2012 at 6:39 am

Sweetie is 7.7 years old, but for years, she has been an expert at making up games with rules that make no sense, rules that change constantly during the duration of the game, rules that seem, to the rest of us, improbable and inconsistent and highly irritating.

Last week, for example, Buddy was down with a fever. Housebound for two days, Sweetie was not interested in Yahtzee or Sleeping Queens or Sorry or Whunu or Quirkle. She wanted to make up her own game.

“Mom,” Buddy (age 9.2) whispered. “I don’t ever understand her games.”

I patted his leg. “Me neither, Bud. Me neither.”

Meanwhile, he and I could hear Sweetie puttering downstairs, whistling her trademark whistle that she does when she’s most happy.

“It’s a little like Twister!” she called up to us, “but with Pick-upSticks. And some yoga. Buddy, you get to be the spinner.”

Buddy rolled his eyes. “Oh, great.”

What followed (which is exactly what always follows during one of Sweetie’s games) was the most bizarre and difficult and confusing game I’ve played since the last time I played one of Sweetie’s games.

You know how certain things (me in a maxi dress; Husbandio with a perm; Romney in the Oval Office) should never go together? That goes for Twister! and Pick-up Sticks and yoga.

Buddy, even while ill, was able to summon dramatic sighs and moans that mimicked the sighs and moans I was doing in my head.

He flopped on the floor, a look of anguish on his face. “Sweeeeeeetie,” he moaned, “this game doesn’t many annnny sense.”

“Yes it does,” she chirped. “You just need to do what I’m telling you to do. Then it will make sense.”

I’ve been thinking about those words a lot since. And while I’m no shrink, I bet a kid like Sweetie (i.e. a less traditional kid who doesn’t mind butting against societal mores, via hairstyles and fashion, on a daily basis) thrives when for once she can make up the rules. Rules that, sure, seem arbitrary and unnecessary and tedious to others, but that make sense to her.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could use the green Halloween hair dye and attend Circus Arts Camp with green hair.

“Nope,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Why not?”

She didn’t whine or get upset. She just asked, “Why not?” in a way that made me realize she just wanted to understand why not. And as I thought it over, I didn’t really have a good answer. It was summer. The hair dye was temporary. Green is her favorite color. She was attending Circus Arts camp. There are plenty of Seattle parents who allow their kids to do far weirder things.

I could see why she was standing there, wondering ‘why not’? because I was wondering why not. Why is there some sort of unwritten rule about why a kid who loves color and loves standing out, fashion-wise, can’t have green stripes in her hair?

So I sprayed green stripes in her hair.

The more I think about it, the more Sweetie’s desire to foist her seemingly-weird rules on her parents and brother seem to be a form of payback. Payback for my rules, but also payback for the world’s rules, rules that in her mind, are a hundred times less sensible and logical than any rules she could create.

Why can her brother, age nine, take off his shirt and run around at the park when she, at age seven, is too old to do so?

Why can grownups dye their hair (“boring” colors in her POV) while kids can’t add a little color to their own locks?

Why can some people get married while others can’t?

Why is it OK to have dessert after dinner but not after breakfast?

All good questions. Questions for which I don’t have any good answers other than, “Because I said so.” Or “Because I am your mother.” Or “Because that’s just the way the world is.”

Do I want to teach my children that they have to follow rules even when the rules don’t seem grounded in safety or logic? Yes, part of me does. I don’t really want a kid with green hair. I don’t want Sweetie running around outside topless. I don’t want to send her off to school with a belly full of toast and ice cream. But you see? Those are all my issues, not Sweetie’s.

So while I am doing downward dog, with right foot on red and left hand on blue, waiting for Buddy to “spin” the Pick-up Sticks and do some sort of mathematical calculation that only Sweetie knows how to do, in order for me to know where to put my left foot and right hand, I am thinking that Sweetie is basking in the knowledge that for once, she gets to be in charge of the rules.

And that must feel pretty good.

Photograph courtesy of Flickrs’ Wrote.

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  1. I hope to see Sweetie in the Oval Office some day and then maybe we would have social parity and gun control…”rules” that don’t make sense!

    • Thanks, Lori. Gosh, I love to think what Sweetie would do with the oval office, decor-wise. And I guess I shouldn’t have written that Facebook post about how Sweetie rarely changes her undies. It seems that’s the kind of thing that comes back to haunt politicians. Thanks for the note!

  2. If there’s anything I have learned, you can never get in the way of a girl and her fashion sense, no matter how crazy that sense is! 🙂

  3. Sean is just the same! So funny in the context of our rule-abiding family. You know what really helps is a younger sibling who doesn’t know that the rules are weird and plays right along. Maybe you and the hubby can get working on that during your weekend getaway 🙂

    • Oh yes, Josie! That’s one heckofa great idea. We totally should have thought of that before Husbandio got that super-duper extra duty fail-safe vasectomy. Shoot. Drat.

      I didn’t know Sean was that way! He is lucky to have Ryan. You guys are the best parents ever.

  4. If you were one to name your blog entries after songs, you could have titled this one, “Love The One You’re With”. It is a trick to teach our hearts to see the goodness that feeds our beloveds’ more… challenging? quirks. It is gospel work though, to believe that each one is loved and just exactly who and where they ought to be and to then cheer them on. You put yourself in the company of the angels and heavenly hosts who know *exactly* how her game is meant to be played and are cheering your sweet Sweetie along, like those crazy people in London this week, cheering on 74th place Team GB folk, just because we cheer for our own. You know what I mean? Cheer on friend. You’re in good company.

  5. I wish you had been my mom. Wow. Yes to everything you wrote.. Love this!

  6. And, dear readers, as I type, Sweetie is getting into her swimsuit and is explaining the rules of her newest game, “Balloons Anywhere.” It’s sure to be another winner.

  7. My oldest daughter makes up games like that! Very scripted. She and Sweetie need to get together. Thanks for the insights on why creative kids sometimes need to make their own universes.

  8. This post makes me think of my 6 year old. The “regular rules” just don’t always make sense to her– as a rule follower myself, I am afraid I do not appreciate her view often enough.

  9. Loved this! I can just see you trying to do what Sweetie is telling you to do. Made me giggle!
    xo

  10. Sarah. Just discovered your blog via a tip from a friend. I love Sweetie already. So glad you stopped to listen to her question of “why not?”, and let her go green to circus camp. Perfect for the circumstance and your little girl both. 🙂

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