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.”
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.