As the proud father of two terrific daughters, ages seven and nearly ten, I’ve become a resident expert on the get-ready habits of little girls, and the un-gazelle like movements with which they inch about. So maddening is their sluggishness that I sometimes forget that children this age lack the executive skills necessary to walk and chew gun at the same time, and so I find myself on occasion suspecting brain-damage (Theorizing their mother irresponsibly participated in a PTA kick-boxing tournament or similarly dangerous activity while pregnant and without my knowledge or consent.) as the root cause for their chronic absentmindedness and inability to focus—thus lending explanation to the exhaustive cycle of expectation and disappointment for all.
Hurry up…It’s getting late, it’s time to go!” I yell again.
Rational efforts to speed things along are met with cool resistance, these girls rarely ever share our sense of urgency or cognizance of time, leaving little choice but to regress to what I know best, hyperbolically yelling from the bottom of the stairs in an unimpressive effort to move things along—a vestige of my childhood and a proud family tradition, yelling was once thought to motivate children to achieve grand things, my mother mentored me for years in this practice.
Unfortunately, yelling accomplishes little, only deepening the divide and further escalating matters. And though always effective in getting everyone’s attention, isn’t a child-rearing technique I’d ordinarily recommend or use during moments of greater clarity, as it generally leaves a disagreeable aftertaste in the mouth of this conscientious parent.
The problem is though, like most children, our girls tend to view clocks and watches, the oldest of human inventions and essential life tools, with complete and utter contempt, opting instead to trust their highly sophisticated internal boredom sensors to signal when it’s time to move from one activity and on to the next.
If it’s fun, keep doing it. If not, stop immediately and wander off into another room to look for something more entertaining—ah, the life of a child.
Never mind parental requests and household schedules, the clock and watch only serve to spoil the child’s fun—that is, unless it’s time stop brushing teeth, cleaning rooms, or doing homework.
It isn’t that children can’t tell time either, many can; rather, it’s that they’re indifferent to its passage. And, it’s this indifference that astonishes and frustrates me because my life absolutely revolves around schedules, mostly theirs—school activities, homework assignments, music lessons, meal times, gymnastics, lacrosse games and practices, play-dates, and bed-times. And though they often approach the process of getting ready with good intentions, less helpful are their frequent disappearances into their bed and bathrooms, where the smallest of shinny objects can, and usually does, provide unwanted distractions, arresting all forward movement.
Asking these girls to go upstairs and brush their teeth, hair, and get dressed—with its multi-component process of several top and bottom choices—will most certainly produce a disappointing outcome for the adult who waits patiently downstairs. Predictably, they’ll present themselves with at least one, maybe two, tasks left uncompleted.
“Thank you for getting dressed.” I exalt to my youngest.
“Did you brush your hair?”
“Thank you. Did you brush your teeth?”
“No?” I repeat, frowning now I’m gobsmacked, and ask the obvious question, “Didn’t I tell you to brush your teeth too?”
“No you didn’t” she says, now with her hands on her hips and a predictable agitation in her voice. Wondering if I’m losing my mind, I now begin to doubt myself. I’m sure I said that, I think.
But when pressed though, she concedes “Well, maybe you told me….but I forgot.”
“Why can’t you do what I ask you to do?” I ask rhetorically, in a voice not meant for her.
“Because” she argues, not realizing the rules regarding rhetorical questions “I can’t remember everything you know!”
The irony in her assumption is nothing short of laughable. Her mother is the one who’s expected to remember everything, and frequently does, whereas I’m a distant second, and the girls, well, they don’t seem to remember much beyond the convenient and where we keep the cookies.
The fact that she thinks she’s expected to remember “everything” is no less preposterous, however, than when asked to empty the dishwasher, she not-so-rhetorically responds “Why do I have to do everything around here?”
“Please go back upstairs and brush your teeth” I ask impatiently.
Mumbling now to no one in particular and beginning to sound like the father I so hoped never to become.
Our daughters’ operate at one speed, best described as glacial. That is, except where ice-cream or glitter are involved—ice-cream and glitter are to little girls what special-interest money is to politicians, they’ll do exactly anything for it including sprint to ambush the bearer of such coveted fortunes.
This is our routine, day after day, week after week. Often depreciating into something of a hopeless game of beg, bribe and threaten. A logistical debacle; always behind, rarely on-time, wholly fatigued by the process.
If you think this an unfair characterization, I kindly direct you to be at my house on Monday morning for what will surly prove to be an entertaining (because they’re not your kids), if not entirely frustrating morning of coffee, muffins and yelling.
So sigh no more, clocks and watches evidently are not for kids. Your priorities are not theirs. No, you’re not losing your mind, your kids have just pulverized your parental equilibrium by making you repeat yourself over, and over, and over again, it will get better when they go off to college; and watching them get ready is a study in going nowhere fast.