So this morning, before I’m even out of bed, my Firstborn arrives in my room, wailing pitifully about how she doesn’t want to go to school. The Baby doesn’t help when she announces, with a big smile and at the top of her lungs, that today is Pajama Day at her preschool.
Cue a fresh flow of tears from Firstborn. “Why can’t I have a pajama day?” she sobs. She seems truly miserable. I’ve seen my fair share of these mornings. If we don’t get this mood turned around soon, her whole day (and possibly the rest of the week) will go like this. Moody little bugger. God help me when she’s a teenager!
So I decide to break one of my cardinal rules. “Okay, guys, here’s the deal,” I announce. All eyes, teary and otherwise, are on mine. If they get themselves completely ready for school (clothes, hair, shoes) in time, I tell them, they may watch “one short show” on TiVo.
Ten minutes later, both children are perched on the sofa, glued to “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” This is the fastest I’ve ever seen them move in the morning. Granted, the Baby is still wearing her pajamas, but she did swap out her Pull-Up for underwear, and she did allow her big sister to assist her with her shoes (after one report that one of her socks was unacceptable “becomes it bodders me.”). Remarkable!
Within seconds of the show ending comes another whine. “I don’t want to go to school,” wails Firstborn.
“Why, honey? Did something happen?”
“I don’t want to go to art class,” she pouts.
“Why not?” I ask. I wonder if she had a run-in with her teacher.
“I’m not telling you.”
“If you don’t tell me, I can’t help,” I explain, wolfing down a bowl of Fiber One cereal and checking the laundry in the dryer.
“I didn’t use enough water!” she cries. Aha. I’m starting to get it.
“On your art project?” I ask, looking up. They must be doing a watercolor or something. She nods. “You’d like to start over because you didn’t get it right, but you can’t.”
She nods again, bottom lip quivering. Ahh. My little perfectionist. She’s the firstborn of two firstborns, and three out of her four grandparents are first or only-borns. Doomed from birth, poor kid.
Therapy’s gonna be expensive.
As we drive to school, she moans again about going to school. “You know that Hannah Montana song?” I ask. “Nobody’s Perfect?”
Of course she does. What self-respecting six-and-a-half year-old doesn’t? We sing it together.
Everybody makes mistakes… Everybody has those days… Everybody knows what what I’m talkin’ ’bout… Everybody gets that way…
Sometimes I’m in a jam
I’ve gotta make a plan
It might be crazy
I do it anyway
I gotta work it!
Again and again ’til I get it right
You live and you learn it!
And if I mess it up sometimes…
“Hannah’s pretty smart, isn’t she?”
“Yeah.” She starts to smile a bit.
“I’ll bet she’s a perfectionist, too,” I muse.
“I have two more words for you. When you start to get upset that it’s not just right, I want you to say these two words, okay?”
We practice a few times together, and by the time her bus pulls up, she’s calmed down.
Fast-forward about an hour later. I’m at my weekly therapy appointment for anxiety and depression. She’s spent weeks listening to me talk about how I beat myself up when things aren’t just right. I relay the story about Firstborn’s art project.
“You handled that really well!” she tells me. “Now if you could only take your own advice.”
“Yeah…if only,” I think.