It's been a week since the three words stung me. The pain has since subsided, but the memory lingers on like a healing itch.
The Daddy Day plan was to go to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, what the girls call the "little aquarium" (we call the Monterey Bay Aquarium the "big aquarium"), and then go to Natural Bridges State Beach and check out the Monarch butterflies. The Mama was away for the day getting some much needed R&R with her best friend, and so I was in charge.
Which is fine. It ain't my first rodeo; the girls and I have had many fun solo adventures prior to this one. The Mama made sure I had plenty of snacks packed (note to self: always have snacks at the ready when adventuring with your children). And of course, don't forget the water. I brought plenty of both with us.
We weren't even going that far away, but the girls and I both were excited to again check out the little aquarium. The warm weather made for a spectacular day and off we went. At first, the adventure was smooth sailing. We went inside the Seymour Center and participated in their scavenger hunt, each girl marking off the different fish and sea creatures we found from an erasable laminated sheet. Or, more accurately, Daddy marking off Bryce's sheet with Beatrice kind of managing hers, but both the girls did help me identify all the various ocean animals and winning a creature necklace in the process (that I ended up wearing).
From swell sharks to sea cucumbers to the touch tanks filled with hermit crabs and green sea anemones -- the girls had a blast. And so did I. Of course they hounded me for a gift from the gift shop before we left, and I caved for something small for each girl.
"I want to go home now!"
"Let's have a snack, Bryce," I said. "We still want to go see the butterflies after this.
"No! I want to go home!"
"No, Bryce. We're not going home," said Bea.
"Girls, let's have a snack and then we'll go see the butterflies and then go home and have lunch."
We took a break and had a snack, which seemed to clear Bryce's angry sky, and then walked around the Seymour Center along the ocean cliffs and back around to where the big whale skeletons were. We were doing okay, although Bryce still wanted to go home, so I should've known better and cut our losses then and there. But I didn't, and we drove over to Natural Bridges. When we got out of the car, the storm clouds were waiting on the side of the road like sketchy hitchhikers cursing under their breath.
Stalemate #1: Bryce wouldn't budge. We had started along one of the trails toward the Monarch butterfly grove and Bryce still didn't want to go. She stopped cold, plopped down on her butt and stubbornly whined that she wasn't going any farther. This fun exchange lasted about five minutes until finally I agreed we could go to the gift shop to look but not buy anything else, but then we'd still have to go see the butterflies. Bryce reluctantly agreed and we were off again.
Stalemate #2: We immediately hit another trailhead and again Bryce refused to go on, crying even more adamantly that she wanted to go home. Bea jumped in the angry fray telling Bryce she had to go see the butterflies. Then sister bickering ensued. There were a lot of families out hiking through Natural Bridges, many from other countries, their various languages drifted by us while we stood there on a little wooden bridge along the trail and argued. We were there for at least another 10 minutes while Bryce said she wanted to go and Bea said she wanted to stay. I waited and was patient and did everything I could to keep focused on the principals of positive discipline.
"Girls, the longer we stand here, the less time we'll have to see the butterflies."
"I want to go home!"
"I want to see the butterflies!"
Ugh. Another five minutes went by with them only agreeing to disagree and I finally said, "Girls, we're going home now. If you can't agree on what we're going to do, then we're going home. It's time for lunch anyway."
Stalemate #3: Bryce got onboard with that, but Beatrice did not. In fact, Beatrice's storm clouds broke and that's all she wrote; she wasn't budging. But Bryce took off back up the trail, no matter how many times I told her to stop. Bea's arms were crossed.
"Bryce! Stop right now!" I yelled. "Bea, c'mon now, we're going home!"
"No!" they both shouted back at me.
A German family came down the trail tentatively (I heard them talking, which is how I knew), hearing our shouts and sensing our distress and probably reading the angry daddy on my face. And the fact that I held Beatrice's wrist in my fist pulling her toward me didn't help the situation.
"Hi," I said as they passed.
"Hi," they echoed uncomfortably and scurried on down the trail.
"Beatrice, we're going home now! Bryce wait for us!"
Ugh. That was it. I had tried to be patient and calm. I tried to negotiate with them. I tried to muster up my positive discipline and Kidpower powers, but to no avail. They were dead to me. Daddy Goat Gruff firmness stomped its hooves and we were not playin' no more. I pulled Beatrice up the trail, caught up to Bryce, and then finally got them both headed to the car on their own power.
Stalemate #4: But when we got to the car and I got Bryce buckled in, Beatrice stood defiantly next to the car. She wanted to sit in the front seat. Nearing exasperation, I told her she could not sit in the front seat as it was against the law. Instead, she sat in the front passenger seat. That's when I got really pissed off.
"That's it," I said, scrambling around the car to get Bea from the front seat to her booster seat in the back. "We are done and going home now! I'm tired of this crap and you both not agreeing and not listening to me! Get your butts in the car!"
Bryce screamed and cried that she was already in the car as I got in the driver seat. In the rearview mirror Bea's face beamed red with anger. I could almost hear her growling.
"No TV or iPads when we get home! I will fix lunch but nothing else. I'm so disappointed, girls. I thought we were going to have a nice time today."
It was at that moment I was stung (and stunned).
"I hate you!"
That was Beatrice. Three words. One big sting. She was furious with me. Bryce began saying something else through her tears, but I didn't hear her. Beatrice's red face glowed in the mirror.
All I could think about was -- wow, that hurt -- and -- wow, I'm proud of her. Really. Those two things simultaneously. Yes, almost every parent deals with their child's defiance and the words "I hate you." And yes, it hurt, but it also didn't surprise me.
But as a matter of expressing oneself, it's a different story. Bryce has no problem speaking her heart passionately. Never has. But Beatrice has struggled to express herself in everyday situations. Over the past two years she's gotten more confident with her feelings and communication and it's no wonder that Inside Out is her favorite movie to date (she's already watched it at least 15 times).
So yes, when the Bea stings as she can now do, it's painful, but it's beautiful, too. I was also proud of her as we headed for home.
"Daddy, why can't we watch TV or play with our iPads?" Bea asked, her fury gone.
Great question, my sweet girl. My anger had also fled as quickly as it had held my heart and head hostage. My firmness had turned to meanness and my punitive response in the end wasn't going to help undo what had already been done; it just made me feel better, that I had the control, the parental power over them to DO AS I SAY.
But the girls knew why I was mad and why we were going home. We did talk about it once we got home and I told them why it was so frustrating for me and that no matter what I still loved them. They told me they were sorry as well, even Bryce, who doesn't take kindly to sorry.
"Can we play with the iPads now, Daddy?" they asked.
Sigh. "Yes, my lovely bee stings, yes you can."
After reviewing with the Mama and the girls' pre-school teachers during Bryce's parent-teacher conference two days later (Bridges to Kinder is where both girls attended preschool and where we learned positive discipline), at some point you have no choice to be firm. Not mean parental control where I unfortunately defaulted to, but firm nonetheless.
Our dear friend and the Bridges to Kinder preschool director, Teacher Laura as we lovingly all call her, shared some books with me, one of which is called Anh's Anger, about how to teach children (and even adults) coping skills when it comes to dealing with their anger. I highly recommend it.
Learn to sit with the sting until you soothe yourself. Amen.