It was one of those days when I was doing a lot of snipping at my daughter, and she was doing a lot of not doing as I asked. Everything was becoming a negotiation, and nothing was done without a lot of whine. Pretty soon we were going to need to break out the cheese and crackers.
Finally out of complete and total frustration, I snapped at her: “Can’t you do at least one thing without whining?”
She stopped what she was doing, looked up at me earnestly and asked “Which one?”
Her question stopped me midsentence—right in my tracks.
I looked with exasperation at my husband, whose eyes were twinkling as he stifled a laugh. Then I looked at my daughter, who was still waiting for an answer. I sat down with a huge sigh and chuckled.
“Come here you,” I said, and I gave her a great big bear hug. And we started over. Fresh.
I don’t know if she was trying to be smart. I don’t think so; I think she was making a literal interpretation of my question, which as I write this and think some more about this encounter, is a good thing. My quip wasn’t a kind remark for me to make to her. It was sarcastic and not intended to build up, but instead to tear down. That the intended meaning of my remark flew right over her innocent head is a lucky thing.
All it took to put us on a better footing—to shake me out of my crabby mood—was a question, a question of compromise actually.
“Sure Mom, I can do one thing without whining. Which one would you like me to do?”
That’s when I realized that I had been asking her to do a lot. Actually not asking, but demanding. Not saying “please” and never saying “thank you.” I wasn’t modeling the behavior that I was expecting. And she stopped me. Instead of getting mad at my sarcastic remark (probably because she didn’t understand the sarcasm), she asked a question that made me stop and assess my behavior. It was a question that said “yes, I can do that much for you: one thing without whining”.
And, I realized that my daughter wasn’t the only one doing the whining.
I remember a street corner preacher on the campus at the University of Texas, Austin. It was a gray, rainy twilight. Grackle poop combined with the fresh rain made the sidewalks on campus especially slippery, and I was on my way back into the lab after taking a break for dinner. This guy was on a corner—unshaven and grungy proclaiming something with great conviction. I crossed the street away from him, but I did catch one thing he said:
“We condemn in others the things we most hate about ourselves.”
I was complaining about my daughter’s whining, on a day when I felt pressured, overworked and tired—frankly I was, wait for it—
I’ve talked with several moms who agree with me that nothing quite gets under our skin so much as our daughter’s whining. But as I think about it, the whining most annoys me when I am feeling whiny myself. Maybe that street corner preacher was onto something.
Perhaps when I’m finding myself annoyed by my daughter’s whining, I should stop, check and offer myself some cheese.
© 2013 Michele Arduengo All rights reserved.