The Mad Hatter: “Would you like some wine?”
The Mad Hatter: “We haven’t any and you’re too young.”
– Lewis Carroll, English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman, and photographer, from Alice in Wonderland
My 11-year-old daughter has a negativity problem: She focuses too much on the glass being half-empty, on what went wrong at school that day. When we told my cousin, Janet, and her husband, Tim, about this character flaw – both are teachers, by the way – Tim suggested that we charge her a nickel for every negative thing she says and reward her with a nickel for every positive thought. Of course, Isabella did not like this arrangement. I, however, figured it was worth an experiment. Trying to patiently explain to her why being a Debbie Downer doesn’t get you any BFFs or why life is much more pleasant when you focus on the positive has not been working at all.
Yesterday afternoon, she came home from school, marched up to my office, and pulled out a dollar bill from her wallet. “I owe you money because a lot of bad things happened today,” she declared, as she dropped the bill on my weekly desk calendar. I pushed away from my desk and slumped in my chair. This was going to take a while to get through.
Here’s a quick backstory on the argument: Of the group of six girls who regularly hang out together, two of them wanted to play a different game than the other four had proposed, although they had all agreed to play together on this designated day. The two girls enjoyed playing a particular game every day and begrudgingly, it seemed, agreed to a big play date during lunch time. When the other four didn’t want to play the game, the twosome took off. This “defiant” act angered the four girls, which included my daughter.
A series of back-and-forth “discussions” ensued to expose why the other party was in the wrong. Both camps flung accusations, with one of the girls being called “the mean leader.” My daughter tried to “explain” to the two girls why they weren’t allowed to play their game and how the two girls were bound to the play date and therefore could not walk away. While I understood to a point where my daughter was coming from, it was easy for me to play devil’s advocate: Why is it a problem if they don’t want to play a game mandated by the other girls, especially since life is so short? Why not just let them do their own thing, as I know Isabella would prefer doing her own thing rather than be forced to do something she doesn’t want to do, again, because life is so short? Why allow yourself to be offended by something as small as their wanting to do something else? Life is too short. That was my theme, and I stuck to it. This problem of the girls not playing along appeared to be a control issue at the core. No amount of argument from me, however, appeased my daughter, as she plucked a second dollar bill from her wallet and put it on top of the first dollar bill.
She then told me that the two girls ran to their teacher to complain, and at the end of the school day, Isabella was informed that she had to attend a “tea party” at recess today, comprising the teacher and six of the seven girls who were involved in the chaos. Of course, Isabella complained about losing her recess time. She was told that they would talk it out and that holding a hot cup of tea would prevent the girls from “yelling” at one another. I don’t know if this is an exact translation, as the two girls relayed the information to Isabella.
Brilliant! I thought. A tea party will provide the genteel setting needed for a calm discussion among 10- and 11-year-olds. And what girl doesn’t enjoy a tea party – even if her eyes are throwing daggers across the table, over the cups and saucers and teapot? I’d like to be a fly on the wall, but knowing this teacher, whom I have known for almost a decade and who was my son’s third-grade teacher, I know she will be a fair mediator. She has two daughters – college and high school age – so the territory is familiar to her. This is the terrain of pre-teen girls, a fact of which I am reminded on a daily basis. So it’s nice to gain strategies to deal with this challenging time in our household.