I couldn’t move. I was lying on the queen size camp bed in Curry Village after a mad dash up Half Dome in Yosemite. My husband treats every hike like a race, so we’d scrambled up and back in seven hours. Ouch. After a shower, a beer, and half a pizza, I was done using my legs. So I was on the bed listening through the canvas walls to other people arrive.
It was clear from the conversation around our tent cabin that we were in the middle of a group that had arrived for a long weekend together. Some knew each other well, and some were meeting for the first time. It was mostly families with elementary aged kids.
When I’m not around my kids, I pay closer attention to how other parents talk to their kids. Most of the time it makes me feel guilty, because either I hear someone who is infinitely more patient and creative than I am, or I can hear myself in the yammering, scolding, and lecturing of other moms.
I couldn’t see her, but I heard the voice of a particularly perky mom who didn’t seem to know anyone else in the group very well. She arrived and introduced her daughter to a potential playmate named Sidney. The entire conversation went something like this. “Hi, you must be Sidney. This is Emmeline. Are you seven? Oh, only six. You must be going into first grade then, yes? Emmeline is going into second grade. This summer Emmeline spent most of her time on the swim team, so she is very excited to go in the pool here. Have you been in yet? Oh, well, maybe tomorrow, the two of you can go in together. Sidney, why don’t you show Emmeline your cabin?”
As the two girls skipped off together, the competition continued. “I think I’m taller,” said Sidney.
“Maybe, but this ground is slanted,” said Emmeline, “We could get my mom to measure us.”
“Do you like Taylor Swift?” asked Sidney.
“I have all her songs memorized,” said Emmeline.
“Oh, well, I saw her in concert,” said Sidney. “I got a shirt.”
“I bet my mom would give us money for ice cream,” Emmeline changed the subject.
“Okay, go ask her,” said Sidney.
By this time, Perky Mom was sharing her competitive cheeriness with other members of her group, and Emmeline went back to her tent cabin on her own. She was struggling with getting the key in the lock when her mom showed up, and the monologue began again, “Emmeline, why are you back? Where’s Sidney? What are you doing? You should give me the key.”
“I’m doing it myself, Mom. I need money for ice cream for me and Sidney.”
“But you’re not doing it right. If you want ice cream, you need to give me the key.”
“No, I can do it.”
After several more exchanges, Perky Mom shouted, “Emmeline, you’re going to get a time out. A WHOLE LOT OF TIME OUTS! Do you want to spend your whole weekend on time outs?” (Sure, Perky. Like you can enforce that.)
“No, but I can do it.”
“EMMELINE, you need to BE SORRY and GET A GRIP! Give me the key. You don’t sound sorry at all.”
At this point, Perky Mom yanked the key away from Emmeline, opened the door, and handed her five dollars. “Go get ice cream and bring me the change.”
Emmeline won! She got ice cream. Go Emmeline!
But seriously, be sorry and get a grip?? I’d like to get some mileage out of that one. Many many times I have wished my kids would cough up some repentance and buy a clue. Perky Mom may be socially competitive, make idle threats, and cave under pressure, but she can spin a phrase. Maybe it’s evil, but I am so relieved when I hear other moms lose it or flail when they’re dealing with their kids. It makes me laugh and cringe at the same time.
It’s too bad I couldn’t move my legs. Otherwise I would have offered to buy Perky Mom a drink, so we could commiserate on what we wish our kids were, what we tried to make them out to be, and how impossible it is to keep our tempers in check, especially on vacation. Maybe we could both be sorry and get a grip! And then we could finally relax.