She was bathed and dressed, wearing cute summer shorts and a matching top. Blue. We went to play on the bay beach for a few minutes before dinner. Swing on the swings. Dig in the sand. Sit on the teeter-totter. It was not time to play in the water. Re-read the first part of the first sentence -- she was bathed and dressed.
She was also 4 years old and into testing both herself and me.
It started innocently enough with her dipping her tiny toes into the bay water. I smiled. "No further," I said. "We are heading home for dinner in a minute." She just looked at me and stepped in deeper. I didn't say anything this time. I just watched as she inched up to her shins. No big deal, I thought. She'll come out.
Before I knew it, the water was up to her knees. The look in her eyes said defiant. The look in mine said, no way. "Did you hear me? No further I said." She looked back at me again and smiled. I watched as she walked deeper into the water.
She's not going to go all the way in? Fully dressed? Is she?
The bay beach was crowded. Lots of moms and dads. Lots of kids. Some grandparents too. We had an audience and I think my girl liked it. I didn't know what to do. Whatever I had been doing certainly wasn't working. As a last resort I gave an ultimatum. (Or as my kids have come to call it, an old tomato.)
"If you step one more foot into that water you will not... did you hear me... WILL NOT go to the treasure hunt tonight."
She looked at me, smiled and walked, fully dressed, into the water. People were staring at her, then me, waiting for my reaction. It wasn't pretty. I was angry and commanded her to get out of the water. (I tried not to yell though. I didn't want to make a scene. Ha!)
She got out of the water. Eventually. And I was stern-voiced, "When you don't listen, you don't get to do fun things. We are going home, cleaning you up and you are not going to the treasure hunt tonight."
She cried, beginning to show remorse for her actions. I wasn't sympathetic because I was too mad; angry and stuck in the moment. Where did I go wrong? Where did my sweet girl go? Why was she defying me?
But here is the thing. I wanted her to go to the treasure hunt on the beach that night. I was looking forward to it just as much as she was. Perhaps more. I shouldn't have given that old tomato, not when I really didn't want to go through with it. But I did it anyway, hoping she would listen to me. It backfired, as I soon discovered old tomatoes do.
How was I going to get myself out of this mess? One part of me was saying: Was what she did really that awful? She's a good kid and if I were in a different mood, wouldn't I have let her jump in the water fully clothed? Isn't that something I would have enjoyed as a child? The other part was saying: I said no. She didn't listen. If I cave now the consequences will be bad -- once you give an old tomato, you can't take it back.
My solution? It is so lame I am embarrassed to share it. I told her I didn't like her actions, but we would change the punishment. She could go to the treasure hunt, but she had to wear an outfit I picked out. I warned you, it was lame.
Fast-forward to the treasure hunt. The same people from the bay beach were at the hunt. After it was over, a grandmother said to me, "I see you gave in." I didn't respond. Slightly embarrassed, I thought to myself: Yes. Yes I did.
Fast-forward one more time. I am now bringing her, my 19-year-old daughter, back to college at the end of this month. Her dad and I and her sisters will miss her terribly. She is patient, unflappable, kind and funny and she is the one who taught me old tomatoes are best used in sauce.
By the way, she picks out all her own outfits and not once on this vacation did she enter the still waters of the bay fully clothed.
Trying to find out the root cause behind a defiant teen's rebellion is a great step in a positive direction. Your teen may be having problems with a friend, a girlfriend/boyfriend or a teacher and misdirecting their emotions at you. Try talking with them about what could be causing the behavior.
Teenagers who are involved in activities tend to have a more positive outlook and stay out of trouble at a larger rate than those who aren't.
It's easy for parents to get caught up in issues relating to work, finances and the day-to-day hassles of managing a family. It's important, however, to remember to spend quality time with your child a have meaningful conversations. Teens often act out when they feel they're being ignored.
As a parent, it's not uncommon to be at odds with your child. But it's important to make distinctions between those battles that are worth fighting and those that could be best described as vehicles for general contention. Ask yourself, is this argument necessary or can it be put aside?
Despite what your teen may say, they do not prefer dealing with their issues alone. Making a consistent effort to talk to your teen and listen to what they have to say -- offering advice only when appropriate -- can go a long way toward showing them that you're teammates and not opponents
Follow Judith Natelli McLaughlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/judynmclaughlin