Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Silent Treatment

When I was a kid, there was no punishment the cut me as deeply as when my father would not speak to me. Reserved for the most grievous of errors, it was a harsh and horrible consequence that could last for hours or, on rare occasion, days. My father was a physically intimidating man, but more terrifying that an angry look or raised voice or even a spanking were his silences. I imagined a red sea of rage boiling behind his closed lips.

This morning, Katie asked for five dollars to buy a hair bow from a teacher at school. I told her she could earn the money this afternoon, and then buy the bow tomorrow. What a good mom I am! What a wonderful idea! What a great way to turn it into a teachable moment! But it wasn't the answer she wanted so she took the money off our dresser, threw it outside onto the sidewalk, and then tried to convince us that she spotted this manna from heaven through the window. What an amazing coincidence, this five dollar bill, right as she needed it so desperately! Then she lied her way around her lie, digging herself deeper until she was finally sunk.

Sean and I were too dumbfounded to be angry. Our kid doesn't steal. Our kid doesn't lie. Our kid understands that you earn privileges. Right? Right?

I drove Katie to school in silence. I could see her in the back seat, her eyes red and watery. I didn't say anything, because I didn't know what to say. I was angry, but it was much more than that. I was sad. I was deeply, deeply disappointed. I thought about my father, and his brooding silences and wondered if I mistook sadness for anger. I wonder if he sat there, much like I did this morning, thinking "What have I done wrong, and what do I do now?"

Every day I learn how little I know about being a parent.

I know what it feels like to take a long ride with someone who is not speaking to you. I know the feeling of staring at the back of my mom or dad's head, thinking if I stared hard enough I could see their thoughts and know exactly how awful my punishment was going to be.  I know the shame in that silence. The agony in not knowing. I held her hand and kissed her cheek when she got out of the car. I told her I loved her and to have a good day. I've thought about her all day, and wondered if she's done the same.

Tonight, we'll sit down with her and her a long, painful lecture. Because it's important that she understand all the things she did wrong. Because it's important that she understand her punishment.

Because I can't stand the silence.

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