Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You're on my list!

I recently had a parenting breakthrough and I'm eager to share my genius with you. It emanated from the fact that, at 45, I have a lousy memory. When I complain to my children that they treat me like a slave, a bank or a non-person, they always ask for examples. I am no longer able to back up my claims with evidence on the spot so I've had to get creative. I let the girls know that I am now keeping a list. All behavior that disrespects me, together with the name of the perpetrator and the date of the offense, goes on the list. Here's the amazing thing - for an entire week after I first referenced the list, there were almost no offenses at all. The list was an awesome deterrent. Who knew?! It wasn't until the second week that the existence of the list was even questioned and it wasn't until the third week that anyone thought to ask about the consequences of landing on the list. The list is, in fact, real. It's in a small green notebook that I carry around. Part of the notebook is reserved for sweet and funny things the kids do so I can recall them easily when we play "remember when"; part of the book contains a running list of things I need to pick up and attend to (ranging from buying more hair conditioner to a growing list of bar and bat  mitzvah gifts that we have not yet sent); part of the book just has work notes and thoughts; and part of the book houses my list under the heading "Disrespect Examples". I used to panic if I couldn't find my Blackberry because it contains all my contacts and my calendar but my green notebook has become far more valuable!

Keeping this list suits me for several reasons. First, of course, it's a vital memory refresher. Second, though, and just as important, is that it's motivated me to share a pet peeve of mine with our daughters and discuss it. I think we probably all know people who create mental lists of the wrongs that are done to them. I hate these lists because the keeper never discloses that they exist (and more often than not acts insulted if you suggest that it does) and because lists like these never seem to have a statute of limitations. There's really nothing at all to be gained by reminding someone of something they did to you 10 years ago or even one year ago. I want our daughters to be able to communicate effectively and problem-solve in the moment when something or someone affronts them. I do not want our girls to grow up harboring resentment; rather, I want them to be able to confront with empathy, integrity and class and then move on. As for my list, there is no consequence to be on the list other than the consequence that would generally attach to bad behavior and the very fact of being on the list. At the end of each week, the list in my notebook is disposed of so that each week can begin with a clean page. Our kids have been pretty clear - they do not want to be on the list.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am pretty sure that my husband of nearly 20 years will laugh when he reads this blog post and find some nice euphemism for "hypocrite". I don't think I ever make Jeff feel like I'm keeping a list of his historic faults to use like ammunition but he wouldn't be lying if he told you that I do sometimes tend to re-hash the past. With him. Only with him. I think. But I'm working on it. 

Back to lists. I have two fabulous books to recommend for two different age group both written and illustrated by the same dynamic team but you might not know that from their covers. Whew! For the younger set I suggest the irresistible 13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman. The list is awesome: 1. Bird 2. Despondent 3. Cake 4. Dog 5. Busy 6. Convertible 7. Goat 8. Hat 9. Haberdashery 10. Scarlet 11. Baby 12. Panache 13. Mezzo-Soprano - but you'll have to read the book to learn more!

For the older, young adult set, Daniel Handler (the man behind the Lemony Snicket curtain) is the author of Why We Broke Up, illustrated, again, by Maira Kalman. The narrator/protagonist is a teenage girl who amassed a collection of stuff during her short but meaningful relationship with her former true love and has decided to put it in a box and give it to him so she can finally be free of him. The book is the letter she writes to accompany the box. Each chapter is an item in the box; discussing its significance and considering it as a factor of the breakup. The letter is a list. It's a teenage breakup list. I honestly cannot imagine anyone sounding more like an authentic teenage girl than Daniel Handler does in this heart-warming and heart-wrenching book. Maira Kalman's illustrations make it so that you know exactly what has been included in the box. I would have loved to have this team guiding me through my teenage years!

In honor of my daughters, today's music playlist has only one song: So Much Better from Legally Blonde on Broadway has been playing in my head over and over as I wrote this post:

Is that my name up on that list?
Does someone know that I exist?
Is this a mistake?
Am I even Awake?
Pinch me now to make sure...
Yes that's my name in black and white
maybe I'm doing something right
WOW! I feel so much better
Than before!

No comments:

Post a Comment