K doesn’t like tags in clothing. (Who does?) They scratch her, and she always wants them taken out. (Why haven’t more clothing makers adopted the tagless system of printing the relevant information on the inside of the neckline?) A few days ago, we went clothing shopping, and she picked out a few items, including a long sleeved shirt with some kind of shiny design on the front. Yesterday morning, she came downstairs for breakfast, dressed, clutching the side of the shirt, looking contrite and teary-eyed.
“Mommy… something happened,” she said, coming up to me.
I understood immediately, but I asked anyway.
“There was a tag and I tried to cut it off… sniff… and now look!” She erupted in wails as she moved her hands to unveil a ragged, jagged hole in the side of her shirt.
“Oh, I’m sorry sweetie. Tags are hard to cut off. That’s why you need to ask an adult to do it.”
“But Mommy! This is my favorite shirt!”
“Well, I’m not sure what to tell you. You can still wear it, if you’d like.”
“But nooooo! Can you sew it up?
Well, I suppose I could have, but I wasn’t going to.
“No, I’m sorry. Next time, just ask me or Papa, ok?”
She tromped upstairs, crying. A few minutes later, she shuffled back downstairs, wearing a different shirt. She lifted her head and said: “You made me feel like I had to make the hole bigger!”
That was a good one.
“No, I really didn’t. If you made the hole bigger, that was entirely your decision.”
“No! You made me do it.”
Sigh. “Would you like a blueberry bagel for breakfast?”
For a while I felt a bit guilty. Maybe I shouldn’t have let her have pointy scissors in her desk. Maybe I should have been more understanding. Maybe I should have agreed to try to sew up the hole. She was just trying to be independent.
A couple of days later, I sat in my dance class discussing with a few of the senior dancers the auditions they had just held for a new kathak youth ensemble. Six students showed up, between the ages of ten and fourteen. Five of them did well enough to form the first youth ensemble group. One of them was not prepared enough, and a decision was necessary. Accept her anyway, to give her the motivation to practice more and so as to avoid her disappointment? Not accept her, in order to send a clear message that showing up for an audition does not guarantee success? Accept her on a trial basis? But then, would that drag down practice sessions with the others? If she was not accepted, would she simply give up? Or at ten would she be mature enough to view this as an opportunity to improve?
We opted for the second option, of not accepting her, albeit being very supportive of her and her dance. The conclusion: children will learn from disappointment. It’s ok if they are upset and cry. I thought of K and her scissors, and felt vindicated.
Later that day, K came to me with her scissors, holding them the way she knows to do, by the blades, and handed them to me, asking me to cut out a tag from her dress. I smiled to myself and thought of all the rejections I have received from agents on my manuscript, and all the times I’ve cried in anger and exploded in expletives at the sight of “I regret to tell you…” and all the times I’ve wanted to tear up the pages (“you made me feel like I had to make the hole bigger!”) and all the times I’ve then pulled myself together to begin revisions anew. And I snipped off the tag.