We are (as you can see below) at a big, giant indoor water park/hotel. It’s “AWESOME,” and “the best valentine’s day ever” and “so COOL.” All of those things are true (it’s also, we’re just now noticing, right under the airport flight path, but that’s not going to bother me any. I’m a good sleeper, I am!
It’s not crowded (while we in the East take two winter breaks to save on heating costs, in the South and West, they take only one and cut the school year earlier—to save on a/c). There are other families here, yes, but not many. In the water park itself, there are five major areas, all well within sight of each other, and we agreed that the kids could move around as long as they tell us where they’re going (one of those areas requires an adult, anyway, for every kid but Sam, or requires Sam to take a littler kid, so we’d know). Guess who was the first and only one to blow it?
Rory had maxed out on togetherness time and headed, with me and with permission, to the wave pool when I realized that my dad and Lily had headed up one of the really big water slides (this is the kind of place where the slides are so big they go outside the building. I’m sheltered. I didn’t really realize things like this existed. It’s amazing, it truly is). I wanted to see them pop out the bottom, and I couldn’t leave Rory in the wave pool, so I insisted she come back with me. Partway there, she yanked her hand from mine and ran to a different area (a water fort with smaller slides).
I knew where she was. It wasn’t crowded. I know Rory, and I know she will always look for me. I also know, if I’m worried about it, that she would never leave with a stranger (I once saw a stranger who thought she was lost when she wasn’t try to help her by guiding her to the cash register in the book store, and oh, man, that was one sorry stranger and one LOUD reaction). I know she’s not going to drown in a water fort. In other words, I’m not worried. And I suspect that’s where she thought I was going.
But still, she ran off. And she did it because she was mad.
I watched Dad and Lily pop out of the slide (she’s GAME, that kidâ€”Sam still hasn’t tried that slide), chatted a bit, then went to wait at the bottom of the much smaller slides where I knew Rory would soon pop out, and I pounced. “Did you run away from me?” Pause. Bigger pause.
That’s fairly big right there.
“What did I tell you to do if you went somewhere different?”
I walk her away from the slide, and I can tell she’s worried. A year ago, a few months ago, I’d have set her out. I’d have been genuinely mad, and caught up in my reaction and my own fears. She didn’t respect me. She didn’t care if she could find me or not. She was always going to be disobedient, she was overconfident, she wasn’t attached to me and didn’t care who she was with or if I found her, she was defying meâ€”all of those contradictory things, all at once. It would have ended in tears and a time out and a big ugly war of control. But I wasn’t mad this time. I knew none of those things were true, and I suspected, although I was actually pleased that she didn’t offer it as an excuse, that she really thought that was where we were going.
I just knelt down, and said “I know you were mad that we left the wave pool. But if you’re going to go somewhere, and I’m not right with you, you need to stop and tell me next time. Can you do that?”
Oh, the relieved nod. And for the rest of the day, even if all she did was switch from one side of a pool to another, she checked right in.
I’m happy with her. I’m even happier with me. I didn’t get mad, or even feel like I needed to get mad. I didn’t let any of the hundred unrelated issues and assumptions that so often overwhelm my interactions with Rory and with all of my kids interfere with doing what was the right thing to do. And it paid off all day, even unto dinner, when our quest for a really good Mexican restaurant required us to leave the first one (which obviously did not meet the bill) and move on, a huge risk with tired and hungry kids. Rory pouted, and considered tantrumming (I can see it by now) at several junctures (my favorite: she said she wouldn’t get out of the car, and when I said ok, don’t, she decided that she wouldâ€”but not out of the side that I’d opened for her, out of the other side), but held it together. I, in turn, let her have chicken fingers instead of insisting she eat good mexican (and oh, it was good). And she, in turn, tried salsa, liked it, and ditto Sam’s rice and beans. All of that, seriously, was the dividend of skipping that earlier power struggle. Everybody won.