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Nature, Nurture, and the Occasional Stern Lecture

My friend Julie’s five-year old daughter whacked off a chunk of her hair the other day for the second time in the space of about ten days. So Julie was beside herself when the little imp turned right around and did it again the very next time she got hold of the scissors.

My friend Julie’s five-year old daughter whacked off a chunk of her hair the other day for the second time in the space of about ten days. The first time she did it, Julie sat little Zoe down and had a very detailed chat with her about why she wasn’t allowed to cut her own hair, and afterwards she went to the trouble and expense of getting a professional to undo the damage, to the greatest extent possible. So Julie was beside herself when the little imp turned right around and did it again the very next time she got hold of the scissors. And the hair-do, this time, is going to have to fix itself.

But when she told me about it, Julie herself couldn’t understand why she was quite as mad as she was. “Why does this upset me so much?” she asked me. “It’s just hair!”

“Because you see your future?” I suggested ominously.

“I think you’re right!” she exclaimed. “I knew one of my kids was going to give me trouble. Zoe’s the one! She’s going to defy me at every turn!”

I didn’t mean to lodge such a considerable fear into the heart of my friend but I know I was thinking about my own daughter, Belle, and the day she laid out the future for me. I remember it well. She was two and a half years old, and I was buckling her into her car seat, when she piped up and said, “I’ll drive.”

I stared at Belle with alarm, shook to my foundations. How, I thought to myself, am I going to raise a child who has such great regard for her own abilities and such little regard for mine? She’ll never listen to a word I say!

Then I patted Belle on the head and clicked her into her buckle and told her she was too little to drive a car, thanks.

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But she did it again the following summer, as she and I whiled away the afternoon in a canoe. “Give me the shovel!” she insisted, “I will shovel us!” She was so little, and so ill-informed, that she didn’t even know the item I held was called a paddle, not a shovel, and yet she felt strongly she could do a better job of propelling us across the pond with it than I was doing.

She was only three. I wondered how I’d survive her adolescence.

I’ve always believed that my children are who they are, or in the words of Julie, that they come with their bags packed. And the more I read about genetic research the more I’m convinced that many of our personality traits, not just physical traits, are inborn.

But now that Belle is turning ten years old, I look back on some of her memorable childhood utterances and I know that I probably made too big a deal out of them. They might’ve told part of the future but not the whole thing.

Yes, she is a confident little thing, and no, she doesn’t usually accept what I tell her at face value. But I think a certain amount of skepticism is a good thing. And I want her to figure a lot of things on her own. As long as she’s respectful, which usually she is, and as long as she follows the few hard-and-fast rules we have around here, which she usually does, it’s okay with me that she thinks for herself.

More important, though, is that Belle’s not operating in a vacuum. She has me to contend with, and her father, and her little brother, and any number of other people who will help influence and shape her throughout her life. So although her bags might be packed, she still has endless choices about where to go with them, and she’s going to get a lot of input from other people along the way.

As for my friend Julie, she’ll probably be okay, too. Perhaps her daughter does have a defiant streak, and no doubt she will test the limits with her mother as she grows up.

But Julie’s no milk-toast herself. In fact, if anyone’s a match for little Zoe, I think Julie’s it.



Letter From the Pig Farm

I was driving my grandfather’s old pickup to town the other day when we came upon a nanny goat standing in the middle of the road. I stopped and rolled down my window. Belle and Joe, sitting beside me, clambered over to my side to look out at the funny little goat and say hello.

Thanks for Restaurants, Bananas and Plumbing

My kids Belle and Joe and I were out to dinner with a friend and her kids recently when my friend’s five year-old daughter, Zoe, looked up from her food long enough to proclaim in her sweet little-girl’s near-whisper of a voice, “This is the finest restaurant I’ve ever been in.”

Santa, I Hope This Letter Won’t Come as a Shock

Dear Santa, I’ve really enjoyed the past ten years that we’ve been together. We’ve had some fun times. And I would never want to hurt your feelings, but I think the best way to deal with my own feelings is to be completely honest with you. So I’m sorry, Santa, but I’m breaking up with you.

Congratulations! You’ve Completed Tuesday.

At the elementary school my children attend they have a special ceremony at the end of the school year they call “stepping back.” All the kids in one grade hold hands and get in a big line stretched across the quad, and then when it’s their turn they all take a giant step back, which symbolically makes room for the lower grade to take their place.

My Work Here is Done

It’s been five years now since my first book, “Confessions of a Slacker Mom,” was published. And not only have my royalty checks diminished to the point where they’ll barely cover the cost of a double Frappucino, it seems the book itself has now outlived its usefulness.

A High Note for Belle

Our family just got back from watching a girls’ high school basketball game and I have to tell you my nerves are shot to smithereens. No, I wasn’t nervous about whether or not our school’s team would win the game; in fact we had to leave before the game was over so I don’t even know who won.

Good-Bye to Santa?

Every year, soon after Thanksgiving, our children Belle and Joe start thinking about writing their letters to Santa Claus. What a special time of year!

Cheating Our Children

I was very disheartened, last spring, when it was revealed that Marilee Jones, who had for a long time been the Dean of Admissions at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fabricated her academic credentials early in her career. She was one of my heroes!