Bekah, who was 14 at the time, had her iPod was stolen from her locker last fall. She hadn't secured her combination lock sufficiently it seems, and a brisk shake was enough to loosen it. (This, at any rate, is the theory of her two older siblings, who have more recent experience than I with high school lockers and combination locks -- which, evidently, they're not making as well as they did when I was in school ...)
So, the girl has no iPod. She loves, loves, loves her iPod. Listens to it all the time. Is never without her music. So, not surprisingly, she asks for one for Christmas. The new one. The iPod Touch. Which, having seen one owned by one of Adam's friends, is a very snazzy gadget indeed. One can see the appeal. Hell, seeing the thing has me, who has long been perfectly content with a teeny Zen, wanting one, just for the extreme coolness of the thing. So sleek, so well-designed, so very clever. And Christmas was coming up...
However, a little quick research tells me it costs $330. Before taxes. Which puts it solidly outside my Christmas budget. I might be able to manage that much for one child, but not for all three of them. Bekah suggests a compromise: "It can be my only present, and I don't need a stocking." I try to picture a Christmas with one gift the size of a thickish credit card and nothing - nothing! - else. Besides, I'd already bought stuff, so it was too late anyway.
We sit on my bed and have a Serious Talk, in which I explain why her suggestion, generous as it is, doesn't really resolve the difficulty, and how I just don't feel I can spend that much more on one child than I would be spending on the other two. I ask if she has any other ideas. At this point, however, she is mute with despair. Possibly with rage. But most definitely mute.
"Well, love, I'm going to go do the dishes now. You think about it, and in a little while, we can do some brainstorming." Perhaps I got a nod, but perhaps that was just her head wilting a little closer to the bedspread.
This is a technique learned from hard experience. When a teen is faced with something that causes a strong emotional reaction -- and what doesn't, some days? -- it is far better to leave them with it. My inclination is to Work It Through with them, to keep the 'discussion' going, to try to pry some conversational flow from them. Okay, I admit it: what I'm after is for them to be happy again. Right now! Because I hate the emotional storms. I could drown in all the misery they exude. And I'm the mother! I want my babies to be happy! But ultimately, trying to force the emotional resolution only serves to make everyone believe that I am responsible for their happiness. No reason for them to try to get over it on their own: that's mom's job. Feeling upset? Blame mom!
So, never mind. I go off to do the dishes, and leave her to it.
As I do the dishes, I suffer. I want to buy the damned thing for her. I have a couple of ideas, in fact, as to how it could be managed, but I'm keeping them to myself for now. I don't want to leap in and solve this problem for her. I want her to face the reality that satisfying this desire of hers would result in injustice to her siblings. I want her to wrestle with it.
But I don't want her to suffer! And I have a possible solution or two! And I could just run up there and fix it for her right now! And I sternly tell myself to Knock It Off, and I finish the damned dishes. And tidy the kitchen. And clear the dining table. And sweep the floor. And mess about with bits of paper on the end table. All the while one ear is cocked to the upstairs bedroom. I don't hear any slamming of doors and drawers. I don't hear any sobbing. Is this good or bad?
Just as I am about to pop with maternal angst -- though my kitchen and dining room are cleaner than they've been for weeks!! -- I hear her on the stairs. She swings round the newel post to face me. Her face is not blotched, though her eyes are a bit puffy. And she is smiling.
"I have decided I don't want the iPod." And she proceeds to lay out her new idea for her Christmas gift, a clever, creative, grown-up one. (Which I will not describe at the moment, so as not to distract the flow of the narrative.) And the iPod? "I can save up for one and buy it in the new year. If I get any Christmas money, I can use that towards it, too."
Imagine. A fourteen-year-old, denied her heart's desire, does not scream and rage, does not slam doors, or hurl things about her room, nor even stomp on the stairs; she does not rail against the injustice, and hate me for not making enough money, nor resent her siblings for stealing resources that might otherwise be hers. Instead, she faces facts, changes direction, and comes out with a different, creative solution.
I am so proud of her.