Aden, age 7, has a mind of her own. She is unequivocally and unapologetically herself.
For those of you who’ve read “My Name Is Tiger,” this revelation comes as no big shock.
Parenting Aden is 75% joy and 25% fancy foot work and educated guesses.
If Aden follows the rules, it’s just because they happen to coincide with what she plans to do anyway.
Fortunately for all of us, it seems to make more sense to Aden these days to follow the rules. I’d chalk this up to excellent parenting on our part, but I suspect this is more a testament to Aden’s analytical ability.
Precisely because she’s become so adept at this apparent rule-following, we’ve found ourselves surprised for the last several months that we’ve had to battle so much over one particular rule.
Do not talk to strangers.
When I was a kid, my parents read me the book Never Talk to Strangers by Irma Joyce. A funny and whimsically illustrated tale, the rhyming story shows various situations in which a child could find him/herself with a stranger and then emphasizes the rule. Never talk to strangers.
If you are hanging from a trapeze
And up sneaks a camel with bony knees,
Remember this rule, if you please—
Never talk to strangers.
My parents still own the book, and we’ve read it occasionally to all of our kids.
More and more often lately, we’ve worked on this idea with Aden.
One of Aden’s most endearing traits is her friendliness. People are charmed by her, so Aden is firmly convinced that she lives in a world full of friends – just because she hasn’t met all of them yet doesn’t make them strangers.
I try not to squelch her Pollyanna attitude. Nor do I favor the instill-fear method of raising children.
I want my children to understand that the world is full of kind and helpful people. But I also want them to be savvy, wise and prepared.
Ah, the fine line that is parenting.
After a frustrating start, my lessons on strangers seemed to be penetrating during just the last few weeks.
Aden’s been giving the concept a lot of thought, and, on her own began pointing out strangers… with me at the gas station, pointing to the attendant… in the car in traffic, pointing out other drivers… at the park and the grocery store, pointing out adults and kids we don’t know.
“Yes, Aden,” I’d say, “that’s a stranger.” Finally! I thought, She’s actually getting it.
She even made the correlation that, if those people are strangers to her, then she must be a stranger to them.
I picked Aden up from a friend’s house. Neighborhood kids were on the sidewalk when we were getting in our car.
“They’re strangers,” Aden said. I concurred.
“I’m a stranger,” Aden said.
“To them,” I agreed, “you are.”
Then we went out to lunch. I followed Aden to the restroom, and in the second I wasn’t there she’d already struck up a conversation with a woman at the sink. As soon as the woman left, I’m embarrassed to admit that I lit into Aden.
“A-DEN! I have talked to you about this ONE THOUSAND times!” I started in, in a hushed but emphatic voice. Aden’s eyes got big.
“You must LISTEN to me. You must OBEY me. I am your MOMMY. It is my job to keep you SAFE.” Have you ever noticed that ranting precludes the use of contractions?
“She is a STRANGER. You are not NOT NOT allowed to TALK to her. NO TALKING TO STRANGERS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Aden looked at me with eyes as big as saucers, but also with her chin in that oh-so-familiar thrust-forward, defiant position.
“But Mommy,” she said, using a rational and calm voice, the kind of voice you’d use to talk someone down from a ledge, “You said.”
Baffled, I asked, “I said what?”
Aden explained. “You said I’m a stranger, too.”
Parent/child communication breakdown.
I thought she was getting it. I thought she was realizing all of the people in the Stranger Category. I thought she was busy grouping the Us’s and the Them’s.
Turns out, she’d figured out that there was a Stranger Category, alright. I just didn’t realize that she’d found a giant, gaping loop-hole. Faced with a prohibition against open friendship with all people, Aden had decided to simply become a stranger.
Which would make all of the strangers… friends.
I find that strangely beautiful.
So I’ve been outsmarted again. So what? That part’s not strange, at all.