For Argument’s Sake

by Nola

Here’s the deal: I know how to argue. It isn’t because I am a lawyer (which I am). It is because I was raised by the best arguer I’ve ever met, and I learned my lessons well. I don’t mean “argue” as in scream and carry on. I mean “argue” words; logic; debate — I mean I’ve got mad skilz in the art of ARGUMENTS. I will out-logic your ass faster than you even see it coming. Especially, say, if you are one month shy of being four years old.

Next month is Sun’s fourth birthday. We’ve all settled on her wanting a swing-set for her birthday. So today I asked if she wanted to join me to look at some — let her weigh in on which one she liked best. After a failed stop at Toys R Us, we regrouped and headed to Lowe’s.

Looking back, I am really not sure what had Sun so ready to explode. Sure, the trip to the toy store didn’t go the way she’d hoped, but it wasn’t epic. The tears had dried and she was happy as we hopped out of the car. It may be that she was still hoping to score a toy. As we entered Lowe’s, she said, “They don’t sell swings,” as she pulled me towards a Spongebob plant book.

I steered her away from the bookrack and to the outside plant area. She fought me the whole way, screaming she needed a basket. I insisted she didn’t since we were just LOOKING and I’d carry her if she didn’t want to walk. Which I did — carry her. As we went down the proper outdoor-furniture aisle, her eye spied the beloved car-basket. And she HAD TO BE IN IT. Problem was, a guy was using it. And the screaming began. She wrestled to get out of my arms and I fought to hold on tighter. And all the while her yelling escalated. And so did my resolve. I marched her right out of the store and to the car.

And this is where it got ugly. Out of earshot from other folks.

Sun: I don’t WANT to leave!
Me: Well, too bad. You weren’t listening and were screaming at me.
Sun: Don’t leave! I don’t want to leave! DON’T!
Me: Good. The fact that you don’t WANT to leave makes this better. Maybe next time you will listen and we won’t have to leave.

This escalated more along these lines–with her expressing simply that she didn’t want to leave and me telling her all that she did wrong, in not so kind, patient words.

And then that moment arrived. That moment that I KNEW I had my opponent crushed if I but squeezed. And, oh, I wanted to squeeze. I am happy to report that, today, I did not squeeze.

But here’s my dilemma. It’s in my DNA to argue to that crushing point. And I am TEACHING Sun to argue just as ruthlessly, no differently than my protege taught me — not intentionally but by experiencing the receiving end of it. And sometimes “crushing” isn’t the point, is it? There are many arguments I know I can win, I can crush it, but I will still lose. Sometimes they are worth the crush; sometimes as a parent, as an adversary, making the point, winning the argument, is all there is: no playing in traffic or with fire; no screaming in restaurants because all-of-a-sudden-you-don’t-like-toast; no hitting me because you don’t get your way. But there are other times when arguing MISSES the point entirely.

Why didn’t I just take the moment to look at the stupid Spongebob book? I know the answer is that had I looked, Sun then would have wanted me to buy it. And my message to her today was that not every time we step into a store is an opportunity for her to become an allegory of WANT. We don’t always get what we want; we don’t always get something we didn’t-know-we-wanted-’til-we-walked-in-the-store-but-now-that-we-are-here-I-must-have-it; sometimes we leave with nothing. And such a not-getting is NOT an excuse for a temper-tantrum.

So, what I really ask myself isn’t why didn’t I stop to have a four-year-old try to convince me why she needed me to buy her junk, but rather, why did I let this escalate to the moment where I had to stop myself from figuratively crushing her? I can all but see her on the couch telling her future therapist, “My mother was a violently angry person. And she saved the worst for those she loved best.” And she’d kinda be right. Because not every time will I be able to stop myself from the crush, especially as Sun, and her own mad arguing skilz, mature.

This is my toughest struggle as a mother: I must struggle with the urge to argue ’til I crush Sun. Crush Sun and our relationship. And I must struggle to keep Sun from learning from the best, as I did, how to argue so ruthlessly.

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