Saturday, 1 December 2007

Minding Details

The other day, my youngest came slouching into our living room and turned on her music full blast. System of the Down, volume 25. The clock on the mantlepiece started shaking; candlesticks and bric-a-brac started tap-dancing near the edge of the shelf.

"Did you finish the dishes?" I shouted over the cacophony. When she still couldn't hear me, I rushed over to the sound system and turned it down.

Needless to say, my kid wasn't thrilled with my reaction to her music. She and her sister think I'm too pitiful for words, wanting to hear music instead of absorbing it through every cell of my body.

"Did you finish the dishes?" I asked again, and my daughter nodded.

"Every single one?"

"Yes!" she snorted, looking peeved.

"Including the ones scattered around the room, on the table, say, or stacked up where they shouldn't be, on the Welsh dresser?"


"What does Mmm mean?"

"Mom! I've done them! Okay?"

Twenty minutes later, I happened to go into the kitchen and found all the stuff she'd missed: half a dozen tea mugs, several coffee cups, plates, the cat dish, a baking tin and an array of cutlery. "I didn't see them!" she wailed, when queried. "It's not like I can see everything!"

Bear in mind that my youngest used to be one of those kids with a real eye for detail; the kind who could spot a missing whisker on the cat. Who knew right down to the last Snickers bar how many Halloween treats she had in the cupboard; a kid for whom What's wrong with this picture? was almost a joke. As long as she was paying attention, this kid had the sharpest eyes in town. Lately, though, an elephant could walk right past her and she'd never spot it.

The other day, I made her lunch and left a note for her homeroom teacher on the table. "Your lunch is on the table!" I bellowed upstairs to her.

"Okay!" came her reply.

"And don't forget your note -- that's on the table too!"

"Got it, Mom."

I went back to my chores, but when I next went into the kitchen, lunch and note were still on the table. The kid, of course, was long gone.

There are times when my youngest's lack of attention drives me insane. It makes me feel as though we are oceans apart when I ask her to bring me something which, although it is right in front of her, she cannot see. Or when she walks into a room and pronounces it tidy, failing to spot the newspaper on the floor, the laundry draped over furniture, the half dozen mugs peeking out of every other corner. There are times I really despair; times I wonder how I ended up with a kid like this.

Then the other day, I heard her snort in disgust. "This is so stupid!" she roared. "I can't believe how stupid this is!"


"Someone's got an apostrophe in wars here," she wailed. "But it's not possessive! It's not a contraction!"

I could hardly stop smiling.


Kim Ayres said...

I wonder what her texting is like

Kim Ayres said...

Hey, 1st one to comment for a change! That's so funky I'll leave 2 :)

Angela said...

OMG! I think we have the same daughter! Seriously, my daughter is the same way. All I can say is, Good Luck & may your patience outlast the teenage years:)

Brian said...

Re music noise ; How often do you pull up next to a teenage driver , and are immediately assaulted by their boom box ?

Re the invisibility problem : suggest to her she is a cat ,which never looks where you want it to, or grasp her by the scruff of the neck and hold her face a couple of inches from the offending article. This may have one of two effects , each desirable , though one is drastic -- she will wake up to herself , or will leave home .

patterjack the brutal

Carole said...

It is amazing to be so irritated one minute and so proud the next. Kids bring out every conceivable emotion and reaction in us, don't they?

debra said...

It's the teen aged brain. Really. The frontal lobes aren't fully developed.
So much for planning..... I always remind my #2 daughter to put her clothes in the dresser--the one with drawers instead of the dresser on the floor. But Mo-o-o-om. I forgot.
And she did. Again. She is also top dog for the grammar police. And now that she has her temporary driver's license, she is the first to critiques everyone else's driving. Sigh......

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- She and a group of like-minded teens are in some sort of movement called 'Save Our Vowels' -- I'm serious. They believe in grammar and are the most incredible nerds you can imagine. And one of her favorite books is Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I kid you not. If only I could get her to pick up her XXXX-ing laundry.

Angela -- Thanks for stopping by! I'll bet my kid's worse, but I intend to hop over to your site for moral support. Thanks for the good luck wishes, but I think I need more. Patience, mainly, and the occasional flashback of my own ungainly, ungracious teenage self.

Brian -- If you want to have some fun and the traffic isn't too heavy, whenever you encounter one of those noisy listeners, try and get the kid's attention (no mean feat), point at something behind the kid, making a helpful-looking face, and mouth whatever you please. The kid won't be able to hear a thing, of course, and wonder what the hell is going on. You can then get out of the way and leave him or her to figure out what to do. I have a friend who does things like that all the time and has a real blast. Some day she'll get into trouble over it, I fear.

Carole -- You nailed it. This is exactly what kids do: they bring you from high to low, and from low to high. They make you laugh, then get you tearing your hair. They bring you joy and misery -- sunrise and sunset. And then they grow up and leave home -- and bring back all their dirty laundry. My kids claim they'll never have children. I encourage them in their childless plans, craftily hoping that they will decide to do just the opposite. Boy, will I have fun if they ever bite the bullet and decide to reproduce.

Debra -- I really do believe that the issue is largely neurological. A few years ago, I remember reading an article about brain studies in teenagers; how both the frontal lobes and amygdala are still developing in teenagers, making it harder for them to interpret others' moods or make fast decisions in hazardous situations.
I feel for you, having a backseat driver, too! My eldest screamed the other day when I turned right (the U.K. equivalent of a left) against a red light, obeying the green 'Turn Right' arrow. She hadn't realized that one could do this, and I had all I could do not to crash the car, I was so frazzled.

Piloting The Ship Of Fools said...

The small print on the birth certificate allows - indeed encourages - parents to humiliate their kids and wreak petty acts of revenge on them at any time. I suggest truly banal puns, VERY loud classical music, baby pictures and threats to shave head.

Kara said...

i get accused of being a granny for turning the music down all the time...but what kansas doesn't realize is that it's only HIS music i do that to. bob dylan gets turned down...arcade fire gets cranked.

Kanani said...

That's perfect.
Kids this age are totally into themselves.
Here was an exchange with my son:

"I just want you out of my educational choices."

"Okay," I said.

"I'm going to drop out," he said.

"Really, what will you do?"

"I haven't decided."

"You'll have to get a job," I said.

"Fine. And I'm moving OUT."

"Mom, is $1350 a lot for an apartment?"

"When you're making minimum wage, it is."



"Hey mom, will you give me a ride to school tomorrow or will I have to take the bus?"

Christy said...

Clearly, you need to post poorly punctuated signs around the house.

Near the sink: PLEAZ WASH ALL DISH'S

In the laundry: FLOOR'S NEED KLEENING!

She can't possibly miss them.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I remember being just like that as a teenager. To some degree though i still am. If you leave a box in the kitchen long enough, eventually it just kind of blends into the background for me. One of my daughters is much neater than me. The other one, the one more like me is the one that drives me nuts.

Mary Witzl said...

Pilot -- My husband is always telling me to read the fine print. Obviously I should have done that earlier. And you have been reading my old posts: I've used this head shaving threat before. The bad puns I leave to my good husband.

Kara -- Go on and keep turning it down -- Arcade Fire too. Some day you will have the last laugh when you are the only one who doesn't have to screw up her face and say "Eh? What's that?" All your peers will be sporting really hearing aids and you will be swanning around without. See who looks like the granny then.

Kanani -- Sister! I have conversations like that with my daughter all the time: "Leave me alone! Stay out of my life!" "Oh -- can I borrow £5? Will you make chocolate chip cookies? Could you make pizza again?" Etcetera. And then the whole business about moving away from home and the sooner the better. Sigh. There are times I almost feel like telling her to go and do it, and times I know that she is nowhere near ready. And $1350 for an apartment? My God, have I been out of the States for a long time!

Christy -- It cracks me up just to think about this! I could drive her half insane! My eldest doesn't mind misspelt words and bad punctuation so much, but the younger one is definitely a stickler. She catches things I miss, and very few people can say that.

Sam -- Oh, if my mother were still around, she could tell a few tales. I recall how enraged she got when she had to get herself ready for work, then get us ungrateful kids up and ready so that she could drive us to school. We would have had to walk three miles if she hadn't waited, and she never once went off and left us, though I'm sure the temptation was great.

Like you, the kid who is like me is the one who can really get on my nerves. Though in fact, both of them do a pretty good job...

Merry Jelinek said...

I have to say, I was exactly like this as a teenager, and I can still get like this on occasion... I'm the one who blares the music here - I turn it all the way up in the kitchen and sing along as I do dishes and cook... my kids have actually come in to ask me to turn it down so they can hear the tv... (how embarrassing of a mom am I planning on being when they're teenagers)

The thing with not noticing anything at that age, or now, I was daydreaming. Now I call it fiction writing ;-) it's still the same basic thing, just now it's a bit more productive... oh, and during the teenage years, when I was extremely forgetful there was usually some crush on some boy to be blamed.... glad I'm over that phase though I'm not looking forward to it with my own kids.

Church Lady said...

My younger son is like that. Let me see if I can tell this story succinctly.

I had him tested last year for speech therapy services. They wanted to do the cognitive testing first. It was a battery of tests, and the results were all very good. He had, at the age of 6, the reading level of a 14 year old. So everything is great, except for *one* line item on the test.

When orally presented with a list of instructions to do, he was unable to do all of them. He might do the first one. Or the first and third. But not all of them. Maximum--two. Usually, only one. He scored well below average on this particular section of the test.

I've stopped yelling at him for not listening (because it's obvious he can't) and only give him two things at one time to do. "Get your socks and come downstairs" would be two things in his mind. Because the getting of the socks could mean simply get them and stay in the bedroom.

I hope I'm not rambling. Maybe some of this helps?

Danette Haworth said...

Your daughter is editing. You're doing something right, Mary!

Ello said...

I'm not looking forward to the teenage years when all 3 of my girls go into this state. I think I'll have a nervous breakdown.

The Anti-Wife said...

Did I ever mention how wonderful dogs are?

Kady said...

In terms of the seeming lack of attention, I think my mother still has the very same perception of me (everytime, EVERYTIME, I am anywhere around her, you would think I was the most inept, forgetful, incompitent person on the planet).

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi again Mary,

Just dropped by to let you know your ode's up. Hope you like it.

Mary Witzl said...

Merry -- I remember going around in a swoon half the time I was an adolescent, but we were not allowed to play our music over a certain volume and my kids enjoy far more liberty than I did. But like you, I sing as I do dishes (as loudly as I please, too) and when the kids do the dishes, my husband and I make it our policy not to complain too much over the volume of their music. They take this and run with it, unfortunately, and I worry that the neighbors may not appreciate our liberal values in this regard.

Church Lady -- You're not rambling at all! And if you are, then what does that make me?

Your son sounds suspiciously like my daughter. There are times I think that there might be something interesting going on in my daughter's brain. She too is leaps and bounds ahead of her classmates in reading and verbal skills, but I'm betting that she would fare about the same in that test your son was given. We have learned not to give her a series of chores to do either; they just won't get done. Autism (the functional variety) does run in my family, and I suspect a touch of this in my daughter; she can take directions so literally that you learn to be very careful in what you say.

What is your son like in the pattern recognition department?

Danette -- Honestly, all I've done is to contribute my DNA -- and feed and clothe the kid. True, once in a while I have fumed over the misuse of the subjective 'I' over the objective 'me;' I have lamented the substitution of 'of' for 'have,' and waxed lyrical about double negatives and dangling modifiers and participles. But other than that and a few other things, I've had nothing to do with this!

Ello -- I want to tell you it's a piece of cake -- and sometimes it is. One thing I can say is that you will not be bored. The other thing I can say is, start them on doing their own washing and ironing now even if you have household help. In fact, I could easily say plenty more, but I will wait until your girls are teenagers. You'll come back to me then, and I'll be right here dispensing homilies and emotional first aid as others have done for me.

Anti-wife -- My sister agrees with you 100%, though with her it is cats. And to be sure, my dog never dissed me after I'd just spent half a day slaving over its birthday festivities...And I'll never have to send my cat to college. Hmm.

Kady -- My mother often made me feel the same, wonderful woman that she was. When she came to visit me once, I had to strong-arm her back to the table and away from my stove and kitchen counter, where she was determined to demonstrate that she could do what I was doing faster and better. Now I miss grappling with her. Enjoy your mother while you still can!

Merry -- Thank you, Merry: I love it, and you can bet I'll be sounding off about it, big-time! I may even try and get my kids to memorize chunks of it...

-eve- said...

Ooo... no wonder my mom is irritated (I've done the exact thing, and truly, I really didn't see!). Mom says it shows I'm not listening properly and that I couldn't be bored (dunno; actually, I just don't hear...!)

Angela WD said...

That's so funny - my girls are exactly the same way. Selective vision. Little One cleans the bathroom and the faucet is still dirty. "I cleaned it!" she'll say. "It's not clean until the dirt is gone!" I say.

Mary Witzl said...

Eve -- Parents and kids are just in different frames. Most parents are in the get-it-done-this-minute frame and kids are in the I'll-do-what-I-want- to-do frame. There are a few exceptions, but they merely prove the rule. Wait and see: if you become a mother, you'll find out what I mean!

Angela -- Why is it kids have so much trouble spotting dirt, but are so damn good at finding chocolate?

My eldest is not so much oblivious as she is bone lazy, and she often does a slipshod job. Then she'll pretend as though she's put in a lot of time, asking me sweetly if I'm impressed with the great job she's done. I feel churlish telling her that she hasn't finished the job, and that's just what she wants: my guilt.