Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Blush, Mascara, and Tears

The morning before I took the preliminary oral exams that mark the transition from doctoral student ("Sure, you can pay tuition and say you're working on a doctorate") to doctoral candidate ("Okay, we believe you when you say that you can actually do this. Go ahead and start your dissertation now"), Twelve tried to sneak out of the house wearing makeup.

We don't have very many rules around here: Tasks are to be done, but enforcement is often lax, and Twelve is allowed - even encouraged - to go and do what she wants and needs to do with a minimum of adult interference. No makeup outside the house, though, is one of the big (only) ones.

For a smart kid, she's not very good at being sneaky. She often gives me the cursory side-hug and air kiss on her way out the door in the mornings, so I didn't suspect a thing when I innocently insisted on a real hug.

It was the scent of powder that gave her away.

I am not the most observant of persons; you have to gain/lose about fifty pounds or cut a foot off your hair if you want me to notice that something's different. R only shaves about once a week, and sometimes it takes me all day to notice that he has.

After I realized that Twelve was fully made up, I gathered my wits - I'm barely awake at this point, mind you - and told her to wash her face. Amidst frantic insistence (complete with impatient hand flapping gestures) that she had to leave right this instant, she moistened the corner of a washcloth and took a few cursory swipes. Gathering my wits further, I got the washcloth all the way wet and took some actually-effective swipes, at which point the tears began to fall. Gathering all remaining wits and steeling myself against the crying, I shooed her out the door to school.

Eleven minutes later, when she called to tell me she had arrived (according to our standard operating procedure), she may have seemed a bit resentful but had recovered her composure. Okay, we survived round one and made it to school on time. Excellent.

After school, I decided that I should probably take further action, so I told Twelve she was grounded from her iPod and everything else for the rest of the month. This was greeted with flippancy, bravado, and a whole lot of not-caring, with a good measure of what used to be called back-talk as garnish:

"It doesn't hurt anything!"

"Nobody cares!"

"What's the big deal about makeup anyway?"

She has some good points there, but I stuck to my guns:

"It hurts our relationship when you break my trust in you."

"In our culture, wearing makeup sends a message, and that is significant."

"When you are out in the world, you are representing me, so I have a vested interest in what you look like."

"It's not really about the makeup; it's about you breaking a rule and sneaking around."

She wasn't convinced. As far as I could tell, she didn't really care. She is particularly tired of all sentences that begin with "In our culture ... "

Okay, you've got to get through to her
, I told myself firmly, in a very supportive and encouraging manner. Summoning courage, I bravely pointed at her hooded sweatshirt, her favorite blue one that she wears every day despite the fact that she owns six others: Give me that sweatshirt. Not quite sure what was happening, she took it off and handed it over. Scanning her room, I picked up her favorite sneakers and went to get a box. As she started to realize what was happening, I piled makeup and hair products and nail polishes into the box on top of sweatshirt and sneakers.

Finally, tears.

The brave front crumbled, and she was able to admit that she was wrong. She apologized for sneaking around, and asked why she isn't allowed to wear makeup. This part included the explanation that she had done it because she felt insecure about a zit on the tip of her nose that her friends had mentioned:

Me: Were they making fun of you?
Twelve: No.
Me: Were they trying to be mean to you?
Twelve: No.
Me: So ... they just mentioned the zit?
Twelve: Yeah.

Kind of precious, that bit. I may have ruined it a bit by chuckling behind my hand, but I think I recovered okay. I reminded her that the important thing is for me to be able to trust her, and reminded her that we both want her to be able to continue being trusted. I told her that she is more than welcome to request a re-visiting of the whole makeup question after she's ungrounded. I held her for awhile as she cried and eventually left her alone to sort herself out. Later, I took her a glass of water, and eventually she cried herself to sleep.

Relating the whole incident to R (who had fled the scene somewhere between the seventh "Nobody cares" and the sixteenth "What's the big deal about makeup anyway?"), I think he's proud of the way I handled this first major incident with Twelve. He fears that I let her get away with too much, most of the time, and he's probably right. It just takes so much energy to stay on top of every little thing! I have created a monster with Twelve's independence, that's for sure; for the most part it's the very best possible approach for both of us, but it also occasionally puts us in positions where she feels like she should have more decision-making authority than she does have or is ready to have.

Twelve will be ungrounded in a few days, and I'm sure won't forget to remind me to return all her stuff; I'm sure not looking forward to the whole house smelling like nail polish all the time.

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