Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Honey, can you say . . .

Nearly every morning, as I wheel Seconda out of the building in her stroller, we pass our super, Frank. Frank’s a affable, approachable guy, and I always flash a smile and offer a morning salutation. Seconda, however, prefer to greet him with a glare – chin downturned, the whole nine yards. To be fair, she only glares malevolently half the time, and the rest of the time, she just regards him blankly, with no interest, as if she were staring at a brick wall. Its not just Frank: this is her default demeanor when it comes to people in general --strangers, neighbors everyone gets the same treatment. It not usually a pressing matter because for the most part, these people tend not to pay too much attention to her or her decidedly unfriendly behavior. Frank, on the other hand, greets her with eye contact and a cheery ‘Hi Seconda!” every morning, and when she says nothing, nada, not even a grunt of acknowledgement, I am flooded with embarrassment.

In a frantic attempt to redeem Sec, myself and our family name, I quickly jump in:
“Honey, can you say ‘hi’?”

It’s a reasonable-enough thing for me to do, to offer a prompt. Maybe all Sec needs is a reminder about common courtesy? Maybe she’s merely forgotten? Wasn’t paying attention? Didn’t hear him?

But if the situation was embarrassing beforehand, my little friendly prompt makes it unbearable. Because she has NEVER, not once, in dozens and dozens of times, ever said ‘Hi’ when asked. Usually she says nothing, and glares even more malevolently. Sometimes she’ll reply with a matter-of-fact, “No.” Then, what might have been interpreted in a number of ways – she’s just shy, she’s sleepy, she’s got her head on the clouds, she has too much ear wax - - becomes irrefutable. My kid is rude.

Her response sets off a ridiculous response on my end, either nervous crazy laughter -- “Oh, Sec, she’s a TRIP!”-- or indignation and shock -- “HONEY! That isn’t very nice!” By the time the ten second exchange is over, I’ve been through the emotional wringer.


She’s pretty good about saying “Thank you” and “Please” but that’s mostly because she stands to gain something in those instances. Trying to get her to say “Sorry” on command, however, is actually impossible. I don’t think she’d say “sorry” if I offered to buy her a pony, or threatened to feed her to wolves. I honestly believe that she’d prefer to be devoured by a pack of starving wolves than to apologize immediately after doing something wrong, especially when I tell her to. Because at least then, she’s have the glory of winning the battle of will with her mother.

You’d think I would have learned by now not to offer the prompt, but the need is great to demonstrate to whoever’s watching that I do not approve, that I did not raise the kid to act like this, that this behavior is totally nature’s, not nurture’s fault, It’s a way of washing my hands – hey, I TRIED To get her to be polite, you heard that, right?. And I’ve seen it work – I just saw this little girl in the coffee shop pounding on the counter, and when her mom asked her to say “Sorry” she chirped it right out, and everyone was happy.

I guess when the kids are babies and toddlers, it’s what you have to do, to teach them what’s expected and appropriate in certain situations. How would they know otherwise? But at 4, they’ve got it. So I’m making a belated New Year’s resolution. No more useless, destined-to-fail prompts for stubborn Seconda. Or at least, fewer. Ok, I’d better hone it down to “I won’t ask Sec to say Hi to the super in the morning.”

Yeah, she may turn out to be an asshole when she grows up, but at least my mornings will be more pleasant.