“Get your shirt on.” I am calm. I am zen. I am the perfect father on the first day back to school.
My five-year-old daughter doesn’t want to put her shirt on.
She sits at the table, eating a bagel. She has decided that she wants to be a grown-up and eat grown-up things. She asked for coffee, cream, and no sugar. She demands to be treated as a “big kid” and will eat accordingly. I’m making pot roast tonight, money says she takes one look at it and decides she wants Poptarts instead. She makes no move to put her shirt on.
“Seriously, put your shirt on.”
She doesn’t move.
“Your bus will be here in ten minutes, and you have no shirt on. Get it on.” I don’t even know if she is aware of my presence. She has also decided today to treat me like I don’t exist.
“Move. Don’t make me tell you again.” This dad cliche is a sign that I am starting to get exasperated. It’s a well-known sign that is on several country’s flags and has been written about by the great poets. Don’t make me tell you again.
I tell her again to get her shirt on. In fact, I tell her two more times. 8:00 in the morning, and am already entering the world of fatherly fails. I clap my hands really loud to get her attention.
Slowly she turns her head and finally looks at me. Is there disgust I see there or is it just annoyance? She has some grown-up looks, that’s for sure.
I speak slowly. “Move. Your. Butt. Put. Your. Shirt. On. NOW.” The last word comes out stern, an octave or two lower than my normal voice. It’s the second sign that dad means business, and to disobey me at this point will cause her much strife. By which I mean, of course, there will be no consequences because I don’t have time to punish her, do her hair, and get her out front for her bus. By the time she gets home today, she will have totally forgotten about this whole shirt thing thus punishing her for it then just makes me out to be a jerk.
She finally puts down her bagel and grabs her shirt. This is a brand new shirt. One that she picked out herself yesterday.
“I don’t want to wear this shirt. I don’t like it.”
At this point, I feel the first part of my sanity break away and tumble into the void of rational thought. Wow. I don’t even know what to say here. She loved it yesterday, swore that this is the shirt she wanted and swore that she wanted to wear this one on her first day back to school.
“Are you kidding me? Go put your shirt on now. The bus is coming and we are going to miss it. Get dressed, kid. Now.”
She leaves the table, and I feel somewhat comforted that I didn’t totally lose my composure. I chalk this up as a win.
She comes back down from her room with a different shirt on. It’s a short-sleeved shirt. A summer tank top. I chalk this up as a loss. Another piece of my sanity falls.
“How…” I can’t even get the question out.
“I want to wear this shirt.” She says and heads back to her bagel.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Now I’m just chanting, hoping that this will center myself and not drive me to the nuthouse. “That’s a summer shirt. Go get the shirt your picked out. The bus will be here in 5 minutes.”
“I don’t like that shirt.”
“Go put your shirt on.”
“I don’t want to.”
“It’s not pretty.”
“It is pretty.”
I am debating fashion with a five-year-old. I have lost and it’s not even 8:04 yet. I realize at this point that I am parenting wrong. Never debate with a child. Listen, understand, then give marching orders.
“Turn around and go upstairs. Get your shirt. Put it on. Come back downstairs. Put your jacket on. Go wait for the bus.” Slow speech, deliberate and clear instructions. No room for interpretation. Do it. Now. Do it. Now.
She heads back upstairs while I’m telling her to hurry up, we’ve got about two minutes before the bus comes. This time she actually listens.
She comes back downstairs. She has the right shirt on. She is pouting, but I don’t care at this point. W are moving. We are in a forward direction. We don’t have time for distractions. She puts her jacket on. I’m feeling good. I was at the brink, looking at the abyss on the other side. It’s not a good place for me to go. I’m supposed to realize when I’m getting to that point and then back away. I’m not supposed to parent “emotionally.’ I’m supposed to be calm and consistent.
“Ok, let’s go.” I step through the door to head outside.
“Dad,” She says, grabbing her bagel and still waiting for her coffee.
“I don’t have my socks on.”
I look at her feet. No socks. No shoes. Just hippie feet that can’t step out in the thirty-degree cold weather.
Previously Published on Hossman at Home