2010.05.26 Home is where the lunatics are

Written by David Green.

Colleen Leddy is away at library conference where she was chosen to present a program. Below is column from 1996.


By COLLEEN LEDDY

Did you hear the wild ruckus at my house a couple of Monday nights ago? It wasn’t a meeting of the Howling Society—the full moon was on the wane by a few days. But my normally sweet and even-tempered Rosie seemed to still be under the influence of that lunar object.

It’s well-documented, isn’t it, that people get wacky during the full moon? The word ‘lunacy’ comes from ‘lunar,’ doesn’t it? And loony is what 10-year-old Rosie was that Monday night.

The evening had started off well. It was a typical Monday night family scene. David at the office burning the 2 a.m. oil, the kids and I in the living room—me proofreading stories, them keeping me from doing it.

Rosie and Maddy were doing cartwheels and Ben was momentarily unoccupied so I offered him the chance to earn money—10 cents for every mistake he could find and for every good suggestion he could give to improve the stories.

It was close to bedtime when Ben requested payment for his efforts. I tallied up his earnings—one dollar, I announced. And then the moon tugged on Rosie’s cortex and off she went.

“How come Ben gets a dollar?” she demanded. “How come I never get any money? You never ask me to do anything. You never give me any work to do. All I get is my allowance for chores.”

I thought she was joking and began laughing. Truth be told, Rosie doesn’t like working. It’s a struggle to get her to do her chores. She balks when we need an extra pair of hands at the Observer. She complains when I ask her to do anything extra. “Why do you always ask me? Why can’t Ben do it?” she whines. And now she’s asking for work?

But then she dissolved into heavy sobs and tears and I knew this was no laughing matter.

I don’t remember what I said next. It was obviously the wrong thing because she launched into a new line of attack. “You always give Ben money. Ben mows the lawn and you give him money. Why can’t I mow the lawn?” she wanted to know.

I told her maybe next summer she would be ready to mow the lawn but that this year she was still too young. Ben had lots of money, I explained, because he’s old enough to work for it. He did extra jobs around the yard without being asked, he sold corn for Kiwanis, he mowed Adam’s yard...

Hopping mad and still in tears, she broke in with a new round of complaints. “I could sell corn. Grandpa always asks Ben to work. Everybody always asks Ben to work. Nobody ever asks me to do work. I never get any money. Adam never asks me to do anything. The only thing Adam ever asked me to do was pick apples and all I got was stung,” she sobbed at the memory of picking wind-fall apples in our neighbors yard when she was five or six and getting stung by a bee after picking only a few apples. And to top it off Ben wouldn’t pay her any of the money he made since she barely worked.

All the while during Rosie’s litany of complaints, seven-year-old Maddy chimed in at every turn, concurring with Rosie’s view that Ben was a privileged soul—capable of earning outrageous sums of money.

Maddy cried along with Rosie mostly out of sympathy, but partly because she was really tired. Rosie, however, was sobbing in earnest and nothing I said could convince her that age was the only advantage Ben had over her.

There I sat at wit’s end trying to figure out how to make things right again. I explained again and again that Ben was older and therefor capable of doing more. I told her that when she’s 13 people will be asking her to do work too. I offered suggestions of ways to earn money now most were met with “Ew, I don’t want to do that.”

An hour later when they were all in bed and Rosie was still crying, I searched my brain to explain this breakdown. It finally dawned on me that Rosie had returned from camp just three days before. Ever since she was little whenever she was gone for more than three hours she would come home and unload—she’d be thoroughly obnoxious and wild. As she got older her time threshold improved. Recently she’d been behaving a bit better after the occasional overnight at a friend’s house, but five nights at camp had taken its toll.

Realizing this I stopped making suggestions and offering advice. Instead I offered comfort, solace and sympathy. Soon she quieted and dropped off to sleep.

Now if I’d been thinking...I probably could have just offered her a few bucks to stop her tantrum—and saved myself the time-consuming job of parenting.

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