March 19, 2005

Lost Bet

Sarah, our 12-year-old, has been on a mini-rampage these past couple of days. I'm not sure what, if anything, is stressing her out, but she has been snapping at everyone. If I ask either of the boys to watch Daniel for a little while, it's no problem. They're good as gold. If I ask Sarah to do that or any other chore, it's like I'm asking her to cut off her finger. I get the big sigh. The mutterings full of "why me? not fair. stupid. hate this." and so on.

Yesterday morning was the last straw for me. Sarah has toasting some waffles for breakfast, and Justin wanted to go over to that part of the kitchen counter to get some bread or something. Sarah starts guarding the area like it was the basket in the last two seconds of the tournament championship. Justin manages to get past her and grabs the bread, and he gets rewarded with a solid smack to the shoulder. He smacks her back and they start yelling at one another.

So I give Justin a small lecture about avoiding trouble and give Sarah a nice, loud one about *being* trouble. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, why she has to be so mean to all of us. I mean, I understand if she snaps at her brothers after they've been tormenting her. As I told Sarah, her 10-year-old brother Cody has complete control over Sarah's negative outbursts. He can provoke an outburst from her in 30 seconds flat if he wants to, and he can arrange it so that to the untrained eye, it looks like it is all her fault. He's such a little lawyer. I hope he uses his powers for good and not evil someday.

Anyway, Sarah responded that no, she's not a mean person, she's not like that, and she doesn't know why she lashes out. I told her that I doubted she could control it but that I would be willing to give it a shot. I made a $5 bet with her. If she can go 24 hours, starting at 10am yesterday, without treating someone else in the family in a rude or disrespectful way (including mean looks, fist-shaking, even if quiet), I would pay her $5. A single outburst and that bet's off, and she pays me $5.

I told her to think about it. Meanwhile, Cody overhears this and smells money. "I want to do it!" he insists. He tries to make some kind of bargain about how maybe he could make a bet that he could avoid being a pest for 24 hours or something. No deal, Mr. Lawyer. I know exactly how that would turn out. He would genuinely try his best and maybe win it, which would be the best outcome, but not surprising, because Cody has long streaks during which he avoids being a brat. I tried to explain to him that he didn't have anything to prove, but not surprisingly, he wasn't very satisfied by this.

The worst case would be that he would slip into "pest" mode accidentally, and I would call him on it, then we'd have a long Clintonian discussion of what constitutes "pest" behavior, whether he was provoked, whether he had good reason to be that way at that moment, what he really meant to say or do, etc. Then he'd be triple mad because not only would he be in trouble for being a pest, he'd lose out on five bucks (the money clearly the worst aspect of the whole deal).

So Sarah thought about it and agreed, and sure enough, for the rest of the day, she was a complete angel. She didn't hide in her room like I figured she might. She even played some video games with the boys, helped with Daniel, practiced with her baritone, brushed her teeth, cleaned her room, etc. without getting in a huff about any of it. Looks like she'll win her bet, so next time, maybe I'll extend it to 48 hours and so on. To be honest, as bad as she has been lately, 24 hours of cooperative Sarah may have been worth five bucks.

Posted by Observer at March 19, 2005 09:12 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

12 year old girl, eh? Hmm. At what age does PMS set in?

Actually, if it keeps up, if you have an alternative channel with access to her at-school life, you might request a discreet inquiry. This could easily be spillover from something there, and not "mere" biochemistry.

I'm NOT looking forward to this starting in ... oh ... not enough years when my daughter hits The Age.

Posted by: Feff on March 21, 2005 09:54 AM

It probably was PMS as it happens, but with Sarah, her PMS sometimes seems to go 24/7. So I hesitate to attribute too much to that. It could just be a condition of being a normal teenager (which our 15-year-old really isn't and our 10-year-old hasn't reached yet).

Posted by: Observer on March 21, 2005 11:55 AM