Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Break Someone's Heart

"You can't make me go," my 12 year-old daughter said as I dragged her out of our car that beautiful sunny afternoon.

"Oh, yes I can," I foolishly responded.

"Oh, no you can't. I'll start screaming," she said. I tugged on her some more and she started screaming.

I pushed her back in the car. "Are you crazy? There are people everywhere," I said.

"I don't care. If you don't care about my feelings. I don't care about yours," she responded.

My daughter was participating in the town's recreation track program. There was a track meet scheduled that afternoon and everything seemed to be going fine until we arrived in the parking lot.

Perhaps, it was the fact she couldn't find her track-issued t-shirt that day, or maybe it was because I wouldn't let her eat before her race and she was getting cranky. Either way, she was a bitch and I was getting irate.

Since there were no physical ailments stopping her like a broken leg, sprained neck or twisted vertebrae, I didn't want to let her off the hook. My policy was if you started something you had to finish it. And all she needed to do that day was run a lousy 100 meters down the back stretch of the track. She could leave after that if she wanted. But she didn't budge.

I couldn't understand it. She's actually a good sprinter and usually wins her races. I enjoy watching her and I think she enjoys being watched. I had re-arranged my afternoon to take her to the meet and I had even charged up the video camera so I could film her racing down the track. We had arrived on time and all she had to do was step out of the car and walk a few yards to where her team was assembled. These were just a few simple things she had to do and then I would feel better.

She wasn't moving. She wasn't getting out.

I knew I would have to take it in stages - exiting the car, walking to the track, getting her to the starting line. Coaxing a kid is like diffusing a bomb. One false move and the whole mission is compromised.

More families were pulling into the parking lot. They parked, walked by our car, and looked over and saw us sitting there. They would wave and then motion to the track. I nodded my head and gave them the one minute sign. Then I turned to my daughter with all the compassion I could muster: "You'll be the only one not there. You're gonna let your team down."

"I don't care. They're all dorks," she deftly answered.

"Listen, you're getting out of the car and you're going to the track," I said. She shook her head as I spoke. "If you're not going to run then you need to tell the coach that yourself."

I opened the car door and walked towards the track entrance. I had to stay strong and not look back. I didn't hear any car doors opening so I kept walking until I was out of her line of sight. Then I quickly snuck behind a bleacher to spy on the car.

The parents in the stands looked at me oddly. I couldn't let them know I had no control over my child so I tried to pretend I was looking for something on the ground.

"Hey, is your daughter going to run today?" a parent asked.

"Uh, yeah. She's just getting her sneakers on," I replied.

Come on get out. Don't leave me hanging here, I said to myself. Don't make me talk to these people.

Eventually, I saw the car door open and my daughter step out. I let out a sigh of relief and sat myself down on a bleacher. It was a small victory that would be short-lived.

My daughter moped her way into the stands and sat down next to me.

"You can't be here," I said. "The stands are for parents. Down there is where you belong."

"I'm not going," she said.

I looked around and saw the other parents watching us. I'm a self-conscious wimp. I don't like making scenes in public. My daughter was feeding off of this.

"I hate track," she continued, her voice rising. "Running is stupid."

I wanted to reach out and throttle her right then and there. But instead, I stood and calmly walked out of the stands and onto the field, pretending I wanted to get a little closer to the athletic action at hand.

I figured I was able to lure her once before, maybe I could do it again. Besides, I knew she would not want to sit in the bleachers with all the other parents, even she would start to feel uncomfortable.

It seemed to work. She got up and followed me to the center of the field. My goal was to get her to a parental safe zone - a place where I could speak and no one else could hear. At that place, I could give her a verbal berating that would help me release some steam and give her tons of things to talk to her therapist about in the coming years.

I stood my ground pretending to watch the other teammates getting ready for their races. She nudged herself against me and asked when we would be going home.

"After you run your race, you can go home!" I snapped.

"Not running. Hate it."

"I came all the way down here to watch you run. I think you should run," I said.

"I don't care, that's your problem. I don't need to watch myself run."

"Look, it's just a 100 meters. It'll take you a couple of seconds. You'll be done and we can leave."

She just shook her head and folded her arms across her chest.

I placed my hands firmly on her shoulders, bent over and looked her in the eye. "If you don't run, you lose your phone."

"You're not taking my phone."

"Oh, yes I am."

"Oh, no you're not," she said with the added side-to-side head shake.

I wanted to pick her up and throw her onto the starting line, but a couple of other parents had meandered onto the field and I could see them watching me out of the corner of my eye.

I knew the next step would be a screaming match and I wasn't going to let that happen. So I ever so gently dug two fingers into her spine, pushed her forward and told her we're going home.

I kept my hand on her back and walked her briskly to the exit. As I passed one of the parents I just pointed to my daughter and told them she wasn't feeling well.

I kept pushing and smiled at the parents who gave me a nod of surprise.

I calmly got her into the car, sat myself down and started the engine. As we drove, I exploded:

"You couldn't run a goddamn, lousy sprint, huh! You had to just stand there! Well, now you're going to pay. No phone, no TV and no computer. I don't care if you sit in your room by yourself the rest of the week. You're not getting anything!"

She was silent the rest of the ride. When we got home, she left the car, went straight to the room and shut her door.

I didn't hear from her for a couple of hours, then my wife told me to go look what she had posted on her door.
(click to view larger)

She sure knew how to break my heart.


  1. Be proud! You're a lion!

    It appears that there is no psychology that works in this case, reverse or otherwise...

  2. Super touching... she is definitely the writer...as I'm sure you know.

  3. Your daughter has every right to not run track if she doesn't want to. I'm sorry, but I strongly disagree with your parenting style in attempting to trick a young girl into doing something she was vehemently opposed to doing. Just because she is younger and smaller than you does not, I repeate NOT, mean that her opinions are somehow less valuable than yours. Please keep this in mind and stop treatign your daughter like she is not as good as you.

  4. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your thoughtful parenting tips. Welcome to Hell.

  5. wow certainly a way to break someones heart
    but I do think she was right and understanding is key imo
    your a great writer and i suppose thats where she got her poetic talents

  6. this girl has talent