assertiveness 101


When you have a child you get to learn to do things all over, like how to be assertive.

One day I found her in tears by the window.
“Grandpa sprayed the window!” She’d been watching grandpa water the garden. The glass next to her face was wet on the outside. He’d pointed the hose at her for fun.

I patted her back, stroked her forehead, told her grandpa was just playing. But she kept crying and repeated what happened over and over. It occurred to me that more was needed to reconcile her; to reconcile this.

The fact that grandpa was playing and meant no harm did not justify or lessen the fact that she was upset by it.

In all my conflict-averse introvertedness I’d do anything to avoid dealing with this kind of thing.
“Liliu, how about you talk to grandpa in the morning? It’s bedtime now.” She’d probably forgotten it by then, which would be perfect.

Seeing her little sad face though, another part of me said: Why can’t she tell him now?

An internal debate ensued. The Brave One pushed arguments about how I’d fail my daughter now if I let this go and make her deal with it alone tomorrow; how it might teach her that her upset wasn’t important or legitimate enough because the offense wasn’t intentional. Or worse, that she was making a fuss and just needed to get over it.

The Whining One rolled her eyes and said, “But it’s not a big deal.”
“Or is that just an excuse because you’re actually scared to do anything about it?”

The Whining One rolled her eyes again, like she couldn’t be bothered with repeating how much I hated confrontations. Which is right. We’d heard them all too often.

In that gap of silence the Brave One inserted herself: “Liliu, you know what, let’s tell grandpa now.”

I still didn’t know what to say, but I opened the window and shouted him to get his attention. To my surprise, Liliu knew exactly what to say.

“Grandpa, don’t spray me again!”

And with that she gave me a lion’s mane and war paint on my cheeks. Riding on her courage I added, “It scared her when you shot water at her!”

“Oh! I’m sorry Liliu!” He shouted back. “I was only playing! I’m sorry!”

The world had stopped when I decided to speak up; and now it moved again. The evening birds sang again. The air was alive again, and so was I.

When you have a child you get to learn to do things all over because she’ll have lots to teach you. As I lay next to my daughter’s little body at night I’m humbled by the greatness of her being.

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