It's as simple as this: take a moment, be there and listen to them and really hear them. Look eye-to-eye and share the time.
Tonight, I was tired, late home from work, wanting to eat and chill out, and M had the girls bathed and dressing in their jammies, ready for toothbrushing, books and bed. And K asked if I would tell a Belle story. And M asked if I wanted her to read to them tonight.
And miraculously, there are moments when, in spite of myself, I somehow manage to appreciate what I've got right here in my hands.
Some background: lately K has been a really pain in the... something. In our house we call it "being a pill," and she knows it.
She'll intentionally do something mean to her sister and then come tell us ("I just spit at L."), basically forcing us to respond in some way (a timeout for quiet thinking, loss of some privilege, a forced apology to L). And then she reacts based on what we've responded with. In other words, she's acting her age (5 1/2).
The challenge is, it's been a while since she's acted like this. L tends to be dramatic. K tends to be rational and to listen to us and hear what we're saying. So it trips me up when she goes through a stage like she's been going through. And it's so easy to react, to get angry, to get annoyed.
But yesterday as I helped K and L get ready for bed, and they're running around and acting like little girls, I sit on the floor in their room and enjoy it. They're in their underwear, jumping over my outstretched legs, being "horses" with me being the "owner" but also the jump. (K: How about you be the owner, but you're also the jump. L: Yeah, you're the owner and you're the jump! me (figuring it means I get to sit down): Uh... ok.)
And this can be a real pain, when they get like this. I want to get them into bed, and they're wound up and seemingly not anywhere near tired. But on this particular night I've had the day off, and even though I'm tired and feeling ill, it's only 5.30p so we have lots of time and I manage somehow to find it amusing watching 2 young girls in their underwear pawing at the rug and neighing at the top of their voices, running full-tilt to leap over my legs and crash into the far wall of their bedroom.
And here's the thing, and this is a lesson I'm going to be relearning every week or so until I die, because it just doesn't seem to stick: when I can stay calm, when I can keep from getting stressed out, EVERYTHING GOES BETTER. Like with Coke. Except it's with Calm. Everything goes better with Calm!
So because I'm not freaking out about getting their teeth brushed or getting them into jammies and into bed, they accept it when I steer them toward the bathroom. I'm grinning and laughing at their high-jinks and that gets them laughing too, and we get their teeth brushed and then we're all in bed, snuggled under the covers and I'm reading a book to them and then it's time for a Belle story, except instead of snuggling in and falling asleep while I tell it, L wants to get into her own bed, so we knock on the floor and M comes up and takes her to bed while I tell K her story. I can see K falling asleep too, but we finish the story (L has fallen asleep about 2 minutes after M took her off) and then I help K in the bathroom and then tuck her in and she doesn't even ask for a song or a story about when I was a little boy. I tell her I love her and kiss her and we're done. She's out and it's not even 7pm and I stand there looking at these two little girls who sometimes seem determined to frustrate and try me, and I'm realizing just how special these times are, and I'm grateful for everything I have.
And so, tonight, even though I'm late and I'm tired, when K asks if I can do a Belle story, I hesitate, hedge, then realize that yes, I'm going to tell her a Belle story. And when I say it's going to be a short one, she snuggles in close and nods, saying "Ok" in a soft voice, already looking forward to hearing what happens.
(for the record, in last night's story, K and Annie take their newly trained wild horses Snowflake and Makaoioi to see Casandra on her island, to introduce her to the horses and vice versa. And Casandra takes them to the pirate treasure and gives them each a pair of earrings which they wear home. In case you were wondering!)