By John Silveira
February 9, 2006
My kids are grown. But it didn’t come about without a lot of frustration, tribulations, and laughs.
Runaways: What do you do with a six-year-old who threatens to run away?
One woman I worked with told me she packed her kid’s clothes, put them in a little suitcase, sat him out on the porch with the satchel and said goodbye. After the kid sat there for a while while, he knocked on the door and asked if he could come back in. She said he never threatened to run away again.
Another told me she put her young daughter in counseling, along with herself, her husband, the other three kids, and her mother. Somehow, she couldn’t believe that anyone would ever want to run away from her.
A third told me she caved in, and the little b*st*rd she was raising took over the household and held her and her husband hostage until he was in high school.
And yet another said she smacked her son’s butt, sent him to his room, and grounded him for a week. She said it worked.
I think each parent has to discover his or her child-rearing style, attune themselves to their child’s unique psychological needs, determine what works for them, and do what they hope is best.
Me? When my youngest daughter was six, she announced she was running away. I didn’t know what to do. The older two had never delivered such an ultimatum. Confronted with the problem, I decided I’d just have fun.
At age six, Meaghan was precocious, adorable, incorrigible, and a terror.
I can’t remember what precipitated the events of that afternoon of fifteen years ago. I don’t know what heinous crime she committed, what specific scandalous act she may have engaged in, or what behavior the little perp decided to indulge herself with. All I remember is that I was angry and I told her to go to her room.
That’s when she folded her arms, stood her ground, and defiantly announced, “I’m running away.”
Running away? I thought. Where’d she even get the idea? I looked down at the vulnerable little girl and wondered where she got the concept and what was going through her mind.
“Really?” I asked. “You’re running away?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“But I don’t want you to run away. I love you too much. I want you to stay here with me and your mom and your brother and your sister.”
“I’m running away,” she said firmly.
I stared at her for a moment. Then I shrugged my shoulders and nonchalantly said, “Okay.” Then I turned around, lifted the phone off its cradle, and asked, “Is this the adoption agency?”
Though this little treasure in my life could program the VCR since she was four (and I still can’t), it eluded her that as I held the phone to my ear with one hand, I was holding down the disconnect button with the other.
“May I speak with someone about adoptions?” I asked.
I paused a moment. Then I said, “Hello, I have a little girl here who wants to run away and, though I love her to bits, and I’m going to miss her terribly, I was wondering if you had another little girl I could adopt to replace her.
“You do? Oh, good.
“What’s she look like? Does she have blonde hair and brown eyes?” I then proceeded to describe my daughter perfectly. “Is she smart. Is she in the first grade? Oh, this is great.
“Does she want to be adopted and live in a nice home?
“Is that her laughing in the background because she’s so happy she’s going to be adopted?”
In the corner of my eye, I could see Meaghan was still standing there and listening.
“Dad, I’m not running away,” she said.
I turned to her. “Meaghan, go pack your stuff up. But just take half the clothes and half the toys…and don’t take all the good ones.
I spoke back into the phone. “Oh, I’m so glad she wants to be adopted. She’ll have a mother and a father. And there’ll be a brother and a sister for her here. And there’s a dog. And three cats.”
“Dad, I’m not running away,” she repeated a little louder.
“Honey, don’t interrupt me when I’m on the phone,” I said to her. “I’m trying to adopt this new little girl.” Then I spoke back into the phone. “Tell me something,” I asked, “would she mind if I changed her name to Meaghan? She wouldn’t? Oh, that’s great. We’ll call her Meaghan when she gets here. But, you know, I’m really going to miss my daughter who’s running away because I love her so much. I’ll never be able to love the new Meaghan as much as my real daughter, but…” Then I smiled, shrugged again, and once more nonchalantly proclaimed, “Oh, well!”
“I’m not running away,” she shouted.
I turned back to her. “Honey, could you keep it down? I’m trying to speak with this woman about the adoption.”
“Dad, I’m not running away,” she repeated.
“I’m not running away,” she said softly.
“Oh, that’s great, because I really love you and I don’t want you to run away.”
I spoke back into the phone in my matter-of-fact voice and said, “Never mind the adoption. My daughter’s decided not to run away. And I’m really glad, because I really love her and I wouldn’t want her to leave.
“Hey, what’s that in the background? Is that the other little girl crying? Is she crying because she’s not being adopted now? She is? Well, tell her I’m sorry, but I really love my own little girl.”
Then I “hung up” the phone.
There was a look of relief on my daughter’s face.
“So, you’re not running away,” I said.
“Good, because I love you. Now, go down to your room; you’re being punished.”
And she toodled down to her room and shut the door behind her.
I stayed in the kitchen and proceeded to make dinner and, as I recall, it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that she began to terrorize me, again.