My six year old daughter is standing across the room, putting together a salad to go with the dinner I’m making. She’s put some mixed greens in a bowl, added dressing and croutons, and is gently tossing it with a pair of tongs. She’s being helpful, learning valuable cooking skills, and is more than happy to take on this role. It’s a very sweet scene, and as I watch her, I feel grateful to be her mom.
Later, as we sit as a family to enjoy dinner, she will roll her eyes at me when I ask her to sit properly in her chair. She will speak to me with all the sass of a teenager in a YTV show, glaring for no particular reason except that she exists and it’s my fault. She has perfected the angsty sigh of someone two or three times her age, and uses it with abandon.
She’s six going on sixteen, and she kills me some days. I call her Sassafras, Sass-squatch, Sassy-Pants and Sassy McGee. She squeals with laughter at all of these names, reveling in her rebellion.
But during this particular dinner, she’ll also be very sweet, as she often is. She’ll compliment the meal (she almost always does, even when it’s just pasta or some other basic thing). She’ll chat and laugh and be charming. And then she’ll politely ask to be excused, clear her plate and wander off to do whatever thing her mind is set on (drawing, Lego, painting her nails, turning her bedroom into a medical office for stuffed animals).
This kid has an attitude, but she also has manners, and that’s something I’m proud of.
She says please and thank you. She speaks to her teachers and other grown-ups with respect. She is good to other children, respectful of people’s belongings, and knows how to behave in a store or restaurant. Her sass is typically reserved for home, where she feels comfortable testing limits. Though it’s enough to make me crazy, it’s a totally normal part of childhood, and I get it.
The sassiness will fade over time. If I’m being completely honest, I’m sometimes secretly impressed by her snarkiest moments. A comment will slide out of her mouth and while I keep my face neutral and ask her (again) to tone it down, I’m silently thinking about how clever she is. The child is insulting me, but dammit, she’s smart. You’ve got to respect that (silently though, until she channels her power for good).
She drives me bananas because she’s six and she’s so much like me, but oh, how I love her. She is sweet and helpful and hilarious and again, painfully smart. Painful for me, her mother, because I’m the one she most likes to argue with. She’ll roll her eyes like a pro but then thank me for dinner and clear her plate, like she’s been taught to, because she’s a great kid. And dammit, I’m doing SOMETHING right, at least.
The attitude isn’t forever, but I hope the manners will be. I think our chances are good.