In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I turned an old “office” in the building behind our house into an art room for my 11-year-old daughter.
Place turned out great. I painted the brick and mortar walls a teal with sparkles, purchased a solid wood easel for the place, cleaned, laid down rugs and flooring and filled just about every crack and crevice with real art supplies. I ran a clothesline along the back wall to hang paintings to dry, helped my dad install new lighting (because I would have electrocuted myself if I did this alone), painted walls with chalkboard paint, hung glass plates on which she could doodle and strung pink, red, green, purple and white Christmas lights around the ceilings.
Kalista loves it.
Practically every day, at some point or another, she will sneak off to this place, close the door and re-emerge a couple of hours later. I’ll check on her from time to time in there and can see it is exactly what I wanted: a place where she can be as creative as her heart desires. She’s painted pictures on the walls, made bracelets for her friends and sketched and painted about 143 pictures already. Her passion is free to roam in this place … and I’m happy because she has found a passion to feed, grow and embrace.
Tonight I took this room away from her for an indefinite amount of time. She also lost her laptop and cell phone for a length of time yet to be determined. But it was the art room privilege that left her crushed.
Through all of her tears, sobbing and broken heart, she had nothing on the way I felt tonight when I got a call from a teacher at her school stating my signature on her report card looked a little questionable. I can understand why — I never saw that report card.
I have failed my daughter. She has failed me. I have failed my world.
Never in a million years did I see this coming. She never does anything like this. Ever. It’s been a while since she’s made honor roll, but her grades are never terrible. I wondered how bad they must be this time for her to keep them from me. I wondered what I’d done to create an environment in which she considered outright deceit her only viable option.
“Kalista, have I ever beaten you?” I asked when I was in the angry stage of our discussion of the matter.
“No,” she asked through her tears.
“Have I ever humiliated you or degraded you or just been hurtful to you when you’ve done something wrong?”
“This is crazy,” I said, preparing to make my point. “You know I just would have yelled at you (I use that term loosely — my yelling is nothing compared to most dads’), taken something away and probably just stayed on you more with your homework until I knew you were taking care of your business again.
“Now you lose your art room.”
Later, after reality set in and I began truly reflecting on the situation, I thought of all of the times she deceived me about having her homework done. She is 11, but she’s pretty responsible when it comes to this stuff … if I ask if she completed her homework and she says she has, I’ve never had a reason to question it. But just last night she lied to me about having it done, as her teacher revealed in his voicemail stating she didn’t have it done today and I recalled her watching “Armageddon” with me on Netflix. I asked her before the movie if her homework was done, she said it was, we watched the movie.
Another night she was out in her art room pretty late and I asked if she finished her homework (she does it out there sometimes) and she said she hadn’t, so I told her she had to do it before bed and wake up in time to catch the bus. Twenty minutes later, she emerged from her bedroom stating it was done … I knew that was not completely true, as it usually take her more than an hour on her homework.
Unfortunately, as a manager at my job, as a parent and in life generally, I am the first person I question when another person fails to complete an assignment. What did I do wrong? Could I have been more clear? Did I provide the necessary training, tools and support for this person to be successful?
It’s productive, as upon completing this analysis I usually learn from another person’s inadequate actions and become a better leader, but it’s also extremely painful. Why did I trust her like that? She is 11. She’s going to test the water. Why didn’t I see this coming and respond better? Am I focusing too much on (her toddler brother)? She needed me and I was not there.
This will only go on for so long, though. While she is 11, at some point she must learn to be held accountable for her own actions. Sure, I could have done better making sure she completed her homework, which would have better prepared her for tests, which would have yielded better grades, which would have eliminated the need for her to forge my signature …
Wait a minute, I thought. I did nothing to make her forge my signature on her report card. She did that. I have never done anything in my time as a parent to send the message that this is acceptable. I could have done better, but this is not my fault.
I ended the evening with an attempt to trigger some empathy from her. Empathy, I believe, is an absolutely essential characteristic of a person’s identity … and I’m really trying to hammer it down before she gets much older.
“Imagine how I feel about this,” I told her. “I was in your art room every night for weeks, after Kalob went to bed and I should have been winding down. I spent a lot of money on it. I am so happy you like it so much.
“And now you can’t use it.”
She began crying again, this time more than before, as she realized this was deeper than her not being able to use her art room. I wanted, so badly, to say “don’t do it again” and tell her she could have her art room back, but I stayed strong. What she did was dishonest — and this could shape her integrity for the rest of her life. We hurt people with our lies. She hurt me with hers.
And as much as it pained me to inflict emotional distress on her, I had to make her feel my hurt. I love her.