My youngest child is eleven and about to enter middle school, and this recently inspired me to write a mischief story in her diary. In Before You Forget - The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children , Chapter Six, I describe the value of reflecting on mischief stories that herald change in our relationships with our children:
Mischief as a Developmental Marker
Children's mischief may represent more than curiosity, unchecked desire, veiled emotional expression, and self-will run riot. Mischief may also reveal signs of your child's developmental growth, playing with boundaries as a means of preparing for new freedom and the idea of greater independence. . . Writing regular portraits of your child in action allows you to be aware of and to celebrate transition and growth as it is happening. When children are ready to grow, they will test the limits. The limit testing allows us both to mutually warm up to change through a balance of giving and taking.
In my daughter's diary, I wrote this mischief story:
To Franci, June 10, 2008
The morning after we visit the middle school for the evening tour, you wake cheerful, but soon you're furious with me when [a friend] calls and I change our after school plans to help her out.
I go outside to brush Judy - there's time before the bus. . . but I order you to get ready, and tell you we'll walk to the bus since it's such a nice day. You say something kinda nasty that I can't quite hear, and then you are gone - back inside to get ready, I assume.
I soon stop brushing Judy, come in to get you out the door. I call for you - no answer. Again and again. No answer! I begin searching, not yet threatening. I look everywhere I would look if we were playing hide and seek. No Frances. What a good hider you are, I think, angrily. Then I start yelling threats for you to come out NOW. And still you hide..
Okay, I think, now she has missed the bus, and this is so unlike her - she has a Big Project due - it's so weird because you would never blow off an important project. Well, I fume, I will not be manipulated! I will not go through the middle school crazies again!
I sit down and try to read the paper, confident that if I ignore you, you will soon emerge. I will have to cancel my plans and drive you. Furious, I hunt the house again. 8:30! How dare you!
It's not until Dad's car pulls in the driveway from his early morning meeting that it begins to occur to me that perhaps you aren't in the house. Could you possibly have gone to the bus without me? But you wouldn't do that! You've never gone to the bus w/o me - ever!
I walk out and meet up with your Dad - he tells me to call the school and see if you're on the bus. I pray that you are, and call. Mrs. Bent assures me the bus is in - she will go look for you. So, I wait for her to call me back, trying to understand what has happened here this morning. Where ARE you? Where's Frances?
The phone rings and Mrs. Bent assures me you are there. Phew. Aaargh! I ask if I can speak with you, but she hears the exasperation in my voice and advises, "No."
As I go through the day, my perspective returns and I begin to imagine what happened - that perhaps you walked up the driveway, mad, but certain I would follow and by the time we were to the end of the driveway I'd be begging for your forgiveness. Yeah. And when you got to the end of the driveway and realized I wasn't following you, you would be afraid to come back home because you would then miss the bus. So, there you were, stuck at the end of the driveway, waiting alone for the bus with your accidental independence.
When you get home from school, I find out yes, that's what happened. And neither one of us is angry anymore. Not angry, but aware of this bit of distance sprouting in our relationship. A breaking free of sorts. You will need and want me less in the old ways. And I will look for you in the places I expect you still to be in, and you will be gone from those, you will be moving on.