She was like a dark cloud coming to the breakfast table.
I had committed the unpardonable sin on switching off the playschool repeat before it had finished and refusing to tape the end of it. Apparently, the justification that she had already seen that episode several times and we needed to sit down for breakfast was JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
As we sung our hymn she scowled at her weetbix as if they had been the cause of the offense. The other children watched her with interest to see how this would play out. We finished the hymn (or I did while the others gaped at Erin and Erin scowled at her breakfast), prayed and I calmly took up spoons and started feeding myself and Andrew. She scowled, waited and surreptitiously peeked at me from under her eyebrows to see how I'd react. I continued to eat. She continued to scowl.
Do I engage in a tussle of using reason and logic, giving her opportunity to argue back - at least silently in her head? Do I tell her to suck it up sweetheart and eat her breakfast WITH A SMILE, playing the ogre for her internal persecuted princess?
Or do I come at it sideways?
I fixed her with a severe look, pointed at her, wiggled my finger like a worm and said "Hey Erin, this ISN'T FUNNY". The other children burst into laughter. She struggled not to. I wiggled it more. "Hey Erin, see my finger? See my finger here? It really isn't funny. Nope. Not even a little bit. I mean look at it, it is a wriggling finger. What in the tarnation could be funny about that?" She struggles, shakes her head vigorously and rolls her eyes while her siblings are helpless with laughter. I then calmly pick up my spoon and continue eating. She scowls again at her food but her acting is in severe need of some cheese to go with that ham. The bitterness just isn't there anymore. And I continue eating. Billy watches her with interest as he eats. "Hey Mum, Erin's not eating." "Well, she will be hungry come lunch time because her food will disappear once we are all finished." Half-heartedly she sets her jaw and pronounces "I won't eat until you make me" I look at her and smile "Wow, we are sure going to save on food bills then." and I continue eating.
She rolls her eyes in surrender, smiles and starts eating.
Engaging would have bought into the drama of it, coming at it sideways and getting a little creative moved us on without making the morning the casualty of a bad attitude. Like a crazy improv theatre workshop, parenting makes you think on your feet, make decisions and move fast. The core attitude was addressed. She knew the logic, she knew the behaviour, she knew the expectations. She made her choices about how to behave and then so did I. Next time I may invite her to go back to bed and restart the day. Next time I will probably manage our mornings so I don't resort to TV to keep everyone out of my hair for a few moments before breakfast. Next time I may even wait until the end of the program. Next time I may cheerfully instruct her to suck it up sweetheart. But coming at it sideways, sometimes works too.