Something I'm working on, call it a New Year's resolution if you must, is being more careful with my language. I don't mean cutting down on cussing, which is what I wish Pink would do, so I can play her CD in the car without raised eyebrows from the backseat while my finger hastily jabs the 'next track button' (On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be responsible for muting red-hot Pink down to a powdery rose).
What I'm paying more attention to is how what I say has the power to give and to take away. To be generous and to diminish. It can be a subtle distinction, with language. So I'm watching the words I use.
I'm pretty sure it's part of the worldwide Rules on Resolutions that you are not supposed to give other people resolutions, but right about now I'd like nothing more than for my daughters to resolve to be kind and gentle with each other with their language.
Big Sis knows how to diminish the triumph of Little Sis's latest discovery or accomplishment with a "Well, that's easy," or "I've done that before...like a million times." Little Sis, in turn, has perfected The Ignore, particularly when her sister is asking her a question, and employs mocking under duress.
I'm the referee who gnashes her teeth not only because solutions to their inter-sibling nastiness seem elusive, but it's become so routine that the strife is almost annoyingly boring.
I don't like it. I try to "let them work it out," but have trouble standing by and not intervening when there's meanness. We've taken away TV time, computer time, desserts, iPods. We've instructed, pleaded, modeled, cajoled, hissed, demanded, and reminded. To little avail.
When my own negativity about negativity threatens to suck us into a vortex of punishments and discontent, I usually find myself coming up for air and perspective. Last Sunday, when I'd had it, I grabbed a glass jar formerly filled with holiday treats and plopped it on the counter.
"This," I announced to the family, "is The Kindness Jar." I pointed to a pen and some post-its. "Your job is to notice and write down when someone has been kind to you. It's not a contest to see who has the most slips of paper in the jar about their own kindness; I want to see how much kindness you observe around you. We'll open it up in a week and celebrate some goodness."
The girls got busy in no time, looking for opportunities to scurry to the kitchen and scribble an anecdote. While squabbling persisted to a certain extent, the girls paid extra attention to their interactions. We had more harmonious evenings, and just knowing that family member over there might be writing about your act of benevolence encouraged more of the same.
Little Sis in particular was anxious to open the jar, but we made her wait a week. On Sunday night, after celebrating Husband's birthday party with seafood and a trip to a restaurant of fancy desserts, we put on our jammies and opened the jar. We each took and read a paper in turn.
"Little Sis said I look nice"
"On a very cold night Big Sis gave Little Sis her jacket"
"Big Sis is tocking to me nicely"
"Little Sis was very encouraging when Big Sis was frustrated playing piano"
"My dad made me and my sister a reely good breftist"
"Little Sis shared her apple with me"
There was interest in counting who had committed the most kindnesses during the week. But I reminded the girls that the goals were to both be kind and take note of kindness. So we counted how many papers each daughter put in the jar. They both wrote ten. Perfect.
Big Sis dashed off to write one more: "I love my family," and we went to bed a little warmer and fuzzier.
The debut of our Kindness Jar coincided with this week's national Great Kindness Challenge, in which the girls' elementary school participated, so they had the opportunity to spread their benevolent acts outward.
Meanwhile, I lay in bed in last night listening to the girls mutually irritating one another and threatened to nix their screen time for tomorrow from down the hall. *Sigh*
The Kindness Jar: not a global solution, of course, but a reminder to focus on the positive. We'll keep on trying.