Leader of the Pack

In the wild, every pack has an Alpha – the group member with the most authority and power. The creature who calls the shots and to whom the others defer. This also seems to be the case with children, a reality which makes sense to me because on any given day children are only one small step away from being totally feral. At least my children are. Your children might be fully domesticated, but honestly I doubt it.

The pecking order of my small pack fluctuates, but right now, as I look at my children, the alpha is clear. It is my youngest daughter who rules the roost.

(We will leave aside for the moment the question of my placement in the hierarchy. While I certainly recognize that I should be the undisputed pack leader, my children’s open distain for things like putting away their shoes suggests that my authority is perhaps not absolute.)

In any case, there is a story I tell that encapsulates the reign of my high-spirited third-born. I glanced out the window one day to see all three kids running across the yard to a neighbor’s house. My youngest quickly got left behind by her older siblings. She stopped running and screamed mightily, an outburst which summoned the others back to her side. A brief but animated conversation ensued, culminating in a fierce foot stamp by the young ruler, at which point her older sister turned around and hoisted her up for a piggy back. The three then took off again.

And that, my friends, is dominance.

Maybe it’s her status as the baby of the family, or her legendary puppy eyes, or her unstoppable charm, but my youngest knows what she wants – and she gets it.

Back in February, I signed her up for art camp the first week of June, selecting the perfect camp with her input. It was a Dollie & Me adventure that brought with it the opportunity to bring her beloved baby doll with her each day. There would be friendship bracelets, tea parties, and plenty of playtime. Three of her best friends were also enrolled.

But wait. The art camp schedule presented a conflict with designed swim time at the community day camp she also participates in. That was it. She refused to set foot in the art camp. It didn’t matter that her friends were going. It didn’t matter that she can spend the entire rest of the summer swimming every day. It didn’t matter that the forecast called for thunderstorms for half the week. She was steadfast.

I could have strong-armed her into the art camp, but what’s the point? A grumpy six-year-old is nobody’s idea of a good time. Despite a few rainy days, at the end of the weeks, she had no regrets, and you know what? I admire her deeply. My fiery child knows her mind and once she sets a course, she will not be swayed.

To be clear, it is wildly frustrating to be on the receiving end of her stubbornness. She is a picky eater and no amount of cajoling, bribing, or threatening can persuade her to consume a food she doesn’t want. She will stare down an offer of dessert, refusing to trade even a mouthful of risotto for the promise of ice cream.

I have to grant my grudging respect. How many of us can be so sure of ourselves, so confident in our own preferences?

So, whether it’s yet another viewing of Moana or spaghetti for dinner more frequently than anyone else really wants, my youngest daughter’s desires carry a lot of weight in this season of our lives. I’m okay with that. Here’s to raising strong women. The world needs more of them.

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