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I’m the kind of parent that lets my kids dye their hair blue, watch R-rated movies, and walk to the library by themselves. Sometimes I think I’m just naturally a liberal parent and sometimes I think I’ve needed to become one because the children have signaled that’s what they need. Okay truth: Eleanor has signaled that’s what she needs. Magnolia will adapt a little better.

I live in a small town, so the kids have walked to school for K – 2. When Eleanor was in second grade, and I was student teaching at the local high school, we had a very snowy day. But not enough to cancel school. Just enough to make shoveling the driveway an occasion to curse the Hell out of it. I saw Eleanor about a block away, getting ready to cross the street (with the crossing guard, don’t worry) but, she turned back. I knew what had happened before she got to me. She’d forgotten her gym shoes. It was something like the fourth time in a row. I was right.

I decided that I needed to try correcting this behavior in a different manner. Reminding her wasn’t working. And I hate shoveling snow; I’m unreasonable that way, so I may have been doubly angry (Sorry, Eleanor). “Go to school without your shoes,” I said.

She was upset. She refused. I persisted. I won. I’m the parent. I watched her mope all the way back to school. She was going to be late, on top of being unprepared. It sucked. I felt awful for her. In the land of parenting Eleanor, though, this was a HUGE victory. Twenty minutes later, I finished shoveling the snow. I was now freezing in some regions of my body and sweaty in others. As I pulled out of the  driveway, I saw Eleanor walking back home. What the Hell?

“I need my shoes.”

“You walked out of school? We talked about this. You have to stay in school all day.” This was the second time she’d done this. The first time was her first day of school when we’d first moved here (Second semester of Kindergarten.) She’d gone to the wrong playground for recess with a class that wasn’t hers. When they all went in with their teacher and she realized she was alone, she walked home. Luckily I was there. That was out of confusion. This shoe thing was different.

“I need them.” she insisted.

“No.” I put her in the car and drove her to school without her shoes. “You know I go to work today. What if I weren’t home?”

“I was going to get them and go back!”

“Don’t talk to me like that.” I was so confused. I was pretty sure other second-graders didn’t walk home from school to get their shoes. Why did mine feel so free?

“Why can’t I get my shoes?”

“I want you to live with what happens when you don’t have them.”

I went to work. I dealt with high school freshman. It seemed easier. I started wondering, why DID I need her to go without her shoes? Were the consequences going to teach her to conform to school rules? Or improve her memory? If I set aside the weirdness of her walking home for them (Kind of a genius move, really), I wasn’t sure what I was teaching her. Was she being the stubborn one, or was I?

The next week on gym day, she forgot again.

My solution: a pair of shoes that stayed at school. To Hell with trying to make her follow the normal patterns. Sometimes you gotta work around what’s normal.