We were underway, motoring, on a calm day. We’d left our last port around noon, and had an eight-hour run to our overnight anchorage. Morgan and Ellie were playing happily in the salon, somehow combining their 18” American Girls dolls and their Lego structures and characters into one game. They were on the floor in the walkway between the nav table and galley on one end, and my bedroom and bathroom (the v-berth) on the other end. I was cooking, and cleaning, and going on and off watch, taking layers on and off, most of the afternoon. That involved a number of trips down the “hallway” that the girls were using for their playing.
“Excuse me,” I said the first time I needed to get by. The girls scooted off to the side, under the salon table, to let me by and into my room. When I came out a few minutes later, the walkway was barricaded again. “Can I please get by?” I asked, and again, the girls scooted off to the side and I passed.
A little later, I had to walk the hallway again. This time, there were not only girls, but also dolls blocking my way. “Excuse me,” I said again. They moved, but I had to step around dolls.
The next time I passed down the hall, it was not only dolls in the way, but also all their accessories. A bit later, one of the dolls had a birthday, and which for some reason necessitated dumping a large bag of legos all over the floor. As I passed, I had to step around dolls, try to avoid stray legos, and not accidentally nick any Lego structures or doll accessories.
I had reminded them several times throughout the afternoon of our rule that they can’t block the walkway if they play on the floor. My reminders appeared to have been ignored, so I finally issued an ultimatum: keep the walkway clear, or they would no longer be allowed to play on the floor. They moved themselves and their toys a few inches out of the way, but minutes later the walkway was barricaded again. I asked them to pick up their toys and move their play to the table.
Ellie cooperated and began cleaning off the table to make room for play; Morgan did not. After at least five full minutes of coaxing and trying to reason and work with her positively, Morgan screamed, “I WANNA GO HOME!” Then she ran to her room and slammed the door.
Morgan says that a lot when she doesn’t get her way: “I wanna go home!” At first, we tried to be patient and understanding. We tried to talk to her about home, and what it was that she missed, and help her remember all the great things that happen only on the boat, and not at home. After a while of talking to her, though, it became clear that the only reason she wanted to go home was because she believed that, if we were home, she would have gotten her way. For example, today, she wanted to keep playing on the floor because she thought it was bigger than the table. (It isn’t.) She knows that, at our house, there’s plenty of floor space for playing. So, we don’t think she really, truly, wants to go home – she just says that because she wants what she wants in that moment, and at home, she would have gotten her way.
As I mentioned, we tried to be patient and understanding at first. We’d talk to her, hug her, make sure she knew how much she was loved no matter where she lived. But then, seeing our reaction, she began to use that phrase – “I wanna go home!” – as a sort of trump card to end an argument and get positive attention from Rich and me, ultimately avoiding cooperation. So, now that we’re confident that she’s generally happy living on the boat, we no longer coddle her when she lays down that phrase: “I wanna go home!”
The problem is, for me, hearing that out of her mouth feels like someone reached into my chest, grabbed my heart, and squeezed all the life out of me. It’s the worst thing she could say. Because I’m not ready to go back. Not yet. I’m loving our family adventure time. And she is, too, but the thought that my happiness and hers are mutually exclusive is gut-wrenching.
I understand that she’s only seven, and she wants what she wants when she wants it, and she doesn’t always process the bigger picture. But, that doesn’t alleviate the stabbing, twisting, defeated feeling inside every time I hear her say those words. What makes it worse is that now, I don’t know what to say to her at all. She doesn’t want to go home, and she understands how powerful those words are when she uses them. She intentionally – although probably not consciously or in a calculating way – uses those words to manipulate me. So, I don’t want to acknowledge them, and give her that power, and reward her for refusing to follow our family’s rules or emotionally blackmailing me. But at the same time, in that moment, she DOES want to go home, and I feel bad ignoring those feelings she has.
So for now, her words are getting ignored. Maybe we can talk about it later, after she’s cooled off and agreed to cooperate again. Maybe I can explain to her how it makes me feel when she says that (or would that just backfire?). What would you do?