This is a story about the importance of words and their meanings.
For a while now, Rasa has been thinking about getting a plant for the house. Not a flower, mind you, but an actual plant. She had even been thinking of a tree, musing out loud, while going through various online circulars, that “hey, this shop has lemon trees for sale.”
Now, my first thought is “why do we need a lemon tree?” followed closely by “where are we gonna put a lemon tree?” I mean, look, I’ve got nothing against lemon trees, I even like the song, but in the house? Naw. Of course, this didn’t stop her from wanting a tree and then, last week, she bought one. Not a lemon tree but some kind of Dracaena and it now sits in the corner of the hallway, just outside the office.
I bring up the tree because that’s where this story really starts. A few days ago, Rasa asked me to check the soil in the pot of the tree (she had re-potted it herself) to see if it needed water. Between this, some smaller plants, and a few flowers, she had a little garden which needed occasional watering and thought that would be a good job for Monki, something to learn responsibility and what have you. So I was checking the water levels by putting my fingers on the soil.
“It’s a bit moist,” I said.
For Monki, though, that didn’t mean much. She asked me to explain, which I did. Then she decided that, like most English speakers, she didn’t like the word moist. “You can’t say that word anymore,” she told me. “I’m going to throw it away.”
And she did. She mimed taking it out of my mouth and crumpling it up and throwing it in a “pretend” garbage can. It was gone, never more to darken our conversation.
Which brings us to this morning.
This morning she asked me to move her new Barbie house* from her bedroom into the living room so she could spread out and play with it. Not a problem. I’m used to transporting things back and forth between the two areas. But this morning something different happened. I put the house in the living room and walked away.
“NO!” she screamed at me. “You put it wrong!”
Evidently, it was supposed to go where the coffee table was currently sitting. So she moved the table and then moved the house to its rightful spot.
Of course, I didn’t think this was acceptable behavior and I told her so. I was calm and rational and explained that there she shouldn’t yell. If I didn’t put it where she wanted that was okay, but she then could move it herself or ask me to move it but yelling and being mean was not an option.
Then I asked her for an apology.
And here, dear reader, is where the trouble really began.
She says to me that she will not apologize. She won’t say “sorry.”
Okay. Not a problem. “You don’t have to say sorry, but then I’m not going to help you anymore.”
“Yes! I want you to help me!” The tears are threatening at this point.
“You yelled at me and made me feel bad, is that okay?”
“And if we make someone feel bad, what do we say?”
“I’m not going to ever say I’m sorry!”
“Then I’m not going to help you anymore, because I don’t like feeling bad.”
She explained she wasn’t going to say sorry in English so I told her she could say it in Lithuanian, and she declined that, too. She wanted to say it in German**. “Do you know the German word?” I asked. “No,” she didn’t.
It went around like this for a little while until I asked “why are you not going to say your sorry?”
“Because I don’t have the words anymore. I threw them out by accident when I threw out those other words from when you put your fingers in the tree’s dirt.”
So there it was. She didn’t have the words to say she was sorry. It was a really perplexing moment for her. I think she wanted to, but she didn’t quite know how since the appropriate time had passed. She didn’t quite know how to get herself out of the situation and so she simply “lost” the words she needed. I offered to go to the pretend store and buy her more or order her more online, but that wasn’t going to work.
There were lots of tears and lots of worrying that I wasn’t going to help her, or that I would take away the doll house, and we talked about all of those things. I told her the doll house was fine and she could play with it, but that I’d have to see about helping her since she still made me feel bad and I didn’t like that. She agreed that it wasn’t nice to be mean to someone when they were helping you but still no “I’m sorry.”
By this point, Rasa, who had been in the shower, was almost done. Monki looked at me and asked for a hug. Of course I gave her one. She kept her head on the side opposite of where Rasa would be coming out. The hug finished but then was rejoined when we thought we heard Rasa coming from the bathroom.
“Are you hiding from mommy?”
“Uh huh,” she said.
“You don’t want her to see you crying?”
“Okay.” So I hugged her until she stopped. And a little while after that, she found her words.
*an early birthday present from one of Rasa’s sisters
** Rasa speaks fluent German so Monki has been picking up words here and there.