ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

SEQUENCE OF DENIAL

It was to be the social event of the sixth grade – the party to end all parties. Everyone who is anyone would be there.

Everyone, that is, except Elizabeth.

"I’m sorry, honey," her mother said when Elizabeth asked for permission to attend. "You know the rule: no boy-girl parties until you’re 14."

"But Mom," Elizabeth wailed, huge tears forming along the bottom rims of her eyes. "I don’t want to be with the boys. I just want to be with my friends. And they’re all going to be at the party."

"I know," her mom said. "I believe you. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to stick with the rule."

Actually, Anita was more afraid of what would happen if we DIDN’T stick with the rule. Not that she was uncertain about Elizabeth’s ability to handle a setting rife with pre-adolescent hormones. Elizabeth could handle anything – no question about it. But as the fourth of our five children, she has two sisters and a brother who are now adults, and who survived the Walker Family sequence of denial: no make-up or ear-piercing until 12 (uh, this is a "girl’s only" rule; the rule on make-up and ear-piercing for our sons is somewhat more stringent – as in "when the devil has to buy winter woollies"), no boy-girl parties until 14 and no dating until 16. If we allowed Elizabeth to attend a boy-girl party at age 11 . . . well, we’d never hear the end of it from her older brother and sisters.

So the answer was a lovingly firm and emphatic "no." Elizabeth wasn’t thrilled about it, of course. Anita said our daughter was pretty tearful when she went up to her room following their conversation. But after a little while, she came back downstairs, her eyes clear and bright, and her attitude decidedly upbeat. By the time I got home from work, she was her regular cheerful, lovable self. Like her older brother and sisters, it looked like she was going to survive the sequence of denial.

That night when I tucked Elizabeth into bed, I told her how proud I was of how she had handled this disappointment. And I asked her what had happened during that time in her room.

"Well, I cried for a little while," she confessed. "Then I tried to think of a way to change Mom’s mind, and I decided that wasn’t going to happen."

Smart girl. She knows her mother.

"Then," she continued, "I tried to think of a way to get YOU to change Mom’s mind, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen, either."

Smart girl. She knows her father AND her mother.

"I decided there wasn’t anything I could do about it," Elizabeth concluded, "so I might as well just forget it. If you can’t fix it, why worry about it? It doesn’t make sense to be unhappy, you know?"

Smart girl. She knows about life.

And survival.

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