Friday, August 18, 2006



It is now time to say a few words about my youngest daughter, the lovely Colette. Colette just celebrated 14 years on this planet, although it is difficult determining her age based on her behavior. Sometimes she seems as mature and composed as someone in their twenties. Other times I would swear that she is barely eight. And, when she has one of her legendary fits, I picture her as a 3-year-old. Curiously, she rarely acts as if she is fourteen.

Colette is a little stockier and a somewhat shorter than her sister. Where Maribel was the athletic one, Colette is the artistic one. I’ve seen her make the most realistic drawings with nothing but a pencil and a napkin. While she has friends, she’s not as outgoing as Maribel. She is an avid reader, loves all sorts of music (including classical, a genre that I’ve never developed a taste for), and positively hates watching television (an aversion that I make no attempt to discourage). She starts high school this year, and is both excited and terrified at the prospects.

There are two traits that most define Colette. One is that she is fiercely loyal. She does not make friends easily, but when you are her friend, she’ll go to extreme lengths to defend you.

Her other distinctive trait is that she is as stubborn as an old mule with a carrot.

In the process of raising ones offspring, one will often make certain requests of the youngster that they are expected to abide by. They frequently bristle at these suggestions, but accept them because they don’t wish to experience the consequences. Colette, however, will have none of it. If she does not wish to follow our rules, she will proceed to make our lives utterly miserable until she is allowed to proceed her way. No amount of cajoling, punishment, or reasoning will convince her otherwise.

Allow me to present an example of both of these endearing qualities. One summer afternoon, a couple of years ago, we were at a local playground enjoying fine weather and getting a little exercise. Angela, Maribel, and I were shooting baskets while Colette and a friend were experiencing some of the other recreational equipment. Colette spied some of their classmates engaged in jumping rope. Since Angela and her friend are both quite accomplished rope-jumpers, they decided to join them.

Well, apparently these classmates were “mad” at Colette’s friend that day for some perceived slight (something hugely significant like she wouldn’t trade shoes with one of the other girls). Because of this, the girls indicated that Colette was welcome to jump with them, but her friend was not. Since Colette is completely loyal to her friends, she steadfastly insisted that the friend be allowed access to the rope. When the girls continued to refuse, Colette displayed her other talent: she planted herself astride the jump rope and refused to allow the activity to continue until they assented to her friend. When the girls tried to pull the rope in, she stood on the rope and refused to move.

Try as they might, the other girls seemed unable to pull the rope free. Colette may as well have been the infamous Monty Python 16-ton weight, such as she would not budge. Her friend suggested leaving the girls to their own selfishness, but Colette persisted in pinning down the rope. At last, the oldest and largest of the other girls took matters into her own hands and gave Colette a mighty two-handed shove, knocking my baby girl onto the seat of her pants.

At this point, her mother and I decided that it might be best if we were to intervene. We started to head in that direction, but no sooner had we taken a step when Colette was on her feet. Like an angry lion, she flew up to the girl who had pushed her and delivered a straight right hand directly to the girls face that spun her around and sent her sprawling. Angela and I decided that we should now hurry to the scene before further fisticuffs left someone injured.

When we reached the crime scene, I tried to take charge, but Colette was determined to control the outcome. She was standing over the girl who had shoved her, snarling, and with her fists tightly balled, daring the girl get up and attempt another shove. Although Colette and her sister had, in the past, gotten into some nasty spats, I had never known that she had such pugilistic tendencies. I wasn’t sure if I should be appalled or proud. The girl, wisely, remained down.

Colette then turned to the rest of the girls and indicated that they should resume twirling the rope, and that her friend should be the first to jump. Cautiously, the girls resumed their activity. After a couple of minutes, Colette turned to the girl on the ground and indicated, very assertively, that she should join her friend. I pictured a parent taking their cranky child to Disney World and telling them, “Now go out there and HAVE FUN, GOD DAMMIT!” Keeping her distance from Colette, the other girl slowly joined Colette’s friend. Soon, the girls were synchronized in their jumping, and I actually saw hints of smiles from both of them.

Angela opened her mouth to deliver some words of chastisement to our little girl, but, since she, like me, was utterly flabbergasted by what had taken place, she could find no words. Maribel, curiously, was grinning radiantly, in obvious pride in her sister. So we turned to head back to the basketball hoop. I looked back, feeling that some words of wisdom were needed, but the only ones that I could come up with were, “Play nice, girls.” And, amazingly, they did.

Despite my descriptions, my family really is not inclined to violence. Yet, on the rare occasions where it seems the only solution, we proceed to conduct ourselves with considerable gusto. And yet, we also are able to diffuse the situation as quickly as we escalate it. It is an interesting and unique trait of the Spakowiak family. I’ll leave it up to your own deliberations to decide for yourself if this trait is, or is not, fantastic.

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