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The shoe showdown in the Tribe of Girls

A typical morning in parent purgatory back when The Young Girls were young began with the following scene: I, late as usual for work at the hardware store, wait for my three daughters to finish dressing for school. If there is a finish. Ever. To daughters dressing. I'm waiting because they ride to town with me.

They are 15, 13 and 11. Fifteen is ready to go, shoes found and installed, coat on, etc. She's sitting at the kitchen table, a spot I believe she finds strategically superior because any one who comes up from the dressing room/laundry room downstairs must run the peculiar one-kid inspection gauntlet that she forms.

Eleven, who usually comes up last because she senses some superiority in being in a position where time is running out for everyone, just came up the stairs. Fifteen spots her and what she is wearing. It starts:

Fifteen says: "Aren't those my shoes?"

Eleven, innocent, replies: "No!" Yeah. Right.

Fifteen: "Yes! They! Are! Mine!" Emphatic elocution, like that's going to help.

Eleven: "Uh, uh, I've got a pair just like yours."

Fifteen: "Yours are blue, not white!" She channels indignation.

Eleven says, in a switch away from what is becoming an untenable position, "Well, you don't wear them!"

Fifteen, unaware at this point that 11 is winning just by grinding out time, says again: "They're mine!"

Eleven, who may be last in years but who also just may be the as yet undiscovered chess prodigy of the century, sacrifices a pawn and says, "You have another pair, don't you?"

Fifteen smells that dead end and says, "All you have to do is ask me if you can wear them, you know." This is the pitch. But it's a curve.

Back to chess: Eleven, who can butcher pawns with the best of them, says in her snottiest manner: "Well? Can I? Wear them?" The swing.

Fifteen: "NO!" A whiff.

Eleven: "See? You're such a liar. I asked you, so WHAT!"

Fifteen has a misplaced moment of exuberance over this, and thus says, smiling: "You didn't ask me nice."

Eleven tips another pawn into the fray as she places one hand on a hip far too young to know such a move, and in a Greta Garbo manner, says, "Can I wear them? Please."

Fifteen could press the point. She knows time is running out. I'm standing there fuming. She knows this is winnable, except 11 still has on her shoes. About now, 13 strolls into the kitchen from the upstairs bathroom, and asks: "Who's got what?" She wants in on any ritual morning killings.

Fifteen explains that 11 has on her shoes, while 13 takes one look at 15 and demands: "Whose coat is that?"

Fifteen now smells a shoe that is on the other foot, and, knowing that she cannot play two such chess games simultaneously, throws out: "It doesn't matter. We're late!"

Yes, we certainly are, I think to myself. I cannot seem to be paying too much attention to all this because I'll get sucked in. I merely observe. And fume. The next move comes: Eleven attacks 15, sensing weakness in distraction, and says: "You wore my earrings yesterday and who knows what when I wasn't looking."

Thirteen adopts a problem solving gambit and says, kind of open-like to either of them, whichever one takes the hit: "Do you want her to wear them?"

At this point, where three games are going on at once, Mom walks in the door and says, "Which one of you has been rooting around in my clothing shelves?"

Ah, boy. I could sell this to prime time reality TV if I had a camera and the courage to man it. The title? "Monday Morning at The Tribe of Girls."

Mom's professional thrust into the already heated fray draws an innocent chorus of three "Not me she did it" while everyone points at everyone else. I almost even said it, before I could stop myself. (Someone leaves my dirty shorts on the bathroom floor and I'm accused of it.)

There hasn't been this much finger pointing since we bailed out of Vietnam. Mom's clothing shelf, down in the dressing room, with its solitary neatness, stands out like an oasis in the desert, and it has drawn some attention, it seems.

Mom continues toward victory by saying: "What am I supposed to wear? You girls stay out of my clothes.

"SEE I TOLD YOU SO" comes the chorus and more fingers pointing like windmills in a hurricane.

And Eleven wins today's shoe event.