Today was one of those days where you realize how much of the parenting you do is Cruise Control Parenting. Or maybe you don't have those days. I will tell you about them. So I am a well oiled lunch making, bottom wiping, laundry folding, hair washing, seat buckling Mom Machine. I do these things day in and day out and when things don't go my way I get angry and frustrated and upset and sometimes I YELL and call my mother and despair that I will ever raise children with even half decent manners. I don't really think about it. The kids are either Good or Bad and my days are either Good or Bad and we are separate and frozen entities. Me Vs. Them. Parents Vs. Bedtime. Telling me about what they did at school vs. "Can I play the iPad? Can I play the iPad? Can I play the iPad?"
Then there are days like today where a split second before I yell I think: wait. I think this is a Moment.
The MOMENTS are the times when you realize HEY. This job isn't just about reminding someone to say thank you ninety-seven times a day. I am responsible for more than that. Maybe my kid is driving me crazy for a reason other than He Does It To Drive Me Crazy. Maybe something's UP with him.
Jackson (isn't it always Jackson?) was making us both insane tonight. Tonight? This whole week and last week and probably the week before that. He is SO rough, he is SO wild, he gets SO silly. He's not one of those super rambunctious energetic boys, but he has his own particular kind of zany energy and it often results in hurting a sister or destroying my living room or piercing our eardrums with shrieks or otherwise making us nuts. And on top of that, tonight he was being a real twerp about telling us anything about his day. "I'm too tired." "I don't feel like talking about it." What is up with this SIX-YEAR-OLD who is literally too cool for school? Is he too good for his home? Does he think he's an emo teenager? I mean, does he WANT us to give him something to be emo about because WE CAN MAKE THAT HAPPEN.
Out of frustration and annoyance Phillip ordered him to his room and Jack burst into tears and there was my moment. Was he being a huge jerkface to his parents? YES. Did he maybe not MEAN to be a huge jerkface? POSSIBLY NOT.
I went to his room, sat down on his bed, and stared at him. He did his very best to meet my gaze, while also sucking in his cheeks to prevent himself from his ultra-irritating brand of Nervous Laughter. It makes me crazy, but tonight I could remember making the exact same face with my parents. Was my dad funny? NO! I CAN'T HELP IT! MY FACE JUST DOES THIS!
He was totally expecting me to start lecturing with my Mean Mom voice, but instead I started to ask him about his day. I think we were both surprised, but LO AND BEHOLD he started TELLING me about his day. More information than I've ever got out of this kid before. After a nice long chat about first grade I said, "Jack? Do you think you're just really tired when you come home? And maybe we should make some quiet time for you in the evenings? Would that help?"
This is going to sound weird, at least to me, but I have never felt that any discipline worked as well with my son than just sitting down and talking to him. Not talking where you're trying to get him to understand something or make choices (that NEVER works with him), just TALKING. I feel like nine times out of ten he's acting out and making us insane because we haven't MANAGED him well. We don't know what's going ON with him. This kid - this kid who is SO MUCH like me - needs alone time. Lots of it. He needs a desk and a filing cabinet and something to work on. He likes to store and organize and catalog and he is perfectly happy to do this alone and as his parents we need to recognize those times.
I'm fully open to the possibility than I am a wimpy softie and making up complex emotional issues where I should maybe just stick him a corner until the next day. But you know, I AM a wimpy softie and I spend oodles of time analyzing OTHER people's complex emotional issues- why wouldn't I do this with my own children? It can be my very own special way of screwing them up!
Anyway, Jack and I had a very good talk. About first grade and how he doesn't mean to make Molly cry, he's just "getting his energy out" and do I remember that I was going to get him a filing cabinet? It turns out that when he needs a change he ALSO attacks furniture and room layouts (I've been informed exactly how the bedroom and playroom should be in order to maximize Jack's enjoyment of those spaces). And he said, "I'm VERY tired, Mommy" and I believe him.
Molly, whose first day was today, and who has absolutely no complex emotional issues regarding it (as far as I could tell) is much simpler to figure out. We've never had to dream up a million different ways to deal with Molly because she's instantly contrite and changes her behavior. Emma appears to be much feistier than either of her siblings, but responds well to Mommy's I Mean It Voice. Jack... he requires more imagination, at least at this point. A different kind of attention. It's like he wants to sit down with his mom and talk about his feelings.
I should bookmark this post for ten years from now when my daughters are driving me to drink and my son is as baffled by them as his parents are.