Saturday, December 02, 2006


You know, when you have a baby, you're overwhelmed with all the responsibility. They are such needy little things, after all, and can't do a thing for themselves. Sometimes it feels as if you can never do anything right, and there is always some other thing they need, something else you need to do for them. And you can feel like it's a grind from which you will never escape, because sleep deprivation tends to shine a very harsh light on any situation.

Then they get a little older, and you get more sleep, and life falls into a pattern, and you think, OK, I can handle this. Because when they're dressing themselves and feeding themselves and looking after themselves in the bathroom, it's all so much easier, right?

That's when you smack into the brick wall of parental expectations: It will get easier as the kids get older.

Of course it's true on one level -- the feeding, clothing, bathing, and toileting aspects, and after a few more years, even the "reading to" part is mostly covered. But that's when we are hit with the most vicious turn of the screw, because just as all those daily life tasks fall into place, we get to deal with all of the other developmental areas that have been percolating in the background.

Things like anger management, impulse control, and over-sensitivity.

It's like this: when you have a child who is very serious and very sensitive, with an over-developed sense of fairness, you're going to run into situations where his peers play on all of those traits and work him up into a right lather. So, for example, if the boy doesn't let someone cut in front of him in the lunch line because it wouldn't be fair to everyone else behind him, it's completely inexplicable to him that other boys would call him mean for preventing the line cut. And when the other boys pile on, that's not right, either, and it hurts and it makes him angry, and then... he talks way, way too much and says the kind of things that get you sent home from school.

All of which is what happened today, and to be honest I still haven't recovered from it. What my boy did was beyond the pale and he deserved to be sent home, but what was clear is that the other boys played him. I know adults who wouldn't retain self-control in a similar situation, but that doesn't mean the kid gets a pass for flipping out.

I feel bruised. Part of me (albeit a very small part) wants to tell him, It wasn't your fault, because in some ways, it wasn't. But I'm not going to -- I can't -- give him a pass like that, because he is responsible for what he did, and he has to learn this. Of course we thought he learned it last year, and the year before, and maybe even the year before. Lord knows this lesson gets repeated often, and he's not a dumb kid, so when is it going to sink in?

And when is it going to stop hurting so much? It's a dagger to the heart to your child say things like I'm a bad person.

Because that's not it at all, I tell him: You are a good person who makes mistakes. Why doesn't he believe that, so that when some idiot kid comes along and starts pushing his buttons by saying he's mean, he can just blow that kid off and not let it get under his skin?

I think that has been one of my mistakes (I'm sure there have been many which will be revealed with the unfolding of time) with this boy, not repeating that idea often enough for him to internalize it. I'm not talking about unearned self-esteem here, I'm talking about being able to look (relatively) objectively at the kid and say, Yeah, he's a good kid, or as any number of people would attest, He doesn't have a mean bone in his body, unless of course you've pushed him over the edge.

The other trick is to help him recognize when he's being pushed that way, so he can get up and walk away, or get help.

Repetition should help with these lessons, I hope, just as I hope that with time this heartache will subside.

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