One of my favorite reasons for working from home? Sometimes when I start work in the morning, my task board is replaced with things like this.
This is what I get for asking Thomas to read me an email from the police department in case it was something I needed to send out in our city guide app: “Regarding the earlier bomb threat at Walmart – the bomb squad has searched the entire building. They found no trace of a device but did find an unidentifiable foreign substance. Spock and I are preparing to beam down to the planet for further exploration. Bones is making progress on a cure for the virus spreading throughout the ship…”. Sigh.
Someone recently asked how to deal with a toddler who refused to obey. I was glad the question wasn’t directed at me, because I learned a long time ago that when someone asks for advice. But it did get me to thinking about how I handled rebellion in a three-year-old (and oh was it easier than handling it in a thirteen year old or in a nineteen year old).
My kids learned very early that I would often negotiate with them over some things while others were not up for discussion. I often negotiated cleanup time, the number of books I was willing to read at bed time, or what qualified as acceptable clothing to go on errands with mom. But the things that went to safety or harming someone else were non-negotiable, and I made sure that punishment was “swift, sure, and severe” so that they understood that I meant business and wouldn’t budge after the first, seventh or one hundred and seventh time.
And by severe, I do not mean physical; I mean that the punishment didn’t always fit the severity of the crime. I remember very well a time when my daughter was about 3 and was told not to go any nearer to a pool nearby. Her hands went to her hips, her jaw tightened and lips pursed, and she looked me in the eye before deliberately placing her foot out in the direction of the pool. It was a challenge, and I did not ignore it. I swept her up into my arms, and we left (this is one of the things that makes dealing with a rebellious three-year-old ever so much easier than a nineteen-year-old; that definitely can’t happen when they’re nineteen – for a multitude of reasons).
On the ride home, my daughter vacillated between furious then devastated then furious then devastated until she finally realized that she was not going back to the pool that day, no matter what. She spent the better part of the day making repeated attempts to convince me to give her another chance, but I remained firm – and it paid off. The next time we went to the pool, she stopped when I told her to. She learned very quickly through that experience that freedom and privileges came when she respected the rules.
And the boundary I’d set meant that when I told her not to move beyond the edge of the vehicle while I got her little brother out of the parking lot resulted in her obeying what I’d asked. My kids knew better than to throw a tantrum for a toy while in a department store, and they knew better than to bother other people in a crowded waiting room. And they were proud of themselves for having mastered that self-control. Once when my daughter witnessed another child behaving badly, she “whispered” in her full voice, “Mom, if that was your child, you wouldn’t put up with that, would you.” I smiled apologetically at the mother who clearly had her hands full, but I was proud of my daughter for realizing she’d learned how to behave in public.
There is a lot of good that comes with “knowing better than”, even when we’re adults. When others aren’t quite certain what you’ll do in a dicey situation, they often don’t trust you enough to invite you to be a part of that experience. And when you can’t be trusted to stay within someone else’s boundaries, well, you usually find that the relationship is strained and not all that rewarding for either of you. I wanted my kids to enjoy a level of self-control in their relationships as adults, and so those early experiences helped them – even in their worst rebellions – to come to the understanding that hurting others for the sake of reveling in their own temper tantrum or self-will wasn’t usually worth the cost to the relationships of those they loved.
That being said, our youngest was a little Houdini. I once had my doorbell ring to find my neighbor holding my toddler’s hand. Just two minutes before, I’d seen him in our gated back yard playing with his two older siblings. It seems the little fellow, maybe only two at the time, had pushed a tricycle up to the fence’s gate, used a stick to push the latch open and relished in his new-found freedom by wandering straight out onto the sidewalk in front of our house. And when I thanked my neighbor for bringing my son to the door, she gave me a look that let me know exactly what she thought of my parenting. But, you know, I had no idea the little guy could jimmy open a gate. We padlocked the gate after that, but I also knew that my youngest didn’t have an innate fear of being away from his parents or siblings. Along with being firm with the rules, I learned that for my last child, I also had to be vigilant.
Truth be told, I’m not an expert and have no idea how another parent should raise their kid. But I believe that setting firm, unmoving boundaries on some issues really did spare a lot of drama and tension when my kids were young. I’m still learning how to parent adult children, so if any of you have advice, I’m all ears.
I remember one fleeting moment when the results on my kids’ first IQ tests came back – a screening at the mid-school to determine if they were eligible for advanced math placement. Both of the older kids qualified (the youngest was still a wee toddler fighting Darth Vader and not yet ready for the world of IQ tests and advanced math).
And when I found out both of my kids scored in the gifted range, there was this big moment of pride I had as a mom.
I reveled in the fact that my kids were advanced. Woo-hoo. My children were going to be valedictorians and doctors and admired and respected by their peers and their peers’ parents and their teachers and, heck, everyone else, too. When I went into teacher conferences, I’d be showered with accolades about how amazing my little geniuses were. It was easy street for me from that point forward, because my kids were going to do their homework on their own and make up new problems just for the fun of it. They would start (and finish) major projects the day they were assigned, seeing as my kids now had test results to prove they were too smart to procrastinate. They would love school and bask in the glory of their own genius. And I’d bask in the glory as well, since they were half of my genes. I mean, seriously, I helped make geniuses. How cool was I?
Yeah. I had a real “moment”, one I’m not in the least proud of. And, as you might suspect, my ego trip derailed with a phone call from the school brought me back to reality.
“We need to have a conference with you about your son.”
Was he up for some award already? “Sure. What time works for you?”, I asked.
“This afternoon. The sooner the better.”
It must be some big award.
It was most definitely not some big award. It was pretty much the opposite. I arrived with my younger son, light saber in tow. While he twirled in a corner of the room, the school counselor and several teachers informed me that my son was failing not one but every single one of his subjects. And not by a little bit. He was failing on a grand scale. As in zeros across the board, in every single class. Oh, except band. He had an A in band.
I left that room a very defeated mother. I had failed my son, and I wasn’t quite sure how to fix it. I’d dropped the ball and bought into the whole pop-culture assumptions about kids with high IQ’s.
When he arrived home, I was waiting. At first, I thought the whole ranting, angry mom routine was called for, but somehow I managed to stop myself. Instead, I asked him to sit down and talk with me. And I told him of my meeting, of the shocking news I’d received from his teachers.
To my surprise, a little smile tugged at the corner of his lips. It seems some teacher who, like me, thought that a high IQ meant that the understanding of all subject matter came easily, had chided him and embarrassed him in front of the rest of the class. We’d just moved to a new home across town, so these weren’t students who’d known him for years. These were new kids, and middle school kids at that. They’re like vultures when it comes to someone being different.
“He told me I was too smart to not know the answer to his question,” my son explained. “He kinda made fun of me for not knowing, so I decided to teach them all a lesson about just how dumb I was.”
“So you just quit doing your work?” I asked, incredulous at his logic.
“Oh, no. I did all of my work. Every problem. I just made sure I got every single answer wrong, and you know, that’s not easy. If you don’t really know the material, you can mess up and get an answer right by mistake.”
So my dear, sweet, smart son had purposefully chosen to do all of his work wrong. And not a single teacher noticed that the answers were all filled in, and that simple odds would tell you that some of them should have been correct.
But once your kid has zeros in all of his classes, convincing the school that your child actually needs tested for the gifted program, is, well, pretty laughable. And that’s what the counselor did when I asked her to begin the screening process.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked, almost offended at my audacity.
“No, I’m not. He isn’t doing well in his regular classes, and while I thought he would fit into the class better than this, he isn’t. So now it’s time to begin testing so that his needs are better met,” I said.
“I’m sorry, but gifted classes are for those kids who are doing so well that they need challenged more, not for students who are failing their classes. This doesn’t seem like a solution, since it appears this is more of a parenting issue.” Her smile was tight. “I can provide references if you would like to look into some parenting classes or family counseling.”
I waited a moment until I was calm enough to talk. “I believe that what I learned in college where I studied special education is that the definition of special education is to provide appropriate services for students whose needs are not able to be served in a regular education classroom. Gifted is not a reward; it is a necessity.”
Her tight smile never wavered. “You cannot imagine the number of requests I receive every year from parents who desperately want their child to be gifted. But the testing is rigorous, and it is the kids who are crushed when they are unable to make the scores that will make their parents happy.”
I actually laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. “Are you serious? There are parents out there who would wish being gifted on their kids? They obviously don’t know what they’re wishing for, because as much as I wouldn’t change my kids since they’re amazing just the way they are, I promise you, being gifted is not a ticket to easy street. It usually means a whole new set of challenges and struggles to deal with.”
She looked genuinely horrified.
I opened my purse and pulled out a piece of typed paper. “This is my written request to have my son tested. I believe under state law, the school has 90 days to comply. Please let me know when the testing is scheduled so that I can make sure my son is prepared and rested.”
She didn’t wish me well as I gathered up my little Darth Vader and left her office. It was okay with me. I don’t I wished me well right then, either. I’d failed to see the signs and let my son dig a hole for himself because I’d assumed he was doing ok. Here’s a hint. Your kids are never doing ok. They always need you nosing up in their business and asking about grades and homework and friends and life. They need to be parented, no matter how awesome they are.
A phone call from the school at 11 AM always raises alarms for a mother, and I am no exception. I am one of those scraping-you-off-the-sidewalk kind of moms, no thanks in part to a very vivid imagination.
So when the phone rang this morning, my first fear was that my twelve-year-old was in the throes of a terrible asthma attack and had left his inhaler at home. I pictured him blue and gasping for breath, and I mentally started berating myself for not making sure his inhaler was in his back pack before he left for school. What kind of mother was I, anyway, that haranguing him about talking to his math teacher was more important than making sure he was prepared for every medical emergency?
All of this happened in the few seconds before I answered the call. It’s amazing how fast tragedies unfold in our mind within the vacuum of any actual facts or details. Instead of a panicked nurse on the other end of the line, I heard my son’s voice.
“Are you ok?” I asked, relieved that at least he could still speak.
“Uh, yeah. I’m in the nurses’ office, though.”
“Yes, I could tell that by my caller ID,” I tell him. “What’s wrong?”
“I have a stomach ache,” he says. And then he continues, “although I’m not sure what’s causing it. That’s why I called you. I’m thinking it could be a virus, and that would mean I was exposing other kids to it where they would get sick. On the other hand, it could be from anxiety or stress. And it might be from boredom since all we’re doing in science is grading papers.”
I didn’t say anything for a moment, still recovering from panicked-tragedy mode. Finally I managed an “OK?” followed by a pause.
“I was hoping you could help me sort out what might be causing it, because if it is just boredom or stress, I need to deal with it and stay in class,” he explained.
And so I helped him sort it out with a few questions:
Was he running a fever? No.
Was he feeling like he might throw up? No.
Was his chest tight? No.
Did it feel hard to breathe? No.
And after the series of questions, he came to his own conclusion. “You know, I think it is likely boredom. I didn’t know for sure, but I think that’s it. I’ll go back to class now.”
The line went dead, and I stood there holding the phone. I wondered what the nurse thought about it all.
Then again, I’m not even sure yet what I think about it all.
My youngest, wielding a piece of paper in an attempt to push a spider into the tub: “Excuse me, sir. Pardon me, sir, can I invite you to perhaps travel this way? Oh, no, not that way, sir. Over here, sir. Pardon me, sir, I don’t feel you’re listening…”.
One of the best parts of being a mom is enjoying the fun, quirky view life we sometimes glimpse through our children. I freak out when there is a spider anywhere near. How refreshing to hear my son’s approach.