Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tough Love

Every school day for months--no, years--we've followed the same routine.  None of it is earth-shattering.   But most mornings, my kids act like it's the first time.  They look at me baffled when I remind them to put their breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.  I can see their little brains trying to process why we've started what must be a brand new tradition of brushing our teeth after we eat.  Sometimes they kind of nod at me with slowly dawning amazement:  Yes, backpacks.  And jackets!  What a good idea! 
I do get tired of saying the same thing every morning,  but I feel like my job as a stay at home mom is to ensure things don't get overlooked.  I am there to make sure homework gets completed, that children have their library books on library day, and that nobody goes to school unprepared.  Deep down, I know that it's important to let kids make mistakes, and to learn from them.  I've been told that if we don't let our children experience small failures at this age then it makes it a much harder lesson to learn later in life.  Logically it makes perfect sense, but I have a really hard time putting it into practice.   But I grow weary of being the brains of the operation all the time.  So on Tuesday morning, I let David make a mistake. 

The children's lunches were packed and sitting in plain sight.   I asked David if he had everything he needed.  His lunch was on the counter.  He said yes.  I bit my tongue and said ok.  He stood by the door as Juliana finished getting ready.  Juliana picked up her lunch box, which was right next to David's.  I held my breath hoping she would point it out to him.  No such luck.  I positioned myself at the far end of the counter.  David stood at the front door.  To see me, his line of vision had to pass right over his lunch box.  I asked one last time if he had everything he needed.  Again, he answered that he did.  I found I was gripping the underside of the countertop to stop myself from saying,  "Come get your lunch."   Our neighbor, Andrew, showed up to walk to school with them.  I quickly scanned him to see if he was carrying a lunch with the hopes that it would serve as a visual reminder to David.   Andrew was carrying a guitar.  Unless David knew a strummy song about lunch boxes, this wasn't going to help.  The three of them set off for school.  I waited about five minutes in case he remembered and came back, then I put his lunch into the fridge and informed Ritu that we were doing Tough Love today.

As his morning snack was safely tucked inside his lunch box, the guilt started almost immediately.  He's so little.  He's the smallest fourth grade boy in his class.  He's actually smaller than most of the third graders.  Obviously what will really help with that is to have him eat less.  And lets not forget the way his blood sugar plummets when he doesn't eat.  I'm sure having him collapse in a glucose-deprived sobbing fit will do wonders for his long-term social standing.  Hell, I still remember the kid who peed his pants when I was in third grade.  Now  David will forever  be known as the Hungry-Crier.  Jesus, why didn't I just make him go to school naked?

I went for a walk to calm myself.  When I got home, there was a message on my phone.  It was from David's teacher.  She called to say that David told her that he'd forgotten his lunch and he was wondering if I could drop it off at the school.  I could let her know via a message through the office or an email.

Well.  I sat down to email his teacher.  I knew she'd be on board.  She totally subscribes to the theory of not rescuing kids all the time.  I thought back to last year when David was in third grade (he's in a 3/4 blend so he's had this teacher for two years) and he'd forgotten to bring one of his worksheets home.  This was back when I was still walking him into his class each day.  Back when I still thought it was my job to smooth things out with the teacher.  I stood there with him as he explained what had happened.  I chimed in that I'd been sick and so I hadn't been on top of things.  She calmly looked at me and explained to both of us that this was David's responsibility.  He'd had other options such as calling a friend andfinding out the assignment.  As I stood there, she told David that he could go to study hall in lieu of recess that day and get the assignment done.  I knew what I was supposed to do.  I stood there and kept my goddamned mouth shut.  Inside, I burned with anger.  Couldn't she see how little he was?  My God, it was the beginning of third grade.  Why did she feel the need to crack down on him like that? I knew it had to be her way of punishing ME.  Why else would she have made such a big deal out of it with me as an audience?  I spent most of David's third grade year completely convinced that his teacher hated me.  Despite that,  David was having a great year.  He loved school and his teacher and was learning a lot.  But this woman kept me out of the loop in a big way.  Turns out she didn't want to have chatty little conversations each morning.  She didn't want to give me quick updates on David's day when I saw her in the halls.  Oh, and get this.  She wanted to give the assignments--even for big projects--directly to the students.  How was I supposed to oversee and make sure things were getting done correctly if I didn't even know what the end results were supposed to be?  I struggled that year.  Much more than David did.  It finally dawned on me that I was being educated right alongside him.  She was teaching me a whole lot about parenting as we went. 

So, I sat down to email her about David's lunch.  Here's what I wrote: 

I am fully aware that David left his lunch here.  I asked him twice if he had everything he needed and he said yes.  Let's let him roll with it today and see what he can figure out.

Her response:

Thanks - what a good mother you are!!!  He was standing beside me when I read this message - He said, "Dang!" I think he will figure something out - there's always salad bar - he won't starve.  

I loved that she included his quote.  I could hear his long, drown out delivery of the word.  The tone he always takes when he knows I'm on to him.  I felt vindicated in my decision making.  Nonetheless, I went to pick him up at the end of the day armed with a granola bar in my purse. I asked him what he had for lunch.  I knew they were having corn dogs, which he loves, so I was a little concerned that my lesson may have backfired.  But since he wasn't in the original lunch count, there weren't any extra corn dogs.  He ended up having a vanilla yogurt and a roll for lunch. 

When Ritu got home, we talked about it a bit and Ritu asked him if he'd learned anything.  And this is why I love my child. Instead of hanging his head and murmuring the importance of keeping track of one's belongings, he went into a soliloquy using his brightest,  most sincere voice: "Yes!  I learned that vanilla yogurt for lunch is awesome.  It's like the best lunch ever.  I'm so glad I  had a chance to find that out.  I mean, it was soooo good!" 

When we sat down to dinner, we started our usual discussion of the best and worst parts of our days.  David started with, "I'd definitely say the best part of  my day was...." and Ritu and I lost it laughing, convinced he was going to say "vanilla yogurt for lunch".  Instead he talked about the visit from the police officer who talked about Stranger Danger.  I swear, if he'd kept that going, I would've put an extra dessert in today's lunch.


todlertrouble said...

have you tried tatooing a checklist onto his arm or forehead?

momdeplume said...

You did well, grasshopper.
I didn't learn such things till my youngest child was a junior in high school. And perhaps vanilla yogurt is THE very best lunch.  Hmmmm....I think I'll try some.

mazeway said...

poor poor hungry David.  How you will squirm when you find he's been hoarding crumbs of cast-off food, preparing for the next "lesson."  Poor poor David.

jengrappone said...

<i>They look at me baffled when I remind them to put their breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.  I can see their little brains trying to process why we've started what must be a brand new tradition of brushing our teeth after we eat. </i>

Yes! Yes! This is exactly what I go through every morning!

Thanks for the parenting lesson today!

hallcjm said...

You are stronger than I. I surely would have caved.