I’ve ceased to be surprised by major shifts that happen without apparent preparation. That seems to be the rule in adulthood in general and parenthood in particular. There was that day in October 2012, when I woke up with no inkling that the throwaway Loseit.com account I’d started just to see what the fuss was all about was about to kick me into the weight loss I’d been dreading and procrastinating for years.
Likewise with parenting. Each of my boys has gone through an identical series of food-related stages. Stage 1: eat whatever given, no problem. Stage 2: lose interest in feeding self, but will open mouth if Mommy is willing to spoon feed. Stage 3: lips sealed shut. By the time Nicholas hit that stage I had three children, one of whom genuinely couldn’t feed herself, and I simply wasn’t going to fool with it with Nicholas. I told myself, “Pick your battles.” Finally one day, out of nowhere, I realized I had to pick the battle. Now he eats great, and Michael is well along in Stage 2.
These decisions, which seem like they would be planned out in advance, frequently are just the opposite. You don’t know you’ve reached the line in the sand until it leaps up and slaps you upside the head.
I’m having one of those with Nicholas.
I’ve often held back talking about Nicholas because I don’t want the public record of his life to be skewed by my parental frustration. Several times a week, I think, “Oh, God, there is no way I can do this every day for the next thirteen years. The misery! The drudgery of trying to mold this boy into a good human being!”
(Yes, just exactly that level of “written” melodrama. Ahem.)
Putting this reaction out there for the world to see feels really unfair to Nicholas, because if I express this sentiment to anyone, anywhere outside our closest loved ones, they will look at me with bewilderment. In all other environments he is a stunning social success, a joy to be around and a boy everyone adores.
I have been expending crazy amounts of parental mental energy trying to figure out how to modify my approach so as to get better results. And I feel like I’m having limited success.
Last weekend, I told him to hang up his school uniforms. He did. At least, he said he did. Then one morning this week he had no uniform pants that fit. I knew there weren’t that many pairs in the laundry, so I went in his closet and found twenty-one, yes, twenty-one, pieces of hanging clothes stuffed into the dark recesses of the closet. Not just uniforms. Everything he owned.
Dishonesty = a line in the sand.
So as I type, I am sitting beside Nicholas as he folds, doesn’t fold, procrastinates, fools around, and generally tries to get out of laundry duty. I’ve generally eschewed consequences like these because God’s honest truth is, they’re more of a punishment for me than for the kid. I’ve been sitting here for AN HOUR, and for the first twenty-five minutes he folded exactly ten socks. I had to give him six instructions for each of those ten socks, because he was deliberately placing them in wrong piles and wrong directions. He thought if he irritated me enough, I’d do it for him, or give up.
Unfortunately for him, I know a line in the sand when I see one, and I’m not staring down the barrel of a deadline.
Friday morning addition, before posting:
Midway through the project his attitude changed beautifully for the better. But because he moped, sulked, and procrastinated for an hour before starting, and was so uncooperative up front, the job took him right up until bedtime. No screen time, no books. I snuggled with him in bed and we had a conversation about dishonesty, and why it’s so important that we tell the truth. Namely, if I can’t trust you, then you’re going to miss out on chances your big brother might get because I can trust him.
It was a good conversation, but whether any of this will make a lasting impression is a question yet to be answered.