Hard Lessons, Mama

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.” — Dr. Haim Ginott

We had a rough morning here at Pickadilly Circus.  Beany Baby decided to party on last night from 3-5. No fussing, just a lot of noise and unsettledness.  I was on duty, so for two hours I fed, changed, burped her and hoped she’d go to sleep rather than be absolutely amused by the ceiling fan.  She giggled and cooed and kicked. I kept my own giggles to myself and refused to make eye contact with her. No fun in the middle of the night, thank you very much.

Monkey J. broke the cardinal rule of Who’s On Duty: Don’t wake up Who’s On Duty.  But he did. At 6, he burst in the room, wanting some of Mama’s patented Good Morning Sunshine.  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the new math, Mama’s Good Morning Sunshine = a gentle grunt and one eye open a crack).  This morning, poor Monkey J., an emotionally raw kid anyway, got Mama’s Growl.  Not angry, just…inhuman.

He went for some Daddy Sunshine instead. Less reliable, but infinitely more sunny this morning than my brand.

An hour later, when I realized my sleep was not going to be restful, I snarled my way into the kitchen, aiming right for the coffee pot.  I carefully and gently reminded the boys not to wake up anyone sleeping in the baby’s room. I wasn’t as gentle or careful as they started my day at 100 mph, fighting, whining, and needing mama’s complete and undivided attention. I snapped.

I went to shower and reset. I came out and apologized to the boys.  Things seemed ok.

The boys are on a bit of a tear these days. They are a force of nature, each having found his own special nerve to get on with each other and with me.  They live for fun and adventure and more than a little mischief. When that line crosses from good natured naughtiness to defiance, I balk.

The plan for today was for me to take them out to lunch, a very special treat.  We were getting ready and they were brushing their teeth…or supposed to be. As I stood over them, they squirted toothpaste everywhere, screamed, fought, and ignored my requests for specific behaviors (“Put the toothpaste down, brush your teeth.”)

They were warned.

Ultimately, I cancelled lunch. We had two full-on tantrums, something not common here.  One stopped. The other cried and cried, a good twenty-minutes of tears punctuated by hiccups of “I..Want…To…Go…I’ll…Be…Good.”

Oh, how I wanted the noise to stop. I wanted to capitulate. I wanted to yell. I wanted to walk away. My purposefully calm “I know you want to go. We’re not going.” mantra had zero effect.

But parenting is not about what I want…

“Do you need a hug?”  Monkey J turned his tear-stained face to me and ran to my lap. He curled up in my arms and exhaled…the tears slowing down.  I ran my fingers through his hair and murmured “I love you.”  He stopped whining. He stopped.

I started his day off poorly. I needed to fix it then. And I did.  It wasn’t the easy choice. The easy choice would have been to yell. The easiest choice would have been, “Ok, we’ll go…if you promise to behave.”

But I think we had a few lessons for me and for J today.

And hopefully we’ll have a few more tomorrow…at lunch. At the restaurant.

Haim Ginott, may I change “classroom” to “home”?


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