Yesterday my older son was scheduled for kindergarten screening. We piled in the car and headed to the elementary school, siblings in tow.
After brief introductions and an explanation of the process, the soon-to-be kindergarteners were whisked away to the testing room. Parents were left to finish paperwork, read information on the school policies, sign consent forms, and wait. And wait, and wait.
Many of the other parents had siblings with them also, some younger and some older. Force-of-habit head count came up with ten kids altogether.
Some of those kids were more of a handful than others.
To kill time my kids and I walked around the school, looking at the classrooms and exploring. Norah will be in the second grade this year and I encouraged her to guide our tour. Mace will be in kindergarten NEXT year (trying to not think about it or I’ll cry) so he was excited to hear what she had to say. We talked, and goofed around, and walked slow. We visited the dark and quiet library, read some books by flashlight, explored classrooms that were otherwise closed up for the summer. There’s always something exciting about being in abandoned space, especially abandoned space that you’ve itched to be in before. The kids enjoyed themselves.
Eventually we ran out of things to see and still had some time to wait. I found a spot against the wall in the main entryway and sat on the floor, one kid on either side. I used my iPod and found “Winnie The Pooh” on my digital bookshelf (coolest thing ever, digital books, I can fit hundreds of books in my POCKET) and started to read to them quietly.
The other kids that were waiting weren’t so well behaved.
Well, not ALL. Most of the other kids were doing fine. They were up and around and talking, goofing around, looking around, being kids. A FEW, though… well, a few of them made me want to yell.
One little boy in particular was what I would call “a total shit.” And I don’t say that often about kids. This one, though. WOW.
He was about 3 years old, I would guess, based on his size and physical development. He was as tall as Mace, and about equal in stature. He was blonde, and kind of cute, and looked like a good old American kid. Until he started to move. And talk.
One of the tasks that we parents had to complete was to read the code of conduct for the school. The school, to save paper, had us read the information in the computer lab and sign a printed piece of paper. To keep the kids busy and entertained while I was reading, I located a large box of Duplo blocks from the corner of the room (put there for just that purpose) and moved them in the center of the floor near my chair. Several of the kids flocked to the toys, the little boy included.
The boy was carrying an armful of toy cars. As he moved away from his mother toward the box of blocks his mother asked him, “Do you want me to hold your cars?”
Without answering verbally, the boy turned around and with a grunt and “MEH!” THREW his handful of cars at his mother. I could feel both of my eyebrows shoot up toward my hairline. I watched, thinking “OHMYGOODNESS, WTF” and waited to see how the woman would deal with it.
And before you think “okay creepy-creeper-nosey-parker, mind your own business,” I DO WATCH, but not for the reason you think. Not because I crave “OMG LOOK AT THAT SHIT” drama, not so that I can whip out an iPhone to record video and post it to Youtube. Not so that I can delight in the misery of others.
I’ll be honest and say YES I do like to be in the presence of drama that isn’t MINE, and yes I enjoy conflict regardless of who is involved. But I also like to learn. And watch. And analyze, because really it’s the only way to get better. We all do it, to some extent. We watch a person deal with a situation and we think about it. We hold up what we see to what we know and make correlations. Sometimes when we see things we like we change ourselves, sometimes what we see makes us think that we’re not doing so bad. PARENTING is no different. In our culture we’re led to believe that there’s a “RIGHT WAY” to parent our kids, but it’s just not true. What is right differs greatly for each family because PEOPLE are different. Adults are different, kids are different, and dynamics are different. What works for one pair of PEOPLE, in this case one adult and one child, will not work for the next. And so I watch. And I observe, and I learn.
What I observed was the mother call out to her daughter, a bit older than Norah, and say “Trish, would you pick those up? Keep him busy.” Having cars thrown at her face made no impact. Obviously it was not the first time. The woman turned around in her chair, faced the computer, turned her back on her kids, and started reading.
I read, too, but sat cock-eyed in my chair to keep one eye on all the kids, my own included. At one point I was sucked into what I was reading and heard a loud crash and a yell. My head jerked back to face the kids and the little boy was laying ON the blocks, kicking at the castle his sister was building with his feet, laughing when the pieces flew apart. I glanced at his mother. She was reading. Didn’t even notice.
Later, against the wall in the hallway while I was reading to my kids, the little boy’s mother was sitting about five feet away from me. She was texting on her phone. Not watching her kid, not listening to the yelling and screaming. Not paying attention. The little boy was playing on the stairs that led up to the third grade classrooms. His sister was following him around, keeping him entertained. Really, for being ten years old (I overheard her tell Norah how old she was) she was doing an exceptional job being patient. The little boy was a handful and she kept up with him very well. She was tossing her shoe down the bottom two steps, her brother would retrieve it, and she’d do it again. It wasn’t the first time I thought “Fetch works with kids, not just dogs.” I do that with my kids too, especially when they were first learning to walk. The little boy was laughing and happy.
Eventually, though, he lost interest in his sister. He started climbing higher up the stairs and her calls for him to stay down toward the bottom were ignored. The little boy was still loud. Laughing and screaming and yelling.
Mom still didn’t move. Or look up.
Finally the boy reached the top of the stairs and had rounded the corner, disappearing from sight. His sister followed. The boy was still yelling and screaming, but the noise started to get quieter. And quieter.
The silence is what made his mother notice he was gone.
And now comes the part of the story that made me want to yell.
The little boy’s mother didn’t get up, or even flex a muscle to MOVE. And she didn’t yell for the little boy. She did REACT, but what the mother did made me so frustrated and angry that I felt like making a scene.
The mother yelled at the little girl.
“TRISH. GET HIM DOWN HERE NOW.”
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH BLOOD RAGE.
I wanted to yell at her. The mother. I wanted to stand up, walk up those stairs, grab her bratty kid, tuck him under my arm like a football, walk him down the stairs, hold him at arms length in front of the mother and say LOUDLY, “WOULD YOU PLEASE DO YOUR JOB AND CONTROL YOUR CHILD. DO NOT PUT IT ON YOUR DAUGHTER.”
But I didn’t. I just sat there.
Please do not think I’m a good person for keeping my mouth shut. Or that I have excessive amounts of self restraint. I don’t. THE ONLY THING that kept me from expressing myself to that woman was my pure shock at the situation and my inability to believe what I was seeing. PURELY SPEECHLESS. I know I was slack-jawed, mouth open, eyes wide. I KNOW I was, because Norah asked me “Mommy, keep reading. …what are you looking at like that?”
In that moment I felt a lot of things. My heart broke for that little girl, forced to do a grown-up job at the age of ten. I felt sad for the little boy and the difficulties he’ll likely face in life due to lack of boundaries and discipline. I felt dread (and I’ll be honest, a bit of giddy glee) for his mother when her son hits teen years. I felt frustrated for the teachers the kid would have, for how hard their jobs would be.
Mostly, though, I was pissed off. I was pissed at the mother, sitting there in her chair, not moving a muscle, yelling at a growing-up-too-fast child to do a MOTHER’S JOB, FOR HER.
Lazy pisses me off, ESPECIALLY from adults.
ESPECIALLY FROM PARENTS.
I could hear scuffling at the top of the stairs. Trish was doing her best to get her brother down the stairs. After a few seconds they appeared at the top of the staircase, the little boy dropping to his bottom and providing deadweight for his sister to force down the stairs. I gasped a bit and held my breath. One quick lurch forward and they could easily have both tumbled down the fifteen-ish steps to the bottom.
STILL no movement from Mom. I looked at her to see if she noticed what was happening. She had her nose pressed against her phone screen again.
I handed the iPod to Mace, stood up, walked to the bottom of the stairs, and just stood there. I didn’t say anything, or touch anyone, but I stood and waited. And watched. The other mothers and families in the room that were waiting for their kindergarteners were not oblivious to the situation. The little boy was screaming loud. And making a fuss. At least five people noticed that I stood up and moved to the stairway. A few gave audible sighs of relief.
Trish took about four minutes to force her brother to the bottom of the stairs. He was screaming the whole time. When they reached the bottom I leaned forward and whispered to her, “Thanks for keeping him safe, Sister,” then rejoined my kids and continued to read.
The little boy spent the next minute or so running up and down the hallway and throwing more cars at his mom. I must have sighed, or shook my head, or maybe his mother noticed what I did when her kids were coming down the stairs. She turned her head and looked at me, and then she called her son over to her.
As usual, he didn’t listen.
Without any request from her mom, Trish got up and pushed her brother toward their mother. Mom leaned forward in the chair, grabbed the little boy by the arm, pulled him toward her, picked him up, and put him on her lap.
OH THE SCREAMING. I thought that the kid was loud BEFORE, but apparently he saved the reserve tank for when he was restrained.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH LET ME GO!!”
It took about five more minutes before the kid ran out of steam. To her credit his mother used her words to calm him down as opposed to handing him an electronic device streaming a Youtube video, or a piece of candy, or a new toy. For five minutes the mother had her son on her lap, his little legs straddling her lap, his face toward hers, foreheads touching, using words, talking.
After those five minutes the little boy was quiet. And calm. And almost PEACEFUL. He put his cars down on the table next to him (not THROWN down, but PUT down) and was touching his mom’s face, and touching her hair, and giggling and talking.
Just about then the kindergarteners came back from their screening tests. Wulfgar found us quickly and we headed out the front door.
In true overthinker-introvert fashion I thought about that situation most of the day yesterday. I thought about that little boy and his mother, and about how angry I got. I thought about Trish, how fast she’s had to grow up. I thought about being a mom and what it means to me. And I thought about my kids.
I believe that the behavior of children is directly proportionate to the amount of positive attention they get from their parents. Period. His behavior and hers, and my kids behavior and mine, are not coincidental.
I hope that someday I am able to talk to that woman about her behavior, her parenting tactics, and her kids. I was angry, but I don’t feel FAIR carrying on with that emotion without more information. Regardless of what it looked like she may have had other things going on in her life that led to that event. I don’t think so, by what I observed, but still. “Benefit of the doubt,” and all that.
Still, there is something to be said about PARENTS. And what kind of parenting we do as mothers and fathers. There needs to be a realization among all parents that the children (and resulting adults) we get OUT of parenting is a direct result of what we put IN.
If your kid is an ass, short of purely genetic sociopathic hardwiring, it’s totally your fault. If my kid is an ass, it’s MY fault. It’s OUR fault, as parents.
After yesterday I decided a few things.
I will do a better job listening to my kids. And talking to them, and PAYING ATTENTION. Not just “being present,” although that’s part of it, but PAYING ATTENTION. Shut off the dumb phone, shut down the stupid computer, turn off the TV, and put my face in front of their face. I will do a better job engaging them. And hearing their ideas, and listening to them tell me what they’re frustrated about. Or scared about. What they’re happy-sad-mad-glad-confused-elated-surprised-upset-joyful about.
I will do a better job praising my kids for what they do well. I will tell them when they’re doing a good job more than I do now.
When my kids are acting out I will try to hold them more. To calm the frenzy in their tiny bodies with affection and love as often as I use less appealing tactics.
Most importantly, I WILL GET OFF MY ASS. When there’s fighting or arguing I will stop what I’m doing, get up, walk to where they are, and deal with it. I WILL BE THERE. They will know that I am an ever hovering, all knowing, omnipresent being. “MOM KNOWS,” and Mom will always be there. GOOD OR BAD.
And just as I type that I hear a crash and a scream. Getting off my ass to go deal with it.