Self-emptying

Funny how you won’t hear words for a long time…and then twice in one day. Funny how the concept of “self-emptying” seems to be synonymous with parenting. The IMG_5152preacher used it in an example yesterday morning and then my friend who has 4 boys of similar ages of mine used it as we rested on blankets at Raccoon Creek State Park while the boys splashed in ice-cold fall water (good for you, knuckle heads!).

You know how you watch your red needle slide past the “E” on your car and you calculate based on prior experience that you have 20-30 more miles to go? Running on fumes and yet you’re still running?

That’s what I was doing last week – running on fumes….after I thought I was already at Empty. I went way past Empty on Tuesday when the third or fourth email arrived about how “difficult” my boys were being in their nice private Christian school. When the kindergarten teacher called to see if we could have a conference with the principal because Mr. Ornery was in fact being….well, Ornery. When the poor 5-year-old boy had landed on Red on the Traffic Light system (and the floodgates seemed to have opened up). Well, I lay into him as soon as he popped “innocently” into the van in the carpool line:

  • “What do you mean you were on red?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re not listening to your teacher?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re refusing to do your work?!?”
  • “How could you stand in front of the class being a goof pretending you’re writing Dunceon the board in marker instead of chalk?! And then you’re going to make the chalk screech?!?”
  • “And you pulled down your pants?!?”
  • “By golly, BOY – you gonna be on RED at school, you’re gonna be HURTING at home!”

By the time we got home….and the typically bouncing boy sobbed as he slunk into time out (while I was still on the phone with his teacher, mind you)….he probably thought his world had ended right then and there.

Well, mine had. We picked up the second-grader from chess club an hour later and I laid into him too. “What are you so mad at me for?” he asks.

Could it possibly be because:

  • “STG had a very difficult day today”
  • “STG was defiant and disruptive in class.”
  • “STG put his head down and flatly refused to work.”
  • “STG should NOT have any gaming time. It’s very important to be firm and consistent.”
  • “Anger seems to be STG’s most authentic mood.”
  • “STG almost constantly makes noises like a whale song in the back of the room, which do not seem to be intentional.”
  • “I really do need you to have a conversation with STG about his behavior. He needs to understand rules and consequences.”

By this point, I was banging kitchen cabinets to check to make sure that they will in fact break if you give it just the right slam! I had sent both boys to time-out and gratefully let my sister “talk” to them about why Mommy might be so angry. I had very few tears left to burn down my face. I headed out of the door to take one of those “I completely give up and I am not your mother” walks when my mom arrived with my youngest….and I sucked in a big breath and welcomed him home. Self-emptying.

I wasn’t mad at the boys. I was mad at myself…..for possibly picking a school for them…that might not actually be right for them. I was mad at myself for possibly making a mistake. I was mad at myself for not knowing the “right answer.” I was mad at myself for being mad at them and at myself.

I was Empty.

I was exhausted.

I had done the week of guilt. I no longer could process the constant emails interrupting my office work to inform me that my boys were “not listening to the instructions the first time.”

I couldn’t figure out how to advise the sweet young kindergarten teacher how to draw the line for Mr. Ornery and change her “reward” system so she didn’t keep rewarding his obnoxious class clown behavior.

I couldn’t figure out how to handle Super Tall Guy’s teacher’s sharp tone of annoyance in her emails.

I wanted to know that these teachers and school were going to come alongside me and partner in this journey of growing healthy boys (not just compliant boys). I wanted to know if they actually had a sense of developmentally appropriate expectations. I wanted to know if they actually loved the boys. I don’t have peace about any of that yet.

So, I need someone to open a “boys’ school” in this area. And I need it Pretty Darn Quick! Let me know when you have it ready!

 

 

I try not to be a Helicopter Parent….

….but I probably should hover just a little closer sometimes. The fact that I only temporarily “misplaced” three out of five household boys during a recent event seems pretty good (unless you calculate the percentage and then 60% loss is…well… kind of high).

In my own defense, I’m going to argue for the “it takes a village” philosophy and I had an over-reliance on the village….perhaps without informing them too clearly that they were the village. It’s those crazy situations where you are so thankful that everything worked out, but looking back, it probably would have been nice if it didn’t seem like every 30 minutes one of the organizers of the race was searching for one of her kids!

JP5K (293)You see, it was race day. The first 5K run/walk we had organized for the non-profit I’m working to create. I was there early for set-up and my head was spinning all morning trying to keep details and people organized. I was not prepared for my “work role” as well as the role of attending a function as a mother of three kids. So before I knew it, the gun was going off and both 6-year-olds of the house wanted to “run” with me for the 5K. This meant that Ryan wanted to RUN and Micah wanted to sprint….walk…. sprint….stop…..sprint….. stroll…. sprint. Meanwhile, Ryan was “gone.” And though I was informed that he had made the turn-around at the 5K water station, my sister’s face when she said she hadn’t seen him cross the finish yet made me a bit concerned when we sprinted-walked-strolled back. So I sent a villager off to find him only to realize that my Godson had already discovered the young nephew – who had run almost all of 5 miles! Nice job, Ryan. Next time can you do it without panicking everyone??!?

I returned to meeting and greeting people and shortly afterwards found myself searching for the curly headed boy in a red and grey shirt. No, not at the Family Fun activity booths. No, not at the playground. By the time I had 5 or 6 villagers looking for him, he was discovered by my mom in the bathroom by the playground. Don’t anyone panic!

After this second one, I decided I needed a better hover strategy. We reviewed the “you must check with me first” policy as well as “blue shirts are safe” new rule (since the race volunteers wore blue).  I kept my eyes on the boys much more closely, though it was also easier as a friend had decided that Seth was adorable and she would just follow him wherever he walked. My mom took over supervision of Noah’s mud pie factory and I had the “easy” job of making sure Micah was scampering around under the watchful eye of other friends and their kids.

It’s not always easy in a crowd, however, and soon I was at the point of wondering why I didn’t see him with the group of friends I thought he was with. Knowing they had all been down by the lake, I looked behind the boat house and just froze. There was the most picturesque scene of a little brown boy in a white t-shirt sitting next to a tackle box with a fishing rod in hand….perfectly still. The water lapped near his feet. The wind rustled in the trees. And the stranger beside him cast out his line.JP5K (311)

Now I wrestled with all the analytical thinking. I had just spent two days at a “child maltreatment” conference and though we know statistically that strangers are far less dangerous than people the children know….I didn’t know this fisherman at all. And as peaceful as the scene was, how could I trust that it would remain so? And yet, Micah clearly was in his own little heaven. He had just asked me last week for a fishing rod for his birthday since a classmate had brought one in for show-and-tell.

So….I hovered. I walked down and “checked in” – thanked the man for teaching Micah to fish, chatted with Micah for a bit….and then retreated to the top of the hill to watch from there. I knew that Micah needed a bit of space. As hard as it was for me to juggle “work” and “mommy-ing” at this event….it had been hard for Micah to deal with all the crowds, with the disappointment of not winning a medal (as Ryan had for his 5 miles of running), and with a mother who was clearly distracted. Watching the bobbin bounce along in the water, scooping a worm out of the bucket of dirt, anticipating the possibility of a catch….this is what Micah needed.

I could hover as much as I needed to feel a tad more comfortable….but I also needed to give him a little room to engage the world….to connect with a stranger….to learn a new skill.

The smile on his face when I walked down to him and he turned and said “Mommy, this man is learning me to fish” was just priceless. Sometimes we work so hard to keep the kids in a safe “bubble” that we lose out on moments that can just “be.”  It’s clearly a hard balance for me.

(ps…and such a hard balance the last few days that my writing got terribly delayed 🙂