Back up to last week where I made an agreement with Connor: we can adjust his bedtime from 8:30 to 9:00 if he can demonstrate that he's handling it well: that is, no adverse changes to his overall mood. With a little more discussion we adjusted 9:00 to 9:30 meaning his teeth are brushed by 9 and he can read in bed til 9:30.
The experiment seems to be going well; his mood is good and he's getting his work done for school.
Last night Scott's temperature spiked again so I resigned myself to no school today either.
He woke me early this morning with coughing. Got him a drink of water and some cough medicine, nearly asleep when I heard some noise downstairs. I got up to investigate and found Connor at the TV, preparing to play a video game. 5 a.m. "Back to bed!" "But Mo-o-o-om! Why!" Fortunately it was a rhetorical question and he didn't wait for an answer because my mind was turning: "Why not? Is there really any harm that can come from it?" Video games at 5 am seem wrong in the way that cola in the morning seems wrong, but is there a rational basis for that? "But I'm awake now!" he wailed. "Then read a book". Why should reading a book at 5 am be better than video games?
I go back to sleep with this uneasy dilemma. I got up to find him at the computer around 7:15. He said, "I got up at 5:30." As I walk past the dining room table I see that the Spanish homework I'd insisted he finish last night was in fact unfinished. There was a section with phrases that were scrambled that he was to decode in Spanish, and then their English translation. He clearly had not read the instructions and had merely written the scrambled word on the line--this on the few lines he'd completed. "Connor! You haven't finished this." Voice getting shrill for a 10 year old boy: "I can't do it! I don't know how! It's impossible!" In the meantime I've reasoned that the phrases are probably just scrambled versions of the translations he'd already written above--and I was able to confirm that fairly quickly. So I pointed this out to him and he's still loudly claiming that he can't do it. Scott's sleeping in the adjoining room and I really want him to stay asleep. I'm trying to compose an email for a friend. Connor bitterly complaining. I'm annoyed that he is not even attempting to push his mind forward a bit to meet this challenge and I say, "I don't even speak Spanish and I could figure it out."
He hates me. He wishes I was dead. He wishes he was dead. He wishes he didn't have to take Spanish. I've humiliated him and now he's angry. And now I'm compounding it by telling him that this is evidence the later bedtime isn't working: because he doesn't have the reserves to cope with his frustration. NOW I've made him mad by telling him he's stupid because he couldn't figure out his exercise when I could, and then when he gets mad I threaten to take something away from him.
He's done a pretty good job of describing a negative feedback cycle, except he's missing the seed kernel at the hub: he hadn't fulfilled his homework obligation. I ask him what would have happened had I walked past the table and saw that his homework was complete: Nothing, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Now he's a 'hobo', he's a 'loser' and I don't love him and never did. I like Scott better, and he's too depressed to go to school and can he have a day off? NO? "Scott gets to stay home and have a good time, and all I get to do is go to school and do homework and SLEEP!" He starts 'coughing'. Says he feels weak. I take his temperature. He reads it. "What's it say?" "100". "Let me see it." "I turned it off". "Turn it back on and take it again and this time let me read it." 98.2. He wishes he was sick.
And so on until I could kiss the bus driver, run out in my ratty pajamas and dirty hair and KISS him I'm so grateful he's taking this monster away.
I return to my email. Moments later Scott comes roaring out of the bedroom. Flings himself into the too-tight chair with me. "I had a bad dream!" "It sounds like a doozie." "I had a little brother, and he wouldn't BEHAVE. He wasn't following the hot-tub rules. He put his head underwater. He dumped his drink and his ice in it! AND YOU DIDN'T CARE!!!" Punctuated by hitting me. Yeah, I'm accountable for my behavior in his dreams, too.
I am a little stymied about the personal responsibility teaching moment though. It's as clear to Connor that the morning conflict was generated by me as it is clear to me that his troubles were ultimately self-generated: he hadn't done his homework. To point this out to him garners a blank stare as if I'd just told him that 2 + 2= 5. Or results in claims that I've 'rubbed it in', I've "made" him mad, and he's a total failure as a human being. I suppose there's a place in his development that's incomplete: where he can separate his worth as a person from the recognition that his actions and inactions have consequences. And that being called to account is not the same as being denigrated. And it's futile to try to lecture or shame that realization into him. Still, when I'm face to face with such a situation I feel like he's telling me that 2 + 2=5, and he really believes it.
Funny, there are a lot of adults who never get it either.
Ah, that's why I love to complain. If I do it right, really name the elements of my discomfort, I find the humor. And I don't hate kids nearly so much.
There should be a patron saint for complainers.