Thursday, September 4, 2008


Scott, holding his tooth.

I lost it today with Scott. Publicly and embarrassingly.

He's not in school yet though Connor started yesterday. The charter school starts Monday. Have I said that this last 2 weeks since returning from Colorado/Utah has seemed longer than the whole of the other 10 weeks of summer vacation?

I called Felix's dad to see about getting the boys together in these final days before school. We agreed to meet at a park downtown. Since we're slow starters 1:30 seemed ideal.

We live out of reach of public transportation. Our road is too narrow and the road up the ridge too steep and windy to permit one of the city buses. Downtown is congested and the parking prohibitive. So I parked a distance away where parking is easy near the streetcar line.

I'm unpracticed and inept at public transportation. I'm easily bewildered by fare zones and ticket machines. I fumble for dollars, I stare blankly and get really rattled when there's someone waiting for me. We always walk longer than necessary because I don't see the stop that's close and walk to the further one; we get off prematurely when there's a stop right on top of where we need to be. Riding public transportation with Scott adds another layer of anxiety because his sense of space and self preservation is undeveloped. I need to watch him because he's just not reliable around streets and crowds of moving people. Having my attention divided sets my teeth on edge.

We walk to a stop (having passed the closer one) and sit down to wait. This stop happens to be right outside of a large hospital (where I worked once upon a time. Connor was born there.) Scott became enamored of all things medical and was certain that everyone around us was a doctor. We were in harmony; he asked questions and I answered respectfully.

Then down came hubris. I got self-conscious. I dared to think that I was parenting impeccably and that people were noticing. The second the awareness of that thought crossed my mind alarms began to go off. I've had thoughts like that before, and it never turns out well. Life is preparing to humble me, and pride is my first warning. Shit. I tried frantically to drown out the thought, the pride in my parenting, but it was like trying to not think of a white elephant. I was doomed.

We made it to the park, me nervously watching the stops and wondering if I needed to press the 'stop' button, or if the streetcar would stop automatically. We got off at the north end of the park and had to walk past at least 2 other stops on our way to the play structure. Walking with Scott downtown is not relaxing due to the number of streets we need to cross. On the sidewalk he lags behind so I need to stop frequently and look for him. If he's not lagging his path is cutting across the front of mine and then he stops. This really irritates me.

Felix and his dad were there when we arrived.

So we passed the next 2 hours or so pleasantly. I knew that Connor would be getting on his schoolbus at 3 and thought that would be a good time for us to leave too. It would take about an hour to get home when taking the train ride into account and I didn't want to leave him alone at home too long. Felix's dad & I walked over to the play structure to collect them. They were enjoying a second wind of playing. Not 10 minutes before they'd been both in a lag and ready to go. I should have taken the hint.

Felix came to his dad right away. Scott remained at the top. "Come on, Scott" I said, and I saw The Look cross his face. Something contrarian behind the eyes. "No." he said.

I really don't like to be challenged and I don't like what happens to me when I am. It's an age-old trap. Al-Qaida used it on the United States; Hezbollah used it on Israel: provoke a Greater Power into an excessive response, lock it into a Power Struggle for the world to see. I immediately placed myself into a position that would be hard to back down from: "You will be really sorry if I have to come up there to get you." Splat goes my fist into the tar baby. And yet there was still room to get out of there without further struggle. He did come down and I didn't have to go after him. He wanted to show me something he could do before we left and so I waited while he did it. Then I said let's go and he started climbing again as if I'd said nothing. I took him by the arm and pulled and in his attempt to pull away I scratched him.

Now he's furious. And of course it's completely lost on him in his fury that had he not ignored me I'd have not needed to take his arm and it was his jerking his arm away that hurt him. So he's righteously indignant and I'm feeling under a microscope when he took a swing at me. So now my ears are filled with the roar of all the ghosts of authoritarian parents past who whisper, "if that was MY kid..." and "what a horrible child", and "gee, she's ineffective".

He didn't humble me. Life didn't humble me. In the same way that he'd hurt himself when he struggled when I took his arm, I hurt myself by sliding down the slippery slope of a Power Struggle. I'm a parent. I'm supposed to be Better Than This.

I grabbed his arm, gripped him too tightly and pulled him down the street hissing menacingly and making little shakes for emphasis. We found the stop and to take vengeance on me he laid down on the cigarette butt-laden sidewalk. Pawed around in the dirt at the base of the decorative shrub planted there. This is Old Town, once the primary abode of indigent and homeless. The street people now have to share the streets with the upscale people who've moved into the high-density lofts-turned-into-condominium developments. Old Town has gentrified, but I really didn't want him rolling around on the sidewalk or scrabbling around in the dirt. So I made him get up, he looked for a moment at his dirty hands and then wiped them on my pants.

I grabbed him by the arm and marched him away from the stop. I told him that I couldn't have him behaving this way on the streetcar and so we were just going to have to walk all the way to our car. After going a few blocks he was complaining of how tired he was. With uncharacteristic foresight I'd kept our route on the train's line and up ahead was another stop. The train was right behind us and I feared for a moment we'd missed it, but it was paused just long enough we could get on. If his behavior seemed to be building up to a scene I told him we'd get off and walk at the next stop.

By the time we reached our (one stop short) destination the storm had blown over. He was back to good humor and I was regretting my misstep. If negotiating a difference of opinion with a child is like running a race, I didn't even make it to the first hurdle before I fell. If avoiding a Power Struggle is like a high wire act I fell on the first step. Shoot, I fell before I even got to that.

Damn my inability to see Options and think on my feet.

No comments: