My boy has been going through a rough patch as of late. He is the type of kid that when I tell folks that his behavior has been kind of, sort of challenging in the past few months they look at me like I have two heads. “Not Mary Tyler Son! It’s not possible!” Thing is, it is possible, and it is hard as hell, and it hurts, and makes me feel like I am being a bad parent.
NOTE: For the record, these two reactions to what I am about to write are not welcome here. If you find yourself having one or both of said reactions, do me a solid and STOP reading. Reactions that will not be tolerated are: a) “What a brat! You need to give that kid some physical discipline! If you don’t you’re as good as raising a serial killer. Just sayin’,” and b) “You have no right to discuss your kid’s behavior in such a public forum. That is cruel and unusual punishment and you are a bad parent. Just sayin’.”
Whew. Glad that’s done.
There have been some changes in our boy the past few months. He is more aggressive, less willing to do as told when told, demanding, etc. From what I hear, this is typical four year old behavior. His teacher educated us about the hormonal surges that occur in boys at this age, effectively doubling his testosterone level in a matter of months. Google confirms. So, yeah, the kid’s behavior has been challenging and I seem to be getting the brunt of it.
Yesterday was no exception. It was a beautiful, warm, early Spring day in Chicago. I was a wee bit excited for Mary Tyler Son to take his very first soccer class. Yes, yesterday I officially became a Soccer Mom (cue the marketers). This felt really significant to me as this week marks the week that my boy has outlived his sister. As of Tuesday, our boy is older than Donna ever got to be. I feel in my bones that somewhere, this is making Donna really, really happy. For me, it’s complicated. While I rejoice in our boy’s health and development — he is reading! he is writing! — these are all milestones that Donna never got to and it reminds me in a very concrete way of her loss.
You get where I am going with this? My sadness over Donna’s death and absence in our lives coupled with the oppression of our boy’s testosterone fueled tantrums makes me a wee bit overwhelmed these days.
Cut to yesterday. We were driving to the first soccer class of the season. A momentous occasion, at least in my head. I can’t burden the boy with the significance of his first soccer class, what it means to his mama, but there we were. He conked out about ten minutes away from the class. Snooze City. I knew that didn’t bode well. He had expressed some ambivalence about going as he has recently discovered that while he might be the brightest kid he knows, he is not the fastest or most physically nimble. That is getting him down and he has shed a few tears about it.
When we got there, I woke the boy as gently as possible. Sure enough, there were tears and protestations and demands to be carried. I don’t know much, but I know that you don’t want to be carrying your four year old kid, clinging to you for dear life, into his very first soccer class.
We had the coming to Jesus talk — he needed to get it together and quick. It was time for class, class was starting, we were going to class. “NOOOOOOOOO! I am NOT going to class and you can’t make me!” Well, actually, son, I can. I kept my calm, told him how this was gonna happen, and started walking. He followed, but continued to protest, “I WILL NOT PLAY SOCCER! I WILL SIT THERE AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME PLAY!” True and hard to argue with that. I could make him go, but I couldn’t make him play.
When we found the gym, Coach Mike was just starting. About ten little ones were standing in a circle, ready to rumble. I did a quick assessment, being our first class and all. No parents allowed in the gym. Dammit. I told my boy I would go in with him and sit at the sidelines. He refused to go in. Loudly. Not wanting to disrupt the class that was just getting ready to start, I pulled the boy aside for another chat. This was something the boy would have to do on his own. End of story. I would be right there, at the door, waiting for him, but I could not go in. The tears started, he lost his words — this most verbal of boys was reduced to whimpers and sad sounds that a puppy being hit makes. As stated, he was NOT going to play.
I sat down by the door myself, informing Mary Tyler Son that we would not be leaving. It was time for soccer and that is where we would be. It is difficult to set limits with a young child, but setting those limits in the presence of ten other parents that you don’t know whose kids are all cooperating in a way yours is not is harder. Sigh. Mary Tyler Son dug his heels in. He would NOT PLAY. He upped the ante by starting to play slap me — slapping me, but with no force, just to make a point, it seemed, that he was “hitting” me. Hitting is a no-no in our home and calls for immediate time outs.
The boy was testing me.
I sat there and took it. I blocked every slap and returned his slaps with a firm “NO.” I also quietly, but assertively informed the boy that we would be coming to soccer every Wednesday for the next eight weeks. Yes, we would. More cries, more protests, more slaps, more evidence that the boy was hurting about something, but completely overwhelmed and unable to express exactly what.
About twenty minutes into class, Mary Tyler Son told me he would go into class when the soccer balls came out. The first bit was just spent warming up an running around. I told him it didn’t work that way. You can’t choose when you will go in and what you would do — being part of a class means doing as the class does. He frowned and whimpered again, but inched closer to the door. He was curious. This was good.
More inching followed by a swift retreat back to the comfort of my lap followed by head up and more curiosity about what the kids were doing now.
Suddenly, all the kids ran out into the hallway for a drink of water. Mary Tyler Son turned to me with a bright smile and said, “This is a great time to enter the class!” YES, I told him, it was. Coach Mike was welcoming. The boy ran into class and did his thing. Wow. What had just happened? What changed?
Mary Tyler Son enjoyed the hell out of the rest of the class. He ran and kicked and smiled and waved. He was having fun. Capital ‘F’ Fun. I was so, so proud of him. Truth be told, I was proud of me, too. We had gotten through a really difficult moment together. I wanted to cut and run, I did. I wanted to leave that gym and escape the judgmental stares of ten parents whose kids were not struggling. I wanted to banish screen time for a month because of the humiliation my boy caused me. But I didn’t. I sat. I, too, dug in my heels.
After class, he came running out, “Did you see me? Did you see me? I LOVE SOCCER!” I saw you, honey. You were magnificent. About 90% of the cells in my body were distracted by my lost phone, but my boy didn’t care about my lost phone. And it wasn’t his problem. We needed to celebrate and be together and enjoy his victory. Despite me wanting to run to the car to check on a phone that may or may not be there, we went to the park instead. And we played. And I forgot about the phone. I didn’t forget, actually, I just said, “Pffffft. What can be done? If it’s gone, it’s gone.”
My phone had been lost and found, and apparently, so had my parenting fortitude. I am proud of both my boy and I. It was a tough situation, but ended well. Sometimes, our kids need to tow the line, but we need to be willing to hold the line. And neither of those things are easy.