Thursday, May 05, 2011

Getting out of the way

Being a parent is a humbling experience.    The first three years or so are smooth sailing for a control freak like me. Do this, not that.  Don't say that.  Eat this.  Go to sleep now, these are your friends, this is good, that is bad.

Now that Henry is four and a half, he has his own ideas and opinions on how things should be done.  While Molly loves being squeezed and hugged and shuts her eyes in sheer delight, Henry squirms away and can't wait for it to be over.  He may give you a quick peck or a perfuntory hug but not often enough for me.  I have come to understand (begrudgingly) that is not how he wants to show or receive love.  He wants you to sit with him and play his little games or get him the scotch tape as soon as he asks.  He wants you to chase him and then toss him onto the bed.  He wants you to listen and laugh as he repeats the same story over and over and shower him with praise over every little jump or trick or achievement.

I learn a lot from him on how to be a parent.  Sometimes we do things that we think we should do, because that is what the books say or that is what everyone says you need to do.    He shows me that it is OK to give in sometimes or not be so hard nosed.  Is it really so bad if he does "x" in the house or doesn't do something the exact second I ask him to?  He is a person, not a robot.   

He often encourages me (ok shames me) to not being so hard on Molly.  Molly is at times, very stubborn and very emotional.   I try to be firm with her so that she doesn't turn into a brat.  There have been times that he has said "Don't yell at her" or "Just leave her alone" or "Just give her what she wants."  Most of the time he is right.  Why am I getting into a power struggle with a two year old?  There have been times that he has handled a situation with her differently than I might have.  She adores him and completely makes a turn-around.  She has said many times "Mommy, Henry just made me so happy."  As a parent, it just thrills me to see what a close relationship they have. 

I drive Adam to distraction with the same type of stuff.  We have had many a conversation that it is OK for kids to have one type of relationship with their mom and a different type with their dad.  Just because he isn't doing it my way doesn't make it wrong.  He is right and I know it, but you get used to doing things your way and it is tough to take a step back and just let things unfold.

Henry has a friend since birth that is a little bit on the rough side.  He has calmed down a lot, but he is very high energy, has a quick temper and is quick to get into mischief.  He dominates a lot of their play and wants to be first or not take turns etc.  It is difficult as a mother to watch them play.  My inclination is to step in and make sure things are "fair."  When they were younger, it was necessary just to make sure Henry didn't get hurt.  Henry is exactly like Adam in his calm nature.  He will never be the one to hit someone or get into a fight.  If kids get rough or a little too rowdy, he is on the periphery laughing and being involved but keeping his distance. 

The little boy was at our house yesterday with his sister.  I had to step in here and there because the little girls were fighting and I overheard the boy say a few questionable things to Henry.  Henry was tight-lipped about the situation and wouldn't tell me what had happened.   When the kids left, I said to the kids "Listen, you can always come to me if something goes wrong and I will come help you.  You don't need to fight about it."  Henry said "Mom, why do I have to tell?  Can't we just keep playing?"  It was then I realized that Henry is smarter and savvier than I give him credit for.  He knows his friend and his limitations and likes him anyway.  He doesn't need my protection or for me to fight his battles unless he asks for help. 

On the flip side, there are times that he needs and wants my help.  I haven't discussed it here, but I removed Henry from his preschool right before Christmas.  He did very well (surprisingly well) for the first few months.  He even admitted sheepishly that he really liked it.  However, there were a few factors that made things start to go wrong.  The first being is that five days were really to much for him.  He had never been away from home that much and he kept asking when the program was going to be over.  He had to give up his nap for school (it was in the afternoon) and I think it was just a terrible time of day for him.  He was always very tired during class and afterward.  He wasn't used to that school format and told me many times that he thought it was very boring. 

The mix of the class was not great, there were 13 girls and 5 extremely shy boys.  He had one good friend going into the class and made one other little girl friend who left in October.  When she left he had the one good friend and he never really clicked with the other boys.  He was friendly with the other kids but Henry really needs kids that will pursue him and the boys were not that type.  The teacher, in my opinion, did not do enough to faciliate the kids making friends.  Her approach was pretty hands off and the class was not set up in a way to force the kids to mingle.

Toward the beginning of December, Henry really started to hate going to school.  What started with just moaning and groaning turned into tears in the hallway and then outright refusal to go to class.  One day I just had to bring him home because he could not stop sobbing.    I found out later that he had asked the teacher other times to call me and ask me to come get him.  He started being very angry and aggressive at home which was unlike him.   There was one day that I went to pick him up from class and he was standing there shivering in his T shirt.  The classroom was so cold that the teacher was wearing her coat.  I went and grabbed him and put on the sweatshirt that was in his cubby.  He just crumbled into my arms and sobbed.  It was heartbreaking to see that he was not comfortable enough to ask his teacher for his sweatshirt or that she was too busy to notice that he was freezing.

After that I spent a two days in the classroom to see if I could help him re-adjust and become comfortable again.  Even with me there, he just sat there and cried.  Not a defiant cry or one meant to manipulate, just the cry of a very sad and scared little boy.  He was so uncomfortable and unhappy in that classroom that it was palpable.  I almost ran out with him and never returned after that first day.  I talked to the teacher and the school social worker and the nursery school director about the situation but it was clear that we were on different planets in our thinking.    They wanted me to just leave him there and let him work through it on his own.  Since I could never get out of him what had made him so sad or scared, I could not in good conscience leave him there.  What if I were to find out months after the fact that bad was happening to him?  Was I supposed to just "break him" like he was a horse?  Sure, I could force him to go everyday and I'm sure he would eventually stop crying.  But what was I teaching him?  That his words or thoughts or feelings didn't matter?  Because I was the adult he had to listen?

When I realized that our  approach and the school's were not going to mesh, Adam and I made the painful decision to remove him from the program.  I definitely have faced some criticism for pulling him from school but I am at peace with it.  We may be wimpy or coddling or over-protective but forcing him to do something that made him so unhappy is not how we roll in our house.  If being a Pre-K drop out hurts his chances of getting into Harvard, so be it.

Time marches on.  Each day I try to learn something new and be more patient.  It doesn't have to be my way or the highway every time.  It is hard to let go of the control but I am trying!

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