I did it again this morning.
With ten minutes ‘til the bus comes and while eating his Multi-Grain Cheerios with apple juice in the bowl instead of milk, my 6th grader gives me a paper saying it’s due today and he needs it signed. Granted we did have a hectic day the day before, and I think I remember his mentioning, amidst the chaos, needing something signed. But now I’ve got just a few minutes to deal with the “self-evaluation” sheet that his math teacher has handed out and on which he has written that nothing makes him “feel successful,” that feelings don’t really matter because they don’t change anything, that he doesn’t really care anyway, and that his goal in math is something I see as below his ability. (This is a kid who’s somewhat gifted in math, and loves being the “brainy” one.)
So what’s my reaction? Well, a perfectly understandable sense of distress and disappointment. Why does this child of mine that I have loved and cared for day in and day out for the last eleven years, who learned to read books pretty much on his own, and to read music before his first day of school, who let me hold, hug, and kiss him when his older brothers were too big for that kind of stuff–why can’t he now find a book he’s willing to read, why does he say that he hates the piano, and now he doesn’t even care if he “feels successful” in math?
My anxiety tightens up like the lid on a canning jar. I won’t be able to get it off without help.
But I’m better than I used to be. I don’t start out being critical. We (er, I) talk a little about the importance of caring, of wanting to do things that are good (a pre-teen taboo). But it quickly decays into accusations of how he should be better about following up with his homework, yada, yada. It also involves some rushing and a bit about what I am writing on the paper so the teacher doesn’t think I am okay with what he has written and his saying he’ll change his answers on the bus so I don’t need to write anything.
He rushes out the door and his dad calls him back so we can give him hugs, which we’ve insisted upon when the kids leave each morning. It doesn’t have with it the feeling it’s supposed to, and he mopes off to the bus stop.
I’ve GOT to stop this. Somehow instead of strengthening my son, who obviously is struggling with something, I point out to him that he is inadequate. Not that I’ve said that directly, but if he’s anything like me, that’s the message he’s received. I know before he’s walked out the door that I’ve blown it again.
The moments when I don’t feel under pressure to be better than I am, are very few, so there’s not much of a chance that one of my children could confront me with a challenge when I might be calm, rested, and prepared to tackle the situation with wisdom, control, and a selfless perspective. Yet somehow, that is what I need to learn to do, regardless of my circumstances. I have to get over myself and realize in the heat of the moment, that it is not about me.
It’s not about my 11 years of wearing my heart on my sleeve (16 really, but since he’s only 11, I don’t hold him responsible for before that). It’s not about how many diapers I’ve changed, meals I’ve made or if they’ve been eaten only under protest. It’s not about the endless list of chores and errands that I am supposed to attempt to accomplish any given day while cajoling a two year-old in the “I do it MYSELF!” stage.
And yet as you read this, it’s clear that I have made it all about me. All my sacrifice, even if it really is made for him, even if I don’t catalogue it to bring it out later as proof in some future court held in my kitchen, carries emotional weight. Weight that I carry around with me like a diaper bag that goes everywhere just in case, but is filled with rocks.
This is the weight I must grow stronger in order to lift. Lift it in order to put it aside, if only temporarily. So that next time, it can truly be about him. And next time, when I hug him good-bye, he can feel that I truly love him. That what he is going through is important to me because of how it makes him feel, not because of how it makes me feel. Then we both will be stronger.
So I guess this morning was just another workout. And now, just as if I had been lifting weights that were just a bit much for me, I am sore.