Monday, September 27, 2010

The Students

Tonight I gave the kids dinner and put them to bed, so Dave could work late and then attend "Back To School" night at Katrina's preschool.

This morning, the boys had given Dave a really hard time with getting in the car, by hiding behind the garage and forcing him into a stressful search to find them and get going. Our days are very tight, we have everything scheduled down to the last 5 minutes -- there's no room for that sort of nonsense in the morning. For me, every 5 minutes delay at home is another 10 in traffic. So Dave was understandably pretty mad. Another reason to give him a break from dealing with them tonight.

When I picked the boys up today, I got the usual story from CDC teachers about the trouble Gabriel gave them that day. I really am getting tired hearing 10 minutes of "parent communication" about his behavior every day. I have to respond to it and support the CDC teachers of course, I don't blame them at all, but his consistent difficult behavior is getting very tiresome. (Today it was not coming in to the CDC building from the library/auditorium area where the older kids stay, running from the teachers and messing around.)

At dinner tonight, Gabriel complained bitterly about how boring school is. He recently got a 3 out of 6 on a math test, which greatly reduces my sympathy. Of all things that come easy to him, it's the math -- a bad math grade means carelessness. He's not doing that well overall so far in fact, so I explained to him that if he really thinks school is boring, then when he gets perfect grades and has perfect behavior, then we can talk to the principal about advancing him to the 4th grade. That is a blatant lie, because I have no intention whatsoever of skipping him no matter how perfect his grades are. But I will take his complaints about school being "boring" more seriously when he takes it more seriously.

Julian, on the other hand, ran up to me at the CDC and announced brightly, "Guess what Mommy! I finished all my homework for the week!"

After dinner, I shamelessly used dessert as an incentive (bribe?) to get all 3 of them to write "I'm sorry" notes to Dave about their behavior this morning. Katrina really didn't deserve the same blame as her obnoxious brothers, she just went along with the hiding, but she was there, so I had her write a note too.

And to my amazement and delight, she tackled this with enthusiasm and, dare I say it, joy?! I couldn't believe it. She had no trouble writing this note at all.

I wrote the words down for her first, and helped her find the next letter so it didn't take all night, but it was clear she knew what the next letter was. Like most new writers, she needed help putting spaces between the words, but she showed surprising control of the pencil and great attention to the method of writing a letter, just as she's been taught. She was very focused, and most of all, very proud of herself. I couldn't believe it! I was very very proud of her too and praised her effort with total abandon.

Her brothers on the other hand....oy.

Gabriel loses dessert most days because of behavior, so he was pretty motivated tonight to write a "sorry" note with the promise of dessert. He grumbled, but the call of chocolate won out. OK.

Julian, Mr. Studious, had more trouble, being rude along the way, then writing the note, then adding "not" to "I am sorry." He lost dessert then and had to get ready for bed, but when he appeared with a new note that he'd written on his own, I conceded 3 small chocolates. Sounds permissive, but I really really really want to encourage contriteness.

I'm completely aware that these apologies are insincere and motivated only by sweets. But as I often tell the kids, "You don't have to feel sorry, but you do have to say you're sorry." It's true. Few apologies in life really are sincere expressions of remorse; they're mostly peacekeepers to move on. And that's fine. Asking a kid to really feel sorry is hard to define and impossible to prove anyway. But saying you're sorry is common courtesy, and is understood socially not as being literally meaningful, but as an important gesture. If the true motive is dessert, then so be it.

Gabriel. Remarkable natural ability in certain things, but so so so difficult. To many adults, not caring what other people think is a quality to be admired and striven for (and all teenagers say that but it's never true). But raising a kid who pretty much truly doesn't care what other people think is really freakin' hard. Social pressure and parental approval are crucial elements in interacting with and controlling -- did I just say controlling? -- guiding your children, and this is something we just don't have as parents. Gabriel is the most emotionally independent "normal" (and perhaps that should be questioned) child I've ever heard of.

I don't mean he's a total rock -- he does need me -- but that side of him is so much harder to reach than most kids. It still shocks me when Katrina bursts into tears in the rare instances that I raise my voice at her. This is where she and her tough-skinned thick-skulled brother really depart. It's not in Gabriel's DNA to cry in reaction to a verbal statement.

The only really consistent soft side to Gabriel -- and he totally has them -- but the only one that's frequently obvious -- is his unrelenting affection and adoration for his sister. I'm not just saying that because of the "awwwwwww" factor, it's really true. But a big factor as to why is because Julian takes the brunt of Gabriel's peer competition and interaction. Gabriel's hapless brother runs interference, if you will, for Katrina, wringing out Gabriel's need to pester and torture and push against, leaving him clean and fresh to be sweet to his sister.

Meantime, all signs so far are that Julian and Katrina will be the better students.


No comments: