Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eye of the tiger.

Pop quiz: Being a parent is ______.

Don't worry if your coffee hasn't kicked in yet, there's not really a wrong answer here. In fact, there's no shortage of right answers. Awesome immediately comes to mind. So does exhausting, fulfilling, lovely, humbling, expensive, educational, hard as hell, and filled with joy. But right now at the very top of my list is confusing.

Being a parent is confusing.

Not as far as the little one is concerned. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's confusing as all get out that he is physically incapable of staying asleep for more than three hours at a time. For reals. But since he's mostly content when he's awake, I suppose I'll let it slide.

It's a good thing you're so cute, Muffin.

What I'm scratching my head about right now is the four year old stuff. It's pretty much all confusing to me but for your sake and mine, I will narrow it down to one story. And this one has a happy ending!

Back in September, Liam started saying he didn't like Playschool anymore. This was after months of going and loving it but a few things had changed. For starters, the kids he was with all summer moved on to Kindergarten while a new group of four year olds joined his class. Then he started Encore and REALLY loved it. (Maybe Playschool just wasn't cutting it now that he saw what else was out there? Or maybe he was getting burned out going to school three days a week?) Then we flew to Reno for two weeks and got all kinds of discombobulated. And when we got back his classroom had been relocated to the theater because of renovation.

(Plus, you know, WE HAD A BABY and his entire world got turned upside down. You think? Honestly, this never even dawned on me until like a week ago when I talked to his teacher and she brought it up. How sad is that? He's been super sweet with and about Finn since the beginning so I just never put it together. But now it seems pretty obvious that he could be struggling with one thing but acting out about it in a different way. Especially if having a problem was getting him lots of undivided attention from Mom and Dad. I know - duh. I blame the sleep deprivation...)

At first we tried to keep it positive saying things like, "I bet tomorrow will be a great day!" But soon we could tell it was really stressing him out. Nights before Playschool he'd have trouble sleeping and some mornings he'd say he was "too hot" to go to school. I blew it off as best I could but I couldn't help but worry that what his old Mother's Day Out director had told me - basically that he was so sensitive he might need to be home-schooled - might be true.

But it was tough because we didn't really know what was going on. It seemed strange that he stopped liking school out of the blue but Liam tends to be kind of tight-lipped about his day so the details remained fuzzy. Our after school conversations typically go something like this:

Me - "How was school?"

Liam - "Great."

Me - "Well...what'd you do?"

Liam - "Ugh, I don't want to talk about it! I just want to relax and chill out!"

Me - "Well...what was the best part?"

Liam - "Everything."

Me - "Okay...what was the worst part?"

Liam - "Nothing."

Me - "Sigh..."

Liam - "How was your day? Huh? Did you get any writing done?"

Finally one night he opened up and told us that there was a kid in his class who liked to play Tigers on the playground and when he growled it really scared him. Now this could go on and on (as, believe me, it did - night after night after night of tearful conversations about tigers and friends and being scared and you name it...) but all you really need to know is that he didn't want to go to school anymore because there was a kid he was afraid of.

Fair enough. We've probably all been there in one shape or form. But it sucks. And, as far as I know, there's no sure fire way to fix it. Bill and I still tried our darndest though, giving Liam several hours worth of bad advice every night before school. I mean, seriously. You name it, we probably said it. And I'm guessing none of it helped. (In fact I know most of what I said only made things worse - Liam's not a closed book about everything!)

At any rate, after LOTS of trial and error we finally realized that we were focusing all of our attention on the wrong thing. What was most important here was not the problem; it was our child. And no matter what, he needed to know how much we loved and accepted him. Not if he had a good day at school. Always! No matter what. Our love for him is unconditional (even if we sometimes forget and say stupid things that might make him think otherwise).

So we started focusing on the positive and giving Liam plenty of undivided attention for things not related to Mr. T (T for Tiger...no?) and making sure he knew without a doubt how much we loved him. I also talked to his teacher and set up a play date with another "shy" boy from Playschool (I don't actually think Liam is all that shy - he just enjoys chilling out by himself sometimes). What happened next was sheer madness.

Our play date was on Monday and when I picked Liam up from school on Tuesday, I could tell things had changed. His teacher said he had a great day playing with all the other kids and when we got in the car, Liam told me he did so good at school he deserved a trip to the soda shop. Then, over french fries and malts, he asked if we could invite his whole class over for a play date.

"Your whole class?" I asked skeptically.

"Yes! Even my teachers."

"You really want to invite all the kids from school over to your house," I said fishing. "What about Mr. T?"

"Sure, why not? We'll invite him and if he wants to come, he can. So can we do it? Can we invite my whole class to my house right now?"

I couldn't help but laugh. It was completely absurd! One minute he hates school and never wants to go back and the next he wants everyone to come over right this second? What the heck?

But he was really serious so when I laughed, it made him cry (I'm telling you - mother of the freaking year over here). So even though the problem was apparently solved, we still spent the rest of the afternoon talking and crying. I was capital C Confused and had no idea what to do next. When he asked me to call his friends' moms to set up play dates RIGHT NOW, I just went ahead and did it. And number one on the list was Mrs. T!

As soon as I set the date, I started to question myself. What if Liam was just acting brave? I know I had said what a great idea it was to pretend to be outgoing even if you weren't back when I was doling out bad advice. What if he glommed onto that stupid notion and decided to be someone else for a while? This play date with Mr. T could be a recipe for disaster! The other kids he had asked about were kids his teacher told me he likes to play with so I felt pretty good about our upcoming plans. But Mr. T? Mr. T is his arch nemesis! The person we had spent two months worrying about! Who's bright idea was this play date?!

Well, it was Liam's bright idea and you know what? It was freaking brilliant. I swear, all the time Bill and I spent trying to help him and we never once thought to reach out to the kid. But it actually makes perfect sense. You can't be scared of a friend. All those cliches like if you can't beat 'em join 'em and keep your friends close and your enemies closer are cliches for a reason. They work!

Yesterday was the play date and it couldn't have gone better. We met at a bouncy place which is a great spot for a high energy kid like Mr. T yet also somewhere that Liam feels confident. They played together the whole time, taking turns being the boss and not even fighting over who won at air hockey (they declared it a tie).

When Liam yelled out to me from the top of a slide, "Mr. T is my friend!" he didn't sound nearly as surprised as I would have expected or even like he was doing self-affirmations (yes, we made him do those). He sounded bold and confident and like a kid who had made a new friend. I was really proud of him. And, even better, I think he was proud of himself.

I just hope I can remember moving forward that my job as a parent is not to solve my child's problems for him but to love and support him in a way that allows him to solve his problems on his own. I'm going to have to - here we are in preschool and I'm already in over my head. Just imagine how confused I'll be by the time he gets to high school!

1 comment:

hezza said...

I think you are brilliant.