Today is the 122nd day of this blog, which means we are a third of the way through our almost unschooling year.
I’ve brought books and relevant things to our first two Geography Club meetings, to set up a ‘research’ table and an ‘exploration’ table for the kids, and it occurred to me last night that I should set up a table here at the house with the library books I get on Wednesdays, so Boy and Girl can ‘explore’ the region we are studying that week before the meeting. So last night I set up a table with books about the Western US: books about pueblos, Southwestern pottery, cowboys, the redwoods, the prairie. Books of photography of the west, and of national parks.
This morning after breakfast I offered to start reading Boy our Ben Franklin biography (which is fantastic), and asked Girl if she wanted to pick a book off the table. She picked up a book about the prairie, with really great pictures of the animals, and even the life underground. She looked at it for a bit, then started setting up play scenarios around the living room.
After that Boy got dressed and took the dog out back to play, and I got Girl all dressed up in clothes and her warm things, which took a while, and then she joined them. Shortly after that I heard some yelling, and I should have gone right out to see what was the matter, but I didn’t. I had a headache and my neck and back hurt, and I was trying to take advantage of the quiet time to lay in the sunshine on the floor and roll on a tennis ball. I know that people say you should try to let your kids work conflicts out by themselves, but I’m not always that sure about that. Anyway here’s what happened when I let the yelling go: Girl came screaming around the side of the house yelling “Help me! Help me!” and when I opened the door she said that Boy had pushed her down. I got her in, and then Boy came around the side immediately saying it wasn’t true, and yelling and crying about how he’d lost some game because of her, and how she didn’t do what she was supposed to…none of it made any sense. I asked Girl to go into her play area until Boy could calm down, which she did, and then Boy turned a chair over. I told him if he did that again he’d have to go outside until he calmed himself down. He did, so I scooped him up and plunked him out the door and told him he could come back in when he calmed down. And, ugh, that must sound awful, but being outside calms him down quickly, and being inside, once he starts being destructive, it seems like he just amps himself up. And mostly I’m trying to avoid putting my hands on him when he’s having a meltdown. And believe me, when Boy is that angry he doesn’t want hugs.
So he went out back, and I watched him to make sure he was okay, and I felt a heart-crushing kind of love watching him talking angrily to himself, swinging on the swings, kicking pinecones furiously, walking in circles. And then, as he started calming down, I saw him bending down to look at things on the ground. (The only thing I intervened in was when he was swinging the round swing against the side of the tree, potentially damaging the bark. I called out the window that if he used the swing to hurt the tree, I would have to take the swing down. He stopped.) On the one hand, I guess the message of putting him outside is you can’t be in the house if you don’t stay within certain limits, like not being destructive. Is it right to give an eight year old kid that message? I’m really not sure. On the other hand, just being outside puts things in perspective. When the kids were small, I used to take a minute to bring the trash out or something, and it would just be so quiet. I feel like sometimes Boy gets stuck on a thought, on being angry, on something that didn’t go like he thought it should. And being outside with trees and birds and bugs just gets him outside the crazy. But, gosh, I could be completely wrong about all of that.
Finally he came back in, relaxed, and said he was wrong, that Girl didn’t win, he’d made a mistake, actually they were tied. As though that made everything okay. I also know that one shouldn’t talk about the problems right when a kid has calmed down from a meltdown, but I often can’t help it. This was one of those times.
I made the point that even if he lost a game, or Girl did something he didn’t like, he couldn’t act like that. That it wasn’t okay. He started getting angry again (though not nearly as badly) when I told him he needed to say he was sorry to Girl, so I asked him to go in his room for a while.
While he was in there (happily playing with Legos, it turned out) I asked Girl what had happened. She told me that it was fun for a while, but then Boy started yelling at her, and I told her that if he ever started yelling at her, to just come get me right away. She said she was going to, but that’s when he stopped her from coming inside and pushed her down.
At that point I knew that Boy had lied to me, and that was probably the source of his continuing anger and not wanting to say he was sorry. So I went in his room and very quietly and kindly told him that I knew there was something he needed to tell me about what happened. He lied again, but finally told me the truth. I told him I was proud of him for telling me, but he had to understand that lying like that is why Papa and I don’t believe him sometimes (which he hates).
Finally he said he was sorry, and Girl, of course, immediately said it was okay.
After all of that, there was only time for lunch before we had to drive to a friend’s house, so I could drop the kids off and go to a doctor’s appointment. They had a great playdate, I think, though by the time I picked them up I was horribly tired and hungry and probably even dehydrated, definitely headachy, and I could tell I was feeling short-tempered with them. When we got home I tried to make a nice afternoon with a snack and some hot chocolate, a cup of coffee for myself, and we all curled up on the couch to read Girl’s prairie book, and they were having a great time pointing out animals and talking about the prairie.
But at the same time, I could feel myself getting super irritable. Girl kept putting her elbow in my ribs, they were both complaining and kind of arguing, and both of them refused tissues that were less than two feet away and kept wiping their noses on their clothing. Finally, when Boy denied wiping his nose on his pants leg and then Girl started yelling at me about something, I lost it in that mom way, where I threw the book down and yelled, “That’s IT!!” and commenced yelling at everybody. I yelled at both kids to get in bed (and even the dog put herself to bed in her crate), thereby giving myself a moment to sort of calm down, and then (still yelling) told both kids to sit on the couch and told them that they absolutely WOULD NOT lie to me or yell at me. I counted those two things on my fingers, and they also counted them on their fingers, their eyes wide.
And yes, I was doing the thing: yelling at them not to yell at me, but yelling louder than they can. Sometimes when I yell they will tell me that I should take a deep breath, but this time clearly we were beyond that. Did Boy want to scoop me up and plunk me outside? I don’t know.
Papa got home just at that moment and asked what was wrong, but when I said they’d just gotten in trouble he knew enough to let it lie.
I gave hugs and kisses to Girl, and asked Boy if he wanted a hug, too. He said yes, but he also said that he thought if I made rules for them, I should have to follow them. So, no yelling at you, and no lying to you? Right, he said.
Of course, those ‘rules’ are ridiculous. What was I thinking? The whole thing was ridiculous.
So, we had kind of a crap day, the both of us, Boy and I. And poor Girl got pushed over, and then yelled at.
But tomorrow we start again, like we do every day.
At bedtime I read more pages of the Ben Franklin biography, to Boy’s continuing interest, and read a well-illustrated book about the redwoods, that managed to capture the magic of them, particularly the world above the world in the canopy. You know those times as a parent when you really do a good job of reading a book, and you know you’ve really enabled your children to learn something, even better, to feel something, to want to see a place or do a thing, really brought something new into their imaginative universe? That. It’s not enough to make me feel better about our crap day, but I’m still glad it happened.