From now on, plastic cups

Yesterday I talked to a woman who is homeschooling her first grader. But wait. There’s more. She also has a toddler and an infant. She might as well have been telling me she was going to start producing honey from her own spittle. I pretended to be considering homeschool, but truthfully, I’ve never spent more than fifteen minutes considering it, unless virtual school counts, then I’ve probably spent twenty-five.

I like the idea of homeschooling, but I just don’t want to spend that much time with my children. (There, I said it.) I try not to let the guilt of the “parents who like to be with their children” crowd seep in because it’s also completely and utterly true that I want to enjoy being with my boys. I imagine long summer days where we play on the beach and catch fireflies and take impromptu trips to the art museum when it rains. I will, with optimism, pack the car and set up the camper, but here, in our world, we haven’t even had a successful meal in the last month. The boys are at each others’ throats all, day, long. G follows O to see if O is going to do something irritating. Inevitably O does. G attacks O. O, who at this point is way tougher than his big brother, fights back. Someone, usually G, gets hurt. G accuses me of “not doing anything.” Something gets broken. I send them to their rooms. They don’t go.

I’m feel like I’m out of ideas, but really I just don’t like the one idea that seems to be working. I’m impatient for a fix, and our plan takes a long time. On top of this G is going through a medication change to address his anxiety, and, as I was thinking as the glass broke against my foot yesterday, the new medication is not helping yet. I’m losing hope that it will work at all. We have one more week to know for certain.

Meanwhile, the key to the method we’ve been using (which is, is to not enrage G. For example, yesterday G had been watching a seemingly harmless show about a teen crush when the lead female announced to the geek that her mother died when she was 8. G’s anxiety was triggered as losing another mom is always on his mind, and he came to tell me that the show was too sad. I responded by saying that he should choose something else to watch. He said no. I suggested he turn the TV off. He called me a fuck. I thought about how I was supposed to wait a few minutes and address the issue when he was calmer. Then I thought about how he shouldn’t get away with calling me a fuck. (I also briefly thought about telling him fuck is not a noun, but I managed to hold back on that one for now.) I walked into the TV room, turned off the TV, got in his face, and told him that he was never, never to talk to me like that again. He hit me. I sent him to his room. He smashed a glass of water on my foot from about 6 feet away. Then he wisely and voluntarily ran to this room.

Had I followed the plan and waited, he would have turned off the TV himself, apologized, and went on with his day. But for me, even knowing that was coming, that wasn’t enough. He’d apologized for similar incidents all week. It wasn’t helping my growing anger. Never mind that at the root of this was a terrified kid, I needed to show him that I was bigger, stronger, and more powerful. It was exactly the wrong approach, but I’d been bullied by him all week, and I couldn’t take another half-hearted apology. I felt defeated. I wanted some of my power back. I went for the traditional parenting approach with my non-traditional kid.

Then a similar thing happened with O today. When he didn’t go to time out and then was subsequently sent to his room, he tried to re-enact G’s tantrum. I drug him upstairs in an ugly, and pitiful, display of power. “O is a different kid” I thought. “He shouldn’t get away with this.” It was a classic case of taking it out on the easier target. In the end, O fought tooth and nail, I took all his stuffed animals away, and he stayed in his room. I won. I showed the five year old who’s boss. And, I couldn’t feel worse for it.

This past week the new psychologist asked me if parenting was what I expected. “No, it’s way harder” I answered, probably predictably. Usually this is when I make my joke–the most surprising thing about parenting is the sheer quantity of laundry–and for a long time, it really was the most surprising part. That was long before G wanted to wear a dress in public or developed a flapping tic or used fuck as a noun. Sure, I expected “You’re not my real mom” and “I hate you” and so on, but flapping and swearing in drag? Didn’t see that coming, and I definitely didn’t have any idea what a real tantrum was. Yes, parenting is way harder than I expected.

What I didn’t explain to the psychologist was how much I wanted this, all of it–how the very reason we adopted was for the road less traveled, to parent the difficult to parent, to show unconditional love to someone who might not otherwise get to experience it, to be strong enough to raise the kid that few people had the strength for. So, how does overpowering them fit into that picture? It doesn’t. It doesn’t fit for either of my kids, even the “easy” one. I’m not even sure it really works for those kids who are intimidated by their parents enough (or maybe even respect them enough) to sit in the time out chair with the first look (or not to misbehave in the first place). For any kid, is teaching them that they should listen to us because we’re stronger, tougher, and more powerful what we really want to convey? I admit that if it worked with my boys, I’d be using that method. But, traditional parenting doesn’t work with my G. Maybe it works with O, but I don’t think it works for the reasons I thought it would back when kids were hypothetical, when I thought love and instinct were enough.

Still, I have to keep reminding myself, I wanted this. The problem isn’t that I’m not being strict enough with my kids, the problem is that I can’t help them by making them fear me. That’s not the kind of strength I want them to see when they look at me anyway. I want them to see that I didn’t give up on them, I didn’t stop loving them, and I didn’t stop looking for solutions for them even while hobbling around on one foot. I’m wise enough to know now that instinct isn’t enough. I have to keep learning, keep trying new things, keep loving, and keep reclaiming my optimism. Eventually, eventually, this has to work. The rages have to stop, the fear has to be relieved, but for now, in the immediate future, that’s not going to happen, and I have this summer with boys that are 5 and 9. I’m not going to get it back, and whatever happens, I’m probably going to rejoice when they go back to school. And, beginning today, use plastic cups.

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