Link got into the car smiling. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.” He said.
“Like what?” I asked.
Today he turned in enough work so that when the end of the term hits on Friday, he will pass all his classes. I can look back on the term and see all of his decisions that landed him underneath a burden of overdue work and parental displeasure. I’m glad to know that he felt that burden and enjoys it being lifted. I hope the experience will motivate him to not allow himself to get so far behind again. I put the car in gear and drive him home. I do not mention the additional work I know he could do to bring his grades higher by Friday. Letting him feel the difference between burdened and free is probably more useful in the long run than taking away his sense of freedom for an incremental uptick in grades.
These are the sorts of decisions I’ve been having to make with Link since the beginning of school. I’m playing the long game; trying to make sure he learns lessons that will help him be an adult even if those lessons sacrifice his grade point average. It is hard for me. My own schooling has ingrained the paramount importance of grades on a very deep level in my brain. I have had anxiety attacks over school work my son was not getting done. So I do battle with my anxiety to prevent it from driving me into badgering him until the work is done. That path would result in better grades, less anxiety for me, more arguments with my son, a deterioration in our relationship, and would prevent him from learning his own lessons about how he feels when he doesn’t do the work that is expected of him. Some days it took all my strength to give him the space to fail or succeed on his own choices. I’m very glad to know that we won’t be having to make up failed credits over the summer. Though I won’t feel completely relieved about that until I see the official grade reports.
“I’m stressed. I don’t want to be stressed.” Patch said as we sat snuggled together on the couch. The days are long gone when I can snuggle him in my lap. He’s almost as tall as me these days and his feet are bigger than mine. At eleven, he’s primed to shoot up tall. He’s also entering a rocky hormonal and emotional place where childhood things start to slip away leaving bewildered pre-teens adrift from who they were, but not yet sure who they will be going forward. It is an anxious place for anyone, but particularly for a child who is already prone to tie himself in little emotional knots. Patch’s expectations for himself are high and he never wants to make other people disappointed or upset.
“I know, buddy.” I say and put my arm around his shoulders. Touch is a stress reliever. I’m hugging him a lot these days. We’ve also begun a three part list: Things that stress him, Things that relieve stress, and things that pause stress. Being stressed and not knowing why is in itself stressful. So the list is helping Patch practice identifying stresses. He is beginning to be able to examine his own thought processes and figure out when the emotional reaction is out of proportion to what is going on. Most of the time when he becomes anxious it is because there is an insoluble conflict in his head. It may have a simple solution in the real world, but it requires that he readjust one of the constants in his head. For example: I have to remind him that he is allowed to inconvenience other people to ask for things that he wants. In fact the very act of being alive requires us all to do this.
Some surprising things are ending up on the de-stressor list. Seeing the accumulation is sparking new ideas about how Patch can help himself feel less stressed on a daily basis. The trickiest bit for me is trying to set up de-stressing systems that don’t require regular maintenance from me. In the next eight weeks I’m going to be stressed and I’m going to accidentally drop some of my responsibilities. Patch is already going to pick up some of my radiated stress because he’s naturally empathetic. He needs systems that won’t fall apart when I do. Haven’t figured it out yet, but we’re working on it.
I called Link my oldest the other day. The words sat there on my screen, staring at me until I realized why they were bugging me. Link is not my oldest child. I have Kiki, who is away at college. But Link is my oldest child at home. He is my oldest child for whom I am still performing active parenting. Somehow my subconscious has graduated Kiki into adulthood, thus leaving Link with the title of “oldest.” Or so I must infer from the fact that the word has slipped out in reference to him on at least two occasions.
I told Kiki about this mental promotion as I drove her back to college. She’d come home for fall break to spend four days doing nothing much except playing video games and watching movies. Kiki laughed out loud at the story. I was glad she laughed because I never want her to feel evicted from the family just because she is the first child to venture out into adulthood.
“Do you believe in Ouija boards?” Gleek asked me as we were unloading groceries from the car. My brain had been planning where to put food, what to cook for dinner, and when to haul kids in for homework time, so it took a moment for me to switch gears into a conversation about the occult.
“I know the thought of them makes me uncomfortable.” I answered. More than uncomfortable, the thought of my daughter dabbling in occult things made me afraid. Not so much of supernatural things coming to get her, but more because I worry that dark interests might lead her to dark emotional places. I don’t know that it is a valid worry, but I have it. There were so many ways the conversation with Gleek could have gone. It was one of those “teaching” moments when parents are supposed to pounce and teach kids good things. I could use it to warn her away from such things. I could use it to try to instill my values. But my child chose to open up a piece of her inner world to me. Instead of jumping on the moment and trying to use it for my purposes, I asked questions. I listened to what she has already learned about ghosts, hauntings, and communication with spirits. I found out what she believed to be true. Because I listened, she told me about her experiences. This is where parental lectures often go awry, if the lecture directly contradicts a real-world experience that the child has already had, then the child is less ready to believe what parents say.
In the end Gleek’s fascination was no more deep than the average kid who has watched a few ghost-related videos on YouTube or who has checked out a book about Spooky Encounters from the library. There wasn’t really anything for me to worry about and in the course of our discussion I was able to acknowledge that I do worry. She accepted my worry, just as I accepted her interest. It was a good conversation to have.