My oldest son still has a boot on his broken foot, so he had to stand and watch his team from the sidelines. They lost, but as I snuck a couple visits down to their field, I saw him smiling. He still does that? Yay! I thought those muscles that allow your mouth to contort into an upward slant had permanently gone slack for him. Lately, I've been at a loss. Over the years, I've learned how to cope with a colicky newborn, a stubborn toddler, and all the other typical challenges associated with raising children, but this preteen stage has got me stumped. I chatted with two other moms I know well while at the games, one with a son, the other, a daughter, both the same age as mine. They were also at a loss. Well, at least I no longer feel alone in this hormonal craziness called adolescence. Maybe we should have consulted a parent who has older children who has already figured out how to parent a child during his/her preteen years, but we really were supposed to be focusing on the game, so all we could do was commiserate on the misery of it all.
Last night, my husband informed me that I'm hurting our son's feeling when I yell. Yes, I have already read Screamfree Parenting. Or at least I began it. I can't remember. I went through so many parenting books when my youngest son was little, trying to learn how to cope with a colicky newborn and then a stubborn toddler; they all blur together. I guess I could buy another book. I wonder if there is a Parenting Your Preteen for Dummies. However, so many parenting books are like so many self-help books where the author who has skillfully mastered this particular craft fills the pages with anecdotes, theories, and/or philosophies but no real concrete instructions. I guess I'd prefer a manual. Give me specific step-by-step instructions like, "If your preteen doesn't put his clothes in his drawers for a full week, despite you specifically saying, 'Put your clothes in your drawers,' do X." Or "If your preteen continually picks on his younger sibling, do Y." You'd think it would be easier to discipline an older child because he can think a bit more logically than say a toddler or infant, but some days I have my doubts, serious doubts. How can he not understand why I'm yelling when I tell him specifically why I'm upset? How much more clear can "I've asked you three times today to bring in the garbage can!" be? Does it just sound like the teachers on those old Charlie Brown specials once parents get frustrated? Wa-wa-wa-waa-wa.
Well, despite not liking my child's newfound inability to listen or his newly discovered nack for disrespect to all members of his family, I still love him, so I've decided I need to figure out a solution to our problem. First, I consulted my husband because he's more laid back than I am and as a male might have a better understanding of our son. He simply said, "You need to stop yelling" to which I asked, "I know, but what should I do to get him to listen to me and to get him to show his siblings and me some respect?" I got this answer: "You need to figure it out." Huh? No, you need to tell me what to do. (I thought it; I didn't say it. I may not have the parenting thing figured out, but I think I have the marriage thing down.) Okay, so he's no better than the books.
At about 1:30 in the morning, I came up with an idea. When our son was three years old, he became a big brother for the second time. What were we thinking? Oh, yeah. We weren't, and that's how we ended up with three boys under the age of four. I know God's timing is perfect, but at the time, I just felt He was playing a joke on me, looking down from Heaven and saying, "You prayed for patience. Well, let me teach you to aqcuire it this way." Honestly, I've been scared to pray for God's guidance in a skill ever since.
|What you dream having three boys under four looks like. (Z's baptism)|
|What having three boys under four really looks like.|
|A special bowling Mommy and Me Night|
|A Mommy and Me Night with middle brother|
I told my husband I wanted to take our son out Saturday night for ice cream or Starbucks, something special where he can stay up later than his brothers and do something with me where we can just visit. I'm hoping we can have a courteous conversation about the problems we've been experiencing, and since we'll be in a public place, I know there will be no yelling. I want to address the problems in a positive manner. Let's hope it works. I'll finish this post tomorrow and let you know how it goes...
Well, Saturday evening somehow flew by, and once I got the three younger children tucked in bed, my husband decided it was too late for us to have our night out. My son didn't seem as upset as I had feared, but I did hang out in his room and visited with him for an hour. He confided that this was an awful summer. And he was right. My mother's lung cancer had returned, my husband had to work so much we couldn't find time for a real vacation or a trip to his family's lake house, my son's flag football team had a less than stellar season, and my son is stuck with a broken foot. From an 11-year-old's perspective, this summer sucked. I tried to put positive spins on everything, but it was hard. Even the mini-vacation we managed to squeeze in to Camp Jellystone was hampered by rain every day. And I had even forgotten about his Boy Scout camping trip that I thought he had enjoyed, but over the course of summer, he revealed that it was too hot, too long, and too boring. And it didn't help that a thunderstorm blew through one evening and caused a tree to crash down on their campsite, thus tearing his tent and destroying his new water bottle. All this on top of the hormone changes of a pre-teen can't make for a fun mix. I really felt sorry for him. He was understandably sad.
I told him we'd find time for our Starbucks run, and it did happen on Monday afternoon... sort of. He had his four-week check up with his foot doctor that afternoon, and our plans were to go to Starbucks or an ice cream shop, just the two of us, afterward. However, when x-rays revealed his bone had not healed and he'd be in the boot for another three weeks and not permitted to play football for at least another four weeks, he was beyond crushed. We scheduled another follow-up appointment for four weeks from the day as I silently prayed for fast heeling. If those next x-rays don't show full healing, I think I'll be the one to cry. I know in the grand scheme of things, a broken foot that prevents him from playing a third of his season is not terrible, but to an 11-year-old boy, it's one of the worst experiences he's had, even worse than when he had an emergency appendectomy since he actually enjoyed that. Yes, my son has an amazingly high tolerance for pain, and Texas Children's Hospital is incredible.
As I drove out of the parking lot, I asked if he wanted coffee or ice cream, and his pathetic answer was "neither." My heart sank. Just as I was turning left to head home, he asked if he could get a chocolate shake from McDonalds. Of course he could. I u-turned as soon as I safely could and ordered him a large shake and fries while I found a coupon for a free mocha frappe for myself. I then told him I'd talk to his dad about letting him skip practice tonight and renting The Hunger Games. Up to this point, we had made him attend all the practices even though he was only permitted to spend them doing push-ups, leg-lifts, and sit-ups because he was part of a team, and he needed to support his team. Whether it was the mix of chocolate, salty fries, or the idea of skipping practice and watching the Blu-Ray of one of his favorite novels, he was a much happier boy as we finished our drive home.
We never had the long talk I had envisioned, but I feel like those two occasions have helped us reconnect. I know they won't stop the arguments or fix any of our issues permanently, but when I tucked him in tonight, I was at peace, and for the first time in a long time, I could tell that despite how awful his summer has been, my son was going to bed happy.