I wasn’t a strict baby-book keeper. Predictably, with each successive child I slacked off a little more. The raw materials are saved; the final product is just not final. So we’ll call them keepsake boxes. I say, it doesn’t matter how you document the special firsts in a child’s life as long as you have something on record.
My son, the eldest, will have the most complete record, and I pray his sisters never spot the imbalance. But he notched another first yesterday that won’t be going into it.
I was up to my elbows in the slow cooker, racing to slop chicken and sweet potatoes onto plates before the two school-agers headed off to their class at church, when my phone rang. My husband answered it. “Erin’s phone. … Yes, this is.” Then nothing for a full minute, just the increasingly deeper worry line on his forehead. Finally: “Did you know Garrett got sent to the principal’s office today?”
No, I did not. He never said a word, especially not when I was feeling generous as the ice cream truck crept up the street and I bought everyone a round, even the neighbor kid. I used to call him my most honest child. Now I’m wondering where he got the poker face.
His offense: Fighting. And ignoring an executive order from the principal: no acting out The Hunger Games on the playground. Holy crap. Where do I start? He barely even knows what the story is about, but apparently his friends have a pretty good understanding. So many wrongs to address.
I don’t have the best response when I learn one of my kids has done a capital-B Bad Thing. Instead, I have an Amateur Moment. I kind of freeze. Not when it happens in front of me — I get loud, in a hurry, when someone hits a sibling and we’re obviously way past the point of “use your words!” But when we get one of these after-the-fact calls and the disciplinary ball is volleyed into our court, I never know what the next right thing to do is.
In my mind’s eye, all I can see is that scene in A Christmas Story, when Ralph throws his buddy under the bus for teaching him the F-word. Ralphie’s mom calls the other mom, and she goes off, dropping everything to set upon her poor innocent son with a Grade A a**-whupping. (No time-outs for the Greatest Generation.)
So, OK, I don’t want to be that mom. And neither do I want to be the milquetoast mama who weakly wags a finger and makes him promise to behave next time. I want to find that sweet spot of a response that will tell him he’s in deep doo-doo while inspiring sincere amends.
But if it exists, I don’t know what it is. His dad took the lead on this on, since he took the call. They had a man-to-man talk behind a closed bedroom door. When they emerged, I gave him my best Concerned Look. Then we got in the car. It was my turn. I went for the tool I know best: I interviewed him. What happened? Why? Did you think you had another choice, or not?
Yes, he knew they weren’t supposed to play that game (did I mention I love his principal for being tuned in to what those kids are doing at recess?). One boy got a little rough with him. My son lost his temper and hit the kid back. In the face (cringe).
He was angry. He lost control, he said. We had a talk about other choices he could make when that happens. Yeah, he said, you’re right, Mom. He couldn’t even look at me. I know my guy. His heart can fill a stadium. He isn’t aggressive, but when he feels backed into a corner his emotions take over. He lashes out, usually just by yelling.
I realized he was feeling just as powerless as I did in the moment I heard the gut-clenching words “principal’s office.” What do I do now? What happens when you don’t know? You could freeze, like I did. You could act out, like he did. I’d like it if we could both learn to think on our feet a little better.
That would be a first I could celebrate.