Friday, July 24, 2009

The Coward's Guide to Courage

How do you teach your child to be brave... especially when you don't want to?

This is something I've been mulling over for a long time. I feel like I've spent Zachary's entire life, starting from when he was three days old and didn't want to sleep alone, trying ride the line between protecting him and teaching him self-reliance. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that though I want him to be brave, I don't want to have any part in the learning. And I suppose that that's because, at heart, I am really a giant coward.

I was floored when, at the age of 2 or so, Zachary was visiting my mom and she stood him on the kitchen counter and encouraged him to jump off it into her arms. She insisted that this was a game she'd played with my brother all the time when he was little; I insisted that we were trying very hard to get him to stay on his bottom when he was on high things like the kitchen counter! And so it's gone.

In a couple of days, Zachary will be six years old. He has mastered kindergarten and will go to first grade in the fall. He made friends, listened to the teacher, and didn't wet his pants (I don't know about him, but that was really my biggest fear). He has made friends, all by himself, with a little boy down the street and goes over there to play, without me, though his friend's mom does come get him, since I'm not yet okay with him walking down and across the street by himself. He's reading well, likes to play soccer and video games, and helps out with the younger kids. Let me be clear: He is a wonderful, well adjusted kid.

But he lacks courage. He won't ride a bike--with training wheels--because he's afraid he's going to fall. I try my hardest to be honest with my kids, so I tell him yes, you probably will fall, just like you fell when you were learning to walk. But it won't be the end of the world. I fell all the time; in fact, my sister used to ride her bike into parked cars all up and down our street. But we kept trying and eventually figured it out. He doesn't like to try anything new, because of the infinite number of things that he things may go wrong. We've spent months and thousands of dollars on turning Ezra's room into his and Ezra's room. And last night, he was ecstatic to move in. Until it was time to go to sleep, when he started crying and crying. Dad came up and lay on the floor in his room, until Zachary said it was okay, he could go. Not five minutes later, he was downstairs, sobbing, saying things about how the room was just too different and he couldn't sleep and red was suddenly a scary color. He ended up in bed with me all night.

And while I find myself so frustrated with this apparent lack of courage, I think that it's not all his personality; some of it is mine. Courage is, after all, simply acting in the face of fear. And I don't like to see my kids scared. I don't like to see them feeling unsafe, frightened, wanting someone to tell them that they will be fine, that they will always be safe. Rather, I like being able to tell them that I will always keep them safe, that nothing bad will ever happen to them--because at heart, I am the hugest coward there is. And apparently the hugest hypocrite as well. Because I ask my son to take a chance, to try something new, to face his fears and act anyway. But I don't face my own fear, the fear that someday, something bad may actually happen to my kid. And I don't quite know how to reconcile my own cowardice with my desire for him to live a life of courage.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where have I been?

Thank you so much to Jasmine for letting me know that I am not alone in the world and that there actually are people who read this blog--when I get around to writing in it!

It's been a pretty busy summer; I'm a little inclined to say lousy, but let's go with busy instead. If you are ever inclined to do any major home renovation, take a deep breath and ask yourself if it's truly worth it. The first week in May, we broke ground on an addition to the house. The second week in June, Zachary finished school and has since been home. Around the middle of June, we lost the use of Ezra's room, since they knocked out the wall to expand the room so the boys can share it; since then, he's slept in our room. Since Matilda is already sleeping in there, this almost immediately meant that he stopped napping. A couple of weeks later, we lost the upstairs bathroom when they ripped it apart to add onto it, and we lost much of the use of the basement bathroom, since they tore apart the ceiling in there to get to the pipes. Somewhere in there, we were also informed that we needed a new roof and that insurance ought to pay for it; but of course we had to fight with claims adjustors for a few weeks.

Last week, I got an email from the mother of the victim of Matilda's biting; she'd been bitten again on Friday, and they decided to take a couple of weeks to decide what to do next. I cannot overstate the anxiety this created in me. I have already been all worked up about the biting, have taken two classes about it, and have consulted my child care licensor and another child care provider, who is the person I go to whenever I have a question. I have done--and am doing--all I can, and now it's just a matter of waiting to see if it gets better. I understand that's a lousy thing to hear when it's your kid getting bitten, but it's also pretty upsetting when you feel like you're the only person in the world who doesn't think your 16-month-old is a little monster. There actually hasn't been a single biting incident in the two weeks that this baby has been gone; and though I don't blame the other baby at all (she is just a baby, I realize that), it's so much less stressful when she's not here and I don't have to wait, poised, to see if Matilda is going to strike.

So yesterday this family gave me their notice that they're going to pull their daughter out of my day care. After a couple of weeks to think it over, I'm not surprised or extremely upset. I've talked with a lot of people about it and believe that she's a little caveman, not a bad person, and though I can't tolerate biting, I can accept that it's common for kids her age.

The house is almost done. Though the backyard is a mud pit, the bedroom and bathroom are just about done; I think the boys are going to move in tonight. We tried to find a baby sitter and only found a guy who kind of creeped us out and now won't stop emailing to ask why we didn't hire him. We decided to use my husband's nephew instead, and he was great the first weekend but just didn't show up last weekend. We have a woman who comes every two weeks and cleans the main floor of the house, making our lives easier and my father-in-law's room a more pleasant place for him to live; she also didn't show up, for the fourth week in a row. I need a haircut. It's dumb, but it really bothers me because I have short hair and have been in in the "I need a haircut" stage for at least a month.

Today I had a screaming match with Ezra during nap time. He wouldn't stop screaming, and eventually it made me scream, and there was a lot of screaming and crying, from both of us. I feel like I haven't had more than three seconds in a row to call my own since April. Sorry if this sounds bitchy, but I can't tell you how good it feels just to complain about it all, to get it out and admit that there is all this stuff that is bothering me. As I've been writing, the kids have been eating supper--eating ketchup with their fingers instead of eating actual chicken dipped in the ketchup, insisting that they give their crackers to the dog and then needing new ones, wanting to "try something" on me that they saw on TV. They're being kids--my delightful, annoying kids. Tonight I'm going to help the boys move into their new room, and sometime soon Matilda will move into her new room, Zachary's current room. And then I will have a bedroom with only adults in it, something that has been true only sporadically since Zachary was born almost six years ago.

I keep thinking of a line from The Simpsons, one of my favorite shows. Homer is upset about something, as usual, and says, "Why do I have three kids and no money? Why can't I have no kids and three money?" I admit, I feel that way sometimes, especially about the total absence of space and time to call my own. I've never had high financial aspirations, but space and time used to be things I could claim for myself. Sometimes I wish I could have "three space" and "three time," but most of the time, most days, I'm still overwhelmingly grateful to have three kids instead. Especially ones as delightful and annoying as mine.