Kenneth, Vanessa, Me, Alicia
This is without a doubt one of the most glorious times of my life. Just shy of 64, I'm well into retirement; my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA has the flexibility to tell her job to take a flying leap any time they get too abusive, and there are only 33 days left in the school year. My delightful 12 year old Kenneth is in his first year of middle school, and the glorious 10 year old Alicia (who turns 11 next month) is our VLESS (Very Last Elementary School Student).
Ummm...that last school fact? That smarts a bit. Alicia is our last elementary school student. Vanessa became an elementary school parent in 1982; I got a later start, in 1988. And I've had kids at Alicia's current school since Jordan transferred there in the 4th grade in 1992. So, lots of ways to slice it, but the bitter-sweet milestone is there; in 33 days, we will no longer be parents of an elementary school child.
But, aside from the comments by that great Philosopher Poet Maudlin Lachrymose, it's a truly lovely, lovely time. Kenneth and Alicia are both sponges; sometimes, you can actually SEE them learning some life lesson, and that is a treasure I would never swap (for money, fame, or a book contract. But feel free to make offers!). And yes, they can be rotten little monsters sometimes, and it's not always intentional.
And that's what prompted this blog post.
Last week, Kenneth and I had an opportunity to review his domestic responsibilities. The foundation principle is this: It is MY job to give Kenneth as much freedom as he can handle; it is KENNETH'S job to demonstrate just how much freedom that is. Pretty much all parent-child interactions touch on this principle in some way.
One of Kenneth's assigned chores is to take out the trash; to take the trash can to the curb on the appropriate day, and to bring the emptied trash container back to the house. I explained to him that I didn't want Mom to have to drag the trash cans around, nor did I want to have to remind him to do this job which has been his for five years at least.
And I pointed out that this was a GREAT opportunity to practice his negotiation skills. It would be up to him to offer me a plan that would be effective in reminding him to deal with the trash; I was open for anything. I reminded him that in a good negotiation, both parties gain something, and both parties contribute something. And I closed with pointing out that the chore itself was non-negotiable; no matter what, he was going to be taking out the trash, etc.
That was the home front.
Meanwhile, Kenneth, who truly IS a bright young man, had been slacking off in school. I can say without fear of contradiction that he is very capable of making straight A's; However, I've told him that while he COULD make A's, as long as he makes no progress report/report card grade lower than 'B,' I will give him the freedom to schedule his leisure time, which in his case means video games.
And then I got his report card with a 70 in Math, 71 in Advanced Reading, and 75 in Science. I came to the conclusion he had been allowed too much freedom so, I impounded all the power cords to his electronics. No games, no TV, and I impounded his tablet as well. And his freedom to schedule his leisure time is forfeited.
I told him he had to fill out his agenda, daily, in each of these three subjects, AND have the appropriate classroom teacher initial it, and I would return to verifying that all assignments were completed. IF his daily grades (which I can access online) showed a satisfactory turn-around, meaning that he started earning a 'B' or better in all subjects, he could have temporary access to the electronics, and not have to wait for the end of the grading period before getting some relief.
He didn't like it.
I explained to him that I was not REQUIRING him to LIKE it; I was just requiring him to DO it. His emotional reaction is his business, as long as it doesn't bring gloom on the others in the house.
And for a while, I had a grumpy 12 year old boy, sighing and making sure I knew he was being woefully mistreated.
After a few days of that, I took him for a walk. I reminded him that I wasn't trying to raise a child; I was trying to raise a person who could function as an adult. And I pointed out that he had not troubled to try to negotiate a better deal for himself with respect to taking out the trash. Why did you not offer to take out the trash if I gave you $10, I asked. The worst that would happen is I would say no. But because you didn't even TRY to negotiate a better deal, you've gained nothing, and you still have to take out the trash.
And I left it alone. I guess he's just going to stubborn this one out, I thought.
Until the NEXT day, when Vanessa and I returned from our evening walk, to discover he had locked us out of the house, and taped the following note to the door:
Yes, you have been locked
out of the house,
And also to remind me to
take out the trash Just
pin a 5 dollar Bill to the door (Papa Pat's idea)
He said ten but I ain't
no thief so HA!
We cracked up. Humor is SUCH a life-saver when it comes to raising kids! Just when it seemed like I was in for a LONG period of grumping, Kenneth found his funny bone, and used it to make contact.
And I DID negotiate, by the way; ordinarily, I would have paid a buck, so he could have some spending money, learn to budget, and I wouldn't have to nag. In this case, though, because he had spontaneously reached for restoration with humor, I wanted to do some more. And I agreed on three dollars, and I explained that his good nature had produced the bonus. And since then, I hang three dollar bills on a bit of wire just inside the front door, and I don't have to say anything.
Which brings us up to yesterday.
Kenneth has just made the transition from Children's Church to Adult Church. He has also moved up in the youth group he attends. He is well behaved in church, and we made the agreement years ago that if I stand up, he stands up; if I sit down, he sits down. It works for us all. And I don't know how much of the adult sermon he is absorbing, but he is seeing adults worship God, so that's a win.
Yesterday was the second sermon in a series about mercy, forgiveness, and judgement. The pastor was making the point that the people we are most likely to judge harshly are our parents (much more to the message than that, but I'll leave it there). And he was contrasting extremes in family dynamics, with one extreme being "I think everyone has a good heart" and the other extreme being "You did that because you are a rotten kid and you are just trying to make everyone around you as miserable as you are."
And he asked, "How many of you grew up in a home in which there was a lot of yelling and screaming and blaming?" Regrettably, I had to put my hand up, along with about two thirds of the congregation.
And then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye: KENNETH HAD HIS HAND UP!
So I backhanded him across the chest, and said "WHATCHU TALKIN' BOUT, WILLIS?"
I'm not sure he got the cultural reference, but I DO know what happened. Kenneth is off in Dreamland for 12 Year Old Boys in Adult Church, and notices that I have put my hand up. So, he applied the rule, in which he copies my behavior, and puts his hand up as well.
He had no idea what he was raising his hand for. I hope.
Of course, the people sitting behind us who see him raise his hand to testify about a toxic home situation, and then see me backhand, probably had a nice little conversation about that mean old man beating on that poor little boy.
Well, That's the way it works, sometimes.