I got a call from Vincent’s principal this morning. My soon-to-be-four year old son was sent to the principal on his 3rd day of school.
Regardless of the situation, how can any parent say “Not my fault.”
On some level, it’s my fault. I did or didn’t do something right that caused him to act out in a negative way.
Friday afternoon, I was stopped by Vincent’s teacher and warned about his behavior. He was acting out by swatting at children and screaming at his teacher. He refused to follow directions and insisted on going off by himself over and over again.
When she said that, my heart practically tore itself in half.
“Going off by himself over and over again.”
Immediately images of him playing by himself in a room full of children as I picked him up from daycare flooded my mind. You guys have heard me talk about this before. I can’t help but feel responsible for my son’s social immaturity.
Aside from the fact that he was hearing-impaired his first two years (which stunted his speech and comprehension), he didn’t have much interaction with children his age outside of daycare. Why? Because he was never given a sibling.
I feel so angry and so guilty for this. When I heard the teacher cite the same exact symptom I was so keenly aware of every time I’d pick Vince up from daycare, I knew in my heart just how disadvantaged Vincent was made by the situation between my husband and I.
I immediately became livid. After putting Vince into the car, my blood pressure must’ve soared as I had visions of tearing into John for his selfishness… his thoughtlessness. How could he not see the damage he was doing to Vincent? All I wanted to do was scream and yell at him, myself. I wanted to punch and kick him. I wanted to do everything that Vincent had done as if John feeling it would somehow make him realize how incredibly wrong he was.
I quickly realized I needed to cool down. I almost felt like I wasn’t in my right mind. On a logical level, I fully understood that my rage was simply masking the root of my emotional maelstrom. I felt guilty and depressed; sad and hopeless. All of visions I had in my head of creating the perfect family environment for my children was taken away from me and I’d let it happen. I never provided Vincent the sibling I wanted him to have. Little Myla, the sister he has in Heaven, slipped away under my watch. All of the anger and rage that I was directing at John was simply a bait and switch. If I was able to focus on him, I didn’t have to realize how much of the blame I shouldered for his deficiencies.
Thank God my logical side fought back, because my emotional side was gunning for separation. It really, truly was. That is not, however, the Christian way of handling problems, and I really have tried so hard to grow myself into a better example of what it means to be truly loving in my actions, especially with John.
Plus, in my heart, I know that’s not the answer. It’s not fair to John who is not entirely to blame. So I forced myself to calm down. I forced myself to refrain from spewing lava the moment he walked into the house.
However, he could quickly tell I was upset. I said we’d talk after Vincent went to bed, and he backed off. Somehow, by the grace of God, he actually backed off. Normally he will push until his curiosity is satiated, but in this instance, he did not. That gave me enough time to collect myself and slowly vent, alone, until I was ready to discuss things in a manner that was fair to both of us.
So after Vince went to bed, he asked. At first I didn’t know how to delve into it. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to restrain my tongue. I wanted to be fair, but I was still emotionally raw. I have no doubt I didn’t handle myself perfectly, but I can say I made the right decision. I’m glad that I waited until Vince went to bed, and I’m glad that I resolved to talk things through with John rather than remain dedicated to heaping blame and anger on him without his knowledge.
I explained what the teacher said. I explained my experiences picking Vince up from daycare. I then explained that I truly believed Vince wouldn’t be as socially behind if he had a sibling. I felt guilty for not providing him one, and I was angry that John couldn’t see how damaging that was to him. I explained why I didn’t say anything earlier, and I also explained how incredibly angry I was on the way home. However, I also explained that I understood anger is my self-defense mechanism, so it’s the emotion that crops up most strongly when I feel sad or guilty.
In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that the angrier I am about a given situation, the more upset I am about it. Anger, to me, is a controlled force. I feel empowered and in-control when I am angry. I’m able to speak eloquently and my mind is razor sharp. However, the second I allow the sadness, guilt or despair creep in, my eloquence goes out the window, I feel as if I’ve lost control and I am left weak and vulnerable.
Doesn’t that seem strange? But it’s true. Angry Gina is like a brilliant lawyer poised to tear into a guilty convict. Upset Gina is the babbling convict who wants to cry in the corner. Very, very seldom does Upset Gina come out to play.
So through my conversation with John, I felt a tug of war going on between these two sides of myself. I knew that in order for John to understand that I didn’t hate him or fully blame him for everything, I had to be honest about my feelings of failure and guilt. However, in order to get my thoughts across in a clear manner, my words were edged with anger – not to reprimand John, but to help me keep my composure.
To my surprise, John did not defend himself or try to make me understand that my view of siblings was wrong. Instead, he apologized. He said that he understood I was in a terrible situation. He sympathized that I felt guilty for having failed Vincent in this manner. He did point out that there were other ways of giving Vincent the experience of other children his age, but he didn’t counter me when I said the experience of siblings is without equal.
He just apologized and said he wished he could change his mind on the matter. I waved him off, not because I didn’t appreciate it, but because I was still caught between Anger and Upset.
The angry side of me realized it was about to lose its edge and decided bypassing that statement altogether would be a safer course of action than responding, because how can anger respond to love?
That is, after all, how John answered me. He listened to me, really heard me, tried to understand my point of view, and sympathized. He didn't agree, and he didn't have to. You don't have to agree with someone's perspective in order to sympathize. THAT is the response I've been waiting for.
I never wanted to force John to change his mind. I'd like him to, sure, but that was never the crux of my frustration. It was always his stubborn refusal to even give my point of view air time. I was wrong, and that was that. This is the very first time I felt as though he'd not only heard me out... he'd allowed himself to accept that my point of view wasn't entirely off-base. That doesn't mean he agrees with it, and that's okay. However, it does mean that I'm not the outright manipulator that I think he felt I was regarding children.
Thus, the conversation petered off. John apologizing for his part in my sadness, me accepting that I was stuck trying to figure out a way around this for myself and my family. As a mother, I have to figure out a way to help Vincent grow into a more socially adept little boy. I accept his current difficulties on account of his verbal / comprehension deficits, but I do not accept that these are permanent limitations. They are certainly not excuses for bad behavior.
So today I vowed to work with both the teacher and the principal on getting Vince better transitioned into his new environment. I’ve enlisted the help of his previous teachers, and I’ll be talking to my mom (a kindergarten teacher) later this afternoon. Obviously I also talked to John and we both agree that we’re giving this at least two weeks before throwing in the towel.
Maybe we find out that Vince really is just too young to begin. I, for one, will not make that decision without giving it a real try. Two days is not enough to judge a child’s ability to meet the expectations of an entirely new environment. The principal agreed with me, and we’re going to see what the next two weeks bring us.
Keep us in your prayers, folks. It’d be much appreciated. This entire experience has been so much more challenging than I’d ever imagined.
UPDATE: Since I was asked - Vincent was practically deaf for the first two years of his life. Given that therapy only got him so far, he's still behind his peers when it comes to communicating his fear or frustration. As a result, he relies on physical outbursts sometimes. Physical outbursts include swatting at others or stamping his feet. Both are negative behaviors that could potentially hurt someone, so they are serious. However, he's not maliciously threatening anyone and is reacting, in my mind, as a child of his cognative level would respond. Our job, as parents, is to teach him new coping skills and help him develop beyond physical response. We also need to work more on his willingness to share the attention of adults with other children (again, something a sibling would've helped with). He consistently demands the attention of the teacher, and if he doesn't get it, he simply shouts louder and louder until she's forced to give him attention (even though it's negative attention).
My background is education. I fully understand the dynamics of what is going on and why my son is acting out in the manner in which he's acting out. It makes sense, but my difficulty is how I can help re-teach him better behavior.
Anyone have any tricks or tips?