Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's All Small Stuff

Last night, Calvin came home from play practice and promptly vanished. For a while I thought he had gone for a run with Big Daddy, but then I saw his mop of blond hair sticking out from the wad of covers on his top bunk. I figured he was just tired and crashed, which happens sometimes. But when he woke up while we were all eating dinner, I could see that something was wrong. All I got was a shrug when I asked what it was, so I took him into my room and cradled his whole ten-year-old lankiness in my lap. "I forgot my homework folder," he said tearfully, burying his face in my chest. I asked him what was in it, expecting something major, but it sounded like just basic homework stuff. I marveled once again that this child came from me as I asked him if he was upset because he thought his teacher was going to "yell" at him. Yep, that was it. I said "You know, when someone is angry with me or yells at me, I just think to myself 'This person is angry with me, but that doesn't hurt me. It makes her feel better to yell at me, but her words don't touch me. They're just words.'" This is actually a greatly cleaned up version of what I would be thinking, and BD pointed out when I told him this later that no one yells at me because I am scary, but still. You get what I'm saying.

"You know," I told him gently, "all you can do is say 'I'm sorry I left my folder at school and couldn't do my homework. I'll have to turn it in tomorrow for a late grade.' And then, in a couple of days, you won't even remember it happened. Your teacher will not be mad at you and you will still have straight As on your report card like you always do. It's okay." He seemed dubious, but he had to agree that this was his only option. I coaxed him back to the dinner table with the promise of a warm buttered roll.

I tried to cheer him up over dinner by assuring him that everyone forgets things sometimes, and that maybe this teacher will cut him some slack since she's in charge of the play he has been practicing for and which is today. But all along, I was ruminating on the irony of me, a parent, trying to basically teach my child that none of this crap really matters, but without actually saying that. When you are a laid-back borderline nihilist with a semi-anxious child who still believes that everything matters, parenting can be tricky. On the one hand, I feel that I am spared a lot of the emotional grief and drama that I see other people struggle with by the simple fact that I do not care about almost anything except the people I love, my family and friends. There really is not anything anyone can do to me that will phase me in the least as long as I and the people I love are healthy, alive, together, and not homeless or starving. That's what I've stripped it down to. In any other situation, I will play out the scenario to its possible ends and feel assured that nothing of real consequence can happen as a result of my being "in trouble" for whatever reason.

Of course, I don't want to turn my sweet boy into a smug cynic. I realize that my complete lack of ability or desire to buy into any ideology or participate in any structured, organized group or team is probably not the best thing to pass on to my offspring, although I am fine and happy with it for myself. So I have to strike a balance, and try to help them learn not to sweat the small stuff without telling them yet that almost none of it really matters in the long run. And I'm also aware that just as I have to help Calvin see that some things are not such a big deal, in a few years I will be singing a different tune, trying to make Somerset care if she gets in trouble at school or makes bad grades. Maybe I should leave that one to BD.


Rita said...

Awww, that was so sweet. He is a gem, Kristy. And kudos to you for reaching out to your sensitive kid. I was the sensitive kid and my mom was the happy-go-lucky, carefree one and she just wrote me off as "weird" at an early age and gave up. I can say that you acknowledging that your kid is different from you and that YOU need to make efforts to reach him on his own turf and get both of you to compromise your personalities (him learning to lighten up and you learning to sympathize with his dramas) is so enormous. It's what this whole thing is about, isn't it? A big ole societal microcosm within a little family.

Shannon said...

good luck tonight, c!

Stephanie said...

That is such a sweet story! It's such a struggle between wanting them to grow up and hoping they stay babies forever, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I love what you said. I will remember the explanation of yelling and anger- (reminds me of Rita's blog on yellers). Jessie is also overly anxious and I also try to help her put it in perspective when she makes a mistake. We talk about how nobody's perfect and it is our imperfections that make us perfectly wonderful. As I get older I dtend to care less and less about the small stuff . . . but it is from me she gets this anxiety.


Stacey Greenberg said...

i hope it isn't the camera that broke--i want to see pics from the play!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, Schoolmaster Creakle will be as understanding as you.