Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Rule of Threes

Sometime I should ask a numerologist or some other new agey type person to explain to me why the number three has been so significant in my life. It's something I've been aware of since I was a kid. I noticed it in big and little things, in ways both visual and practical. That I was the oldest of three children, that I saw objects in groupings of three everywhere I looked (often in the form of faces), that Jimmy Stewart wore a jersey with the number three on it in a scene from my favorite movie, that I had a ridiculous and ill-advised crush on the mohawked number 3 of the football team when I was a freshman in high school. Third grade was, for me, a horrific year, marring an otherwise happy and peaceful elementary career. My third pregnancy was ill-timed and shocking, beginning when my second baby was only five months old. I knew instinctively that three was not the right number of children for me to have, even though I thought for a time that it would happen that way. Until my third child turned three, in fact, and I got pregnant again. Not that three has always been a negative force in my life, but that's not what this post is about.

Right now the number three is manifesting itself in my life in two very difficult ways. One is that my three year old is making me insane, but I've said plenty about that and I'm working on it and that's not what I want to talk about right now. The other is that my current third grader is having some of the same difficulties that I had in third grade, which has always been my fear with my kids. My third grade teacher called my parents and told them I was well on my way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. I came home to my mom in tears and thought someone had died. (Inexplicably, I thought it must be my grandmother's little dog, Missy. Maybe I didn't want to think it was an actual person?) Joshua's issues aren't that extreme, but after he brought home an N in conduct on his progress report last week, I had an email exchange with his teacher. Apparently he talks too much, which isn't surprising, but she said he has become somewhat surly and defiant when asked to stop talking. He also disrupted a class-wide game until he was finally told to go sit down, at which point he said "Good!" Which is kind of funny, because my disasterous third grade rebellion was prompted by my teacher trying to make me play math Bingo. She kept putting a card on my desk, and I kept putting it on someone else's desk. A friend told me I should stop before I hurt her feelings, to which I replied scornfully "She doesn't have feelings. She's not a human being, she's just a teacher." Seriously. But see, I hated that teacher because she wouldn't put me in the highest reading group, where I knew I belonged. Joshua likes his teacher, and his defiance is less pronounced, but it's hard not to think he's just in the same kind of stage I must have been in at that age. Pre-adolescence. Good times!

BD and I sat down with him last night to talk about whatever is going on with him. It's not just the school stuff. While he often seems happy and fine, he can become enraged and almost violent at the drop of a hat. On ravioli day when he unkindly told one of the younger kids to go away while he played with Satchel and Jiro, I took him aside and asked him how he would feel if someone treated him that way. He replied, predictably "Everyone does treat me that way." I guess this "no one likes me, everyone hates me" syndrome is a middle child thing? Because there is absolutely no evidence that it is true. His teacher noticed the same thing, noting that Joshua had expressed those same feelings to her, even though he has many friends in school and is always included in their play. I explained to her that Joshua's two main refrains are the aforementiond "no one likes me" and also "I never get to have/do anything fun." The second is because we won't buy him video games. The travesty! Meanest parents ever! Yesterday when he was supposed to write about what he's thankful for, he told his teacher that he didn't know what to write because "I have nothing."

When we talked to him, we told him he wasn't in trouble, although he will be if he continues to be disrespectful to his teacher and bring home bad conduct grades. We told him we love him and want him to be happy, but that he needs to understand that we make decisions about what he can and can't have/do based on what we think is best for him, because that is our job, and that even though he won't always like those decisions, that's life and he has to accept it and move on. I couldn't resist offering to take him downtown to Porter Leath orphanage if he wants to see what it looks like when a child really has nothing. Maybe I should. A little holiday volunteer work would probably be good for the whole family. He cried and denied that anything is wrong, but he didn't say much else. I pulled him over into my lap and stroked his hair while we talked. Hopefully it helped. I guess we'll see.


Rita said...

Oh, he sounds so much like Alex. I wish I had something wise and helpful to say, but well, whatever we've done with Alex hasn't been as effective as I hoped, since he's been having to see The Doctor in Hudson for the past 3 months. Maybe you can figure it out and offer some advice to me.

Stacey Greenberg said...

Good for you guys, addressing it head on. I hope it helps too.

I think Satchel is suffering from a little of this too. Just in the past week I've seen him get really angry over small things and pound pillows and throw things, which he's never done before.

Memphis Urban Sketchers said...

Reminds me of me. I could be a moody kid, without knowing why, or even how to put my emotions into words. I still have a lot of trouble with that - it can take me a week to realize that when my feelings are hurt. Do what you can now to get those emotions out and into identifiable words and ideas.

Mrs. Katherine said...

I went through something in the third grade too. I was hanging out with the "bad" girl in my class, and the teacher told mom that I needed to find a new friend b/c she was a bad influence. I also should've been put in the gifted program that year but wasn't. I'm sure I acted out. My loud mouth has always gotten me in trouble with teachers (and with my bosses), but I learned quickly to recognize it and apologize for the offense before I got into trouble for it.

Anyway, maybe it's a third grade thing? Or a Memphis school thing?

Erika said...

I have more to say on this topic, but it's Friday night and my computer is stupid. In sum, adrenarche (sometimes called mini-puberty in popular literature) is harder on some kids than actual puberty. It's not abnormal behavior in any way, it's just a previously unrecognized stage of development.

Having said that, though, I see glimmers of this kind of behavior in my 5 1/2 year old (also a middle child) and as a parent I don't have a CLUE how to address it.

Doctor Harold Toboggans said...

Wishing you and yours a non-dysfunctional Thanksgiving