The best laid plans in the Wilson household very rarely work out the way I think/hope/expect them to. Only on rare occasions am I happily surprised at a smooth experience. It is because of this that I wonder almost daily why I even attempt to make plans since they are usually foiled (remember the last football game of the season? Yeah.).
Recently, I had a day in which a detailed plan was in place (well, detailed for a stay-at-home mom with usually only household chores to worry about). Wake at 6, shower, make lunches, lay out clothes, put away laundry and get breakfast ready all before the boys got up at 7:30. I had a column to write, edit and submit, fruit to cut up before it went bad and a two-month-old baby to babysit for the first time (and all the little chores that go along – preparing and warming bottles, changing diapers, staring at the cuteness, lying on the couch beneath the baby for hours while he naps . . . the list is endless). The morning went swimmingly, but the afternoon had the potential to become hairy.
Number Two’s appointment for a med check with his pediatrician had been rescheduled twice already, so I had to stick with the appointment they gave me where, of course, I’d be rushing to get him from school and to the appointment on time, all while requesting that the baby be picked up at an exact certain time to keep me from being late. And speeding.
Since the majority of the day went so well (with four loads of cleaned laundry spread about my living room in various stages of fold, all day, being the only caveat) I had a misplaced glimmer of hope for a great turnout. But we all know that smooth is not something that happens to us easily. Especially with a certain child who shall remain unnamed.
Number Two (still unnamed!) was given specific instructions: give this note to your teacher as soon as you get to school and wait for me outside where I normally pick you up, but I will be a few minutes late. He, of course, interjected, “Nooo. I don’t want to sit out there by myself.” I assured him there was always a teacher/monitor out there and I’d only be five minutes later than I normally pick him up. He again interjects, “Put it as a reminder in your phone. Don’t forget.” Um, I have never forgotten them, ever. I don’t know where he gets that from (seriously, I really haven’t forgotten, though I anticipate it may happen at some point). I tell him it’s very important and he finally relents. Phew. So, imagine my shock when I get to school and he is not among the seven or so kids still waiting for a ride. I sat in the car for a minute, hoping he had just gone to the bathroom. After six minutes of feeling like a stood-up date, I rushed, annoyed and a little embarrassed, into the nearly empty school office, hoping he was just waiting there for me. The receptionist looked up, and I couldn’t help but think I was being judged for being now eleven minutes late. What kind of parent keeps their kids waiting like that?
“Would a child be hanging out in his teacher’s classroom if he’s not out here waiting for a ride?” I was more annoyed than worried at this point.
“Well, we’d assume he got on the bus if he’s not out there. Why? Did your child have a note today?” She looked concerned and asked if I could make it home in time to meet the bus.
“Yes, he was supposed to turn it in, anyway. I can’t guarantee that he would have done so. And I can make it home, but now he’ll miss his doctor’s appointment.” I felt like an idiot. I rushed out the door and made it home a few minutes before the bus. During the time before he got home, I called the doctor and successfully moved the appointment back twenty minutes, still causing stress at the timing and anxiety over the question of whether he was actually on the bus – my annoyance had quickly turned to needless nervous worry.
The bus finally pulled up and dropped off two smiling kids (one who looked before crossing the street and one who didn’t). Phew again. Upon his arrival, I simultaneously felt relieved that he was safe but again annoyed at the whole thing, especially because he was prepped multiple times about the plan. His first words upon seeing me standing there, looking at him in expectation? “Mom!” He already sounded defensive and whiny. “I didn’t see you in the parking lot!”
Well, that opened up a whole bag of worms. I chastised him and told him he’s not in charge of making that call, a la “I’ve never not picked you up, I’ve never left you anywhere and there was no reason at all you should have gotten on the bus because you didn’t see me. I told you I’d be late! You were to wait right there for me to get you. Get in the car; we’re going to be late. Again.”
And then his story changed. Then he told me that he forgot he had an appointment and that I’d be picking him up. He said he forgot about the note for the teacher. “You forgot to give it to her?” I asked, unfairly incredulous. I should have expected that.
“No. I gave it to her. I just forgot that I was supposed to get picked up.”
“Well, did you forget for real or you got nervous and rode the bus?”
He squirmed and fidgeted and ate his granola bar. He stared out the car window and twiddled his wrapper. He did everything possible to keep from having to answer, because, I think, he didn’t know the answer. I let him stew over it for a while, and then told him how I trusted him to act responsibly and that I’d like to give him that responsibility in the future. He made eye contact in the rearview mirror for a second.
“I think I needed someone to remind me that I wasn’t riding the bus.” He looked out the window again, and my heart broke a little. He tried, then. He did remember to give the note . . . he just didn’t remember to wait for me. Although that didn’t explain why he said he didn’t see me in the parking lot, I was happy for the communication.
As we walked in to the doctor’s office, he grabbed my hand and held it as if he were four and crossing the road. I smiled at him, somewhat terrified that if I made eye contact, like a wild animal he’d scare and run off. He then told me, out of nowhere, that he had a bad day even though he did well on a test. He said it was because his best friend wasn’t in school and he felt alone . . . who is this kid? I wondered. He usually only speaks when complaining, telling me no and arguing with his brothers. I realized his openness was a direct reaction to the fact that he and I were alone for the first time in, well, probably since I last dropped him off for football practice in October. Let me tell you, that alone was a major realization on my parenting priorities. How have I made this far in life with children and I’m just now realizing how important it is for kids to feel special outside of their place in birth order? Up until that day, my often misunderstood guy was always the middle brother, seeking arguments for attention. Taken out of the home environment and out on his own, he turned into a communicative, feeling child, an entirely different person than he was just an hour before when surrounded by his brothers.
Now flash forward a few weeks. The little guy went grocery shopping with Dad, leaving the two older boys home with me. Given that, on the rare occasions I take all three boys on errands, the little one is usually the instigator in the arguing, I thought a trip to Wally World without him would be awesome. I even secretly planned to maybe stop on the way home for shakes . . . mostly for me. Before we even got into the car, Number Two was crying and demanding a toy. “It’s not fair! He has money and I don’t. I want you to buy me something! Buy me something or I won’t go!”
Oh, geez. Here we go. “Hey, that’s birthday money,” I say, “I’m not buying a toy since we just went on vacation (vacay post coming soon). Get in the car, please, and stop screaming.”
“No. I won’t.”
“Remember the other day when we went to the doctor and the store together and you said you loved it? Why can’t you calm down and enjoy this?”
“Because,” he said, arms folded across his chest, head titled forward and staring at his brother from beneath his furled eyebrows. “He’s here.”
As much as I wanted to scold him for that, I could understand what he meant. It is hard to act like a big kid when the simple presence of your older brother suggests different.
And, right in line with the birth order trait of the oldest – problem solving – Number One pipes up, “that’s okay, you can just pretend I’m not here. I won’t talk.”
Aww. The rest of the trip went pretty well once Number Two calmed quickly at the silence of his brother, and with Number One sharing two dollars and buying each of his brothers a Hot Wheels® car.
In the future, I see a few one-on-one trips with each of the kids . . . fueled by excessive arguing, I’m sure, and rewarded with a shake. Or a malt. Or ice cream. Or fries. Good thing I still have my kid taste buds.