We made too many wrong mistakes.
— Yogi Berra
It’s been a year since the trouble with Nick’s getting to school started. The departure time deadline is now woven into the fabric of our house.
It’s not how Nora and I would have liked things to be. We’d have preferred to rely on Nick’s internal clock. But so far, he seems not to have developed an internal clock, at least not for school, as far as we can see. I hope we’re encouraging him to grow one.
Would Nick’s internal clock have developed on his own eventually if we hadn’t intervened? Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. Transitions have always been hard for Nick, and Nora and I have come to view his getting-to-school problem in that larger context. Paradoxically, setting a limit on the transition period took the pressure off all of us.
Nick’s usual pattern is to stay in his PJs until only a few minutes remain to get ready for school. Then we remind him that the hour is late, and he gets dressed in a blur. We walk out the door on time. Occasionally we adjust the exact minute by mutual agreement. But once it’s set, we all have to abide by it.
Sometimes, Nick tests the limit. But it’s never been as dramatic or traumatic a test as the day he had to pee at the stroke of the deadline.
“We’ve been a little sloppy lately,” I’ll say. “Tomorrow we need to be closer.”
I believe we did the right thing in setting the limit. I think I did the right thing by enforcing it on the day Nick challenged it. What else could we have done? I don’t know. Nora and I had reached our limit.
This morning, a school morning, I woke up early to work on this post. Nick came down a moment ago and we had this conversation:
Wolf: What do you think of the idea of limits in general?
Nick: I think they’re stupid.
Wolf: You’d rather that there were no limits?
Wolf: What would you do if there were no limits here?
Nick: Stay home and watch screens all day.
Wolf: Maybe you’d get bored.
Nick: Can I use your iPad?
Wolf: No. It’s a school morning.
Nick: I’ll be going to make soft-swords now.
I think it’s safe to say there is no raising any child without needing to set limits. But I’ve never found a satisfactory formula for doing this. What child are we talking about and at what point in his or her life? What limits? What parents? Nora and I are not raising any child. We’re raising Nick. Now.
When Nick accepts limits, as he does this morning, things are easy. When Nick fights limits, his pain is real. He looks and acts like he’s been abandoned. At those moments, I can’t help but think of his adoption, which began in abandonment.
At such times I imagine the baby Kal-El’s being sent away in a rocket from the dying planet Krypton. I think of my own father taking his leave when I was the age Nick is now.
Watching Nick’s pain is so hard for me that I sometimes wonder, did I make an unconscious bargain with him when we adopted him? Did I promise, I will never abandon you, the way I was abandoned?
The problem makes my head spin, because sometimes not making a limit, or not sticking to one, is also abandonment.
When I posted the first entry in this series, someone left this comment:
Man oh man. That kid has the power. I’m jealous. I wish I had the same control over my life that Nick has over you.
The comment didn’t feel fair, because the person who made it doesn’t know Nick.
I replied this way:
Maybe if your parents were like us, you would.
But that didn’t feel fair either, because I don’t know this person. So I added this:
On the other hand, maybe not.
When trying to solve problems, on the other hand, maybe not is something I always try to keep in mind. On the other hand, maybe not is why I like to tell stories about Nick and explore my responses here, rather than share my opinions and philosophies.
Of course, Nora and I are not without a philosophy of child rearing. We’ve chosen a path to support Nick’s independence by honoring his own intellectual and emotional processes. We try to model that by honoring our own. We want to rely on honesty rather than manipulation, negotiation rather than authority.
I’d like to think I’ve chosen this path because it’s right, and best for Nick. On the other hand, maybe it appeals to me because it feels the least like abandonment.
. . .
You might also enjoy:
Jack Black relying on honesty rather than authority.
Why Schools Don’t Educate by John Taylor Gatto
The website of Summerhill School
. . .
Childrens’ art credit: Peace in the World. Finger paint. Hooria A. Age 7.
Iran. ©2011 The Natural Child Project. Used by permission.
Express yourself! Any thoughts? Ever had a problem being late? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.
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