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I’m not your house elf

I’m not your house elf

by Wolf Pascoe on October 22, 2010

“Nick, will you bring me your jeans? I need to wash them,” says Nora after the dishes are done, beginning the nightly load of laundry. Nick has already taken his jeans off. They are somewhere. He’s been running around in his underpants.

“I’m not your house elf!” comes the reply.

What does this mean? Let’s be clear. There is no irony in his voice, not a hint. My eight-year-old son expects to be taken care of by servants, which is to say, Nora and me. He himself is not a servant. Ergo, he will not help.

It’s another of those very large conversations, where I expect myself to reflect and be wise and know or at least work out the right thing to do or say. Only I can’t do any of those things because I am not your house elf has made something in me snap. What I want to do is scream and tear my hair out and then tear his hair out.

What I actually do is run upstairs to get far away from him. He and Nora are having words right now but the rage I feel disqualifies me from that conversation. Thank God there are two parents in this house. Most times one of us, at least, has a chance of being sane. Occasionally, that person is me. Usually, lately, it’s been Nora.

Voices go off in my head:

See! This is what comes of your permissive parenting and that permissive school you send him to.

You are raising him a slacker and it’s only going to get worse.

Does the word discipline ring a bell with you?

Later I see him carrying his dirty jeans downstairs to the washing machine, grumbling they don’t even say please to himself. How Nora has accomplished this I can’t imagine. I’ll have to ask her about it if I manage to get sane again before falling to sleep. But this doesn’t happen.

Much later, at 3:00 AM, I wake with an anxious feeling. This often happens to me. I resolve to name the feeling. I have to lie very still and do nothing. It’s like watching waves. It takes a while, then the words come to me in the dark: Things are utterly out of control. Yes. Exactly.

Suddenly I understand why there are military schools and punishments, zero tolerance and “No Child Left Behind.” It’s because things are utterly out of control.

Oh, there is abundant evidence that military school and punishment and zero tolerance and the rest don’t work, which is to say that squelching children does more harm than good. But I don’t want to hear about it just now because I don’t want to sugarcoat the dark heart of what I’m up against in myself. The dark heart is this: if I feel that things are utterly out of control, then I also am utterly out of control. It’s the same thing.

I get out of bed and write all this down. You heard it here first: I’m out of control. I had better face this if I want my motivations to be clear. Otherwise I should abandon hope that my words will mean anything at all.


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sirena October 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm

This is why the universe gave us children and small dogs – otherwise we would have boring, overly controlled lives and we would be spending our time organizing closets instead of riding a bike with our chaotic and happy child or throwing a squeaky toy endlessly across the yard.


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

At least dogs listen to you.


Nora's Sister October 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I always find it good to remember that I am NEVER in control. Thank goodness you have an 8 year-old to constantly remind you of this….


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Yes, every day I am thankful.


Charlotte October 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get others to do exactly what we want them to do? I know I would personally be much happier lol.


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

It isn’t fair. I always do what Nora tells me to.


the wise one October 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Dear Wolf,

Permissive education, too permissive an education, too rigid an education and on and on. Nick is a kid – kids say things because they are 3 or 8 or 9 and if this bothers you, wait until Nick is 15.


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Bothered? Who said I’m bothered?


David October 22, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Ergo, ergo, ergo, ergo…


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Okay, so I’m a show-off. I took Latin in high school.


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Sheesh! Glad you’re not my therapist!


Jane October 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Read Children the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs for tips on democratic living with children and think about the title as a metaphor…what’s the challenge to you when you’re confronted with your worst fears of failure as a parent? Get over yourself. Get it together. It’s not a win/lose job. It’s a forever job. You’re a work in progress as a parent. Maybe just a couple steps ahead of him but still ahead of him. It’s a challenge raising a child to be part of a family. They’re not born with it. What, you thought he was just going to learn to serve others by seeing and enjoying you serving him? Check out the lesson there. Have a good laugh and ‘re-group’. Good luck. btw Nick sounds like the easier of the two of you to deal with 🙂


leebodenmiller October 23, 2010 at 3:54 am

thanks for being honest, i feel this way too sometimes with my 3yo daughter. it’s such a struggle to know how to discipline correctly to help her not get ‘out of control’ and by that i think we both mean that she is able to control herself, and not that I can control her (or anybody else for that matter) hang in there!


Wolf Pascoe October 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Thanks for checking in. How to help her control herself. I like that a lot.


Doug November 5, 2010 at 5:56 am

A mentor told me one day, “Control is the master addiction.” It is my personal drug of choice. 🙂


Wolf Pascoe November 5, 2010 at 11:20 am

Chocolate is really good too.


mjhighroad March 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm

…and it doesn’t get any better.


Wolf Pascoe March 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Not even after it gets worse?


Iain April 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Loved that. I have felt that too many times. Glad you wrote it down. Control’s like sand-I try and try and it slips through my fingers. Accept that I’m in a little bit of an abyss and I can generally keep it together. The only consolation I give myself is that I won’t give up. I think about Thomas Edison and how many times he failed w/his light bulb-I think there was a quote attributed to him, something like he could tell you 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb ’cause he’d tried all of them. I’m probably at around 2 or 3 thousand ways not to keep control. I’ll be buddha by the time he’s in 9th grade.


Wolf Pascoe April 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Yes. The fool who persists becomes wise.


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